Bible Notes Online - Acts 1 - ESV
Commentary

The book of transition; from Jewish to Christian, from Jew to Gentile, from law to grace. The work begun by Jesus Christ is continued by the apostles.

The first seven chapters deal with the establishing of the church in Jerusalem, up to the expansion in Samaria. Later the expansion continues to Gentile nations.

v1: Luke's account, an orderly telling of the history of the church. He has "carefully investigated" the events he relates.

We note that he immediately speaks of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at work in perfect agreement. This unity is seen in creation, in the incarnation, in the crucifixion and resurrection, and in salvation.

v2: The apostles, those chosen and taught by Jesus; here they follow those instructions He has given them.

v3: "Many convincing proofs," a strong statement, for there is no doubt about Christ's resurrection, Luke 24.44-46. The apostles' eye-witness testimony is a feature of Acts. Hence what we read here has a solid, factual basis.

v4-5: Luke 24.49; waiting for the promise of the Father; baptised (immersed) in the Holy Spirit, clothed with power from on high; this promise is fulfilled at Pentecost.

The Lord previously appeared to the Eleven in Galilee; Matt 26.32; 28.7; John 21.1, but they later return to Jerusalem.

v6-7: The apostles' impatience and misunderstanding, "at this time," expecting things to happen immediately. God's time is not always our time; times and seasons are in His hands, and beyond our knowing; the secret things belong to the Lord our God.

Restore the kingdom to Israel, Matt 21.43; Luke 19.11; Israel has rejected Christ, and this the apostles will later appreciate. Yet the desire they express here will one day be fulfilled.

v8: The key verse of Acts; the book tells of the beginning of the fulfilment of this verse. Although there are instructions about the kingdom being fulfilled, the apostles are given a different task, to be witnesses to Christ, and are equipped to do this.

The witness; in Greek, MARTYR; the English word means 'to know with certainty.' A witness testifies to events or facts within their own personal knowledge and experience; this is an important concept in British legal practice. The Christian also has the inner witness of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8.9-11). The Arabic word shaheed also means both witness and martyr.

The Holy Spirit gives us power to live godly, and to witness to Christ (John 15.26); for He draws attention to Christ.

The testimony of Christ is not for unbelievers (John 2.24-25) for they accuse Christ (Matt 26.59-61).

Although the spread of the gospel is something geographic; Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth, we may also see it as to do with the human heart; religious, semi-religious, non-religious. Either way, the command is clear, to witness everywhere and to all; and by His power alone can this be fulfilled.

It seems no coincidence that travel was facilitated by good roads at the time. Edward Gibbons (The decline and fall of the Roman Empire, chapter 15) comments; 'the public highways...opened an easy passage for Christian missionaries.' By the reign of Diocletian (starting 284 AD), Gibbons suggests that the gospel had been preached 'in every province, and in all the great cities of the empire.'

v9-11: Christ's Ascension, and the promise of His return. The reality of His Ascension is proved by the coming of the Holy Spirit, John 16.7, 16; He has gone to prepare a place for us, John 14.2; as the man in the glory, He intercedes for us, Heb 9.24; and this is to our benefit, John 16.7.

His return is linked with His Ascension; 'You saw Him go...He will return.' There is no promise that the same individuals will witness His return. His return is therefore visible, Rev 1.7. We recognise that some scoff at the apparent non-fulfilment of His promise, 2 Pet 3.3-4. Note though that the return described in 1 Thess 4 is different from what is promised here.

v12-13: The Eleven return to Jerusalem. As in Luke 6.14-15, they are paired off, although Thomas and Bartholomew have different partners. It seems they will work together in the new order, just as they worked together whilst Jesus was on earth.

v14: Prayer with the women, which continues for some days, a "few days," v5.

v15: In total, there are 120 together, the Eleven, the women who followed with Jesus, and others. Peter is identified as leader.

v16-17: The matter of Judas; it may be that not all know the full story, which Peter now relates. Implicit here is a warning to those around him; Judas was numbered with the apostles, claimed to follow Christ, involved in "this ministry," accompanied true believers, yet he did not belong to Christ.

v18-19: See Matt 27.5-10, where Judas' suicide is related. It may be that his body fell from the tree where he hung himself, thus it "fell headlong." The field was purchased by Judas, ie: by the money he received from betraying Jesus.

The details may not easily be matched, however, this is his "reward."

v20: Peter, like Matthew, finds scriptures fulfilled even in the betrayer.

v21-22: Twelve witnesses of the resurrection, the apostles, leaders within the church, see Acts 8.1, although there are few references to them as a distinct group. See 15.2, 6, 22, which speak of the apostles and the elders; Gal 2.8 refers to the apostleship to the circumcised, contrasting Paul the apostle to the Gentiles.

v23-26: The 120 cast lots, choosing Matthias to make up the Twelve. It is therefore incorrect to think of Paul as the twelfth apostle.