Bible Book List
Acts 1 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
Resources » Commentaries » Acts » Chapter 1 » exegesis

Waiting for the Spirit: The Election of Matthias

Luke's report of the disciples' activities as they waited for the Spirit's promised coming at Pentecost gives a pattern we would do well to emulate if we would prepare for an outpouring of the Spirit in revival. Though Pentecost was a unique inaugural event in the church's life, the steps that preceded it are essential for any fresh work of the Spirit.United, Persistent Prayer (1:12-14)

Obedient to their Lord's command to await the Spirit's coming in Jerusalem, the disciples return to the city (compare 1:4). They gather in a spacious room above the tumult and prying eyes of street traffic.

The assembly included three elements: the eleven apostles, women and Jesus' relatives. Luke explicitly names the eleven and in that way establishes the continuity between Jesus' ministry and the apostolic foundation of the church (compare Lk 6:14-16). Luke also draws attention to the faithful women who accompanied and physically supported Jesus in his ministry. They had witnessed his death and received the first news of his resurrection (Lk 8:1-3; 23:49; 24:1-11). Luke's discussions of women serve to indicate that barriers of gender are abolished among those who will participate in the church's witness in power. In referring to Jesus' family, Luke not only foreshadows the leadership that some of those relatives would exercise (Acts 12:7; 15:13; 21:18) but also highlights Jesus' messiahship and the link between the church and Israel.

This core of disciples, along with others, engaged in united, persistent prayer. They had not been commanded to pray, only to wait. But Jesus' own example at his baptism and his teachings, especially regarding how the Spirit would come in response to prayer, probably provided enough guidance (Lk 3:21; 11:13; 18:1, 8). The disciples' prayer was united, a quality that would characterize their common life under the Spirit's blessing (Acts 2:46; 4:24; 5:12). Their prayer was persistent. They devoted themselves to set times of daily corporate prayer until God answered from heaven.

The Fulton Street prayer meeting that sparked a revival in America in 1858 began with six people. Within six months there were ten thousand businessmen gathering daily for prayer in New York City, and within two years one million converts were added to the American church (Orr 1953:13). A. T. Pierson said, "There has never been a revival in any country that has not begun in united prayer, and no revival has ever continued beyond the duration of those prayer meetings" (quoted in Orr 1937:47). We must prepare for any fresh outpouring of the Spirit by united, persistent prayer.Restored Integrity: The Election of Matthias (1:15-26)

Luke singles out one event to record from those days of waiting. The legitimacy of the continuing witness to the twelve tribes of Israel (Lk 22:30) is affirmed by the apostles' filling the vacancy in their ranks. By detailing the apostolic requirement of being an eyewitness to the whole course of Jesus' ministry, including the resurrection and ascension, Luke emphasizes the continuity of eyewitness testimony which would be the church's foundation. And through it all he presents a prepared church with a restored integrity in its leadership.

Peter's speech to the 120 believers, introduced with much sense of occasion, declares the divine necessity of Judas' apostasy since what the Holy Spirit spoke through David long ago about him has now been fulfilled. Peter further emphasizes that Judas had received a place as one of the twelve, a position of service (see Lk 22:26, 28-30). He proceeds to quote the Old Testament Scriptures that predicted Judas's end and show the appropriateness of finding a replacement (Acts 1:20). Since the use of these texts, especially the first one, assumes the reader's acquaintance with the circumstances surrounding Judas's death, Luke provides a parenthetical statement about them. Judas's bloody suicide--a fall from a ledge on the southern slope of the valley of Hinnom--turned his property into cursed ground, twice defiled (Num 35:33; Deut 21:23; Mt 27:7-8; Acts 1:18-19). It became a cemetery for the ceremonially unclean and literally fulfilled the psalmist's imprecation: May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it (see Ps 69:25). Another imprecation establishes the legitimacy of the election to follow: May another take his place of leadership (Ps 109:8).

Peter now states the qualifications for an apostolic replacement. The apostle must be one who had accompanied Jesus' disciples from the time of John the Baptist's ministry until Christ's ascension, one who had been a witness to the resurrection and had seen the risen Lord. In other words, he must have witnessed the events that would be covered in the early church's gospel preaching (as in Acts 10:37-43; 13:23-41) and the Gospel of Mark. Peter stresses that the candidate must have been with Jesus' entourage the whole time--a most necessary qualification if he is to be an apostolic guarantor of the words and works of Jesus (compare 2:42; 5:32).

Public access to Jesus, as well as his authoritative relationship to his disciples, is captured in Peter's characterization of the time period: the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us. Such a strong eyewitness requirement should further confirm to Luke's inquiring audience--and to us--that the early church's message can be trusted: it is grounded not in human opinion but in divinely wrought and humanly witnessed salvation-history events.

The believers--or possibly the apostles--set forth two candidates: Joseph Barsabbas (son of Sabba or Seba), who also had a Roman name, Justus; and Matthias. Neither is mentioned again in Scripture, though Judas called Barsabbas (see Acts 15:22) may have been Joseph's brother. Later tradition identifies Matthias as a missionary to the Ethiopians.

Now the believers--or again, possibly only the apostles--address a prayer to the Lord Jesus. They ask him to indicate which of the two candidates he has chosen to fill the position vacated by Judas. With this prayer, in wording that echoes Jesus' initial calling of the twelve (Lk 6:13; compare Acts 1:2), they show they intend that this new apostle be chosen by Christ just as the other eleven were. An internal qualification of the apostle, possibly regenerate growth, may be hinted at when the Lord is addressed as the one who knows all hearts (compare Acts 15:8).

It is clear, though, that a replacement is being sought in the wake of apostasy; the believers are not intending to create a line of succession. Note how the prayer refers to Judas's defection and consequent end (compare 1:16-17, 20). One of the two apostolic candidates must receive, literally, "the place of this service and apostleship" (v. 25; NIV this apostolic ministry). Sin has reached even to the apostolic ranks. This is not outside the sovereign plan of God, for the Scripture had to be fulfilled (v. 16). Still, human responsibility and personal judgment are involved, and the ranks of leadership must be restored to full strength and spiritual integrity.

Lots are now cast. Each candidate's name is written on a stone, which is then placed in a container. The container is shaken and turned upside down until one of the stones springs or falls out. This method for discerning divine choice had a long history in Israel (Josh 18:6; 1 Chron 24:5; Prov 16:33).

Luke concludes by noting that the full complement of the twelve apostles has been restored. By principle, Matthias's election teaches us that restoration of integrity within the body of Christ is essential to preparation for revival. Wherever sin has created a breach and compromised the church's integrity, discipline, repentance and restoration must be pursued. J. Edwin Orr, that prodigious student of revivals, declared, "Revival is impossible apart from confession of sin among believers. It must be confession to God, and it may be confession to one another. Every hindrance must go. Sin must be confessed in order that it may be cleansed. . . . Judgment must begin at the house of the Lord" (Orr 1937:50). Only a holy people, a repentant and restored people, are vessels fit to be revived.

Previous commentary:
Jesus' Postresurrection Appearances and Ascension

About this commentary:
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.