Between Law and Spirit

SYNOPSIS – Between the ascension and the gift of the Spirit, the apostles tarried in prayer and appointed Matthias to complete their number - Acts 1:12-26

Jerusalem - Photo by Sander Crombach on Unsplash
After the ascension, the apostles returned to Jerusalem to pray and wait for the “promise of the Father” – The gift of the Holy Spirit. They “tarried” over ten days in an “upper room” in the city, praying “with one accord.” During this time, they appointed Matthias to the apostolic role previously held by Judas. As the representatives of the new people of God formed around Jesus, their number had to be twelve to demonstrate continuity with the covenant established by Yahweh with Abraham. - [Jerusalem - Photo by Sander Crombach on Unsplash].

The work that Jesus “began to do” was not something entirely new and novel but in fulfillment of the redemptive promises of God. Quite likely, Luke has inserted this account to contrast the period before the outpouring of the Spirit with all that occurred after the church received the “promise of the Father.”
  • (Acts 1:12-14) – “Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is nigh unto Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey off. And when they were come in, they went up into the upper chamber, where they were abiding; both Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. These all with one accord continued steadfastly in prayer, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.
This confirms that Jesus departed from the Mount of Olives. A “Sabbath day’s journey” was the allowable walking distance for a Jew on the Sabbath – A little over one kilometer. Whether the ascension occurred on a Sabbath day is not the point; instead, the text stresses the nearness of Olivet to the city of Jerusalem. The long-awaited redemption of the nations must begin from there.

Luke is not giving us a geography lesson. Instead, Acts is stressing how the new age of the Spirit and the formation of the covenant community began at Jerusalem. It was from there that the gospel would spread to the far corners of the Roman Empire, all in accord with the Scriptures.

The ten-day period was an interim between the departure of Jesus and the arrival of the Spirit. The new covenant community remained incomplete without the empowering presence of the Spirit, and therefore, was not yet equipped to carry out its mission to proclaim the kingdom to the “uttermost parts of the earth.” During the tend-days, there is no mention of the activity of the Spirit.

Possibly, the “upper room” where they tarried was the same “large upper room” where Jesus kept his last Passover. On the other hand, the closing comments of the gospel of Luke suggests this may have occurred in the Temple – (Luke 22:10-12, 24:53-53 – “He will show you a large upper room furnished: there make ready the Passover”).
  • (Acts 1:15-17, 20-26) – “And in these days Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren and said (and there was a multitude of persons gathered together, about a hundred and twenty), Brethren, it was needful that the Scripture should be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spake before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who was guide to them that took Jesus. For he was numbered among us and received his portion in this ministry…And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show of these two the one whom thou hast chosen, to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas fell away, that he might go to his own place. And they gave lots for them; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”
As stated above, this account is included to emphasize the differences between this interim period and life after the outpouring of the Spirit. This is not done to disparage what the apostles did or the old era under the Law. Instead, this highlights how much more glorious the new age of the Spirit was (and is).

Before receiving the Spirit, the apostles resorted to the tried-and-true method of “lots” to discern God’s will - Matthias was appointed through the casting of “lots.” After the release of the Spirit, the leadership of the church was led by the Spirit in appointing ministers and other matters - (Leviticus 16:7-10, Acts 6:1-6).

It was necessary for the apostles to add a twelfth member and thus have a complete complement to represent the new Israel - A people of God in continuity with ancient Israel but also distinct from it; primarily and initially, in the possession of the Spirit.

There was “about 120 men and women” gathered to pray. The choice of this figure for an approximate number is probably deliberate. Why not “about” 115, 125 or 130?  120 is a multiple of 12 - The point is the new covenant community was assembled “in one accord” to prepare for the outpouring of the long-promised gift of the Spirit.


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