Between Law and Spirit

Between the ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit, the apostles pray and appoint Matthias to complete their number - Acts 1:12-26.

After the ascension, the apostles return to Jerusalem to wait for the “promise of the Father.” In the meantime, they appoint Matthias to the apostolic office held previously by Judas Iscariot. As the leaders of the new covenant community, they need twelve representatives to demonstrate continuity with the people of Yahweh.

The work that Jesus “began to do” was not entirely new, and it was in fulfillment of the redemptive promises of God recorded in the Hebrew Bible.

Quite likely, Luke inserts this next story into his narrative to contrast the period before the outpouring of the Spirit with all that occurs 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.

IN JERUSALEM

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

The book of Acts emphasizes that the new age of the Spirit begins at Jerusalem. It is from there that the gospel spreads to the far corners of the Roman Empire, and all this is in fulfillment of Scripture.

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

The “upper room” where they tarry is 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 occur 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 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.

COMPLETED NUMBER

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

It is necessary for the apostles to add a twelfth member to have a full complement of leaders to represent the covenant community that is now formed around Jesus. The body of Christ is in continuity with ancient Israel but is also distinct from it, especially in its possession of the gift of the Spirit.

In the upper room, about “120 men and women” are gathered to pray. The choice of this figure is probably deliberate. It is a multiple of 12, the number of the tribes of Israel.

Thus, on the Day of Pentecost, the entire new covenant community will be assembled “in one accord” to receive the gift of the Spirit, the “promise of the Father,” and the “blessing of Abraham.”



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