Acts Lesson Two – 1:12-26 Replacing Judas

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem—a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they arrived, they went to the room  upstairs where they were staying: 

Peter, John, 

Bartholomew, Matthew, 

James the son of Alphaeus, 

Simon the Zealot, 

and Judas the son of James. 

14 All these were continually united  in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers. 

15 During these days Peter stood up among the brothers —the number of people who were together was about 120—and said: 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled that the Holy Spirit through the mouth of David spoke in advance about Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was one of our number and was allotted a share in this ministry.”  18 Now this man acquired a field with his unrighteous wages. He fell headfirst and burst open in the middle, and all his insides spilled out. 19 This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that in their own language that field is called Hakeldama (that is, Field of Blood). 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms: 

Let his dwelling become desolate; 

let no one live in it; and 

Let someone else take his position.

21 “Therefore, from among the men who have accompanied us during the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day He was taken up from us—from among these, it is necessary that one become a witness with us of His resurrection.” 

23 So they proposed two: Joseph, called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “You, Lord, know the hearts of all; show which of these two You have chosen 25 to take the place in this apostolic service that Judas left to go to his own place.” 26 Then they cast lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias. So he was numbered with the 11 apostles. 

This passage splits into two parts; verses 12-14 and 15-26.

Verses 12-14

We now see that the last conversation between Jesus and His followers, as well as His ascension, occurred on the Mount of Olives. This location presents an interesting contrast. Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, located at the foot of the Mount of Olives, and He ascends from the Mount of Olives. Jesus was taken from His followers at approximately the same location twice, once in a heartbreaking manner and again in glory. 

According to rabbinic tradition, a Sabbath day’s walk was 2,000 cubits, which equates to about three-fourths of a mile.

Once they arrived back in Jerusalem, they went to an upper room to engage in prayer. The location of the room is unknown, although there are various ideas on where it could have been located. What we do know is that it was large enough to accommodate the group.

The list of disciples is the same as in Luke 6:13-16, except for the omission of Judas and a reordering of the names. Andrew was moved from the second position to the fourth, and John was moved to the second position. The reordering may have been deliberate. The ordering in Acts would give importance to Peter, John, and James, who are the only apostles to have an individual role in Acts.

The women could have included the wives of the apostles. They certainly included the women who accompanied Jesus from Galilee and witnessed His crucifixion.

  • Luke 8:2
  • Luke 23:55
  • Luke 24:10

Not only did they pray, but they prayed together as a group, and they prayed continually.

This was also the time right before Pentecost. It was a time of waiting, a time of prayer for the promised Spirit, and a time of prayer for the power to testify to the truth of Jesus. Without the Spirit, there is no effective witness; the way to spiritual empowerment is to wait in prayer.

Verses 15-26

This section revolved around the issue of replacing Judas in the leadership circle of the twelve. 

Verse 15

It is also no coincidence that Luke mentions that the group numbered about 120 believers, both men and women. In rabbinic tradition, 120 was the minimum number required to form a local Sanhedrin. Peter assumed the leadership mantle among the group and convened the assembly. Throughout the narrative of Acts, Peter is the leader. He was the spokesman and the representative apostle. The other apostles were present and active, but Peter was the mouthpiece for the group.  

Verse 16

Peter tells the gathering that Scripture had to be fulfilled (past tense), referring to Judas. The passage Peter pointed to was Psalm 69:25, which is quoted in verse 20, along with Psalm 109:8 (future tense), which pointed to Matthias taking Judas’ place. The fulfillment of Scripture was the main agenda item for the meeting. This is a theme that runs through Acts; Scripture that has a prophetic idea must be fulfilled.

Verse 17

The business at hand is the process to replace Judas. Peter reminds them that Judas was a full member of the group and shared in their work. 

Verses 18-19

Luke now provides the reader with some details regarding Judas’ death. Some may ask the question as to why this account differs from the account in Matthew. First, two people who witness event may see the same thing, but describe it in a different manner. Each account would be accurate. In the passage in Matthew, Judas is said to have committed suicide by hanging. When we consider that the body would be hanging in the hot sun for days, remember this wasn’t an execution so there was no formal execution or removal of the body, bacteria inside the body would break down the tissues and cells. This would produce gas, which would bloat the body and force fluid into the body cavities. Tissue decomposition would also reduce the toughness of the skin and internal tissue. In a sense, Judas’ body was an overinflated balloon. Whether the branch he hung himself on broke or the rope broke, either would cause his body to burst open when it hit the ground. Hence the name “Field of Blood.”

There’s another lesson in these two verses. This lesson is the difference between apostasy and backsliding. Judas revealed his true nature when he betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders. He was an unbeliever. He didn’t have the faith to ask for forgiveness and restoration. Instead, he succumbed to despair and suicide. In contrast, Peter was a temporary backslider when he denied Jesus at His trial. He repented and was restored.

Verse 20

The two passages referenced here were already discussed under verse 16. There is both a reference to fulfilled prophecy (Judas) and future prophecy (Matthias).

Verse 21-22

Peter now lays out the minimum qualifications for the person chosen to replace Judas.

  • They must have been a witness to the entire ministry of Jesus, from the baptism given by John the Baptist until the ascension.
  • They had to have been a witness to the resurrected Jesus.

The role of the apostles in Acts is defined by these qualifications.

  • Witnesses to His teaching and could, therefore, share His teaching.
  • Witnesses to His resurrection.
  • Witnesses to His ascension.

Because of this, there could not be any apostolic succession. Also, Judas was replaced because he betrayed Jesus, not because he died. James was martyred in Acts 12:2, and he wasn’t replaced. The number twelve also corresponds to the twelve tribes of Israel. In Luke 22:28-30, we see that Jesus tells the twelve that they will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. There is also a reference to twelve foundations in Revelation 21:14. They represent the restored Israel, God’s chosen people. This connection required twelve apostles. Since the church is built on the foundation of the twelve apostles, their number must be complete before the coming of the Spirit and the birth of the church.

Verse 23

Two candidates are nominated who met the requirements outlined by Peter.

  • Joseph, also called Barsabbas, which means “son of the Sabbath.” Later tradition cited by Eusebius said that as a result of his missionary work, he was forced to drink poison and suffered no ill effects. Nothing else is known about him.
  • Matthias, whose name means “gift of God.” Later tradition speculates that he became a missionary to Ethiopia or that his bones are buried in Trier, Germany. Nothing else is known about him.

Verses 24-25

They now followed the example set by Jesus before He chose the twelve; they engaged in prayer. Their prayer implied that the person chosen would be the one with stronger inner faith, “You, Lord, know the hearts of all.” The prayer closes by identifying the need to replace Judas and stating that he had gone to the place of his choosing. 

The centrality of prayer is a lesson for the church today. Prayer is a thermometer and a thermostat for the local church; the church’s spiritual temperature goes up or down, depending on the prayer habits of the members of the church. Prayer is a way for the church, and its members, to engage in spiritual warfare against Satan, demons, and evil people. 

Verse 26

It may seem strange that the assembly would cast lots in the process instead of the church voting for the replacement. However, there are several things to keep in mind.

  • The casting of lots was an accepted practice recorded throughout Old Testament history.
  • The casting of lots was not a result determined by “chance.” The outcome was always determined by God.
  • Proverbs 16:33 – The lot is cast into the lap, but its every direction is from the LORD.
  • God the Son (Jesus) had chosen the original twelve, and it was His position to select the replacement.
  • The Spirit had not been poured out on the church. Therefore, the church was not yet “Spirit led.” After Pentecost, the church would make decisions based on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Lots are not recorded as being cast after this point.


  • Pray often and pray with other believers. 
  • If you are a backslider like Peter, repent and be restored.
  • If you are a fake believer like Judas, submit and follow Jesus.
  • Submit to the leading and wisdom of the Holy Spirit in all areas of your life.

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