TRACINGS FROM THE ACTS OF THE
SEVEN WEEKS. ACTS i.
FROM the morrow after the Passover Sabbath seven weeks
were to be numbered (Lev. xxiii. 15); then came the feast of Weeks, or
Pentecost, as it is called in the New Testament (Acts ii. 1, xx. 16 ; 1 Cor.
xvi. 8), nothing in the Jewish ecclesiastical year of any great moment taking
place between. In the year, however, of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection an
important event occurred between these feasts, which divided the seven weeks
into two unequal periods - viz., forty days and ten days.
The Forty Days. - For forty days the Lord was manifested to His disciples as risen from the dead. During those weeks He appeared to them at different times and in different places. On the day of His resurrection five manifestations took place - viz , to Mary Magdalene in the garden, to the women between that and the city, to the two who went to Ernmaus, to Peter, and then to the disciples in the upper room. A week after He appeared again at Jerusalem to the disciples, when Thomas was with them (John xx. 26). On a mountain in Galilee He met the disciples by appointment, possibly the five hundred of whom St. Paul writes (Matt. xxviii. 16; 1 Cor. xv. 6). On the shore of the Lake of Galilee He appeared without previous warning, and invited the disciples who had been fishing, but fruitlessly during the night, to come and dine (John xxi. 1-14). At some time or other He was seen of James (1 Cor. xv. 7). These 14 different appearances, save some of those on the first day, are unnoticed by Luke. But he tells us, what the other writers do not, the general character of the Lord's communications to His disciples during all that time. His words, writing of these forty days, are as follows : "To whom also He showed Himself alive after His passion, by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to [or, concerning] the kingdom of God" (Acts i. 3). Though the King had been crucified, vet the kingdom would be established in power; and, what was contrary to all precedents, the crucified One, who had died, would nevertheless return to reign. Deeply interesting must these confidential communications have been. Confidential they may be called ; for no details of them have been committed to writing for our instruction.
Last Words. - The day of His final departure drew near. His last counsels the disciples were now receiving. And being assembled with them, or as the margin gives it, "eating with them," the Lord charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but there to wait for the promise of the Father, "which" - and now Luke quotes the Master's very Words - "ye have heard of Me. For John truly baptised with water ; but ye shall be baptised with the Holy Ghost not many days hence" (4, 5). We have noticed the marginal reading; for the earliest versions - the Syriac and the Vulgate - support it. Greek writers, as Chrysostom and Theophylact, accept it; Jerome, too, endorses it; and Meyer, of moderns, adopts it. Without further entering on the question of the meaning of the Greek verb, we may remark that the marginal reading would be quite in character with Peter's statement to Cornelius and his friends (x. 41), that the disciples ate and drank with the Lord after He rose from the dead. John xxi is the only incontrovertible instance to which we can turn. But Peter's statement seems to imply that it was not once only that they had eaten with Him after the Resurrection. So it may quite have been that they ate with Him on the occasion to which Luke refers. What seasons must such as these have been ! Of what grace do they speak ! What freedom, what privilege, allowed the disciples! What interest in them on the Lord's part! How much might have been recorded had a diary of events been kept ! But such was not to be. And now those opportunities so precious were about for ever to close. The risen but not yet ascended Lord would be in that condition no longer. With just one more question from them, and an answer from Him, their personal intercourse with Him as yet on earth would cease. But we must not anticipate.
Baptism with the Holy Ghost. - Of the baptism with the Spirit as near at hand the Lord now spoke. He had not previously distinctly mentioned it. For it they were to wait in Jerusalem. It would take place for them in the metropolis of Judaism. It was a new and a distinctive Christian blessing. All the disciples would share in it. This baptism John, the son of Zacharias, had first mentioned, and that in connection with the Messiah. "I indeed," he said, when people were musing whether he was the Christ or not - "I indeed baptise you with water; but One, mightier than I, cometh, the latchet of whose shors I am not worthy to unloose: He shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost and with fire" (Luke iii. 15, 16). A far-reaching view of the Lord's work the Baptist here takes. For the baptism with fire, as the context in both Matt. iii. and Luke iii., where alone it is mentioned, plainly intimates, is connected with the execution of judgment. So it is future. The baptism with the Holy Ghost has taken place, never that we know of to be repeated, though the effects of it continue. Of this baptism John again spoke after he had baptised the Lord (John i. 32, 33), having learnt by the fulfilment of the sign given to him, in the descent of the Holy Spirit and His remaining on the Lord, that it was He who would baptise with the Holy Ghost. To this same event the Lord referred in the upper room on the day of His resurrection, when He spoke to the assembled disciples of the power with which they would be endued from on high. Now on the approach of His ascension He openly spoke of their coming baptism. It was near at hand. We have said that this is a distinctive Christian blessing. For we learn from 1 Cor. xii. 13 that by it the Body of Christ is formed. "By [or, in] one Spirit are we all baptised into one Body, whether we be Jews or Greeks, whether we be bond or free." All real Christians share in this as regards its effects, though all were not present on either occasion when it took place (Acts ii., xi. 15, 16). St. Paul was not even converted at the time. Yet he, in common with the Corinthians, came to share in it. So do all real Christians, recipients of the Holy Ghost. This is an important truth ; and the fact that all true believers - i.e., who share in forgiveness of sins - necessarily have part in it is a very important point.
The Last Question. - So far we read of the character of the interview with the disciples during those forty days. Now the time for the last question came. "Lord, wilt [or, dost] Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" His reign in power was in their thoughts. For forty days had He been with them. Was that kingdom, then, near at hand ? Of its advent He had spoken (Luke xix. 12-15), and of Jerusalem welcoming her returning King (Matt, xxiii. 39). On things pertaining to the kingdom He had apparently freely discoursed since His resurrection. So now of Israel's future greatness they inquired. Their question He did not answer. "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power." An answer this was in character with His words before the cross. "Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father" (Mark xiii. 32). The distant future was not laid open to them. Of the near future, however, He did speak, and acquainted them with the work to which they were called, In His prayer to His Father He had intimated something of it, as He prayed for those who should believe on Him through their word (John xvii. 20). On the day He rose He spoke of the going forth of the Gospel of God's grace, but for that service they were to wait the promise of the Father (Luke xxiv. 49). At the end of the Gospel of Matthew (xxviii. 19), and that also of Mark (xvi. 15), we learn that nothing less than the world was to be the bounds of the sphere of evangelistic service. Now in Acts i. 8 He tells them of power they would receive by the Holy Ghost coming on them, and then sketched out their widening sphere of labour - Jerusalem, Judsea, Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth. In this order - for Luke in his way is a methodical writer - does the historian narrate the progress of the work. Samaria was evangelised in chap, viii., after which the work spread, and Gentiles were blessed (x.), and then far and wide the Gospel made its way.
The Ascension. The last words had been spoken relative to their work. Then in the act of blessing them, and near to Bethany, on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, the Lord was parted from them (Luke xxiv. 50, 51), and taken up into heaven. They saw Him ascend, but a cloud hid Him from their sight. How far they watched Him going up we know not; but the cloud hid Him from their further view. What, however, they could not see we know. He then ascended far above all heavens, and led captivity captive likewise (Eph. iv. 8-10). Unwitnessed by the world, and unknown to it, He ascended to the right hand of God. But angelic powers were not unaware of it, nor were the principalities and powers of evil unconcerned spectators. His triumph they surely witnessed, and the effect of it they well knew. For He led them captive, and opened up that communication between heaven and earth which never has been closed. And the witnesses of this last to us are the gifts He gives unto men- even instruments for the carrying on of the work of God upon earth till He shall come.
A Hope. - God is the God of hope (Rom. xv. 13). He gives His people a hope. So just at that moment, when naturally the hearts of the little band - the Eleven - might have sunk within them, two men stood by them in white apparel, and spoke words of comfort, seasonable indeed to those who were still gazing upward. "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken [or, received] up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven" (Acts i. 11). He would return, return in person, and that to earth. And, as we know, on the mountain from which He then ascended His feet shall again stand (Zech. xiv. 4). That mountain, consecrated by the impress of His feet on that memorable occasion, will be consecrated afresh, when He shall again stand upon it. The words of those men were enough. They ceased gazing upwards, and returned to the city of Jerusalem, without the Lord. Downcast, shall we say? No. With great joy, as Luke in his Gospel has recorded (xxiv. 52). The hope of His return filled them with joy, in that which naturally we should have viewed as the first hour of their desolation.
Angelic Ministry. Those men were angels. At times in the past God has sent such messengers to communicate with His earthly creatures. Two angels in human form visited Lot, and brought him out of Sodom. The law was ordained by angels, said Stephen (Acts vii. 53). With that the Apostle Paul's statement in Galatians (iii. 19) is in agreement. Often had they appeared on the scene in Israel's history, ministering at times providentially (1 Kings xix. 5), at times communicating something of the Divine will. By this latter service Daniel and Zechariah were especially favoured. In New Testament times Gabriel visited the aged priest Zacharias, and later the Virgin Mary. At the Lord's birth there appeared first one announcing the glad tidings, and then was heard a multitude praising God (Luke ii.). Yet though twice in the Lord's life He received their ministrations (Matt. iv. 11 ; Luke xxii. 43), they were not used at any time whilst He was on earth as channels for Divine revelation. We can all understand the propriety of that. He died. Again they appeared to minister the information suited for the moment. Those visiting the tomb of the company of the women saw them and heard them, and they carried away the message they were charged by them to deliver. But during the forty days of the Lord's presence with His own we read not of angelic ministry. And even on Mary's second visit to the tomb they retired into the background, and let the Lord discover Himself to her. When He was present, the angels were silent. The Lord ascended. Two angels then immediately appeared, sent to encourage the Eleven by announcing the certainty of the return of Jesus in person. "Shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven" On the day of Pentecost the Holy Ghost, Third Person of the Godhead, came to dwell upon earth. Angels then again receded, as it were, into the background, ministering still providentially (Acts 5: 19, xii. 7, xxvii. 23; Heb. i. 14), but not as vessels to communicate Christian truth. With this agree the act and word of the angel who visited Cornelius. He directed him to send for Peter, who would tell him words whereby he and his house should be saved (Acts xi. 14). For neither the preaching of the Gospel of the grace of God, nor the present teaching to establish souls in the faith, has been committed to angels. The Holy Ghost is here, and He uses human instruments for that purpose. In the Apocalypse, however, angelic ministry reappears. That book unfolds the future of the earth, and the judgments which must take place. Angels will be executors of those judgments, so in character with that it may be that one speaks therein to John.
The Upper Room. The Eleven returned to Jerusalem, and assuredly communicated to the other disciples that which had taken place. Were these latter dispirited? There is no trace of it, though now they must have realised their orphan state (John xiv. 18); for the Lord had gone, and the Holy Ghost had not yet come. To the upper chamber where they abode the Eleven betook themselves, with the women, and Mary the mother of the Lord, and His brethren, a company apart from their Jewish acquaintances. Here for the last time the Apostles are severally enumerated, though in an order which varies from the lists in the three Synoptic Gospels (Matt. x.; Mark iii.; Luke vi.). Only one Judas was now to be reckoned in the apostolic company, called in Matthew and in Mark Thaddeus (Lebbeus should in the former be probably omitted), but in Luke, as well as in this place in the Acts, designated as Judas of James.* "These all," writes our Church historian, " with one accord continued in prayer ** with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren" (Acts i. 14). Such was their occupation, an expression of dependence and of desire. Here, too, for the last time are the women mentioned, and the Virgin likewise, save that Mary the mother of John Mark is introduced into the narrative in chap. xii. Personal service to Christ had characterised the women. That necessarily ceased, though doubtless they were still at work in their proper sphere. But He who had been their great object being no longer here, no more notice is taken of them after this time. Faithful they had been. Faithful they were still, and in prayer with the Apostles they continued. Another class we must remark on: "His brethren." These were distinct from any of the Apostles, and were perhaps brought to confess the Lord by His death and the knowledge of His resurrection. "Neither did His brethren believe on Him," John wrote (vii. 5). That could be said no longer. For those who with His mother had sought once to hinder Him in His work (Mark iii. 31) are with her just after His ascension in the company of the Eleven in the upper room, as definitely and openly to be ranked among His disciples.
* According to some, the word brother is to be supplied, as in the A.V.; according to others, son, should be understood, as in the R.V. The Syriac in Luke vi. 16 and here reads "son." Neither of these is inconsistent with the usage of the language. See Winer, and Liddell and Scott's Lexicon. We do know of Jude who calls himself, and of course was aware of it, brother of James, the writer of the Epistle which bears his name. If Judas be the son of some James, it is a James wholly unknown to us, and we might in that case have looked for something wherewith to identify him, like Simon Iscariot, the father of Judas (John vi. 71). But that has not been supplied. Lacking that, "brother," rather than "son," seems more probably to be understood. Meyer decides for son. Wordsworth and Alford supply brother. We would just add that the list of the Eleven here given has point, showing the fulfilment of the Lord's words, "Of them which Thou gavest Me have I lost none" (John xviii. 9).
** "And supplication" should be omitted.
Bereft of the Master's company, what could they do ? Was the movement begun during His life now to collapse? Were those gathered by His ministry to disperse, and the company to disappear like snow before the noonday sun? Could they hope, a little band, and a feeble one indeed, looking at themselves, to stand their ground against the opposition of constituted authority, and in the presence of hostile crowds? It was true the Lord had risen from the dead. They had seen Him. But the world had not; and no enthusiasm had been stirred in His favour by the announcement of the soldiers of that which they had witnessed at the tomb. To the natural man their cause was not a promising one. But they had a hope to which the Jews were strangers; and, assured that the God of their fathers had not forsaken them, whilst waiting for the fulfilment of their hope, they continued in prayer ; for work, they knew, was before them, when the time to commence it should arrive.
Matthias. Meantime preparation for that work, as far as they could make it, was undertaken. Judas Iscariot by transgression had fallen, that he might go to his own place (Acts i. 25). Solemn indeed ! Was his fall unforeseen? It was unexpected by the Eleven, we know. But Scripture had foreshadowed it, and predicted too the substitution of another in his place. To this Peter calls attention at the time of their greatest weakness. Many a saint has known the comfort that a word of Scripture has ministered to him in some special time of need. What comfort must these have found, as they learnt, and saw it plainly set forth, that the heartless and selfish conduct of Judas had been foreknown to God! His act of treachery was the fulfilment of the prophetic word. The Holy Ghost had predicted it. David had been the penman to write it. And provision had been made to meet the present circumstances. To Psalms Ixix. 25 and cix. 8 the Apostle Peter refers. The first reference speaks of what should be meted out to the persecutor; the second, of succession in his office. In Judas, by his death, the first quotation had a fulfilment. His habitation was desolate. He had died by his own hand (Matt, xxvii. 5). The second prediction was also to be fulfilled.
Peter therefore suggested to the assembled company that the one hundred and ninth Psalm shed light on the situation, and afforded guidance for them in the present circumstances. All agreeing, they prepared to carry out the injunction of the Psalm by nominating two, one of whom was to fill the traitor's place, and with the Eleven bear witness to the truth of the Lord's resurrection. Nominating two, we have said ; not meaning by their own will to fill up the vacancy ; but discerning that two of the disciples seemed fitted for that office, they put them forward as equally qualified as far as man could judge. Prayer then was offered. Lots were cast, to learn which of the two the Lord had chosen. On Matthias the lot fell. He was therefore numbered with the eleven Apostles. Henceforth there were twelve (Acts i. 26, ii. 14, vi. 2), all of whom had known the Lord before His death, and could witness of His resurrection. It is evident that Paul, called subsequently to the apostolate, could never have answered to that which Peter declared was a requisite on this occasion. The twelfth Apostle he was not; nor was Barnabas either. They could neither of them have been that.
Judas Iscariot. - Peter had spoken of the traitor's end, and gave details then known, but not reported elsewhere. He confirmed the information furnished by Matthew, both that a field was bought with the thirty pieces of silver, and also that Judas died a violent death. There is nothing really inconsistent in the two statements about the purchase of the field. For that piece of ground, bought with the money, though the transaction was carried out by the chief priests, as Matthew declares, might be spoken of in the words of Peter : "This man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity." The money with which it was bought really belonged to Judas. Doubtless, had we full details, we should see that the account of both Apostles is correct in every particular. Both speak of the matter as one of common notoriety. And Matthew, who was present when Peter described the end of Judas, must of course have been quite conversant with that which his brother Apostle had stated. Ignorance or mistake on the part of either we cannot admit. Peter spoke of it a few weeks after the occurrence. Matthew, it may be, wrote his Gospel but a few years after the death of Judas, and when all the circumstances of it could not have been forgotten. Both profess perfect acquaintance with the facts they narrate, and write of them as commonly known. A mistake then, we repeat, we cannot admit, unless it could be demonstrated, which is impossible, that we have all the particulars of this sad history. Till that can be satisfactorily established, becoming modesty should make us believe that it is the lack of full particulars which causes any difficulty in harmonising the two accounts. We would add that there is nothing in Peter's statement which obliges us to believe that Judas killed himself on that spot known afterwards as Aceldama ; and the name given to the field seems to have arisen from the money being the price of blood (Matt, xxvii. 6).*
* Judas went to his own place. The Lord was in Paradise, and the penitent thief with Him. Separation for ever took place between the Lord and Judas. Fellowship with the Lord for ever was to be the portion of that thief.
To return to a more interesting theme. Preparation was made by the election of Matthias to fill up the vacancy caused by Judas Iscariot's fall. A work was before them of which as yet they had little idea, either of its magnitude or of its difficulties. Their faith, however, we see, was undaunted, and they looked forward to that which lay before them with stout hearts. Surely God was comforting and encouraging them who in prayer expressed their dependence, yet doubtless their desire likewise for the power to come, which would enable them to go forward on their mission. Like their forefathers in the days of Nehemiah (iv. 2, 3) their opponents (for now they were becoming conscious that they had such) might despise them. "What do these feeble Jews?" those of old said. Feeble though they were, yet they built up the wall of Jerusalem all round in fifty-and-two days. What would that insignificant company do, who meet in the upper room? their enemies might say. There they remain in prayer, but they never come forth to meet us. Utterly incompetent are they to win their way in the world! Did such thoughts pass through their minds? Soon it would be demonstrated that a weapon more effective than any great conqueror had used, and of a more keen edge than a material sword, was to be wielded by that company now apart in that room. By the weapon they would wield trophies would be won, captives, adherents - not by twos or threes, nor by hundreds, but by thousands would they be numbered. And a work would break out in spite of all opposition, which neither the devil nor the ruling powers of earth could possibly put down. Judaism, heathenism, idolatry, and indifference, each and all would feel the power connected with that company, and have to own that they could not successfully overcome it. God would be with them, though the world would be against them. But that little band might truly say, in the words of the prophet Elisha, " They that be with us are more than they that be with them " (2 Kings vi. 16). Let us now see how conquests were brought about.
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