The book of Acts is the Holy Spirit’s record of the establishment and growth of the church. Penned by Luke as an inspired “sequel” to the gospel record that bears his name, Acts illustrates how the apostles fulfilled Jesus’ instruction to spread the gospel message throughout the ancient world; “…ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The people, places, doctrines and events mentioned here provide the context and backdrop for the books of Romans through the Revelation. All of the “key” questions asked in the book of Acts relate to salvation, and the activity of the Holy Spirit – in bringing the Father’s plan to full flower – is evident in all of the events recorded here.
Dr. Luke (cf. Colossians 4:14) begins with the ascension of Jesus, in Acts 1:1-11. This event is important for at least three reasons: First, Jesus told the apostles plainly that they would soon to be baptized with the Holy Spirit (vs. 5); second, we see in verse 6 that they still had not yet fully grasped the spiritual character of the Lord’s kingdom; and third, we learn that Jesus ascended to the Father in a bodily form (His physical body was not “discarded” at His ascension). This fact bears on both His return (see vs. 11) and on the kind of “body” we shall receive at the last day (cf. Romans 6:4-5 and 1 Corinthians 15:35-49). This first section of Acts is significant for the facts that Luke makes no mention of Jesus ever returning to rule on earth (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17), nor did He said anything to Peter to indicate, “ok, you’re in charge now until I come back.”
The rest of Acts 1 tells us about selection of Matthias as the “replacement apostle” who would fill the vacancy left by the suicide of Judas Iscariot. Several notable facts stand out here, including further details about Judas’ death, the fact that another brother was also considered for this responsibility (Joseph Barsabbas/Justus, vs. 23) and the fact that the rest of the apostles recognized several “requirements” or “qualifications” for apostleship that effectively eliminated anyone else from consideration:
- Only men were considered, verse 21 (the Greek word specifies the male gender, not humanity generally).
- Only those who had accompanied the Lord and His disciples from the time when John (the baptizer) was still baptizing until the day of Jesus’ ascension were considered eligible. In this, Paul would later be an exception, as he himself noted in 1 Corinthians 15:8-9.
These limitations make it impossible for anyone who has lived since that time to legitimately claim authority as an apostle, since no one now living can meet these requirements.
Another important fact arises in the last verse of chapter one as Matthias was counted with “the eleven apostles” because grammatically these men (Matthias plus the other apostles) are the antecedent of the pronoun “they” in Acts 2:1. When “they” were filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:4, this pronoun must refer back to these twelve men – not to the 120 people mentioned in Acts 1:15. This is true for both English and Greek grammar, and this is why the modern charismatic/pentecostal movement’s claim of “miracles for everyone” cannot be supported from the scriptures.
As the apostles began to speak in various “tongues” (actually, normal “foreign” languages they had not previously learned or studied, vs. 11), we note that although there were people present from all over the known world, representing both various languages and cultures, they all understood the message alike, despite their distinctly different cultural backgrounds and languages (cf. Paul’s words in Ephesians 3:4). The gospel message is the same for all peoples, cultures, and times; it does not change according to the vagaries of either language or society.