A Christian Guide to Acts by R. David Pogge

Chapter 1

The Will of God

Acts 1

Luke had previously written a letter (or “book”) to Theophilus, which we now call, “The Gospel of Saint Luke.”

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. [Acts 1:1-2]

The Book of Acts is a continuation of Luke’s first letter to Theophilus, starting with the day Jesus was taken up to heaven.

Section 1.1 - What Now?

For more than three years, Jesus had been leading the apostles. Suddenly, Jesus was crucified, and they were left without a leader. What should they do? They weren’t prepared—despite the fact that Jesus had predicted his death and resurrection 1 and had promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide them.

Jesus appeared to them briefly several times after His resurrection.

He [Jesus] appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.  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.” [Acts 1:3-5]

They were instructed to wait in Jerusalem until they were baptized by the Holy Spirt. They did not know when this would happen.

He [Jesus] said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  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.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up 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 has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” [Acts 1:7-11]

They weren't given instructions about what to do while waiting, but they could take comfort in two things. First, they would eventually receive power to be witnesses. Like them, you can receive power to be witnesses, too.

Second, they would see Jesus return to Earth in a cloud from Heaven. Like them, you will see Jesus return, too. If He does not come while you are still alive, you will see Him return to Earth when you are resurrected.

How does one “wait.” Is waiting doing nothing? The apostles had to do something, even if they did nothing more than breathing and eating. Acts Chapter 1 tells what Peter did while they were waiting.

Section 1.2 - Did Peter Make a Mistake?

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was one of our number and shared in our ministry. … Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 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.”

So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles. [Acts 1:15-17, 21-26]

Peter had good reason to believe that there should be 12 apostles. God loves the number 12. He gave Ishmael twelve sons who became rulers. 2 God gave Jacob (later renamed Israel) twelve sons, too. 3 It was apparently so important to God that there always be 12 tribes of Israel that He split the tribe of Joseph into two tribes (Ephraim and Manasseh) when He designated the tribe of Levi as a priestly class. 4 The number 12 figures prominently in the design and construction of New Jerusalem.

It [New Jerusalem] had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.  There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west.  The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. [Revelation 21:12-14]

Certainly Judas lost his position as an apostle and needed to be replaced; but Peter failed to recognize that it is God who picks His apostles. One could argue that Paul, not Matthias was the actual replacement apostle. In fact, Paul did claim to be an apostle at least nine times. 5 Matthias is not mentioned again anywhere in the New Testament. God apparently did not recognize Matthias as an official apostle and entrust him with as much responsibility as He gave Paul; but we won’t know for sure until we see whose name is on the twelfth foundation.

Peter felt it was his place to replace Judas; but was he actually acting under the influence of the Holy Spirt? Peter made mistakes before (when he walked on water, and denied Jesus). Was this another of Peter’s mistakes? Probably so. It just goes to show how hard it is to know the will of God.

Section 1.3 - Can Lots Determine the Will of God?

Regardless of whether or not Peter was right to cast lots in this case, the Bible does endorse the casting of lots on at least nine occasions. 6 The difference between these cases, and the way Peter cast the lots, is that Peter rigged the game. The lot could not have fallen on Paul. Paul wasn’t eligible because of the arbitrrary limitation Peter specified in Acts 1:21 (“one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us.”)

In the Old Testament examples of casting lots, everyone had an equal chance, so God really did use an unbiased roll of the die to make His will known.

If we really want to obey God’s will, and we really have no other way of knowing God’s will, perhaps it is OK to, “let go and let God,” allowing chance to reveal God’s will—but that is a risky road to take. The danger is that we might use a modern equivalent of casting lots to abdicate responsibility, and blame God if the decision made by casting lots leads to disaster. If we get our answers from a Ouija Board, the spirit guiding the pointer is more likely to come from a dark place than from the Light.

Back to the Introduction Table of Contents On to Chapter 2

Footnotes:

1 Matthew 17:9
2 Genesis 17:20
3 Genesis 35:22
4 Numbers 1
5 1 Corinthians 1:1, 2 Corinthians 1:1, Galatians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, 1 Thessalonians 2:6, 1 Timothy 1:1, 2 Timothy 1:1, Titus 1:1
6 Joshua 18:6-10, Judges 20:9, 1 Chronicles 24:5, 31, 25:8, 13-14, 26:16, Nehemiah 11:1, Jonah 1:7