God’s Word for You
Acts 1:12-14 and also with his brothers
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, August 13, 2019
12 They returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.
We do not need to infer anything from this verse apart from the obedience of the apostles. Jesus told them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem, and this is what they did. The ascension was on the fortieth day after Easter, which would have been a Thursday, not a Sabbath day. The Sabbath day’s journey is just a reference to distance and not to the date.
How was a Sabbath day’s journey calculated? The Jews took two or three passages to assess how far they might be able to travel on a Sabbath day according to the Law of Moses. In Exodus 16:29, the Lord tells Moses, “Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” This command was given with regard to gathering manna during the Exodus. But clearly, this command cannot mean, “Don’t move at all.” People still had to walk around in their tents, and there might be the call of nature to contend with. So the Jews looked at another command from Moses: “Outside the town, measure three thousand feet on the east side, three thousand on the south side, three thousand on the west and three thousand on the north, with the town in the center. They will have this area as pastureland for the towns” (Numbers 35:5; cp. Joshua 3:4). Since a man might need to fetch his animals during the Sabbath or otherwise tend to them, this was considered to be the maximum distance one could walk on a Sabbath, or at least, the furthest radius one could walk, since a man would probably not be faulted for walking the entire perimeter of this area, which would be many miles. A Sabbath day’s walk was therefore about 3,000 feet or a thousand yards (3/4 mile). Old commentaries use the measurement “six furlongs,” which is accurate, but not many of us measure things by the furlong anymore.
Matthias Is Chosen
13 When they entered the city, they ascended to the upstairs room where they were staying: Peter and John, also James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. 14 They all devoted themselves to prayers with one mind, together with the women, with Mary the mother of Jesus, and also with his brothers.
Luke repeats the list of the Apostles here, omitting Judas Iscariot’s name. We have discussed these men adequately, I hope, in our devotions on the Gospel accounts: Matthew 10 (May 2003), John 1 (November 2009) and Luke 6 (December 2017).
The upstairs or upper room was perhaps the one owned by Mark’s mother (Acts 12:12). The other people in the list are not immediately surprising, meaning the women and his mother Mary (this is the last time she is mentioned in Scripture), but now for the first time, we have a mention of “his brothers” in a list of believers.
Since they are mentioned in context with Mary his mother, it is natural to take them as the physical brothers of Jesus, the sons of Mary and Joseph born later than Jesus (her firstborn, Luke 2:7). The burden of proof must fall on anyone who would contradict this clear and simple meaning of the passage. Their names are given in two orders: “James, Joseph, Simon and Judas” (Matthew 13:55) and “James, Joseph, Judas and Simon” (Mark 6:3). We take James (really “Jacob” Ἰάκωβος) and Judas to have been the James and Jude who wrote the New Testament epistles bearing those names, and James was also the chairman or president of the first Christian synod meeting (Acts 15:13-21). We are told that Jesus’ brothes did not believe in him before his death (John 7:5), but already now they were numbered with his followers. This was probably on account (partly or entirely) on the risen Lord’s appearance to James (1 Corinthians 15:7). They were joining themselves in fellowship and in prayer along with the apostles and the faithful women.
When we find that we believe the same things as other Christians, we say that we are in fellowship with them. Our language doesn’t need to be the same, and the way we put our faith into practice doesn’t need to be the same, but we understand and believe the same doctrines or teachings of the Bible in the same way. When this isn’t the case, we are told “to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teachings you have learned. Keep away from them” (Romans 16:17). Also, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work” (2 John 10-11). But when we do find that we believe the same things, then we are to “Show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth” (3 John 8). Jesus’ brothers were not ostracised by the apostles because they were latecomers to the faith. When they came to faith, they were welcomed. James became a leader in the church. Jude and James were authors of portions of the Bible. There was no second-class status for them any more than there was any special position held out to them on account of their blood relationship to the Lord. They were Christians confessing the same faith, and that is the one connection that makes all the difference.
Share your faith, and love those who share it. Paul said, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10). When we recognize one another, we should rejoice. That rejoicing will continue into all eternity.
Pastor Timothy Smith