Acts 1:12–26

After the loss of Judas, the eleven Apostles looked out among the followers of Jesus for candidates to serve as the new twelfth Apostle. What qualifications were necessary to hold this office at the foundation of the New Testament church (Eph. 2:20)? In this sermon, R.C. Sproul teaches us the important differences between Apostles and disciples.


Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said, “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry.”

(Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out. And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.)

“For it is written in the Book of Psalms:

‘Let his dwelling place be desolate,
And let no one live in it’;


‘Let another take his office.’

“Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”

And they proposed two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.” And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:12–26)

Instructions to Wait

Last week, when we looked at the ascension, we remembered the mandate Christ gave to the disciples He left behind, when He instructed them to return to Jerusalem and wait. The waiting period lasted some ten days. I think it is significant that we have this little pericope that covers ten days where we get the brief description in Scripture of the behavior and the activity of the nascent church of Christ.

What were the disciples doing while they were waiting? In what way does that instruct us even now? Let us return then to the description: “They returned to Jerusalem from the Mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey.”

If you have ever been to Palestine, if you have been a visitor to Jerusalem and looked across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives, to get there requires a circuitous route of winding streets, the length of which is about a mile and a quarter. As the crow flies, you can throw a baseball it would seem from the top of the Mount of Olives over the wall of Jerusalem. It is that close.

I will never forget my first visit to the Mount of Olives. Vesta and I were staying at a hotel on the slope of the Mount of Olives overlooking the city at night. We were sitting on the porch, and suddenly we heard music coming from within the old city. A visiting choir was in town, and they were singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

We sat on the Mount of Olives and listened to the Hallelujah Chorus emanating from the old city of Jerusalem. It was a spectacular moment in our lives. I have that vision in my mind when I see the disciples returning to the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem to obey the instructions Jesus gave them to wait.

The Body of the Church

We read that when they entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying. Then the eleven Apostles left after the death of Judas are named in the text, and we are told, “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”

We see already two things about how the church behaved in its first week of existence. The first thing that characterized the church in the early days was obedience. They had instructions from the Lord, and though they did not want to wait—who of those who had witnessed Christ would not be eager to go out and spread the news everywhere?—they were biting at the bit, eager to go, nevertheless, they stayed where they were told to stay. They waited obediently.

Secondly, we are told that when the disciples came back to the upper room, they came as a group, as a body. No one has ever been saved by somebody else’s faith. You know we are all part of groups. We are parts of families, maybe a school class, a booster group for a football team, a community, a state, a nation. We have memberships in a host of corporate organizations. But in the final analysis, when we stand before God, we stand or fall based on our faith in Christ or the lack of it. In that sense, redemption is personal and individual. However, when Christ established His church, though He saved individuals one at a time, He placed each person He brought to Himself in a body, in a group, into His church.

I once heard the story of a minister who visited one of his parishioners who was derelict in his duty and responsibility of participating in the life of the church. He was one of those people who showed up on Easter and Christmas, and that was it—no more. The minister asked to him: “Why is it that you’re never in church? Why aren’t you involved in any of the programs of the church? I know you’re on our rolls. I remember the day you joined. You’ve been baptized. You’ve made a profession of faith. But you’re never around.”

The fellow answered: “I don’t need the church. My faith is private. My faith is personal. I don’t need the rituals and the trappings of religion. I can worship God on my own outside. To be spiritually healthy, I can get by just fine on my own.”

They were having a picnic while this conversation was going on. The minister walked over to a charcoal grill where there was a heap of white coals burning to prepare for cooking hamburgers. With the tongs, he took one of the coals off the pile and moved it out to the side, away from the center of the fire, and continued the conversation with his member.

After a few minutes, the minister came back and pointed to that coal. He said: “Ten minutes ago that coal was white hot, and now it’s cold. Once it was removed from the support system of the rest of those burning coals, it lost its heat. It lost its warmth. It lost its capacity to be productive in the purpose for which it was made.”

Gathered for Prayer

Beloved, we cannot stand alone. We need each other. We need the support of fellowship, the mutual encouragement, the strength, and the prayers of the community in which we are involved. I was excited this morning to watch forty-seven people become a part of this congregation. That tremendously strengthens who we are as a body. There are many more people to pray for each other, to encourage each other, and to be mutually supportive.

That is what happened in the early church. They went back to the upper room and 120 of them gathered there as a group, the very beginning of the church. What did they do? How did they spend their time? Rocking in a rocking chair, waiting for the power to be unleashed from heaven? No. Luke says that they “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication.” They gathered together for prayer.

When our Lord cleansed the temple from its commercialism, He reminded the people that His Father’s house was to be a house of prayer. So, the church in its first-century formation, in the beginning week of its existence, was found gathered in unity, praying.

Luke does not tell us what the disciples were praying about, but there was plenty to pray about. There was plenty of time to pray thanksgiving for what they had witnessed and experienced. There was still lots of room for confession in their prayer time, lots of time to pray for the burgeoning expansion of the church that was going to come soon. So, they stayed together, praying with one another.

Jesus’ Family Persuaded

We are told in passing that the Apostles were there along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. This is the last reference to Mary we have in the New Testament, but we see Mary as a member of the first church.

I cannot help but think of Mary’s Magnificat, where she says:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. (Luke 1:46–47)

Her Son was her Redeemer. She was not co-redemptrix with Him. She was there with the rest of the disciples as part of the gathered church, praying to her own Son.

Along with Mary the mother of Jesus were His uterine brothers. We know from other indications in the text that during the earthly ministry of Jesus, His earthly brothers were skeptics. They did not accept His Messianic claims. They were unbelievers. James, the brother of Jesus, who wrote the epistle of James, indicates that he was converted by His brother’s resurrection. So, even Jesus’ family members who had been skeptical were persuaded and converted by Christ’s resurrection.

Disciples and Apostles

As Luke continues, we read, “And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty).” In this text, we have a gathering of 120 disciples. Normally when we speak in Christian jargon, we talk about the twelve disciples, and we talk about the twelve Apostles, as if the term disciple meant the same thing as the term Apostle.

When we look at the gospel record, we realize that Jesus had many more disciples than the twelve. He had the seventy that He sent out on a mission on one occasion. Here Luke mentions 120. Paul talks about five hundred who were witnesses of His resurrection. The term disciple, mathētēs in Greek, simply means “student” or “learner.”

Jesus was a rabbi, going around the countryside, gathering students who followed Him and listened to His teaching and instruction. Anyone who did that was a disciple. They were following His discipline. But from this larger group of disciples, Jesus chose twelve who would be Apostles.

An apostle and a disciple are not the same thing. A disciple is a student. An apostle is an ambassador commissioned by a king or a ruler, who is given designated authority to speak in his name and with his power. In the ancient world, if a king sent an apostolos, one who was sent, as his emissary, the apostle’s word was the same as the word of the king. It carried the authority and the weight of the word of the king.

Before Jesus ascended, He took twelve men and commissioned them to be His emissaries, His ambassadors. He gave them the right to speak with His authority. That was why He said to them: “Those who receive you, receive Me. Those who do not receive you, do not receive Me.”

We sometimes encounter a twentieth-century myth where we hear people saying, “I read the New Testament, and Jesus I like, but Paul I can’t stomach.” What we read in the New Testament is not what Jesus wrote. Rather, it contains what was written about Him by His Apostles. If you reject the Apostolic witness, you reject the One who commissioned them as Apostles. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot have Christ and not have Paul, just as you cannot embrace Paul without embracing the One who has granted Him that authority.

An Apostle Lost

Returning to our text, we see a crisis in the early church, and 120 disciples gathered around for a specific purpose. They had lost one member of their group. There is a certain symmetry, a parallelism between the Old Testament twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles of the New Testament. One of the Apostles was lost because he was not a believer from the beginning. He was the one who betrayed Jesus, and he was now dead. We are talking about Judas Iscariot.

The reason the disciples had gathered at this time was by the instruction of God to select a new Apostle. What is important about this is not just its interest to us as history. There is a profound theological content involved in this narrative, something very important, because this narrative gives us the criteria for Apostleship.

There are people today, not even far from where I am speaking now, who claim for themselves nothing less than Apostolic authority. Beloved, there are no Apostles, in the biblical sense, today. No one would meet the criteria established here in the New Testament for Apostolic succession. Let us look at the requirements.

Luke records that Peter gave a speech. He said, “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David”—note that David was not writing on his own impulse but under the supervision of God the Holy Spirit—“which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David, concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus, for he was numbered with us and had obtained a part in this ministry.”

The text then says parenthetically, “Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.” I do not want to spend too much time on this because it is macabre. There is no doubt about it. The gory details of the end Judas’ life are not something you want to dream about tonight or talk about with any great detail with your children.

But I must mention these details in passing because there is a possible discrepancy between Luke’s account of the death of Judas and Matthew’s account. We are told elsewhere in the Gospels that after the betrayal, and after Judas received the thirty pieces of silver in exchange for delivering Jesus to the officials, he was stricken with remorse, went back and threw the coins back to the leaders, then went out and hanged himself.

The first apparent discrepancy is that Judas was buried in a field purchased by his money, which was the blood money that he got for betraying Jesus. The tradition is that after the authorities gave him the blood money and he threw it back at their feet, they used that money to purchase his burial plot in a place that they called the field of blood. So, it was his money that paid for the place where his body was disposed.

Matthew said he died by hanging himself. Luke gives us the gory details here of having his entrails bursting apart as he fell. The suggestion is that he hanged himself in a rather violent manner. As the result of that hanging, he fell headlong until his internal organs blew up, as it were. So, the text gives us a grim reminder of the end of the life of Judas.

Criteria for Apostleship

Peter now tells us what else the disciples were doing in those first ten days of waiting. They enjoyed each other’s fellowship. They came together in unity. They came together in obedience. They came together in prayer, and they came together to focus their attention on the teaching of the Scriptures. That was how the early church was born. The disciples were trying to understand all that had transpired before them, probably remembering the discussions Jesus had with those on the way to Emmaus when He began with Moses and went through the whole Old Testament, showing them how the things they had witnessed in Jerusalem had to happen. Those things had to come to pass because each one had been predicted in detail centuries before by the Old Testament prophets.

What did the disciples do after Jesus ascended? They ran back to the upper room. They got out their Old Testaments, and they searched through the Scriptures to see if there was anything about Judas. They went to the messianic psalms of David, and they read David’s prophetic writing about the one who would betray the Messiah and how that one would have to be replaced.

Following the instructions from the Old Testament, the disciples fulfilled the text and let another take Judas’ office. We read in verse 21, “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”

If you look carefully at the text, you will see that there are basically three criteria for Apostleship the church had before Pentecost. First, a candidate to be an Apostle had to be a member of Jesus’ band of disciples from the beginning, from the days of His baptism at the Jordan by John the Baptist. He had to have been with Jesus for those three years of Jesus’ public ministry to qualify for selection to the rank of Apostle.

Second, he had to have been an eyewitness of the resurrection. That is why none of us today could be Apostles. None of us were numbered among those who followed Jesus in the first century, and none of us were eyewitnesses of the resurrection.

The third criterion, which was far and away the most important, was that to be an Apostle, one had to be commissioned directly and immediately by Christ Himself. In the Old Testament, for one to be a prophet, he had to be called by God. That was why the prophets in antiquity, such as Amos, Jeremiah, and Isaiah would give in their books the information and circumstances of their call, where God directly and immediately set them apart to be prophets. But with Jesus ascended, how could He choose a new Apostle?

A New Apostle Chosen

In order to choose a new Apostle, according to the book of Acts, they employed the method of making nominations. They went through those in their body and selected two possible candidates, and then they threw the dice or tossed a coin. They chose lots over who would be selected. At first glance, it could seem like the early church originated the state lottery, but that is not what they were doing. They were following an ancient tradition from the Old Testament, which involved the use of the Urim and Thummim by the priests when they were not able to discern the will of God. They would prayerfully cast lots in this manner to allow the casting of the lot to be determined by the providence of God. Whomever the lot fell upon indicated that this was the one God chose, and the lot fell upon Matthias.

This text is the last we hear about Matthias in the rest of the Scripture. We get the record of his selection. The Twelve were now filled out. When James was martyred shortly after, he was not replaced.

Then we face the amazing history in the rest of the book of the Acts. The central figure in the book of Acts from an Apostolic perspective is not Matthias, but the Apostle Paul. One of the earliest controversies that faced that original Christian community was this: How can Paul be an Apostle?

Paul’s Apostleship

Paul was not a disciple from the days of the baptism of Jesus. He was not even an eyewitness of the resurrection. He saw the glorified vision of Christ on the road to Damascus, but that was after the ascension. So, as far as criterion number one, Paul misses it. As far as criterion number two, he misses that one as well. But about the third criterion? There is a reason why Paul’s call to be an Apostle is recited three times in the book of Acts, as we will look at when that occurs in the text, when Christ Himself directly and immediately called Paul to be an Apostle.

People might object and say today: “Paul got to be an Apostle without being part of the entourage of Jesus during His earthly ministry. Paul got to be an Apostle without being an eyewitness of the resurrection. Why can’t I? Why can’t Benny Hinn be an Apostle?”

People claim all the time that they have the credentials of an Apostle today because God called them, or God spoke to them and said, “You can be My Apostle to this generation.” But even when Paul did not have the first two criteria, he was instructed to go back to Jerusalem to be confirmed in that office by those about whom there was no doubt of the fullness of their credentials.

I can say I have a call to be an Apostle today, but there is nobody left to confirm me. That is why by the end of the first century, the sub-Apostolic fathers clearly understood the difference between their authority in the church and the authority of the original Apostles. After the last Apostle died, there were still teachers, ministers, preachers, and evangelists, but no more Apostles.

That drama will unfold further as we continue studying the rest of the book of Acts. But for now, for today, we get a little glimpse of the life of the church in its pristine purity: obedient, unified, praying, searching the Scriptures, submissive to Apostolic authority. That should be in front of us all the time as we seek to build Christ’s church.

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.