We’ve already discussed who Luke and Theophilus were in our introduction to the book of Acts, so we’ll jump straight into chapter 1. We see quickly that Luke is now going to transition from his explanation of the life and events of Jesus to what happened in the weeks, months and years immediately after His death.
Acts 1:2 makes this clear, that Luke left off with Jesus’ ascension and that is where Acts will pick up. Luke gives a short refresher on the ascension of Jesus here in chapter one. We know that Jesus stayed with His followers for exactly forty days after He arose from the dead (1:3). We’ll come back to this tidbit in just a little bit.
Keys to Understanding
Jesus gave a very clear command to His followers that they were not to leave Jerusalem, but that they were to go there and wait for the Holy Spirit. We take for granted this simple statement, but it is a keystone to understanding a lot of what will happen in the book of Acts. Remember, this is recorded in Acts 1 as one of the most important things Jesus said during His forty days on earth after arising from the dead. The apostles retold this to Luke as of critical importance, which is why it is here.
After mentioning just one statement Jesus made over dinner, Luke jumps directly to the ascension. He begins the ascension with something he didn’t mention in Luke. When they arrived in Bethany (Luke 24:50), the disciples asked Jesus if He was going to restore the kingdom to Israel at that time. Notice that Jesus never says, “No, that’s not what this is about. I only came to save your soul.” Instead, Jesus tells them that it is not for them to know when that will happen. This is another critical statement for 21st century Christians to understand. This phrase ties together Acts with the book of Revelation and every other New Testament book in between.
Jesus is going to return the kingdom to Israel one day. We must never forget that Jesus was and forever is a Jewish man who will one day take the throne of David, a Jewish King, in Jerusalem, the capitol Jewish city. God’s eternal plan always has and always will be Israel-centric. Our prejudices that tell us otherwise will cause us to miss very important things in the book of Acts; things that will affect our interpretation of a great many things in scripture.
Go: In This Order
Jesus finishes His statement with the phrase commonly known as the “Great Commission.” “Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” He tells them (Acts 1:8). This is yet another statement that will prove very important as we progress further along in Acts. In fact, I have already made that assertion two times, so let’s review them before we move on:
Command 1: Return to Jerusalem
Command 2: Be my witnesses in:
- First in Jerusalem
- Second in Judea and Samaria
- Third, to the ends of the earth
We will discover throughout the book of Acts that obeying these last commands of Jesus was of principal importance to the apostles. It may not seem so important, but many great thinkers have greatly misunderstood and misinterpreted the events that follow because they do not use these statements as the foundation of the book of Acts. Luke has recapped his gospel account of the ascension with this new information for just this reason: Acts will not make sense if we do not use this chapter as the bedrock of our understanding. In fact, I believe many Western Christians have strayed far from biblical Christianity because they do not take to heart the message Luke is trying to convey starting here in chapter one.
After Jesus is taken into heaven we meet two angels who appear from no where. They tell the disciples that Jesus will return in the same way that He left. We understand that they mean in the clouds.
7“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.
Upper Room Prayer Meeting
After the apostles returned to Jerusalem we find that they are staying in an “upper room” together. It must have been a large upper room because it held at least 120 people (v 15). Peter addressed the group and said they must replace Judas with another to take his apostolic position. Under inspiration, Peter understands that the book of Psalms had spoken of Judas and that they must replace him.
They cast lots to replace Judas. This is the last time we will see God’s people using this practice. No one today fully understands what casting lots entailed or how it was carried out, but one thing is for sure: the practice was very soon going to be unnecessary. God said He would speak in cast lots (Proverbs 16:33), but very soon He will begin speaking so clearly through the Holy Spirit that the practice is never mentioned again in scripture.
Matthias, someone who had been a faithful follower of Jesus since the time of John the Baptist, was chosen. We haven’t heard of Matthias before, and we never will again, but oh, what an honor! Though his name is only mentioned briefly here, we will forever know him as having one of the twelve foundations of the walls of the eternal Jerusalem laid in his honor (Revelation 21:14).
Throughout Acts we will be reminded of many of the themes that Luke has intentionally begun here in chapter one. If we do not see obedience to the commands of Jesus listed in this chapter as a primary motivator for many of the events in Acts, we will misunderstand or misinterpret them.
Read, pray and meditate over this chapter. Make sure you have read it several times so that it is in your heart. Without understanding the clear themes we’ve introduced in Acts chapter one, many things in Acts will not make sense.
- What was Jesus’ last command to the apostles? Why do you think He saved this one for last?
- What was the apostles’ last question for Jesus? Why do you think they asked this?
- Why is Jesus’ response to their last question so interesting?
- How many disciples gathered in Jerusalem? How long? What do you think it was like meeting with them? How do you think they did it?
- Why was it important to replace Judas? Why do you think we never hear of lots again after this?