As Luke's narrative of our Lord Jesus was addressed to a Christian convert, so was its sequel which recounts the gift of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, His presence and His operation, more especially in the leading apostles, first of the circumcision, then of the uncircumcision. But we have the ways and working of the Holy Spirit, not only with many others, but also in and with the assembly also: a truth of capital moment, though lost sight of practically to the deep dishonour of God, and to the irreparable injury of the church itself.
It would seem that Theophilus had either ceased to hold a governorship (or whatever other public position of a magisterial kind the inspired historian implies by the title 'most excellent'; cf. Act_23:26; Act_24:3; Act_26:25, with Luk_1:3), or had become so matured in faith and spirituality as to value title as little as position, though one could scarce conceive a faithful man abiding in it. Further, they are not to be heard of in old or modern times, who imagine the name to be a fictitious designation of any one who loves God. Not only does the comparison of the Gospel with the Acts point to a living Christian to whom the writer inscribes both, but the form of the word would in that case have been φιλόθεος (as in Timotheus or the like), and not θεόφιλος
'The first account I composed, O Theophilus, concerning all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which, having by [the] Holy Spirit charged the apostles whom He had chosen, He was received up, to whom He also presented Himself alive after He had suffered, by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking the things concerning the kingdom of God. And being assembled with [them], He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to await the promise of the Father, which [said He] ye heard of Me. For John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in [the] Holy Spirit after not many days hence' (vers. 1-5).
Such is the simple opening of this Book, treating of the wonderful works of God in the new creation, which He would have to be testified in the old by a witness no less competent than His own Spirit. In the cross of the Son of man sin was judged by God, not yet on sinners, but in the one perfect Sacrifice, that God might righteously send forth good tidings of saving mercy to Jew and to Greek, alike ruined, that they through faith might be alike saved. And now the Saviour stood in resurrection-life and power, first-fruits of them that are asleep, a life-giving Spirit to all that believe. As He had walked according to the Spirit of holiness in a world of sin during the days of His flesh, so now was He marked out Son of God in power according to that Spirit by resurrection, conqueror over Satan in death as in life, having also exhausted God's judgment in suffering for sin that He might be the righteous Head of a new family who live of His life as He died for their sins. Thus does the Gospel of Luke lead into what is commonly, though not correctly, called 'The Acts of the Apostles'; for it is rather the inspired narrative of the risen Lord working in the energy of the Holy Ghost sent down from on high witnessing to Him there both in the assembly and in His servants, some of the apostles above all.
Even the Lord risen from the dead, though not yet 'received up', is seen here enjoining the apostles through the Holy Spirit (ver. 2). It was not merely before He died, in the new estate of man beyond the grave we have the evidence of the same blessed power. The Holy Spirit acts in man risen. In Jesus we see this truth, as every other. It will be so with us when we are raised from the dead, we shall not lose that divine spring of power and joy when, or because, we enter the final state of man according to the counsels of God. It will be that which is perfect come, but the Holy Spirit will not therefore cease to act in us, rather will He form us for all the worship and service suitable to those glorified with Christ.
That Christ presented Himself alive after He had suffered was the great fact established 'by many proofs' (ver. 3), and so it is the subject-matter of testimony throughout the Book, as it is the foundation truth of the gospel. The God of grace is the God of resurrection in Christ Who suffered for sins once, Just for unjust. The apostles are false witnesses of God if He did not raise Him up, and He raised Him not up if no dead are raised; and if He has not been raised, our faith is in vain: we are yet in our sins. But He has been raised from the dead, as surely as God is true and His word faithful; His grace and power are alike manifested not more in His chosen witnesses, than in the transforming effects of His testimony on others who believe, once sons of disobedience and children of wrath, His enemies. The charge was to the apostles from Him risen.
Nor was it only that He was seen by them, or appeared to them, by the space of forty days; He spoke also the things concerning the kingdom of God, as His servants preached afterwards. This was no less true of the apostle to the Gentiles, as we may learn distinctly and to the end from Act_20:25; Act_28:31.
His command, when assembled with them, was not to depart from Jerusalem, but to await the promise of the Father, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, not many days after then (vers. 4, 5). It is of the deepest moment that this be understood: for many misapply the Spirit's baptism either to miraculous displays or to the new birth; and the more so, as without doubt He wrought largely in both these ways at Pentecost. But the reader has only to consider John 14-16 in order to learn from God's word that it is not a question here of the great primary need of sinful man at all times to be born of the Spirit, still less of those gifts or 'charisma' which were so abundantly distributed amongst those who confessed the Lord at that time, but of the immense and standing privilege of the church in the presence of the Holy Ghost sent down in person to abide with the saints and be in them. Him the Father gave to be with them for ever; Him the Son sent to them from the Father. For this was contingent on the Son's going away: if He went not away, that other Advocate, the Spirit of truth, would not come. But, the work of reconciliation wrought, Jesus went on high and sent here below the Spirit. This would be the accomplishment of the Father's promise. The saints were then to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.
For the believer it is impossible to conceive anything of more commanding importance, whether in itself, for God's glory, for doctrinal truth, or for practical value. Yet what was so soon or so generally forgotten? Without it Christ's place as Head of the church is unknown, and consequently the true relationship of the church as His body. Redemption is enfeebled, the new and heavenly place of the Christian is neither understood nor enjoyed, and the proper hope is levelled down to a Jewish expectation with its signs and dates, its troubles and fears. Still more directly does lack of faith as to the baptism of the Holy Ghost affect the walk and service of the individual, the joint worship and public action of the assembly. There is no surer sign, no more fatal means, of the ruin of the entire testimony to Christ than the blank ignorance, the utter exclusion of this incomparable power and privilege for the Christian and the church, which now pervades Christendom, as it has done since apostolic times. Oh, what a mercy on God's part, what love on His own, what honour to Christ and His cross, that the Holy Spirit has deigned to abide in all certainty to the church. if the church proved thus false to Him! The gift or baptism of the Holy Ghost was the promise of the Father, and the disciples heard it from the Son. John, the greatest of the merely woman-born, baptized with water, the baptism of repentance, the Son of God, but risen and ascended Man, the same is He that baptizeth in (or with) the Holy Spirit. None indeed could but a divine person; yet is it the One Who, become man to accomplish redemption, was received up in glory whence He sent the Spirit down.
'They therefore being come together asked Him, saying, Lord, dost Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? And He said unto them, It is not yours to know times or seasons which the Father set in His own authority. But ye shall receive power at the coming of the Holy Spirit upon you, and ye shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and unto the end of the earth. And having said these things, as they were looking, He was taken up, and a cloud withdrew Him from their eyes. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went on behold, two men stood by them in white garments who also said, Men of Galilee, why stand ye looking into heaven? This Jesus that was received up from you into heaven shall so come in the manner in which ye beheld Him going into heaven' (vers. 6-11).
As in the Gospel (Luk_19:11, et al.), the Lord corrects the hasty expectations of the disciples: the kingdom was not immediately to appear. The passover was to be fulfilled in it when it would assume a different shape (Luk_22:16). The Christian form of the kingdom however is not here spoken of, because the question was about restoring it at that time to Israel. Now the Lord does not at all contradict such a restoration in its season, but the salvation of Israel and the restoration of the kingdom to the chosen people clearly belonged to the ways of God of which prophecy treats; and He lets them know that times and seasons the Father placed in His own authority. Another vista He opens out to them as that immediately before them: 'But ye shall receive power at the coming of the Holy Spirit upon you; and ye shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and unto the end of the earth.'
These words explain the situation with divine precision and unspeakable grace. It is not yet to be the displayed kingdom which belongs to the age and world to come. Now it is a question of testimony in the power of the Holy Ghost, with Whose mission and presence it is bound up. They were to be witnesses of Christ, not yet reigning with Him, but His witnesses, as rejected yet risen, despised of men, especially of the Jews and Jerusalem, but on the point of being exalted of God in heaven, and witnesses of Him - for all is of grace - both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and unto the end of the earth. Compare with this beginning of the Acts the end of Luke's Gospel, where the risen Saviour commands that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations beginning at Jerusalem: 'And ye are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high.' It is not baptism here, but vital blessing, repentance unto life and remission of sins sealed with the Holy Ghost. All has its place and propriety, but the better thing it was the lot of the beloved physician to indite under the inspiring energy of God, Who was (in honour of His Son's person and work) giving life and liberty with the Spirit's seal to all that believe the gospel: its source the grace of God, its righteous foundation the cross of Christ, its character of life His resurrection; its formative object His heavenly glory; and its power the Holy Ghost sent from above.
But the true outlook of hope is wanted to complete the circle of blessing. And this, at least as far as it is connected with the scope of this Book (for there is a divinely perfect system in all scripture and in every distinct part) now follows, the hope of our Lord's return. 'And having said these things, as they looked, he was taken up, and a cloud withdrew Him from their eyes. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went on, behold, two men stood by them in white garments who also said, Men of Galilee, why stand ye looking into heaven? This Jesus Who was received up from you into heaven shall so come in the manner in which ye beheld Him going into heaven.' Doubtless it is His return for the kingdom to be established over all nations and tongues, for the times of the restitution of all things and not specially for Him to receive His own to Himself and present them in the Father's house. It is the more general aspect of His coming, and not the heavenly side. Still it is the personal object for the saints, the Lord coming again in person as surely as the chosen witnesses saw Him taken up from them into heaven. This the disciples have let slip as a real living hope, not more to His dishonour and the grief of the Spirit, than to their own immeasurable loss. For if faith be the more essential as men say, the true hope cannot be obscured, weakened, or destroyed, without proportionate injury, if we judge by the only full measure of God's glory in Christ. We fall into misleading hopes as soon as the truth ceases to be before the heart; and none is so false as to look for the gradual amelioration of the world or even of Christendom which must be judged in the day of the Lord, instead of our waiting as pilgrims and strangers, the bride separate from the world for Christ to come and fetch us to heaven for the marriage-supper of the Lamb. This is gracious and heavenly separateness to God, above the world's attractions and honours, outside its evils, and unmoved by its enmity. May it be more and more true of us in His grace!
Thus we have clearly set before us the position and expectation of the disciples in these early days. They knew, on the word of the Lord, that the promise of the Father was shortly to be fulfilled in the gift of the Holy Spirit. Instead of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, they were to be witnesses of Christ everywhere to the uttermost part of the earth; and they were assured that the Lord Jesus, Who had just ascended, would so come in the manner in which they beheld Him going to heaven.
'Then they returned unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey off. And when they entered they went up into the upper room where they were abiding; both Peter and John, and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James [son] of Alphaeus, (and Simon the Zealot, and Judas [brother] of James. These all with one accord continued steadfastly in prayer, with [certain] women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren' (vers. 12-14).
Thus did these saints spend their time in the exercise of continual dependence on God. They had been the chosen witnesses of the Word of life, as He had manifested Himself here below, and in Himself the Son had shown them the Father. And now they were waiting for that divine person Who was to be in as well as with them, as the Lord had prepared them for it: 'I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter.' So now they all give themselves up with one mind to persevering prayer.
Believing women were with them. How different their place from that which Jews or afterwards Mohammedans accorded them, and from that of mediaeval flattery or superstition, even when nominal Christianity pervaded the West! There were others beside wives, and hence the general form of the phrase; and one was among them, specifically named, to whom sinful folly was afterwards to bow down in worship, professedly subordinate to, practically more absorbing than, that paid to the Son or to the Father.
It is the first mention of Mary, in this the only sure and divinely inspired history, that follows our Lord's departure to heaven. Highly favoured she had been, blessed among women, all generations thenceforth calling her blessed; yet was she found in all lowliness of mind with other women, as the apostles were with them all, waiting on God for the gift of the Holy Ghost. From the cross she had been taken to the home of the beloved disciple. After the resurrection not a word implies an appearance to the mother of our Lord. Another Mary saw Him, she of Magdala, first of all, other women shortly afterwards, of any special appearance to His mother scripture is profoundly silent. She may have seen Him risen, as five hundred did at one time, but scripture intimates not a word about it. So absolutely was Christ to be known no more after the flesh. He was dead and risen, and the glory of the Messiah born of the Virgin faded away in the brighter glory of the Beginning, the First-born from the dead.
It is the last mention of Mary. Chrysostom may well suppose Joseph to have died, the truth is that he had long disappeared. Of both we heard for the last time in the beauteous scene of the Lord at twelve years of age (Luk_2:42-51). He too was not yet anointed by the Holy Ghost; yet was He perfect man and true God, the child of Mary, and subject not to her only but to her husband - legally His father. But the incident brings out clearly His perfection as a child feeding on the word of God; but no less His consciousness of being the Son of God (far beyond the thoughts of Joseph or Mary), and withal His subjection to them, 'His parents', in that human place to which He had come down from divine glory in a love no less divine. When in due time, anointed by the Holy Spirit, He enters on His service and His presentation as the Messiah Joseph is gone. This was as it should be. It was through Joseph He had direct claim as the royal Son of David; for Joseph came down from Solomon, and therein lay the true line of promise to the throne. Mary too sprang from David, but through Nathan, who could give no such title. Legally and naturally He was descended from the king beloved of God, as He had a title in His own person above David as surely as above Joseph and Mary, He was God, Jehovah, the Lord God of Israel. Still the word of God must be honoured and verified in every human particular which divine grace had given and made known, for the exercise and the reward, the trial and the joy of faith.
Now Mary, according to scripture, appears for the last time in the holy band of prayer with others, men and women, not prayed to but praying. That the upper room was in the temple is the dream of Dr. Hammond. How strange that grave theologians should conceive such crudities, and that they seem so destitute of kind and faithful friends to efface them lest they should turn to shame or hurt! The last place where the disciples could have had such a place was the temple. It was no doubt in a private house where they then sojourned; whether it was that large upper room furnished where the Lord sat down to eat the last passover, we know not; nor is it of divine moment either, else it had been told us. But such rooms were common among the Jews, and, we may be assured, in Jerusalem especially, where God had His plans for blessing through His Son and to His honour.
'And in these days Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren, and said (and there was a crowd of names [or persons] together, about a hundred and twenty), Brethren [lit. Men brethren1] it was needful that the scripture ,should be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spake before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became guide to those that took Jesus. For he had been numbered among us, and received the allotment of this service. (This [man] then obtained a field from wages of [his] iniquity; and, falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the dwellers at Jerusalem, so that in their own language that field was called Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood). For it is written in the Book of Psalms, Let his homestead be made desolate, and let there be no dweller in it, and, His overseership let another take. Of the men therefore who went with us at every time that the Lord Jesus went in and went out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day in which He was received up from us, must one of these become2 a witness with us of His resurrection.
1 So also in Act_2:29; Act_2:37; Act_7:2; Act_13:15; Act_13:26; Act_15:7; Act_15:13; Act_22:1; Act_23:1; Act_23:6; Act_28:17.
2 'Be ordained to be' is the unfounded rendering of the A.V.
'And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, Thou, Lord, knower of the hearts of all, show of these two which one Thou hast chosen, to take the place of this service and apostleship from which Judas fell away to go unto his own place. And they gave lots for them; and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles' (vers. 15-26).
The hundred and twenty did not comprehend all the faithful in the land, but all in Jerusalem probably. To these Peter speaks with decision, but in the light and authority of scripture. Power from on high had not yet come on him, but there was evidently an intelligence never experienced by him before the Lord died and rose. These two things may co-exist now; or spiritual intelligence may be found where special power may not be given, though the Holy Ghost is, and this to abide for ever. But there we learn the important fact of their distinctness, and so much the more plainly, because the Holy Ghost had not yet been poured out. But Peter applies scripture with clearness. It shone in the light of the Lord's death and resurrection. It must needs be fulfilled, not in Christ only, but in antichrist; and such was Judas, who became guide to those that took Jesus. The Holy Spirit had deigned to speak of evil as well as good, and all must be fulfilled, though spoken by human lips. The unbelief of man may ruin him, but cannot make the written word of none effect; any more than the lot Judas received in the ministry of Christ exempted him from his awful sin and punishment. And the field got from wages of iniquity bore witness in characters of blood, after Judas passed away from his forfeited place in service and apostleship to go to his own place of torment. No wonder then that, as God so solemnly marked His resentment now before all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, He should speak before by the mouth of David of such a sinner against His own Son as well as against his own soul. Psa_69:25 pronounced his curse, Psa_109:8 called for a successor to his vacated office, and Peter lays down, for such as had gone with the apostles from the baptism of John till the ascension, the essential condition of becoming with them a witness of His resurrection.
Here once more we see what an immensely important place the resurrection was to hold in the testimony of Christ and the gospel, and how it is interwoven with this Book of the Acts in particular. Nor can there be strength or clearness in preaching and teaching without it. In presence of it vain man is annulled; by it Christ is vindicated, God is glorified, and the believer is justified. But even in this Book we may learn more of its power and value in the hands of the Holy Spirit, if we return to the practical use Peter made of the Psalms he had cited.
Two then were put forward, Joseph Barsabbas Justus, and Matthias, who, as far as man could see, possessed equal qualification. Hence appeal was made to the Lord in prayer. It was His work that was in question and it is His to choose the workman. So, in Mat_9:38, He told His disciples to supplicate the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into His harvest; and then, in Matthew 10, He called unto Him His twelve disciples, and gave them authority, and sent them forth. It is the same principle here. Elsewhere, in what concerns the assembly of God, His God and Father may be sought most appropriately, but the Lord none the less in what concerns His service and the instruments He may choose for it.
But there is a peculiarity to be noticed, the using of lots. It was in no way the will of man choosing whom he would, as some learned men have erroneously supposed, not without bias from their peculiar habits, nor unwillingness to justify them from scripture. Nor does the last term, translated 'numbered' (ver. 26), warrant here the notion of popular election which is in principle foreign to scripture for the choice of servants in the word. The lot was, as it will be in the latter day, a distinctly Jewish mode of seeking divine direction, and so, in the choice of the twelfth apostle (Mat_19:28), it was fittingly resorted to here. For the Spirit's presence the new power, in which Jews and Gentiles are alike unknown, was not yet enjoyed. The Lord therefore was looked to thus, but lots were never cast after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Nor is there just ground for Stier, as cited by Alford, to question the step of choosing a twelfth apostle, which seems to be thoroughly in keeping with the waiting posture of the disciples. Besides, Act_2:14, Act_6:2, would to most minds imply the contrary, and show that Luke does afterwards speak of the Twelve. To suppose that Paul was the intended twelfth is rather to lower his truly peculiar position and extraordinary call.