1-2 In his former book (Luke’s Gospel), which Luke sent to Theophilus, Luke wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven (see Luke 1:1-4; 24:51). But after Jesus went into heaven, He did not stop working and teaching. In His place He sent His own Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to live within His disciples (John 20:22). In this way, Jesus continued to work and teach through His Spirit dwelling within the disciples. Through Christ’s Holy Spirit the disciples received the power to be Christ’s witnesses in the world (verse 8). They were no longer merely “disciples”; they were now APOSTLES, that is, men inspired and sent by the Holy Spirit. No longer were they men filled with fear, hiding and fleeing from their enemies; they were now new men, filled with Christ’s Spirit, bold and fearless. As we study the book of Acts, let us remember that just as God worked through these apostles in New Testament times, so He wants also to work through us today. Just as God filled the apostles with His Holy Spirit, so also He wants to fill each one of us today.
3 When Jesus was arrested, the disciples lost all hope (Mark 14:50). Peter, the chief disciple, denied Jesus three times (Mark 14:66-72). In their minds, their leader’s life and work had come to an end. This new Christian religion was finished before it even began! These disciples had left everything to follow Jesus (Mark 10:28); now all was lost!
But then the disciples saw the risen Jesus. He was not dead after all! He had risen from the dead! And over a period of forty days following His resurrection, Jesus appeared at various times to His eleven disciples and to many other believers as well (1 Corinthians 15:3-7). The disciples’ hope returned. Their faith that Jesus was indeed the Son of God returned. This is why the resurrection of Christ was such an important and central subject in the preaching of the apostles—because it was the resurrection, above all, that proved the GOSPEL of Christ to be true.
Before He died and also after He rose again, Jesus taught His followers a great deal about the KINGDOM OF GOD (Mark 1:14-15). The Jews thought that the “kingdom of God” would be some kind of earthly kingdom. But the true kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, which began while Jesus was here on earth. The kingdom of God was manifested in the hearts of men (Luke 17:21). And the kingdom of God is present today in the hearts of all those who believe in Jesus. And when Jesus comes again, this present world—the kingdom of darkness—will come to an end, and the kingdom of God will be fully manifest. Then at the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11).
4 After Jesus rose from the dead, He told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem.2 Before they began to preach, before they could be Christ’s witnesses, there was something they needed. They needed the gift promised by the Father (Luke 24:49). That gift was the Holy Spirit (John 14:16,26). In one way they had already received the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). But now they needed the special anointing of the Spirit, that is, the power and authority of the Spirit. They needed to be baptized with the HOLY SPIRIT (verse 5). This “baptism” would occur some days later on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). For this reason Jesus commanded the disciples: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised”—namely, the baptism, the empowering, of the Holy Spirit.
Today we too need to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit promised by the Father. We must not try to do things for God in our own strength. When Jesus was on earth with His disciples He said to them: “… apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). In the same way, after Jesus left the earth, these disciples (apostles) could do nothing apart from the Holy Spirit.
Let us remember that all true believers in Jesus have received the Holy Spirit. Whatever strength we need for fulfilling God’s will is available to us through the Spirit. Let us never say: “I don’t have the strength or means to do God’s will.” Instead, let us just get up and do it. Let us say with the Apostle Paul: I can do everything through him (Jesus) who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13). For Jesus has promised us: “I will be with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
5 John the Baptist had said to those who came to him for BAPTISM: “I baptize you with water, but he (Christ) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8). Here in this verse Jesus says to His disciples: “… in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” This was the gift they must wait for. The baptism of the Spirit is the filling, the empowering, the anointing of the Spirit for doing the work of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12:13 and comment; General Article: Holy Spirit).
Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven (1:6-11)
6-7 Because Jesus’ disciples were JEWS, they were hoping that Jesus would still reestablish the independent kingdom of ISRAEL—that is, that He would restore the kingdom to Israel (verse 6). Israel was the name of the Jewish nation. In Jesus’ time, Israel had fallen under the control of the ROMAN EMPIRE. The Jews had lost their independence. Therefore, whenever Jesus preached, “The kingdom of God is near” (Mark 1:15), His disciples thought that He was talking about an earthly kingdom of the Jews. Jesus had told His disciples, “I confer on you a kingdom … so that you may … sit on thrones” (Luke 22:29-30). Here the disciples were hoping that they would get to sit on those thrones right away!
But Jesus did not come to establish such an earthly kingdom. He came to establish a spiritual kingdom. And that kingdom will be fully established when Jesus comes to earth again (Mark 13:26). When that day will be no one knows (Mark 13:32).
8 Then Jesus told His disciples that the kind of power and authority they would receive was not earthly or political. Rather it would be much better than that: it would be the power and authority of the Holy Spirit. This was the gift promised by the Father that the disciples must wait for (verses 4-5).
Then Jesus said an amazing thing to His disciples: “You will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth.” These uneducated, humble, ordinary men would now be the witnesses—the representatives and ambassadors—of the Son of God! (2 Corinthians 5:20). Along with that, they would also suffer for Christ, and in the end all (except John) would be killed because of Him.
Jesus said that the disciples were to witness in Jerusalem. They were also to be His witnesses in all Judea and Samaria.3 And they were to preach the message of Christ to the ends of the earth. And their message was that the kingdom of God had come near, that Jesus Christ had come into the world to save men and women from the punishment for their sin and to reconcile them with God (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
Not all Christians are called to be preachers. But all Christians are called to be witnesses. The Holy Spirit has been sent to us so that we might be witnesses for Christ. However, there are many Christians today who say, “I have received the Holy Spirit,” but who do not witness. This is impossible. A person filled with the Holy Spirit will always witness for Christ. If a person does not witness, it must be said that he is not filled with the Spirit.
9 After His resurrection, Christ appeared a number of times to different groups of believers. Then after forty days He ascended into heaven (see Luke 24:50-51).
10-11 The disciples saw Jesus rise into heaven with their own eyes. Then two men dressed in white—that is, two angels—appeared to the disciples. These angels said to the disciples, “It is not necessary for you to be looking toward heaven for Jesus. He has gone to heaven to be with His Father. Don’t stand here gazing into the sky. You have much work to do. At the appointed time, Jesus will return to earth the same way He has departed” (Mark 14:61-62).
The two angels called the disciples “men of Galilee.” Galilee is Israel’s northernmost province. Jesus and His disciples first came from Galilee.
Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas (1:12-26)
12 The place from which Jesus ascended into heaven was called the Mount of Olives. That mountain was a Sabbath day’s walk from Jerusalem; that is, it was about three quarters of a mile from Jerusalem. According to the Jewish LAW, the Jews were not supposed to walk more than three quarters of a mile on the Sabbath4 (Saturday).
13 Here Luke gives us the names of Jesus’ disciples—except for Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. When this list of disciples is compared with the list of disciples given in Mark 3:16-19, it can be seen that one name is different. Here, in place of Thad-daeus, Judas son of James is written. However, it is the same man; he had two different names.
14 While Jesus’ disciples were waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit, they all joined together constantly in prayer. It is mainly through prayer that we obtain the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13). The disciples joined together in prayer. If we want our individual requests to be granted, we need to join together and agree with one another about what to pray for (see Matthew 18:19). Where there is no unity of mind among believers, there the power of the Spirit will not be manifest.
With the disciples were Jesus’ mother Mary, some other women, and Jesus’ own younger brothers, who were sons of Mary and Joseph. Jesus’ best-known brother was James, who later wrote the New Testament letter called “James.” The other three brothers were Joses, Judas, and Simon (Mark 6:3). Before Jesus’ resurrection, His brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:5). But now they had accepted Him as the Son of God. James himself saw Jesus after He had risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:7); later he went on to become the main leader of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:19; 2:9).
15 In addition to Jesus’ main disciples, there were in Jerusalem at that time about one hundred and twenty other believers. Perhaps among them were the seventy-two believers whom Jesus sent out ahead of Him to announce the coming of the kingdom of God (Luke 10:1-11).
From this we can understand that during His time on earth Jesus didn’t lead great numbers of people to believe in Himself. Jesus’ main goal while on earth was to train and spiritually equip a small number of disciples. To these disciples, then, Jesus gave the work of preaching the Gospel and establishing His church all over the world.
16-17 Peter, it seems, was the main leader of this group of believers. Here Peter refers to a prophecy of DAVID, the great king of the Jews. David had prophesied in the Old Testament that one of Jesus’ close friends would betray Him (see Psalm 41:9; John 13:18; 17:12).
18-19 In these verses, Luke describes what happened to Judas after he betrayed Jesus. Accordingto Matthew 27:3-8, Judas gave back the money he had received from the Jewish elders and chief priests for betraying Jesus into their hands; then the chief priests, not Judas, went out and bought a field with the money. But because it was really Judas’ money, they bought the field in Judas’ name. But Judas never received any benefit from that field. Because of remorse for what he had done, Judas hanged himself, and his body swelled up and burst open.
Judas had known that the Jewish leaders were trying to kill Jesus. Perhaps he feared they would try to kill the disciples also. So he thought to himself: “If I cooperate with these Jewish leaders and deliver Jesus into their hands, I will be able to save my own life.” But his plan didn’t work; in the end he lost his life (see Mark 8:35).
20 Here Peter quotes from Psalm 69:25. Judas’ place, that is, his field, became deserted. No one wanted it. So it was used as a burial place for foreigners who happened to die in Jerusalem (Matthew 27:7).
Next Peter quotes from Psalm 109:8 to show that they must now select another disciple to take Judas’ place. Jesus had chosen twelve main disciples to judge the twelve tribes of Israel5 (Matthew 19:28); therefore, it was not right that only eleven disciples should remain.
21-22 To qualif y for taking Judas’ place among the twelve disciples, one needed to have been with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry and to have seen Him after He rose from the dead.
23-24 First the disciples chose two men who were equally qualified to be the twelfth disciple. Then they asked the Lord to show them which of the two He had chosen. Then they drew lots. They trusted that the lot would fall to the man of God’s choice, because they knew that God controlled the casting of lots (Proverbs 16:33).
This is the only place in the New Testament where the casting of lots is mentioned as a means of finding out God’s will. Most Christians believe that ever since the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), it has not been necessary to cast lots to learn what God’s will is. The reason, they say, is because the Holy Spirit is now available to all believers, and He is fully able to show them what God’s will is in specif ic circumstances.