The Book of Acts begins with Jesus telling the disciples to stay in Jerusalem as they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:5). And in Acts 2, this very event takes place during Pentecost as the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered to speak in different languages.
But in between Jesus’ instruction and the Holy Spirit’s arrival, Luke narrates a somewhat unrelated event — the apostles’ replacing Judas as one of the twelve. Doesn’t that event seem a little out of place with waiting on the Holy Spirit to usher in the new church age? The very fact that it is recorded in the context of awaiting the Holy Spirit’s arrival begs the question:
Why was it so important for the apostles to fill the twelfth spot that once belonged to Judas?
Surely, they could have gone on without Judas’ spot being filled, right? Or, it seems that they had two great candidates with Justus and Matthias (Acts 1:21-23). Why choose only one? Why not let both join the ranks as an apostle? After all, later on in the Church Paul was called an apostle (Galatians 1:1), and so were Andronicus and Junia (Romans 16:7). So why be so strict with there being twelve apostles among the many disciples? Could it be that this issue had something to do with the upcoming celebration of Pentecost?
Pentecost was a special day in a Jewish context. It was an annual festival where Jews from all over the Roman world would take a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of weeks—fifty days after Passover (Exodus 34:22-23). This harvest festival would gather Jews together to praise God, party, and pray to have an abundant, new harvest. (What a perfect time for God to do something truly new with the coming of the Holy Spirit!) This festival became associated with the giving of the covenant at Sinai (Exodus 19), which will be important.
The day of Pentecost arrives. What happens at Pentecost? Let’s recount some details. The people were all assembled together (Acts 2:1, 5). The sound of rushing wind screams from heaven (Acts 2:2). And there was an appearance of fire representing God’s presence (Acts 2:3). Where do we find the same cluster of things? There really is only one other place, in Exodus 19:16-18, which is part of the narrative where Moses and the Israelites are at Mt. Sinai receiving the covenant from God to be His special “kingdom” people (Exodus 19:6).
There is a choice word, kingdom.
Remember the apostle’s question back in Acts 1:6: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” The question was not unanswerable. In fact, the apostles were reconstituting themselves as the true representative Israel back when they were determined to add either Justus or Matthias. Think about the number twelve.
The twelve apostles were a deliberate number chosen to represent the twelve tribes of Israel.
Evidently, by filling Judas’ spot with Matthias the apostles were preparing themselves to properly represent the true people of God. There had to be twelve to make it clear that this was a Jewish movement; it was a fulfillment of God’s promise from the days of the prophets to restore Israel to her original mission.
In other words, God’s plan all along was for Israel to play a special role in His mission. It was not that Israel would be the only nation to be invited to know God, but that Israel would be the people to announce the coming of God and His good news to the world (Isaiah 49:6; Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47; Acts 26:23).
Watch how Isaiah prophesied God’s restoration of Israel for the purpose of reaching all nations.
He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 (NLT)
Pentecost brought Jews from all corners of the earth together where they heard the Gospel in their own language. Many even responded and received the Holy Spirit, and were filled with new hope in their hearts to share. It was a power-packed, prophetic day — one that launched the birth of the Spirit-empowered Church. Along with everything, Pentecost showcases how God keeps His promises.
God did not abandon His purpose for Israel—He fulfilled it!
For instance, He brought the Messiah through the lineage of Israel. He also brought the Holy Spirit to the Jewish believers, first. Then He commissioned the new, reconstituted Israel, under a new covenant, to go invite all people of all nations (Gentiles, that is) to know the God of Israel. This is all embodying a new vision that God had planned all along.
God’s plan of salvation was always global. But He gave the privilege and responsibility of being the first recipients and messengers of the kingdom message to a particular people in a specific geographic location.
Everything prior to Pentecost was part 1 of the story. Pentecost is forevermore commemorated as a page-turning day where God begins phase two of His plan. We are in the second half. We are living in part 2 of God’s two-part redemption story.
God has successfully held together a grand story spanning over thousands of years from Adam (to Abraham to Moses to David to Mary) to Jesus and His apostles. As we reflect on this, we are deeply encouraged that God is able to accomplish His plan for His Church, including Newbreak.
As it turns out, the story of our lives is part of something so much larger; something that powerfully began back at Pentecost!