The Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Acts 1:1-3

The Gospels set the stage for the rest of the New Testament. They present a man named Jesus who was unlike all other men. No one else in this world has attained the wisdom we find in Jesus' words, or exercised the supernatural power we see in Jesus' miracles, or demonstrated the moral perfection we observe in Jesus' daily life. The reason all other men fall short of Jesus is that He was not merely a man. He was God in the flesh. But instead of using His divine abilities for any selfish purpose, such as to gain carnal pleasure or worldly power, He used them to help others. He taught the simple, healed the sick, gave food to the hungry, and raised the dead. In all that He did and said, He displayed a love so great that it could only be divine.

But though the life of Jesus is fascinating and inspiring, the Gospels give a more detailed account of His death. How did this man die who brought the dead back to life? We must look at the circumstances. Jesus came to this earth as the son of a Jewish woman living in Palestine during the Roman era. At about age thirty He began ministering to His fellow Jews. But despite His goodness to all men, most of the Jewish nation rejected Him. They could not accept His call to genuine righteousness, pleasing to God. The leaders hated Him so vehemently that they pressured the Roman authorities to condemn and crucify Him. Crucifixion was one of the cruelest ways of killing a man ever invented. In the hours before He died, Jesus went through great agony of both soul and body.

Jesus’ death is the central event in the Bible—indeed, in all of human history. Why did a divine person allow Himself to be killed? Because His death fulfilled the purpose in His coming. By His death, He paid the penalty for all past and future sins of the human race. God is a righteous, holy God who will not let sins go unpunished. Yet no man can pay for his own sins except by suffering in hell. To save us from that place "where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:44), God chose Jesus to suffer in our place. God’s motive was an immeasurable love for us all, including you and me. But Jesus’ suffering will not count for us unless we believe in Him. In other words, we must first admit that we are sinners. Then we must accept Jesus as our Savior from sin.

Jesus' death did not bring His life to a final end. After three days in the tomb, He rose to life again and showed Himself to His disciples, who saw Him repeatedly over a period of forty days. He gave them many proofs that He was neither a ghost nor a product of their imaginations, but a living man. He spoke with them at length, ate in their presence, and allowed them to touch Him. From this time forward, Jesus was known to His followers as the Lord Jesus Christ: as "Lord" because He is God, as "Christ" because He is the Savior prophesied in the Old Testament.

During these forty days, Jesus gave His disciples the mission of telling the whole world that pardon for sin was now available as a result of His death and resurrection. The good news of salvation through Jesus Christ is known as the gospel. Yet He had warned them throughout His ministry that as witnesses to the truth, they would not be popular. Many would hate them and try to silence them.

In the years following, the disciples faithfully carried the gospel as far abroad as they could. Wherever people received the gospel, the new believers met regularly for prayer, study of God's Word, and fellowship. The first local assembly of believers, the one in Jerusalem, was known from the beginning as a church, and the same term was used for the assemblies that sprang up in other cities. The entire body of believers everywhere was known as "the church." For example, an early Christian writing preserved in the New Testament says, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it" (Eph. 5:25).

Background of the Book of Acts

One of the most effective preachers of the gospel was the apostle Paul. After a long career of witnessing for Christ throughout much of the Mediterranean world, he returned to Jerusalem, where he had once been a prominent Jewish leader opposed to the church, but now was seen as a traitor to his religious heritage. A mob of Jews seized him in the Temple with the intent of dragging him out and stoning him to death. He would have died except a troop of Roman guards intervened and took him into custody. The Romans dealt with him as an ordinary troublemaker until they found out that he was a Roman citizen protected by Roman law. Then the Jewish leaders brought false charges against him, hoping to convince the Romans that he was an enemy of the Roman state. After long delays, the case was brought before Festus, a new governor who appeared to side with Paul’s accusers. Left with no other good option for defending himself, Paul exercised his right of appeal to Caesar, and soon afterward he was taken to Rome for trial.

He was accompanied by the physician Luke, his traveling companion in several earlier journeys. Many scholars believe that in Rome, Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts to assist in Paul's defense. Theophilus, addressed at the beginning of each book, was probably a Roman official who was hearing the case.

Delving Deeper

Identifying Theophilus

In his Gospel, Luke’s concluding words to Theophilus are not quite what we would expect if he was truly a Roman official. Luke says that he has previously been "instructed" (Luke 1:4), a term suggesting that he has received instruction as a believer. Yet the term can also be translated "informed."1 Paul is merely saying that he is offering additional evidence to supplement what he has already provided.

Many have supposed that Theophilus was a believer, because his name means "lover of God" or "beloved by God."2 Yet if he were, it is doubtful that Luke would address him in such a highly respectful manner, calling him "most excellent," translation of a single Greek word that men used when speaking of the Roman governors Felix and Festus (Acts 23:26; 24:3; 26:25).3 A mere learner at the apostles’ feet would have needed to be saluted in words fostering a humble spirit, but it was entirely appropriate for Luke to pay honor to an important figure of government (1 Pet. 2:17).

Besides including his name for the sake of respectful address, Luke had another reason. He wanted us to understand that his writings were not just for this Roman official, but also for anyone the name truly describes—any lover of God seeking to know more about Christ.

Luke's purpose in writing Acts explains his choice of themes. Throughout the book he makes three points: 1) that Paul and other preachers of Christianity have never encouraged rebellion against the Romans; 2) that their preaching has often started riots only because the Jews hate the new religion; and 3) that the followers of the new religion are model citizens, devoted to good works, worship of God, and loving fellowship with each other.

The main subject of Acts depends on our perspective. If we focus on the human instruments that God used to accomplish His will, the book is the story of the apostles. But if we focus on what God accomplished through them, the book is the story of how the church began and grew.

The full title of the book is the Acts of the Apostles. The book has been so named since ancient times because it tells how the chief apostles, especially Peter and Paul, worked to spread the gospel. Many have argued that the book should be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit was the real power behind everything the apostles achieved.

Acts has much the same place in the New Testament as Joshua has in the Old Testament. Both come after the foundational books at the beginning, Joshua after the five books of Moses and Acts after the four Gospels. Both show the people of God successfully carrying out the mission that God laid upon them when He set them apart for Himself. For the people of Israel, the mission was conquest and occupation of Canaan. For the church, the mission was to begin evangelizing the world.

Acts also resembles Genesis. Like Genesis, it is a book of beginnings.

Pondering a Question

How is Acts a book of beginnings?

Genesis relates the beginning of sin and shows how rapidly it corrupts human society. Acts relates the beginning of God's working to make salvation from sin available to the whole world.

There are other beginnings in Acts also. It records the coming of the Holy Spirit upon believers, the first preaching of the gospel, and the founding of the church. The historical period beginning with events in the Book of Acts is known as the Church Age.

Promise of the Spirit

Acts 1:4-5

During His last days with His disciples, Jesus met with them on several occasions. At least once when they were all "assembled together," He instructed them that they were not yet ready to preach the gospel. They were to stay in Jerusalem for a short time until they were baptized with the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49). The word "baptize" means to dip or immerse.4 Jesus' promise meant that they would be saturated with the Holy Spirit, much as a cloth dipped in water becomes soaked. The idea is that the Holy Spirit would possess them fully. Why was it essential for them to receive the Holy Spirit before they embarked on their mission to the world? Because He would supply them with power and guidance. If they relied on mere human ability, they would fail. It is impossible to accomplish any work for God without God's help.

Getting Practical

Depending on the Holy Spirit

Here is a lesson for us today. A Christian is a servant of God. He must do good works in every sphere of life. At home he helps with the chores and strives to make his loved ones happy. On the job or at school he performs his assigned work to the best of his ability. At church he looks for a ministry and faithfully carries it out. Wherever he goes, he shares his faith with the lost and shines with the goodness of Christ. Yet how is it possible to live up to this high standard? It is impossible except with God's help. Only by depending on the Holy Spirit can we succeed in our good works. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts" (Zech. 4:6).

Pondering a Question

Why do we need the Holy Spirit?

We need the Holy Spirit for three reasons.

1) He empowers us. We may recognize our need for the power of the Spirit when we have a hard task to carry out, like witnessing to hostile people or speaking in church to a large audience. But we need His power even for tasks that seem easy. When we are cutting grass or sweeping floors, the Holy Spirit gives our bodies strength and keeps our minds in an attitude of joy rather than grumbling. Without His help, we cannot obey Paul’s command to "rejoice in the Lord alway" (Phil. 4:4) regardless of our circumstances or feelings.

2) He gives us endurance. Every way of serving God runs into obstacles. Without the Holy Spirit we may soon tire of trying to overcome them and choose rather to please ourselves. We may quit when we should press on.

3) He assures eternal results. When we witness for Christ, we cannot bring a man to salvation just by being eloquent and persuasive. We need the Spirit's help, because only the Spirit can change a man's heart. Likewise in everything else we do for Christ, there is no gain for eternity apart from a work of the Spirit.

The Time of Christ's Return

Acts 1:6-7

About forty days after His resurrection, Jesus came to His disciples for the last time. He found them in Jerusalem and led them eastward out of the city to the village of Bethany about two miles away on the far slope of the Mount of Olives (Luke 24:50). His likely purpose was to make a final visit to the home of His special friends: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Then after spending time in Bethany, the whole company of His close followers walked back toward the city until they were less than a mile from the gate. As we will show later in this commentary, Luke’s account leaves the impression that they went no further that day, but stopped overnight, finishing their return on the morrow. The companions of Jesus were accustomed to sleeping beside the road (Luke 9:58).

When the disciples awoke in the morning, they came together with Jesus (v. 6) to hear more instruction. From the beginning of His ministry, they had expected Him to overthrow the Romans and set Himself up as king. They had even quarreled among themselves about who would become His chief minister. With His death, all their ambitions crumbled. But His resurrection, showing that He was more powerful than any earthly foe, revived their hopes that the Kingdom was near. Thus, as they stood with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, they asked Him whether He was ready to restore the kingdom to Israel. We too would like to know the answer to that question, for He will restore the kingdom to Israel when He returns.

Pondering a Question

Is it possible to predict when Christ will return?

Jesus told the disciples that they had no right to the information they sought. They were prying into a secret known only to the Father. They should have anticipated the answer, for Jesus had taught, "Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only" (Matt. 24:36).

Down through the centuries many have tried to predict when Christ would come back. Still today there are date-setters. But if you ever hear a date for Christ's return, you can be sure that it is wrong, because Jesus said that it is not for us "to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power" (Acts 1:7).

Mission of the Church

Acts 1:8

Although the disciples had asked an improper question, Jesus answered it anyway, for two reasons: (1) the answer did not require that He reveal the time of His final descent to overcome His enemies; (2) the answer pictured their coming task in larger dimensions so that they might move forward with greater dedication and energy.

The basic answer to their question was, no. The time had not yet come to establish the Kingdom. Why? The disciples had a job to do first. He wanted them to carry the gospel to the whole world. The work of spreading the gospel is called evangelism.

During the days after His resurrection Jesus had spoken often to His disciples about their future work. Each Gospel writer gives a different portion of His instructions. We must put all these portions together to get a full picture of what Jesus said.

1. The program (Matt. 28:18-20). Matthew records the Great Commission, which describes the disciples' task. They were to go everywhere, teach (literally, "make disciples of"5) all nations, baptize new believers, and teach them Jesus' commandments.

2. The promises (Mark 16:15-18). In Mark's portion, Jesus assures the disciples that their message would have an importance worthy of their hard labors. Those who believed it would be saved. Those who did not would be damned. He also declares that God would verify their message by blessing their ministry with supernatural signs. They would cast out demons, speak in tongues, heal the sick, and enjoy immunity to serpents and poison. He was referring to signs that would accompany the work of the apostles themselves. As we will see, all these signs except immunity to poison are recorded in the Book of Acts. Yet the Christian writer Papias, living in the early second century AD, affirms that Justus, one of the disciples who heard these promises (Acts 1:23), drank poison without harm.6

3. The power (John 20:22-23). John remembers when Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost." This was not the moment when the Holy Spirit actually came upon them. Rather, Jesus was teaching them what would happen later, on the day of Pentecost. Through the Spirit they would acquire the power and authority needed for their work. Jesus said their authority would extend to forgiving and retaining sins. He chiefly meant that men everywhere could obtain forgiveness of sins only by heeding what the disciples preached.

4. The places (Acts 1:8). In the Book of Acts, the Gospel-writer Luke records Jesus' last words to His disciples. These were a warning not to be satisfied with a half-hearted effort to reach the world. He commanded them to carry the gospel to every place where they could find people: first to their home city, Jerusalem, then to the neighboring regions of Judea and Samaria, and eventually to the "uttermost" ("most distant") parts of the earth.

Delving Deeper

Gospel progress in modern times

In the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), Jesus said (in a literal translation), "Going therefore teach [or, disciple] all the nations."7 The verb "teach" is imperative.8 So, on this occasion when He spoke of the church carrying the gospel to the whole world, He viewed this work as something we are commanded to do. But in Acts 1:8, He views it as something that we will actually accomplish. In His words, "Ye shall be witnesses," He used the future tense in the indicative mood,9 treating the evangelization of the uttermost part of the earth as a fact eventually coming to pass. Thus, He was clearly saying that before He returns, the whole world would hear the gospel.

This prophecy is especially relevant to the church in our day for two reasons. First, it gives us a remarkable prophecy that has been fulfilled within recent history. Second, it gives us a major sign that the return of Christ is drawing near.

The modern era since 1800 has been the age of great missionary enterprise, indeed pushing the gospel to every nation and tribe under the sun. Statistics compiled in 2001 show that the church's goal of reaching the whole world has been substantially attained.10

  • Radio with evangelical programming reaches 99% of the world's population in a language they can understand.
  • About 94% of the world's population lives in a culture with an indigenous witnessing church, and another 4% has a resident witness provided by outsiders.
  • In the 1990s, a broad-based initiative by American evangelicals to reach groups who had not yet heard the gospel was dramatically successful. This initiative, called The Joshua Project I, put church-planting teams in a thousand unreached cultures, about two thirds of those identified, and started churches of at least one hundred members in about half of the cultures where the teams had penetrated.

We should not overstate the progress, however. Although the gospel today is available to nearly everyone in the world, personal evangelism has confronted only a small minority, and still a large percentage of the world's population has never actually heard the gospel.

Yet what has been accomplished so far seems in itself a fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy that the gospel would go to the uttermost part before He returned. Within my lifetime, virtually all the last places deprived of the gospel have finally heard it. The rapid spread of a global culture held together by mass communications has probably absorbed or will soon absorb any remote tribes overlooked by missionaries. Thus, no uncompleted task prevents Christ from returning now. The worldwide embrace of the church is a major sign that the end is near.

Getting Practical

Following orders

We might compare the Great Commission to an order from a military commander, or an assignment from a teacher, or a directive from a boss. We have all had the experience of complying with two of these, some of us with all three. We take commandments from human authority very seriously. We may suffer considerable anxiety about whether we will be able to satisfy the demand. Are we just as serious about the Great Commission? Indeed, we should be far more serious about it. If we are not conscientious in meeting an obligation to our Creator and Master, the consequences will be much worse than we ever face in this life because we fail to please a mere man.

When Jesus said that beginning in Jerusalem, the church should move outward in its work of evangelism until it reaches "the uttermost part of the earth," He was obviously defining a corporate rather than an individual responsibility. Only the church as a whole can take the gospel everywhere. Yet if an obligation falls on the whole church, each believer must bear some of the weight. The whole world will not hear the gospel unless each believer proclaims it within his small corner of the world.

Getting Practical

Working as witnesses for Christ

As we go through our day, we should see every person we meet in a store or on the street as a needy soul, and we should use any opportunities for witness that God may provide. God does not expect us to buttonhole everyone in our path. He knows that we need time to conduct our personal business. When therefore do we have an obligation to witness? Under two circumstances: 1) when there is opportunity—that is, whenever we have an appropriate place and sufficient time to speak with someone one-on-one, and 2) when we sense an inner prompting from the Holy Spirit. If we are sensitive and obedient to His promptings, He will increase our opportunities to witness. If we are not, opportunities will shrink and promptings will fade away. The Holy Spirit does not speak to a deaf ear.

Besides being a witness as we go through our daily routines, we should assist our local church in its calling programs and other efforts to reach every person in our Jerusalem.

But local evangelism is not enough. Through our church we should look beyond our Jerusalem to our Judea and Samaria (Acts 1:8). For us, the meaning of Jesus' words is that we should support church planting in neighboring communities and throughout our nation. And then we also should look to the far-flung regions of the world (Acts 1:8). We fulfill God's plan by sending out foreign missionaries.

Taken Up by a Cloud

Acts 1:9-11a

The disciples listened with eager attention until the Lord finished instructing them. It is doubtful that they had any notion of what was going to happen next. As the disciples watched Jesus intently, He suddenly began to rise in the air. The account suggests that He moved upward gradually, remaining in view until He disappeared behind a cloud. Jesus' ascent to heaven as His disciples watched is known as the Ascension. The onlookers must have stood breathless. The amazing sight left them staring upward in the hope of catching another glimpse of their beloved Master.

Pondering a Question

What was this cloud?

When we read "a cloud received him"—words that seem to personify the cloud—we are prone to pass over the language as merely picturesque. But in Scripture, a cloud is seldom just a cloud. Often it is the visible form of the divine presence. Observers usually saw a brilliant light shining from within. This earthly manifestation of the Father became known as the shekinah glory. The Father’s descent as a cloud, doubtless with a white radiance dazzling in its effect, to meet the ascending Christ was a beautiful picture of the Father’s love for His Son.

Delving Still Deeper

Other references to shekinah glory

When the children of Israel abode in the wilderness, God constantly manifested Himself over the Tabernacle either as a cloud by day or as a pillar of fire by night (Num. 9:15–17). He had first appeared to them in this manner when they escaped the armies of Pharaoh (Exod. 13:21–22; 14:19–24). Later, at a time when they incurred His displeasure, they saw the cloud and fire together, as it were, for "behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud" (Exod. 16:10). This glowing cloud revealing God’s presence—the shekinah glory—was seen when God visited Mt. Sinai to give Israel the tables of the law (Exod. 19:16; 24:15–18; 34:5), when the Tabernacle was placed into service (Exod. 40:33–35) and afterward whenever anyone entered the Holy of Holies within the Tabernacle (Lev. 16:2, 13), when God anointed the seventy elders with the Holy Spirit (Num. 11:25), when He came to chasten Miriam and Aaron for opposing Moses’ decision to marry (Num. 12:5, 10), when He displayed His support for Moses and Aaron after bringing judgment on Korah and his allies (Num. 16:42), when He publicly authorized transfer of authority from Moses to Joshua (Deut. 31:14–15), when Solomon’s Temple was dedicated to divine worship (1 Kings 8:10–11), and on two occasions when He appeared to the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:4, 28; 10:3–4).

But we should not hastily conclude that the privilege of seeing the shekinah glory was reserved for God’s people before the era of Christ. As Jesus was talking with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, "behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him" (Matt. 17:5). The Father’s presence will take the same form also at times in the future. Specifically, the shekinah glory will receive the two witnesses when they are raised from the dead (Rev. 11:12) and will hover over Jerusalem in the days of Christ’s Millennial Kingdom (Isa. 4:5).

Then another amazing sight caught their attention. Two angels who looked like men in white clothing appeared on the ground nearby. The angels chided the disciples for continuing to gaze into the sky. They implied that it was foolish to go on looking for Jesus when He had departed from them. They seemed to be hinting that Jesus would not be returning soon.

Pondering a Question

Who were the two beings seen by the disciples?

The conventional interpretation is that they were angels, not men. But it is hard to understand why Scripture here, and elsewhere for that matter, would fail to make the distinction. It never refers to dogs as wolves or to donkeys as horses despite the resemblance. If these so-called men were indeed angels, what they said sounds a bit curious. They addressed the crowd as “men of Galilee,” as if they viewed them as differing from themselves in their place of origin. They then spoke words of rebuke, in essence saying that the crowd before them should stop gazing skyward and get busy in the work Jesus had just assigned. Their concluding words were further rebuke if the intent was to remind the disciples of something they should have already known. But why, when scolding the disciples, would angels leave the impression that they were speaking for themselves? Angels are messengers who are normally careful to identify God as the source of their message.

Perhaps the beings were actually two men, perhaps Moses and Elijah. When they appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28–36), they were also arrayed in white apparel. Neither came from Galilee. Moses was an Egyptian, and Elijah was a Tishbite, from Gilead east of Jordan (1 Kings 17:1). Together they personified the law and the prophets. Speaking in that authoritative voice, they were uniquely qualified to chide the disciples for their hesitation to get on with fulfilling the Great Commission and for their foggy uncertainty about how and where Christ would return, since both failures revealed ignorance of the Old Testament. As we proceed in this commentary, we will point out the relevant texts.

Jesus' Future Return in Like Manner

Acts 1:11b

Yet the angels immediately added words of encouragement, for us as well as for the disciples. They said that Jesus had not departed forever. Someday He would return. Although nearly two thousand years have gone by since the Ascension, we dare not doubt the angels' promise that Jesus will come again.

Pondering a Question

Why has Jesus not yet returned?

In his last epistle, the apostle Peter anticipated that men would someday grow impatient as they waited for Christ's return. "Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation" (2 Pet. 3:3–4). Jesus has delayed His return only because the Father wants as many to be saved as possible. "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9). See also James 5:7 and First Timothy 2:4.

Aren't you glad that Jesus did not return before you were born and before you had the opportunity to receive life forever through His gospel? Yet make no mistake. He will return.

As the angels said, Jesus will return in "like manner"; that is, in the same manner that He ascended two thousand years ago. Just as He went up gradually into a cloud, so He will descend gradually from the clouds. "They shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matt. 24:30). He will first set foot on the Mount of Olives, the last place where He stood before leaving. "Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east" (Zech. 14:3-4).

Delving Deeper

Clouds of heaven

Many texts state that Christ will come in the clouds (Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 21:27; Rev. 1:7). Luke is the only writer to affirm a single cloud, no doubt to draw a clear parallel between Christ’s ascension and His return. But the other writers speak of "clouds" or "clouds of heaven." Christ now exists in a glorified state, as will all the saints who accompany Him when He comes to do battle with Beast (Rev. 19:11–16). Heavenly glory is a sight unbearable to mortals. So, if we may venture speculation, the descending army may cover themselves in some degree in what appear to be clouds, just as the Father has often done. Therefore, the one cloud mentioned by Luke is Christ’s own glory shroud. The clouds "of heaven" (a needless and peculiar addendum if they are only clouds of the sky) refer to the whole sea of glory shrouds in His train.

Waiting in the Upper Room

Acts 1:12-14

Immediately after Jesus’ ascension, the whole company of witnesses returned to Jerusalem, a short journey within the limits that tradition had set for travel on the Sabbath.

Delving Deeper

A Sabbath day's journey

In days past, teachers of the law had decided that the farthest anyone could travel on the Sabbath without violating the Fourth Commandment was two thousand cubits, which is about two thirds of a mile.11 Why does Luke inform us that on the day of the Ascension, the disciples walked no farther afterward than Sabbath law permitted? There are several possibilities.

  1. Perhaps he wanted readers to know that Bethany was not where the Lord ascended—that He left them when they were closer to the city. But then Luke could have better accomplished his purpose by speaking more plainly. All he needed to say was that the Lord ascended at a point along the route back.
  2. Perhaps Luke provided this information because the two beings in white who appeared at the Ascension predicted that the Lord would return "in like manner" (v. 11). Therefore, the exact place where He disappeared would also be the exact place where He reappeared. Yet He will return in a state of such overwhelming glory and with a personal presence of such divine magnitude that a mile or two difference in where He first sets foot will hardly be noticed by observers.
  3. Perhaps Luke’s aim was to assure that when readers pictured the event in their minds, they would set it in the right place. But most intended readers, including the addressee himself, Theophilus, were gentiles probably with no conception of a Sabbath day’s journey. And any Jewish readers of his account already knew where the mount lay in relation to the city.
  4. The most likely reason that Luke comments on the distance is to reveal by suggestion that the last leg of the walk back from Bethany actually fell on a Sabbath. Since the disciples observed the limits set by Sabbath law, one implication is that the previous leg of the walk, from Bethany to the western slope, was accomplished the day before. A more important implication is that Sabbath obligations had not yet been transferred to Sunday. A few days later, the disciples were still seeking God’s will by casting lots, an Old Testament procedure (Acts 1:26). It is evident that the transition from law to grace was not completed until Pentecost, when the Spirit descended. That day marked the beginning of the Church Age.

The day of Jesus’ ascension may point to the day of His return "in like manner." Possibly it will be another Sabbath when He descends in glory to the mount east of Jerusalem.

Luke told Theophilus that Jesus after His resurrection was "seen of them forty days" (v. 3). Thus, if the Ascension indeed fell on a Sabbath, a Saturday, the next day must have been the Sunday exactly six weeks after the Resurrection. A strong consensus has emerged among conservative Bible scholars that the Crucifixion fell on 14 Nisan (3 April), AD 33.12 The dates of the Resurrection and the Ascension, both soon following in the same year, were therefore 16 Nisan (5 April) and 28 Iyyar (16 May).13

In the next lesson we will show that Pentecost in AD 33 fell on 6 Sivan (24 May), a Sunday. It follows that Jesus ascended a little more than a week before the Spirit descended at Pentecost.

Delving Still Deeper

How many days separated the Resurrection and the Ascension

By our interpretation of Luke’s account, the interval from the Resurrection to the Ascension was actually 41 days. Therefore, "forty days" is an approximation. This sum was Luke’s best choice to avoid any misunderstanding.

Among the Jews, inclusive reckoning was customary. That is, when measuring a time interval, they counted the units at both ends. For example, in fulfillment of the law mandating circumcision of a male child when he is eight days old (Gen. 17:12), they have always performed the rite one week after birth. The day a week later is eighth on the calendar if the day of birth is first. By this way of figuring, the interval from the Resurrection to the Ascension was 42 days. But to report 42 days would, from the perspective of a Roman official unaccustomed to inclusive reckoning, look like an exaggeration. On the other hand, to report 41 days would, from the perspective of any Jewish reader, look like an error.

Upon reentering the city, they all went to "an upper room," no doubt the same place where Jesus shared the Last Supper with them, also called an upper room (Luke 22:12). Many have believed that it was the upper room in John Mark's house, which later served as a secluded gathering place for the early church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12).14

There, about 120 adults waited for the Holy Spirit. The assembled people included the mother and brothers of Jesus. The best evidence we have is that His earthly father, Joseph, died some years earlier. For example, Jesus made His first public appearance at a wedding where His mother had charge of the servants (John 2:1–11). The bride may have been one of His sisters, yet Joseph seems to be missing from the celebration.

Besides sisters, Jesus had four younger brothers (Matt. 13:55). They were James (an English distortion of his real name, Jacob15), Joseph ("Joses" in the KJV), Simon (perhaps a contraction of "Simeon," one of the twelve tribes16), and Judas (derived from "Judah," another tribe17). Since Jesus was conceived in the Virgin Mary before she and Joseph came together in marriage, the other boys in Jesus' family were only His half-brothers.

During His lifetime, Jesus' brothers had rejected His claim to be the Christ, the Son of God (Luke 8:19–21; John 7:2-9). But by the time Jesus returned to heaven, they had become His followers. The event shattering their unbelief was Jesus' victory over death. One of Jesus' appearances in His risen body was to James, presumably when he was alone (1 Cor. 15:7), yet the remainder of Jesus' family evidently did not doubt James's testimony, for they all came to the Upper Room.

Tragic End of Judas

Acts 1:15-20a

Only eleven of the original twelve disciples were in the Upper Room. The twelfth, Judas, was missing. In a speech before the gathering, Peter retold the tragedy of Judas. Although he enjoyed the wonderful privilege of walking with Jesus day by day and sharing in the work of the Twelve, he had gone to the authorities and told them where they might find Jesus in the dead of night, so they might arrest Him quietly, without danger of setting off riots among the people who believed His claim to be the Christ. Judas's reward for betrayal of a man who had shown him nothing but divine goodness and love was a few pieces of silver.

Yet what did Judas gain from "the reward of iniquity"? Nothing at all. When he realized the enormity of his wickedness, he went to the priests and cast the money at their feet. Then he "went and hanged himself" (Matt. 27:5). He later realized the enormity of his wickedness. Then a remorse so unbearable seized him that he returned to the priests and cast the money at their feet. Right afterward he "went and hanged himself." The priests, unwilling to put blood money into the treasury, used it to buy a field where they might bury strangers; that is, foreigners who died while visiting Jerusalem. The place became known as the Field of Blood.

Matthew informs us that Judas plunged into despair "when he saw that he [Jesus] was condemned." Jesus' trial and crucifixion were on the day of Passover, a Friday. Therefore, the flurry of Judas's desperate acts ending with suicide must have fallen on the same Friday, or on the next day at the latest. Since Friday was the Feast of Passover, the priests were too busy then to shop for a field to buy, and they were forbidden to conduct ordinary business on the next day, which was a High Sabbath (John 19:31), so it appears certain that the purchase was made after Judas ended his life. No doubt their selection of the potter's field was guided by knowledge that the owner of the money they were using had recently died there. If his body had been cast into a pit at the site of his self-destruction, they may have decided that it was only fitting to give him proper ownership of his burial ground.

Delving Deeper

Reconciling the two accounts of Judas's death

There are two accounts of Judas's death (Matt. 27:3–10; Acts 1:18–19), and in three particulars they seem contradictory.

  1. Peter says that Judas purchased the field where he died. Matthew assigns the purchase to the priests, using the silver pieces that Judas had returned, but Matthew apparently views the priests as agents for Judas. Because they had declined to take back the blood money, it remained his, and, as a result, the purchased field was his also.
  2. Matthew says that Judas hanged himself, but Peter says he fell headlong so that his body split open. The exact meaning of the words is essential to a true picture of what happened. Matthew's word "hanged," based on a word meaning "to strangle," normally referred to being hanged from a noose.18 "Falling headlong" renders two Greek words strongly suggesting that Judas fell to a prone position.19 The Greek basis of "burst in the midst" indicates a hard blow generating a sound.20 Giving due attention to all the information the accounts provide has led to the consensus among Bible students that Judas must have hanged himself beside a cliff overlooking the potter's field. To remove support for his feet, he must have jumped over the side, but the rope broke and his body tumbled down upon sharp rocks below, with a noisy hard impact causing his body to split open and his bowels to spill out. (A human body falling from only fifty feet would, in the absence of air resistance, accelerate to about forty-five miles an hour before hitting the ground.)
  3. Matthew says that the field received its name as the Field of Blood because it was purchased with blood money, but Peter's explanation is that the name remembered Judas's bloody suicide. Both explanations are correct. The whole story was well known to the people of Jerusalem. The name Field of Blood readily won acceptance because the popular mind thought of the place as where blood paid for blood.

Pondering a Question

What motivated Judas's betrayal of Jesus?

Some have imagined that Judas's motivation was political. Supposedly, he decided to betray Jesus only because he was frustrated with Jesus’ failure to challenge Roman authority. He hoped that by this desperate ploy he could provoke Jesus to come forward and assume leadership of mass rebellion against the Romans. But such an explanation does not fit the facts. Any desire Judas had for Jesus to become the new king of Israel would have been merely the outgrowth of his own ambition to serve as one of the new king's ministers. The other disciples had certainly quarreled among themselves about who should hold the highest political rank (Mark 9:33–34). But a man who hoped to enjoy Jesus' favor after He rose to power would not have shown himself at the head of the mob that came to arrest Jesus.

Judas had only one motive, greed. As treasurer of the Twelve, he had long robbed money from the group's purse (John 12:6). Every time he stole he was betraying Jesus. He was turning a sacred trust into a criminal operation. For such a man, who had already betrayed Jesus for many coins of all sizes, thirty pieces of silver were enough reason to betray Him again.

Getting Practical

A Christian's motivation

How could a man walk with Jesus day by day and not love Him? Judas’s hardness of heart should not surprise us. How many men down through history have entered a religious life or profession although they were spiritually hollow? Let us each be sure that our motivation for acting the part of a Christian is a genuine love for Christ.

Pondering a Question

Why were the consequences of turning against the Lord so different for Judas and Peter?

It is interesting to compare Peter and Judas. Judas betrayed Jesus and Peter denied Him. But whereas Judas died by suicide, in disgrace, Peter was restored and given a place of leadership in the church. What was the fundamental difference between these two men?

Judas was not a saved man. Although he walked with Jesus, he never loved Him. From the beginning he was possessed by a devil (John 6:70). The prince of devils, Satan himself, entered the man's heart before he went out to arrange for Jesus' arrest (John 13:26–27). Perhaps Satan whispered some lie to Judas that persuaded him to go forward with his betrayal. Perhaps the lie was that the authorities would be powerless to punish Jesus severely.

Why then did Judas later regret his perfidy? One reason is that Satan cast him aside as soon as he no longer needed him as a tool to cause trouble, and Judas, released from the spirit's direct influence, realized that he had been deceived, for Jesus stood condemned (Matt. 27:3). As Judas remembered all his friendly conversations with Jesus, an inescapable knowledge that Jesus did not deserve to die became waves of guilt pounding upon his mind. But although he had a conscience, enabling him to feel remorse, he had no capacity for life-changing repentance. He was still a thief at heart. If restored to his former position, he would continue to steal.

Peter, on the other hand, always loved Jesus. His denial of his Master was not premeditated treachery, but a moment's reaction to great fear. What he felt afterward was more than regret. It was a heart-rending sorrow, tending to self-hatred. In His last conversation with Peter, the Lord healed this sorrow by giving him a chance to reaffirm his love (John 21:15-19). Just as he had denied Jesus three times, he was given opportunity to tell Jesus three times that he loved Him.

When Peter stood up to speak, he said that Christ's betrayal was not an accident of history, but a fulfillment of prophecy, and he reminded everyone that prophecy must be fulfilled.

Getting Practical

How to view an enemy's ruin

No doubt one of Peter's purposes in speaking about Judas was to comfort the disciples as they mourned for him. In their grief they expressed the heart of God. Although Judas had been a great enemy of Christ, God does not rejoice over the death of His enemies. He said, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (Ezek. 33:11). To us He gave the command: "Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him" (Prov. 24:17-18). Rather than rejoice, we should mourn that he did not fulfill his potential as a creature of God.

From the Book of Psalms, Peter showed that Judas' terrible fate was just. He quoted Psalm 69:25: "Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents." Here, David pronounced a terrible sentence on the future betrayer of Christ. He said, let the man die, and let nothing be left of his family or belongings, so that his dwelling place will be found empty.

Delving Deeper

Psalm 69

The psalm as a whole is foreseeing God’s judgment upon the Jewish nation for rejecting Christ (Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term Messiah). In the middle is a clear reference to the Crucifixion: "They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." (v. 21). The psalm continues, "Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap" (v. 22). The "table" provided for their spiritual nourishment is the Temple, where many sought refuge when the Romans invaded and destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, but to no avail. They were slaughtered anyway. Although God's judgment on the nation did not fully ripen until forty years after Jesus' death, it began with the suicide of Judas.

Choosing a Twelfth Disciple

Acts 1:20b-26

Peter immediately quoted from another psalm, where David says, "Let another take his office" (Ps. 109:8). Peter understood this saying to mean that the disciples should choose a replacement for Judas.

Delving Deeper

Psalm 109

The psalm is a fearful summons of divine wrath upon the wicked. The opening verses provide the setting in David's own experience. In verses 2–4, he talks about betrayal by a friend. Then in the passage down to verse 20, he pronounces God's terrible curse on the betrayer, of such scorching severity that it is especially appropriate for Judas, the betrayer of God’s Son.

As leader of the Twelve, Peter ruled that the new member must be a man who had followed Jesus from the very beginning of His ministry, when He was baptized by John. The company found two eligible men: Joseph (also called Barsabas, surnamed Justus) and Matthias. Rather than choose the twelfth by ballot, they submitted the decision to God. They prayed that when they cast lots, the lot would fall on the right man. The result was that Matthias took Judas's place.

Pondering a Question

Did the disciples use a proper method for determining God's will?

The disciples have been criticized for casting lots. But the choice of Matthias occurred in the twilight hours of the Old Testament era. The Old Testament recommends this method for deciding hard questions. "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD" (Prov. 16:33).

Getting Practical

How we today should find God's will

Although casting lots was appropriate in the Old Testament era, it is not appropriate today. Neither is any other method that basically relies on chance outcomes from a human perspective, such as opening up a Bible and choosing a verse at random. All such methods became obsolete when the Holy Spirit descended and the Church Age began. Since then, believers have had both the Spirit and, within a few years after Pentecost, the completed Bible also to show them the will of God.

Parable of the Mustard Seed

The company in the upper room numbered about 120 adults. How could so few evangelize the world? But in the days ahead the church quickly grew to include thousands more. A few years later there were believers in every corner of the Roman world. The church continued to expand at a tremendous rate for the next several centuries.

Delving Deeper

What the mustard seed represents

In one of His Kingdom parables, Jesus predicted that a mustard seed would grow to be the largest plant in the garden. "Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof" (Matt. 13:31-32).

Like the other parables in Matthew 13, this Parable of the Mustard Seed is an overview of the coming Church Age. The mustard seed represents the church in its infancy—the 120 followers of Christ who sat in the Upper Room waiting for the Spirit to come. They were the planted seed. When the seed sprouted and grew, it became the largest religious body in the world. Today the number of people worldwide who identify themselves as Christian exceeds by far the number of adherents to any other religion.21


  1. George Ricker Berry, Interlinear Greek-English New Testament (N.p., 1897; repr., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1981), 196; W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, reprinted in An Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, by W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Jr. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984), 594; William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 424–425.
  2. Arndt and Gingrich, 359; Richard N. Longenecker, The Acts of the Apostles, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 253.
  3. Berry, 196, 522, 524, 534; Longenecker, 253; F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 98.
  4. Vine, 88–89; Arndt and Gingrich, 131.
  5. Arndt and Gingrich, 486; Vine, 308.
  6. Eusebius Church History 3.39.
  7. Berry, 119.
  8. The Analytical Greek Lexicon (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers; London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, Limited, n.d.), 255.
  9. Ibid., 168.
  10. Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk, Operation World: 21st Century Edition (Bulstrode, Gerrards Cross, UK: WEC International, n.d.), 7–8.
  11. Mish. Sotah 5.3.
  12. Ed Rickard, "The Crucifixion of Christ: Year," Bible Studies at the Moorings, Web (, February 18, 2015; Harold Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977), 100–114; Paul L. Maier, "Sejanus, Pilate, and the Date of the Crucifixion,"Church History 37 (1968): 6; Colin J. Humphreys and W. G. Waddington, "Dating the Crucifixion,"Nature 306 (1983): 741–744.
  13. Richard A. Parker and Waldo H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 BC–AD 75 (Providence: Brown University Press, 1956), 46. In our use of these tables, we must bear in mind that the Jews made their own determination of intercalary months. Probably none was inserted before the Nisan when Jesus died. See Colin J. Humphreys, The Mystery of the Last Supper (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 49–59.
  14. Longenecker, 260; F. F. Bruce, Acts, 3rd ed., 105.
  15. Merrill F. Unger, "James," in Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), 552.
  16. Unger, "Simon," op. cit., 1027.
  17. Unger, "Judas," op. cit., 615.
  18. Vine, 523; Arndt and Gingrich, 78.
  19. Bruce, Acts, 3rd ed., 109; Darrell L. Bock, Acts (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2007), 84; I. Howard Marshall, Acts, vol. 5 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), 69.
  20. Bruce, Acts, 3rd ed., 110.
  21. "Worldwide Adherents of All Religions, Mid-2005," Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, Web (, 2005.

Further Reading

This lesson appears in Ed Rickard's In Perils Abounding: Commentary on Acts 1-14. For further information, click here.