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I: 1, 2. A NARRATIVE of Jesus of Nazareth, designed to convince men that he is the Christ, would most naturally begin with his birth and terminate with his ascension to heaven. Such was the “former narrative” which Luke had addressed to Theophilus, and he alludes to it as such in introducing his present work: (1) “The former treatise I composed, O Theophilus, concerning all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, (2) until the day in which, having given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen, he was taken up.”
This reference to his former narrative is most appropriate in its place, inasmuch as the one now undertaken is based entirely upon it. The specific reference to “the day in which, having given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen, he was taken up” is still more in point, from the fact that all the authority which the apostles had for the labors Luke is about to narrate was derived from the commandment given on that day. The history of that day furnishes but one commandment then given, which was the apostolic commission. In this commission, then, Luke locates the starting point of his present narrative.
If we would appreciate the narrative thus briefly introduced to us, we must begin with the author, by a proper understanding of this commission.
During the personal ministry of Jesus, he authorized no human being to announce his Messiahship. On the contrary, whenever he discovered a disposition to do so, he uniformly forbade it, and this not only to various recipients of his healing power, but to the apostles themselves. When Peter made the memorable confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” we are told that, at the close of the conversation, “he charged his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.”88Matt. xvi. 20. Such was his uniform injunction on similar occasions. Even when Peter, James, and John had witnessed his transfiguration, and heard God himself proclaim him his Son, as they came down from the mount, “Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man is risen from the dead.”99Matt. xvii. 9. 10
This stern prohibition, quite surprising to most readers of the New Testament, may be accounted for, in part, by a desire to avoid that political ferment, which, in the existing state of the public mind, might have resulted from a general belief among the Jews that he was their Messiah. But there is a much more imperative reason for it, found in the mental and moral condition of the disciples themselves. Their crude conceptions of the Messiahship, their gross misconception of the nature of the expected Kingdom, their misunderstanding of much that he had taught them, and their imperfect remembrance of that which they had understood, rendered them incapable of presenting his claims truthfully, not to say infallibly, to the world. Moreover, their faith had not, as yet, acquired the strength necessary to the endurance of privations and persecutions. While laboring under these defects, they were most wisely prohibited from preaching that he was the Christ.
During the last night he spent on earth, Jesus at length informed them that this restriction would soon be removed, and they should receive the qualifications necessary to be his witnesses. He says, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said to you.”1010John xiv. 26. “I have many things to say to you, but you can not bear them now; howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all the truth.“1111John xvi. 12, 13. “He shall testify of me: and you also shall testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.”1212John xv. 26, 27. In these words they have a promise that they shall testify of Jesus, with the Holy Spirit for their guide; but the promise looks to the future for its fulfillment.
Finally, “in the day in which he was taken up,” he gives them the commandment which is to unseal their lips, and authorizes them to preach the glad tidings to every creature. Without this commandment, they could not have dared to tell any many that he was the Christ; with it, they are authorized to begin the labors which our historian is about to narrate. But even yet there is one restriction laid upon them; for they have not yet received the promised qualifications. “He commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem; but await the promise of the Father, which you have heard from me.”1313Verse 4, below.
Such was the necessity for the commandment in question, and for the limitation which attended it when given. The items of which it is composed are not fully stated by either one of the historians, but must be collected from the partial statements of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Matthew presents three of them, as follows: “Go, disciple all nations, immersing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe and do all whatsoever I have commanded you.”1414Matt. xxviii. 19, 20. Mark presents five items in these words: “Go preach the gospel to every creature; he who believes and is immersed shall be saved; he who believes not shall be condemned.“1515Mark xvi. 15, 16. Luke simply states that Jesus said, “Thus it behoved 11the Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”1616Luke xxiv. 46, 47. If we combine these items, by arranging them in their natural order of succession, we will have the commission fully stated.
The command quoted by Mark, “Preach the gospel to every creature,” necessarily comes first. The command, “Disciple all nations,” is next in order; for it is by means of preaching that they were to make disciples. But when a man is made a disciple he becomes a believer; and Matthew and Mark agree in the statement that he who believes, or in Matthew's style, he who is discipled, is then to be immersed. Luke, however, says that repentance must be preached, and as repentance precedes obedience, we are compelled to unite it with faith, as antecedent to immersion. Next after immersion comes Mark's statement, “he shall be saved.” But salvation may be either that which the pardoned sinner now enjoys, or that to be enjoyed after the resurrection from the dead: hence this term would be ambiguous but for Luke's version of it, who quotes that “remission of sins” is to be preached. This limits the meaning of the promise to that salvation which consists in remission of sins. Next after this comes the command, “teaching them to observe and do” what I have commanded you. Finally, they were to proclaim that they who believed not, and, consequently, complied not with the terms of the commission, should be condemned. In brief, they were commanded to go into all the world, and make disciples of all nations by preaching the gospel to every creature; to immerse all penitent believers into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, promising such the remission of their sins; then teaching them all their duties and privileges, as disciples of Jesus. In the mean time, all were to be assured that he who believed not should be condemned.
Making this commission the starting point of his narrative, Luke proceeds, after a few more preliminary observations, to relate the manner in which it was executed. This is the key to the whole narrative. We will find the apostles adhering strictly to its guidance. Their actions will furnish a complete counterpart to the items of their commission, and the best exposition of its meaning. For the strongest confirmation of the brief exposition just given, we refer to the course of the narrative as set forth in the following pages.
3. As our author is about to present the apostles testifying to the resurrection of Jesus, he sees proper, in his introduction, to state briefly the ground of the qualifications for this testimony. He does this in the remainder of the paragraph of which we have already quoted a part: (3) “To whom, also, he presented himself alive, after his suffering, by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days, and speaking the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” From the concluding chapters of the former narrative, we learn more particularly the nature and number of these infallible proofs. These, having been fully stated by himself and others, are not here 12repeated. We learn here, however, a fact not there related: that the space from the resurrection to the ascension was forty days.
4, 5. To account for the delay of the apostles in Jerusalem after receiving their commission, and to prepare the reader for the scenes of the coming Pentecost, the historian next relates a part of the conversation which had taken place on the day of the ascension: (4) “And being assembled with them, he commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to await the promise of the Father, which you have heard from me. (5) For John, indeed, immersed in water; but you shall be immersed in the Holy Spirit, not many days hence.” The command not to depart from Jerusalem is mistaken, by some commentators, for the commandment mentioned above, as being given on the day he was taken up. But, in truth, as we have already seen, the commission constituted that commandment, while this is merely a limitation of the commission, in reference to the time and place of beginning. The “promise of the Father” which they were to await, is the promise of the Holy Spirit, which they had heard from him on the night of the betrayal, and which they now learn, is to be fulfilled in by their immersion in the Spirit. On this use of the term immersion see the Commentary, ii. 16–18.
6–8. We are informed by Matthew that Jesus prefaced the commission by announcing, “All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me.” It was, probably, this announcement that led to the inquiry which Luke next repeats. Being informed that all authority is now given to him, the disciples expected to see him begin to exercise it in the way they had long anticipated. (6) “Now when they were come together, they asked him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? (7) But he said to them, It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has appointed in his own authority. (8) But you shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.”
The question, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” indicates two interesting facts: First, that the apostles still misconceived the nature of Christ's kingdom; second, that the kingdom was not yet established. Both these facts deserve some attention at our hands, especially the latter.
Their misconceptions consisted in the expectation that Christ would re-establish the earthly kingdom of Israel, and restore it to its ancient glory, under its own personal reign. In his reply, the Savior does not undertake to correct this misconception, but leaves it as a part of that work of enlightenment yet to be effected by the Holy Spirit.
The time at which the kingdom of Christ was inaugurated is the point of transition from the preparatory dispensation, many elements of which were but temporary, into the present everlasting dispensation, which is to know no change, either of principles or of ordinances, in the course of time. It is necessary to determine this point in order to know what laws and ordinances of the Bible belong to the present dispensation. All things enjoined subsequent 13to this period are binding upon us as citizens of the kingdom of Christ; but nothing enjoined as duty or granted as a privilege, under former dispensations, is applicable to us, unless it is specifically extended to us. It requires no less divine authority to extend into the kingdom of Christ the institutions of the Jewish kingdom than it did to establish them at first. This proposition is self-evident. To fix, therefore, most definitely this period is a matter of transcendent importance, and must here have all the space that it requires. It is a question of fact, to be determined by positive Scripture statements.
The expression “kingdom of heaven” is used only by Matthew. In the connections where he uses this expression, the other three historians uniformly say “kingdom of God.” This fact shows that the two expressions are equivalent. Explaining the former by the latter, we conclude that the “kingdom of heaven” is not heaven, but simply a kingdom of God, without regard to locality. This kingdom is also called by Christ his own, as the Son of man; for he says, “There are some standing here who shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.“1717Matt. xvi. 28. The Apostle Paul also speaks of the “kingdom of God's dear Son,”1818Col. i. 13. and says “He must reign till he has put all enemies under his feet.”19191 Cor. xv. 25.
Of the kingdom of God, then, Jesus is the king; hence the time at which he became a king is the time at which “the kingdom of Christ and of God”2020Eph. v. 5. began. Furthermore, as it was Jesus, the Son of man, who was made the king, it is evident that the kingdom could not have commenced till after he became the Son of man. This consideration at once refutes the theory which dates the beginning of the kingdom in the days of Abraham.
But it is not only Jesus the Son of man, but Jesus who died, that was made king. “We see Jesus,” says Paul, “who was made a little lower than the angels, on account of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor.”2121Heb. ii. 9. It was after his death, and not during his natural life, that he was made a king. It is necessary, therefore, to reject the other theory, which locates the beginning of the kingdom in the days of John the Immerser.
Finally, it was after his resurrection and his ascension to heaven that he was made a king. For Paul says, “Being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross; wherefore, God hath highly exalted him, and given him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”2222Phil. ii. 8, 11. It is here we are to locate that glorious scene described by David and by Paul, in which God said to him, “Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.”2323Ps. cx. 1; Heb. 1:13. He “sat down on the right hand of the throne of God,”2424Heb. xii. 2. and the Father said, “Let all the angels of God worship him.”2525Heb. i. 6. At this 14word, among the gathering and circling hosts of heaven, every knee was bowed and every tongue confessed that Jesus is “Lord of lord and King of kings.” It was then that the kingdom of God was inaugurated in heaven; and it was in immediate anticipation of it, with all things in readiness and waiting, that Jesus said to his disciples, as he was about to ascend on high, “All authority, in heaven and on earth is given to me.”
Having now fixed the time at which the kingdom was inaugurated in heaven, we are prepared to inquire when it began to be administered on earth. It began, of course, with the first administrative act on earth, and this was the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost. On that occasion, Peter says, “This Jesus has God raised up, whereof we are witnesses. Therefore, being to the right hand of God exalted, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has shed forth this which you now see and hear.” “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God has made that same Jesus whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ.“2626Acts ii. 32–36. This event is here assumed as the proof of his exaltation, and the history shows it to be the first act of the newly-crowned King which took effect on earth. These facts are consistent with no other conclusion than that the kingdom of Christ was inaugurated on earth on the first Pentecost after his ascension.
We might assume that the above argument is conclusive, and here dismiss the subject, but for some passages of Scripture which are supposed to favor a different conclusion. It was said by Jesus, “The law and the prophets were until John; since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presses into it.”2727Luke xvi. 16. Again: “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for your neither go in yourselves, nor will you suffer those who are entering, to go in.”2828Matt. xxiii. 13. And again: “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then is the kingdom of God come to you.”2929Matt. xii. 28. It is argued, from these and kindred passages, that the law and the prophets ceased, as authority, with the beginning of John's ministry; that the kingdom of heaven then began, and men were pressing into it, while Scribes and Pharisees were striving to keep them from entering it; and that Jesus recognizes it as an existing institution, in the remark, “Then is the kingdom of God come to you.”
But there are other passages in the gospels which appear to conflict with these, and are inconsistent with this conclusion. The constant preaching of John, of Jesus, and of the Seventy, was, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand;” eggike, “is near.” Jesus exclaims, “Among them who are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Immerser; notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom is greater than he.”3030Matt. xi. 11. Again: “There are some standing here who shall not taste of death till they see the kingdom of God.”3131Luke ix. 27. And, finally, the question we are now considering, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom 15to Israel?” It is evident, from these passages, first, that John was not in the kingdom, for otherwise the least in the kingdom could not be greater than he; second, that the generation then living were yet to see the kingdom of God; third, that the disciples themselves were still looking for it in the future. If it be urged, in reference to the first of these conclusions, that the kingdom, of which John was not a citizen, is the kingdom in its future glory, the assumption is refuted by the very next verse in the context: “From the days of John the Immerser till now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”3232Matt. xi. 12. Whatever may be the true interpretation of these rather obscure words, they certainly can refer to the kingdom of glory.
Now, no hypothesis upon this subject can be accepted which does not provide for a complete reconciliation of these apparently conflicting passages of Scripture. The hypothesis that the kingdom was inaugurated by John can not do so; for, in that case, it is inconceivable that John himself was not a member of it, and equally so that he should constantly preach, “The kingdom of heaven is near.” Again: if it was inaugurated during the personal ministry of Jesus, it is unaccountable that he should state, as a startling fact, that some of those present with him should live to see it, or that the disciples themselves should be ignorant of its existence. This hypothesis, therefore, is incapable of reconciling the various statements on the subject, and must, for this reason, be dismissed.
On the other hand, if we admit, according to the irresistible force of the facts first adduced in this inquiry, that the kingdom was inaugurated in heaven when Jesus was coronated, and that it began to be formally administered on earth on the next succeeding Pentecost, there is no difficulty in fully reconciling all the passages quoted above. It was necessary to the existence of the kingdom on earth not only that the king should be upon his throne, but that he should have earthly subjects. In order, however, that men should acknowledge themselves his subjects the moment that he became their king, it was necessary that they should be previously prepared for allegiance. This preparation could be made in no other way than by inducing men, in advance, to adopt the principles involved in the government, and to acknowledge the right of the proposed ruler to become their king. This was the work of John and of Jesus. When men began, under the influence of their teaching, to undergo this preparation they were, with all propriety of speech, said to be pressing into the kingdom of God. Those who opposed them were striving to keep them from entering the kingdom; and to both parties it could be said, “The kingdom of God is come to you.” It had come to them in the influence of its principles. “From the days of John the Immerser the kingdom of heaven was preached,” not as an existing institution, but in its elementary principles, and by asserting the pretensions of the prospective king. Thus, we find that the various statements in the gospels upon this subject, when harmonized in the only way of which they are 16capable, lead us back to our former conclusion, with increased confidence in its correctness.
We may pursue the same inquiry in an indirect method, by determining when the previous kingdom of God among the Jews terminated. As they both, with their conflicting peculiarities, could not be in formal existence among the same people at the same time, the new one could not begin till the old one terminated. That the law and prophets were until John, Jesus declares; but he does not declare that they continued no longer. On the contrary, he was himself “a minister of the circumcision,”3333Rom. xv. 8. and kept the law till his death. The law and the prophets were, until John, the only revelation from God. Since then the gospel of the coming kingdom was preached in addition to it, and was designed to fulfill the law and the prophets by preparing the people for a “better covenant.” Even the sacrifices of the altar, however, continued, with the sanction of Jesus, up to the very moment that he expired on the cross. Then “the vail of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom,” indicating the end of that dispensation. All the sacrifices being then fulfilled in him, and a new and living way being consecrated for us, not under the vail, as the high priest had gone, but through the vail—that is to say, his flesh3434Heb. x. 20. —he put an end to the priesthood of Aaron,3535Heb. vii. 11, 12. and took out of the way the handwriting of ordinances, nailing it to his cross.3636Col. ii. 14. At the death of Christ, therefore, the old kingdom came to its legal end, and on the next Pentecost the new kingdom began.
Regarding this, now, as a settled conclusion, we proceed to consider, briefly, the Savior's answer to the question which has detained us so long. He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which God has appointed in his own authority.” By the expression “in his own authority,” I suppose Jesus intended to indicate that the times and seasons of God's purposes are reserved more specially under his own sovereign control, and kept back more carefully from the knowledge of men, than the purposes themselves. It is characteristic of prophesy that it deals much more in facts and the succession of events than in definite dates and periods. The apostles were to be agents in inaugurating the kingdom, but, as proper preparation for their work did not depend upon a foreknowledge of the time, it was not important to reveal it to them.
But it was all-important that they should receive the necessary power: hence Jesus adds, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” The power here promised is not authority, for this he had given them in the commission; but it is that miraculous power to know all the truth, and work miracles in proof of their mission, which he had promised them before his death. He says to them, virtually, It is not for you to know the time at which I will establish my kingdom, but you shall receive power to inaugurate it on earth when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. This is an additional proof that the kingdom was inaugurated on the day of Pentecost.
While promising them the requisite power, Jesus takes occasion 17to mark out their successive fields of labor: first “in Jerusalem,” next, “in all Judea,” then “in Samaria,” and finally, “to the uttermost part of the earth.” It is not to be imagined that this arrangement of their labors was dictated by partiality for the Jews, or was merely designed to fulfill prophesy. It was rather foretold through the prophets, because there were good reasons why it should be so. One reason, suggested by the commentators generally, for beginning in Jerusalem, was the propriety of first vindicating the claims of Jesus in the same city in which he was condemned. But the controlling reason was doubtless this: the most devout portion of the Jewish people, that portion who had been most influenced by the preparatory preaching of John and of Jesus, were always collected at the great annual festivals, and hence the most successful beginning could there be made. Next to these, the inhabitants of the rural districts of Judea were best prepared, by the same influences, for the gospel; then the Samaritans, who had seen some of the miracles of Jesus; and, last of all, the Gentiles. Thus the rule of success was made their guide from place to place, and it became the custom of the apostles, even in heathen lands, to preach the gospel “first to the Jew” and “then to the Gentile.” The result fully justified the rule; for the most signal triumph of the gospel was in Judea, and the most successful approach to the Gentiles of every region was through the Jewish synagogue.
9. Having completed his brief notice of the last interview between Jesus and the disciples, Luke says, (9) “And when he had spoken these things, while they were beholding, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight.” We learn from Luke's former narrative, that it was while Jesus was in the act of blessing them, with uplifted hands, that he was parted from them and borne aloft into heaven.3737Luke xxiv. 50, 51. The cloud which floated above formed a background, to render the outline of the person more distinct while in view, and to suddenly shut him off from view as he entered its bosom. Thus all the circumstances of this most fitting departure were calculated to preclude the suspicion of deception or of optical illusion.
It has been urged by some skeptical writers, that the silence of Matthew and John, in reference to the ascension, who were eye-witnesses of the scene, if it really occurred, while is mentioned only by Luke and Mark, who were not present, is ground of suspicion that the latter derived their information from impure sources. Even Olshausen acknowledges that, at one time, he was disquieted on this point, because he could not account for this peculiar difference in the course of the four historians.3838Com. in loco. That the testimony of Mark and Luke, however, is credible, is made apparent to all who believe in the resurrection of Jesus, by simply inquiring, what became of his body after it was raised? It was certainly raised immortal and incorruptible. There is nothing in his resurrection to distinguish it from that of Lazarus, or the widow's son of Nain, so that he should be called “the first fruits of them who slept,”39391 Cor. xv. 20. but the fact that he rose to die no more. But when he was about to leave 18the earth, there was only this alternative, that his body should return again to the grave, or ascend up into heaven. So far, therefore, is the account of the ascension from being incredible, that even if none of the historians had mentioned it, we would still be constrained to conclude that, at some time, and in some manner, it did take place.
We may further observe, that though Matthew and John do not mention the ascension, the latter reports a conversation with Mary the Magdalene at the sepulcher, in which Jesus clearly intimated that it would take place. He said to her, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.”4040John xx. 17. And that his ascension would be visible, he had intimated to the disciples, when he said, “Doth this offend you? What if you shall see the Son of Man ascend up where he was before?”4141John vi. 62.
But still the question recurs, why should Matthew and John omit an account of this remarkable event, and why should Like and Mark, who were not eye-witnesses, make mention of it? It would be sufficient to answer, For a similar reason, no doubt, to that which led each of these writers to omit some interesting facts which are mentioned by others.
But we may find a still more definite answer by examining the last chapter of each of the four gospels. It will be observed, that John saw fit to close his narrative with the fishing scene which occurred on the shore of Galilee, making no mention at all of the last day's interview. Of course, it would have required a departure from, this plan to have mentioned the ascension. Matthew brings his narrative to a close with a scene on a mountain in Galilee, whereas the ascension took place from Mount Olivet, near Jerusalem. There was nothing in his closing remarks to suggest mention of the ascension, unless it be his account of the commission; but the commission was really first given to them at that time,4242Matt. xxviii. 16–18. though finally repeated on the day of the ascension.4343Mark xvi. 14–19. On the other hand, Mark and Luke both chose, for their concluding paragraphs, such a series of events as leads them to speak of the last day's interview; and as the ascension was the closing event of the day, it would have been most unnatural for them not to mention it. Still further, in the introduction to the book of Acts, the leading events of which are to have constant reference to an ascended and glorified Redeemer, Luke felt still greater necessity for giving a formal account of the ascension.
10, 11. Not only the ascension of Jesus to heaven, but his future coming to judgment, is to be a prominent topic in the coming narrative, hence the introduction here of another fact, which not even Luke had mentioned before. (10) “And while they were gazing into heaven, as he went away, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, (11) who also said, Men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, in the same manner that you have seen him going into heaven.” These “two men in white apparel” were, undoubtedly, angels in human form. This is the natural conclusion from the words they utter, and 19is confirmed by the fact that two others who appeared at the sepulcher, and are called “men in shining garments” by Luke,4444Luke xxiv. 4. are called “two angels in white” by John.4545John xx. 12. Luke speaks of them according to their appearance; John, according to the reality.
It should be observed that the angels stated not merely that Jesus would come again, but that he would come in like manner as they had seen him go; that is, visibly and in his glorified humanity. It is a positive announcement of a literal and visible second coming.
12. At the rebuke of the angel, the disciples withdrew their longing gaze from the cloud into which Jesus had entered, and cheered by the promise of his return, (12) “Then they returned into Jerusalem from the Mount called Olivet, which was near Jerusalem, distant a Sabbath-day's journey.” The ascension took place near Bethany,4646Luke xxiv. 50. which was nearly two miles from Jerusalem,4747John xi. 18. and on the further side of Mount Olivet. It was the nearer side of the Mount, which was distant a Sabbath-day's journey, or seven-eighths of a mile. We learn, from Luke's former narrative, that they returned to Jerusalem “with great joy.”4848Luke xxiv. 52. Their sorrow at parting from the Lord was turned into joy at the hope of seeing him again.
13. “And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where were abiding Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alpheus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas brother of James.” This enumeration of the apostles very appropriately finds place here, showing that all of those to whom the commission was given were at their post, ready to begin work, and waiting for the promised power from on high.
14. The manner in which these men spent the time of their waiting, which was an interval of ten days, was such as we would expect: (14) “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” The chief scene of this worship was not the upper room where the eleven were abiding, but the temple; for we learn, from Luke's former narrative, that they “were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God.”4949Luke xxiv. 53.
The mother of Jesus is here mentioned for the last time in New Testament history. The fact that she still remained with the disciples, instead of returning to Nazareth, indicates that John was faithful to the dying request of Jesus, and continued to treat her as his own mother.5050John xix. 26, 27. Though the prominence here given to her name shows that she was regarded with great respect by the apostles, the manner in which Luke speaks of her shows that he had not dreamed of the worship which was yet to be offered to her by an idolatrous church.
Whether those here called the “brothers” of Jesus were the sons of Mary, or more distant relatives of Jesus, is not easily determined, from the fact that the Greek word is ambiguous. The Catholic dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary is dependent upon the solution of this question, but it properly belongs to commentaries 20on the gospels, and to these the reader is referred for the arguments, pro and con.
15–18. We next have an account of the selection of an apostle to fill the place of Judas. There is no intimation that Jesus had authorized this procedure; on the contrary, it would be presumed that, as he himself had selected the original twelve, he would, in like manner, fill the vacancy, if he intended that it should be filled. Neither had the apostles yet received that power from on high which would enable them to act infallibly in a matter of this kind. From these considerations, it has been supposed by some that the whole procedure was both unauthorized and invalid. But the fact that Matthias was afterward “numbered with the eleven apostles,”5151Acts i. 26. and that the whole body were from that time called “the twelve,”5252Acts vi. 2. shows that the transaction was sanctioned by the apostles even after they were fully inspired. This gave it the sanction of inspired authority, whatever may have been its origin. Moreover, Jesus had promised them that they should sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel,5353Matt. xix. 28. and the fulfillment of this promise required that the number should be filled up. The Apostle Paul was not reckoned among “the twelve.” He distinguishes himself from them in 1 Cor. xv. 5, 8. “He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve,” and “he was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.”
The particular time within the ten days, at which this selection was made, is not designated. The incident is introduced in these terms: (15) “And in those days, Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of the names together was about one hundred and twenty,) (16) Brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled which the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of David, spoke before concerning Judas, who was guide to them that seized Jesus. (17) For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry. (18) Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity, and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.”
The parenthetical statement that the number of names together were about one hundred and twenty is not to be understood as including all who then believed on Jesus, but only those who were then and there assembled. Paul states that Jesus was seen, after his resurrection, by “above five hundred brethren at once.”54541 Cor. xv. 6. The hundred and twenty were, perhaps, all who were then in the city of Jerusalem.
The statement in reference to the fate of Judas is supposed by most commentators to be part of a parenthesis thrown in by Luke, though some contend that it is part of Peter's speech.5555Alexander in loco. If the latter supposition is true, there is no ambiguity in it to the original hearers, for they all well knew that the field referred to was purchased by the Sanhedrim with money which Judas forced upon them, and which was invested in this way because they could find no other suitable use for it.5656Matt. xxvii. 3–8. Knowing this, they could but understand Peter as meaning that Judas had indirectly caused the field 21to be purchased. But whether the words are Peter's or Luke's, it must be admitted that a reader unacquainted with the facts in the case would be misled by them. Luke, however, presumed upon the information of his first readers, and that knowledge of the facts which they possessed has been transmitted to us by Matthew, so that we have as little difficulty as they did in discovering the true meaning of the remark.
As respects the manner of the death of Judas, the common method of reconciling Luke's account with that of Matthew is undoubtedly correct. We must suppose them both to be true, and combine the separate statements. The whole affair stands thus: “He went out and hanged himself;”5757Matt. xxvii. 5. and, by the breaking of either the limb on which he hung, or the cord, “falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.”
19. The next statement, (19) “And it was known to all the dwellers in Jerusalem, so that that field is called, in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, the field of blood,” is undoubtedly a parenthesis by Luke. Peter was addressing the very people in whose proper tongue the place was called Aceldama, and would not, of course, translate it to them. Hence, we can not attribute these words to him. But Luke was writing in Greek, and felt called upon to translate Hebrew words which he might use into Greek, and the fact that this is done here prove the words to be his.
20. The historian now resumes the report of Peter's speech, which he had interrupted by the parenthesis. In the remarks already quoted, Peter bases the action which he proposes, not upon any commandment of Jesus, but upon a prophesy uttered by David. He also states, as the ground for the application of that prophesy which he is about to make, the fact that Judas had been numbered with them, and had “obtained part of this ministry.” He now quotes the prophesy alluded to: (20) “For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein.5858Ps. lxix. 26. His office let another take.“5959Ps. cix. 8.
These two passages from the Psalms, when read in their original context, seem to apply to the wicked in general, and there is not the slightest indication that David had Judas in prophetic view when he uttered them. This is an instance, therefore, of the particular application of a general prophetic sentiment. If it be proper that the habitation of a wicked man should become desolate, and that whatever office he held should be given to another, then it was pre-eminently proper that such a crime as that of Judas should be thus punished, and that so important an office as that of Judas should be filled by a worthy successor.
21, 22. It is of some moment to observe here that the question on which Peter is discoursing has not reference to the original appointment of an apostle, but to the selection of a successor to an apostle. The qualifications, therefore, are found necessary to an election, must always be possessed by one who proposes to be a successor to an apostle. He states these qualification in the next sentence: (21) “Wherefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the 22time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, (22) beginning from the immersion of John till the day he was take up from us, must one be made a witness with us of his resurrection.” There being no other instance in the New Testament of the selection of a successor to an apostle, this is our only scriptural guide upon the subject, and therefore, it is unscriptural for any man to lay claim to the office who has not been a companion of Jesus and a witness of his resurrection. The reason for confining the selection to those who had accompanied Jesus from the beginning, is because such would be the most reliable witnesses to his identity after the resurrection. One less familiar with his person would, certis paribus, be less perfectly guarded against imposition. Peter here, like Paul in 1 Cor. xv, makes the whole value of apostolic testimony depend upon ability to prove the resurrection of Jesus.
23–26. “Then they appointed two, Joseph, called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus and Matthias. (24) And they prayed, and said, Thou Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen (25) to receive the lot of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas, by transgression, fell, that he might go to his own place. (26) And they gave forth their lots, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered together with the eleven apostles.”
It will be observed that the brethren did not themselves select Matthias; but, having first appointed two persons between whom the choice should be made, they prayed the Lord to show which one he had chosen, and then cast lots, understanding that the one upon whom the lot fell was the Lord's choice. The reason that they did not make the selection themselves was evidently because they thought proper that the Lord, who had chosen Judas, should also choose his successor. If it be inquired why, then, they ventured to confine the Lord's choice to these two, the most plausible answer is that suggested by Dr. Alexander, that, after careful examination of the parties present, they were the only two who possessed the qualifications named by Peter. Whether the selection of these two was made by the body of disciples, or by the apostles alone, it is unimportant to determine. The case does not, as many have supposed, furnish a precedent on the subject of popular election of church officers; for the selection of the two persons between whom an election was to be made, was not the election itself; and when the election took place, it was made by the Lord, and not by the disciples or the apostles. One of them cast or drew the lots, but the Lord determined on whom the lot should fall.
The prayer offered by the apostles on this occasion is a model of its kind. They had a single object for which they bowed before the Lord, and to the proper presentation of this they confine their words. They do not repeat a single thought, neither do they elaborate one beyond the point perspicuity. The question having reference to the spiritual as well as the historical characteristics of the two individuals, most appropriately do they address the Lord as kardiognosta, the heart-knower. They do not pray, Show which thou wilt chose, or dost choose, as though there was need of reflection with the Lord before the choice; but, “show which one of these two thou hast 23chosen.” They describe the office they desire the Lord to fill, as the “ministry and apostleship from which Judas, by transgression, fell, that he might go to his own place.” He had been in a place of which he proved himself unworthy, and they have no hesitation in referring to the fact that he had now gone to his own place. That place is, of course, the place to which hypocrites go after death. Here is a simple address to the Lord, beautifully appropriate to the petition they are about to present; then the petition itself concisely expressed, and the prayer is concluded. So brief a prayer, on any occasion in this voluble age, would scarcely be recognized as a prayer at all, so prone are men to the delusion that they will be heard for their much speaking.
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