Acts 1:12–26 – Replacing Judas
SummaryThese verses set the stage for the gift of the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus by reestablishing the integrity of the body of disciples and cementing Peter’s leadership role.
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.
AUTHOR: Eric Barreto, Assistant Professor of New Testament