Luke was the author of two books—the Gospel of Luke (which tells the story of the life of Jesus) and the Acts of the Apostles (which tells the story of the early church). There is some overlap between the end of the Gospel and the beginning of Acts. For instance, both Luke 24:50-51 and Acts 1:9-11 tell the story of Jesus’ ascension. Also, in Acts 1:8, Jesus tells the apostles that they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Luke 24:53 the apostles return to Jerusalem and the temple.
The Gospels are the stories of Jesus. The book of Acts is the story of the early church.
We know that Luke was a physician (Colossians 4:14) and a traveling companion of Paul (2 Timothy 4:11; see also Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:16, where the use of the word “we” appears to place Luke in the midst of Paul’s missionary journeys). We can deduce from Colossians 4:11, 14 that Luke is not one of the circumcision—that he is a Gentile.
ACTS 1:1-5. THE CONTEXT
In verses 1-5, Luke dedicated this book to Theophilus. He then spoke of his earlier book, the Gospel of Luke, where he told of Jesus’ life from beginning to end—including Jesus’ resurrection appearances, which Luke called “many proofs” (v. 3). He tells us that Jesus ordered the apostles, “Don’t depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father” (v. 4). He also relates Jesus’ promise to the apostles, “you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (v. 5).
ACTS 1:6-8. YOU WILL RECEIVE POWER
6Therefore, when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, are you now restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7He said to them,“It isn’t for you to know times or seasons which the Father has set within his own authority. 8But you will receive power (Greek: dunamin – the word from which we get our word dynamite) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You will be witnesses (Greek: martures) to me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.”
“Therefore, when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you now restoring the kingdom to Israel?'” (v. 6). Jesus raised the issue of the kingdom of God in verse 3, so it is natural that the apostles would ask about the kingdom of Israel, which they equate with the kingdom of God. When Jesus appeared to Cleopas and the other disciple on the road to Emmaus (and before they recognized him), Cleopas said, “But we were hoping that it was he (Jesus) who would redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). The redemption of Israel is a major concern of Jesus’ disciples.
The apostles’ understanding of the kingdom of God was inextricably linked with the nation Israel. They believed that God would restore Israel to its earlier position of power and prestige, and they equated that restoration with the kingdom of God about which Jesus was teaching. Jesus’ promise that the apostles would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (v. 5) sounded to them like the beginning of that restoration—the open door through which the kingdom would come. While misguided, the apostles’ question is quite natural.
“It isn’t for you to know times or seasons which the Father has set within his own authority” (v. 7). Earlier, Jesus had said of the coming of the kingdom, (Luke 21:34-36)“But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). Luke’s version of that was as follows: (Luke 21:34-36)“So be careful, or your hearts will be loaded down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that day will come on you suddenly. For it will come like a snare on all those who dwell on the surface of all the earth. Therefore be watchful all the time, praying that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will happen, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36). It is no wonder that the apostles are concerned that the day is imminent.
Jesus does not tell them that Israel will not be restored. Instead, he tells them that the (Luke 21:34-36)”times and seasons” are God’s business—not theirs. As the keepers of classified documents would say today, “You have no need to know.” Jesus doesn’t want the apostles to be distracted by (Luke 21:34-36)”times and seasons” when they have more urgent business to take care of. He wants to redirect their attention from things that they don’t need to know to things that they do need to do.
But Peter seems to have understood more than we would have expected. Very shortly, he will talk about Jesus remaining in heaven “until the times of restoration of all things, which God spoke long ago by the mouth of his holy prophets” (3:21).
“But you will receive power (dunamin – the word from which we get our word dynamite) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (v. 8a). The apostles had asked about the restoration of Israel’s political power (v. 6). Jesus tells them that they will receive a different kind of power—God’s power—conveyed to them by the agency of the Holy Spirit—God’s spirit at work in the world and in their lives. It was this same Holy Spirit that Jesus received at his baptism (Luke 3:21-22)—and it was this same Holy Spirit that empowered his earthly ministry. Now this Holy Spirit will empower his apostles at Pentecost (and billions of believers after Pentecost) to accomplish what Jesus wants them to do—to bear witness to him (v. 8b).
“You will be witnesses” (Greek: martures—the word from which we get our word martyr) (v. 8b). This theme of witness will be continued throughout the book of Acts (1:22; 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39, 41; 13:31; 22:15, 20; 23:11). The requirement for the person who will replace Judas as an apostle will be that he be a witness to the resurrection—that he has seen the risen Christ (1:22). How else could he bear witness to others concerning the resurrected Christ?
In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter will make the point that all of the apostles are witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection (2:32). When confronted by the high priest, who complained that the apostles “intend to bring this man’s blood on us,” (5:28), Peter will recount the death and resurrection of Jesus, saying, “We are His witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (5:32).
When Peter preaches to the centurion Cornelius, he will say, “We are witnesses of everything he (Jesus) did both in the country of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they also killed, hanging him on a tree. God raised him up the third day, and gave him to be revealed, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen before by God, to us, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (10:39-41).
“in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth” (v. 8c). The witness of the apostles (and later disciples) will not be limited to Jerusalem or Israel, but will spread “to the uttermost parts of the earth”.
• Jerusalem, of course, is the Holy City—the home of the temple—the center of Jewish religious life.
• Judea is the territory or region in which Jerusalem is located.
• Samaria is the territory just to the north of Judea. Hearing that they will be witnesses to Samaria would be a surprise. The people of Judea and Galilee consider themselves to be the people of God, but they regard the Samaritans as apostates.
• “the uttermost parts of the earth” is the next surprise. While many Jewish people are living in dispersion in various nations, the Jewish people think of other nations and the Gentiles who inhabit those nations as a lower form of life. They know that God has chosen Israel to be his people, but they tend to forget that God has also made provision for Gentiles. In the covenant that he established with Abram, God promised, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you” (Genesis 12:3). The prophet Isaiah promised that “Yahweh of Armies will make all peoples a feast of fat things” (Isaiah 25:6), and “will wipe away tears from off all faces” (Isaiah 25:8). He says that God’s servant “will bring justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1) and will be “a light for the nations” (Isaiah 42:6). He says that God’s holy mountain “shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7). Now the apostles will begin the work that will lead to the spread of the Gospel to all nations.
Scholars have noted that this verse serves as an outline for the rest of the book of Acts. The disciples will minister to Jerusalem in chapters 1-7—and then in Judea and Samaria in chapters 8-12—and finally to the ends of the earth (insofar as they understood the earth) in chapters 13-28.
So the apostles will start where they are (Jerusalem) and will gradually spread the Gospel in wider and wider circles until the whole world is encompassed. That is an excellent model for the church to follow today.
ACTS 1:9-11. AS THEY WERE LOOKING, JESUS WAS TAKEN UP
9When he had said these things, as they were looking, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10While they were looking steadfastly into the sky as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white clothing, 11who also said, “You men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who was received up from you into the sky will come back in the same way as you saw him going into the sky.”
“When he had said these things, as they were looking, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight” (v. 9). In his Gospel, Luke gave a brief account of the ascension (Luke 24:51). In that account, the ascension appears to have taken place on Easter Day at Bethany. Now we have a somewhat expanded account, which includes the witness of the angels (vv. 10-11). This account takes place forty days after Easter, and the location is the Mount of Olives (1:12).
None of the other Gospels include an explicit account of the ascension—although Jesus alludes to it in the Gospel of John (John 6:62; 20:17)—and the appendix to Mark’s Gospel, which most scholars consider to have been added later, says, “So then the Lord, after he had spoken to them, was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19).
Jesus’ ascension returns him to the heavenly throne at the right hand of God from whence he came to earth (John 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8). He will remain there until he comes again in glory (Acts 1:11)—a cataclysmic event that will come suddenly and without warning (2 Peter 3:10). In heaven, he intercedes for us with the Father (Romans 8:34). When he comes again, he will “will appear a second time, without sin, to those who are eagerly waiting for him for salvation” (Hebrews 9:28).
Jesus’ ascension, of course, brings to an end the resurrection appearances.
The church today celebrates Ascension forty days after Easter (the forty days include both Easter Sunday and Ascension Thursday).
“While they were looking steadfastly into the sky as he went” (v. 10a). The next part of the story begins while the ascension is still in progress.
“behold, two men stood by them in white clothing” (v. 10b). In Luke’s account of the resurrection, “two men stood by them in white clothing” appeared to the women who had come on Easter Sunday to anoint Jesus’ body (Luke 24:4). In Mark’s account, it was “a young man” (Mark 16:5), but both of the other Gospels identify the beings at the resurrection as angels (Matthew 28:2; John 20:12). In any event, it is obvious that Luke intends us to understand these “two men” to be angelic messengers.
Two is the minimum number required for witnesses by Jewish law (Deuteronomy 19:15), so that might be the significance of two men/angels instead of one.
“You men of Galilee” (v. 11a). Judea, the home of Jerusalem and the temple, was the center of Jewish religious life. Galilee was the “sticks”—the hinterland—a distant territory debased by the presence of many Gentiles. Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, but was raised in Nazareth of Galilee. As a man, he made his home in Capernaum of Galilee (Matthew 4:13).
It was in Galilee that Jesus called his disciples, and it was in Galilee that he conducted most of his ministry. It was in Judea that he encountered his most significant opposition, and it was in Judea that he was crucified. Of course, it was also in Judea where he was resurrected, and it will be in Judea where the apostles will begin their ministry on the Day of Pentecost.
It was “the women who followed with him (Jesus) from Galilee” who witnessed the crucifixion (Luke 23:49), and it was “the women who followed with him from Galilee” who “saw the tomb, and how his (Jesus’) body was laid” (Luke 23:55). It was these same women of Galilee who went to the tomb to anoint Jesus on Easter Sunday and thereby became the first to know of Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24:1-12). Now it is the “men of Galilee” who witness the ascension and who will carry on Jesus’ ministry.
“why do you stand looking into the sky?” (v. 11b). This is the third time in verses 9-11 where Luke tells us that these apostles were looking toward heaven. His repetition reinforces the fact that these apostles are witnesses, not only to the resurrected Christ, but also to his ascension.
“This Jesus, who was received up from you into the sky will come back in the same way as you saw him going into the sky” (v. 11c). These angelic messengers bring the promise that the Jesus whom they witnessed ascending into the heavens will return to earth “in the same way as you saw him going into sky”. They don’t indicate when this will happen, but these apostles have a job to do in the meantime. Jesus has already given them their marching orders (1:8)—and they will soon begin the process of carrying out those orders (Acts 2).
ACTS 1:12-14. THEY CONTINUED STEADFASTLY IN PRAYER
12Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mountain called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13When they had come in, they went up into the upper room (Greek: huperoon), where they were staying; that is Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. 14All these with one accord continued steadfastly in prayer (Greek: proskarterountes homothumadon te proseuche—devoting themselves with one mind to prayer) and supplication, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
“Then they returned to Jerusalem” (v. 12a). The apostles obey Jesus’ command “Don’t depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father” (v. 4).
“from the mountain called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away” (v. 12b). Olivet, also known as the Mount of Olives, is a ridge of three summits 2600 ft (800 meters) high overlooking Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley. Moist air from the Mediterranean Sea condenses and precipitates as dew or rain when it encounters the cool air at these elevations, providing moisture to support olive groves—hence the name Mount of Olives.
Luke inserts a note that Olivet is “near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.” Jewish law forbade working on the Sabbath, and travel was construed as work. However, some mobility was required, so rabbis devised a standard to which people were expected to adhere. A Sabbath day’s journey was limited to a distance of about 2000 cubits (3000 feet or 900 meters—slightly more than half a mile and slightly less than a kilometer).
This verse suggests that the ascension took place on or near the Mount of Olives, but in his Gospel Luke says that Jesus “led them out as far as Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. It happened, while he blessed them, that he withdrew from them, and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51). Bethany is a village on the east slope of the Mount of Olives, and is about two miles (three km) from Jerusalem. It would not be difficult to reconcile these two accounts, but the point is that the apostles were with Jesus at the ascension, and they then returned to Jerusalem, a short distance away.
“When they had come in, they went up into the upper room (hyperoon), where they were staying“ (v. 13a). This might be the same room upstairs (kataluma in Luke 22:11 and anagaion in Luke 22:12) where Jesus observed the Passover with his disciples, but that is not certain. Note the different Greek words (hyperoon and kataluma or anagaion) in the two verses. Upstairs rooms were not uncommon in people’s homes in that time and place.
“that is Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James” (v. 13b). There are only eleven names mentioned here. We are used to hearing of the twelve—not the eleven. The one who is missing, of course, is Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. Bruner says, “The number ‘eleven’ limps…. The church that Jesus sends into the world is fallible, ‘elevenish,’ imperfect. Yet Jesus uses exactly such a church to do his perfect work…. Jesus takes this imperfect number and gives it a perfect vocation” (Bruner, 1090).
But the apostles will not be “elevenish” for long. With God’s help, they will soon choose a new apostle (vv. 21-26).
With the exception of the missing Iscariot, the names that Luke gives us in this verse are the same as the list in Luke 6:14-16. However, there are several differences in the order of the names. Note especially that John (formerly in fourth position) and Andrew (formerly in second position) switch positions. Peter, James, and John—the big three—are now grouped together. Of these eleven names, we will hear only of these three throughout the rest of the book of Acts. Peter will be mentioned most frequently and John next most frequently and James least frequently. John and James, of course, are brothers—the sons of Zebedee whom Jesus nicknamed “Boanerges, which means, Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17).
“All these with one accord continued steadfastly in prayer (proskarterountes homothumadon te proseuche—devoting themselves with one mind to prayer) and supplication” (v. 14a). These disciples were not only praying, but were also devoting themselves to prayer with one mind (homothumadon). While there were many different personalities involved, there was an essential unity among them—a unity established by their common devotion to Christ.
These apostles have not yet received the Holy Spirit, which is another way of saying that they have not yet receive the power that will enable their ministry. They turn themselves to the power that they do have—prayer. It is not that their prayers have any inherent power, but that their prayers can address God’s power and request resources to carry out their witness to Christ. The disciples will resort frequently to prayer (1:24; 2:42; 3:1; 4:24, 31; 6:4, 6; 7:59, etc.).
Where did the apostles pray? Surely many fervent prayers rose from the upstairs room, but it is also possible that they carried out some of their worship in the temple. They might have gone occasionally to the Mount of Olives. Its quiet and solitude would have made it a prayer-friendly place. But the place of their prayers is less important than their spirit. They prayed constantly, devoting themselves to prayer, and they prayed with one mind. What a church we would have today if we would pray constantly, devotedly, and with one mind!
“along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus” (v. 14b). Women were important in Luke’s Gospel —Jesus’ mother was a woman, of course, and women were the first to learn of the resurrection (Luke 23:55; 24:10). Women will prove important in the book of Acts as well (2:12-13; 9:36-43; 16:14-15). Some people have suggested that some of the women might be wives of the apostles, but that is speculation. All three Synoptic Gospels mention Peter’s mother-in-law (Luke 4:38; Matthew 8:14; Mark 1:30), and we know that Paul claimed the gift of celibacy (1 Corinthians 7:1-7). I am not aware of any other mention in the Bible of the apostles’ marital status.
This is the first time that Luke has mentioned Mary by name since the infancy narratives (Luke 2:34 was the last time). She has had her difficult moments—most significantly Jesus’ crucifixion—but now she has joined this community devoted to Jesus.
“and with his brothers” (v. 14c). Mark tells us that Jesus had four brothers, James, Joses, Judas, and Simon (Mark 6:3)—and John tells us that his brothers did not believe in him (John 7:5)—but now they have also joined this band of believers. James will become a leader in the Jerusalem church (12:17; 15:13ff; 21:18), and all of Jesus’ brothers will continue in their discipleship (1 Corinthians 9:5).
Protestants assume that these are Jesus’ half-brothers—sons of Joseph and Mary. Catholics, because of their doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity, believe otherwise.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2008, 2010,Richard Niell Donovan