The Gospel according to Luke closes and the Acts of the Apostles begins with a promise. Jesus assures his closest followers that they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:5. It would therefore seem reasonable to expect this awaited event to be at the very beginning of Acts. Instead, Luke's two-part narrative implies that before this clear promise can be fulfilled, certain steps must first be taken.
Gathering the Faithful (1:12-14)
After Jesus' ascension, Luke tells us of the members of this early congregation of believers. The list of eleven disciples leaves an obvious gap. The twelve who followed Jesus throughout his life are now eleven who remained faithful.
The eleven are not alone. The family of Jesus is present, especially his mother who in the early chapters of Luke's Gospel (Luke 1:39-56) is a prophet for Jesus' mission. The community is small but strong; it is faithful but apparently incomplete.
Peter Interprets the Scriptures (1:15-20)
That Judas--one of Jesus' closest followers--became a traitor is a problem. Why did Jesus choose him to be one of the twelve? Why did Judas betray Jesus? Peter explains that Judas's betrayal and untimely demise were both prophesied in the Scriptures. In this way, Peter takes on a role as an interpreter of Scripture in light of contemporary realities, a role which was held nearly exclusively by Jesus in the Gospel (for example, Luke 4:21, 22:37). Moreover, Peter's interpretation of Judas's betrayal assures that his treachery was not a kink in Jesus' mission but part of it. Judas could not be a roadblock or detour in God's plan, for God had already chosen these events. Peter concludes that Scripture similarly foresaw that another individual would take Judas's place.
Qualifications and God's Choice (1:21-26)
But how to choose a twelfth disciple? In the Gospel, Jesus had handpicked the twelve; here in Acts, Peter determines that Judas's replacement would come from that small group of believers who had been witnesses of the earliest days of Jesus' ministry as well as his resurrection. Two individuals are put forth as qualified: Joseph and Matthias. Curiously, we hear nothing else about either of these individuals after these verses.
How would we have chosen which of the two to be Judas's replacement? At this point, I imagine that we would have asked for a speech from these two candidates and then taken a vote. In contrast, this early congregation turns to prayer and the casting of lots. To us, casting lots (the ancient version of picking a name out of a hat) would have left this important decision to chance or fate. But for ancient Jews, this was a way to assure that God would have the ultimate choice! Beyond human control, the casting of lots left the decision completely up to God's decision.
With God's choice made, the eleven are now twelve. This growing body of believers is now ready to receive God's precious, promised gift.
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath days journey away. 13When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of* James. 14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers* (together the crowd numbered about one hundred and twenty people) and said,
16Friends,* the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus
17for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.
18(Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong,* he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.
19This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
20For it is written in the book of Psalms,
Let his homestead become desolate,
and let there be no one to live in it;
Let another take his position of overseer.
21So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from usone of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection. 23So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24Then they prayed and said, Lord, you know everyones heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place* in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place. 26And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011