Last week we started looking at the preparations that God was making for Pentecost, and we focused on His preparations within His people. Today I want to look at the outward historical and corporate preparations that God was making for Pentecost. Another way of saying it is that at Pentecost there was something personal going on, but there was also something of historical significance. And so theologians distinguish between the ordo salutis (that is a latin phrase referring to the order of God's work of grace as applied to us individually – things like regeneration, conversion, justification, sanctification and glorification) and then they speak of the historia salutis – how salvation was historically revealed from creation to Christ. And it's easy to make mistakes in Acts 2 if we fail to distinguish between those two things. We individually receive the Spirit when we put our faith in Jesus. But the church as a whole received the Spirit at Pentecost. And there are things unique to the historia salutis (things like the flames of fire, the wind, etc.) that some people mistakenly apply to the ordo salutis. And I'll have more to say about that when we get to chapter 2.
But I am going to begin the development of some of the historia salutis in chapter 1. And this preparation for the next stage of redemptive history gives us all kinds of clues as to what God is planning to do in the rest of the book. So bear with me. Though we won't get very far, you will eventually see how it all fits together beautifully. In fulfillment of Ezekiel's marvelous prophecy about the temple and Pentecost, Luke is going to show how a new Israel is going to be founded when the Spirit is poured out, and unlike the Old Israel, this new Israel will be so full of the Spirit that it will eventually be used to bring salvation to all nations.
Let's start reading at verse 12. "Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet." What a beautiful place for Christ to signal the soon-coming of Pentecost. Seven times a year, just days before the great festivals, signal fires were lit on the Mount of Olives to let people know that the New Moon had arrived. And these signal fires weren't just for Jersusalem. Using signal beacons, Israel was able to announce the New Moon all the way to the Jews in Babylonia very quickly. And for any first century people who were reading this, we already have a marvelous indicator of this world-wide spread of the message of Christ. Christ has lit a signal fire by telling the disciples to wait for the Spirit and then to go into the nations.
It goes on to say, near Jerusalem, According to the Old Testament, the New Covenant and the kingdom had to be established in Jerusalem. But he is also setting up a geographic clue of what part of Jerusalem they entered.
It then goes on to say that they were a Sabbath day's journey away. He's using this language to communicate distance, not time, because this was not on a Sabbath day anyway. If you remember, this was on the fortieth day, which would have been a Thursday. But Luke wants to make it abundantly clear where these disciples are going to by using a measurement that everyone knew. Of course, in the last verse of Luke he's already told us they went to the temple. But this detail further clarifies that fact. A Sabbath day's journey in rabbinic Judaism was 2000 cubits, or about 3/4 of a mile. Let me put a picture up here that is taken from the mount of Olives and that is looking directly at the temple mount.
You will notice the dome of the Rock in the distance. It's got a gold dome right there. That's a muslim mosque that sits right on the spot that the temple used to be. You can see here that the buildings of Jerusalem are on the other side of the temple, and that was true in the time of Christ as well. Why? Because a wall is on this side of the temple keeping the city from growing out. Well, if you go exactly a Sabbath day's journey, you don't get to private houses in Jerusalem. You get to the temple. And it's just on the other side of the Old Jerusalem walls right here. And by the way – when a priest lit the signal fires, they did it after dark – the start of a new day. If that day happened to be a Sabbath, they could only travel as far as the temple and would have to spend the night.
Here's a close up view of the dome of the Rock from the mount of Olives with a telephoto.
Notice the Old Walls of Jerusalem here. So when the text says that they entered Jerusalem, they did so by entering a gate that is just to the right of this picture. And the first thing on the other side is the temple mount. Let's look at verse 13.
"And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying…" There is difference of opinion among scholars as to what upper room this is. Some say that this was the upper room where they had the Lord's Supper, even though a different Greek word is used for that. And those who assume it is that room, have totally ignored the geography and the short distance they travelled. Others say it is an upper room in the temple. I hold to the latter view, and there are many reasons why I hold to it. But I have already given two. First, since they were heading toward Jerusalem from the mount of Olives, and since they only traveled 2000 cubits, they would have ended up in the temple. And any Jew reading this would know that. Second, verse 13 indicates that "when they entered [Jerusalem], they went up into the upper room where they were staying…" It's at the point of entering Jerusalem that they find this place that has an upper room. Well, that too indicates temple, because the temple is right at that wall.
Third, the word for "staying" does not indicate "living" somewhere, as if this was their living quarters. You could guess that from the fact that there was one room and men and women were staying there. But the word "staying" is a rare word, used only here in the New Testament, but it means "to wait according to." According to what? I believe, according to the command to wait that was given twice by Jesus. So this was the place where they fulfilled the command to wait (or stay in one place), and Luke has already told us they did that waiting in the temple. (And we'll get to that in a second.)
But fourth, there were upper rooms for rent in the temple.
Here's one model of the temple. Keep in mind that this square represents 42 acres. And I believe that this massive public meeting area is the "house" portion of the complex. Over here is the temple proper, and on the south side is the house, sometimes called Herod's Basilica and sometimes called Solomon's porch. It is three storied, and the top platform would have been a perfect spot for Peter to come out of one of the rooms way on the top and to address the crowds. Some people actually believe that Peter addressed the crowds from the house of Avtinas (which is right here). And that theory is definitely a possibility.
But there's a lot more. Keep in mind that Acts is part 2 of a history that Luke had written to Theophilus. I want you to turn with me to the last verse of part 1 – the Gospel of Luke. Acts repeats the history of what Luke ends with, and it tells us exactly where they made a beeline for when they got to Jerusalem. Let's start at verse 51.
Now it came to pass, while HE blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.
Two words to note there – the word "continually" is actually two words in the Greek meaning "through the whole." In other words, "through the whole time." One study Bible indicates that at least during the daylight hours they were always in the temple. Others think that they may have even had Levite friends who provided rooms to sleep. But that's not important. The important point is that they were continually or through the whole time in the temple. The second word is "returned," and it indicates that where they continued, they had been before. Taken together it means that until the time of Pentecost, they did not leave the temple. For at least ten days, they were in the temple.
And the reason this is important is that Ezekiel's prophecy of Pentecost makes clear that the Spirit would be poured out in the temple on the south side and would leave the temple by the east gate. This picture is not oriented like a map, so the right hand side of this picture is south, and the top is east. Now, the remarkable thing is that Ezekiel talks about two times that the Spirit would leave the temple. He would leave first under Nebuchaddnezzar. In the time that Babylon conquered Israel, God prophesied that the Spirit would leave the temple and go out to true believers as far away as Babylon. And the way he shows it is a remarkable parallel to a much later leaving in the later chapters. In Ezekiel 10 the Spirit leaves the temple proper, goes over the threshold (10:18) and moves to the south side of the temple's outer court (10:3-5,
- (which would be over here), and then goes out of the East Gate (10:19; 11:1ff) and moves away from Israel (which would be east) into the remnant of Israel in Babylon making a new sanctuary not of brick and mortar but of Spirit and people (11:16 calls that His "little sanctuary," or as the margin says, "little holy place"). So even though the temple was about to be destroyed in Ezekiel's day, God comforts them by saying that the remnant of Israel would become the new Israel and as they walked in the Spirit He would make a spiritual temple among them. And interestingly, just as the Spirit later fell upon believers at Pentecost, the Spirit fell upon Ezekiel at that time, and in the vision, made him prophesy to the crowds in the temple. So that's the first time that the Spirit leaves the temple, and that's in Ezekiel chapters 10 and 11. And it parallels the second time in many details.
The second time Ezekiel describes a future reconstructed temple, and the Spirit being poured out in exactly the same way. It mentions the upper rooms and then in chapter 44 says that after the God of Israel walks through this gate, it will be sealed up. You can see a picture of this sealed up gate.
To this day, the Eastern gate is sealed, I believe, because Jesus rode through it in His triumphal entry.
Anyway, Ezekiel in the next chapters continues to describe this temple and in chapter 47 says that the Spirit, symbolized by a river of water poured out, would leave the temple once again. The water starts as a trickle on the south side of the altar, but then flows out of the East gate and grows over time into a huge river that eventually brings healing to the world. This is exactly what happened at Pentecost. God took the Spirit from the temple and made the remnant of Israel into His tabernacle (as He promised in Ezekiel 37). And whether you hold that the house that Acts 2 refers to is the entire temple (as in Ezekiel 44:7), or a meeting place on the inner walls over here, or the Southern Porticos over here, it was on the south side of the temple. And as the Spirit filled Christians left the temple, the trickle gradually grew deeper and deeper as the church grew, and it is destined to become a river so great that no one can cross it, and eventually so great that it brings healing to the whole world. I think all of that was in Luke's mind as he composed these two chapters. And it would have been fun to do a quick overview of chapters 1 and 2 so that you could see it all, but unfortunately, we don't know Jerusalem and the temple like first century Jews would, and I have to deal with objections. But hopefully it won't spoil the lesson to plod through at a slower pace. I want you to be convinced of this interpretation.
One objection that people bring up is that the disciples would not have been allowed in the temple. They were a persecuted minority. Well, that's nonsense. There are constant references to the whole church gathering in the temple for church worship long after Pentecost. Let me have you turn to a few. Turn to Acts 2:46. This occurs after the 3000 are saved on Pentecost. And it says, "Now continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house…" They worshipped jointly in the temple, and broke up into smaller groups for communion or for meals, depending on how you interpret the second phrase. So they didn't have to stay in the temple after Pentecost. But it is obvious that even after hostilities, they were able to worship together as a church somewhere within the temple. Acts 3:11 - "Now as the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch which is called Solomon's greatly amazed." Some people believe that Solomon's porch is on the souteast side here, and others believe that it was part of Herod's Basilica on the south side. But look at chapter 5:12-13.
And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all [notice that word "all"] with one accord in Solomon's Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.
It is obvious that the entire church numbering now in the many, many thousands gathered together as a cohesive group, separate from others, and yet there wasn't a lot that the priests could do about it. Have you ever wondered about that? The answer is that there were many denominations in Judaism (just like there are in the church today), and they rented large areas of the temple, and they met separately. Keep in mind that we're talking about 42 acres of space here.
Let me show you another picture of a model of the temple.
This part over here is the temple proper. This part is the structure known as the Southern Portico. So it is facing a different direction than the previous picture – this one a little closer to the way a map would line up, but not quite. The temple was a massive structure. The court of the Gentiles, right here, was 35 acres by itself, and the whole temple complex was 42 acres. They could easily accommodate 400,000 pilgrims at a time. And the rooms themselves could accommodate many synagogue sects or denominations.
But you still have a problem. One very legitimate objection that could be raised, though I haven't seen anyone raise it, is that to rent one of the meeting places, you had to have a Levite represent your group. And John Gill and other commentators believe that Barnabas was that representative. Acts 4:36-37 says, "And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles feet." He was a Levite, and therefore had special perks in the temple. He appears to be wealthy. He had land in Jerusalem. And he was one of the 120. He would have easily been able to rent an upper room for them. Another Levite who was rather wealthy, and who was part of the 120 was Mark. In fact, some people are convinced that Luke himself was a Levite. And from internal evidence that may be. I am convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that he was a Jew, and he certainly understood the intimate details of Levitical policies, the orders of the priests and their work. He writes like a Jew with many Hebraic expressions called Semitisms. I have a brief handout of the proofs that Luke was a Jew. But let's just leave that aside. Some Levite who had connections must have reserved the rooms. And we have two clear candidates and a possible third. And because of the pluralism and toleration of various sects (or denominations), there wasn't much that the priests could do without formal charges. They've paid for there room and couldn't be expelled from it.
But that brings up another objection. Did the temple even have upper rooms that could be rented? I guess with this drawing, I've already anticipated that objection. You can see upper rooms. Now it's true, no one knows for sure what Herod's temple looked like. So some drawings have many stories to the temple, on both the outer walls and on the inner walls of the temple. But every model I have looked at has upper rooms that could accommodate non-priests.
Here's another model of Herod's temple.
His temple had many, many upper rooms. But even the temple plans given by David in 1 Chronicles 28 include "upper rooms" in verses 11-12. In Ezekiel 41:6 it says of a temple future to Ezekiel, "The side chambers were in three stories, one above the other, thirty chambers in each story." For the temple area, verse 16 speaks of "galleries all around their three stories opposite the threshold…" Chapter 42 says, "opposite the pavement of the outer court, was gallery against gallery in three stories…" Verse 5 speaks of "upper chambers" and "the middle and lower stories of the building…" And the next verse says much the same. So every portion of the temple complex was made up of at least three stories. Josephus says that Herod sought to conform his plans of the temple to those given in Scripture. In any case, it was Ezekiel's temple that the Spirit came down into.
One other objection that is frequently given is that the Gospel of Luke has earlier referred to an upper room where the disciples had the Lord's Supper. And they say that since Theophilus has just read about a private upper room, that room would be the first thing that would come to his mind when he reads of an upper room in this chapter. And we would say, "No it wouldn't – at least if you were reading it in the Greek." First, a different Greek word for upper room is used in the Gospel of Luke than the one used in Acts 1. Secondly, in the Greek translation of Ezekiel, known as the Septuagint, a translation that was commonly used, the same word used here is used to refer to the upper rooms in the temple.
Another objection is that you couldn't sit in the temple, and Acts 2:2 says that they were sitting when the Holy Spirit fell upon them. But in Matthew 26:55 Jesus says, "I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me." So there was more than one person sitting. "I sat with you." Luke 2:46 says about Jesus when he was a child, "they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers." And there are other Scriptures which indicate this like John 8:2. The truth of the matter is that even secular history indicates that there were massive rooms that could accommodate synagogues where people could sit to listen to lectures. And interestingly, when Jesus commands the disciples to tarry in Jerusalem, he uses a word which literally means to sit in Jerusalem. Where's the best place for them to sit while waiting? The temple.
But there is another objection that is brought against the temple interpretation. And that is that in Acts 2:2, Luke says that the sound of the mighty wind filled the whole house where they were sitting. They say that it is clearly called a "house." And I've anticipated that objection already. But look at that verse again. It doesn't say that the sound filled the whole of Jerusalem. It filled the whole house. Second, Luke makes clear who heard this sound in verses 5-6. "And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven." These were the pilgrims who came to Jerusalem. And it appears that all of these pilgrims were near enough to this house to hear the sound and to come running. Look at verse 6.
And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together [not a multitude, but the Greek is clear, it is the multitude. In other words, the multitude of pilgrims that had come for the feast just mentioned in verse 5.], and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.
If it was a private house, why was such a massive multitude present to hear the sound? They would have been scattered throughout Jerusalem in their rented apartments, unless it was a time to gather at the temple, in which case they would be all together. And secondly, how could they see the apostles and come together to witness them preaching? It must have been quite a huge plaza in front of that house. In fact, it had to be able to accommodate the 3000 people that got saved plus many more than that who were not saved – the multitude of verse 5. Possible, but unlikely. Extremely unlikely.
Now somebody might say, "The same could be said of the temple. How could so many people hear them in the temple?" Let me put another picture from a different angle that will show you how massive numbers of people would have been able to hear from a number of vantage points.
I apologize for the orientation of the picture. It's completely upside down from the way a map would line up. But the top here is south, and the temple always faces east. So, where you would expect West to be is East over on the left here. Now, even on the temple interpretation, there are three candidates for where the house would be. Scripture speaks of the entire temple complex as being the house of the Lord. A second interpretation is a portion of the inner wall over here that is called the house of Avtinas. There were many rooms on three levels in that section. And that's a possibility. And you can see how Peter would have been able to talk to everyone in the Southern Portico from up here, if that theory was right. And there would have been multiple thousands in the Southern Portico. But you can also see that many on the wall, and many on the south side of the court of the Gentiles would have been able to see. And so, that would have been an ideal place from which to speak. And it meets the Biblical criterion of being to the south of the altar as being the place where the Spirit was poured out. The third view (and this is my tentative view) points to this massive structure on the far south side as being "the house." And by the way, Jews frequently mention a part of the temple precincts that has the technical name of "the house." Just as one example, when Luke 11:51 speaks of the Old Testament prophet Zechariah being martyred "between the altar and the temple", but literally it is "between the altar and the house" (the same word as in our verse in Acts 2:2) and is a reference to a portion of the temple where multitudes met in various rooms. So the word translated house here is translated as temple in Luke 11:51. Now Luke 11:51 could be referring to either the house of Atvinas or the Southern Portico. So those are the options. But you can see from the picture that any of the three interpretations allow for huge crowds to see and hear Peter speak. My take is that it was Solomon's porch, the place that Christ frequently spoke at, and the place where the disciples continue to meet all the way through to Acts chapter 6. It appears that some Levite has constantly reserved this place throughout Christ's ministry and through Acts chapter 6.
And so the NIV Study Bible says: "Evidently… some place in the temple precincts, for the apostles were "continually at the temple" (Luke 24:53"). Under Luke 24:53 the same Study Bible says, "During the period of time immediately following Christ's ascension the believers met continually at the temple… where many rooms were available for meetings."
So let me sum up using this picture. In Acts 2, when the people rush together after hearing the sound of the Holy Spirit, I believe they were rushing over to get a closer look at the Southern Portico. Notice that if they were in an upper room, almost everyone in the temple would be able to see them no matter what court they were in. Notice that huge amounts of people could stand on the walls up here (that had high fences to keep you from falling off). So people on all four walls would have been able to be witnesses. People in the court of the Gentiles would have quick access to Peter's speech. And even people in the inner courts would have been able to see and hear him. It was a perfect lecturn to be able to preach to massive numbers of people. As I mentioned, the temple could easily hold over 400,000 people. In fact, at times, there were over 1 million pilgrims in the temple.
Here's another view of what I believe was the house that they were in.
That's all I'm going to say on that subject. I will build on this later in Acts 2. But let's go back to the text in Acts 1:13.
And when they entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying [or literally "where they were waiting according to" And then it lists those waiting at the first]: 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.
Notice first that the core group of people were all composed of Jews, so they had no ethnic issues to deal with. And they weren't just Jews; they were all Galileans. You may remember the phrase in verse 11 where the angel said, "Men of Galilee…" So, even though Jesus so loved the world that He died to save it, His strategy was to start with a group that was cohesive, that could work together, from the same ethnic and cultural background. This is so different from the philosophy that I was taught in seminary that it deserves some comment. One modern pastor said that he was praying for "a heterogeneous church, a group of believers that was a microcosm of the church universal. If persons from all walks of life, cultures, races, church affiliations, and doctrinal divergences make up the true Body of Christ… why could we not in one local church have the same diversity?" And that's a noble aspiration. It's an aspiration I had when I started this church. And this church will never reject anyone based on culture, ethnicity, economic status, etc. And yet, what I have discovered is that Jesus, during the three years of His ministry surrounded Himself with Jews, and said that His goal was primarily to minister to the Jews. And that, despite the fact that He did win Gentiles to the faith, and He promised that multitudes would come in the future. I believe that there are two reasons why Jesus chose to do this. First, it is hard for people to become Christians when they have to cross racial, linguistic and class barriers. And so there is nothing wrong with having churches that are predominantly of one culture or race. That's where new people will feel the most comfortable. I used to think there was something wrong with that. But missions seems to work better when a cross cultural missionary can get the church to be culturally sensitive. There's nothing wrong with having them integrated. But it's something you can't force. Very few people have the gifts needed to be able to cross over into E-2 and E-3 cross cultural evangelisms. And let me define those. Anglo-American's evangelizing Mexican-Americans would be E-2 evangelism and Anglo-American's evangelizing the Arussi tribe in Ethiopia would be E-3 evangelism. Peter Wagner believes that less than 1% of Christians have what it takes to engage in E-2 and E-3 evangelism. Paul was the exception. Barnabas was another exception. We will talk about this more when we get to Acts chapter 6 where there is a conflict between the E-1 and E-2 believers (both Jewish, but culturally different). And I think there are some neat things we can learn from that. Now this is no justification for racism. Racism will not be tolerated in this church. But the fact of the matter is that no one church can make every culture feel totally at home. It's impossible and there's no point in even trying. Sensitivity? Yes. Heterogeneous church? Almost impossible to pull off. God's multicultural church is composed of many different kinds of churches, and we can value that. Just as God values differences within a local congregation, He values differences between congregations. So don't expect every church to be the same. There are some churches that people feel more comfortable in.
The second reason that Jesus did this was that He wanted to make it clear that He was not replacing Israel with something else. As He said in Ezekiel, He was making a new Israel from the remnant of the Old Israel. The New Testament church was the reconstituted Israel. This is what He did in Ezekiel's time. He took a small remnant, put His spirit in them and called them Israel and the people in the land He called Sodom and Gomorrah. ,And this is what He was doing in Acts. He is calling baptized people pagans who need to get baptized again. In the book of Revelation, Jerusalem is called Sodom and Egypt. They are not the true Israel until they repent. And so, even though multitudes of Gentiles became believers during Israel's exile in Persia, they became believers by joining the remnant of Israel. The same was true in the New Testament. If Gentiles could become Jews in Esther (Est. 8:17) and considered part of Israel by embracing the God of Israel they can in Acts as well.
So why twelve apostles? Because they represent the twelve patriarchs of the New Israel. Why 120 brethren? Because they represent the minimum number of male citizens that could form a separate community. And they were indeed going to separate from Israel and call Israel to repentance. IN the next chapter the Spirit would indeed separate from the physical tabernacle, and like he did in Ezekiel 10 in the Old Covenant, the tabernacle he would indwell would be flesh and blood people, and this tabernacle would dwell as far away as Babylonia. It would include the nations. Why does God organize the New Testament Israel at the time of Pentecost? Because that was the feast that prophecies the ingathering of the Gentiles into Israel? Why did Jesus establish Twelve representatives in Luke 9, and then in the very next chapter establish 70 representatives who would speak in His name to all of Israel? Because this was to parallel the 12 princes under Moses and the establishment of the 70 elders in the Old Testament. And in Acts 2 God was going to lay the foundation of the apostles and prophets.
And so it was critical that Matthias replace Judas so that there would be twelve apostles to form a foundation for the New Covenant community. I've spent so much time laying the framework for the temple imagery, that I haven't had time to deal with the choosing of Matthias. But next time I preach, I hope to pick up where I left off.
But let me at least finish off verse 14. "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers." The literal Greek is that these all were persevering in prayer and supplication with one accord. It takes perseverance to pray for ten days. But God has called us to a life of persevering prayer.
Notice second that prayer was not just a work of the men. The women (or as some translate it – the wives of the men) were there as well.
Notice third that they were praying with Mary, not to Mary. She is to be honored, but she is not to be worshipped. She is to be recognized as having an important role in the history of redemption, but she is not be prayed to. She submits to the apostles just as the other disciples do. And so her name is not mentioned again in Scripture. The heresy of Mariolatry that has been invented by the Romanist church has no basis in Scripture whatsoever. They believe that she was born sinless, died sinless, was raised on the third day, that her body saw no corruption and that she is presently seated as the Queen of heaven. The only queen of heaven that the Bible mentions is in a pagan religion, and it is roundly condemned. But at the same time, we shouldn't go to the other extreme and dishonor her. Though she herself admits that she is a sinner in need of a Savior in Luke 1, she is honored in the Bible as a woman of faith. She is a model of faith to all of us.
The fourth thing to notice is that the brothers of Jesus are converted. Verse 14 ends, "and with His brothers." And to me that is such an encouragement. Think about it. In Mark 3:21 His brothers had accused Him of being out of His mind and they want to have him bound. In John 7:3 His brothers rebuke Him. In John 7:5 it says, "For even His brothers did not believe in Him." They were unbelievers! It can be a discouraging thing that our families are sometimes the toughest ones to convince of the truth. But notice that God's grace triumphed in His own family's life. Certainly He brought division there even as He promised to bring division in other people's homes. But we should expect that God's grace is a grace that delights in extending to families. Jesus did not ignore His family. Though his immediate family gave him some trouble initially, His brother James becomes a leader of the church in Jerusalem and writes one of the books of the Bible. His brother Jude writes a book of the Bible as well. But even while Jesus was on earth, He reached out to family. Five of the apostles were cousins. (And I've got a footnote that shows the logical deductions, because I keep forgetting them.) And outside of His family, he called pairs of brothers. He also seemed to call groups of disciples who lived in the same area. Six of them lived at Bethsaida. This conclusion reinforces what I have preached on before, that outreach is far more effective within the oikos web of relationships. In other words, as much as your relatives and close associates may get on your nerves, God has chosen to work through those webs of relationship to a high degree.
Let me conclude with two more applications. It is clear from what we have seen so far about Pentecost that our God is an awesome planner. From before the foundation of the world He had planned every detail of this event. The placement of the buildings to maximize an audience, making sure that there was a Levite to be able to reserve the place, the East Gate being open here, but closed up later and a ton of other details. And the God who planned all of those details is a God who continues to plan the details of our lives. And we can take encouragement. Was Herod potential trouble? Yes. But no problem for God. God made Herod so anxious to please the Jews that he gave enormous amounts of money to build this magnificent edifice. Could Herod have messed up the plans by doing something totally different than what the Bible prophecied. Theoretically yes, but NO according to providence because God moved Him to conform His plans to those in the Bible, as you can read in Josephus. And so we can trust God to be in control of even the free workings of evil men all around us. So my application is that these three little verses are verses that teach us to trust Him.
The last application is that we can trust the Bible to be an infallible document. I have barely scratched the surface of the neat things in Ezekiel that are fulfilled in Acts. I will allude to them later. We can implicitly trust Old Testament prophecy. But we can trust the New Testament Scriptures down to the smallest letter and word. Read a typical commentary and they totally miss the significance of these verses. They treat them as window trimming to fill out the story. But older writers like John Gill believe that we must live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. The direction they traveled, the fact that they returned, the exact distance they traveled, the nature of the upper room, the names of the apostles, the fact that God's grace has been at work in His relatives – they all have significance for our lives. And so, may we love God's word and live it out.
A comparison of Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40, and John 19:25 suggests that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were likely cousins of Jesus. The latter James, Simon and Judas appear to be brothers. It is also possible that they were cousins of Jesus through Joseph's brother (cf. Edersheim I:522).
Many of the apostles were related to each other and also related to Jesus Himself.
- Simon Peter and Andrew were brothers and sons of Jonas, or John. (John 1:21:15, R.V.)
- James and John were brothers, and sons of Zebedee and Salome. (Matt. 20:20; 27:56; Mark 15:40; 16:1)
- It is believed that Salome was the sister of Mary the mother of our Lord so that would make James and John cousins of our Lord. (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40)
- Matthew, or Levi, was the son of Alphaeus (Mark 2:14).
- James the Less was also the son of Alphaeus (Matt. 10:3), so he and Matthew were probably brothers.
- From John 19:25. We can assume that their mother was the sister of Mary the mother of our Lord, so that would make them Jesus' cousins. This would also make them cousins of James and John.
- Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, and Bartholomew lived at Bethsaida. (Mark 1:16-24; John 1:44; 12:21)
- Peter, Andrew, James and John later lived at Capernaum. (Mark 1:21, 29).
- Philip and Bartholomew were probably brothers. As Andrew led his brother to Jesus it is likely that Philip also led his brother to Him (John 1:40-45).
The exact number of apostles and who they would be. The choosing of the 70 and the 120, and even making sure that there would be a replacement for Judas. God wasn't taken by surprise by Judas, nor by Israel's rejection of the Messiah. He had already predicted that both would happen in the Old Testament. Ezekiel knew that the Spirit would leave the temple, but before He would leave, that He would form a new community from the remnant of Israel, come upon them to the south of the altar area, and that these saints would carry the Spirit to the far reaches of the globe. ↩