29 September 2021

Between Law and Spirit

Between the ascension and the gift of the Spirit, the apostles tarried in prayer and appointed Matthias to complete their number - Acts 1:12-26.

Dry Riverbed - Photo by Chester Ho on Unsplash
After the ascension, the apostles returned to Jerusalem to wait for the “
promise of the Father.” In the meantime, they appointed Matthias to the apostolic office held by Judas. As the leaders of the new people of God, they needed twelve representatives to demonstrate continuity with the covenant of Yahweh - [Photo by Chester Ho on Unsplash].

The work that Jesus “began to do” was not entirely new. It was in fulfillment of the redemptive promises of God recorded in the Hebrew Bible. Quite likely, Luke inserted this next story to contrast the period before the outpouring of the Spirit with all that occurred afterward.
  • (Acts 1:12-14) – “Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is nigh unto Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey off. And when they arrived, they went up into the upper chamber, where they were abiding, both Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. These all with one accord continued steadfastly in prayer, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.
The passage confirms that Jesus departed for heaven from the Mount of Olives. A “Sabbath day’s journey” was the walking distance allowed under Jewish tradition on the Sabbath, a little over one kilometer.

Whether the ascension occurred on the Sabbath is not the point. The passage stresses the nearness of Olivet to the city of Jerusalem, where the long-awaited redemption of the nations must begin there.

The book of Acts emphasizes that the new age of the Spirit and the church began in Jerusalem. It was from there that the gospel spread to the far corners of the Roman Empire, and all this was in accord with the Scriptures.

During this ten-day period, the newly formed community remained incomplete without the empowering presence of the Spirit, and therefore, it was not yet equipped to carry out its mission to the “uttermost parts of the earth.”

The “upper room” where they tarried was possibly the same “large upper room” where Jesus kept his last Passover with the twelve disciples. However, the closing comments in Luke suggest this latest gathering may have occurred in the Temple – (Luke 22:10-12, 24:53-53 – “He will show you a large upper room furnished: there make ready the Passover”).
  • (Acts 1:15-17, 20-26) – “And in these days Peter stood up among the brethren and said (and there was a multitude of persons gathered together, about a hundred and twenty): ‘Brethren, it was needful that the Scripture should be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who was the guide to them that took Jesus. For he was numbered among us and received his portion in this ministry…’ And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said: ‘O, Lord, who knows the hearts of all men, show of these two the one whom you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas fell away, that he might go to his own place.’ And they gave lots for them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”
The account highlights the differences between the interim period and life after the outpouring of the Spirit. The purpose is not to disparage what the apostles did or the old era under the Law, but to demonstrate how much more glorious the new age of the Spirit is.

Before receiving the Spirit, the apostles resorted to the tried-and-true method of “lots” to discern God’s will. After the receipt of the Spirit, they were led by the Spirit in appointing ministers and other matters - (Leviticus 16:7-10, Acts 6:1-6).

It was necessary for the apostles to add a twelfth member to have a complete complement to represent the new covenant people of God. The church is in continuity with ancient Israel but is also distinct from it, especially in its possession of the Spirit.

There were “about 120 men and women” gathered to pray. The choice of this figure is probably deliberate. 120 is a multiple of 12, the number of the tribes of Israel. Thus, the entire new covenant community was assembled “in one accord” to prepare for the outpouring of the Spirit, the “promise of the Father” and the “blessing of Abraham.”

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