After Jesus’ ascension, the community of believers found its natural leadership in the apostles whom Jesus appointed. There was only one problem. There was a vacancy on the team of apostles. There were 11 apostles, but Jesus appointed 12. Who would replace Judas? How would the replacement be chosen?
The 120 who assembled for this occasion was the number required by Jewish law for a council in any city, which made Matthias’ election not only official but legal. That they prayed together “with one accord” made this gathering a spiritually significant one as well.
When God gives prophecies (as He did in the Old Testament passages quoted by Peter), they will come to pass. Peter used Scripture to reassure the people that Judas’ defection and the choice of his replacement were both parts of God’s plan. God works through human initiative or ordinary people like Peter and Matthias and the 120. Through quiet deliberation and prayer, God set the groundwork for both Pentecost and the whole Gospel mission.
Why were Peter and the other disciples restrained when they told the story of Judas’s suicide? It’s likely for the reasons Peter highlighted in his choice of words. Judas was one of the disciples. He was not some unique stranger who did what we could never do. Judas is so much like us. Any one of us could have betrayed Jesus the same way. We do betray Jesus in our words, acts and thoughts on a daily basis when we behave in ways that lead us to turn away from the truth of the Gospel.
Judas “turned aside to go to his own place.” It’s easy for us to do the same. The Holy Spirit’s grace keeps us with Jesus: repentant, forgiven, thankful for the mercy He has won for us. When we think of Judas, let’s do it with fear and trembling-and with intense gratitude to God who has given us a place that isn’t ours, a place in His own kingdom.
There were two requirements for Judas’ successor:
- He had to have taken part in Jesus’ earthly ministry.
- He had to have seen the resurrected Christ. The resurrection was central to apostolic preaching.
When Peter said that an apostle had to be a witness to the resurrection, he was referring to the 40 day period between the Resurrection and the Ascension, when Christ made Himself known to His followers, proving He was alive.
The eleven remaining disciples needed God’s guidance. Casting lots was a sacred, lawful device used to determine divine will. Although it was a common practice in Old Testament times, only here in the New Testament do we find it used by a follower of Christ. God might have spoken through the casting of lots for Matthias. God speaks to us today in a lot of different ways-including the Bible.
Matthias was chosen. The name Matthias means “Gift of God.” While the apostles waited for 10 days for the coming of the Holy Spirit, they prayed and appointed an apostle to replace Judas. The disciples didn’t know that God had another person in mind to take Judas’ place. The person God chose was Paul.
Paul saw the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. He became a disciple first and then an apostle who was recognized among the official twelve. After his election, we don’t hear anything more about Matthias. In contrast, Paul led the expansion of Christianity. The casting of lots was a poor substitute for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In all fairness, the casting of lots occurred before the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost.
Because the Holy Spirit had not yet come, the 120 were living and operating under Old Testament rules. They were still making decisions and gaining guidance like Old Testament believers. After the Holy Spirit came, the casting of lots was never mentioned again.
There is no need to be down on Matthias. He responded to a call. He was ready with his knowledge of Christ and an open mind and heart to receive His Spirit. He was there at Pentecost-that’s all that matters. Whether his ministry afterward received the recognition of history is not important. The same is true for us. Once we have experienced what Christ said and did for us in His death and resurrection, titles or history’s recognition or even the accolades of people today become unimportant.
Why did the apostles choose a replacement for Judas? They understood that good witnesses were needed to tell others about Jesus (especially the reality of His life, death and resurrection) to fulfill the mission that Jesus gave them. Witnesses are still needed today, and that’s where we as Christians are needed. We can testify to what Christ can do in people’s lives if they accept Him as their Lord and Saviour.
The most important part of the process the apostles used was the use of prayer to discern God’s will. They discerned God’s will by casting lots. How can we discern God’s will for our lives today?
- We know the framework of God’s will for our lives in this world. We are called to love God and to love our neighbour.
- We know we live our lives under the canopy of God’s forgiving love. We can pray for God’s specific will to be revealed to us, but few of us will have our prayers answered. We will have to boldly choose our path. Most of the time we don’t know for certain which is the right path to take. We have to choose, but we know that God’s forgiving love will sustain us when we make a decision.
- We know that nothing can separate us from God’s love.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp.1486-1487)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 28: Acts (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983)
- Dr. Kari Vo, “Our Place or His?” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Dr. Kari Vo, “Confession.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Julius Medenblik, “The Blessing of Witnesses.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Mike Slay, “The Apostles Pick a New Martyr.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Berni Dymet, “Practical Guidance from Above.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Jeremiah, David: Acts: The Church in Action (San Diego, CA: Turning Point for God; 2006,2015; pp. 37-46)
- Richard Jensen, “Commentary on Acts 1:15-17,21-26.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org.preaching.aspx?commentary_id=315