Acts 1:15-22 The Faithfulness of the Early Church Apostles

In the first part of my sermon, I talked about the unity of the early church and explained a lot about the church’s establishment after Christ’s death and resurrection. Today, I’d like to talk about the apostles themselves–their authority and office, and their faithfulness to shepherd the flock.

In those days, Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said… Acts 1:15

Peter became the natural leader of the early church, which is kind of ironic, because he was likely the least educated and the most emotional. It just goes to show that God has a sense of humor, and when he places a calling on your life, he will equip you to do that calling.

Filling the Apostolic Office Left by Judas

Verse 16 Peter says:

“Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.  And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)   “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,
“‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and

“‘Let another take his office.’ Acts 1:16-18

This is a particularly gruesome and graphic bit of scripture here. We are not really going to spend time on those details other than to say that Matthew records other details about Judas’ death which are not necessarily contradictory. Some people look for contradictions in scripture. And if and when they argue with you, they might bring this up as a contradiction. Matthew says he hung himself. But this doesn’t mean that these other things couldn’t have happened some time after the hanging. This is most likely what happened. I think that otherwise, these verses wouldn’t make a lot of sense without Matthew’s account to sort of fill in the blanks.

[box] Peter and the other apostles were also very attuned to scripture by suggesting these events were prophesied in the Psalms. Judas’ death was prophesied, as well as the field in which he died, and the fact that he should be replaced.[/box]

This prophecy, about him being replaced, is important in the passage today. These men were not looking to make any moves on their own. They were in prayer–they were looking for answers from God himself. So they relied on Scripture, which is always reliable, and the instructions they had received from their Lord, for the way forward. They were on the right track and had no intentions of making missteps. So this decision to replace Judas, they didn’t consider to be their own decision, but rather one driven by prophecy. They had seen Jesus, on a number of occasions, respond to and follow the prophetic words of the Old Testament. They knew that this was a good path forward.


By Carl Bloch – The Last Supper, Public Domain


Judas ~ Not Backslidden, but Apostate.

One other word about Judas before we leave him. He was not just a backslidden Christian, Judas was an apostate. There are a couple of passages I would offer as proof.

The first of those is in Luke 22. It says:

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve.  He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. Luke 22:3-4

Satan does not enter a child of God. There is not room for two spirits inside of us–only one, and Luke tells us clearly which one was inside Judas.

The second proof I would offer is the words of John in the book of 1st John. He says:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 1 John 2:19

Judas was used by God to accomplish his purposes. Nothing that Judas did was outside of God’s plan. But Judas was no less guilty for doing what he did.


21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,
22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

There are some incredibly important things said in just these two verses that we need to notice. These are related to apostolic appointment and apostolic authority.

[box] The words ‘disciple’ and ‘apostle’ are often used interchangeably by people talking about these men who were a part of the early church. There are actually two different Greek words for these two terms, and they are different in meaning and function. The Greek word “mathates”is translated into English by disciple. This is a student or learner.[/box]

There were literally hundreds of these according to scripture. In the book of Luke, Jesus sends out 70 disciples to do his work. We saw in verse 15 of the passage for today, that there were 120 disciples in attendance.   Paul speaks of another 500 who were witnesses to Christ’s resurrection. These are a different group of people with a different function than the apostles. All the apostles were disciples, but not all disciples were apostles.


[box] The Greek word translated ‘Apostle’ is apostolos. This word means ‘ambassador’ or ‘messenger.’  An apostle was used by the early kings to be sent in the stead of the king–in his place. The words that they spoke carried the same authority as the king. When you heard the words of the apostle, you were hearing the words of the king.[/box]



The Office of Apostle

There were twelve apostles appointed by Jesus. Now in the absence of their twelfth member, and according to Old Testament prophecy, they were to seek the Lord to appoint another one. Then Paul would actually make number 13, when he came along. We will talk about him in a few minutes.

But this office of apostle is an office that has now ceased. There are still disciples by the millions. But we now have the privilege of having the word of God which carries the words and authority of the King himself. So there is a sense in which the Bible is our Apostle, in a manner of speaking, because it carries the authority of the words of the King in its pages.

[box] The office of apostle was for this brief time at the beginning of the church. And their job was to be witnesses of the resurrection as mentioned in verse 22 that we just read. The reason I emphasize all of this is because there are those in the current church who have given themselves the title of ‘apostle.’ This is a false title, because we will see in a moment, that the qualifications for this office are very narrow. [/box]

Not just anyone can be called an apostle. So these current guys are missing the boat with that title.


What it Meant to be a Witness…

Now before we get into the qualifications for apostle and to prove the fact that the office has ceased, let me say a bit about this word “witness” in verse 22. They were to be witnesses of his resurrection. Christ used the same word in Acts 1:8, when he spoke about the dunamis power that would come upon them. Then he said something that Pastor Mark pointed out to me this past week, that I totally missed on our trip, through that passage. Two heads are better than one. This was nowhere in my reading, but so very valuable. He said, “You will be witnesses.”  These words “will be” are used in the sense that this is a declaration. They absolutely will be witnesses.

They are not going to train to be witnesses. They are not going to work up the courage to be witnesses.

[box] They will be witnesses, just as a matter of their normal life course. In other words, they were chosen for this job, and they were already equipped to do it by virtue of the fact they that they were eye witnesses of the resurrection. They didn’t need any more vetting–any more qualification. They didn’t need any more adrenaline or another ounce of courage. This is who they now were–witnesses of the resurrection.[/box]

This sort of thing is the same kind of attitude that prevailed in the early church during the time of the martyrs. There was a real sense that God had chosen those who were called to martyrdom. People didn’t seek it, but when it came to them, most but not all, embraced it as something given to them by God.

When they were asked to renounce their Christianity, they would ask in all sincerity, how can I deny part of who I am?  I am not a Christian because I decided to be, I am a Christian because that is who God made me to be. This was the thought process of the early church.

[box] It would be like the emperor asking them to deny their given name. “Deny that your name is Dan!”  “But sir , my name is Dan.”

“Deny you are a Christian!”  “Sir, I can say the words, but it won’t take away the absolute fact that I am a Christian. Denying won’t take that away.

These men would be witnesses, not by working it up in themselves, but because it was who they were. It was built in.


Qualifications for Apostleship

Now according to this passage of Scripture, there were three requirements that needed to be passed in order to be considered an apostle.

First: Part of the Believers from the Beginning  This would have been from the baptism of John. Remember, we told you last week that Jesus being baptized by John signaled the start of his earthly ministry. This was the symbol of his being anointed to do the job he was sent to do. This person, who would fill the vacant chair left by Judas Iscariot, must have been present since that time.

Second: An Eyewitness of the Ressurection  Again, this could have been hundreds of candidates who qualified on that front. They had to have seen Christ after his resurrection and attested to that fact.

Third ~ Appointed by Christ  This was true of the original twelve. We will see in a moment this was true of Matthias, and in a matter of weeks, we will see it is true of Paul as well.

These were the criteria. And it makes sense that being a witness to the resurrection would be a requirement, since Christ made his commandment to them in Acts 1:8 about this. You will be witnesses of the resurrection in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth.


How was Paul Qualified to be an Apostle?

Now,  if you have been paying attention, then something must have stuck in your sub- conscious about this at the least. Either that, or you have a question screaming at you in your mind right now.  That question is: How is Paul qualified to be an Apostle? He was not with Christ from his baptism, and he was not an eye-witness of the resurrection.

So what gives — how can he be qualified? Well he is qualified, because Jesus himself qualified him. Three separate times in the book of Acts, Paul speaks of the circumstances where Christ called him to be an apostle. Then, according to Galatians and Acts, he presented himself to the Apostles for approval, and he gained this approval from them as well. In fact, they were pretty happy with the idea that someone else was going to go and preach to the Gentile nations.  They had their hands full where they were. So Paul filled a necessary position in this new administration.

You will remember from our Galatians study, that it says specifically that James, Peter and John gave Paul the right hand of fellowship.  This happened even after Paul rebuked Peter in front of everyone. So Paul was legit as an apostle, because Christ said so, not because he ticked all of the boxes.


The Faithfulness of the Apostles

If there is a take away from this section, it would be this. I am just so taken with the faithfulness of the apostles in this whole process. Christ was gone. He left them standing in a cloud on the Mount of Olives. They could have gone back to their old house and their old job and their old way of life. But they didn’t.

[box] Instead, what we are presented with is a picture of renewed purpose, a unity that was enviable, and faithfulness to what their master called them to. They did not waste any time at all. Luke is careful to convey the fact that they came straight from the ascension back to the upper room and got to work. They were faithful to what they had been called to.[/box]


My Father’s Faithfulness as a Pastor

I was so privileged, in my own life, to see this kind of faithfulness displayed and lived out in front of my eyes.  My dad was a pastor for 45 years. The work was not glamorous by any standard. It didn’t pay all that well in the churches he ended up taking.  He was not well known except in his tiny little circles. He was well respected by a few. But mostly he worked away in relative obscurity.  He pastored the hard to love flocks–those down in attendance and down in morale. He tried to breathe life into them.

By the world’s standards, he might have been considered a fool.  He barely got paid for a job where he was not noticed or thanked very often. He hammered away in places where other people had already walked away.  But he was faithful, because he recognized that he was called to do what he did.  These other things didn’t matter to him. He didn’t need recognition. He didn’t necessarily need a large paycheck. He didn’t need the worlds version of success. He was successful in a whole different sense, and he was faithful in it for 45 solid years. This alone made him wealthy in a different way.

[box] He knew what he was doing counted for something that was intangible. It was not always visible to others around. But he had the strength of his convictions to know that God had called him there for that time. This is what the Apostles possessed. These beginnings, by the worlds standards, are very humble beginnings.[/box]

I can only hope that we could experience, even once in a lifetime, what it feels like to live faithfully before God. It is like nothing else. To know you are doing what you were put on this earth to do is unlike anything else you can experience, and it comes from obedience and faithfulness.

  To be continued.

Watch the full sermon below.

Posted by Koinonia Church on Sunday, July 8, 2018


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info] Pastor Dan Woody is a founding elder for Koinonia. He has been serving churches as a pastor for the past 13 years. He and his wife Peggy are the parents of two sons, Chris and Jonathan. Pastor Dan is currently studying for his Mdiv with The North American Reformed Seminary. His interests include music, and most outdoor sports like golf, hiking, tennis and fishing. [/author_info] [/author]