The Book of Acts continues the narrative from the gospel of Luke and traces the Christian movement from Jesus’ resurrection to Paul’s proclaiming the gospel in Rome. For the purposes of this study, we will take the position that Luke is the writer of Luke-Acts. “The first half of Acts focuses on the Jerusalem church and its leaders, and the second part is dominated by Paul and his missionary journeys.”[i]
Chapter one opens with Luke admonishing Theophilus (meaning” lover of God”) about the things he had written in his first book and recounting Jesus’ appearance over a forty-day period to a group of eyewitnesses, before he was taken up to heaven.
The Apostles wanted Jesus to answer when he would restore the kingdom to Israel. “Despite their forty days of instruction, they still misunderstand both the nature of the Kingdom and its chronology – they still suppose that it means the restoration of Israel’s sovereignty, i.e., driving out or destroying the Romans.”[ii] Jesus instructed them not to worry about the times, but to get ready to receive the power of the Holy Spirit. He reminded them that John had baptized with water, but they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit in a few days. According to Boring and Craddock, “The Spirit is important in Luke’s understanding of the life and mission of the church. Luke also understands the danger of unbridled spiritual enthusiasm or fanaticism, so Luke will always connect the Holy Spirit to the life and witness of Jesus Christ.”[iii] This is interesting as many of us are lacking knowledge when it comes to understanding and seeking the Holy Spirit as the third person in the trinity.
After Jesus gave them instructions, he was lifted and taken by a cloud out of their site. As they stood there gazing, two men in white appeared and asked them why they were gazing. They reminded them that the same Jesus who they saw ascend into heaven, would return again. From “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria to the ends of the earth” can be understood as the outline of the church’s movement and growth. “These words…reorients their perspective, from looking up and expecting the Parousia to looking out into the world and their mission in it.”[iv]
After the ascension, the Disciples returned to Jerusalem. The author names those who were in attendance in a room upstairs (we call it the upper room). Peter stood up and began to speak to the crowd about how the scriptures had to be fulfilled. He recounted what happened with Judas and gave instructions that they needed to find a replacement for his position (a new leader). There were two individuals, who they felt were worthy of the position, Justus, also called Barsabbas, also known as Justus, and Matthias. They entered into a time of prayer and asked the Lord to show them who should get the position. After they prayed, they cast lots, and the lot fell on Matthias.
At this point, Matthias was added to the eleven apostles. It’s not quite like how we choose leaders today, which is a whole other topic. “As the church grew geographically and numerically, crossing national and cultural boundaries, for Luke, it was not necessary that the church remain the same, but it was important that authorized representatives of the original faith guide and approve the new development, i.e., to have authentic apostles as the churches leaders.”[v]
To be witnesses means to be followers of Jesus Christ. Witnesses were not just those who were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and mission, but those who came after his ascension, because of the Apostles’ message, movement, and witness. Many gave their lives to follow Jesus, not just in their behaviors, but by following his way of service. Even still today, we must declare verbally, why we choose to follow the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus. “For Luke, there is no private, individualistic followers of Christ.”[vi]
Prayer: Dear God, help us to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, as we seek to understand his mission and purpose, and the history and development of the early church. Enlighten us to see ourselves in this text, and the need to choose leaders who follow you. Help to discern from the guidance of your Holy Spirit, those who are to serve in leadership roles. Help us, Oh God, to say yes, repeatedly, and never be afraid to witness to your transforming power in our lives. Amen.
[i] The Oxford Annotated Bible, NRSV, New Testament, pg. 160.
[ii] Boring and Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary, pg. 367.
[iii] Ibid., pg.366.
[iv] Ibid., pg. 367.
[v] Ibid., pg. 369.
[vi] Ibid., pg. 367.