WHAT THE APOSTLES IN ACTS DID WHEN THE RESURRECTED LORD APPEARED TO THEM
By Wayne S. Walker
At the beginning of His earthly ministry, Jesus chose twelve men from among His disciples to be apostles so that they might be trained to accomplish His mission for them. The book of Acts is the historical account of how the apostles went about doing the Lord’s will in revealing His word to mankind. The author, Luke, begins this historical account by pointing out that even after His resurrection Jesus appeared to the apostles for forty days. The purpose of these appearances was to give them further commandments and to provide infallible proofs of His resurrection.
“And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me’” (Acts 1:4). This appearance evidently took place just before Jesus led them out to the Mount of Olives and ascended into heaven. Or this conversation may have occurred on the mountain. But the purpose of this article is to look at what the apostles did when the resurrected Lord appeared to them.
They were assembled
Of course, this was a specific assembling together of the apostles. However, the New Testament is clear that Christ generally wants His church to gather together on a regular basis. “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
We have several approved apostolic examples of the disciples assembling throughout the book of Acts. In Acts 2:42 it is said generally that the early church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine,” and verse 47 specifically tells us that they were “continuing daily with one accord in the temple,” which I am convinced refers to their public assemblies for worship. In Acts 4:23-31, when Peter and John are let go from the Sanhedrin, they went to their own companions and prayed, and “the place where they were assembled together was shaken.” Acts 11:26 says that Barnabas and Saul (Paul) assembled with the church at Antioch for a whole year. In Acts 14:27 we find that when Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch from their first preaching trip, they gathered the church together. And Acts 20:7 tells us, “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. “
Why does the Lord want us to assemble? The primary purpose of our assembling together is to worship, but He could have just had us worship individually or in our homes, so still the question remains, why does God ordain that we do so together? Obviously, part of the answer must be because of the benefit of being with one another. “But exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). Therefore, the Hebrew writer went to say, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Thus, just as the apostles were assembled on this occasion, so all Christians need to assemble regularly with the church.
They were commanded
God has always given mankind commandments by which people could know how to live the way that the Creator wanted them to live. In the very beginning, God gave a very specific command to Adam. “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Genesis 2:15-17).
God also gave commandments to Israel, and not just the Ten Commandments, to remind them that because He made us He knows best how we should live. “And the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day. Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us” (Deuteronomy 6:24-25).
While we do not live under the Old Testament and its commandments, God still does have commandments for us today that He expects us to keep. “If you love Me, keep My commandments….You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 14:15, 15:14). Christ gave some specific commandments to the apostles that do not apply to us, but He does have commandments for us that we must obey to be acceptable in His sight. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
They were told not to depart from Jerusalem
It was prophesied throughout the Old Testament that the Lord’s church was to be established in Jerusalem. Isaiah predicted it thus: “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:2-3). In like manner, Joel, whose prophecy Peter said was fulfilled in Acts 2, said, “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, as the Lord has said, among the remnant whom the Lord calls” (Joel 2:32).
Therefore, the Lord told the apostles to remain in Jerusalem because they were to be an integral part of the church’s establishment. “Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high’” (Luke 24:46-49).
So, that is exactly what they did as the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the coming of the Messianic kingdom. Immediately after Christ ascended from the midst of the apostles, we are told, “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: 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. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:12-14). God does not command us to go and stay in Jerusalem, but we and all mankind can benefit from what the apostles did as they tarried in Jerusalem.
They were asked to wait for the promise
The specific promise that Christ had in mind was the promise to send the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles. Do you remember that Jesus had told them that they were tarry in the city of Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high in Luke 24:49? This is the same promise that He had made to them the night of His betrayal. “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:13). He repeated this promise just before His ascension. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And that promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost a few days later. “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).
This specific promise was made only to the apostles and was completely fulfilled to them, so it does not apply to us today. However, God has made many wonderful promises to us. “As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:3-4). One of those promises is that Christ will return someday and usher in the eternal reality for us. “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:10-13).
Since we just do not know when the fulfillment of this promise is going to happen, we need to wait patiently for it. “For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). No, we are not going to receive the promise of the Spirit made to the apostles, although we still benefit from it through their revelation of God’s word, but we do need to wait for the reception of the promises that God has made to us.
Sometimes we might wonder what it would have been like to live in the days of the apostles, to have seen Jesus with our own eyes and heard Him with our own ears. The fact is that we were not, but we can still have a firm faith based on the many infallible proofs which they recorded by the power of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.
However, someday every one of us shall see Jesus and hear His voice when He comes again. “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29). Again, we just do not know when that will be, so the question is, are you ready?
—from Expository Files; December, 2012; Vol. 19, No. 12; pp. 12-15