This book unites the Gospels to the Epistles. It contains many particulars concerning the apostles Peter and Paul, and of the Christian church from the ascension of our Saviour to the arrival of St. Paul at Rome, a space of about thirty years. St. Luke was the writer of this book; he was present at many of the events he relates, and attended Paul to Rome. But the narrative does not afford a complete history of the church during the time to which it refers, nor even of St. Paul's life. The object of the book has been considered to be, 1. To relate in what manner the gifts of the Holy Spirit were communicated on the day of Pentecost, and the miracles performed by the apostles, to confirm the truth of Christianity, as showing that Christ's declarations were really fulfilled. 2. To prove the claim of the Gentiles to be admitted into the church of Christ. This is shown by much of the contents of the book. A large portion of the Acts is occupied by the discourses or sermons of various persons, the language and manner of which differ, and all of which will be found according to the persons by whom they were delivered, and the occasions on which they were spoken. It seems that most of these discourses are only the substance of what was actually delivered. They relate nevertheless fully to Jesus as the Christ, the anointed Messiah.
Proofs of Christ's resurrection. (1-5) Christ's ascension. (6-11) The apostles unite in prayer. (12-14) Matthias chosen in the place of Judas. (15-26)
Verses 1-5 Our Lord told the disciples the work they were to do. The apostles met together at Jerusalem; Christ having ordered them not to depart thence, but to wait for the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. This would be a baptism by the Holy Ghost, giving them power to work miracles, and enlightening and sanctifying their souls. This confirms the Divine promise, and encourages us to depend upon it, that we have heard it from Christ; for in Him all the promises of God are yea and amen.
Verses 6-11 They were earnest in asking about that which their Master never had directed or encouraged them to seek. Our Lord knew that his ascension and the teaching of the Holy Spirit would soon end these expectations, and therefore only gave them a rebuke; but it is a caution to his church in all ages, to take heed of a desire of forbidden knowledge. He had given his disciples instructions for the discharge of their duty, both before his death and since his resurrection, and this knowledge is enough for a Christian. It is enough that He has engaged to give believers strength equal to their trials and services; that under the influence of the Holy Spirit they may, in one way or other, be witnesses for Christ on earth, while in heaven he manages their concerns with perfect wisdom, truth, and love. When we stand gazing and trifling, the thoughts of our Master's second coming should quicken and awaken us: when we stand gazing and trembling, they should comfort and encourage us. May our expectation of it be stedfast and joyful, giving diligence to be found of him blameless.
Verses 12-14 God can find hiding-places for his people. They made supplication. All God's people are praying people. It was now a time of trouble and danger with the disciples of Christ; but if any is afflicted, let him pray; that will silence cares and fears. They had now a great work to do, and before they entered upon it, they were earnest in prayer to God for his presence. They were waiting for the descent of the Spirit, and abounded in prayer. Those are in the best frame to receive spiritual blessings, who are in a praying frame. Christ had promised shortly to send the Holy Ghost; that promise was not to do away prayer, but to quicken and encourage it. A little company united in love, exemplary in their conduct, fervent in prayer, and wisely zealous to promote the cause of Christ, are likely to increase rapidly.
Verses 15-26 The great thing the apostles were to attest to the world, was, Christ's resurrection; for that was the great proof of his being the Messiah, and the foundation of our hope in him. The apostles were ordained, not to wordly dignity and dominion, but to preach Christ, and the power of his resurrection. An appeal was made to God; "Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men," which we do not; and better than they know their own. It is fit that God should choose his own servants; and so far as he, by the disposals of his providence, or the gifts of his Spirit, shows whom he was chosen, or what he has chosen for us, we ought to fall in with his will. Let us own his hand in the determining everything which befalls us, especially in those by which any trust may be committed to us.
Acts 1:1-11 . INTRODUCTION--LAST DAYS OF OUR LORD UPON EARTH--HIS ASCENSION.
1, 2. former treatise--Luke's Gospel.
began to do and teach--a very important statement, dividing the work of Christ into two great branches: the one embracing His work on earth, the other His subsequent work from heaven; the one in His own Person, the other by His Spirit; the one the "beginning," the other the continuance of the same work; the one complete when He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, the other to continue till His second appearing; the one recorded in "The Gospels," the beginnings only of the other related in this book of "The Acts." "Hence the grand history of what Jesus did and taught does not conclude with His departure to the Father; but Luke now begins it in a higher strain; for all the subsequent labors of the apostles are just an exhibition of the ministry of the glorified Redeemer Himself because they were acting under His authority, and He was the principle that operated in them all" [OLSHAUSEN].
2. after that he, through the Holy Ghost, had given commandments, &c.--referring to the charge recorded in Matthew 28:18-20 , 16:15-18 , Luke 24:44-49 . It is worthy of notice that nowhere else are such communications of the risen Redeemer said to have been given "through the Holy Ghost." In general, this might have been said of all He uttered and all He did in His official character; for it was for this very end that God "gave not the Spirit by measure unto Him" ( John 3:34 ). But after His resurrection, as if to signify the new relation in which He now stood to the Church, He signalized His first meeting with the assembled disciples by breathing on them (immediately after dispensing to them His peace) and saying, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost" ( John 20:22 ) thus anticipating the donation of the Spirit from His hands and on the same principle His parting charges are here said to have been given "through the Holy Ghost," as if to mark that He was now all redolent with the Spirit; that what had been husbanded, during His suffering work, for His own necessary uses, had now been set free, was already overflowing from Himself to His disciples, and needed but His ascension and glorification to flow all
3-5. showed himself alive--As the author is about to tell us that "the resurrection of the Lord Jesus" was the great burden of apostolic preaching, so the subject is here filly introduced by an allusion to the primary evidence on which that great fact rests, the repeated and undeniable manifestations of Himself in the body to the assembled disciples, who, instead of being predisposed to believe it, had to be overpowered by the resistless evidence of their own senses, and were slow of yielding even to this ( Mark 16:14 ).
after his passion--or, suffering. This primary sense of the word "passion" has fallen into disuse; but it is nobly consecrated in the phraseology of the Church to express the Redeemer's final endurances.
seen of them forty days--This important specification of time occurs here only.
speaking of--rather "speaking."
the things pertaining to the kingdom of God--till now only in germ, but soon to take visible form; the earliest and the latest burden of His teaching on earth.
4. should not depart from Jerusalem--because the Spirit was to glorify the existing economy, by descending on the disciples at its metropolitan seat, and at the next of its great festivals after the ascension of the Church's Head; in order that "out of Zion might go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" ( Isaiah 2:3 ; and compare Luke 24:49 ).
5. ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence--ten days hence, as appears from Leviticus 23:15 Leviticus 23:16 ; but it was expressed thus indefinitely to exercise their faith.
6-8. wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?--Doubtless their carnal views of Messiah's kingdom had by this time been modified, though how far it is impossible to say. But, as they plainly looked for some restoration of the kingdom to Israel, so they are neither rebuked nor contradicted on this point.
7. It is not for you to know the times, &c.--implying not only that this was not the time, but that the question was irrelevant to their present business and future work.
8. receive power--See Luke 24:49 .
and ye shall be witnesses unto me . . . in Jerusalem . . . in all Judea . . . and unto the uttermost part of the earth--This order of apostolic preaching and success supplies the proper key to the plan of the Acts, which relates first the progress of the Gospel "in Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria" (the first through ninth chapters), and then "unto the uttermost part of the earth" (the tenth through twenty-eighth chapters).
9-11. while they beheld, he was taken up--(See on Lu 24:50-53 ). Lest it should be thought He had disappeared when they were looking in some other direction, and so was only concluded to have gone up to heaven, it is here expressly said that "while they were looking He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight." So Elijah, "If thou see me when I am taken from thee" ( 2 Kings 2:10 ); "And Elisha saw it" ( Acts 1:12 ).
10. while they looked steadfastly toward heaven--following Him with their eager eyes, in rapt amazement. Not, however, as a mere fact is this recorded, but as a part of that resistless evidence of their senses on which their whole subsequent testimony was to be borne.
two men in white apparel--angels in human form, as in Luke 24:4 .
11. Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven, &c.--"as if your now glorified Head were gone from you never to return: He is coming again; not another, but 'this same Jesus'; and 'as ye have seen Him go, in the like manner shall He come'--as personally, as visibly, as gloriously; and let the joyful expectation of this coming swallow up the sorrow of that departure."
Acts 1:12-26 . RETURN OF THE ELEVEN TO JERUSALEM--PROCEEDINGS IN THE UPPER ROOM TILL PENTECOST.
12-14. a sabbath day's journey--about two thousand cubits.
13. went up into an upper room--perhaps the same "large upper room" where with their Lord they had celebrated the last Passover and the first Supper ( Luke 22:12 ).
where abode--not lodged, but had for their place of rendezvous.
14. continued with one accord--knit by a bond stronger than death.
in prayer and supplication--for the promised baptism, the need of which in their orphan state would be increasingly felt.
and Mary the mother of Jesus--distinguished from the other "women," but "so as to exclude the idea of her having any pre-eminence over the disciples. We find her with the rest in prayer to her glorified Son" [WEBSTER and WILKINSON]. This is the last mention of her in the New Testament. The fable of the Assumption of the Virgin has no foundation even in tradition [ALFORD].
with his brethren--(See on Matthew 16:19 ).
15-26. in those days--of expectant prayer, and probably towards the close of them, when the nature of their future work began more clearly to dawn upon them, and the Holy Ghost, already "breathed" on the Eleven ( John 20:22 ), was stirring in Peter, who was to be the leading spirit of the infant community ( Matthew 16:19 ).
the number . . . about an hundred and twenty--Many, therefore, of the "five hundred brethren" who saw their risen Lord "at once" ( 1 Corinthians 15:6 ), must have remained in Galilee.
18. falling headlong, &c.--This information supplements, but by no means contradicts, what is said in Matthew 27:5 .
20. his bishopric--or "charge." The words are a combination of Psalms 69:25 and Psalms 109:8 ; in which the apostle discerns a greater than David, and a worse than Ahithophel and his fellow conspirators against David.
21. all the time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us--in the close intimacies of a three years' public life.
22. Beginning from the baptism of John--by whom our Lord was not only Himself baptized, but first officially announced and introduced to his own disciples.
unto that same day when he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection--How clearly is the primary office of the apostles here expressed: (1) to testify, from personal observation, to the one great fact of "the resurrection of the Lord Jesus"; (2) to show how this glorified His whole previous life, of which they were constant observers, and established His divine claims.
23. they appointed--"put up" in nomination; meaning not the Eleven but the whole company, of whom Peter was the spokesman.
two--The choice would lie between a very few.
24. prayed and said, Thou, Lord, &c.--"The word 'Lord,' placed absolutely, denotes in the New Testament almost universally THE SON; and the words, 'Show whom Thou hast chosen,' are decisive. The apostles are just Christ's messengers: It is He that sends them, and of Him they bear witness. Here, therefore, we have the first example of a prayer offered to the exalted Redeemer; furnishing indirectly the strongest proof of His divinity" [OLSHAUSEN].
which knowest the hearts of all men--See John 2:24 John 2:25 , 21:15-17 , Revelation 2:23 .
25. that he might go to his own place--A euphemistic or softened expression of the awful future of the traitor, implying not only destined habitation but congenial element.
26. was numbered--"voted in" by general suffrage.
with the eleven apostles--completing the broken Twelve.