Biblical Apostolic Succession

Acts 1:1-26

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
June 2013

This summer we will be doing a study on the Book of Acts. Acts is an important book of the Bible.  It is extremely fascinating.  It tells the history of the early church.  It tells us how the first church was started.  It tells us what the first church looked like and how it changed very quickly.

When the church first started, it looked very differently than the church does today. The church today is made up mostly of Gentiles.  There are a few Jews in the church today but very few.  The very first church was all Jewish.  There were no Gentiles in it at all.

The title of the book is called “the Acts of the Apostles” but Luke does not write about all of the apostles.  He really only writes about two of them.  He is very selective who he writes about.  He writes about Peter and Paul (the two apostles who were later martyred by Nero in Rome).  Acts 1-12 is mostly about Peter. Peter is the main character of the first part of the book.

He is the first person who preaches the gospel to the Jews in Acts 2 and to the Gentiles in Acts 10.  He not only preaches he heals people, and even raises one woman from the dead.  He gets arrested and thrown in prison a few times.  Two times he is released supernaturally by an angel.

He also does some church discipline.  He confronts two members of the church who were living in sin and they just drop dead on the spot.  Acts 13-28 is mostly about Paul and the three missionary journeys he takes.

Today, I want to give you the introduction to the book and do two things.   First, I want to tell you a little about the author of this book.  Second, I want to go over four things that are mentioned in the first chapter of Acts.  Who wrote the Book of Acts?  We know it was written by Luke but who was Luke?  What do we know about him?

Facts About the Author of Acts

1. He was a Gentile.

He was Greek.  He has a Greek name.  He was not Jewish.  We know that from Colossians 4:10-14. Paul divides his companions into two groups – Jews and Gentiles and Luke is in the Gentile category. Every now and then some scholar will question that but it is fairly well established that Luke was a Gentile.

2. He was a Physician

Paul calls him “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14).  Because he was a physician, he was well educated.  We know this from the way he writes.  He has some of the best Greek in the NT.

He was Paul’s medical adviser.  He may have added a few years to Paul’s life.  He had all kinds of physical problems (stoned, whipped, beaten, thorn in the flesh).  He does medical missions and stays with Paul unto the end.  When he is in prison in Rome, Paul said “only Luke is with me” (II Timothy 4:11)

3. He was a Writer of Scripture

This was the same man who wrote the Gospel of Luke.  He didn’t write one book of the NT.  He wrote two (the third and fifth books of the NT). That is interesting for a number of reasons.  Two books of the NT were written by a physician (Dr. Luke).

Luke was the only NT writer who happened to be a scientist.  The rest were fishermen and tax collectors.  He wrote about 30% of the NT. He wrote more of the NT than any other individual and he wasn’t an Apostle.  In fact, he wasn’t even Jewish.

Luke and Acts are not two separate books but two volumes of the same book.  Luke says in the first chapter of Acts, “I am picking up right where I left in the last book”.  Acts is not a new book but a continuation of the old book he had already written.

Acts is the sequel to the Book of Luke. Biblical scholars call it Luke-Acts.  Luke deals with the ministry of Jesus ON EARTH.  Acts deals with the ministry of Jesus IN HEAVEN through his church.  Luke deals with what Jesus BEGAN TO DO before his ascension.  Acts deals with what Jesus CONTINUES TO DO after his ascension.

4. Luke was a Historian

Luke was the first historian of the early church.  When he writes the Third Gospel, he says he was not the first to do it.  There were a lot of other gospels in circulation.  He checked his sources, talked to eye-witnesses and wrote his own Gospel (Luke 1:1-4).  Luke is the father of church history.  He not only writes a life of Jesus, he gives us thirty years of church history (from 30 AD to 60 AD).

What happens in Acts 1?  Four main things happen in this chapter.  Jesus ministers to people for forty days.  He ascends into heaven.  Judas dies and the early church picks a replacement for him.  Let’s look briefly at these four events.

The Last Days of Jesus on Earth

What did Jesus do after rose from the dead?  Acts answers that question.  He did two things.

1. Jesus appeared to people after His resurrection from the dead

After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them (1:3). Luke says, “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many CONVINCING PROOFS that he was alive” (1:3). 

The resurrection is not just something that we believing in and have faith in.  The Bible says that we can prove it.  Luke says that there are PROOFS for the resurrection and not just one.  He says that there are MANY and the proofs are strong.  Luke calls them “convincing”.

He uses the Greek word for the strongest type of legal evidence. There is solid evidence for the resurrection. It is overwhelming. The case for Christ is strong. You can prove it. Unfortunately, many Christians today do not know what the proofs are.

The evidence for the resurrection is based on eye-witness testimony from multiple sources. There are several things that are unusual about these appearances of Jesus.

  • He appeared to people over a month (Acts 1:3). There are eleven appearances of Jesus after his resurrection in the NT that took place over a forty day period.  Five of those eleven appearances took place on the same day (Easter Sunday).
  • He appeared to some people more than once. He appeared to Peter five or six times.
  • He appeared to both men and women. He appeared to the women first.
  • He appeared to both individuals and groups (large groups and small groups of people).  He appeared to a group of five hundred people at one time (I Corinthians 15:6).
  • He appeared at different times of the day (at night with the doors locked in John 20 and early in the morning on Easter Sunday).
  • He appeared in different locations (Jerusalem and eighty miles to the north in Galilee).
  • He appeared to unbelievers as well as to believers.

Most think that Jesus only appeared to believers.  They think that he only appeared to his followers.  That is not true.  We know that he at least appeared to two complete unbelievers and to one skeptic.  Paul was an unbeliever when he appeared to him and so was his brother James (I Corinthians 15:7).

We know that because none of his siblings became believers until after the resurrection (John 7:5).   Thomas was a believer.  He was an apostle but he was an unbeliever when it came to the resurrection of Jesus, even though he had the testimony of many people.  He told his friends that he refused to believe until he confirmed it himself (John 20:24-29).

  • He appeared to enemies as well as to friends.

Jesus did not just appear to his friends.  He also appeared to his greatest enemy.  Saul was the greatest enemy of the early Christians.  He made it his life mission was to destroy Christianity.  He traveled to other cities to arrest Christians and Jesus appeared to him and stopped him right in his tracks.

  • These appearances were interactive.

Jesus did not just make appearances; he ate and drank with people (Acts 1:4). They saw him. They heard him. They touched him. They were not just visions.

2. Jesus taught people after His resurrection from the dead

After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days AND SPOKE ABOUT THE KINGDOM OF GOD. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this COMMAND: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (1:3-5)

During this time, Jesus gave them one command.  What was the command?  It wasn’t, “Love one another”.  It wasn’t “pray without ceasing”.  It was “don’t go anywhere.  Stay right where you are”.  “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about” (1:4)He wanted all of the 120 to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost.  He taught them about the kingdom of God and he answered their questions.

If you could ask the Risen Lord any question on any topic, what would it be? They had a chance to ask him one and only one question and then he was gone.  What question did they ask him?  They asked him a prophetic question. “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (1:6).

Was this a good or bad question?  Most people who read this think it was a bad question.  Many believe the disciples did not understand the true nature of the kingdom. They thought the kingdom was a Jewish thing.  Most commentators who read this are Gentiles. They criticize the disciples here for their question.  I disagree. I think this was a perfectly valid question.

Jesus predicted that there would be a Jewish kingdom in the future (Luke 1:32-33; 13:28-30; 22:30). Jesus was the Messiah.  He was raised from the dead and the Romans were the ones who were ruling Israel.  They were in charge.  Jesus does not rebuke them for asking the question.

He does not say that there will not be a Jewish kingdom. He does not say that his kingdom is just a spiritual kingdom. He simply said that they were not to know WHEN it would take place.  He says, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (1:7).

Jesus does not deny the question but he does redirect it. Instead of focusing on one nation, Jesus wants them focused on ALL THE NATIONS. Instead of focusing on Israel, Jesus wants then to think about THE UTTERMOST PARTS OF THE EARTH. Instead of focusing on what Jesus could do for them, he wants them to focus on what they can do FOR JESUS.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

That was the last thing Jesus said before He ascended to heaven. This is a prediction, not a command.  It is not what they SHOULD DO but what they WOULD DO, namely be HIS WITNESSES, and they were going to do it in four areas (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, uttermost parts of the earth). They were going to be witnesses to Jews (Jerusalem, Judea), to half-Jews (Samaritans) and to complete pagans (uttermost part of the earth).

They were going to be witnesses to people JUST LIKE them (Jews), to people A LITTLE LIKE them (Samaritans) and to people COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from them. They were to be witnesses to people they liked and people they hated and the Jews hated the Samaritans and they were to start in Jerusalem, the very city which killed Jesus fifty days before.

What exactly does it mean to be a witness? This is legal terminology. There are several things that a witness does.

Characteristics of a Witness

1. A witness gives verbal testimony.

A witness has to open his mouth. You don’t have a witness on the stand who will not open his mouth. There are no silent witnesses. We do witness with our lives as well as with our lips but a witness is primarily verbal.

2. A witness tells what he knows.

When a witness in court takes the stand, he tells what he saw and heard. That is his job. Our job is to tell people what we know about Jesus and to tell people how he has worked in our life and saved us.

3. A witness faces opposition.

A witness has to stand up under pressure.  If you are a witness for the prosecution, you will be cross-examined by the defense. Many of the witnesses in the early church gave up their lives for Christ. In fact, the Greek word for witness is the word μαρτυς.

A martyr is someone who gives up their life for their faith.  Muslims call themselves martyrs when they go blow someone up in the name of Allah.  They are not martyrs.  They are murderers.  A martyr is someone who dies for his faith, not someone who kills for his faith.

But they could not be witnesses for Jesus until they got one thing. But you will receive POWER WHEN THE HOLY SPIRIT COMES ON YOU and you will be my witnesses”.  If you do not have the Holy Spirit, you cannot be a witness. The Greek word for power is δύναμις (from which we get the word “dynamite”).  What did this power look like? Did the apostles look like the Power Team or Faith Force?  Come back next week and we will find out, as we study Acts 2.

The Ascension

What happens here?  Jesus is taken up into a cloud and goes straight into heaven.  What is the difference between the resurrection and the ascension?  During the resurrection, Jesus left the tomb. During the ascension, he left the earth.

No one saw Jesus rise from the dead but some people saw Him ascend into heaven. People watched him ascend into heaven. “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight“ (Acts 1:9).  It took place on the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem and it was public.   

If that was not enough, two angels appear and tell people that Jesus will one day come back to the earth.  Zechariah says that when he comes back, his feet will land on the Mount of Olives (14:3-4).

The Death of Judas

We come to a tragic part of the chapter.  One of the Twelve who followed Jesus around for three years, heard his teaching and saw his miracles, commits suicide.  Both Peter and Judas sinned.  Peter denied Jesus three times.  Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.  Peter genuinely repented and was forgiven.  Judas did not.  He committed suicide instead.

Luke records the death of Judas but he actually died before this time. According to Matthew, Judas threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself (27:5).  That happened before Jesus died and rose from the dead.

 Does the Bible Contradict Itself?

Critics of the Bible love this chapter because they believe there are clear contradictions between Matthew 27 and Acts 1.  Acts says that Judas bought a field.  Matthew says the priests bought the field (cf. Mt 27:7 and Acts 1:18).  Is this a contradiction?  No.

The chief priests give Judas thirty pieces of silver for betraying Jesus.  He gives the money back.  They take his money and buy a field with it.  They could not give it to the temple because it was blood money.

Did Judas die by hanging or by falling?  Is there a contradiction between Matthew 27:5 with Acts 1:18?  Is this a contradiction? No. There is no formal contradiction.  Both statements can be true at the same time.

Matthew tells about Judas dying.  Acts tells the rest of the story.  Matthew does NOT deny that Judas’ body fell AFTER he hung himself and Luke does NOT deny that he hung himself BEFORE he fell.   Luke also doesn’t say that Judas’s fall was what caused his death.  One deals with the METHOD of his death and one deals with the RESULT of his death.

Luke is a little more graphic and mentions his intestines spilling out but keep in mind Luke was a doctor.  Probably what happened is that Judas died by hanging.  The tree he hung from was located over a cliff or a ravine.

His dead body began to decompose in the hot sun of Jerusalem and began to decompose and became bloated. The rope or branch of the tree he hung from eventually broke and his body fell down and split open on some sharp rocks below.

The Replacement of Judas

The chapter ends with two meetings – a prayer meeting and a business meeting. The meetings took place in the Upper Room.  There were 120 present.  The 120 believers were most likely made up of four groups of people.

First, the 70 disciples were present (Luke 10:1).  According to the church historian Eusebius in the 4th century, Matthias was one of the 70 disciples[1].  Second, the 11 apostles were present.  Judas was not alive at the time.

Third, a group of women were also present.  Mary the mother of Jesus was part of this group.  It is the last time we see the Mary in the Bible.  She was probably under fifty at this time because girls married young (around 15) and this was thirty years later.

Fourth, the brothers of Jesus and possibly their families.  We know that he had four brothers (Matthew 13:55). This is significant because we also know that they were not even believers before Jesus died (John 7:5) and now they are associating with the closest followers of Jesus.

[1] Eusebius, Church History, II.1.1. (

The second meeting was a church business meeting. The reason they met is that the church had a problem. There was one dead apostle. Judas killed himself and so the church had to deal with that problem. There was one item on the agenda of this business meeting and that item was who would replace Judas? They did not replace him just because of his death but because of his defection from the faith. When the Apostle James died in Acts 12, he was not replaced.

This is the only case of apostolic succession in the Bible.  S. Lewis Johnson calls this “biblical apostolic succession”.  How did they pick a new apostle to replace Judas? What procedure did they early church use to solve this problem?  What steps did they take to choose a new apostle?

Steps Taken to Choose a New Apostle

1) They determined what the qualifications were for the office.

What were the two qualifications for this office?  They had to be a witness of the resurrection (1:22) and they had to be with the disciples during the entire ministry of Jesus, starting with his baptism and ending with his ascension (1:21-22).  That would rule the Apostle Paul out.

2) They identified which individuals met those qualifications.

There were two which met these qualifications.  Their names were Joseph and Mathias.

3) They prayed and asked God to reveal which one He chose.

They did not want to pick the wrong person, so they asked God to reveal to them His choice.  That is an important application for us today.  Leaders must be appointed through prayer.

4) They cast lots to determine God’s will in the selection of apostle.

Casting lots is like rolling dice, drawing straws or flipping a coin.  It seems very strange to us today but this was a Jewish custom.  They did not cast lots randomly.  They had two men who were both qualified for the office.  This raises several interesting questions.

Was the Wrong Man Chosen?

Some have argued that the early church made a mistake in choosing Matthias to replace Judas.  They argue that he was man’s choice, not God’s choice.  Paul would have been God’s choice.  There are several problems with this line of reasoning.

1. Casting lots was a biblical practice

God commanded the Jews to use lots (Numbers 34:13; 36:2).  Offices in the temple were decided by lots (1 Chronicles 24:5, 31; 25:8-9).  Proverbs 18: 18 says, “Casting the lot settles disputes and keeps strong opponents apart.”  

God, not the early church, was the one who picked Matthias through the casting of lots.  The Bible says that when lots are cast, God makes the decision (“The lot is cast into the lap, but its EVERY DECISION is from the Lord” –  Proverbs 16:33)

2. No criticism is given by Luke

Peter says that they needed to select another apostle to fulfill Scripture.  He quotes Psalm 109.  Luke has absolutely no word of criticism or condemnation for the reason Peter selected an apostle (Psalm 109), the procedure for selecting a new apostle (casting of lots) or the man who was selected (Matthias).

It is true that Matthias is not mentioned elsewhere in the NT but most of the apostles are not mentioned again either.

3. Paul was not an option

The early church could not have picked Paul to replace Judas.  Paul was not even a believer yet.  Paul always contrasts himself with the Twelve (I Corinthians 15:5). He never even claims to be one of the Twelve.

A twelfth apostle had to be chosen. It was important symbolically for there to be twelve apostles as they stood before the nation of Israel at Pentecost. Another interesting question that comes from this chapter has to do with how to determine the will of God.

 Should We Cast Lots Today?

Some we cast lots today before making any major decision in our life?  No.

1. This is the only time in the NT that believers cast lots.

That may be significant.  Lots are not used after Pentecost.  Now that we have the Holy Spirit, we do not need to cast lots to make decisions.

2. Casting lots is not commanded.

History is descriptive, not prescriptive.  In Acts 2, the early Christians shared all of their possessions. We are not commanded to sell all of our property. We are not commanded to cast lots today to determine the will of God.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, cast lots to decide who he should marry[2]. That did not work out to well. He had a terrible marriage and it was not helped by the fact that he was away for weeks at a time preaching.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *