Acts: Chapter 1
Let’s begin by reading (Acts 1:1-8).
(Verse 1) “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus”
The “former treatise” is referring to the first book that Luke wrote to Theophilus, which was the Book of Luke. Let’s turn to (Luke 1:1-4) to see that.
Who was Theophilus?
Outside of the two verses in Luke and Acts, the name Theophilus is not mentioned in the Bible. Therefore, we know very little about him. What we do know is that the name “Theophilus” means “friend of God” (theos = God, philos = friend), and that Luke addressed him as “most excellent.” This phrase, “most excellent” (or “most noble”) (Gr: “kratistos“), is used 3 other times in Acts:
#1. When Claudius Lysias addressed Felix (Acts 23:26),
#2. When Tertullius addressed Felix (Acts 24:3),
#3. When Paul addressed Festus (Acts 26:25).
Strong’s defines “kratistos” as “mightiest, noblest, best: used as a title of honor and respect.” Since this word was used to address both Felix and Festus, who were Roman governors, as well as Theophilus, this has lead some scholars to believe that Theophilus was also a Roman governor. However, at the very least, it seems likely that he was an important official of some kind.
(Lk 1:4) is also interesting in that it says, “That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.” The Greek word “katecheo” is used for the word “instructed” in this verse (and also in Acts 18:25, Rom 2:18). Katecheo means “oral instruction.” It is from this word that we get the word “catechism.” In other words, it appears that Theophilus had received some “oral” instruction on the Gospel, and now Luke was writing this to give Theophilus a “written” account which was more detailed and “orderly.”
This brings some speculation. Had Theophilus heard the Gospel “orally” and accepted it? In other words, was he a Christian? If so, then perhaps this “written account” was to help Theophilus to better understand what he had been taught, and to strengthen his faith. Or, perhaps, Theophilus had heard the Gospel, but wanted to know more before accepting it, therefore Luke wrote Luke and Acts to help him with this.
In addition, we wonder whether Theophilus was a Gentile, or a Jew. Since both Luke and Acts were written to the Greeks (Gentiles) (as well as to Theophilus), it seems likely that Theophilus was a Gentile. (Luke was also a Gentile: “not of the circumcision:” compare Col 4:11 with Col 4:14. Luke = Loukas in Greek.) Since Luke and Paul were so closely tied together, and Paul was “the apostle to the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15)(Acts 22:21)(Gal 1:16), some theorize that Paul may have lead Theophilus to the Lord.
Tradition says that Luke was from Antioch, so perhaps Theophilus was as well, or at least lived near there (maybe he was a governor in that area).
(Verse 2) “until the day in which He was taken up”
This is saying that Luke’s previous book ended with the Ascension of Jesus, which can be seen in (Lk 24:49-53)(Also see: Mk 16:19-20).
(Verse 2) “after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles”
The question is sometimes asked, “Did the Holy Spirit live in Jesus?” How would you answer this? This verse may point to this, but can you think of others?
(Verse 3)(NASB) “To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing (“infallible”) proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days”
“To these” (the “apostles”), “He (Jesus) presented Himself alive after His suffering” is speaking of the appearances of Jesus to His disciples after His death and resurrection. During the “40 days” between His resurrection and ascension, Jesus appeared to some, or all of the disciples at least 6 times. Here are those appearances:
#1. To Peter: (Lk 24:34)(1 Cor 15:5)
#2. To the 10 disciples in the upper room (without Thomas): (Lk 24:36-49)(Jn 20:19-23)
#3. To the 11 disciples in the upper room (with Thomas): (Mk 16:14-18)(Jn 20:26-29)(1 Cor 15:5)
#4. To the 7 disciples while fishing in the Lake of Tiberias (Galilee): (Jn 21:1-23)
#5. To the 11 disciples on a mountain in Galilee: (Mt 28:16-20)
#6. To the disciples before His ascension at the Mount of Olives: (Mk 16:15-19)(Lk 24:50-52)(Acts 1:3-10)
***Note: Jesus also appeared to: Mary Magdalene: (Mk 16:9-11)(Jn 20:11-18), two people, one named Cleopas, on the way to Emmaus: (Mk 16:12-13)(Lk 24:13-35), more than 500 brethren: (1 Cor 15:6), and James (His brother): (1 Cor 15:7).
These resurrection appearances provided the disciples “convincing (infallible) proofs.” These “proofs,” along with the coming Holy Spirit at Pentecost, changed the disciples lives forever!
(Verse 4) “And, being assembled together with them”
MacArthur says, “An alternative reading, “eating with them,” is preferred (cf. 10:41; Luke 24:42-43). The fact that Jesus ate provides additional proof of His bodily resurrection.”
(Verse 4) “He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem”
We see Jesus “commanding” this in (Lk 24:49). Verses 12-14 show us that they have obeyed this commandment of Jesus.
(Verse 4) “but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me”
What was this promise that Jesus told them to wait for? The Holy Spirit! Let’s look at a few verses where Jesus told them this in the Gospels (Jn 7:39)(Jn 14:16-17,26)(Jn 15:26)(Jn 16:7,13).
(Verse 5) “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.”
“John” is speaking of John the Baptist. He first used this phrase, saying that while he would “baptize with water,” one was coming (Jesus) who would “baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt 3:11)(Mk 1:8)(Lk 3:16)(Jn 1:33). John’s baptism with water was done outwardly, and identified a person with Israel. Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit with done inwardly, and identified a person with the church (all believer’s in Christ) (see: 1 Cor 12:12-13). This “baptism with the Holy Spirit” will occur in the next chapter (Acts 2).
(Verse 6) “When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?”
Prophecies found in Joel Ch. 2 and Ezekiel Ch. 36 connected the “coming of the kingdom” with the Holy Spirit. As we see in the Gospels (i.e. Lk 24:21, Lk 19:11), both the disciples, and the Jews, expected the Messiah to come in power to “overthrow” their oppressors (Rome). Therefore, when Jesus said the Holy Spirit was coming, they believed this would be the time He would finally overthrow Rome, and “restore the kingdom to Israel.”
(Verse 7)(NASB) “And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.”
***Note: Jesus said only the Father knows “the day or hour” (Mt 24:36)(Mk 13:32).
My “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible” explains “times and seasons” as: “Times refers to chronology or the duration of time – “how long.” Seasons refers to the epochs or “events” that occur within time. The disciples were not to know how long it would be before Christ set up His kingdom, nor were they to know what events would transpire before the establishment of it.”
The “kingdom” that Christ will one day set up will occur at His Second Coming.
(Verse 8) “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
After receiving the Holy Spirit, the disciples would “receive power” from God to become “witnesses.” “Witnessing” here is speaking about sharing the Gospel. The Greek word for a “witness” is “martus.” It is where we get our word “martyr” from. So, do you see the connection?
The book of Acts is an outline for how the Gospel would be shared. It was taken first to Jerusalem: Chapters 1-7, then to Judea and Samaria: (Acts 8:1 – 9:31), then to the “uttermost part of the earth” (i.e. Caesarea, Asia Minor, Greece, Rome): (Acts 9:32 – 28:31).
***Note: The Gospel still has not been spread to the “uttermost part of the earth.” There are still unreached places in the world where the Gospel has not yet been shared, but these unreached places are becoming less and less. When the Gospel has reached the whole world, this is a sign that Jesus will return (Mt 24:14).
Next, lets read (Acts 1:9-14).
(Verse 9) “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up”
Notice that when Jesus ascended into Heaven, it was in His glorified body. Do you believe that Jesus is still in His glorified body? Why or why not?
(Verse 9) “and a cloud received Him out of their sight”
It is interesting to note here that just as “a cloud” is associated with Jesus Ascension, “clouds” will also be associated with His return (Mt 24:30)(Mk 13:25)(Mk 14:62)(Rev 1:7).
(Verse 10) “And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel”
These two “men” were “angels” in the form of men. There are many places in the Bible where angels are called “men” (i.e. Gen 18:2, Mk 16:5). These might have been the same “two angels” who appeared in Jesus’ tomb after His Resurrection (see: Lk 24:4, Jn 20:12).
(Verse 11) “Men of Galilee”
All of the 12 disciples / apostles, except for Judas Iscariot (who was no longer alive), were from Galilee.
(Verse 11) “why stand ye gazing up into heaven?”
What do you think the disciples were thinking here?
(Verse 11) “this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.”
I believe this is clearly speaking of Jesus’ Second Coming, and this being the case, it tells us that when He returns, it will be “in like manner” as He went into Heaven at His Ascension. This verse reinforces two things we have already mentioned. #1. The same body that Jesus was taken up in is the same one He will return in. #2. “Clouds” will accompany His return. Also, Jesus’ return will be on the same mountain from which He ascended: Mt. Olivet (the Mount of Olives) (Zech 14:4).
(Verse 12) “a Sabbath days journey”
The distance between Mt. Olivet and Jerusalem was “a Sabbath days journey.” This term is mentioned only in this verse in the New Testament, but its observance appears to have started in the Old Testament. In short, a Sabbath days journey was a man-made rule, created by Jewish priests, which stated that on the Sabbath day (Saturday), no one could travel farther than 2000 cubits (about 3000 feet / 1000 yards / 5/8 of a mile).
It is believed that the Jewish priests determined this distance using 3 different places in the Old Testament: (Ex 16:27-30)(Num 35:5)(Josh 3:3-4). Putting these verses together, in Exodus, God told the Israelites: “let no man go out of his place” on the Sabbath. So, what is “his place” became the question. At first, it appears that the Israelites determined it was their home, but later decided it was the city (in part because they were allowed to leave their “place” (house) to walk to the Tabernacle / Temple on the Sabbath).
So, if the “place” was not their home, but instead the city, then how far could they go from the city? The priests based this on the verses in Numbers and Joshua. Specifically, in (Josh 3:3) God told the Israelites that they were to “remove from their (your) place” and follow the Ark of the Covenant, but there was to be “a space between the Israelites (you) and the Ark (it)” of “about 2000 cubits.”
Deciding that the 2000 cubits (1000 yards) in these two instances was a God-ordained distance, the priests determined that the Israelites could not travel any farther than this from the wall of the city on the Sabbath. Anyone who violated this rule was said to have broken the 4th Commandment (to “keep the Sabbath day holy”).
Tying all of this into (Acts 1:12), since the distance between Jerusalem and the Mt. of Olives was about 2000 cubits, Luke used a Jewish term which signified that distance: “a Sabbath days journey.”
(Verse 13) “When they had entered the city, they (the 11 disciples) went up to the upstairs (upper – KJV) room where they were staying”
What / where was this “upstairs / upper room?” Several possibilities are: 1. It might have been the room where they held the Last Supper (Mk 14:15)(Lk 22:11-12), 2. It might have been in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where they later are shown to have met to pray (Acts 12:12), 3. It might have been the room where Jesus had previously appeared to His disciples after His Resurrection (Jn 20:19-29).
(Verse 14) The disciples were “praying in one accord with the women”
Thinking back to the Gospels, who might these “women” have been?
The phrase “one accord” is used 11 times in the book of Acts. It comes from the Greek word “homothumadon,” which is two Greek words put together: “homos” = “same” and “thumos” = “mind.” My Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible gives this definition: “The phrase speaks of people sharing the same mind or thinking like-mindedly. It does not refer to people who think and feel the same way about everything, but to people who set aside personal feelings and commit themselves to one task.”
***Note: Verses using “one accord” (Acts 1:14, 2:1,46, 4:24, 5:12, 7:57, 8:6, 12:20, 15:25, 18:12, 19:29)
(Verse 14) And, praying with “Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”
In (Jn 7:5), we see that the “brothers” of Jesus did not “believe in Him.” This appears to have lasted for Jesus’ whole life on earth (which is why Jesus did not turn the care of Mary over to them on the cross – Jn 19:26-27). However, in (1 Cor 15:7), we are told that Jesus appeared to His brother James after His Resurrection. Now, we see them praying with the disciples here. It seems very likely that as a result of Jesus’ appearance to James, he became a believer, and the brothers came to believe too.
Also, notice Mary was praying as well. She was obeying Jesus’ command just like the everyone else in the room, and she was waiting to be “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” This should be considered by those who seek to elevate or equate Mary with Jesus.
***Note: This is the last time Mary is mentioned in the New Testament.
Finally, let’s read (Acts 1:15-26).
(Verses 15-16,20)(NASB) “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.”
The “Scripture” that Peter is referring to when speaking to the (“about”) 120 people (verse 15) are two verses found in (Ps 69:25)(Ps 109:8). Both of these verses, written by David, were prophecies pointing to the betrayal by Judas Iscariot. Verse 20 shows us these verses.
***Note: For verses showing that Judas was “a guide to those who arrested Jesus,” see: (Mt 26:47-56)(Mk 14:43-52)(Lk 22:47-53)(Jn 18:1-12)
In saying that the “Holy Spirit foretold” these prophecies, we have solid proof of the God-given inspiration of Scripture (Also see: 2 Pet 1:21, 2 Tim 3:16).
(Verse 17) “For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry.”
While Judas was “numbered” among the 12 disciples, the evidence is strong that he was not saved, and is now in Hell (See: Jn 6:70-71, Jn 17:12, Mt 26:24, Mk 14:21, Lk 22:3, Jn 13:2,26-27).
(Verse 18)(NASB) “Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out.”
In (Mt 27:5), we are told that Judas died because he “hanged himself,” yet here, it seems to say something different. Is this a “contradiction?
These verses do not contradict each other, but simply give us a complete picture of what happened to Judas. We know for certain that Judas hung himself. Most likely, he died from the hanging. When a person is hung and left for a period of time, the body bloats. This is probably what happened to Judas’ body. Eventually, the rope holding Judas’ body broke, and his dead body fell to the ground and burst open on contact because it was bloated. However, it is also possible that the body simply split open because it fell a great distance.
Some also speculate that the body may have been found by some Jews, who cut the body down upon seeing it, but since they would be defiled if they touched the dead body, they let it drop to the ground and it split open on contact.
It is also possible that Judas may have hung himself over a cliff or from a great height. When he began to hang himself, the rope broke, and he fell to the ground. Upon hitting the ground from the great height, or from falling on the jagged rocks of a cliff, his body split open and he died.
The Bible doesn’t say EXACTLY how Judas died, so any of these explanations are possible, but they are not contradictory.
(Verse 19) “that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.”
“Aceldama” is the Aramaic name for “field of blood.” According to MacArthur, “Traditionally, the field is located S of Jerusalem in the Valley of Hinnom, where that valley crosses the Kidron Valley. The soil was good there for making pottery, thus Matthew identifies it as “the potter’s field” (Mt 27:7,10).”
(Verse 20)(NASB) “May another take his office.”
Peter clearly interpreted this verse in (Ps 109:8) to mean that someone should be appointed to replace Judas Iscariot as the 12th disciple. This is what takes occurs in the remaining verses.
(Verses 21-22) Two requirements are given for this replacement.
#1. He must have accompanied the disciples during the 3 years of Jesus’ public ministry, from the time He was baptized by John the Baptist, until the day of His Ascension.
#2. He must have seen the resurrected Jesus.
(Verse 23) “And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.”
“Barsabbas” meant “son of the Sabbath” (“Justus” was his name in Latin). “Matthias” meant “gift of God.” We know virtually nothing about either man.
(Verses 24-26) They then used two means to determine who God would have them choose.
#1. They prayed (appealing to God’s knowledge of the “hearts of all (men).”
#2. They “cast lots.”
(Verse 25) “Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.”
“His own place” almost certainly points to Hell. “By (his) transgression fell” tells us that even though the betrayal of Judas was prophesied, Judas was condemned because of the “free will” choice he made to betray Jesus.
(Verse 26) ” And they gave (cast) forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”
The Hebrew word used for “lots” in most instances in the OT is “goral,” which according to Strong’s means: “to be rough (as stone); prop. a pebble, i.e. a lot (small stones being used for that purpose).” We do not know exactly what the “lots” that they cast looked like, however, it is believed that they were likely made of stone (perhaps wood in some cases), and were somewhat like rolling dice or flipping a coin today.
Nearly every verse which mentions “lots,” speaks of using them as a way to determine God’s will. God actually set the precedent for this as a way to know His will when He established what were called the Urim and Thummim. These were to be used only by the High Priest, and carried in a pouch attached to his breastplate and covering his heart (Ex 28:30). Four different verses show us that these were used to determine God’s will (Num 27:21)(1 Sam 28:6)(Ezra 2:63)(Neh 7:65).
In addition, “lots” were cast to determine such things as: how land in the Promised Land would be distributed amongst the Israelites – See: (Num 26:55-56)(Num 33:54)(Josh 14:2), the divisions of priests (1 Chr 24:5-19)(Lk 1:8-9), musicians (1 Chr 25:8-9), and gatekeepers (1 Chr 26:12-16), who was guilty (1 Sam 14:40-43)(Jon 1:7), finding answers to questions (Prov 16:33), choosing who would go to war (Judg 20:9), what “scapecoat” would be sacrificed (Lev 16:8-10), and more. (The Urim and Thummin may have been used in some of these examples, but we don’t know for sure.)
The question sometimes arises: “Can we cast lots to know God’s will like they did in the Bible? How would you answer this, and why?
It should be noted that after this time in Acts, we never again see “lots” being used to inquire about God’s will.
Finally, it is opinion of some scholars (and this author) that the disciples may have stepped out of God’s will or timing in choosing a man to replace Judas, because God may have wanted Paul to fill this position. (We never hear of Matthias again after Pentecost.)