Acts 1:15-26 – Casting lots for leaders in Christ

Updated: Feb 4

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus– for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry. So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us– one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.


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This is the reading selection from the Episcopal Lectionary, from the Acts of the Apostles, for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B 2018. It will next be read aloud in church by a reader on Sunday, May 13, 2018. This reading is important as it addresses the replacement of Judas Iscariot among the Apostles of Christ.


In this selected passage, it is worthwhile to look at the first verse (Acts 1:15), based on the Greek and pause points (punctuation). The Greek states, “Kai en tais hēmerais tautais  ,  anastas Petros en mesō tōn adelphōn  ,  eipen , ēn te echlos onomatōn epi to auto  ,  hōsei hekaton eikosi  ,” which is broken into five segments, not two (where one segment is set apart by rounded brackets – parenthesis). This means the literal English translation states, “And in the days these  having stood up Peter in midst of the brothers  said  ,  was moreover number of names the same  ,  about a hundred twenty  ,” which is more profound than the translation read aloud in church.


In the first segment’s statement, the plural pronoun “these” refers back to the verses prior, where the disciples had watched Jesus ascend into Heaven from the Mount of Olives and then returned to the upstairs room. There they rejoined the larger group of followers of Jesus, who were his family and friends, including “Mary the mother of Jesus, and … his brothers.” (Acts 1:14) This took place on the Sabbath, which was the “Sixth Shabbat” after Jesus was found risen (Easter Sunday). It was the Seventh Sabbath, counting his Resurrection on a Sabbath and his Ascension also on a Sabbath.  Thus “the days” had numbered 41 since Jesus appeared to his disciples – in resurrected body.  It was also the 49th of “the days” in the Counting of the Omer.  That means “these” can be seen as a plural pronoun referencing the times since the relationship between Jesus and his followers had forever changed.


In the second segment, which names Peter, it is vital to see how the word “anastas” (a variation of the verb “anistémi” – as “having stood up”) is a name in Greek, as “Anastas,” that means “Resurrection.” This should not be overlooked, as the use of this word is intended for the reader to realize how Peter did more than just stand up from a seated position and begin to talk to a room full of people.  It says that Peter became elevated by the Holy Spirit while among the others who followed Jesus.


Notice how priests stand to present a sermon?


This uplifting of Peter can then be seen as the Resurrection of Jesus within him.  Whereas Jesus had previously been “in the middle” of “these” people who were in the upstairs room, as their leader and the “center” of their attention and devotion, Peter then took that position. It is then also vital to grasp that this was on the Sabbath, and the day before Pentecost (the “Fiftieth Day”), when the Holy Spirit came upon all of the disciples.  Peter then spoke as a rabbi, before his synagogue family.


The separation of the Greek word “eipen” (the past tense of “legó”), which translates as “said,” is then placing important emphasis on the act of speaking that Peter commenced doing. This acts then as a precursor to the writing in chapter 2, when on the day of Pentecost we read, “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd.” (Acts 2:14) The same elevation of Peter’s spirit took place then, so that he spoke the Word of God (as “uplifted voice”), rather than simply standing up and yelling at a crowd of people. While it can also be assumed his voice was loudly heard, the greatest importance is intended to be on the message that came forth. Thus, the segregation of this one word in chapter 1 places the same focus on the Word being “said” by Peter.


When a separate segment of words translates to say, “Was moreover number of names the same,” this raises the intent of “auto,” being at the end of a “number of names,” to a higher level.  The translation of “te” as “moreover” can be misleading, as it makes this segment clearer when translated as “both.” This then is saying that “both” Peter and the “number” (or “crowd” of “people in common,” from “ochlos”) of those he stood in the middle of were “the same” in “having stood up,” where (again) that means they had all become resurrected in spirit. It says they understood what Peter “said,” because all of them then shared the “same name,” as their “names” had become one (“the same”) with Christ.


That is significant to grasp, because in this scene Peter acts like a priest in a church, amid a congregation. Because he spoke, it is easy for modern Christians to see Peter as special or more filled with the Holy Spirit than the others. However, that is not the case and should not be taken as such, then or now.


Because “the number of names was the same,” Peter “said” what everyone else would have “said,” as it was also “said” within “them” (alternate translation of “auto”). Those to who Peter spoke were just like Peter, “both” (“auto”) human and divine, because Jesus Christ had entered “them.”  Regardless of what “names” their parents had given them, they were all resurrections of Jesus Christ. That is why those (or “these”) Jews were also Christians (“both” and “the same”). Therefore, none of them were lost intellectually as Peter spoke; and none left the upstairs room saying, “I had no clue what Peter was talking about.”


Not on the same mental wavelength?


When the final segment of verse 15 says, “about a hundred twenty,” this can be misleading too.  It can seem as if the number was not clear, as an estimate, where the number could be more or less. That is not the way to read the meaning of the Greek word “hōsei.”


The “number of names” totaled exactly one hundred twenty – no more, no less. This means the word “hōsei” is better translated as “like” or “as it were.” This then makes the word become a direct link to the previous segment, where being “the same” is then being “alike.”  As such, it conveys the message: “the number of names [of those] like” Jesus Christ was “one hundred twenty.”


This number is then a factor of ten, which yields twelve. According to Wikipedia, under the heading “Tithe,” Mosaic Law established ten percent as the amount of one’s produce reaped at harvest, which is owed to the Levites (who owned no land and grew nothing to harvest.  Thus, the Israelites were required to supply their priests with the bounty of the land (the Counting of the Omer is a ritual associated with that first harvest).


The article states: “The first tithe is giving of one tenth of agricultural produce (after the giving of the standard terumah) to the Levite (or Aaronic priests).”


Since Jesus was of Levitical descent and himself a Temple of the LORD, he too would set aside ten percent of his fruit harvested, as that dedicated to doing God’s work. This would now be reflected in those numbering one hundred twenty, who served God through Jesus.  That would have been a number fixed during Jesus’ ministry – after he had gathered together his own. He chose twelve disciples as a ten percent tithing to God.  Therefore, the speech given by Peter, which was well understood by the others, was saying that Jesus Christ required ten percent of his followers to become dedicated leaders of his Church. Without Judas, that number was unfulfilled and in need of replenishment.


In addition, this made the selection of twelve also be symbolic as the “elders” of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, where each leader was like the father (patriarch) of a family (women and children), while being brothers to the other elders. Because Judas Iscariot had been selected to represent one group of Jesus’ disciples, he acted as the father to that group of followers (a priestly term).  Judas’ death meant it was necessary to elevate a new follower of devotion into his vacated slot.


While not stated (just as Matthias and Joseph called Barsabbas, known as Justus were unheard of prior, and never mentioned directly again in Scripture), it may be that those two names were selected from those who were of the “family group” headed by Judas Iscariot. The meaning of the name Joseph implies an “Addition,” where “Barsabba” is not of Hebrew origin, believed to mean “Son of War.”  Because Justus means “Just,” it implies a Roman name, which could be stating that Judas Iscariot recruited a former Roman soldier (a Jew) to follow Jesus.  As for Matthias, his name meaning is “Gift of Yah[weh],” which could indicate one who was a financial contributor the Jesus’ needs.  If so, Matthais would have been introduced to Judas because he was the holder of the money for the family of Jesus.  That could mean that Judas Iscariot, in all sincerity, opened Matthias to becoming a devotee to Jesus, in the group fathered by Judas.  This analysis makes these lone appearances of the names here have hidden meaning be exposed, which adds to the depth of the meaning that is otherwise missed.


By seeing the death of Judas as a need to promote one of his own recruits to the position of respect that Judas once had (as one of the twelve), that makes the words of Peter speak the truth.  When he said that Judas was, “one of the men who [had] accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us,” Peter pronounced that Judas was a good disciple until he fell from grace.  Even then, he fell from grace with purpose, as a necessary sacrificial lamb, one who fulfilled the prophecies of David (in psalms).  Therefore, the selection of Matthias (by casting lots) would then mean that the guilt of one evil disciple would not transfer to others (guilt by association), as the devotion to Jesus, by those who had liked Judas and come to Jesus because of him, had not wavered by Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.


To further this possibility, one should look to the Psalms quoted by Peter (omitted from this reading). The first quote comes from Psalm 69, verse 25, where David wrote, “May their place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in their tents.”  That says the traitor Judas had no blood family that followed Jesus. Thus, there was no one who would stand by Judas, in support of his betrayal.  While it would have been natural (possibly even a requirement) that the disciples of Jesus would have previously fulfilled their roles as married fathers (respectful Jews in the eyes of God), it was not a requirement that the families of the disciples also follow Jesus. For example, James and John of Zebedee left their father behind, so those two would be replaced by hired hands. This means Judas had led other people to follow Jesus, not his own blood relatives.


As such, Psalm 109, verses 8 through 10 states:


May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes.


That says Judas’ time as a disciple was limited, but another would rise from his ashes to take his place. Instead of a blood relative, it would be a spiritual brother who was devoted to Jesus, one who was in the church of his followers, due to Judas. The implication (in my view) is that Matthias and Justus were nominated by the family group that was in Christ because of Judas Iscariot.  That group chose two men from among their group of ten people, with those choices then approved by the whole church (all 120). After that process was concluded, the two chosen “cast lots,” which could mean they chose from straws cut to various lengths [or maybe they tossed smoothed stones at a wall].  The one who pulled the straw of the desired length [or tossed the stone closest to the wall] was then selected the leader of a family group, as the twelfth disciple.  While Matthias was chosen, Justus would have remained a devoted disciple.


This is how the selection of any church leader should be, from vestry members to bishops to popes.  The selection process demands that the whole body be: A.) Capable of being chosen as a representative for a family group; B.) Filled with the Holy Spirit, as a true resurrection of Jesus Christ; and C.) Led by the Mind of Christ, thus in access of full knowledge of God’s Word.  If all in the Church meet these requirements, then all votes to place a member at the table of twelve should be unanimous.


As a lesson set forth in the final week of the Easter season, the grasping of a personal  need to have the Resurrection of Jesus Christ be within is realizing one’s need to “stand up within the midst” of oneself.  In one’s own heart one must be Anastas, a name meaning Resurrection.  One must be reborn of “brother” Jesus, whether one is a male or a female human being.. One needs to be added to the long list that is the “number of names” that have all shared “the same” Holy Spirit as Jesus Christ reborn.


It is important to see how oneself must speak in the name of Jesus Christ, led by the Holy Spirit to speak of Scripture powerfully, so others can feel drawn to know the same truth. A Christian is then defined as a “friend” in a church of family, where all are “allotted [each] his [and her] share in this ministry” of God’s Word. To stand up and speak is to be true to Jesus Christ; but to sit silently (or to speak against Scripture, literally and figuratively) is to betray the Lord, as did Judas Iscariot.


It is a valid point to see Gentile converts to Christianity (Americans who are not Jewish by birth) as the family gathered by Judas, led to the truth by the truth.  Regardless of the flaws within he who initially showed that light of truth to others, true Christians are devoted to God, not His servants. The stigma of being Christian comes when one has been told there is nothing more to do, once one professes belief that Jesus was the Son of God.  People who preach that message are only looking for their own thirty pieces of silver, betraying God and Christ by misleading souls.


The Temple leaders knew their payment to Judas was blood money, once he threw it back at them.  The money was cursed to them, so they used it to purchase Potter’s Field, where the earth was red clay.  That name has become synonymous with graveyard for paupers and wayward souls.


Mass graves with no last rites?


One who follows the lead of a Judas then find his same end, which leaves one standing on the “field of blood,” like the one where Judas was destroyed.  The omitted verses in the middle of this reading has Peter telling the story of that tragedy, which comes when one cannot stand and speak the Word:


“With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.” (Acts 1:18-19).


The Easter message is to be filled with the blood of Christ. One needs to be Resurrected in his name for that relationship to commence.  The sacrifice of ego, for a higher self, brings that about, while the sacrifice of servitude to God brings about the weakness of Judas.


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