Replacement For a Traitor
[Acts chapter 1, verses 12-26]
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Last week when we began our in-depth study and analysis of the Book of Acts, we got as far as verse 11, and Jesus had just ascended into the heavens in full view of the Eleven and the other disciples there. This week as we take up where we left off, the remaining apostles find themselves faced with the serious business of replacing the traitor Judas, who had sold out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. At today’s price of roughly $17.50 per ounce, and assuming each of those silver coins weighed more than an ounce each – a safe bet to be sure – when we do the math that works out to a minimum of $525.00 to a maximum of roughly $1,000.00 USD. Considering who Jesus was and what he dedicated his life to – the salvation of humanity – this seems to me to be a paltry sum for the sellout of the Son of God. Judas’ act of betrayal was and remains one of the most shortsighted acts in the history of humanity. With that as the framework for this week’s study, let’s begin at verse 12.
“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” (Acts 1, verses 12-14)
As we all can see, the first thing Judas lost from his betrayal of Christ, besides the chance at eternal life that he threw away, was the fellowship and camaraderie of the remaining apostles! Moreover, the apostle Luke makes a point of naming one more time, just like he did in chapter 5 of the gospel he had previously written, each and every one of the apostles. As if to add punctuation and additional emphasis, he named “Judas son of James”, the other of the original Twelve who was also named Judas, last. And as they all prayed together, with a reverence and a passion that must have been very nearly palpable, they had a communion with the risen Christ in the Spirit that must have been supernatural! Now let’s continue starting at verse 15:
“In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about 120) and said, ‘Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus – he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.’ (With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood). ‘For’, said Peter, ‘it is written in the Book of Psalms, ‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it’; and, ‘May another take his place of leadership.‘” (Acts 1, verses 15-20)
So one day after Jesus had ascended, but before the Day of Pentecost, Peter did something that happens daily in modern times – he called for a meeting. Not just any meeting, but one whose only participants were those who had witnessed the ministry of Christ, many of them from beginning to end, especially Mary and the apostles. These people had been through quite a bit over the previous 6 or 7 weeks, with Jesus being crucified and given up for dead, only to mysteriously rise from the dead three days later, then they had spent an additional 40 days and nights with our Redeemer only to see him ascend into the heavens. So Jesus had been with them, then was crucified, then came back, and had now left again with a promise of returning, but no date for that return has ever been specified anywhere in the Bible. So the apostles had been in a state of constant prayer, not counting sleeping and eating, since the day of Jesus’ departure from the earth.
The first thing Peter did was to address the painful topic of Judas. Please understand, these people had lost a co-worker and Judas was, up until the night of his betrayal, regarded as family by most, if not all, of the rest of the apostles. To address this issue, he quoted twice from the Book of Psalms: “May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it” comes from Psalms 69: 25, and “May another take his place of leadership”, comes from Psalms 100: 8. You can be sure that a lot of those people were really hurt by Judas’ betrayal of Christ. Judas had been there since the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and many of the apostles and other disciples, not to mention the ladies, were still trying to process Judas’ treasonous activities – especially considering the relatively small sum Judas settled for. We can all be sure none of these people had seen any of this coming – none except for Jesus. Moreover, they were also figuring out that Jesus must have known in advance what Judas was going to do, and yet our Lord and Savior did nothing to stop him, and said nothing to the rest of them either. I can barely imagine the consternation this must have caused the apostles as they said to each other, “If only we had known it was Judas; if only we had known what he was doing”.
The last thing that bears mentioning here is the part about the “Field of Blood” and the description of Judas’ untimely demise. The Gospel of Matthew says that Judas went and hung himself (see chapter 27 of Matthew’s gospel). On the surface, this would seen to be a contradiction until we examine the facts more closely. Gruesome as it is, Judas’ dead body hung in the hot sun of Jerusalem, and the bacteria inside his body would have been actively breaking down tissues and cells. A byproduct of bacterial metabolism is often gas. The pressure created by the gas forces fluid out of the cells and tissues and into the body cavities. The body becomes bloated as a result. In addition, tissue decomposition occurs compromising the integrity of the skin. Judas’ body was similar to an overinflated balloon, and as he hit the ground (due to the branch he hung on or the rope itself breaking) the skin easily broke and he burst open with his internal organs spilling out. There is no contradiction surrounding Judas’ death; rather, merely two descriptions given by two different authors of the same event. Also, keep in mind that the apostle Luke was a doctor by trade, which would explain the graphic description of Judas’ pathetic demise. And now let’s conclude this week’s study starting at verse 21.
“”Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.’ So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.’ They cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the 11 apostles.” (Acts 1, verses 21-26)
In verse 21, Peter is speaking directly to the Eleven, plus an undetermined number of other disciples with them. Let’s not forget, too, that everyone involved, about 120 altogether, had been in a state of serious prayer for days on end prior to this conversation taking place. We can all be absolutely sure that the top priority was who would replace Judas. I think it is likely that part of their prayers had to do with making sure that whatever had transpired as far as Judas was concerned would never occur again. As I wrote above, when Judas betrayed the Lord Christ Jesus for an absurdly low sum of money, it shocked everyone because no one had expected that to occur – Judas’ treasonous act was completely outside their frames of reference. So you can be sure that their prayers were those of the greatest passion and conviction, and with a whole lot of due deference to God Almighty.
“Then they prayed, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.’” Judas Iscariot, Peter was saying with his prayer, was burning in hell, and deservedly so. By prying that way he was crystallizing the state of mind and spirit of the entire group, as if to say, “What happened with Judas was what it was – we have to move on now, so let’s get to it.” And so Matthias was selected to replace Judas, even though the Bible never says any more about him. Although I can’t say for sure, I suspect the reason is that the record of Matthias’ service to the early Church has been lost to history. That, however, does not take away from his status as a servant of Christ and the replacement for Judas the traitor. On that note, I’ll see everyone back next week as we move on to part 3 of Acts chapter 1.