At the conclusion of our last lesson, we left the disciples standing on the Mount of Olives gazing up into the skies as Jesus ascended back to heaven. That was it. The Jesus they had known was gone and the mantle of leadership had been passed to them. What were they to do now? Recalling Jesus' last instructions, they knew.
Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, "Which," He said, "you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." (Acts 1:4-5 NASB)
Their instructions were simply to wait. Jesus had said that in a few days they would be "baptized with the Holy Spirit" -- but what did that mean? Odds are, they didn't really know. But one thing they did know -- they were going to do exactly what they had been told.
Peter, John, James... here we see the same group of men who had followed Jesus throughout his three years of ministry in Palestine -- with one exception. Judas is now gone. Judas Iscariot, the one who had been so trusted among the disciples that he had been designated the keeper of the group's money -- this same Judas had been the one to betray Jesus to the authorities who, in turn, had crucified him. Within a matter of days, a trusted friend had abandoned the group, betrayed their leader, and eventually committed suicide. The Twelve were now the Eleven. Despite their elation at the resurrection of Jesus and the glory of the ascension, the pain caused by the rejection of their close friend must have still lingered deep in their hearts.
Points to Ponder:
Have you ever been rejected by someone with whom you
were once close? Sometimes the pain of abandonment can leave scars that, in
truth, may never entirely fade. When sin entered the human picture it
contaminated everything. As a result, there are things in this life that there
just simply won't be a good answer for. But don't despair. You're not alone
in your struggle. Jesus knows the same kind of pain. He's been there, too. His
promise is not that we will never be hurt. His promise is that he will provide
the strength to make it through. Keep holding on.
In addition to the eleven remaining disciples, there were "the women" (probably either the wives of the apostles or various women such as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and others who had ministered to Jesus during his ministry, or both), Jesus' mother Mary (this is the last time she is mentioned in scripture), and interestingly, Jesus' brothers. (According to Mark 6:3, Jesus had at least four brothers and also sisters. These brothers and sisters were most likely children born to Joseph and Mary following the birth of Jesus.) During Jesus' lifetime his brothers didn't believe he was the Messiah; in fact, they even wondered if he was a bit crazy (see Mark 3:21 and John 7:5.) Something significant must have happened, however, to convince them otherwise for here we find them as part of the newly-emerging Christian church. (Most likely it was the resurrection which finally convinced Jesus' siblings of the truth. There's nothing quite like having lunch with your resurrected older brother to change your mind about things!!)
In the sixth chapter of Matthew, Jesus had said:
Here, Jesus had clearly predicted that the first great leader of the Christian church would be his disciple, Peter. Now, as the band of believers are waiting together for the promised Holy Spirit, we see the fulfillment of this prediction as Peter begins to emerge as the leader of the newly-born church.
In the days following Jesus' ascension, others who had followed Christ also began to meet with the group of disciples, enough so that by this time there were about 120 people. While they were praying and waiting for Jesus' promise, God instructed Peter that he had a job to do: replace Judas. Like many Old Testament passages, the particular verses that Peter quotes here had a dual meaning. Psalm 69, written by David, is a prayer for deliverance from the persecution of his enemies. Peter here applies verse 25 of that Psalm (where David asks God to condemn the homes of his enemies) to Judas -- saying that Judas' position (home) had become empty. Likewise, Peter applies the latter part of Psalm 109:8 (a psalm of righteous indignation against wrongdoers) to say that the empty position left by Judas must be filled. God was here using Peter to accomplish his will for the infant church -- to change the Eleven back to the Twelve.
Note: This "plurality of meaning", where a given passage means something for the time it was written but also is a prophecy about something in the future, is found in many places throughout the Old Testament. For example, in Isaiah 7:14 the prophet Isaiah is quoted as saying that "a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel". This message foretold of a virgin woman of that time (approximately 735 B.C.) who would soon be married and have a child. It also, however, prophesied the eventual birth of Jesus Christ to a young woman who would still be a virgin at the time of birth -- Mary.
Notice why Peter was able to be used by God to accomplish his will. First, he was praying. He was in communication with his God on a daily basis. Second, he was waiting. He didn't run out ahead on his own but waited for God to point the way. Third, when he saw what needed to be done, he did it. The best intentions accomplish very little if they are not carried out. Learn from Peter's example and see what God can do through you!
We are told in Matthew chapter 27 that Judas, out of remorse for what he had done, returned the money he had been paid to betray Jesus and then went out and hanged himself. The blood money was then used to buy a field to be used as a cemetery. (When Matthew 27 and Acts 1:18 are considered together, it is traditionally concluded that after Judas hanged himself the body eventually decayed and fell to the ground, gruesomely bursting open in the middle.) With this brief obituary, the historical account of the life of Judas Iscariot comes to an end -- a perpetual reminder of the tragedy of rejecting Christ.
After pointing out the vacancy left by Judas, Peter then went on to describe the qualifications required for filling the position:
The new member of the Twelve could not be a newcomer to the scene. In order to stand on a par with the other eleven, the new man had to have been a follower of Jesus from the beginning of his public ministry -- just like the others. While the original twelve disciples made up Jesus' "inner circle", there were many who had followed Jesus closely for the previous three years. Of these, the assembled group of 120 believers settled on two "finalists" who met the qualifications, Joseph and Matthias.
Remember, God was directing the selection of Judas' replacement, not the disciples. Therefore, rather than have each candidate give a speech and then hold an election, the group of believers first prayed that God would make known to them the man he had already chosen. Then, they utilized an Old Testament method for discovering God's will -- drawing lots. (Drawing lots took various forms in those days. Usually, names were written on pieces of stone, wood, etc. and then placed in a container. A name was then drawn or shaken out to determine the chosen person.) Drawing lots as a means of determining God's direction is referenced several times in the Old Testament (e.g., I Chronicles 24:5; Numbers 26:55; Joshua 7:16-18; Joshua 15:1,16,17). In Proverbs it says, "The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD." (Proverbs 16:33 NASB).
Now before you run out and draw straws to determine God's will, remember this: Every reference to drawing lots to determine God's will in scripture occurred before the coming of the Holy Spirit. (This, in fact, is the last time it's ever mentioned in the Bible.) Thus, without the guidance of God's spirit within them the lot process provided a way to allow God to make the final decision rather than men. Since the Holy Spirit has come, God now lives within us (if we are Christians). Thus, we can now rely on prayer, scripture, and the Holy Spirit within us to discover the things that God would have us do. Be careful about grabbing onto things meant for a given situation and applying them inappropriately to other situations. Always pray for discernment.
God showed his choice to be Matthias, and as the scripture says the Eleven once again became the Twelve. Note, however, that these men are no longer referred to as the "disciples", but as the "apostles". A disciple is a student or follower of a teacher, which is what these men had been up until now. But now the mantle of authority and responsibility for preaching the Gospel had been passed to them. They were now apostles ("sent ones" or "messengers"). Soon, empowered by the actual Spirit of God within them, they would embark on a journey that would change their lives forever -- and the world would never be the same.
Next Lesson: The Dawn of an Age