The Preparation for the Church’s Mission
Your mission statement to the Church to carry the Gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth is the same mission that every professing Christian accepts in the Sacrament of Confirmation. In that sacrament our souls are sealed by the Holy Spirit in the sacred covenant bond of that commissioning as we willingly take up the same mission You gave to the Apostles and disciples at the time of Your Ascension into the heavenly realm. In our study of Acts of Apostles, inspire us with the stories of Your faithful disciples and Apostles that we too, empowered by Your Holy Spirit, might march forth in our homes, communities and nations to advance the cause of the Gospel and Your gift of eternal salvation. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
All Scripture passages quoted in this study are from the New American Bible unless otherwise designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBGE or IBHE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English or Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English). The designation CCC indicates a reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. A table of the Catechism reference pertinent to the lesson will be found in a table at the end of each lesson.
Jesus’ marching orders for the ministers of His Church that are quoted in the Scripture passages above have come to be known as “the Great Commission.” The book of Praxeis Apostolicon in Greek and Acta [Actus] Apostolorum in Latin, literally ACTS [OF] APOSTLES, is the story of some (not all) of the courageous Apostles and disciples of Jesus who accepted that holy mission and began to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ from Jerusalem to the most remote corners of the Roman world.
Acts of Apostles is Part II of St. Luke’s two volume work on the mission of the Messiah. In Part I of his Gospel, St. Luke presented Jesus’ mission to establish the Kingdom of God in bringing salvation to the “lost sheep of Israel” and to mankind in general. In Part II St. Luke presents an historical account of the Church’s development from the Ascension of Christ to St. Paul’s journey to Rome and his house arrest in Rome awaiting his hearing before Caesar. St. Luke places his story in the context of world history. In his Gospel he provided the names of the civil and religious leaders (Lk 3:1-2), just as he does in Acts where St. Luke also identifies political leaders who are well known from secular sources. But most importantly, St. Luke presents the compelling story of how Jesus’s Apostles and disciples carried forward the mission of the universal Kingdom under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is the book that comes between the Gospels and the Epistles and is the hinge upon which the New Testament turns from the Old Covenant fulfilled in Christ and the New Testament Church which is sacramentally the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.
The Author: According to a tradition that has never been seriously challenged, St. Luke is the author of the two volumes of the Gospel According to Luke and Acts of Apostles. In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul identifies Luke as “the beloved physician”: Greetings from my beloved friend Luke, the physician, and also from Demas (Col 4:14). We also know from Paul’s letters to St. Timothy and to Philemon, Apphia and Archippus that Luke was with Paul during his imprisonment in Rome (2 Tim. 4:11 and Philemon 24). In fact the author of Acts identifies himself as a companion on many of St. Paul’s journeys as implied by his use of the first person plural in many passages; see Acts 16:10-17 (ten times); 20:5-15 (12 times); 21:1-18 (26 times) and 27:1-28:15 (33 times). These accounts also provide many accurate geographic details and historic details that testify to the presence of the writer when these events took place.
By eliminating other companions of St. Paul named in Acts, we are left with St. Luke as the one who must have been Paul’s companion during the last visit to Jerusalem, in Caesarea and in Paul’s journey to Rome. In addition, we have the testimony of the Church Fathers like St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (d. 180/200 AD) who wrote defending St. Paul as an “apostle” on the testimony of his conversion experience recorded by St. Luke: Neither can anyone contend that Paul was not an Apostle, when he was elected to it, nor can anyone prove Luke guilty of falsehood, when he announces the truth to us most diligently … that all who follow Luke’s later testimony in which he treats of the acts and doctrine of the Apostles, having an unadulterated rule of truth, may be saved (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.15.1). Luke is also named as the author of Acts in the Muratorian Fragment that is dated to c. 155 AD: The Acts of the Apostles, however, were written by Luke in one book addressed to the most excellent Theophilus; and he makes it clear that these events took place in his presence, for he omits the passion of Peter, as also the journey of Paul when he went from the city [Rome] to Spain (Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. I, page 107).
Other than St. Paul’s identification of St. Luke as a physician (Col 4:14) and mention of Luke being with Paul in Philemon 24 and 2 Timothy 4:11, we have very little information about him. It is believed that he was a Gentile of Greek origin (his name is Greek). We have the testimony of both Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea in the Holy Land and St. Jerome that Luke was a Gentile from Syria and a member of the Church at Antioch, the faith community where believers in Christ were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26) and the faith community that sponsored St. Paul’s missionary journeys: But Luke, who was of Antiochian parentage and a physician by profession, and who was especially intimate with Paul and well acquainted with the rest of the Apostles, has left us, in two inspired books, proofs of that spiritual healing art which he learned from them. One of these books is the Gospel, which he testifies that he wrote as those who were from the beginning eye-witnesses and ministers of the word delivered unto him … The other book is the Acts of the Apostles, which he composed not from the accounts of others, but from what he had seen himself (Eusebius, Church History, III.4.6; also see Jerome, Commentary on Matthew, preface).
Dating Acts of Apostles: In his Gospel, St. Luke named six different men who were political and religious figures when St. John the Baptist and Jesus began their ministries. Included in that list was Pontius Pilate, who St. Luke correctly identified as the Prefect of Judea. An archaeological find made during an excavation, led by Italian archaeologist Dr. Antonio Frova, effectively put to rest the doubt that Pilate was the governor of Judea at the time of Christ. The artifact is now in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem as inventory Number AE 1963 no. 104. Pilate’s name appears in the Latin inscription on a 2’x3′ (82 cm x 65 cm) limestone stela found in 1961 at Caesarea Maritima that links him to the reign of the Emperor Tiberius. The inscription refers to him as Prefect (Praefectus civitatium) rather than Procurator, which is what the Roman historian Tacitus calls him. In Acts St. Luke also named certain men who were in power during the time the events in Acts of Apostles took place; for example: Gallio, Proconsul of Achaia; Felix who was a governor of Judea and Drucilla his wife; King Herod Antipas II and his sister Bernice; and Festus who succeeded Felix as governor of Judea. The historical information about these important people and other historical events recorded in secular documents help us date Acts of Apostles.
The narrative of Acts begins with Jesus’ assumption into heaven in 30 AD and concludes with St. Paul under house arrest in Rome circa 62 AD. We have a number of historical references within Acts to which firm dates can be fixed and historical evidence concerning the dates in the lives of the important figures mentioned by Luke.
- A world-wide famine (Roman world) is predicted by a Christian prophet in Acts 11:27-28 during the reign of the Roman emperor Claudius (ruled 41-54 AD). We know from the writings of Jewish historian Flavius Josephus that a famine ravaged the Roman world during the reign of Emperor Claudius and during the rule of Judean procurators Cuspius Fadus and Tiberius Alexander between 44-48 AD (Antiquities of the Jews, 20.5.2).
- The Roman emperor Claudius issued an edict expelling the Jews from Rome in 50 AD, which sent Aquila and Priscilla to Corinth, where Paul met them. This event is recorded by Luke in Acts 18:2. It is also recorded by the Roman historian Suetonius in his history of Claudius (Claudius, 25.4).
- Roman Proconsul Sergius Paulus heard Paul preach the Gospel in Cyprus and was moved to accept Christ (Acts 13:7-12). There are three Roman officials with the cognomen “Paulus” who served in Cyprus. An inscription discovered in Cyprus names a Quintus Sergius Paulus as proconsul during the reign of Caligula (Caligula ruled 37-41 AD). There is also Latin inscription discovered in Rome that refers to a Lucius Sergius Paulus who held an administrative post in Cyprus during the reign of Claudius (41-54 AD). Another inscription was also found in Cyprus naming a third Roman of that same Paulus family who served as Procunsul around the year 50 AD (probably too late for Paul’s visit).
- St. Paul was tried by the Roman Proconsul Gallio in Acts chapter 18:12-16. An inscription was discovered in Delphi in central Greece by archeologists that contains a proclamation of Emperor Claudius. This first century inscription refers to Gallio as the Roman Proconsul of Greece in the year in which it was issued. That year corresponds to 52 AD, which is the approximate date of Paul’s Corinthian trial. We know from other Roman documents that Gallio served for only one year as the proconsul of Achaea (proconsuls often served only for a year). This is another independent chronological confirmation of the date of Paul’s visit to Macedonia and Greece.
- In Acts 24:1-27 Paul appeared before Marcus Antonius Felix who was Procurator of Judea from 52-60 AD. Paul gave his testimony of Christ to Felix, his Jewish wife Drucilla, a sister of King Herod Agrippa II who was born in 38 AD. She and her son by Felix died in Pompeii in 79 AD during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Paul’s appearance before Felix had to be before he left office in 60 AD. Since Luke says Felix imprisoned Paul for two years before Festus succeeded him (Acts 24:27). Therefore, Paul would have been imprisoned from c. 58/59-60/61 (Luke would have counted two years without the concept of a zero-place value).
- After Felix’s dismissal, Porcius Festus was procurator of Judea from 61-62 AD. Festus would have interview Paul as soon as he assumed his office, which makes Paul’s interview with Festus in Acts 25 in 61 AD.
- In Acts 25:13-26:23 Paul gave his witness to Procurator Festus, Herod Antipas II and his sister Bernice. Herod Antipas II lived from 27- c. 98/100 AD.
- Bernice sister of Herod Antipas II was born c. 28 AD and probably died in the destruction of Pompeii in 79 AD with her sister since she completely disappears from the historical record after that date.
These examples are dramatic confirmations of Luke’s historical accuracy. Since it is almost impossible that some later writer could have discovered this information on his own, Luke’s record decisively points either to his personal knowledge of those events or to personal knowledge of his immediate sources. When Luke records that Gallio presided over Paul’s trial in Corinth, that the Proconsul Paulus heard the Gospel in Cyprus, and that Felix and Festus interviewed Paul in Caesarea, it is because he has direct knowledge of those events.(1)
We can also look to significant historical events that are not recorded in St. Luke’s Acts of Apostles:
- Acts makes no mention of the great fire that destroyed three-fourths of Rome in 64 AD or the resulting horrific persecution that followed when Christians were blamed for starting the fire.
- The deaths of Sts. Peter and Paul in 67 AD are not recorded (some scholars list the date as 64 AD); these are individuals around which the Book of Acts revolves.
- Nor does the narrative mention the revolts in the Roman provinces that began to plague the Roman Empire, including the great Jewish Revolt that began in 66 AD.
- Absent is the mention of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. The Jewish Revolt resulted in the total destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD, when four Roman legions effectively ended Biblical Judaism and Old Covenant worship forever and scattered enslaved Jews into the distant parts of the empire.
These omissions help to date Acts not later than the period of 63/64 AD.
Main themes: In his Gospel and in Acts, St. Luke intends to tell the story of the establishment of Jesus’ Kingdom of God on earth as a result of God’s divine plan for mankind’s salvation (i.e., Lk 1:33; 4:43; Acts 1:3; 8:12). The fact that Jesus, the promised Prophet, Messiah, and rightful Davidic King, is the fulfillment of God’s word to Israel is supported by the number of times St. Luke quotes directly from Israel’s sacred Scriptures or alludes to passages of the prophets throughout the Gospel of Luke and in Acts. But what is different in Acts is that the divine activity is now attributed to the ministry of the Holy Spirit throughout the narrative. Not only do the events of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection fulfill the Torah and the prophets (i.e., Lk 9:22; 17:25; 24:7, 25-27, 44-47), but the stages of the Church’s life do as well (Acts 1:16-22; 3:21, 24; 13:40; 15:15; 17:3; 28:25-27).
A secondary theme is the universality of the divine message of the Gospel. We first see the movement from salvation to Israel to a universal salvation in the prayer of St. Simeon when Jesus is dedicated as an infant at the Jerusalem Temple. St. Simeon holds the Christ child and prays: Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel (Lk 2:29-32; emphasis added). It is this same theme of the universal nature of Christ’s gift of redemption and salvation that Jesus repeats to His Apostles and disciples at the end of Luke’s Gospel when He says: Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Lk 24:46-47; emphasis added).
For St. Luke the most significant turning point in God’s divine plan occurs with the inclusion of the Gentiles in the call to universal salvation. St. Luke attributes this opening up of salvation to the Gentiles as the work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:1-11:18), as he also does the revelation St. Peter receives from the Holy Spirit to offer Christian baptism to the household of the Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15-18) and the missions of St. Paul and Barnabas to the Gentiles in Asia Minor and Greece (Acts 13:2-4).
Summary Outline of the Gospel of Luke
|Biblical Period||# 12 The Messianic Age|
|Covenant||New Covenant in Christ Jesus|
|Focus||The Mission of the Church to carry the Gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth under the guidance of the Holy Spirit|
|Division of Text|| Prologue &
Preparation for the Church’s Mission
|The Church’s Mission in Jerusalem||The Church’s Mission in Judea and Samaria||The Beginning of the Church’s Mission to the Gentiles||The Church’s Mission to the Gentiles|
-Promise to send the Holy Spirit
-Prayer and action
-Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
| -Peter’s Pentecost homily
-Church’s communal life
-Teaching at the Temple & persecution
-Martyrdom of Stephen
| -Philip’s mission to Samaria
-The Church at peace
| -Cornelius & first Roman baptisms
-The Church in Syria
-Paul & Barnabas’
-Council of Jerusalem
| -St. Paul’s missionary journeys
-Paul’s return to Jerusalem
-Paul sent to Rome & house arrest
|Joppa Antioch Jerusalem|| Asia Minor Greece
Malta and Rome
|Time||30 AD – 62 AD|
|Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013|
Time line: AD
30 34 43 44 45-49 50
-Crucifixion -Stephen martyred -Barnabas -James Z. martyred -Barnabas -Council of
-Resurrection -Paul’s conversion & Paul in -Peter in prison & Paul’s Jerusalem
-Ascension Antioch first missionary
-Descent of the Holy Spirit journey
on Feast of Pentecost
Outline of Acts of Apostles Part I
- The Prologue and Preparation for the Mission of the Church (Acts 1:1-2:13)
- Promise to send the Holy Spirit
- Ascension of the Christ
- Prayer and action
- The Community in prayer waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit
- Peter directs the appointment of Matthias
- Descent at of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
Chapter 1: The Preparation for the Church’s Mission
Acts 1:1-5 ~ The Prologue
1 In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught 2 until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the Apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; 5 for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
In the introductory prologue, St. Luke connects Acts of Apostles with his Gospel account of Jesus’ life and ministry until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the “Apostles whom he had chosen (Lk 24:44-53).
Question: Who is Theophilus to whom Luke’s second volume is dedicated? See Lk 1:1-4.
Answer: He is the same man to whom he dedicated his Gospel.
Theophilus, a name meaning “God-lover/ lover of God,” is an unknown early Christian who may have provided the funds for the handwritten copies of this work, as he may have done for Luke’s Gospel (Lk 1:3). In St. Luke’s Gospel dedication, we learned that the contents of the work were meant to support the catechesis that Theophilus had received Just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us (Lk 1:2), so Theophilus may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received (Lk 1:4).
In Acts 1:2 Luke sees all of Jesus’ ministry as directed by the Holy Spirit, including the instructions to the Apostles (as he also expressed in his Gospel in Lk 4:1, 14, 18, 36; 10:21). This is the first mention of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the Church. We are reminded that is it by the Holy Spirit that Jesus commissioned the Apostles after His Resurrection (Jn 20:23-24).
Acts 1:3 He presented himself alive to them by many proofs [tekmerion] after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
The Greek word tekmerion suggests convincing signs or evidence of His resurrection (see the same Greek word in Wis 5:11 and 19:13). Included in these “signs” would be touching Jesus’ wounds (Jn 20:27), eating meals with His disciples (Lk 24:42-43; Jn 21:12-14), and appearing and disappearing without physically passing through doors (Jn 20:19).
Question: Jesus taught His Gospel of salvation and the coming of the Kingdom for three years. For how many days after His Resurrection did He teach the Church
Answer: According to Acts 1:3, the resurrected Christ taught His Church for forty days between His Resurrection and His Ascension.
Question: Forty is a significant number in salvation history. How many other significant “forty” time periods do you recall in Scripture?
Answer: To name only a few:
- There were forty day periods of rain in the Great Flood (Gen 7:4, 12, 17; 8:6)
- Forty years Israel ate manna (Ex 16:35; Dt 29:5)
- Moses spent two forty-day periods on Mt. Sinai (Ex 24:18 and 34:28)
- The Israelite spies spent forty days scouting Canaan (Num 13:25)
- The children of Israel spent forty years in the wilderness (Num 14:34; Dt 1:3)
- Jesus was in the wilderness forty days after His baptism being tested by Satan (Lk 4:1-2); to name a few.
In the significance of numbers in Scripture, forty is a number symbolizing both testing and consecration. See the document “The Significance of Numbers in Scripture.”
Question: To how many men and women did Jesus appear during this time? See Lk 24:13-15, 33-49; Jn 20:11-23, 26-27; 1 Cor 15:3-7.
Answer: He appeared to Mary Magdala, to the eleven Apostles and to the men and women disciples who were with them. He appeared privately to Peter and His kinsman James and to over 500 people at one time.
Question: What did Jesus do during those forty days between His Resurrection and Ascension?
Answer: He spent the time teaching the Church by speaking about the kingdom of God.
In the Gospels Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God. St. Luke mentions the “Kingdom” over 30 times in his Gospel. In Acts the Church takes up the message of the proclaiming the “Kingdom” (Acts 1:3, 6; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31).
Acts 1:4-5 While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; 5 for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
To remain in the city of Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit is the same command Jesus gave the disciples in Luke 24:49. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was foretold by St. John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11 and is now promised by Jesus. The Apostles, obedient to Jesus command to baptize (Mt 28:19) and His teaching that one cannot enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit (Jn 3:5), will use water baptism and a sacramental sign of spiritual re-birth and initiation into the Kingdom (Acts 2:41; 8:12, 38; 9:18, 10:48; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5).
Notice that in this passage the unique relationship of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit is revealed once again to us as in Jesus’ baptism (Mt 3:16-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22) and the Transfiguration (Mt 17:1-8; Mk 9:2-8; Lk 9:28-36). If Jesus had stayed on earth, His physical, human presence would have been limited by time and space which would have limited the spread of the Gospel. But after His Ascension to the Father, His spiritual presence could be everywhere through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus spoke about the coming of the Holy Spirit most clearly in His homily at the Last Supper, recorded by St. John in John chapters 14-17. The Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Comforter, will be sent so that Christ will dwell within the lives of His disciples through a spiritual baptism and to dwell within body of the Church in the Eucharist and to comfort to guide and to teach: But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you (Jn 16:7).
Acts 1:6-12 ~ The Ascension of Jesus
6 When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. 10 While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.
Acts 1:6-7 When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.
The Apostles and disciples may be expecting the Messianic Kingdom to be a political fulfillment like the Davidic Kingdom and liberation from their Roman oppressors. But what the disciples are asking might also concern what He prophesied concerning the completion of His mission in the “coming of the Son of Man.” His mission will not be completed until He returns in judgment. His discourse about His Second Advent and the Last Judgment is recorded in the Gospels (Mt 24:29-44; 25:31-46; Mk 13:24-37; Lk 21:25-28). Notice that Jesus does not rebuke them for their question which He has always done in the past when they are in error, and He gives them the same answer He gave in those Gospel discourses (see for example, Mt 24:3, 36, 42-44; Mk 13:32). That part of His mission is under the Father’s authority. St. Paul spoke of this unknown “hour” in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 ~ Concerning times and seasons, brothers, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.
Question: Why must they wait in Jerusalem and what marching orders for the spread of the Gospel did Jesus give His disciples in verse 8?
Answer: They must wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Then they will be empowered to spread the Gospel. They must start in Jerusalem, then go to the rest of Judea, north into Samaria and finally to the “ends of the earth.”
Acts 1:9 When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.
Question: What vision of the prophet Daniel in Daniel 7:13-14 do the disciples witness in Jesus’ Ascension?
Answer: They see what Daniel saw: the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven where He will go into the presence of the Father to be given power and authority over all nations.
Question: Look at a liturgical calendar of the Church and count the days from Feast of the Resurrection to the Feast of the Ascension. How does the Church count the forty days between Easter and the celebration of Christ’s Ascension?
Answer: The Church counts the days as the ancients counted without the concept of a zero-place value, beginning the first day of the count with Easter Sunday.
Acts 1:10-12 While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.
Travel on the Sabbath was restricted to not more than 3/4th of a mile or about 1000 meters. The Mt. of Olives was within this distance from Jerusalem. Two angels appeared and told the disciples that Jesus will return in the same way they saw Him leave. Then, obedient to Jesus’ instructions, they returned from the Mt. of Olives to Jerusalem.
Question: If Jesus will return in the same way that He left, to what physical site will He return?
Answer: He will return to the Mt. of Olives, east of the city of Jerusalem.
Zechariah 13:7-9 is a prophecy that is fulfilled in the death of Jesus. Zechariah writes about God’s Shepherd and the scattering of His disciples. The scattering of the Shepherd’s “sheep” in verse 7 is quoted in Matthew 26:31. Verses 8-9 are fulfilled in the destruction of Judea and Jerusalem in the Jewish Revolt of 66-70 AD and the enslavement of 3/4th of the Jewish population by the Romans. Chapter 14 describes the final fight for Jerusalem and the return of God to save His city. Read Zechariah 14:4-9 ~ 4 That day his feet shall rest upon the Mount of Olives, which is opposite Jerusalem to the east. The Mount of Olives shall be cleft in two from east to west by a very deep valley, and half of the mountain shall move to the north and half of it to the south. 5 And the valley of the LORD’s [YHWH’s] mountain shall be filled up when the valley of those two mountains reaches its edge; it shall be filled up as it was filled up by the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the LORD [YHWH], my God, shall come, and all his holy ones with him. 6 On that day there shall no longer be cold or frost. 7 There shall be one continuous day, known to the LORD [YHWH], not day and night, for in the evening time there shall be light. 8 On that day, living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea, and half to the western sea, and it shall be so in summer and in winter. 9 The LORD [YHWH] shall become king over the whole earth; on that day the LORD [YHWH] shall be the only one, and his name the only one (Zech 14:4-9).
Question: How is the description of the return of the LORD similar what the angels told the disciples in Acts 1:11 and the description of the new heaven and new earth at the end of time in Revelation 21:1-22:5?
Answer: The angels told the disciples that God the Son will return to the Mt. of Olives in His Second Advent. It is a return that is prophesied in Zechariah 14:4. In St. John’s vision of the end of the Age of Man and the return of Christ, the prophecy in Zechariah chapter 14:4-9 will be fulfilled in Revelation 21:1-22:5:
| The Return of the Divine King
That day his feet shall rest on the Mount of Olives, which is opposite Jerusalem to the east.
They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem …
|Zechariah 14:4-9||Revelation 21:1-22:5|
|14:6-7 On that day there shall no longer be cold or frost. 7 There shall be one continuous day, known to the LORD [YHWH], not day and night, for in the evening time there shall be light.||21:22 The city [Jerusalem] had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb.
22:5 Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever.
|14:8 On that day, living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea, and half to the western sea, and it shall be so in summer and in winter.||22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the lamb down the middle of its street.|
|14:9 The LORD [YHWH] shall become king over the whole earth; on that day the LORD [YHWH] shall be the only one, and his name the only one.||22:3b The throne of God and the lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.|
Question: In the creation of the new heavens and earth at the end of time there will be no seasons. In what other time in salvation history were there no seasons? See Gen 8:18-22.
Answer: In the Creation/pre-flood era there was no seasons “it was always spring/summer.
Prayer and Action within the Jerusalem Community
Acts 1:13-14 ~ Prayer within the Jerusalem Community
13 When they entered the city they went to the Upper Room where they were staying, Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 All these devoted themselves with one accord [homothumadon] to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
The Apostles and the men and women disciples, in the presence of the Virgin Mary, will remain in prayer as the first Christian community. Notice that Jesus’ “brothers,” meaning His kinsmen, have also taken their place within the community of believers.
The Upper Room where they were staying was probably the same Upper Room where they celebrated the Last Supper (Mk 14:15; Lk 22:12). It will become the regular meeting place for the Jerusalem church (Acts 1:13; 12:12) and was probably in the home of Jesus’ disciple, Mary of Jerusalem, the kinswoman of His disciple Barnabas and the mother of John Mark, the writer of the Gospel of Mark (Acts 12:12; Col 4:10).
Verse 13 is Luke’s second apostolic list and the fourth in Scripture (see Mt 10:2-4; Mk 3:16-19; Lk 6:13-14). As in all the lists, Peter is named first as befits his role as the chosen leader of the Apostolic College. Verse 14 records that they devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, using the Greek word homothumadon, which is perhaps better translated “united,” emphasizing the spiritual unity of the community.
Question: Who are the “some women” who are in prayer with the community? See Lk 8:1-3; 23:49; 23:54-56; 24:1-10, 22.
Answer: The women are probably the seven women disciples, who with the Virgin Mary, accompanied Jesus to Jerusalem from the Galilee: Mary Magdala, Mary of Cleopas, Joanna, probably Susannah, Mary and Martha of Bethany, and Salome the mother of the Apostles James and John.
It is significant that St. Luke includes that the first Christian community is praying in the midst of the Virgin Mary, waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit. For Luke, this is the first mention of Mary by name since the infancy narrative (see Lk 1:27, 30, 34, 38, 39, 41, 46, 56; 2:5, 16, 19, 34). St. Luke uses her name more than any other Gospel writer (see Mt 1:16, 18, 20; 2:11; 13:55; Mk 6:3).
Question: Why is it fitting that the Apostles and disciples of Jesus should be praying, gathered around the Virgin Mary, at this time as they await the coming of the Holy Spirit? See Lk 1:35.
Answer: It is fitting that the disciples of Jesus Christ should be praying with the Virgin Mary awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit since the Holy Spirit’s first appearance on this critical stage of salvation history was at the Incarnation as the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin which led to the birth of Jesus. So too is she present now at what will be the Spirit’s activity in the birth of the Church.
With the disciples and Mary are Jesus’ “brothers,” which refers to His kinsmen.
Cleophas, the Emmaus disciple who had the encounter with Christ in Luke 24:13-35, should probably be included among those kinsmen who were praying. According to early Church historian, Hegesippus (early to mid-2nd century AD), he was the brother/brother-in-law of St. Joseph and the father of Simon/Simeon (Church History, Book IV, chapter 22). Jesus’ kinsmen James and Simeon will become the first two Christian Bishops of Jerusalem, and men both will be martyred for their faith in Christ Jesus.(2) Jesus privately visited James after His resurrection (1 Cor 15:7). Paul met with Peter and James on his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion (Gal 1:18-19). Paul identified James as one of the “pillars” of the Church along with Peter and John (Gal 2:9). James presided over the Council of Jerusalem with Peter in Acts 15. Paul visited with James on his last trip to Jerusalem and reported his success with the Gentiles in Acts 21:18. Clement of Alexandria called him “James the Just” because of his piety. James wrote the New Testament Letter of James and his kinsman Jude who is probably also present (Jude verse 1) is credited by most Church Fathers and Bible scholars with writing the Letter of Jude .
Acts 1:15-26 ~ Action within the Jerusalem Community: Choosing Judas’ Successor
15 During those days Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers (there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons in the one place). 16 He said, “My brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand through the mouth of David, concerning Judas, who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was numbered among us and was allotted a share in this ministry. 18 He bought a parcel of land with the wages of his iniquity, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle, and all his insides spilled out. 19 This became known to everyone who lived in Jerusalem, so that the parcel of land was called in their language Akeldama,’ that is, field of Blood. 20 For it is written in the Book of Psalms: Let his encampment become desolate, and may no one dwell in it.’ And: May another take his office.’ 21 Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this apostolic ministry from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.” 26 Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven Apostles.
It is clear that Peter is leading the community and making the decisions. It cannot be supported that any other Apostle was Jesus’ designated successor as the leader of the Church:
- Peter is named first in every list of the Apostles (Mt 10:2-4; Mk 3:16-19; Lk 6:13-14; Acts 1:13).
- He is the only Apostle given a title = Kepha, meaning “Rock,” which is translated into Greek as “Petros” and into English as “Peter.”
- He is given the “keys of the kingdom” and the power to “bind and loose” by Jesus (Mt 16:18-19).
- Jesus tells Peter it is his responsibility to “strengthen your brothers” (the other Apostles and disciples) after they are all tested during Jesus’ Passion (Lk 22:32).
- Jesus commands Peter to feed the “lambs” and to both tend and feed the “sheep,” meaning to guide and teach the community of believers and to lead and teach the other ministers of the Church (Jn 21:15-17).
- Peter is shown as the leader of the Apostles: in the selection of Judas’ replacement (Acts 1:15-25); in speaking to the crowds after the miracle at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-40); in leading the witness for Christ at the Jerusalem Temple (Acts 3:1-7, 12-26); in addressing the Sanhedrin when the Apostles were arrested (Acts 4:8-12); in judging sin within the community (Acts 5:3-11); in miraculous healings like Jesus (Acts 5:15-16); in the decision to extend the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10:34-48); in opening the Council of Jerusalem (15:6-12); and in many other acts including the deference by the other Apostles (see for example Jn 20:4-7).
- Peter is most frequently named Apostle: he is named by his title “Kepha/Petros” 94 times in the Gospels and 160 times total in the Gospels and Epistles. The next most frequently named Apostle is John who is named 30 times in the Gospels and Epistles.
… there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons in the one place. That the Christian community was composed of 120 people is significant. Mishnah: Sanhedrin 1.6 records the necessity of a minimum of 120 people to form a legitimate Synagogue. In other words, according to Jewish custom they were a legal community.
Acts 1:16 He said, “My brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand through the mouth of David, concerning Judas, who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus.
That the Scripture had to be fulfilled is Luke’s testimony that divine will is at work in these events. David was considered to be a prophet and in Luke’s Gospel Jesus refers to David’s prophecy of the Messiah in Psalms 110:1. Also see other references to the prophetic character of the Psalms in the Gospel of Luke and Acts (Lk 20:41-44; 24:44; Acts 1:20; 2:29-30; 13:33; 28:25 and also see Rom 1:2). The Psalms, like all Scripture is understood to be prophetic and therefore can be ascribed to the Holy Spirit. The reference is probably to Psalms 41:10 in the Greek Septuagint: Even the friend who had my trust, who shared my table, has scorned me (in some translations it is 41:9).
Acts 1:17 He was numbered among us and was allotted a share in this ministry.
That Judas was “numbered” or “counted” among the Twelve recalls Luke 22:3 ~ Then Satan entered into Judas, the one surnamed Iscariot, who was counted among the Twelve …
That Judas was allotted a share in this ministry, reminds us of the share of the Twelve tribes of Israel in their inheritance in the Promised Land and the share or portion of the priestly ministers which was God (Num 18:21-26). The portioning out of the land of Israel to the tribes was determined by lot as was the priestly towns (Num 16:14; 26:55; 33:53) and the assignments for the priests in the daily worship services (Lk 1:9; Mishnah: Tamid, 3:1; 5:2).
Acts 1:18-19 He bought a parcel of land with the wages of his iniquity, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle, and all his insides spilled out. 19 This became known to everyone who lived in Jerusalem, so that the parcel of land was called in their language Akeldama,’ that is, field of Blood.
Judas has gained property and lost his apostolic office as well as his place in the Kingdom, while the Apostles, in contrast, have given up everything to follow Christ (Lk 18:28) as will the Jerusalem community who willingly sell their property and turn the money over to the local faith community for the sake of the Kingdom (Acts 2:41-47; 4:32-37).
Question: In verses 18-19 Luke recounts Judas’ end. What additional information is found in Matthew 27:5-10?
Answer: Matthew includes that Judas hanged himself after throwing down the money the chief priests had paid him to betray Jesus in the Temple. It was the priests who used his blood money to purchase a parcel of land in his name for the burial of foreigners.
There is no conflict in the two accounts. According to tradition, Judas hanged himself from the tower of the Temple and when his body began to decompose it fell from the noose and burst apart on the rocks below the Temple’s retaining wall on the land that became Judas’ “inheritance” “”the field of blood.” The “blood” in the name of the field refers to Judas’ blood.
That Judas is described as becoming a dishonored corpse may a reference to Wisdom 4:19 in which the wicked, who bring about the death of the righteous …shall afterward become dishonored corpses and an unceasing mockery among the dead.
Acts 1:20 For it is written in the Book of Psalms: Let his encampment [camp] become desolate, and may no one dwell in it.’ And: May another take his office.’ These passages are from the Psalms of David but Luke has altered the first quotation to be in the singular instead of in the plural to better fit Judas (“Let his camp” instead of “Make/let their camp”). See the more complete passages below (Acts quote is underlined):
- Make their camp desolate, with none to dwell in their tents. For they pursued the one you struck, added to the pain of the one you wounded. Add that to their crimes; let them not attain to your reward. Strike them from the book of the living; do not count them among the just! (Ps 69:26-29/25-28; virtually the same as in LXX)
- Set a sinner against him, and let the devil stand at his right hand. When he is judged, let him go forth condemned; and let his prayer become sin. Let his days be few: and let another take his office of overseer (Ps 109:6-8 LXX).
It is only ten days or less until Pentecost. Peter seems to have an urgent desire to replace Judas before the coming of the Holy Spirit to return the number of Apostles to twelve.
Question: What does Peter’s decision to replace Judas signify, and why might he feel the necessity of doing so before the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the redeemed Kingdom of the new Israel? How was the number twelve symbolically significance for the old Israel?
Answer: His decision signifies that he understood the symbolic significance of the leadership of the Twelve among the disciples and for the redeemed Israel of the New Covenant Church. He understood that the Church was a reconstituted Israel and just as the kingdom of Israel was “fathered” by twelve tribes in the Theophany at Sinai, so should be Church of the newly redeemed Israel have a full apostolic council of Twelve spiritual fathers when God comes again to dwell among His covenant people (see Lk 22:30).
In the significance of numbers in Scripture, twelve is the number of “divine perfection in government.” The significance of the number twelve has been related to the restoration of the new/redeemed Israel from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in His selection of the Twelve Apostles. Jesus also linked the twelve tribes physically fathered by twelve men to His Apostles and the importance of the number twelve in Luke 9:17 and 22:30. The symbolic integrity of the group was shattered by Judas defection. Judas not only sinned against Jesus but also against his apostolic office. That office must be filled before the coming of the Holy Spirit in order for the Twelve of the new Israel to be present at the birth of the Kingdom of the Church just as the twelve tribes of Israel were present at the birth of the Kingdom of Israel at Sinai. After the coming of the Holy Spirit, it will no longer be necessary to symbolically maintain the number twelve. The apostolic office of the Magisterium will grow with the growth of the Church.
Question: What qualification did Peter place upon the one who would take Judas’ place? See verses 21-22.
Answer: The candidate had to have been a witness to the full extent of Jesus’ ministry from the time of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ baptism by St. John the Baptist and continuing to Jesus’ resurrection appearance to the Apostles and disciples and His Ascension.
Question: The two candidates who were proposed and accepted by Peter were the disciples Joseph/Justus Barsabbas and Matthias. How did they determine which candidate the Holy Spirit selected for the office and why? See Ex 33:7; Lev 16:8; Num 26:55; 33:54; 1 Sam 14:41; Josh 19:1-14; Mic 2:5; Jonah 1:7-8 and Lk 1:9.
Answer: Since the Holy Spirit has not yet come to the Church, they used the Old Covenant method of determining God’s will through the drawing of lots. Matthias is selected.
Casting lots was a way of determining the will of God prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit. After the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, all such decisions will be determined by prayer and discerning the will of the Holy Spirit for the Church locally and universally. Matthias is not mentioned again in the New Testament. There is a Judas Barsabbas who Luke names as a leader in the Church in Jerusalem: Then the Apostles and presbyters, in agreement with the whole Church, decided to choose representatives and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. The ones chosen were Judas, who was called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers (Acts 15:22).
Chapter 2:1-13 The Coming of the Holy Spirit
Three times a year, then, every male among you shall appear before the LORD, your God, in the place which he chooses: at the feast of Unleavened Bread, at the feast of Weeks [Pentecost], and at the feast of Booths.
He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages.
Luke 2:1-13 ~ The Holy Spirit Gives Birth to the Church at Pentecost
1 When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. 2 And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. 3 Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. 6 At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?” 8 Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? 9 We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, 11 both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” 12 They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others said, scoffing, “they have had too much new wine.”
The annual Feast of Weeks was known by its Greek name, “Pentekoste hermea” (fiftieth day), in Jesus’ time (this Greek designation for the Feast of Weeks also occurs in Tobit 2:1 and 2 Mac 12:32 both written in Greek. It was one of the three “pilgrim feasts” where every adult male of the covenant was required to present himself before God’s holy altar in Jerusalem (Ex 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Dt 16:16; 2 Chr 8:13). The covenant legislation for this annual pilgrim feast is found several times in the Torah of Moses (see Ex 23:16; 34:12; Lev 23:15-21; Num 28:26-31 and Dt 16:9-12). On St. Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem, he was eager to be in the holy city to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost with the Jerusalem community (Acts 20:16).
Each of the seven annual feasts celebrated the liberation of the Exodus and the creation of the free covenant people of the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai. Pentecost was the second harvest festival. The first was the Feast of Firstfruits and the offering of the first of the barley harvest that celebrated the Israelites as the “Firstfruits” of God’s covenant people in the Promised Land. The Feast of Weeks/Pentecost was the offering of the first of the wheat harvest. The Feast of Weeks/Pentecost celebrated the Theophany of God at Mt. Sinai when God made a covenant with the children of Israel. The focus of the feast is confirmed in the 2nd century BC Book of Jubilees, which identifies the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost as a covenant renewal feast (Jubilees 6:17-21) and the Babylonian Talmud (c. 250 AD) identifies the feast with the “day the Torah was given” to Israel (Babylonian Talmud: Pes., 68b)
Question: According to Leviticus 23:15-16, how was the day of the celebration of the Feast of Weeks, called “Pentecost” in Jesus’ time (meaning 50th day), determined? Of the seven annual God ordained feasts, only the feasts of Fristfruits and Weeks/Pentecost were not given specific dates in Leviticus chapter 23. The Feast of Firstfruits was to be celebrated on the day after the Sabbath of the holy week of the Feast of Unleavened Bread “always to fall on the first day of the week (Sunday).
Answer: Seven full weeks were to be counted from Firstfruits and on the fiftieth day was the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost, as the ancients counted with no zero-place value. Therefore, the Feast of Pentecost also fell on the first day of the week, a Sunday.
Later the Pharisees altered the day of Firstfruits to the specific date of Nisan the 16th and therefore also altered the day Pentecost fifty days later so the two feasts no longer always fell on the first day of the week (Sunday) and could not be associated with the Resurrection of Jesus or the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Christians on Sunday of Pentecost. Flavius Josephus noted this change when he wrote: … for the festival, which we call Pentecost, did then fall out to be the next day to the Sabbath … (Antiquities of the Jews, 13.8.4 ).(3)
Question: For how many days since the Ascension had the 120 members of the Church been in prayer together? How many days was it since the Resurrection of Jesus?
Answer: They prayed for nine days and on the tenth day it was the Feast of Pentecost; it was fifty days since Jesus’ Resurrection.
Acts 2:2 And suddenly there came from the sky a noise [sound] like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Notice that it is the sound that fills the house not the wind. The sound was “like” the sound of a driving wind. This description of the loudness of the sound recalls the Theophany at Mt. Sinai: On the morning of the third day there were peals of thunder and lightning and a heavy cloud over the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that the people in the camp trembled (Ex 19:16-19). The comparison between the sound and a driving wind also recalls the Creation event when a great “wind” hovered over the waters of Creation (Gen 1:1-2).
Acts 2:3 Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. In this event the prophecy of St. John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11 is fulfilled: I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. The event also is the fulfillment of the prophecy by the 6th century BC prophet Ezekiel: I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statues, careful to observe my decrees (Ez 36:26-27). And it is the fulfillment of the promise Jesus made to Nicodemus: Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, You must be born from above’ (Jn 3:5-7).
Fire is a repeated symbol of Theophany in Scripture. For example:
- Abraham’s experience of God in the burning torch of covenant formation (Gen 15:17).
- Moses’ experience of God with the burning bush (Ex 3:2-4).
- Israel’s experience of God in the pillar of fire (Ex 13:21-22).
- God’s fiery presence on Mt. Sinai (Ex 19:18; 24:17; Dt 4:12).
Acts 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. The Holy Spirit manifests Himself by indwelling each member of the assembled community in the Upper Room and giving them the gift of speech to preach the Gospel message of salvation (also see Mk 16:17; Acts 10:45; 19:6; 1 Cor chapters 12-14).
Acts 2:5-11 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. 6 At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?” 8 Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? 9 We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, 11 both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”
Question: Why were there devout Jews from across the Roman Empire and Gentile converts in Jerusalem at this time?
Answer: Pentecost was a pilgrim feast and only devout Jews from across the empire would make the difficult journey.
Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD) testifies that large crowds of Jews from across the Roman world came to Jerusalem at Pentecost (Antiquities of the Jews, 14.13.4 [337-8]; 17.10.2 ; Jewish Wars, 1.13.3 ; 2.3.1 [42-43]). The Jews from these different provinces and cites represent the Gentile lands into which the lost 10 tribes of Israel were dispersed by the Assyrians in the 8th century BC, those Jews who did not return to Judah at the end of the Babylonian exile, and Jews living in other lands all governed by Rome. These “sheep” of God’s flock that were “lost” will be gathered together in the New Covenant of the Good Shepherd as prophesied by the prophet Ezekiel: For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered … I will make a covenant of peace with them … (Ez 34:11-25).
Question: What time of the morning is it that the miracle occurred and how might that time account for the large crowds of people in the street? Hint: What time did the morning liturgical worship service begin at the Temple? See Acts 2:15 and Luke Lesson 16 handout 2.
Answer: It was the third hour Jewish time, which is 9 AM our time. It was the time when the gates of the Temple opened for the holy day morning prayer service and the sacrifices of the feast day of Pentecost. Large groups of people would have been on their way to the Temple.
The people recognized that the men were Galileans who were proclaiming Jesus the Messiah. Perhaps they were recognized by their clothes or their accents. The crowds were amazed that they heard the one language of the Gospel message preached in each of their own dialects by the Galilean Christians.
Acts 2:12-13 They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others said, scoffing, “they have had too much new wine.”
The Apostles and disciples poured forth from the Upper Room into the street proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. They were filled with such joy and ecstasy by being filled with the Holy Spirit some of the crowd thought they were filled with “new wine.” It is in some ways an observation that has prophetic overtones. In the symbolic images of the Old Testament prophets, drinking new wine” is the symbol of rejoicing in fellowship and covenant union with the Lord God (see Is 25:6-8; 62:8-9; 65:13; Jer 31:12; 40:12 and Jesus’ gift of the wine of the new covenant in His blood in Mt 26:27; Mk 14:24 and Lk 22:19-20). Looking forward to the promised spiritual restoration of the exiles who returned to Judah after the exile, the late 6th century BC prophet Zechariah wrote: The LORD shall appear over them, and his arrow shall shoot forth as lightening. The LORD God shall sound the trumpet, and come in a storm from the south … They shall drink blood like wine*, till they are filled with it like libation bowls, like the corners of the altar. And the LORD, their God, shall save them on that day, his people, like a flock. For they are the jewels in a crown raised aloft over his land (Zech 9:14-16). *Verse 15 is difficult to translate and can also be read “they will drink blood like wine and make a noise,” meaning as though under the influence of wine (see NJB note “n” page 1585), which is what some in the crowd suggest concerning the disciples. See the document “The Symbolic Images of the Old Testament Prophets.”
Question: On the day of the second great Pentecost (the first great Pentecost was the Theophany of God at Mt. Sinai and God’s covenant formation with Israel), how did God reverse the sin that caused the scattering of the family of man across the face of the earth in the event of the Tower of Babel? Compare Acts chapter 2 to Genesis chapter 11.
|Tower of Babel||2nd Great Pentecost|
|Language is used to promote a human agenda (Gen 11:3-4).||Language is used to announce the mighty works of God (Acts 2:14-41).|
|God causes the confusion of tongues into many different languages (Gen 11:7).||God causes many different languages to be understood in one Gospel message (Acts 2:5-11).|
|The result is disunity (Gen 11:6-7).||The result is unity (Acts 2:41).|
|At the Tower of Babel God scattered the human family across the face of the earth in judgment (Gen 11:9).||Pentecost is the beginning of the reunification of the family of mankind as God sends men and women to gather into the New Covenant Church of Jesus Christ a redeemed people from across the face of the earth (Acts 1:8; 2:37-41).|
|Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013|
How were the Old Covenant annual feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits and Pentecost fulfilled by Jesus and the birth of the New Covenant Kingdom of the Church? The first three feasts came within an 8-day period with Passover on the 14th of Nisan, Unleavened Bread from the 15th to the 21st and Firstfruits on the day after the Sabbath of the holy week of Unleavened Bread (Lev 23:4-14). Weeks/Pentecost is then celebrated 50 days from Firstfruits (Lev 23:15-16). See handout #4.
The crucifixion and death, in the Resurrection, and in the descent of the Holy Spirit God fulfilled four Old Covenant sacred annual feasts:
- Passover -Prefigured Christ as mankind’s Passover sacrifice.
- Unleavened Bread -New Covenant sacrifice of the Last Supper and the crucifixion of
- Firstfruits -Resurrection of Jesus Christ on the day after the Old Covenant
- Weeks/Pentecost -Descent of God the Holy Spirit and the birth of Christ’s Kingdom of the New Covenant Church.
The miracle of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost in 30 AD is the beginning of the Age of the New Covenant Kingdom of the Church, the Final Age of man, and the great harvest of souls into God’s heavenly storehouse. In the liturgical calendar of the Old Covenant annual feasts, the break between the first four annual feasts and the last three annual feasts is the long summer harvest. The “long harvest” is the present season in salvation history. This great harvest will continue until the Son of God returns to claim His Church and brings an end to time as we know it. It is at that time that the last three of the seven annual Jewish feasts will be fulfilled.
Next week: St. Peter’s Holy Spirit inspired homily on the New Covenant Feast of Pentecost!
Questions for reflection or group discussion:
Question: If the first four sacred annual Old Covenant feasts were fulfilled in Jesus’ first Advent, what about the remaining three feasts? The Feast of Trumpets was the beginning of a new year and was celebrated by the blowing of trumpets. The feast signified the gathering of God’s people to prepare for the Day of Atonement. The Feast/Day of Atonement came ten days later and was a solemn assembly for accountability to God in the repentance of sins and the promise of forgiveness. The Feast of Tabernacles was the final harvest celebration (fruit harvest) and a memorial of the Tabernacle in the wilderness when God first dwelled among His people. In what way might the last three Old Covenant annual feasts be fulfilled in the Second Advent of Christ? See 1 Thes 4:16; Rev 20:11-12 and 21:1-22 and match those passages to the possible fulfillment of the three remaining feasts.
- The Feast of Trumpets: For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven … (1 Thes 4:16).
- The Feast of Atonement: Next I saw a large white throne and the one who was sitting on it. The earth and the sky fled from his presence and there was no place for them. I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the Book of Life. The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls (Rev 20:11-12).
- The Feast of Tabernacles (Booths): Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth … I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race … I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb (Rev 21:1-22).
Question: Most movements don’t survive beyond the lives of their founders unless the movement is supported by an army and an established political power base. Christianity had neither. Why then, did Christianity survive after the Ascension of Jesus and after the death of the eyewitnesses to His Resurrection to cover the entire earth? What does Christianity offer that no political system or other religious system or philosophy can offer?
1. Some scholars have suggested that Luke discovered this information from another source, but this is highly unlikely. First, ancient writers included historical details if those details were part of their immediate sources, but research in the modern sense was not practiced. Second, there were very few records for a writer to consult even if he was interested in doing so. Most of the provinces of the Roman Empire did not maintain permanent archives. Pliny the Younger, the Roman governor of Bithynia at the beginning of the second century AD, states in a letter that there existed no record of his predecessors in office, even though Bithynia had been a Roman province for a hundred years. Third, although Gallio’s proconsul term was undoubtedly recorded in the archives of the Roman Senate, ordinary citizens much less a non-Roman would not have had access to the Senate’s archive. Only a Roman of high rank had access to the official archives. After 64 AD, no Christian would have been allowed in those archives, even one of high rank, since by that time being a Christian was punishable by death as the deaths of many Christian martyrs attests. Fourth, another way that a later Christian writer could have discovered the date of Gallio’s proconsulship was if his name had been on a locally minted coin. However, the province of Greece never placed the names of its proconsuls on coins during this period, while local Corinthian coins contain only the names of city magistrates. Thus it is almost impossible that someone of a later generation could have discovered Gallio’s name and date in some historical source and used that information in writing the book of Acts. The reference to Gallio’s term as proconsul is either from Luke’s personal knowledge of those events, or it is from his immediate eyewitness sources. The same can be said about almost every other social and political fact that is found in the book of Acts. If a particular fact belongs to the middle of the first century, this is the same as saying that the writer of Acts, or his immediate sources, had personal knowledge of that fact.
2. Flavius Josephus records the martyrdom Jesus’ kinsman St. James (first Christian Bishop of Jerusalem, martyred 62 AD) as the work of the High Priest Annas, son of Annas and brother-in-law of Joseph Caiaphas who brought about Jesus’ crucifixion (see Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1  and Eusebius, Church History, 2.23). Jesus’ kinsman St. Simeon/Simon succeeded St. James as Bishop of Jerusalem and was crucified in c. 107 AD by order of the Emperor Trajan and was carried out by Proconsul Tiberius Claudius (Eusebius, Church History, III.33.22).
3. The Samaritans and the Jewish sect of the Karaites reject Nisan the 16th as the feast day for Firstfruits. They claim that the divine instructions in Leviticus are clear in the command that the Feast of Firstfruits was always to celebrated within the seven-day feast of Unleavened Bread on the first day of the week, the day after Shabbat HaGadol (the Great Sabbath) of the holy week of Unleavened Bread. It is their belief that the Pharisees changed the date of Firstfruits and the observance of Shabbat HaGadol (also mentioned in the Gospel of John 19:31). The Karaites and Samaritans are the only Jews who continue to observe Firstfruits as a feast within the seven day celebration of Unleavened Bread.