Acts, Lesson 2: Jesus ascends and then sends the Holy Spirit

Pentecost (610x350)Jesus had just told His Apostles that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit would descend on them. The Spirit would empower them to speak of what their eyes had witnessed when they were with Jesus.


The Ascension

Read Acts 1:9-11


  • What takes place with Jesus?


The Significance of the Cloud

During the Old Covenant, God often came to His people in the form of a cloud.

  • Exodus 13:21: During the day, the Lord went ahead of them [the Israelites wandering in the wilderness] in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way. During the night, he went ahead of them in a pillar of fire to give them light. This way they could travel by day or by night.
  • Exodus 16:10: While Aaron was speaking to the whole community of Israelites, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.
  • Exodus 24:16: The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud.
  • Ezekiel 10:4: [Referring to God’s presence in the Temple,] the cloud filled the temple, and the courtyard was filled with the radiance of the glory of the Lord.
  • Daniel 7:13: In my visions during the night, I saw among the clouds in heaven someone like the Son of Man. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.

However, the cloud, in particular, also was God the Holy Spirit at work.

  • Isaiah 63:11: His [God’s] people remembered Moses and the days of old. Where is he who brought them through the sea with the shepherd of his flock? Where is he who placed his Holy Spirit among them?

In Jesus’ ascension, we get a glimpse of the Holy Trinity at work. Yet, this was nothing new. We find earlier examples of this during Jesus’ earthly life, as well. During Jesus’ incarnation, God the Father sent the Holy Spirit to overshadow Mary so Jesus would be conceived in her womb (Luke 1:35). During Jesus’ baptism, God the Father spoke while the Holy Spirit descended as a dove (Matthew 3:16, Luke 3:22). During the Resurrection, God the Father sent the Holy Spirit to raise Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11). And during Jesus’ Ascension, the Holy Spirit brought Jesus back to God the Father.



The Two Men in White

We must remember that Acts is the second part of a two-volume work, St. Luke’s Gospel being the first. So, Luke gives us a clue to the identity of these men in his earlier Gospel. In Luke 9:28-35, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus in the cloud at the Transfiguration. (At the Transfiguration, we have another manifestation of the Holy Trinity: Jesus is in the air conversing with Moses and Elijah, a cloud [the Holy Spirit] covers them, and God the Father speaks.)

During the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah conversed with Jesus. This became a picture showing that Jesus would soon fulfill the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). During Jesus’ Ascension, their reappearance confirms that Jesus did, indeed, fulfill the Law and the Prophets, that is, the Old Covenant.



  • What does this passage tell us how Jesus will return?


The Pre-Pentecost Christian Congregation

Read Acts 1:12-14

  • After Jesus’ ascended where did the Eleven go?


  • Who else was with them in the Upper Room?


  • What were they doing?


  • What does Luke’s mention “with one accord” tell us? Discuss.


The Prayer: In this verse, the use of the direct article (the) in the Greek before the word “prayer” tells us that the Apostles and women disciples were praying formal Jewish liturgical prayers. This makes the most sense considering “the Prayers” (plural with the direct article) was a Jewish liturgical term that referred to formal worship (we’ll see this in Acts 2:42). We know this is the case because synagogue inscriptions have been found dealing with freed slaves from Jewish owners. They linked the slaves’ freedom with the proviso that they continue to attend synagogue worship, specifically referred to as “the Prayers.” The direct article changes the meaning from prayer in general to a more formalized, liturgical worship.[1]


The Church Replaces Judas

Read Acts 1:15-17

  • How large was the entire Christian Church then?


  • In verse 16, what does Peter recognize about the authority of the Scripture?


  • At one time, was Judas really one of Jesus’ disciples?


Read Acts 1:18

  • How did Judas die?


“Falling headlong”: Luke makes a point to say that Judas fell headlong to the ground and his insides burst open. Matthew’s account (Matthew 27:5-8) does not mention, or even hint at, this. Luke brings to mind the imagery from the Old Testament Apocrypha book of Wisdom 4:18-19:

They [the unrighteous] will see and have contempt for him [the righteous one], but the Lord will laugh them to scorn. After this they will be dead without honor and the outrage among the dead forever; because he will dash them headlong and speechless to the ground …

By linking back to the Old Testament, Luke is making a point about how much Judas dishonored himself.


Read Acts 1:20

  • What does Peter tell the Church needs to be done?


Peter quoted Psalm 69:25 [LXX 68:26] and 109:8 [LXX 108:8]. Peter quotes both psalms from the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament translation. Psalm 69:25 is in the plural, but Peter changes it to a singular. The original context of those psalms had David speaking that his enemy would die early in life, falling under God’s judgment. His home would become empty and another would have to fill his “office” (LXX, episcopate or bishopric). (Note: today’s Masoretic Text has pehuda, “goods.”) Peter could only quote those psalms in this context if he believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of David’s kingly line. Thus, the curses invoked on the enemies of David also fell on Judas.


Read Acts 1:21-26

  • What were the two criteria for Judas’ replacement?


  • Since both men were equally qualified, how was the one man chosen?


Proverbs 16:33: The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

  • Mention the Egyptian Coptic Church use of lot to choose its head bishop (pope).


  • What was done before casting lots? In other words, it was a prayer for God to do what?


Kleros: Like most words, Kleros in the Greek has more than one meaning. We first find kleros in Acts 1:17: “For he [Judas] was numbered among us and was allotted his share [kleros] in this ministry. Acts 1:26 reads: “And they cast lots for them; and the lot [kleros] fell on Matthias.” And so we learn that Judas had turned away from the “lot” that Jesus had given him; thus, the Church chose his successor by “lot.”

We should not see the use of lots as the Church surrendering all authority to random chance. The Church established the criteria for whom she should call to fill the “bishopric,” by mentioning specific men who had the qualifications (Acts 1:23). Nevertheless, they left final outcome to God, as evidenced by the prayer that preceded their use of lots (Acts 1:24-25).

  • In what way was Matthias not true Apostle?


  • What could he do that the other Apostles could do (think the difference between witness and confess)?


“Ministry and apostleship”: In Acts 1:25, we see a shift take place in the Church, with Matthias as the bridge. He wasn’t a true Apostle, that is, called directly by Christ. He was called by God through the Church, which has been the pattern ever since of placing men into the Apostolic ministry. Luke’s use of both “ministry” and “apostleship” show the transition. After Matthais, the Church never sought to replace an Apostle with an “Apostle.” Instead, the Church replaced the Apostle with a pastor/elder/bishop (all synonyms in the New Testament) into the Apostolic ministry (See 1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6-7).


God sends His Holy Spirit to His Church

Read Acts 2:1-4

Old-Covenant Pentecost: In the Old Covenant, Pentecost was one of three feasts that God required the adult men of Israel to travel to Jerusalem and celebrate (Deuteronomy 16:16). Pentecost was a harvest festival celebrated 50 days after Passover, when the first loaves of bread from the spring wheat crop were dedicated as a first-fruits offering to the Lord (Leviticus 23:15-17). Over time, theological significance was added to its agricultural focus: Pentecost also became a celebration of the Torah given to Israel on Mt. Sinai. That is why there were so many Jews in Jerusalem when the New-Covenant Pentecost took place.

In the New Covenant, Pentecost does not celebrate the Torah given to Israel but the Holy Spirit given to the new Israel, God’s New-Covenant Church (Romans 2:28-29; Galatians 3:7, 29).

  • Who were the “they” in verse one? Was it only the Apostles or the 120 of the Church?


  • What were outward visible signs of the Holy Spirit descending on the New-Covenant Church?


God used fire to reveal His presence in during Old-Covenant times (Exodus 3:2, 13:21-22) and also wind (Psalm 104:3). When God met with Moses on Mt Sinai, we find both sound and fire (Exodus 19:16-19).

Further, Pentecost also fulfilled the prophecy that Luke recorded John the Baptizer speaking: “I baptize you with water. But the One more powerful than I am is coming– I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16).

  • What did “they” begin to do?


Speaking in Tongues: In the context for the day of Pentecost, Luke used the Greek word glossai, often translated as “tongues.” Glossai is better translated as “other languages” since that was the ordinary Greek word to mean “languages.”

Other Pentecosts?: A more-literal translation of Acts 1:1 reads, “When the day of Pentecost was fulfilled.” Luke used that same wording in Luke 9:51: “When the days for his [Jesus] being taken up were fulfilled …” Luke wrote that verse showing that, for Jesus, the time had arrived for Him to go to Jerusalem to fulfill His saving mission through the cross of death. There would be no other crucifixion that could save us because Jesus was fulfilling the Father’s plan of salvation.

In the same way, there will be no other day of Pentecost. Later in Acts, we will see God send other manifestations of His Holy Spirit as the Church grew and expanded, but it was not the same as Pentecost.


Excursus: Speaking in Tongues at Pentecost and in Corinth

The “tongues” that Luke reported at Pentecost were a one-time phenomenon for the New Covenant Church (see “Other Pentecosts?” above). Yet, what happened on Pentecost was different from the “tongues” that the Apostle Paul discussed in 1 Corinthians 12-14, and, perhaps, also from the “tongues” in Acts 19:6. (Yet, pastor is not holding a firm stance on this until he teaches 1 Corinthians to study this more in depth.)

At Pentecost, the Christians spoke in other languages and the Jews gathered that day understood them. In contrast, Paul (most likely, thinks pastor right now) reprimanded some in the Corinthian congregation because others could not understand their prayer-speech in tongues without someone to interpret or translate it (1 Corinthians 14:2, 6-9, 13-19, and 27-28).

Paul affirmed “speaking in tongues” as a gift for prayer and praise (1 Corinthians 14: 4-5, 18). However, since such a tongue was unintelligible to others, it wasn’t useful to others in the congregation. Paul, instead, urged the Corinthians to prefer the gift of prophecy, that is, speaking words that can strengthen the faith of others.

The miraculous speaking of languages at Pentecost was a form of prophecy. What was spoken proclaimed “the mighty acts of God”–what God has done in Jesus Christ–in a way that the listeners could understand (Acts 2:11).



[1] See Timothy Thorton’s article, “Continuing Steadfast in Prayer–New Light on a New Testament Phrase,” in Expository Times, Volume 83 (1971), pgs. 23-24. See also The Jewish Manumission Inscriptions of the Bosporus Kingdom by Elizabeth L. Gibson, pg. 138. The Beginnings of Christianity, Volume 4 by by James H. Ropes, Henry J. Cadbury, and Kirsopp Lake, pgs. 10-11, also mentions this.


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