Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the apostles

  • Sumo

Reading the book of Acts, I have always been intrigued by Acts 1:12-26. It’s where the eleven surviving apostles, with the aid of the other disciples, appoint Matthias to be twelfth man.

For a start, why not move straight from Jesus’ departure to the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost? Surely Luke needed a good editor to keep the story flowing! Secondly, if Matthias is so important to meet, why do we never hear anything else about him?

As usual, my ignorance is also the opportunity to learn. A moment’s reflection tells me this: we need to know that the apostles are the witnesses to Jesus and the resurrection. I am not a witness, for I was not there.

There are all sorts of implications of this, both challenging and comforting. The challenge is that we need to listen to the apostolic witness, now written for us in the New Testament. The importance of the apostles’ witness also opens up Christianity to real and sustained historical scrutiny. That’s good! (But can make Christians squirm when sceptics get stuck in. We need not fear the historical questions – they are the right questions to ask.)

A comfort is that the Christian faith does not depend on us. We do not announce ourselves, or our own experience. We announce Jesus Christ: descended from David and risen from the dead. Our confidence and feelings go up and down. But the reality of Jesus never changes.

But back to Acts, here’s an idea I’d like to float. Agree, or shoot it down, as you see fit.

In Acts 1, Jesus ascends to the Father. He will return, but the physical presence of God in the person of the Son has gone. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit is poured out on all believers. The spiritual presence of God, in the third person of the trinity, is the present reality.

God the Spirit is, in part, a replacement for God the Son.

Between that going and replacement, we read about the apostles. Judas went, he left his place among the witnesses. Matthias replaced him, and became an apostolic witness of the resurrection. Is it possible that the band of apostles mirror the persons of God – Son and Spirit? That is, in both cases one has gone but another has replaced him. If so, this underlines the importance of the 12. They not only speak as witnesses, but they collectively embody the change from pre-Easter to post-Pentecost.

I don’t think this is the whole explanation of verses 12-26, but I suggest it as part of the picture. For further thought, over to you!