Matthias: The twelfth apostle (Acts 1:15-26)

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Luke begins his narrative in Acts by describing the days and weeks after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus spent 40 days with His followers (v3) and during that time taught them about the kingdom of God. He gave them a few instructions, foremost of which was that they were not to leave Jerusalem but instead to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them (vv4-8). He then ascended into heaven and His disciples returned to Jerusalem to wait (v12).

The remaining 11 apostles were staying in ‘the upper room’ (v13) – presumably the one that had been in use since the events of the Last Supper (see Luke 22:10-13)[1] – and during this time they formed a special bond. Luke describes them as being totally united and ‘continually devoted to prayer’ (v14). They formed a tight-knit group which also included the women who had been travelling with them during Jesus’ earthly ministry and Jesus’ mother and brothers. It is during this time of deepening unity and prayer that some key decisions were taken by the infant church. The first decision was the one to obey Jesus’ instruction and wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit was given. The second one was what they should do about ‘the Judas situation’ which they answered by appointing another man to take the place of Judas. We may think that these were interesting shoes to fill, but in the immediate aftermath of the horrors of crucifixion it seemed right to them to restore the number of apostles to the significant 12 that Jesus had originally appointed. However, not anyone would do just to ‘make up the numbers’. The man in question needed to have certain characteristics.

1. Perseverance

The first qualification is that he must be one of ‘the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us – beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us’ (vv21,22). He must have been present throughout Jesus’ ministry.

This was a new movement and the people who were to ensure that the church actually got off the ground needed to be people who had seen the whole story unfold. They needed to have been part of what was going on when Jesus was conducting His earthly ministry. They needed to be people who could answer the cynics who questioned who Jesus really was. They needed to be people who could accurately report what Jesus had taught so that they could combat any dubious perversions of His teaching. They needed to be people who had been commissioned by Jesus to go out preaching the message of the kingdom and healing the sick (Luke 10:2ff). This was an issue of credibility and was important since the new church was being established in an atmosphere of hostility. The individual who was chosen therefore needed to have proven that they had perseverance and not left Jesus when the teaching became difficult (see John 6:66,67) or when opposition from the authorities had come.

2. Witness of the resurrection

The second qualification is laid out in verse 22: ‘He must become a witness with us of His resurrection.’ This is interesting phrasing as he would have been a witness of the resurrection having been with Jesus from baptism to ascension. I think the emphasis here is that he has to be prepared to become united with them in their witness. Given that the atmosphere of the church was one of unity and prayer the new person needed to commit to this and become a witness ‘with us’. There was no space here for a different agenda. This was a group of people that would be witnessing about the resurrection amidst opposition. The church would be staking its reputation on the resurrection of Jesus. This crucial doctrine was a foundational teaching and the new member of the Twelve needed to be prepared to witness to this.

3. Purity of heart

A shortlist of two men is drawn up. Both Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus) and Matthias are put forward as ideal candidates (v23). The final decision is committed to God in prayer (v24) before lots are drawn (v26). God is addressed as the One ‘who knows the hearts of all men’ or the ‘heart-knower’and He is asked to choose the man He wants. This, ultimately, is both the most important characteristic of the new apostle but also the one most hidden from us. Who can know the real motives of a man’s heart? Only God. He alone knows our hidden and deep motives. The fact that Matthias is selected speaks volumes of his character.

So Matthias, a man of exemplary character and a persevering witness of the resurrection is selected by lot and is ‘added to the eleven apostles’ (v26). Exciting times are ahead for all the apostles as the church is birthed at Pentecost and then established throughout the known world.

This is the first and the last we hear of Matthias.

 

In closing, just spare a thought for Joseph. He was the one who was not chosen. He, too, must have been with Jesus from the beginning to the end, been prepared to be a witness to the resurrection and have been of exemplary character to have even been considered. However, God did not choose him to ‘occupy this ministry and apostleship’. We can only speculate as to why God chose Matthias instead of Joseph. But how Joseph reacted to not being selected is as important as how Matthias reacted to being chosen.

Sometimes you will be selected for something and sometimes it will feel like you have been bypassed or overlooked. Know this with certainty – God never overlooks a person with a pure heart. In fact, that is the one thing He is looking for. The fact that He chose Matthias rather than Joseph for that particular ministry is up to God and He alone knows why. But have no doubt about the fact that God therefore had other things for Joseph to do. And he could best do them by not being one of the Twelve.

As I said, we can only speculate, but I wonder what happened to Joseph when persecution broke out against the church (Acts 8:1)? Since ‘all were scattered throughout the regions except the apostles’ was Joseph one of those who was forced to leave his home and city? Was he one of those who ‘went about preaching the word’ (8:4)? Did he, too, end up being a witness to the resurrection? I am sure God knew what He was doing when He selected His twelfth apostle!

[1] Note that the 12th apostle, Judas Iscariot, following his betrayal of Jesus had not been able to deal with his guilt and so committed suicide (as described in verses 16-19).

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