You will receive power when
the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you
shall be My witnesses
both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea
and Samaria, and even to the remotest
part of the earth.
~ Acts 1:7-8 ~
Every so often, a commentary comes to the attention of the
student of Scripture that strikes him or her as being head and shoulders
above the crowd. Steven Charles Ger's Acts: Witnesses to the World
has struck this editor and AMC's board secretary Mottel Baleston in just
such a way. In fact, as I carefully read through the text for editing
purposes - which includes no change in the text - I find myself engaged
and absorbed not merely as an editor, but as a student. For these
reasons Mottel and I have decided to present Acts in its
entirety - not just for the wealth of information that may be gained
from its study, but, as Mottel stated, as a model for how a Bible study
ought to be done; so be on the lookout for an Acts segment in
each Shofar for many editions to come.
Links to previous increments of Acts:
Witnesses to the World
may be found in our
To gain the most from this study, it is suggested that the Scripture
portions whose references are provided in the headings be read prior to
considering Steve's comments on them. ~ editor
THE JERUSALEM WITNESS
(CONTINUED: ACTS 1:9-26)
conclusion of His commission, Jesus’ physical work on earth was
completed. He would thereafter be working through the apostles and His
church. As also recorded in Luke’s parallel gospel account (Luke 24:51),
Jesus was then lifted up and disappeared
into a cloud. It is unclear whether this is an ordinary cloud or if Luke
wishes his readers to associate this cloud with the Shekinah glory. It
is possible he is relating the cloud to God’s manifest presence in the
wilderness following the exodus (Ex. 13:21; 16:10) or means for us to
correlate Jesus’ disappearance in the cloud with Moses’ disappearance in
the cloud surrounding Mount Sinai at the giving of the Law (Ex.
24:15-18:). Jesus ascension also has precedent in the account of
Elijah’s ascension (2 Kg. 2:11).
As the apostles stared into the sky, perhaps they remembered that Jesus
had previously alluded to His ascension (John 3:14, 6:62, 20:17).
Shortly after this, Peter will associate the ascension with Jesus’
exaltation, as He takes His rightful and deserved place at the right
hand of God (Acts 2:33-36; 5:31). The author of Hebrews will assert a
similar point (Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 12:2).
The apostles’ stunned reverie is interrupted by two angels, dressed in
the white attire that the messengers of God are usually described as
wearing (Matt.28:3; Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4; John 20:12). The angels tell
the apostles to stop looking up into the sky, for Jesus went up and He
would not immediately be coming back down again. They affirmed that at
such time when Jesus returns, though, it will likewise be from the midst
of a cloud in the sky (Dan. 7:13; Matt.24:30; Mark 13:26; Rev. 1:7).
Although the angels did not specify the location of Jesus’ return, the
traditional Jewish expectation for the Messiah’s appearance has been the
Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:3-5). There is every reason to believe that
Jesus will eventually fulfill this prophecy, although contrary to Jewish
expectation, it will be His return engagement in Jerusalem. For
millennia, devout Jews have been buried on the Mount of Olives in order
to be in “prime real estate” in anticipation of the Messiah’s coming and
for the associated resurrection of the dead. Today the hill is literally
studded with thousands of ancient and modern graves. According to
Zechariah’s prophecy, when Jesus returns at the end of the age, the
Mount of Olives will split open from east to west, creating an avenue of
safety for the residents of besieged Jerusalem.
Return to Jerusalem
Following this stunning turn of events, the apostles
return to Jerusalem. Luke specifies that the Mount of Olives is a
Sabbath day’s journey in distance from Jerusalem, a distance of about
six tenths of a mile, in other words, not far at all (11) Luke provides
a roll call of the apostles in 1:13. The list is identical to the one in
his gospel (Luke 6:14-16) with the exception of one missing apostle,
The apostles make their way home to an upper room. This is the same
upper room where they had observed the Passover with Jesus at His last
supper (Mark 14:15; Luke 22:12) and where He had appeared to them (John
20:19, 26). This home seems to have been their headquarters following
Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Because of the space crunch in Jerusalem, the lack of available real
estate, the homes in Jerusalem were built right on top of each other. As
in cosmopolitan centers today such as New York City, the only place to
expand was up. Therefore, many of the homes had
upper stories, particularly in the wealthier section of Jerusalem,
called the Upper City. The “upscale” Upper City section is the only
Jerusalem neighborhood where an upper room of this size and capacity
could be located. The weight of an upper room of this
capacity was borne by the downstairs walls of multiple rooms. This was
assuredly the “nice” home of a well-to-do follower of Jesus. Tradition
records the distinct possibility that this was the home of John Mark’s
mother, the same house later mentioned in Acts 12:12.
Luke reveals that the apostles were not the only inhabitants of the
house. They were joined by Jesus’ family, specifically His mother and
brothers. This is the final New Testament mention of Jesus’ mother,
Mary. Not only has James come to faith by this time but also Jesus’
other brothers, all of whom had, throughout the gospels, been
antagonistic toward His ministry (John 7:5). The New Testament records a
specific post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to his brother James (1
Cor. 15:7). Perhaps all of Jesus’ brothers came to faith as a result of
the resurrection. Both James and Jude authored the divinely inspired
letters that bear their names within the New Testament canon. Of the
brothers, only James plays a prominent role in the Acts narrative,
eventually exercising leadership in the Jerusalem church.
Present in the house as well were an unspecified number of women. Luke
does not provide a list of which specific women were present, although
the list probably included Mary Magdalene, who had been the first to see
the resurrected Christ (John 20:18), Mary, James’ mother (Mark 16:1),
Salome (Mark 16:1), Joanna (Luke 8:3), Susanna (Luke 8:3), Mary and
Martha (John 12:2-3), Jesus’ aunt Mary (John 19:25), as well as the
wives of some of the apostles. It is unusual in first century literature
to see the participation of women highlighted.
This earnest group devoted themselves to intense and energetic prayer.
Following the ascension of their Messiah, what more appropriate response
could there have been? The likely main topic of their prayer was the
coming baptism of the Holy Spirit, the promise
of the Father (Acts 1:4-5). Luke relates that they were
unified in their prayers, of one mind.
Twelfth Apostle (1:15-26)
At some point during the ten days between the ascension
and Pentecost, the entire group of Jerusalem believers is assembled in
the upper room. While the figure that Luke provides of one hundred
twenty people is a great number to be packed into a first century
upper room, it must be remembered that this number was much less than
the sum total of believers at this time. This group would have included
many of Jesus’ followers who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to
celebrate the upcoming festival, Pentecost, or
Shavuot, as was the custom of devout Jews throughout Israel. However,
given Paul’s account of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus (1
Cor. 15:5-7), including an appearance to five hundred believers at one
time, there necessarily must have been at least three hundred eighty
additional believers in Jesus who were unaccounted for. Perhaps they had
remained in Galilee and elsewhere, for whatever reason, being unable (or
afraid?) to make the festival pilgrimage that year.
Peter, having emerged as the leader of the apostles, rose to address the
assembled believers concerning the choice of a replacement apostle for
Peter. Peter’s Hebrew name was Simon, or Simeon, which
means “hearing” (Acts 15:14). Jesus gave him the nickname of “Rock,”
Petros in Greek, Kepha in Aramaic (John 1:42; Matt.
16:18-19). He and his brother Andrew, also an apostle, had been
fishermen, originally from Bethsaida in Galilee (John 1:43). The
brothers were among the first apostles called by Jesus to follow Him
(Luke 5:1-11). Prior to following Jesus, both brothers were disciples of
Jesus’ cousin, John, called the Baptist.
Peter was married ((Mark 1:29-31; 1 Cor. 9:5), and during the events
related by the gospels, Peter lived in Capernaum (Mark 1:29) in a large
home which, evidently, was within close proximity of the synagogue (Mark
1:29; Luke 4:38). Jesus often stayed with Peter’s family, even healing
Peter’s mother-in-law (Luke 4:38-39). Jesus also made use of Peter’s
fishing boat from which to preach (Luke 5:1-3). Considering his vocation
and the probable size and location of his home in relation to the
synagogue (the center of Jewish community life), it is probable that the
popular conception of Peter as a “poor, Galilean country-bumpkin,” is
Peter was the natural leader of the apostles and is always listed first,
indicating his priority (Matt.10:2; Mark 3:16; Luke 16:14; Acts 1:13).
He also was one of Jesus’ three most intimate friends, along with James
and John (Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33). However, all four gospels record
Peter’s infamous triple denial of Jesus on the evening of his betrayal
(Mark 14:29-31; Luke 22:33-34; Matt. 26:33-35; John 13:37-38). Yet Peter
was the first apostle to have seen the resurrected Christ (Luke 24:34; 1
Cor. 15:5), and following His
resurrection, Jesus specially commissioned Peter to shepherd the church
The narrative of Acts 1-15 presents Peter as the undisputed leader of
the nascent Jerusalem church. Although Paul refers to Peter as the
apostle to the Jews (Gal.2:7-8),
Peter’s ministry knew no such ethnic boundaries (just as Paul, the
apostle to the Gentiles, ministered
with great success within the Jewish community.) He was the apostle with
the responsibility of the keys to the kingdom
of God (Matt. 16:19). In this position, Peter was the mediator by which
pioneer groups of Jews (Acts 2:41), Samaritans (Acts 8:17) and Gentiles
(Acts 10:44) first passed through the “gate” of the church into Christ’s
Peter’s first, second and final use of his keys
were immediately followed by the divine confirmation of the Holy Spirit.
In his appointed leadership role in the early church, Peter could be
loosely described as functioning as a sort of head rabbi who made
halakhic (legal) decisions and executive judgments (binding and
loosing [Matt.16:19]). Peter’s authority was dazzlingly authenticated by
his unique exercise of extraordinary supernatural power (Acts 5:15).
Although Peter is the main figure within the first two divisions of
Acts, following his appearance at the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, the
apostle disappears from Luke’s narrative. Based on evidence from Peter’s
two letters, Paul (1 Cor. 9:5), and church tradition, it is thought that
much of the remainder of Peter’s apostolic commission was spent as an
Peter based his argument for the necessity of replacing Judas on
Scripture. He first affirmed that Judas’ betrayal was a fulfillment of
Scripture. In Acts 1:16, Peter matter-of-factly attests to the dual
authorship of Scripture, mentioning by name both divine and human
authors, the Holy Spirit and King David.
Although Judas was one of the Twelve, had been intimately associated
with Jesus for three years, and even held the privileged position of
treasurer, he had betrayed the Messiah. Before Peter continues his line
of reasoning, Luke inserts a parenthetical explanation for his readers
as to the dour fate of Judas.
Luke records that Judas had acquired a field with the thirty pieces of
silver he had received as the reward for his betrayal. However, this is
seemingly in contradiction to Matthew’s parallel account (Matt.
27:3-10), which states that the priests were the ones who had purchased
the field. The question as to which party, the priests or Judas,
actually purchased the field can be solved with an eye to Jewish custom.
Matthew records that Judas, feeling remorse, returned the money to the
priests immediately prior to hanging himself. However, according to
Jewish law, wrongfully gained money had to be returned to the donor. Yet
Judas died before the priests could return the money to him. Therefore,
the “blood money” had to be spent, in the name of the donor (dead or
alive), to purchase something for the common good. The priests purchased
a field, in Judas name, to serve as a cemetery for the destitute. The
field’s name will be discussed momentarily.
As to Judas’ death, there is yet another seeming contradiction that must
be reconciled between Matthew’s account and Luke’s. (Two thousand years
later, and Judas is still making trouble.) Matthew is clear that Judas
hung himself (27:5), but Luke records that Judas fell headlong, bursting
open on impact and having his intestines (his kishkas, as we say
in Yiddish) gush out.
Interestingly, and a bit morbidly, there are two options as to how
Judas’ body fell and split open thereafter. The first possibility is
that after hanging himself, the branch from which he hung broke, causing
him to fall and his body to split open.
An alternative option is that His body was discovered hanging from a
tree. Dead bodies were considered to be defiling and were not permitted
to remain in Jerusalem overnight. Therefore, someone cut him down,
tossed his body up and over the walls of Jerusalem, and upon impact in
the Hinnom valley below, the body split apart. (12) The second option,
while more imaginative, still seems the more likely, as it would better
explain how someone who had hanged himself could fall
headfirst, as is specified by Luke
(Acts 1:17). However the two “death of Judas” passages are reconciled,
it was bad news for Judas!
Having explained the gruesome death of Judas, Luke specifies how,
following the spread of the story of Judas through the Jerusalem
grapevine, the field purchased by the priests in his name with the
“blood money” acquired the grisly name of the “Field of Blood,” in
Luke’s identification of Aramaic, and not Hebrew, as the mother tongue
of the first century Jewish residents of Israel might strike some as
surprising. However, most Jews in Israel were tri-lingual; they
generally spoke Aramaic as their first language, Hebrew for religious
discourse, and Greek to transact business and for communicating with the
Gentile world around them. (13) For Hellenistic Jews (see 6:1), Greek,
not Aramaic, was their first language. The highly educated might also be
somewhat conversant in Latin, the language of Rome.
As the narrative returns to Peter, he is quoted as citing two passages
of Scripture, Psalm 69:25 and 109:8, to support his argument that Judas
must be replaced. Peter did not argue that these passages were
prophecies fulfilled by Judas; rather, Peter is pointing out the
applicability of these two imprecatory psalms to their current
situation, linking Scripture to contemporary circumstances through one
point of similarity. These psalms, written by David about the king’s
adversaries, could certainly be applied to the adversary of the son of
David. The psalms’ original point about the abstract unrighteous could
certainly be applied to one specific, reprehensible individual.
The state of Biblical literacy was so highly attuned in first century
Jewish culture that it was common practice for the speaker (or author)
to quote just one verse, or even one portion of a verse, and assume that
the audience, their educated minds functioning as Biblical
mini-concordances, would usually and automatically be able to fill in
the context of the whole passage.
Peter proposes restrictive criteria for the apostolic replacement.
Judas’ replacement must have been an eyewitness not only of Jesus’
resurrection, but also of the entirety of Jesus’ ministry from His
baptism by John through His recent ascension. This would have narrowed
down considerably the field of the one hundred twenty people assembled.
From the group, only two men met the necessary criteria. The first man
was Joseph, who was known by two additional names. His nickname was “Barsabbas,”
which is Aramaic for “son of the Sabbath.” Perhaps this was his actual
last name, or maybe this man really enjoyed his day off! He also had a
Roman name, Justus. However, by whichever name one wishes to call this
fellow, this is the only mention of him in Acts or the New Testament.
The second man was Matthias. Apparently, both men were equally qualified
to fill the position, so the apostles sought the Lord’s divine guidance.
In their prayer, they recognize that God had already made His choice; He
only needed to reveal whom it was He had chosen to replace Judas.
They then drew lots to determine God’s decision. The Hebrew Scriptures
document that the casting of lots was a common Jewish method of
determining God’s will (Lev.16:8; Josh. 14:2; Neh.10:34; 11:1;
Prov.16:33; 1 Chron. 24:7; 25:8), and was even shown to be effective
with Gentiles under certain unique circumstances (Jonah 1:7).
Two stones, each stone having one of the candidate’s names inscribed on
it, were placed in a metal pot or some other sturdy vessel. The vessel’s
sturdiness was essential because the stones were then shaken up inside.
God’s choice was determined when one stone either was allowed to pop out
or was removed by hand. Whichever candidate’s name was written on that
stone was God’s selection.
Matthias, and not Joseph, was recognized as God’s choice to replace
Judas, and he was numbered among the Twelve. However, Matthias is not
mentioned by name again in Acts or the New Testament.
Following the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, this method of
determining God’s will was no longer necessary. This is the final
recorded instance of this method being utilized by the church.
Apostolic error? Some believe that the eleven apostles
erred in choosing Matthias to replace Judas. The assumption is that Paul
was God’s choice to fill the apostolic void, and that the apostles
“jumped the gun” with a hasty selection. There are two arguments that
mitigate that opinion.
First, by Peter’s discriminating criteria for the apostolic replacement
(1:21-22), Paul simply did not qualify. He was never an eyewitness of
Jesus’ ministry. He was only a witness of the resurrected Christ through
unique revelation and, therefore, qualified only for membership within
the second apostolic classification.
Second, Luke provides no indication within the account that Peter or the
apostles are in error. Just the opposite is true. There is every reason
to accept that this was the proper method of determining God’s choice,
considering that the Holy Spirit had not yet been
outpoured. The apostles had prayed for guidance and asked God to reveal
which man he had already appointed for the vacancy. The entire testimony
of the book of Acts is that God was very much in control of and actively
directing the ministry of His church.
Another point to acknowledge is that, based on Peter’s word choice of
aner, “man,” the apostolic replacement for Judas had to be male. The
numerous female followers of Jesus were ineligible for the office. Since
that time, based largely upon an application of this grammatical point,
paired with Jesus’ original choice of His twelve apostles, the official
position of most churches throughout church history has been that the
priesthood and the pastorate are thereby exclusively limited to men.
However, Jesus imposed one additional restriction on his choice of
apostles, which never seems to enter into the contemporary discussion.
Jesus not only limited his apostolic choice to men, but He restricted
His choice to ethnically Jewish men. It might prove interesting if any
of the major denominations were to add that particular criterion to
their list of ministerial qualifications. That would certainly narrow
the field of potential candidates for ministry!
This chapter contains the crux of what separates
Christianity from all other world religions. Unlike other religions,
which revere their founders’ life work and venerate their tombs, the
tomb of our founder is empty. Our founder’s work will never be
completed; His death merely ended the initial stage of His ministry.
Acts continues the mission of the resurrected, ascended and exalted Lord
4. List five facts about Peter.
5. What languages were spoken in first century Israel?
6. Why or why not was Matthias the right choice to replace Judas?
11. Mishnah, Sotah 5:3.
12. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology (Tustin: Ariel,
13. Oskar Skarsaune, In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences
on Early Christianity (Downers
Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2002) 40-42. See also the extensive and
enlightening discussion in Richard A
Horsley, Archaeology, History and Society in Galilee: The Social Context
of Jesus and the Rabbis
(Valley Forge: Trinity, 1996), 157-171.