After the final separation of Jesus from His disciples, now numbering about one hundred and twenty (Acts 1:15), one would expect gloom to set in. But no, we find the Christians going about their business. They return to Jerusalem where Jesus tells them they are to wait for the gift of God (Acts 1:4) and they set themselves to pray earnestly (v. 14).
Peter seems now to be the acknowledged leader and spokesman for the group. He sees, in the betrayal of Christ by Judas and the selection of a replacement for him among the apostles, a fulfilment of Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8. To qualify for selection, a man must have been with the apostles from the time John was baptizing up to the ascension of Jesus, and his central task is to be a witness to the resurrection. Two men are proposed, prayer is offered for guidance, lots are cast and Matthias is added to the eleven apostles.
Why does Luke include this detail? Why not move from the ascension straight to Pentecost? After all, Matthias is not mentioned again in the book. Judas’s betrayal was a major failure of leadership that needs to be acknowledged and rectified. Luke tells us in some detail of the failure of Judas because he is providing a “warts and all” coverage of the history of the church. He does not idealize the church; he recognizes the hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira in chapter 5, the bickering of the widows in chapter 6, Peter’s behaviour in chapter 10, and even Paul’s impatience with John Mark in chapter 15.
“The best of men are men at best.” We are to recognize our own frailty, and Luke shows the church facing up to the need to renew its leadership following the apostasy of one of the apostles. Damage had been done and restoration was required. The church did not then, and must not today, try to simply cover its sin; sin needs to be acknowledged and dealt with.
In an atmosphere of prayer, Peter sets out the necessary criteria, the lot is cast and Matthias is the choice. The apostolate is now complete once more and its key function (v. 22) is to witness to the reality of Christ’s resurrection.
“See what the apostles were ordained to; not a secular dignity and dominion … but to preach Christ and the power of His resurrection.” Matthew Henry on Acts 1:22.2.*
In what ways does the early church provide a model for us concerning leadership selection? In what ways does Judas serve as a warning to you? See verse 17.
*Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible: Acts to Revelation, vol. 6 (Mclean, VA: MacDonald Publishing, 1985).