The Ascension of Jesus. Acts 1, 1-11.

The last commission of Jesus: V.1. The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, v.2. until the day in which He was taken up, after that He through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom He had chosen; v.3. to whom also He showed Himself alive after His Passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God; v.4. And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith He, ye have heard of Me. v.5. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. “The former treatise,” the first discourse, Luke had made, namely, in his gospel, to which he here evidently refers. The present history is a sequel to the gospel narrative; as the first writing had given an account of the ministry of Jesus, so the present book is to give an account of the labors of His ministers. This book, like the gospel, is addressed and dedicated to Theophilus, who may well have been a citizen of Rome holding a high official position, probably of equestrian rank, and a resident of the imperial city. In the gospel Luke had spoken of all; he had given a complete account of the labors of Jesus. The phrase “began to do and teach” is an idiomatic expression, as much as “both did and taught” in English. But there is here also a hint of the fact that Jesus began the work of the Gospel and committed its continuance to His disciples. The teaching of Jesus continued, in a way, even after His resurrection, although He then no longer spoke before the general public, but only to the believers. In those days, up to the day of His ascension, - and especially on this day, - He commissioned the apostles, He laid a certain obligation upon them. This commission, according to the intimate union obtaining in the Godhead, He did not give in an independent way, but through the same divine Spirit whom they received in extraordinary measure shortly after His ascension. All the communications of Jesus to His disciples are transmitted through the agency of the Spirit, whom He breathed upon them on Easter evening, John 20, 22. Note the distinction: Jesus had chosen the disciples out of the unbelieving world, and He had chosen the apostles from the ranks of the believers. To the latter the special apostolic commission was entrusted. Jesus Himself, at this time, was taken up, He was lifted up on high, He experienced His ascension as an act of the Father. But in the interval between His resurrection and ascension, Jesus had taken a number of opportunities to show Himself as their living Savior to His disciples. They had seen Him suffer; they had received the evidence of His death. Therefore He gave them, not only one, but many indubitable proofs of His resurrection from the dead. During a period of forty days He was seen by them on various occasions. And every new appearance was another link in the chain of convincing, certain evidence that He was living. He appeared to Mary Magdalene, John 20, 14-18; to the women returning from the grave, Matt. 28, 9. 10; to the Emmaus disciples, Luke 24, 15; to Simon Peter, Luke 24, 34; to ten of the apostles, other disciples also being present, Luke 24, 3 6; John 20, 19; to the eleven disciples a week later, John 20, 26; to seven of the apostles in Galilee, John 21, 4; to James and 500 brethren at one time, 1 Cor. 15, 6. 7; to the assembly of the disciples on Ascension Day, Luke 24, 50. Note: There is no discrepancy between Luke 24, 43-51 and the present passage, for in the former account Luke has contracted the interviews of the two appearances, while in this narrative he observes the distinction. At every appearance of the risen Christ His conversation and charge to His disciples concerned matters of the kingdom of God, He committed to them the charge of the truths and commands. In word and in deed the apostles and all disciples of the Lord are to proclaim that Kingdom. The one great message of the Church for all times shall be the acceptance of Jesus the Redeemer by faith, by which act the believer becomes a member of the kingdom of God.

Having thus summarized the events of the forty days intervening between the resurrection and the ascension, Luke now proceeds to give the gist of the conversation which took place on the last day of the visible Christ on earth. On this day Christ had assembled His disciples for the last time, not only the apostles, but all the believers, a crowded gathering, according to the Greek word. It was at this time that Jesus charged the assembled congregation of believers, in an emphatic command, not to journey away from Jerusalem. They were to stay there and wait for the promise of the Father, the promise of the Holy Spirit which He had made to them on the evening before His death, John 14, 26: 15, 26. 27; 16, 12. 13. This promise they had heard, and this He calls to their remembrance. And He reminds them of another fact. John’s baptism had been with water only, it had pointed forward to another, greater baptism of which John spoke, of a baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire, Luke 3, 16. The extraordinary communication of the gifts of the Holy Spirit was to take place, as Jesus promises, not many days hence, after not many days. The prophecy of Joel 3, 18 was about to be fulfilled Notice that Jesus both kindles in the hearts of the disciples a joyful longing and desire for the wonderful gift which is now so near, and exercises the faith of the apostles in His Word.

The final promise of the Holy Spirit: v.6. When they, therefore, were come together, they asked of Him, saying, Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? V.7. And He said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in His own power. V.8. But 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. When Jesus referred to the nearness of the great revelation of the Spirit’s gifts, the disciples, whose hopes of some form of temporal kingdom under the leadership of Christ had been revived since His resurrection, thought that He was referring to this blissful consummation of their hopes. Those that had come together therefore, most likely in Jerusalem, put the question to the Lord: At this time wilt Thou restore the kingdom unto Israel? Their minds had returned entirely to the earthly, carnal understanding. They understood the prophecies of old as well as the promises of the Lord of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, to be accomplished by the utter annihilation of the enemies of God and the complete victory for the Jews. Their foolish thoughts were not effectually dispelled until the Spirit of Pentecost was shed forth upon them. Although the question of the disciples had been put in all sincerity and sobriety, it argued for a remarkable lack of proper understanding after all the patient teaching of Jesus. His answer, therefore, in a way is a reproof. For He refers them to the real Messianic kingdom, to the future Kingdom of Glory, which will see the full revelation of Christ’s majesty before the eyes of all men, very comforting to those that are to partake of this bliss with their Redeemer. Jesus here guards the royal prerogative, the exclusive rights of the Father. It is not the business of the disciples to know the times and the seasons, critical and otherwise, which are controlled by the exclusive authority and power of the Father. That most critical time and hour above all, which will decide the fate of mankind, is not theirs to inquire for. Note: Whatever pertains to the revelation of God's majesty should not be a subject of anxious thought for the Christians: both the government of the world and the Church and the revelation of the future glory are in His hands, to be revealed at His time. Jesus rather reminds the apostles that they will receive, will be given power, strength, which they should exert and put forth in the great duties of their calling. This power would be imparted to them when the Holy Ghost would come down upon them. The power to be effective witnesses for Christ is evidently meant. Filled with this strength from above, the disciples should bear witness, should tell what they had seen and heard of Christ, whose message they were to proclaim and who was to be the content of their message. In Jerusalem their work was to begin, but not to be confined to that city. In ever-widening circles their influence should extend, by virtue of the power given them through the Holy Ghost, throughout Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the world. There is neither limit nor boundary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Note: The believers to this day have the same call and the same promise, but must observe also the same command, to be witnesses of Christ, of His salvation, to the uttermost parts of the earth.

The ascension of Christ: V.9. And when He had spoken these things, while they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight. V.10. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; v.11. 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. Jesus had finished the words of His last commission to His disciples; He had entrusted to them the preaching of the Gospel to all nations, Matt. 28, 19. But while they were still looking at Him in anxious expectation, desiring to hear more of the words of comfort and strength out of His mouth, He was lifted up before them. He was in the act of blessing them with uplifted hands when He was taken from them. That is the picture of Christ which should be most dear to the memory of a Christian, with His hands stretched out in blessing over them. And a cloud, the symbol of divine glory, a truly regal chariot, shut the Master from the view of the disciples as He entered its bosom. There was no deception, no optical illusion; the ascension of Jesus is a historical fact which cannot be doubted. The Lord went up with a shout, with the sound of a trumpet, Ps 47, 5. He has ascended up on high and led captivity captive, Ps. 68, 18. He has spoiled principalities and powers, He has made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it, Col. 2, 15. He has ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things, Eph. 4, 10 By His exaltation and ascension the Son of Man, also according to His human body, has entered into the full and unlimited use of His divine omnipresence. His gracious presence is therefore assured to His congregation on earth. He is now nearer to His believers than He was to His disciples in the days of His flesh. He is now sitting at the right hand of His heavenly Father. As our Brother He has assumed the full use of the divine power and majesty. He reigns with omnipotence over all things, but especially also over His Church. God has put all things under His feet, and has given Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all, Eph. 1, 22. 23. By His Word and Sacrament He gathers unto Himself a congregation and Church upon earth. He works in and with His servants; He governs in the midst of His enemies. He preserves and protects His Church against all the enmity of the hostile world and against the very portals of hell. And His intercession before His heavenly Father makes our salvation a certainty, Rom. 8, 34. While the disciples were still looking after their Lord with longing gaze, there suddenly appeared two men in white garments, in shining vestments, two angels that had just acted as escorts to the victorious Lord. These angels aroused the disciples from the revery into which they had sunk when gazing after their Lord. Addressing the apostles as men of Galilee, the heavenly messengers told them that the time spent in longingly wishing for the visible presence or return of Christ was wasted. And they gave them and all the believers a joyful assurance. This same Jesus, who was here taken up into heaven, apparently taken away from them, will come back again in the very same way in which they watched Him disappear from sight. Jesus will return visibly and bodily. With the same body, clothed in the same human nature, He will descend from heaven to judge the quick and the dead. That is the hope of all believers, that they will see Jesus with their own eyes. And in the mean time they live under His merciful reign and government, safe and secure, knowing that He is with them to the end of the world. This hope and certainty makes the believers willing to work for the Lord and to do the works of their calling on earth in His name and to His glory. The time is short, and His return is both sure and imminent, John 9, 4.

The Election of Matthias. Acts 1, 12-26.

The return to Jerusalem: V.12. Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a Sabbath-day’s journey. V.13. And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James, the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas, the brother of James. V.14. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren. The ascension of Jesus took place on Mount Olivet, east of Jerusalem, not very far from the town of Bethany, Luke 24, 50. its distance from the Jewish capitalis a Sabbath-day’s journey, seven and a half stadia (a little over 1,500 yards) There is no contradiction between the accounts concerning the location of the various places and the exact spot where the ascension occurred. The summit of the mountain was approximately seven and one-half stadia from Jerusalem, Bethany was almost twice that distance, and the ascension took place in the Bethany neighborhood, on the southeastern slope of the hill. After the removal of their Lord in such a miraculous manner the disciples returned to Jerusalem. Note how exactly Luke describes the geographical location for his non-Jewish readers. At Jerusalem they were to wait for the great miracle of the outpouring of the Spirit. So they went to their usual meeting-place, to the upper chamber, probably in the house of one of the disciples. The disciples held public meetings In the Temple, Luke 24. 53, principally in the interest of mission-work. But for mutual consolation and encouragement they met at the houses of members of the congregation. The names of the chief men and of some of the women of this first congregation are here recorded. Peter is named first, as usual in the gospels; James, the elder, and John, the younger son of Zebedee, are next named. These three head the list as the special intimates of the Lord Then comes Andrew, the brother of Peter: Philip, also of Bethsaida; Thomas, surnamed Didymus; Bartholomew, formerly known as Nathanael; Matthew, the publican, previously known as Levi; James, the son of Alphaeus; Simon the Zealot, of Cana; and finally Judas, the brother of James. All of these men had been preserved, though the storm of adversity occasioned by the Passion and death of Christ had struck them with great severity. But they all were now ready at their post, eager to begin their appointed work and waiting only for the promised power from on high, in the sending of the Holy Spirit. The eleven disciples spent the interval between Ascension and Pentecost in the best possible way; they were engaged continually and perseveringly in prayer, and all with one accord, in the same mind. Their prayers were both general and specific, for they deeply felt their weakness and spiritual poverty, and they were anxious to receive the gift of the Spirit, as promised by their Master. Their action is to be commended as an example for the believers of all time, to join both publicly and privately in the earnest prayer for the gift of the Holy Ghost, without whose power and enlightenment we can do nothing. In this service of prayer the apostles were not alone, for there were with them some of the faithful women, probably those that had ministered to the Lord even in Galilee, and later had made the journey to Jerusalem to be present under the cross, witness the burial, and receive the message of the risen Lord. One woman is mentioned by name, Mary, the mother of Christ. She had not returned to Nazareth, since John was faithfully carrying out the request of the crucified Jesus to consider Mary his mother. Mary was undoubtedly regarded with great respect by the apostles, but there is no indication of the idolatrous homage which was later paid to her in various churches. To this small congregation or inner circle now belonged also the brethren (half-brothers, cousins) of the Lord, who are previously mentioned as unbelieving, John 7, 5. Just when they relinquished their unbelief and accepted Jesus as their Savior and Lord is not recorded in the gospels, but they were staunch adherents of Jesus from this time forward. Note: No matter how energetically a person has formerly opposed the Gospel of salvation, all this should be forgotten as soon as he accepts the Gospel-truth. The conviction of faith, in such a case, is usually coupled with the firm intention to work all the more humbly and sincerely for the once despised Master.

The address of Peter: V.15. And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,) v.16. 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. V.17. For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry. V.18. 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. V.19. And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem, insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, the field of blood. V.20. For it is written in the Book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein; and his bishopric let another take. “In those days,” on one of the ten days intervening between the ascension of Christ and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. At one of the meetings held during those days Peter assumed the initiative by rising up and standing before the disciples in addressing them on a very important matter. Upon this occasion there were some hundred and twenty disciples assembled together, probably all of those in Jerusalem that had professed adherence to the Lord at that time. Note that they are called brethren, bound together by a common faith and by a common love more closely than by the bonds of blood relationship. Mark also that Peter, although acting as spokesman, yet is one of the brethren; he acts with their consent, and does nothing in an imperious manner. Very solemnly Peter addresses the assembly as “men and brethren,” the importance of his subject being reflected throughout his discourse. He points out that it was necessary first of all for the Scripture to be fulfilled in the defection of Judas Iscariot. His betrayal of Christ had been foretold, Ps. 41, 9. More than a thousand years before the Messiah had bitterly denounced the shamelessness of the traitor. It was Judas that was the leader of the enemies’ band at the capture of Jesus, that showed the soldiers and servants the way to the probable place of Christ’s abode on that night. Note with what tact Peter handles his delicate subject throughout, not heaping scorn or abuse upon the traitor, but speaking of him with all lenity. His example might well be followed at the present time, no matter whose death is spoken about. Judas had been numbered with the twelve apostles; he had been chosen by the Lord as one of the men that were to serve as His messengers and ambassadors to bring the Gospel to all people; he had obtained a lot, or share, in this ministry by actual selection of Jesus; he was supposed to receive a charge as well as the other apostles actually did. The call of Jesus is always sincere and with the intention of keeping the believer at His side; the unbeliever’s defection must be placed entirely to his own charge.

Verses 18 and 19 are probably to be regarded as a note inserted by Luke for the understanding of the Gentile readers. Judas had received a certain sum of money, thirty denarii, the price of a slave, as the price of blood for the betrayal of his Master. When he was then seized by repentance and fear on account of his horrible deed, he brought back the money to the high priests, and since they refused to accept it, he threw it into the Temple. With this money, which the hypocritical Jewish leaders still considered as belonging to Judas, they bought the potter’s field, which thus was really the property of Judas, and might have been claimed by his heirs. Thus the reward of iniquity, of unrighteousness, bought the burial-ground for the unknown strangers. This fact, especially after. the terrible end of the traitor, became known throughout the city, and that field, since all the inhabitants of the city knew the history of that piece of ground therefore soon acquired a name, in the Aramaic, or Chaldeo-Syriac, language Akeldama, which means “a field of blood,” bought with the price of the life of blood of the Lord Jesus. And Judas himself had a horrible end. It seems that after he hanged himself, the rope broke, and he pitched over backward down some declivity, with the result that his body burst open and all his intestines gushed forth. That was evidently the judgment of God upon this hardened sinner; he had gone to the place provided for such as he was the place of the damned. But in all these happenings, horrible as they sound in the narration, Peter finds the fulfillment of Scriptures. In Ps. 69, 25 the Lord had prophesied: Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell In their tents, and in Ps. 109, 8: Let another take his office. The exposition of Peter shows that these passages found their strictest fulfillment in Judas Iscariot and his fate, as a warning to all men for all times. The habitation of Judas had become desolate; he had lost his ministry, his office, when he denied the faith and betrayed his Lord. Note the deep impression which the end of the traitor had made upon the other disciples, and how they heeded the warning contained in the story, just as all believers will remember the horrible e n d of the apostates, either here or hereafter, lest they fall into the same example of unbelief.

The choosing of Matthias: V.21. Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, v.22. beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that He was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of His resurrection. V.23. And they appointed two, Joseph, called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. V.24. And they prayed and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, show whether of these two Thou hast chosen, v.25. that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. V.26. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. Having briefly referred to the regrettable vacancy in the number of the apostles, Peter now makes a proposal as to the selection of a man to succeed Judas in the high office which he had held. He stated that it was necessary for them to choose some one of the disciples that had associated with them and with Jesus from the very beginning, one that had been their companion during the whole time that Jesus went in and out before them, one that had, in other words, been a witness of the whole course of Christ's life, beginning with His baptism by John and ending with the day of His ascension from their midst. Note that Peter speaks of the ascended Christ as a human being, as being still in the flesh, although he incidentally calls Him Lord, thus yielding to Him full divine honor and majesty. But the chief point to be taken into account was this, that the man to be chosen must be a thoroughly competent witness of the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection of Christ as St. Paul shows 1 Cor. 15, is the seal of God upon the completed work of redemption of Jesus. Without its certainty established, Christianity becomes an illusion and a farce It is self-evident that the experience of matters of fact went hand in hand with the possession of a firm faith in the matters witnessed. The apostles were called to testify of that which they had seen and heard with their own eyes. The Church has received the Gospel of Christ out of the mouth of credible eye and ear-witnesses. Peter’s proposal having been accepted by the assembly, they put forward, or nominated, two men for the vacancy, one Joseph Barsabas, apparently one of the seventy disciples, whose surname Justus had been adopted after the custom of the time, and Matthias. These two men may have been the only two that possessed all the qualifications laid down by Peter. Concerning these two men, the candidates for the vacant position in the number of the apostles, the disciples assembled now made an earnest prayer. They addressed their prayer, literally, to the Heart-knower, to their risen Lord, Jesus Christ. Cp. Jer. 17, 10. The thoughts and prayers of all true Christians are now ever directed to their exalted Lord and Savior. He knows all things; He guides a l l things in the interest of His believers and for their benefit. The Lord knows the hearts of men, John 2, 25; He was able to judge exactly as to the qualifications of either candidate; His choosing would not have to be the result of long and deliberate weighing and reflecting. He should merely designate His choice of these two men, in order that the chosen man might take the place of the ministry and apostleship left vacant by Judas. Note once more the tactful reference to the traitor, as having gone “to his own place.” As the words read, they may refer as well to the place of reward as to that of punishment. The disciples very properly leave the decision in this grave matter to the great Judge above, and do not themselves pronounce the condemnation, although it is included that Judas went to the place to which the hypocrites and apostates go after death. Mark also: The prayer of the disciples is a model of its kind. “The petitioners had a single object for which they bowed before the Lord, and to the proper presentation of this they confine their words. They do not repeat a thought, nor do they elaborate one beyond the point of perspicuity.... So brief a prayer on so important an occasion would in this voluble age be scarcely regarded as a prayer at all." 4) Having thus sanctified the occasion with the Word of God and with prayer, the disciples were ready to proceed to the selection of the twelfth apostle. To do this, they gave forth their lots. Just how this was done is not certain. But it is probable that the usage prevailing in the Old Testament was observed. “Tablets on which the names of Joseph and Matthias were written, were employed; these were shaken in the vase or other vessel in which they had been deposited, and the lot which first fell out furnished the decision.” 5) Cp. 1 Chron. 24, 5; 25, 8; Lev. 16, 8; Num. 34, 13. Matthias having been designated in this manner, he was now henceforth numbered with the eleven apostles, as the twelfth. The manner of selecting the man to fill the vacancy left by the defection of Judas was an unusual one, and undoubtedly resorted to in this case by a special command of God. The method, therefore, is not to be considered an example to be followed under similar circumstances. But the use of the Word of God and the earnest appeal to the Lord to direct the choice of officers of the Church according to His will and for the welfare of His kingdom, should never be lacking at any meeting for the purpose of electing officers in a Christian congregation.

Summary. The author gives a brief account of the last speeches of the Lord, of His ascension, of the meeting of the disciples, and of the election of Matthias.