Acts 1:6-26

A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds

Denton, TX

January 22, 2009


(Acts 1:6-26)


In our last session we looked we briefly overviewed the background to Acts.  We saw that the book plays a key role in the New Testament, serving as a bridge between the gospels and the epistles.  The appropriate title is “Acts of the Holy Spirit” for the book tells about the continuing ministry of Jesus through God’s Spirit.  Written by Luke, the personal physician to Paul, and addressed to Theophilus (probably an influential Roman citizen who had come to faith in Christ or was seriously exploring Christianity), Acts provides us an in-depth look at the beginnings of the church.  We focused in our last session on the prelude in Acts 1:1-5 which looks back to the Gospel of Luke and forward to the story about to unfold. 


In this session we are going to focus on the remainder of Acts 1.  Following the prelude in Acts 1:1-5, Luke tells us about four events in the remainder of Acts 1:

·         The Lord’s final commission to His disciples (1:6-8)

·         The Lord’s ascension into heaven (1:9-11)

·         The initial obedience of the disciples to the Lord’s command (1:12-14)

·         The selection of Matthias to take the place of Judas Iscariot among the twelve original disciples (1:15-26)

Obviously in covering so much material, we are not going to be able to fully explore every word or phrase.  But I think we will be able to get the main thrust of what is being said in these verses and to make appropriate application to our lives.


The Lord’s final commission to His disciples (1:6-8) - Several other times between the resurrection and the ascension Jesus had given His disciples a commission similar to the one in this passage.  For example:

·         On the evening of the resurrection Jesus appeared to the disciples and commissioned them to go into the world with the gospel saying, “…as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” (John 20:21) 

·         Immediately after the resurrection Jesus instructed the disciples to return to Galilee (Matthew 28:10).  While they were in Galilee Jesus gave them what has come to be known as the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. 

However, the commission in Acts 1 is the only record of Jesus giving such instructions to the disciples just prior to the ascension.  This commission takes place in the area of Jerusalem.  Verse 12 of this chapter tells us it occurred on Mount Olivet, and we will explore that location in more depth later in this session.  This raises the question why the disciples, who were Galileans, were in Jerusalem at this particular time.  Of course, the answer is found in the first part of chapter 2.  It was time for the Feast of Pentecost, which was one of three great feasts observed by the Jews, the other two being Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles.  All male Israelites were expected to come to Jerusalem for this feast. 


Verse 6 contains a question.  At the beginning of His final appearance to them, the disciples asked Him, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”  This question looks back to the phrase “…to wait for what the Father had promised…” in verse 4.  The disciples, in their very limited understanding of the kingdom of God, assumed the Father’s promise had something to do with the restoration of Israel to its former greatness.  Since 63 B.C. Israel had been dominated by the Romans.  But for many centuries before that the nation had no real independence.  Since the death of Solomon and the division of Israel into two kingdoms, the nation had lived under the thumb of some foreign power.  First the Assyrians came and over-ran the Northern Kingdom.  Then the Babylonians came and conquered the Southern Kingdom and plundered Jerusalem, including the Temple.  Then came the Persians and the Greeks and then the Romans.  Deeply embedded in the psyche of 1st century Israel was the belief that when the Messiah appeared, he would lead Israel to over-throw the foreign powers occupying their land and restore the nation to the greatness it experienced under King David.  They could not easily grasp that the kingdom Jesus was establishing was a spiritual kingdom in the hearts of people, and not just Jewish people but all who would respond to Him!


Jesus responded to their question in three ways.  He strongly rebukes them in verse 7.  He gives them a wonderful promise in verse 8a.  And He issues to them an challenging command in verse 8b.


      Verse 7 – A strong rebuke“It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority…” The phrase translated “times or epochs” is interesting.  “Times” refers to a large expanse of time, much like we would use the word “era.”  “Epochs” refers to a specific point in time, much like we would use the word “date.”  In effect Jesus told them to stop worrying about things over which they had not control or knowledge.  They could not know God’s general timetable for the future and they certainly could not know God’s specific timetable for the future.  Those things were not to be their concern.  One writer said of this verse:

Jesus did not come to satisfy man’s curiosity about God’s time schedule but to reveal God and lead [people] into a right relationship with God.  Such advice is relevant to our own age.  There are many Christians who are more interested in predictions than in the proclamation of the gospel which gives light and life. [T.C. Smith, Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 10]


Verse 8a – A wonderful promise“…but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit as come upon you…”  The word translated “power” is dunamis.  Our words dynamite and dynamo come from this word.  And those words give us a clue as to its meaning.  Dunamis includes both explosive power (dynamite) and staying power (dynamo).  Both types of power would be necessary for the disciples to carry out the command Jesus was about to give them.  Notice that this power is for all the disciples, that this power not earned but received, and that this power is transmitted by the Holy Spirit.

Verse 8b – A challenging command“…and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”  As we saw in the previous session, this is the thesis statement of Acts.  It outlines the book for us.

·         Chapters 1-8 tell of the witness in Jerusalem and Judea

·         Chapters 9-11a tell of the witness in Samaria and the coastal regions

·         Chapters 11b-28 tell of the witness to the remotest part of the earth

The word translated “witness” is martus from which our word “martyr” comes.  William Barclay writes:

A witness had to be ready to become a martyr.  To be a witness means to be loyal no matter what the cost.” [Barclay, The Daily Study Bible:Acts]



The Lord’s ascension into heaven (1:9-11) – Verse 12 indicates this event took place on the Mount of Olives.  This hill is located just to the east of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, separated from the hill on which the Temple sat by the Kidron Valley.  It was at the base of the Mount of Olives that Jesus prayed the night he was arrested.  The Jews believe that the resurrection would begin on this mount and it is a prime burial place to this day.  There are several reasons the ascension of Jesus is important:

·         It is a necessary corollary to the resurrection.  If Jesus had not ascended into heaven then He would necessarily either still be alive on earth today or He died at some later point.

·         It let the disciples know that the post resurrection appearances of Jesus had now come to an end.

·         It revealed to them that Jesus was no longer to be communicated with through the physical senses but through spiritual insight.

·         It was a visual demonstration to them of His exaltation to the right hand of God.


The “cloud” (v.9) that received Him is symbolic of the presence of God.  That is consistent with the way Luke described the “cloud” at the transfiguration of Jesus in Luke 9:34-35.  Also, in the Old Testament a cloud symbolized the presence of God to the Israelites.


As the disciples were “gazing intently” into heaven to get a final glimpse of Jesus, “two men in white clothing” appeared to them.  These angelic messengers are reminiscent of the ones who appeared to the women at the tomb on resurrection morning (Luke 24:4).  Like the messengers in Luke 24, these messengers asked a question and made a proclamation.





Luke 24:5-6

“Why do you seek the

living among the dead?”

“He is not here, but He

has risen.”

Acts 1:11

“Why do you stand looking into the sky?”

“This Jesus … will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”



The initial obedience of the disciples to the Lord’s command (1:12-14)

“…they returned to Jerusalem…” – Remember that the disciples were Galileans.  Jerusalem was not their home even though they had contacts there and obviously had a place to say.  The movement of the disciples after the resurrection is hard to track.  Obviously they were in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration when Jesus was crucified and resurrected.  We know they went back to Galilee at Jesus’ instruction and He appeared to them there on several occasions.  At some point they returned to Jerusalem.  While they would have gone there for the Feast of Pentecost, they arrived sometime before the feast.  Luke tells us Jesus appeared to them for a period of forty days.  Pentecost (the word means fiftieth) took place fifty days after the Passover.  So, we can conclude that the ascension occurred about a week before Pentecost.  Their returning to Jerusalem was an act of obedience to the Lord’s command in Acts 1:4.


“…Sabbath day’s journey…” – This is the distance a Jew was allowed to travel on the Sabbath, about three-fifths of a mile.


“…the upper room…” – The presence of the definite article indicates a particular, well known room.  This was probably the meeting place of the Last Supper and the place the disciples gathered on the evening of the resurrection.  Some have speculated it was in the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark.  Acts 12:12 indicates her home became a center of Christian worship in Jerusalem and it was large enough to accommodate a group of some significant size.

The list of the disciples in verse 13 (the twelve minus Judas Iscariot) is a reminder of the great diversity of this group.  They differed in leadership styles, intellectual abilities, personality types, political persuasions, etc.


But verse 14 describes them as being of “one mind.”  The phrase literally is of the same mind or spirit.   It speaks of their common experience in Christ and their common mission which united them.  This phrase is used ten times in Acts.  It speaks of the unity of fellowship of the early believers.


The phrase “…continually devoting themselves to prayer…” stresses the earnestness and the intensity of their prayers.  For them, prayer was not a perfunctory religious duty, it was a spiritual exercise which required their utmost attention.


Other people were present with the disciples at this time.  The “women” referred to may have been those who accompanied Jesus from Galilee, stayed with Him through the crucifixion, and were the witnesses to the resurrection.  This is the only time that “Mary the mother of Jesus” is mentioned in Acts.  Scholars assume that Luke was acquainted with her because the detailed account of the birth of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel could only have come from Mary.  Also, the brothers (or to be more accurate, the half-brothers) of Jesus were present.


The selection of Matthias to take the place of Judas Iscariot among the twelve original disciples (1:15-26) – This event gives us a glimpse into the way decisions were made in the early church.

“…at this time…” – This refers to the days between the ascension of Jesus and the day of Pentecost.


“…Peter stood up…” – While Peter was the obvious leader and spokesman for the early church, he did not presume to name a replacement for Judas.  He led the group to make a selection.  Notice the phrases “…Peter stood up…” in v.15 and “…they put forward two men…” in verse 23.


“…a gathering of about one hundred and twenty…” – This number is significant because it was the number of people required to establish a synagogue.  The number of leadership positions in a synagogue was required to be one-tenth of the membership.  Therefore, the smallest congregation required twelve leadership positions.  Perhaps that is why Peter thought it “necessary” (v.21) that a successor to Judas be elected.  There would be twelve disciples for the initial congregation of one hundred and twenty people.


“…were there together…” – This is not talking about mere physical togetherness.  It is talking about the unity of spirit referred to in verse 14. 


Verses 16-17, 20 – Peter used Scripture to explain the seemingly unexplainable actions of Judas. 


Verses 18-19 contain a parenthetical statement by Luke concerning the fate of Judas Iscariot.  This statement does not contradict but supplements the account of Judas’ fate found in Matthew 27:3-10.


Verses 21-22 set forth the necessary qualifications for the person to be selected. He must have been with them from the time of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist until the ascension and should be willing to be a witness with the other disciples to the resurrection of Jesus.


Verse 23 says the nominees were “Joseph called Barsabbas” which means son of Sabbath or elder and Matthias.  Neither is mentioned in Scripture again, even though a man named Judas Barsabbas is mention in Acts 15:22 who accompanied Paul to Antioch.  Some have suggested this may be the brother of Joseph Barsabbas.

Verses 24-26 explain the method they used to make the choice between the two men.  First “they prayed” (verse 24) asking that the Lord to show them which of the two to select.  Then “they drew lots” (verse 26) to determine the Lord’s choice.  This probably consisted of them labeling two stones with the men’s names, placing them in a container, and shaking the container until one stone came out.  They did not consider this a matter of chance but an expression of the will of God.  It is important to note that this is the last time this method of discerning God’s will is referred to in the Scripture.  From this point on, the disciples sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit.


Practical Application of Acts 1:6-28

1.      Our understanding of spiritual things is always limited and sometimes we miss the really important things and instead focus on lesser things.  We see the disciples doing this twice in this passage, once in verse 6 and then again in verse 11.

2.      When God calls us to a task He also provides us the power to do what He calls us to do.

3.      We are called to live in fellowship with other believers.  We will never be what God wants us to be in isolation from other Christians.  The fellowship or togetherness of the early Christians is stressed throughout this passage.

4.      While the Christian community needs leaders, true leaders are not dictatorial.

5.      God’s will is discerned through prayer, fellow believers, God’s Spirit, and God’s Word.