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The Acts of the Apostles

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We’d like to welcome you to this exposition and treatment of the book of Acts. We have treated the book of Luke in a previous series; and to pick up with that, I want to spend a little bit of time in this first lecture discussing the historical background of Luke/Acts and raising some basic orientation questions and then dealing with issues that come up in Acts 1.

Luke/Acts is a unit of material that comprises about 27 percent of the New Testament, if one counts total verses in the New Testament; and between Luke and Acts, Luke is slightly longer, about 100 verses longer than the book of Acts in that percentage. So you can see just by looking at the mere numbers associated with the book of Acts, that it comprises somewhere around 13 percent of the New Testament. Of course, this is the only account we have of the history of the early church. It is a selective account, in that Luke has chosen certain incidents to portray for us and has chosen not to tell us about other things that he only alludes to; so it is selective in that regard and it tends to focus on two areas in particular: The church in Jerusalem, which Peter was associated with and James was associated with, and then the missionary activity of the apostle Paul, centralized as it was in Antioch. And the Acts itself moves out and develops this picture drawing upon themes and ideas that have already been initiated in the gospel of Luke.

When we look at Luke/Acts as a whole, we are really talking about a discussion related to describing God’s plan; in particular, how Jew and Gentile have ended up as equals in a community planted by God, particularly when that plan started out with Israel having a privileged place in the promise of God. And so, questions like this dominate the two volumes: How could Gentiles be included as God’s people on an equal basis with Jews, and include even matters like table fellowship and what people eat at the table and share together, including issues like the exclusion of circumcision?

How did that come to take place? And, of course, large portions of Acts deal with those two questions in particular—the function of table fellowship and the issue of what to do about circumcision. Did a person have to become a Jew first in order to become a Christian; or could they, if you will, do not pass go, go direct, don’t collect your $200, just move directly and become a Christian without having to become a Jew first. And that’s one of the major issues the early church wrestled with and that Acts details.

A second concern of Luke/Acts as a whole is the seeming paradox that God’s plan was at work while the most natural audience for that message—the Jews—were responding mostly negatively. How was it that those for whom the promise was often most intended ended up being so hostile to the gospel message? And this had been detailed in the ministry of Jesus in the gospel of Luke in terms of explaining why the reaction existed to Jesus and what its causes were; and this extends in Acts to deal with detailing the kind of opposition that arose, who it was and why it was that the early church was having problems with Judaism, and what were the theological issues involved in that as well. These are concerns that Acts picks up from Luke.

A third issue, that is not so much a concern of Acts as it was of Luke, is the issue of explaining how the person in teaching of a crucified Jesus could fit into this plan. Now, there isn’t that much discussion of the teaching of Jesus in Acts. It’s more His presence and His continuing function in absentia in the church, the exercise of His direction, the presence of His power, the ministry of the Spirit. These are the ways in which this theme is manifest in the book of the Acts.

Fourth is the question, “What does it mean to respond to Jesus? What is required to come to Him?” What kind of gospel message did the apostles preach; and what kind of response did they seek? These points are detailed in repetition and in various ways. Throughout the Acts, we see speeches in Paul that sound and are structured somewhat like speeches of Peter in terms of their emphases and what gets discussed.

A fifth theme, that is not so much a part of the gospel of Luke as much as it is a theme of the Acts, is the role of the story to encourage the believer to hang in there, to persevere; to realize that they will suffer rejection, but at the same time that there is much glory in what God has in store for the church, and that through endurance, there is the possibility of victory. Now, some of these themes do occur in the gospel, but they are developed and highlighted much more frequently in Acts. In fact, perhaps a great example of this is Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders, in which he basically calls on them to help the church persevere and hang in there in light of his coming absence as he journeys on to Rome.

Well, those are five of the major themes that overview the book of Acts. If we were to ask other background-type questions real briefly, we would see that Luke is a writer who in all probability is writing to a Gentile audience. It may be a Gentile-oriented audience of people who were formerly God-fearers within Judaism, that is, they had an association to Judaism. They may not have been full-blown proselytes, which means they may not have converted totally to Judaism, but they understood a little bit about the background of who God was and what his promise was. They knew a little bit about the Old Testament. And in coming into the church and experiencing this reaction from a community with which they formerly had some identification, they were now wrestling with the questions: “Well, is this really where I belong? And is God really involved in this group; and what exactly is its origin? And how did Gentiles come to be included?” Those are the kinds of questions Luke is interested in answering in the book of Acts.

In addition, we know that Luke in all probability was an associate of Paul. It’s debated how much of an associate he was. Did he go around with him all over the place, and was he a close confidant? Or was he more like what we might call a junior associate, someone who had some contact with Paul, was aware of his ministry, but wasn’t all the time involved with him? And it seems like, as we look at the evidence of both the book of Acts and what other evidence we’re able to gather as we consider the “we” sections in particular of Acts, we’ll see that sometimes Luke is with Paul and sometimes he isn’t. And probably the title or the concept that he’s a type of junior associate, he had association and exposure to Paul, he ministered with him, but was not with him full-time is the right place to position Luke in the scheme of things.

Another question that gets raised is the dating of this book, and that discussion really turns on issues that are raised mostly in the gospel of Luke.

Although we know by the ending of Acts the fact that Acts ends with Paul in Rome (when he visits Rome for the first time), that the events of Acts actually end in the early 60s, that’s where the narration stops, about AD 62 or so. And so, we know that the earliest that Acts could have been written would be in the early 60s; and some people are quite content to say that Luke ends the story there because that’s where the story ended when he was writing, and that’s where he closed it off. And those who have associated Luke with an earlier date among the possibilities will date it in the early 60s or perhaps in the mid 60s, before Paul’s fate in Rome is entirely decided. Others, arguing basically because of some passages in Luke, will put the date after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and say that Luke has purposely ended the story early in terms of the fate of Paul. Of course, Paul eventually was executed, if you want to use that term, later on in the 60s in a later journey to Rome, and so some would raise the question why Luke never mentions that here. And some have said, well Luke purposely cut off the discussion short at this point to allow the ambiguity of the story to be the ending because he had gotten to Rome, which was one of the basic goals of the story to show how the gospel got to the capital of the Roman Empire. There are other discussions and reasons for why people would date this book later, and we discussed these in some detail in the earlier course in Luke when we discussed issues related to chapter 19 and to chapter 21.

Suffice it to say that it’s more likely (at least in my view) that the dating of this book falls in the early 60s/mid-60s period than it does fall into a post-70 period. And usually when people date it post-70, they end up dating it in the 80s or perhaps even the early 90s; 80s is slightly more popular. I think an earlier date is more likely than a later date. I think that’s an important thing to note because many of the discussions of this book deal with the relationship between Jews and Gentiles when there’s some uncertainty about that relationship. And I think those concerns would be more likely to be a concern earlier on in the first century than later. Well, those are, if you will, the details of the background of the book very quickly summarized. If you were to look at any competent New Testament introduction, like that by Guthrie, or even the one by Kummel, you would see these details discussed—Guthrie favoring an earlier date and Kummel a later date.

Let’s turn our attention now to the book of Acts and chapter 1. And chapter 1 is really concerned with two fundamental issues. The first issue is to reintroduce the book and connect it to the ending of Acts; and we’ll discuss in a little while how that works. In verses 1-11, as Jesus is taken up to heaven in the ascension and as the commission is given in verses 7 and 8, that’s the major portion of that first section. And then the second section is a section involving the selection of Mathias to replace Judas, and this runs from verse 12 all the way to verse 26. And there is a lot of discussion about this second section, because for some the selection of Mathias is viewed as a mistake because it is Paul who functions as the 12th apostle, not Mathias. But I think as we look at this narrative, we’ll see that that’s probably not the way to read this section. So we’ll spend some detail trying to explain why we think that that is not the way to read the second part of this chapter.

Well, let’s take a look then at the beginning of this book. And you can see that the way the book begins, it immediately connects itself to the first volume, if you want to think of it in those terms, when Luke begins with, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach.” In fact, the term proton here could be translated “in the first book.” And we immediately see this connection to the gospel of Luke; and we see the allusion back to what Jesus did in his ministry and what he started to do and now what he continues to do. And I think that it’s fair, although I don’t think this is so much an argument from grammar as it is from the way the narrative is structured, that Luke sees Jesus beginning his ministry with what he relates in Luke and continuing his ministry through what he does particularly through the ministry and direction of the spirit in Acts.

In fact, one of the major arguments of this book will be that at every key decision point that the church has, Jesus has been directly responsible in directing that decision making. If you think about the expansion of ministry out to those who are outside of Judaism, and you think of the ministry of Philip, you’ll see that the Spirit is directed to have contact with the Ethiopian eunuch. If you think about how Peter gets to Cornelius and how he’s involved in that ministry, it’s God who’s involved in doing that. If you think about how it is that Saul become Paul and ends up ministering on behalf of the church, again it is God doing the directing.

And the major apologetic, the major defense for the church in the various ministries that she’s engaged in and in the various arguments that she has theologically, the reply is consistently, “God made us do it.” I think back to the old comedy routine I believe Flip Wilson had in the past, in which he said, “The devil made me do it.” And that was the great argument. It didn’t matter what he did that was bad or wrong, it was always the devil that was the cause. Well, in Acts, the argument’s the exact reverse. God made us do it. It was God who appeared to Peter and made him reach out to the Gentiles. It was God who sent the Spirit on the Gentiles. It was God who called Paul. It was God who gave Paul his commission to carry out the gospel to the ends of the earth. It’s God who gives the commission right here in chapter 1 as well. So God is very much the director of His plan in Acts in the way He works through the church, and that is a dominating theme through the entire 28 chapters of the book.

Well, moving on now beyond verse 1, it says “That Jesus began to do . . . until the day He was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen. After His suffering, He showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” And here we see the idea of Christ demonstrating the fact that He is alive, that He’s raised from the dead. The term “decisive proof” or “many compelling proofs,” however, “convincing proofs” a way to translate this, is a good term, way to translate a term that is used only here in the entirety of the New Testament. And it emphasizes the reality of the resurrection. The kingdom of God continues to be the topic of what the church is to talk about. It’s the same topic that was the topic of Jesus’ ministry. And the kingdom of God is basically a discussion of God’s rule, God’s presence in rule and formation of a people through whom He exercises His presence and authority. And that’s precisely what the church is going to be and claim to be in Acts.

As it goes on in verse 4, it says on one occasion while He was eating with them He gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift My Father promised, which you have heard Me speak about. For John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Now verses 4 and 5 are very important because they represent very tight linkage between the end of Luke and Acts.

In fact it also ties up to the beginning of Luke. In Luke 3:15-17, John the Baptist ministers in a very effective way, and in the midst of it they raise the question, “John are you the Christ?” and John replies by saying, “No, I baptize with water, but the One who comes after me, the One who is stronger than I am, I’m not even worthy to do the slave’s task of taking the thong off His sandals [removing the sandals from His feet], He’s going to baptize you with the Spirit and fire.”

And this becomes the promise of the Father, an allusion back to Jeremiah 31. And in alluding back to Jeremiah 31, we’re alluding back to the new covenant. Well this gets alluded to again in the closing scene in Luke 24:49 where Jesus tells the disciples to go to Jerusalem and await the promise of the Father, when they’re clothed with power from on high—again, another reference to the Spirit, the baptism of the Spirit. So these verses link both to the early portion of Luke (Luke 3) and the end portion of Luke (Luke 24) to show the connection between what Jesus is doing, what John promised, and what the early church is going to do. It’s all part of the same topic, the same discussion, the same promise, the same hope.

Well the concept of the coming of the Spirit and the issue of baptism raises in the disciple’s mind the possibility of, “Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” The disciples, the apostles, are good Jews and they expect the promise of the kingdom of God eventually to reside comfortably within the context of the hope of Israel. And so they naturally expect—and nothing that Jesus has said to them in the 40 days that He has been with them has led them to think otherwise—that the kingdom is going to be restored eventually to Israel. Now currently it’s not functioning that way. It’s been in the process of being taken away from them, and we know this as a response to a passage in Luke 20 where Jesus overviews the history of the promise of God as pictured in a vineyard; and He talked about giving the vineyard to others because those who had originally tended it had not passed on the fruit to the owner.

And so here Jesus picks up the image and deals with the question: “Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” And Jesus basically passes on answering the question. He says, “It’s not for you to know the times or seasons the Father has set by His own authority.” That’s not for you to know when that’s going to happen. Now notice Jesus doesn’t deny that it’s going to happen. He doesn’t say it isn’t going to happen.

He simply says it’s not for you to know the time when this is going to happen. There is a coming kingdom phase that will involve the nation of Israel. We know this from Acts 3 and from Romans 11, which talk about the kingdom promise being completed in the way that the Old Testament prophets talked about Acts 3, and the idea of Zion being the origin of the One who returns and rules, talking about the return of the Christ and the completion of the promise at a time in which branches that were grafted out, natural branches, have the hope of being grafted back in.

Now all of this is debated among Christians as to whether Israel has a future role in the plan of God or not. I think in the context of Acts 1 and its linkage to the speech of Peter in Acts 3, the Acts 3 speech treats the same themes and indicates that there is a future for Israel. Nonetheless, Jesus says here: “It’s not for you to know the times and the dates that the Father has set by His own authority.” Some things are set and left to the mind of God. And the plan of God rests in the sovereign authority of God. This is something that Luke is constantly highlighting in terms of its timing.

But here is what the apostles are responsible to do and those who share the commission with him: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. And you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” This has been called a theme verse for Acts, and I think one can make a case that this is so. The major theme has to do with the reception of power when the Holy Spirit comes. The Spirit is seen as the agent of enablement. The Spirit is seen as the one who enables the new community to testify to Jesus— to do so boldly; to do so in the face of persecution; to do so in the face of rejection; and to continue to hold fast to the task. And we will see many passages where the Spirit is responsible for the proclamation of the gospel. So this power has to do with an enablement, an enablement to proclaim Jesus and to function as witnesses. They are witnesses to what Jesus has done in the past because they experienced His ministry. And they are experiencing His ministry even now as the Spirit prepares to come upon them, and they will take that testimony from Jerusalem out to the ends of the earth.

From a narrative perspective in the book of Acts, Jerusalem right now is the center of God’s plan, but there will come a time when the journey to the ends of the earth takes them to Rome, which will be perceived narratively in the development of the story as the ends of the earth. Now in the Roman world from a Roman perspective, Rome would have been the center of the world and the fringes would have been Spain and outlying regions, not just to the west like Spain but also to the east. But in the narrative of Acts, Jerusalem is the hub from which the ministry and the plan of God go forth; and it is Rome that is on the edge of the world. And this is seen very clearly when we get to Acts 27 and Paul takes the long sea voyage to get to Rome. It’s almost like a slow-motion journey in comparison to everything else that happens in the book as we almost take this journey step by step with Paul as he goes over this obstacle and that obstacle to finally get to Rome and the end of the earth. So this is the call and the commission, to await the reception of power that comes upon them. And this verse 8 also looks back to the Luke 24 passage we mentioned earlier as does the theme of witness, the marturias, those who are going to testify to the activity of God and who have experienced it. Witness will become a technical term throughout the book of Acts for those who are associated with the gospel message. It’s what they’re called to do.

Verse 9, “And after this he was taken up before their eyes and a cloud hid him from their sight. And they were looking intently into the sky as He was going when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky. This same Jesus who was taken back from you, who was taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’” Now the point of this closing portion of this first section is actually twofold. One, they shouldn’t be surprised. They shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus has gone to be at the side of the Father. In other passages in Luke/Acts, the emphasis has been made, and in fact it’ll be made in Acts 2, that Jesus has ascended to the right hand of God in fulfillment of a passage like Psalm 110:1. So they shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus has been taken up to the side of the Father.

These men dressed in white are not just well-dressed Romans in washed togas. To say that they’re men dressed in white is a way to refer in all probability to angelic figures. This is the way their shining clothes are described in Luke 24:4.

And so these angelic figures revealing the mind of heaven say, “You shouldn’t be surprised that this Jesus has been taken up into heaven.” On the other hand, you need to remember that He’s going to come back the same way He has departed. And this is an important note, because in some ways it is the answer to the question, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Well, what the angel is telling us at the end is that Jesus’ activity on earth is not done with, that just as He has departed, so He will return. And in returning He will complete what is left for Him to do.

Now you might say, well that’s a great leap in logic. That passage doesn’t say anything at all, anything like that, and you’d be right reading verse 11 of chapter 1. But when we look ahead to chapter 3 in Acts, we will see Peter get up and give a speech in which he talks about the return of the Lord; and it’s clear that upon reflecting upon what happened here and all the teaching that he had about Jesus’ ministry, etc. that this is how Peter put it together: That heaven must hold Jesus until the time comes for His return, when He will come back and do the rest of what was promised to the Old Testament prophets. The promise of God is coming in stages. And the first stage was associated with Jesus’ ministry and the proclamation of the arrival of promise. And an initial stage of realization comes with the distribution of the Spirit, . . . the distribution of which is portrayed as the initial fulfillment of a promise of God, as Acts 2 is going to make clear. On the other hand, there’s more to be done. We don’t get everything that God has on offer in this period of the church. There is more that God will do and that will be completed when Christ returns. He will finish the job as the Old Testament promised. And so these apostles are told, as they see Jesus depart into heaven, that He’s going to come back in the same way you’ve seen Him go. That’s when He’s going to complete the work associated with the kingdom. So that’s our first section of Acts 1. The first portion simply orients us to the resumption of the story that Luke had started in the gospel of Luke, and now in this second portion we see the attention returning to the ministry of Jesus as He ascends into heaven and now looks forward to the return when He will complete the task that’s set before Him.

Well after these first 11 verses, we see the church waiting and working now to replace Judas. Now some say that this section shows the church acting out of the will of God.

That what the rest of Acts shows us, as I mentioned earlier, is that Paul is really the twelfth apostle, and that this election took place before the Spirit was distributed and took place while they were waiting in Jerusalem. It was not really directed by God. It involved the casting of lots, and so everything about this is suspect. And this replacement is simply told to show how the church was really ill prepared in some ways to carry out this task until the Spirit was distributed. But as I have suggested to you before, I think this is not the way to read this section. I think that everything about this passage suggests a high note of piety as the church waits. And in thinking through this section about whether this is an appropriate selection process or not, we see the initial signs of a church that is trying to be obedient and dependent upon God as they seek direction for what it is they’re supposed to do.

Well let’s take a detailed look at this now and see how this unfolds. In verse 12, it reads, “And they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. And when they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying.” And then it mentions those who were present that includes the apostles along with others who were engaged with them in prayer. The women included Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers are now on the scene. This is a major new factor in the development of the disciples. The brothers, for the most part, were not present during the time when Jesus was ministering. So we see this group gathered together. In fact, verse 15 tells us that it’s a group of about 120 who are gathered together in prayer. So the scene begins with the church obedient to Christ. He had told them to go back to Jerusalem. That’s precisely what they had done. He had told them to await the distribution of the Spirit. That’s precisely what they are doing. And they are engaged as they wait in prayer. Now Luke loves to highlight prayer, and most of the important decisions that take place, both in Luke and in Acts, are surrounded by an environment of prayer, a cloak of prayer if you will, in which they, the people who seek God’s direction, are seeking Him through a time of intercession and petition and praise. And that’s precisely what’s happening here. There’s nothing in the first part of this narrative that suggests that anything wrong is being done, in fact the exact opposite.

Peter gets up then and begins to address the multitude as to what needs to be done. He mentions the fulfillment of Scripture: “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas who served as a guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was one of our number and shared in this ministry.” And in the midst of this discussion, Peter is reviewing the history of what Judas did in Luke 22, particularly verses 39-53, as he moved to betray the Lord. And he notes that this was done in fulfillment of Scripture. The Scripture that is going to be alluded to in this context, that Peter is going to allude to starting in verse 20, comes out of Psalm 69, and this is a psalm about the enemies of the people of God. And in the psalm the enemies are identified and the request is made that the enemies should be dealt with. And so Peter says this passage is exactly what could be said of Judas and has been prophesied about Judas. Judas falls into this type of person who was an enemy of God.

And so citing that fulfillment then he begins to move towards the issue of replacement because of the way this passage is worded. In fact this is how Luke says it starting in verse 18 [of Acts 1], “With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field. There he fell headlong, his body burst open, and all his intestines spilled out,” a rather graphic description of the death of Judas. “And everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.” And so with that introduction then, the Field of Blood, which in a literary allusion by naming what the field meant makes clear that it is a place of judgment. Peter goes on to say, “For . . . it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, ‘May another take his place of leadership.’” So not only is this group obedient, they’ve gone to Jerusalem. Not only have they bathed and dedicated themselves to prayer—bathed themselves in prayer and dedicated themselves to it as they’re gathered—but they also are being directed by the promise of Scripture as they handle this situation.

And Peter is the one pointing out the connection; and then he goes on to talk about the call to take, someone to take Judas’ place. In fact, this citation I mentioned comes out of Psalm 69:25. The second citation comes out of Psalm 109:8. In that passage an enemy is to be slain, and it’s hoped that another will be raised up to take his place. And again Judas is portrayed as the enemy who is going to be replaced here.

And so there is a need here to be sure that there are 12 apostles. And so Peter goes on to say in Acts 1:21, “Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us.” So the requirement here is someone who knew Jesus, who ministered with Him, who shared with the disciples from the beginning. In fact, the time frame is even explicitly mentioned in verse 22: “Beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” And there’s the return of the term “marturia” the idea of witness that we saw in verse 8: “You will be my witnesses, beginning from Jerusalem and to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And so they’re looking for someone who can be a witness who knew Jesus’ ministry, who not only knew of His resurrection but also knew of His teaching.

So they proposed two men. Now remember, this is being directed by Peter. It’s being done in association with the call of Scripture. It’s being done in a way that is honoring to that Scripture and is bathed in prayer and in the context of obedience, because they’re waiting in Jerusalem for the direction of God. They propose two men: Joseph Barsabbas, who is also known as Justus, and Mathias. So we’ve got Joseph Barsabbas and Mathias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Not exactly a compliment to Judas. Judas did not end up in a very good place. But the point here is that even as they make the choice, they are asking for God’s direction.

So not only was the introduction of the scene bathed in prayer, but the actual process of the choice is bathed in prayer as well. And we see the church proceeding very carefully and consciously to make a selection that will be honoring to God. Verse 26, “Then they cast lots.” These were probably stones. They may have been stones of different sorts that had different names attached to them. But anyway they cast lots. They were shaken in a bag or in some type of vessel until one fell out. That was usually the way one cast lots. And so the choice is made. The lot fell to Mathias, and so he was added to the 11 apostles. And in this way the association of the 12 is completed.

There’s a debate here as to whether this represents the new Israel, the 12 over the 12 tribes, that kind of thing. And as long as one doesn’t think of the church as replacing Israel in the plan of God, I don’t think there’s a problem with seeing it that way. The church does not replace Israel in the plan of God permanently; but the church functions like Israel and to some degree is structured in a way that is going to be appropriate when Israel comes back into the plan. Remember that Christ in Luke 22:30 promised the apostles that they would have authority over the 12 tribes of Israel. So that probably does explain why the number 12 exists here.

Well this event then is concluded through a process of casting lots. There are two other passages that describe the casting of lots in the Bible that are important and that help us to understand where the direction of God is. There’s a passage in I Samuel 14 where Saul is asking for direction and God gives the Urim and the Thummim. And, in the process, Jonathan and Saul are indicated by the lot to be responsible for guilt in a particular action, and the people are cleared. And then Jonathan eventually is pointed out, and nothing about this casting of lots is seen to be inappropriate. In a second case in Proverbs 16, we have this said about the casting of lots, “The lot is cast into the lap but the decision is the Lord’s desire.” So in the context of Scripture, both between the Urim and the Thummim and otherwise, the casting of lots in certain settings is seen to be appropriate; and I think that’s the way this event should be seen as well.

Now as we think about this chapter as a whole and as we come to summarize it, I think we see various things. We see God having a very definite direction, plan, and commission to what it is that He wants the church to do. We also see in the midst of this a very clear direction for the mission of the people of God as they move from Jerusalem out, and that will be very clear in the development of the book. Just like Luke was structured somewhat geographically, as we had a Galilean ministry and then we had the journey to Jerusalem and then we had the ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem. So in the context of Acts, we get a very directed ministry starting from Jerusalem and moving out. The third thing that we see is a pious and obedient community preparing to move out. They replace one of their number who has been unfaithful. They restore their structure. They do so in the context of prayer, in the context of searching the Scripture, in the context of asking God’s direction.

And in that process, God honors their faithfulness and their seeking out of His will, and He gives them one to replace Judas.

In fact, one of the great parts of this book is that He’s not just going to give them one to replace Judas, but in the development of the book we will see others who minister beyond the apostles, beyond this select group, who also function as witnesses of the resurrection and of the plan and promise of God. And with this the table is set and the opportunity now exists for the church of God to be ready to go out with power and ministry. But first the power and the enablement needs to be supplied, and just as they were told to go to Jerusalem to wait to be clothed with power from on high (Luke 24; Acts 1:8; 24:49), now they are ready to be clothed with power from on high. And with that the attention of the book turns in chapter 2 to how this is done. And so in our next lecture we will pick up with the story of Acts chapter 2 and the story of how the Spirit came upon the church.

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