by Bob Burridge ©2016
Acts 1:12-26 (ESV)
It gets exciting the night before you leave on a big vacation trip. As kids we always had a hard time sleeping because of the anticipation. Since Dad and Mom took care of the details, we did not have to worry whether things would be ready or not. That was our parent’s job. Our job that night was to get our rest, and wait until it was time to leave.
With even greater expectation, we are to trust in God’s promises and preparations for what comes next. When he calls us to the adventure of serving him, we should be confident that God has it all worked out. He gave us his word to teach us all we need to know to trust and obey Christ. He sent his Holy Spirit to comfort us and enable us in our work. Our job is to wait patiently for that final day when Christ returns. Meanwhile were to learn, trust him, and obey his instructions. That’s not easy, since we all have spiritual growing up to do. But its our duty in his kingdom. We need to persevere expectantly trusting God as we obey.
The early church had to wait patiently for the promises of God to be fulfilled. The Apostles were to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. But as they waited they confidently expected God to be faithful and able to do what he said. While they obeyed him they prayed for direction and strength. That was their duty. They are examples for us who live for him today.
12. Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.
13. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James.
14. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
They returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. They were obeying what Jesus had instructed them to do. (Acts 1:4). They waited at Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come. He would give them power to declare the gospel of the Kingdom.
They were not just sitting around being lazy waiting for God to work. Waiting was not easy for this group of active followers. But since Jesus commanded them to wait, and promised His Spirit, they expectantly obeyed. They fully trusted that what He told them, would happen.
They gathered together in an upper room The 11 remaining Apostles were there (Judas Iscariot had betrayed them and was now dead.) Along with them some women and Mary, the mother of Jesus (this is the last mention of her in Scripture), and Jesus’ brothers (Joses, Judas, and Simon – Mark 6:3). Verse 15 records that there were 120 present. Probably the 70 disciples Jesus sent out were there too.
They were of one accord, united in the same great expectations, and they continued together in prayer.
Jesus had clearly promised that the Spirit would come. He would enable them in their job of spreading the good news about the expanding Kingdom of God. But still they prayed. It was their duty. They understood that prayer isn’t to change the mind of God. It’s used by God to include us in doing his work. If we do not pray, it will not hinder God’s plans, but we will not be a part of them.
15. In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said,
16. “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.
17. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”
18. (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.
19. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
20. “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it'; and “‘Let another take his office.’
They must have been shocked by the defection and suicide of Judas. He was their friend, their partner. Jesus had chosen him and taught him. All the while Jesus knew Judas would betray Him. In John 13:18 Jesus said to the Apostles, “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ ” (quoting Psalm 41:9)
Nevertheless Jesus had made Judas to be one of the 12. He was privileged to witness Jesus lessons, miracles and life style. He was entrusted with the usual duties and office of an Apostle.
Why did this awful thing happen? Peter summarized what Matthew wrote in a more full account about the end of the life of Judas in Matthew 27:3-8
When Judas saw that Jesus had been condemned before Pilate he “changed his mind” about the whole thing. The verb there is “metamelomai” (μεταμελομαι). It’s not necessarily the same as if he truly repented to God. He simply realized he should not have done that, so he returned the money to the Chief Priests and Elders. When they showed no concern for his grief, he threw the money into the sanctuary and left. Then we read that Judas “hanged himself”. In Acts Luke records that Judas fell down and burst open.
So how did Judas die? The word in Matthew translated “he hanged himself” is a very rare word. It’s only used here in the NT. The word seems to indicate that he was somehow suffocated (apaeg-xato – απηγξατο). The ancient record of Augustine says: “he fastened a rope round his neck and, falling on his face, burst asunder …” Perhaps he tied something around his neck, but he was not necessarily suspended by a rope.
Jewish commentators speak of a disease called “Iscara” (אסכרא). It’s the Hebrew word for “Diphtheria”. According to the Mayo Clinic it’s a bacterial infection of the throat and glands. It produces a sheet of thick gray material. It can block the airway, and possibly cause strangulation. Commentator John Gill quotes Jewish documents saying that it might explain the death of Judas. It may explain why Judas was called “Iscariot”. Some said that it also causes swelling in the intestines, but I couldn’t find any confirmation of that. Some suggest the disease was a direct judgment of God. Basically – we don’t know.
There are common mistakes that arise from misreading the text. Judas did not fall down and burst open in the field of blood.
Acts 1:18 reads, “Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. (ESV)
The grammar is more clear in the original record comparing the reference here in Acts, and Matthew 27.
It doesn’t mean his body burst open in the midst of the field of blood.
1. There is no evidence that he was in that field when he suffocated.
Judas took the coins he got for betraying Jesus and threw them back to the priests who had paid him to betray Jesus. The Priests bought the field after that. It was His money so Acts 1:18 says that “this man acquired a field …” The word for “acquired” is “kta-omai” (κτάομαι) – which can also mean “provided”. In Matthew 27:7 it says, “So they (the Priests) took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers.” It became known as the “Field of Blood” because the money was “blood money” (Matthew 27:6).
2. It says he burst open in the middle of his body, and his intestines spilled out.
Not that he was in the middle of the field.
Putting all that together:
- Judas returned the blood money to the Priests.
- He died of some type of suffocation (self-inflicted, or by disease, or some other cause).
- He fell down after that and some of his internal organs spilled out of his body.
- At some point the Priests took that money and bought a field they called the “field of blood”.
Peter turned to God’s word to explain what was behind what happened. The Scriptures had to be fulfilled. The Psalms spoke of how God deals with his enemies. In verse 20 of Acts 1 Peter quoted from the Psalms which spoke prophetically about the Messiah. He said, “… May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’.” The enemies of David were prophetic examples to show how God would treat Messiah’s enemies, Judas in particular. He quoted Psalm 69:25, “May their camp be a desolation; let no one dwell in their tents.” It’s a prayer that the dwelling place of the enemies would become a desolation, uninhabited. Judas’ home would also become uninhabited.
Then he said, “… Let another take his office.” Here Peter quoted Psalm 109:8, “May his days be few; may another take his office!” It’s a prayer that the enemy would die before his work is completed, and be replaced in his responsible position by someone else.
This principle is applied to Judas. His sin was not just against himself, but it disgraced the ministry. Judas’ position had been abandoned by his betrayal.
Bible commentator Lenski said, “The abused office must continue.” The replacement of Judas was not just because he died. All the apostles would die and not be replaced. But the apostleship was about to begin its work of laying the foundation for the new form of the church. God’s church would have an Apostolic foundation.
Jesus appointed 12. And for symbolic reasons that teach us things, there must be 12. There are 187 Bible mentions of “12”. It seems to mean “completeness” in the sense of “a full wholeness of something” It’s used to represent God’s total Sovereign power, God’s people, etc. [12 tribes, 12 Apostles, 12 Minor Prophets, 12 signs of the Zodiac (Mazzarot Job 38:32), 12 loaves of shew-bread, 12 stones in the Priest’s breastplate, 12 months of the year, Jesus was 12 when his parents took him to Jerusalem, ready to begin teaching.]
21. So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,
22. beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”
The replacement must have accompanied the Apostles as they traveled with Jesus. He must have a personal knowledge of Jesus’ work, life, and teachings. He must have been a follower of Jesus, known by the other apostles in his reputation and commitment.
Therefore there can be no Apostles today. The Apostolic office was not permanent, but transitional. It was to lay the foundation for the Church (Ephesians 2:20)
Then Peter reviewed the job of an Apostle. They were to be witnesses together of His resurrection. That was the climax of the completion of Messiah’s victory. It showed that death had been conquered. The promises of the age-old covenant were now fulfilled. They were to tell others about it.
23. And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias.
24. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen
25. to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”
26. And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
Two were found to be qualified. Joseph, called Barsabbas (son of sabbath) also called Justus; and Matthias. The nomination was based on their qualifications. We do not know if there were any more that fully qualified. If there were, then they selected these two because they would best. Nominees were well able to recount and represent the life of Jesus, and were able to give a clear testimony concerning Jesus’ resurrection.
Then they prayed. They asked God for direction. God alone knows the heart and is able to call his ministers. They fully expected that God would lead them to carry out all he promised they would do.
The final selection was left up to God’s providence. They used a method God had given in the Old Testament. Back then special interventions and revelations were promised. Note that no voting is mentioned here.
They cast lots to make the final selection. The same method was used by Aaron in Leviticus 16:8. He cast lots to choose which of the goats would become the “scapegoat” on the Day of Atonement. Before the Bible became a complete record of the principles for the church to operate by, and before the regular continuing offices of Elder and Deacon began, God spoke supernaturally by special means. Proverbs 16:33 explains, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”
Matthias was chosen in the drawing. He was numbered among the apostles. Their number was again 12. But the Spirit had not yet come. So they waited, and prayed.
God commissions us, his church, to build upon that Apostolic foundation. He sends us to pray, and to learn from his word. Once we know God’s word and promises, we need to act on them, and expect real victory.
God promises that we’ll be blessed when we observe his ways! Psalm 37:5 says, “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.” A believer’s faithful living and expectant perseverance in prayer will be rewarded. We may not get what we think we need, but we will get what God knows is best. That’s one of the principles we’re to live by.
The Spirit specially descended on the church long ago. We do not need to wait around for him to come to empower and encourage us. He is with us already to specially comfort and enable us as we live here in God’s world. He’s here to give us strength to do the work he calls us to.
Now our job is to be busy showing our submission to Christ our King. We need to show the fruit of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives: displaying: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.
When we have the opportunity we tell others outside the church this good news. We invite them to come to worship with us and become part of that Kingdom of the True King.
We should never fret about our ability to do these things. Our duty is to expectantly persevere in confidence that God is really in control.
(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)