Notice the way Luke introduced the book: “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach.” This tells us at once that the book of the Acts is, if we may so say, volume two. This author has written an earlier volume and the story begun in that volume is continued in this one. What is that earlier volume? We have no difficulty in determining that, for we see that the Gospel of Luke was also addressed to this man Theophilus. In reading Luke 1:1-4 we observe that the Gospel of Luke is “the former treatise” to which the author of Acts refers. In the Gospel of Luke we have the things that Jesus began to do and teach, and in the Acts we read of the work He continued to do, after His ascension to Heaven, through the work of the Holy Spirit here on earth.
Salutation (Acts 1:1-2)
Who was this man Theophilus? We might wish we had fuller information regarding him. We merely have his name; it is mentioned twice, but in such a way as to give us some suggestions at least regarding his station in life. He is called in the introduction to Luke, “most excellent Theophilus.” The words translated “most excellent” were used only in addressing a Roman official, generally one set over a country. So Theophilus was evidently an official of the Roman empire, probably a governor of a province, who had an interest in the story of our Lord Jesus Christ. Luke addressed his Gospel to him and gave him his full title, “most excellent Theophilus.” When he wrote his book of Acts he addressed the same person, but you will notice he omitted the “most excellent.” That may be more significant than we think. I like to think it means that this Roman official, as a result of reading the Gospel of Luke, had come to such definite knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ that he had openly proclaimed himself a Christian. And perhaps because of that he had either resigned or was dismissed from his office and so was no longer addressed as “most excellent” but simply as a brother in Christ. His name itself is significant.
Theophilus means “a lover of God.”
Notice the order of the verbs in verse 1. “Of all that Jesus began both to do and teach.”
Doing should always come before
teaching. If there is anything that we as servants of Christ need to keep in mind it is this: there will be no more power in our messages than there is power in our lives. It is as we live for God that we are fitted to speak for God. We are called on to
do before we
teach. In the Old Testament we read of Ezra, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ezra 7:10).
Do you know why there is so much powerless preaching today? Because there is so little walking in obedience to the Word of God. If you and I would be witnesses for Christ we must be careful to see to it that we do before we teach; in other words, that we obey the Word of God ourselves before trying to instruct others. If the Word of God has no power over our own lives, we cannot expect to have power over other lives. If we are selfish, proud, haughty, egotistical, carnal, worldly, or unfaithful to the truth we know, we cannot expect others to be blessed by the message we proclaim. A holy minister is a tremendous weapon in the hand of God. An unholy minister is a disgrace to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our blessed Savior has set us the perfect example. He came to do and then to teach. For thirty years His ministry consisted largely in doing. He lived before the Father for thirty years and during all those years there was not a flaw in His life. Then at the appointed time He went forth to teach. Now that He has ascended on high He is still doing and still teaching through the power of the Holy Spirit in men of God sent to carry His message to a lost world.
Luke spoke in verse 2 of the period between the Lord’s resurrection and His ascension, during which He instructed His disciples. The expression, “He was taken up,” occurs four times in this chapter (verses 2, 9, 11, 22). What does it imply? Our Lord Jesus came forth from the grave, the resurrected man with the same body that was crucified on Calvary. The body that was laid in Joseph’s new tomb was raised from the dead in resurrection power, and in that body He appeared to His disciples. During the period of forty days He instructed them as to His program for the months and years to follow. Then when the forty days were ended, He was taken up in His physical body. He sits in Heaven today on the right hand of the Majesty on high in the very body that once hung on Calvary’s cross.
That is the teaching of the Word of God. This is the Christ—not some spirit-being altogether different from us, but a real man in Glory at God’s right hand. “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). And, oh, the blessedness of knowing that His tender, loving heart is concerned about us and the trials we are going through. “We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are [apart from] sin” and “he is able to succour those that are tempted” (Hebrews 4:15; 2:18).
The Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3-11)
Our blessed, adorable Lord Jesus, was taken up; but before He was taken up He gave commandments to the apostles He had chosen. There was nothing haphazard about what their Master expected. “To whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs.” When Luke wrote this, many of the people who had known the Lord Jesus on earth were still living. They could back up his testimony and say, “Yes, we saw Him and handled Him; we know He was in the same body and was the same blessed Savior who died for us on Calvary.”
“Being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” He was the rejected King. His own people said, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” When Pilate said, “Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.” But God acknowledged His kingly title and He has taken Him up to Glory and He is seated there on His father’s throne, waiting till His enemies be made His footstool (Hebrews 10:13). God calls on a world of rebellious sinners to concede His authority and thus recognize even now the claims of the kingdom of God. That kingdom will not be set up in full display until Christ returns to earth, but at the present, during His absence, all who believe on Him have been brought out from the authority of Satan into the kingdom of the Son. Wherever the message of His love goes and men recognize Him as Lord and King, we have the expression of the kingdom of God in its present mystical sense. It is called in Matthew’s Gospel the kingdom of Heaven. When the Lord comes back, He “shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend” (Matthew 13:41). Though rejected by the world, He is the absent King and the one we gladly own as our Savior and our Lord.
But now as they went forth to witness, it was not to be in their own power. “The promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4) was the promise that the Holy Spirit would come to earth to endow redeemed men and women with divine power, that they might go and proclaim the gospel. Our Lord Jesus Christ had told His disciples of the coming of the Comforter. He told them not to hurry, not to run before they were sent, but to abide in Jerusalem until that blessed One, the third person of the Godhead, would come to earth. He was to fill them, baptize them, and then thrust them out to carry the gospel to all men everywhere.
There is no other way of explaining the marvelous results of the apostles’ preaching than this—they were empowered by the Holy Spirit of God. Just as there was a definite time when God the Son came to dwell on earth for a limited period, so there was a time when God the Holy Spirit came to earth to indwell believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and to strengthen and preserve them. Christ was born in Bethlehem exactly in accordance with Old Testament prophecy; the Holy Spirit came to earth on the day of Pentecost exactly as foretold in type in Leviticus 23 and in accordance with the promise of the Lord Jesus.
He said, “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” Those to whom our Lord spoke had already been baptized with John’s baptism, but they needed this baptism of the Holy Spirit to fit them for their service and, as we shall see later, to unite them into one body.
Christ had previously spoken to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. As Jews they of course knew from the Old Testament prophets that the day would come when their people would be restored to their land and, as a regenerated nation, be the means of blessing to the whole earth. “Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit” (Isaiah 27:6). They were looking for the coming of the kingdom and the restoration of Israel, and so they asked, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” This was a most sensible question to them, though we may not think so. We do not have the background they had. Did the Lord say, “No, you have lost your chance; these Old Testament prophecies are canceled and never will be fulfilled.” No, indeed. He simply said, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.” I wish we could always remember that. The kingdom of God has not yet come, but some day it will be set up on this earth, and men are still trying to figure out the exact time when that will take place. Men persist in endeavoring to ferret out that which is the Father’s own secret, and so they attempt by various ways to find out when the King will come. But to all such our Lord says: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.” Some day He will make everything plain. When God’s time comes prophecy will be fulfilled to the letter. Jesus Himself said, “Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matthew 24:36).
But while it was not for them to know the time when the kingdom will be set up, there was something they might know: “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 Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” That was the divine program for the evangelization of the world. There was no cutting it up into separate little dispensations, as some imagine, but the Lord laid out the whole program from the beginning.
Notice the order in which they were to evangelize. They were to start at Jerusalem, in God’s eyes the guiltiest city on earth. In Jerusalem the people had cried, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him” in spite of Christ’s testimony and His mighty works, even the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The Lord Jesus commanded them to begin at Jerusalem and tell them of God’s grace, even for the guiltiest and the worst. Then when they had told the gospel story there, they were to go to the surrounding country of Judea, and then move on to Samaria (to that mixed people who were hated by the Jews and hated the Jews in return). They were to tell them that the Lord Jesus was the Savior for them, that He had died and risen and was waiting to forgive all who would put their trust in Him. Then nothing was to hold the messengers back, but they were to go on to the uttermost part of the earth. That was the commission. They were slow in carrying out this commandment of the Lord, but as the years have gone on Christian hearts have taken courage, and the work of world evangelization has progressed in the order given.
When he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel [two glorious beings from Heaven itself]; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? 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 (Acts 1:9-11).
“This same Jesus.” Oh, I love those three words. Don’t you? No change in Him. And nineteen hundred years in Glory haven’t changed Him in the least.
Preparation for the Coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:12-14)
And so the heavens were closed and there was committed to the church the commandment to carry the message into all the world. First Jesus had said, “Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). The new dispensation was to be ushered in by the coming of the Holy Ghost, ten days later.
Notice how the disciples occupied those intervening ten days. First, in verses 12-14 we find them given to prayer and supplication. We read that they returned to Jerusalem “a sabbath day’s journey.” That is, a short distance over the brook Kedron.
“And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room.” Possibly this was the same upper room in which they had observed the Passover, though we cannot be absolutely certain. There the eleven disciples continued in prayer and supplication. Nor were they alone—“With the women [the godly women], and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.”
Notice that Mary the mother of Jesus, was among them, but you will observe they were not praying to Mary, nor were they burning candles to her. They were not addressing themselves to her, nor asking her for any blessing; but Mary, the mother of Jesus, was kneeling with the eleven and the women, and all together they prayed to the Father. The church of God wandered far from that in the centuries that followed when it exalted Mary almost to the place of a female divinity. Over the portals of a church in South America there is an inscription in Spanish, which translated into English reads, “Come unto Mary, all ye burdened and distressed with your sins, and she will give you relief.” Our blessed Lord used those words of Himself when He said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” They have put the mother in the place of her incarnate Son.
It is an interesting fact that this is the last time in the Bible we read of Mary the mother of Jesus. From this time on she passes out of sight; she takes her place with the rest of God’s people who were waiting for Pentecost and for the evangelization of the world to begin. She passes quietly off the scene in her womanly place, probably to find a home with the apostle John in accordance with the words of the Lord Jesus, for you will remember the Lord committed her to him (John 19:26-27).
Then, notice the brethren of Jesus were in this prayer meeting. You will remember when He was here on earth we read, “neither did his brethren believe in him” (John 7:5). The members of His own household, brought up side by side with Him, did not believe that their brother Jesus could be the Anointed of Jehovah and the One of whom the psalmist had sung and the prophets had prophesied. But now that Christ was risen from the dead, His brethren believed in Him, and a little later on we see His brother James as one of the most prominent disciples in the city of Jerusalem.
“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication.” What a beautiful picture! This was the preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit. But do not misunderstand. The coming of the Spirit did not depend on their prayer. It had been predicted that He must come on the day of Pentecost. But that being settled in the mind of God, He moved on the hearts of His people that they might be in a prayerful attitude. They were to be endued with power. You see, when God is going to do some great thing He moves the hearts of people to pray. He stirs them up to pray in view of that which He is about to do so that they might be prepared for it. The disciples needed the self-examination that comes through prayer and supplication, that they might be ready for the tremendous event which was about to take place—the coming to the earth of God the Holy Spirit to dwell in believers and empower them to witness for Him.
Mathias Chosen (Acts 1:15-26)
In these verses we have the last official act of the old dispensation. The apostles were mourning the loss of one of their number. There were now only eleven and God had chosen twelve. Twelve in Scripture is the number of perfect administration, and Jesus had said, “Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). But one apostle was missing. Would there be an empty throne then? Would there be one less? No; God had provided for that.
I know some people think the apostles made a mistake in electing a successor to Judas, and that God meant the apostle Paul to be the twelfth. But Paul is never linked with the twelve; in fact there are twelve apart from him. The twelve are to have a special place in the coming kingdom in connection with administering the affairs of Israel. Seated on twelve thrones they will judge the twelve tribes. Paul had a unique ministry and will have a special place in the coming kingdom.
How then were they to fill the vacancy? Peter evidently acted as the Lord instructed before His ascension. He had told them many things pertaining to the kingdom of God. He explained to them what He wanted them to do, so they were not left to guess at the mind of the Lord. Peter acted in full accord with the instruction received when he stood before the disciples, about 120 of them, and said, “Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus. For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry” (Acts 1:16-17).
What a pitiful thing that was! For three and a half years Judas had belonged to that apostolic company. He walked with Jesus, heard the teaching of Jesus, saw the same marvelous miracles, yet all the time this man was out of harmony with the rest. Jesus, who knew the hearts of men, said as He looked at them, “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” (John 6:70) He did not say, “One of you is in danger of becoming a devil.” He knew one of them did not believe, had all the time treasured traitorous thoughts, was corrupt and utterly untrustworthy. Yet this same one had walked with the rest of them, was numbered with them and obtained part of their ministry. How that ought to speak to us!
It is not enough to take the Christian name, become members of the Christian churches, submit to the ordinance of baptism, participate with believers in the Lord’s supper or give of our money to further the affairs of Christ. We need to be sure we have definitely opened our hearts to the Lord Jesus, that we have received Him as our own personal Savior. Judas failed here. I believe Judas thought of Christ as the promised Messiah; I believe Judas thought Jesus would declare Himself King and reveal Himself in the overthrowing of the Roman government. It is one thing to think of Him as Messiah; another to trust Him as one’s own Savior and receive Him as one’s own Lord. Judas failed there.
Let us be warned therefore and make sure ours is not just an intellectual recognition that Jesus is God’s Son, the rightful King and Savior of sinners, but that He is
our Savior and
our Lord. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart [truly believe] that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9). But He says, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” And Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:22-23). Of His own He says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish” (John 10:27-28). Notice that He will say of His own sheep, “I know them.” He will say of those who are lost, “I never knew you.” He will never say to any in that day, “I used to know you,” for they will be manifested then as never having been born of God.
In Acts 1:18 we have the sad end of Judas, so far as this life is concerned. In the Gospels we are told Judas was overtaken with remorse. Matthew wrote, “Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself (Matthew 27:3). Ordinarily, the word for repentance implies a true change of mind, but the word used here simply means Judas was filled with remorse. When he realized what he had done, he was stricken with horror and brought the money to the chief priests and elders and threw it down, crying, “I have betrayed the innocent blood.” And they, being cold, calculating, and religiously hardened, answered with indifference: “What is that to us? see thou to that” (Matthew 27:4). Judas fled from them and we are told he hanged himself. They were so religious and punctilious they said in effect, “We can’t put this money into the treasury, because it is the price of blood.” Therefore they used it to purchase a plot of ground in which to bury strangers, those who did not have relatives to claim them.
Some think we have a contradiction here. The Gospel says Judas went out and hanged himself (Matthew 27:5). The book of Acts says, “Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.” There is no contradiction. Peter simply supplied further information. I think even as I read the words I can see the horrid picture. Judas, distracted by the awful sense of his guilt, driven by remorse for what he had done, rushes out. He sees a tree perhaps on the edge of a cliff, nooses himself to it and leaps into space. His body is torn asunder and the horribly sickening spectacle lies there for all to see—the end, so far as earth is concerned, of the man who sold the Savior for thirty pieces of silver!
I know people who are selling Him for less than that! I know people who are selling their hope of Heaven for a little worldly pleasure. I know some who are selling the Lord for the satisfaction of fleshly lusts and carnal indulgences! Judas sold Christ for money. What are you selling Him for, unsaved friend? At whatever price, it is a bad bargain. You are bound to lose out in the end. Judas lost out in this life. What about the life to come? you ask. Can we follow him out into eternity? Yes, with the aid of the words of the Lord Jesus Christ we can follow Judas beyond the tree where he hung, where his body burst asunder. Jesus said, “It had been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24). What does that mean? It means unending judgment to the utmost limits of eternity awaited Judas. If a time ever came when Judas repented, terrible though his crime, then it would have been a mercy that he had been born. But for him there was only an absolutely hopeless eternity, as there is for all who reject the Lord Jesus Christ. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).
Peter, divinely guided, remembered two passages of Scripture and quoted from the Septuagint version. The first was from Psalm 69:25, referring to the betrayal of Christ, “Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell there.” Peter said that is fulfilled. And in Psalm 109:8 is another passage, “Let another take his office,” or, as translated in the King James version, “his bishoprick.”
So Judas, lost, forfeited everything. Now somebody else must take his place. The number of the twelve must be complete, so they set forth two—Joseph and Matthias—and prayed and said, “Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, show whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.” The place of the utterly lost and rained! So they cast their lots and the lot fell on Matthias; he was numbered with the eleven apostles, thus making the twelve.
Does somebody object to the manner of his election! It was the Old Testament method. In the book of Proverbs we read, “The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33). This was the last of the Old Testament economy: the new economy began on Pentecost.
And so we read in Acts 2:14, “Peter, standing up with the eleven.” That includes Matthias, to make twelve. And in chapter 6:2 we read “the twelve called the multitude”—so God Himself applied the term
twelve to the eleven and Matthias. These are the twelve who are to sit by and by on the twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.