Acts 1:15-26 Exegetical Notes and Preaching Outline

Exegetical Notes

Contextual Background: (1) The significance of 12: Jesus called the Twelve as an identifiable group (Luke 6:12-16) to signal the reorganization and restoration of Israel (Luke 22:29-30). So the number of 12 has important meaning to Luke’s narrative on how Jesus restores the kingdom to Israel. (2) “These days” at the beginning of the text refers to the period after Jesus’ ascension and the coming of Holy Spirit (chapter 2). This is the first time Peter took the initiative as a leader. Based on 1:12-14, the agenda of the meetings focused on prayer.

Structure: According to Schnabel’s notes, the text consists four incidents: (1) Peter’s initiative (1:15-22), which is also Peter’s first speech; (2) The nomination (1:23); (3) the prayer (1:24-25); (4) the decision (1:26). Most other commentaries generally agree with it.

Original Language Observation: (1) Western text uses present tense (δεῖ) in verse 16. Both Conzelmann and Schnabel, and other commentators think the past tense of ἔδει should be used here. The past tense indicates that the Scripture is already fulfilled by the death of Judas, while the present tense relates it to the replacement of Judas that has to be fulfilled. In Luke’s writings, the verb is used to stress the idea of compulsion that is inherent in the divine plan — a stress usually accompanied by an emphasis on human inability to comprehend God’s workings (Longenecker, 726). (2) verse 19-20 are tied with the context and the language in Lukan. Luke does not have Peter speak for the hearer of his own time, but for the reader of the Gospel and Acts: “in their language”. (3) It is unclear how they nominated the two. MS D and Latin versions read the verb as singular ἔστησεν indicating “he (Peter) setup” thus enhanced the role of Peter in the early church. (4) vv.25, the aorist infinitive λαβεῖν indicates the purpose of God’s choice. Schnabel also suggests that διακονία and ἀποστολή are not synonyms. διακονία speaks of the commission of the twelve and of the actual execution of the commission, ἀποστολή denotes the sending of the Twelve. The first τόπος means an open “place”, while the second τόπος describes Judas’s destiny. (5) “casting lot” (δίδωμι), which means “give” with the dative αὐτῶν has suggested to some that those present “gave their votes for them”. (Schnabel) The precise method used is not known for certain. But Conzelmann think it’s “lots shaken in a cloth bag or in a vessel until one fell out (page 12). It should be observed that they did not cast lots randomly among the 120. They first select the two men whom they judged worthiest to fill the vacancy. In this case the casting of lots was a very reasonable way of deciding (Bruce, 51).

Difficult Text: (1) The story of Judas is different from Matthew’s story, which describes that Judas threw down in the Temple the money he had received and went out hanged himself. Peter here asserts that Judas purchased the field himself. Williams (page 14) think they are not irreconcilable. He explains that Luke’s account might be regarded as supplementary to Matthew’s. (2) The quoted Psalm 69:25 and 109:8 seems not referring to Judas specifically. Ps 69:25 is aprayer that dewelling-place of certain foes of the psalmist may become a desolation; the latter Ps 109:8 prays that a certain enemy may dei before his time and be replaced in his responsible position by someone else. Schnabel suggests that He applies what David said in the Psalms about wrongdoers generally to Judas specifically. Jesus also applied Psalms to himself (Matt 22:44). (3) Why the the number “12” so important? They can also go with 11 apostles or 13 apostles, but they just choose one to fulfill the “12”. The “12” has symbolic representatives of Israel and God’s kingdom. “Once the restoration of the kingdom was well under way, the role of the Twelve was fulfilled”. It should be noted that not every apostle is to be replaced, but only this one who has now been lost (Conzelmann, 12). It is also suggested that the Twelve are reconstituted so that they can confront Israel assembled in Jerusalem on the first great day following Passover (Fitzmyer, 221).

Historical Matters: (1) Some commentators (e.g. Morgan, 21) suggest that the election of Matthias was premature and not pleasing God because God selected Paul later as “the least of the apostles” (1 Cor 15:9). But Paul does not meet the qualification listed in verse 22 which indicates the apostle must be a man among Jesus’ disciples along with the twelve, and Bible does not claim that Paul is one of the 12. For Paul, “Apostle” has general and wider meanings. Paul and Barnabas were the most notable apostles that are outside of the Twelve. Pervo suggests that “witness” is the primary function, and Apostles exercise leadership over community, and receive funds (Pervo, 49). (2) Is “casting lot” wrong? It is widely used in OT and Judaism. They believe the lot was used to “reveal God’s selection”, based on Prov 16:33. Since they already nominated two people that are equally qualified, thus the casting of lot ensure that it “is decided not by human deliberation but by divine appointment.”

Other Important Observations: (1) This episode happens after prayer (1:14). We don’t know how long does the prayer take, but obviously Peter was not initiating this without careful consideration. (2) The central theme of this passage is the identity and mission of the church, which is to witness Christ and his resurrection. The disciples were not just pray and wait for God, they took initiative to fulfill the Scripture, and use their wisdom to nominate replacement in the team. It’s a perfect balance of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in ministry. Resurrection would be the linchpin of the proclamation of Jesus as “Lord and Messiah”. (3) In verse 24, they pray to make the final decision, and their prayer is addressed to the Lord. Κύριε might refer to Jesus, but most probably refer to God (Conzelmann, 12 and Schnabel’s notes). The prayer expresses an OT teaching about God’s omnipotence and foreknowledge.

Preaching Hints: (1) Fitzmyer reminds that the episode instructs Christian readers about two things: a. how followers of Christ can turn against their leader and independence on their own devices come to a sad end, but also how God can bring good out of such an incident in response to Christian prayer. (2) It is necessary to distinguish between normative principles and cultural practices in the progressive revelation of the Bible regarding the method used in selecting Matthias. (3) It suggests that decision making in the early church regarding vocational calling involve a number of factors: a. the evaluation of qualifications; b. earnest prayer; c. appointment by Christ himself. These factors are applicable to today’s church. (4) The great thing the apostles were to attest to the world, was, Christ’s resurrection; for that was the great proof of his being the Messiah, and the foundation of our hope in him. The apostles were ordained, not to worldly dignity and dominion, but to preach Christ, and the power of his resurrection. (5) In light of the Scriptures and God’s sovereignty, the apostles kept their focus on Christ and did not hopelessness or sadness over Judas. They moved forward because of the great commission entrusted and the Christ resurrected. It would be a good application for todays’ Christians on living in the reality of God’s sovereignty.

Bibliography: Bruce, F. F. Commentary on the Book of the Acts. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964 / Conzelmann, Hans. Acts of the Apostles. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963 / Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Acts of the Apostles. New York: Doubleday, 1997 / Longenecker, Richard N. Acts. Zondervan, 2005 / Morgan, G Campbell. The Acts of the Apostles. New York: Felming H. Revell Company, 1924 / Pervo, Richard I. Acts: A Commentary. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009/ Notes from E. J. Schnabel on Acts. / Larkin Jr. William J., Acts. Downers Grove: IVP, 1995 / Turnbull, Ralph G. The Acts of the Apostles. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1961 / Williams, David John, Acts, San Francisco: Harper & ROW, 1985 /

Preaching Outline

Witness Him even if terrible things happened

Acts 1:15-26

Introduction: What’s the worst thing that has ever happened in your ministry? How terrible is that? How did that strike you? When I was serving in China, we have experienced bad things like harassment from police, sudden cancellation of the meeting venue by the landlord. But the most heartbreaking thing is the failure of the leader. The episode Luke described in Acts 1:15-26 illustrates how the first ministry team handled the terrible crisis with the clear awareness of God’s calling and sovereignty.

Proposition: Be the witness to the resurrection of Christ even when terrible things happened.

Organizational Sentence: This text presented us three reasons to witness Christ even if terrible things happened to our ministry. We witness Him regardless of our situation because God is sovereign in all situations, because we have experienced Him the true God, and because He is resurrected and still alive.


I. We witness Him because God is sovereign in even the terrible thing. (vv.15-20)

  1. Validation: God knows men’s failure. God can accommodate terrible things in his plan and turn it to good result.
  2. Illustration: The suffering of Joseph is another example of how God can do good with bad situation and finally save many.
  3. Application: All terrible things are allowed by God to sanctify his people and ministry. God is sovereign.

II. We witness Him because we experienced Him, the true God. (vv.21-22)

  1. Validation: the ministry of the apostles is to witness to his resurrection as someone who accompanied Christ from the beginning to the end.
  2. Illustration: Paul’s testimony and calling expand the calling of witness Christ to all Christians who are called and saved through the resurrection of Christ. (Acts 9, 22)
  3. Application: Not only the disciples, but also all Christians today carry on the calling of witnessing Christ’s resurrection.

III. We witness Him because Christ is resurrected and with the church. (vv.23-26)

  1. Validation: God let us use our wisdom from Him to serve Him. God also joins our ministry proactively. It is because Christ is resurrected and among us, he is the Lord of the ministry.
  2. Illustration: We are saved and resurrected through the resurrection of Christ, thus we can use our mind and spirit to serve Him, with His help.
  3. Application: Because Christ is the Lord of the ministry, alive and sovereign, we can witness him using our minds and deeds, and we can humbly turn to him for help.

Conclusion: Quote the testimony of Jim Elliot’s team on how their coworkers and wives were motivated to witness Christ to the Waodani people even when terrible things happened.

Preaching Notes

Constitution of Proposition: The proposition of the message is “become the witness to the resurrection of Christ even if terrible things happened”. There are several exegetical reasons that lead me to his proposition. (1) The central theme of the episode is the mission of the early Christians, from verse 22b that “to be a witness with us of his resurrection”. This purpose drives the disciples to find another people to fulfill the vacancy that Judas gave up; (2) I used to have a wrong interpretation of this passage, probably influenced by Campbell Morgan that the selection of Matthias displeases God. This time I studied other commentaries and learned that I was wrong. Paul who was called an apostle in later epistles does not meet the qualification listed in verse 22 which indicates the apostle must be a man among Jesus’ disciples along with the twelve. Bible does not claim that Paul is one of the 12. The Twelve here has symbolic representatives of Israel and God’s kingdom. Conzelmann suggests that “Once the restoration of the kingdom was well under way, the role of the Twelve was fulfilled”. So the ordination of Matthias and the reconstitution of the Twelve have a significant meaning in the continuation of the Kingdom preached by Jesus. The proposition must have something common with the central them.

Fallen Condition Focus: The FCF is basically a way of distilling the point being made in the passage to its first audience in terms of their problem (or fallen condition). This then becomes a bridge for connecting with today’s hearer. There are many threats to the ministries in the church, e.g. persecution from government (in my home country), disunity among coworkers, God’s not answering urgent prayer, the death of important coworker, etc. But none of these is more terrible than what Peter and his coworkers were facing at that time: the betrayal of Judas. The text illustrates how Peter associated it with the sovereignty of God, and refocused on the central theme of great commission.

Expositional/Theological difficulties: There are three major expositional difficulties that need to be handled and connected to the proposition. These questions might raise in the hearts of audiences thus I must address them and connect them to the proposition of the message. (1) Is Judas predestined to sin? I’m not a fan of double predestination, and the text does not show support to double predestination. Peter used the word “προεῖπεν” which means “speak in advance”. It reveals the foreknowledge of God through his prophecy. It does not indicate a proactive “planning”. The foreknowledge of God is appears twice in this text: a. the destiny of Judas, b. the pray of the congregation in verse 24. Peter and disciples are motivated to witness Christ because they saw the sovereignty of God from Scripture and from experience. (2) The inconsistency between this text and Matthew 27:5. This problem was handled in almost all commentaries with evangelical background. As Schnabel stated in the notes that this passage is not about the death and suicide of Judas, I think this problem should be explained but was not going to be included in the mains. (3) Is casting lots Biblical and applicable today? Some commentaries (e.g. Schnabel’s notes) suggest that δίδωμι suggested to some that those present “gave their votes for them”. It should be observed that they did not cast lots randomly among the 120. They first select the two men whom they judged worthiest to fill the vacancy. In this case the casting of lots was a very reasonable way of deciding (Bruce, 51). It’s reasonable to associate casting lots to the voting in today’s congregational churches because they can both indicate a sense of “decided not by human deliberation but by divine appointment.” People cannot predicate outcome in both scenarios. We also need to note that they pray and entrust the result to Lord. “Lord” might indicate God or resurrected Christ specifically. In whatever sense, it shows that God was working among them. God’s accompanying and presence in the work is a big comfort to Christian’s ministry.

Outline & Illustrations: The mains are constituted according to the storyline of the episode.

(1) The first part of the passage is Peter’s recall of Judas’ destiny and the prophecy from Scripture. It presents the foreknowledge and sovereignty of God that He can accomplish His plan even through the failure of human. Because God is sovereign, we shall serve him regardless how terrible our situation is. To better explain this concept, we can use the illustration of Joseph. Joseph was betrayed. What his brothers meant for evil and what was a bad situation, God meant to do good with it. He ended up saving many people. We witness Christ and let God handle the worst part. If this text is preached in my home church, I might apply it to the harassment from policemen that occurred once or twice a year. If I preach it in Chinese churches in US, I might apply it to either the disunity in the church or some incidents that God seems not listening to our prayer.

(2) Second part of Peter’s message is the urge of reconstitution of the Twelve. The most important qualification of the apostle is to have accompanied Jesus’ teaching and ministry. Then the problem in this main is how to connect this text to the audience as “lay believers”. Some explanations are needed here: a. the meaning of apostle (12 Apostles, and apostle in general); b. Paul’s testimony of being called and saved also qualifies him as an apostle; c. we all were saved by Christ and experienced his resurrected life by regeneration. We are called to witness Christ because we have experienced the resurrection of Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 and 1 Peter 2:9 can be used here to better explain how our regeneration is connected to the resurrection of Jesus.

(3) The third part in the storyline is how the congregation responds to Peter’s exhortation. Their response includes nomination, prayer and casting lots (let God choose). This interesting procedure is a combination of human responsibility (nomination) and God’s sovereignty (prayer and casting lots). Here the theology of “casting lots” must be explained and illustrated as today’s voting among qualified candidates. The explanation also need to explain that God works through our work (James 1:17) and our Godly desire (1 Timothy 1:3). The prayer of the congregation also indicates that God (including Christ) is the lord that owns the ministry. My personal testimony of seeking God’s calling can be used here, or I can quote the text from Spurgeon’s “call to ministry” to illustrate how do many full time ministers identify their calling. But after all, it should be linked to the central theme of witness Christ. We can witness because the resurrected Christ is the Lord of the ministry, and he is still in control. To apply to today’s ministry, I would remind people avoid two extremes: either holds the ministry too strongly that does not allow Lord to have control, or do ministry without planning and thinking (which is common in many Chinese house churches).

In the conclusion section, I think the story of Jim Elliot and his team can be used to encourage the audience to look to the resurrected Christ.

Bibliography: Conzelmann, Hans. Acts of the Apostles. Fortress Press, 1963 / Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Acts of the Apostles. Doubleday, 1997 / Longenecker, Richard N. Acts. Zondervan, 2005 / Morgan, G Campbell. The Acts of the Apostles. Felming H. Revell, 1924 / Pervo, Richard I. Acts: A Commentary.Fortress Press, 2009/ Notes from E. J. Schnabel on Acts. / Larkin Jr. William J., Acts. IVP, 1995 / Turnbull, Ralph G. The Acts of the Apostles. Baker, 1961 / Williams, David John, Acts, Harper & ROW, 1985 /