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This Sunday School Study Guide is provided free of cost for personal study and as an aid for Sunday School teachers.  It contains copyright material and may not be reproduced in any form for sale, without permission from the copyright holders.  


Bailey Sadler Class



Study Theme: 

What This Lesson Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

Jesus’ told His disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit, who would empower them to accomplish Christ’s mission for His church.  Our study focus is on the same message Jesus has for us today.


Oct. 16

Unstoppable Mission


Oct . 23

Unstoppable Message


Oct. 30

Unstoppable Love


Nov, 06

Unstoppable Opportunities


Nov. 13

Unstoppable Courage


Nov. 20

Unstoppable Impact



Nov. 27

Give Thanks




The Holy Spirit empowers us to spread the gospel.



Acts 1:4-8,12-14





Promise Of The Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5)

Empowered By The Holy Spirit (Acts 1:6-8)

United Through Prayer (Acts 12-14)


After Jesus rose from the dead, for 40 days He appeared to His disciples, showing Himself to be alive and instructing them on the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). Although He was preparing to return to God the Father, as He had promised, the disciples would not be left alone. They would receive “the Father’s promise,” the Holy Spirit, who would be with them to teach them and empower them. As the time arrived for Jesus to leave His disciples, He spoke with them one last time.

SOURCE: : The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


Many Christians no longer have the passion of the early believers to take on the mission Christ gave to the church. Fear of offending and being rejected has become more important than love for God and our neighbor, so we have chosen to leave to others the mission of making disciples. We need to turn from our own priorities and return to the mission Jesus gave His followers in Acts 1.

SOURCE: : The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.









Promise Of The Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5)

4 While He was together with them, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise. “This,” He said, “is what you heard from Me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

1.   What is something you have waited for that was worth the wait?

2.   How does anticipating a good thing affect your ability to wait?

3.   What do you find difficult about waiting on the Lord?

4.   Why was Jesus with His disciples in the first place?  (See “Biblical Setting” for more on this question.)

5.   How do you think the disciples felt when Jesus told them to wait for the Holy Spirit?

6.   What do you think they may have been thinking? 

7.   Why might the command to wait be one of the most difficult, yet essential, commands for the disciples to obey?

8.   What thoughts might have gone through your mind had you been one of the disciples?

9.   But you are one of His disciples if He is your Savior, so what are your thoughts about the Holy Spirit?

10.   How real is the Holy Spirit in your life?

11.   What did the disciples hear from Jesus?

12.   What do you think it means to be “Baptized”  with the Holy Spirit?

13.   What does John 14:16-18,26; 15:26-27;  and 16:7-14 tell us about the ministry of the Holy Spirit?

14.   What do you think the disciples understood regarding the Holy Spirit? 

15.   What is the difference between John’s baptism and the Holy Spirit’s baptism?

16.   According to Acts 2:1-4, when was the Father’s promise  fulfilled?

17.   If it is correctly noted “that the life of a Christian is not hard, it’s impossible,” what do you think would make it impossible?



Lasting Lessons in Acts 1:4-5:

1.  Jesus gave His followers clear instructions about where the power comes from to serve Him.

2.  God empowers all believers with His Holy Spirit.

3.  We should not attempt ministry or service in our own power, we need to rely on God’s power.



Empowered By The Holy Spirit (Acts 1:6-8)

6 So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, are You restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

1.   According to verse 6, what question did the disciples ask Jesus?

2.   Why do you think the disciples viewed the gift of the Holy Spirit as an answer to their hopes for a new political kingdom for Israel?

3.   What did Jesus tell them?

4.   Why do you think is was not for them to know times and periods that the Father has set by His own authority?

5.   Based on verse 8, what did Jesus tell them?

6.   What was to be their mission?

7.   At this point do you think they really understood what their mission was to be?  Why, or why not?

8.   What do these verses teach us about God’s mission?

9.   Why do you think they still misunderstood God’s kingdom and the time in which its restoration would be accomplished?

10.   How does the Holy Spirit empower us to spread the gospel?

11.   What are some things that can cause us to doubt we have God’s power within us to carry out His mission?

12.   If the Holy Spirit empowers our witness, how does prayer keep us focused on that mission?

13.   If witnessing for Christ can take many forms, what form is it taking in your life?

14.   Why was it more important for the disciples to focus on the mission than on the times and periods?

15.   Do you think this applies to us today?  Why, or why not?

16.   What does the word “witness” imply for the believer today?  (See Digging Deeper.)


Lasting Lessons in Acts 1:5-8:

1.  Sometimes Christians misunderstand what Jesus taught us about God’s plans and God’s timing and we need to be corrected and re-focused.

2.  The Holy Spirit empowers us to do whatever God wants us to do.

3.  Witnessing for Christ can take many forms.

4.  Believers are to witness for Christ locally and globally.



United Through Prayer (Acts 12-14)

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, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, 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.

1.   What happened between verse 8 and verse 12?

2.   Where did the ascension of Jesus take place (v. 12)?

3.   What was a Sabbath day’s journey? 

4.   Do you think that praying with others for a common mission is different from one’s personal prayers?  Why, or why not?

5.   What do you think these believers prayed about when they returned from the Mount of Olives?

6.   What do you find significant about those who gathered in the upper room?

7.   What is it about praying together that unites people?

8.   If prayer is primary for us to carry out our mission, do you think it is the last choice for many believers?  If so, why?

9.   When we pray collectively, how does prayer unit us (v. 14)?

10.   If our mission is the same as the disciples, to spread the gospel, do you think we are as prepared as they were?  Why, or why not?

11.   How united do you think we are in spreading the gospel in our community today?

12.   Do you think prayer and unity are absolutely essential for spreading the gospel today?  If so, why?



Lasting Lessons in Acts 1:12-14:

1.  Christians today share the same mission with the early Christians—telling others about Jesus.

2.  Praying together can unite us and keep us from focusing on the minor issues that often divide Christians.

3.  Praying together can keep our focus on Jesus, our Lord and Savior, and His mission for the church today.

4.  Jesus’ mission is unstoppable.



 Acts is a book of the history of the early church.  We generally think of history only as a record of the past.  Yet, in truth, we are not separated from our history; we are a continuation of it.  Thus, we are to learn from it.  Therefore, what we read in Acts in not what the church was; it is instructive to what the church is and what we are to be presently.  We are on a mission that cannot be stopped!  Is the mandate Christ gave His disciples the same mandate He gives us today?  If so, what is the power source for carrying out the mission and how do we access it?  What is the key to preparing to be on mission?  How focused are you on this mandate Christ has given all His believers?  Witnessing for Christ can take many forms.  What form do you use for sharing the gospel with others?  Do you know what your role is for sharing the gospel?  On a scale of 1 (don’t have a clue) to 10 (absolutely, without doubt), rate yourself on how well you know and are using your role for sharing the gospel; keeping in mind your need and reliance on God’s Holy Spirit to empower you to fulfill you mission?  In addition, how do you rate in your reliance on the help of God’s Holy Spirit in fulfilling your mission? 

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT! 

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.


Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Bible Studies For Life: Life Ventures Leaders Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.




Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:


Revised Standard Edition:

Acts 1:4-8,12-14 (RSE)

4 And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me,5 for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away; 13 and when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James.14 All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.


New Revised Standard Version:

Acts 1:4-8,12-14 (NRSV)

4 In one of these meetings as he was eating a meal with them, he told them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you what he promised. Remember, I have told you about this before. 5 John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  6 When the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, are you going to free Israel now and restore our kingdom?” 7 “The Father sets those dates,” he replied, “and they are not for you to know. 8 But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

12 The apostles were at the Mount of Olives when this happened, so they walked the half mile back to Jerusalem. 13 Then they went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying. Here is the list of those who were present: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (the Zealot), and Judas (son of James). 14 They all met together continually for prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.


New Living Translation:

Acts 1:4-8,12-14 (NLT)

4 While staying£ with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with£ the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13  When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.



(NOTE: Commentary for the focal verses comes from three sources: The College Press NIV Commentary,” ”The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament,” and “Complete Biblical Library Commentary” and is provided for context and study.

LESSON OUTLINE—Unstoppable Mission”— (Acts 1:4-8,12-14)




Promise Of The Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5)

Empowered By The Holy Spirit (Acts 1:6-8)

United Through Prayer (Acts 12-14)


The College Press NIV Commentary: (Acts 1:4-8,12-14)

The Commissioning of the Apostles (1:4-8)

Included among these “things about the Kingdom of God” which Christ taught his disciples was the promise of the Holy Spirit. Jesus used an occasion of eating with his disciples to issue his command. Luke also describes another resurrection appearance which involved a meal (see Luke 24:43). In the present context one particular concern is mentioned by Luke. Jesus wanted his disciples to be ready for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

By commanding them to wait in Jerusalem, Jesus was fulfilling expectations which extended back to the Old Testament prophets. Isaiah 2:5 predicted, “The Law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” His own teaching had confirmed this anticipation. Jesus had told them they would “receive power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Jerusalem would be the place. Though they might be tempted to leave Jerusalem and go back to Galilee or to avoid persecution by returning to their previous way of life, Jesus was telling them to stay in the city.

The “power from on high” of which Jesus had spoken would arrive shortly. As to the specific nature of this power, the only words from Jesus we have are the well-known passages from John 14-16. There Jesus encouraged his disciples not to think of his separation from them as a reason to lose heart. He promised them that the Father will send “another Counselor” (John 14:16) who would guide them into all truth (John 16:13). Here Jesus was contrasting the coming gift of the Spirit with what was found in the baptism of John. The apostles would experience a power that was unlike anything experienced by those baptized by John.

Luke 3:16 records the testimony of John the Baptist. When baptizing those who came to him, John told the people that the one coming after him would baptize them “with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (see also Matt 3:11 and John 1:33). Now Jesus was reminding the apostles of this promise. John’s baptism was performed with water and yet was quite effective. What Jesus was predicting for the apostles would be more than they could imagine. The Holy Spirit was going to be poured out from heaven in a way that would include flames of fire (see Acts 2:3). The days of fulfillment described by the Old Testament prophets were dawning.

It is easy to see what the apostles thought about the coming of the Spirit. Evidently his description of the outpouring of the Spirit caused them to begin thinking about the end of the age. On the day of Jesus’ ascension the group was conversing on the Mount of Olives. The apostles saw their opportunity to ask a burning question. Would this time be the moment for the restoration of the kingdom to Israel?

The form of their question indicates that they expected a political reign. “Restore” suggests a return to the national independence enjoyed under former kings. On numerous occasions the apostles had shown that this expectation dominated their thinking. They were eager to see the restoration of dominion to Israel and to share positions of authority in the new political order. Even at their last supper with Jesus this issue had surfaced (see Luke 22:24-27; Mark 10:35-45).

Without confronting their misconception directly, Jesus was now reminding them that their position did not permit them such privileged information. They would not be given details about “the times or dates” for the fulfillment of God’s purposes. Their concern was not to speculate as to when, but to commit themselves as to what their role would be in the Lord’s completing of his divine plans.

“My witnesses” is what Jesus said they would be. With its background in the courtroom, “witness” (μαρτυριϚαmarturia) implies the act of testifying. They would serve as proclaimers of the earthly ministry, the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. As eyewitnesses they were in the perfect position to do so.

The Old Testament prophet had called on Israel to be God’s witnesses in the world (see Isa 43:10; 44:8). Their failure in this mission made the ministry of Jesus even more essential. If Israel would not become the “servant of the Lord,” then Jesus, and those whom he commissioned, must take up the task.

The apostles were to become Christ’s witness-bearers. The extent of this witnessing would be worldwide. Beginning in Jerusalem they would proclaim the gospel in ever-widening geographical circles. It would be proclaimed also in “all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8 thus becomes the theme of the entire book. Roughly speaking, Acts 1-7 describes the impact of the gospel in Jerusalem. Then, Acts 8-12 carries the account forward, depicting the effects of the gospel in several places in Judea (the region including Jerusalem) and Samaria (the region immediately north of Judea). Lastly, Acts 13-28 highlights the spread of the gospel to major cities of the whole Roman Empire, the ends of the civilized world. This commentary follows the progression indicated in this verse.

Proclaiming the gospel on such a broad scale was an incredible undertaking. Sufferings and hardships would accompany the apostles on the way. Help from God was vital. Thus Jesus addressed the very real need of the apostles when he reminded them of what the Father had promised for them. They would receive power in the form of the Holy Spirit. Only then could they serve as witnesses. With this power (δύναμιςdynamis)—the very power which worked in the ministry of Christ on earth—the apostles would be propelled into the activity of witnessing. Such proclamation of the Christ would lead to a restored Israel in spiritual glory as the kingdom was advanced on a universal scale.

Without the Spirit there could be no witnessing for Jesus. Yet without the focus of witnessing for Jesus the power of the Spirit has no purpose. Wherever disciples of Jesus become distracted from their witness for him the power is drained away.

Waiting for the Holy Spirit (1:12-14)

Returning from the Mount of Olives was an uphill climb on a winding road with some spectacular views of Jerusalem to the west and the Dead Sea to the east. This notation by Luke gives the location of the ascension at a place just outside of Jerusalem on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. The apostles walked “a Sabbath’s day’s walk” to get to Jerusalem. This distance was about three-fourths of a mile and was the longest distance one could walk without breaking the Sabbath day regulation established by rabbinic tradition.

When they arrived, the apostles went to “an upstairs room.” The term describes a space which was generally found on the third floor of a large Palestinian house. These rooms were normally reached by outside steps and were often used as dining rooms or as places of study. Sometimes they were also sublet to poorer families. No information is given as to the owner of the house, though some suggest that it may have belonged to Mary, mother of Mark (see 12:12). It may have been the same upper room used for Jesus’ last supper with his disciples (see Mark 14:15).

At this point the list of apostles is given. The list differs only slightly from similar ones given in the Gospels (Luke 6:14-16; Mark 3:16-19; Matt 10:2-4). The order of the names shows some variation and Judas Iscariot is, of course, omitted. James son of Alphaeus is probably the same disciple called James the younger (see Mark 15:40). Simon is called “the Zealot” which is likely a reference to his connections with the group of militant Jews fighting for political independence in the latter part of the first century.

Also mentioned here are women who were a part of the fellowship of believers. Included among the women were those who had followed Jesus from Galilee (see Luke 23:49-55). Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary the mother of James are mentioned in Mark 15:40-47. In some cases, the women may have been relatives of the apostles, or even their wives (as mentioned in 1 Cor 9:5). Mary the mother of Jesus was there. In addition, the “brothers” of Jesus were present. In Mark 6:3 the names of Jesus’ four brothers are given as James, Judas, Joseph, and Simon, and the presence of sisters is also mentioned. These family members were not convinced of Jesus’ credibility at first (see John 7:5), but by the time of his ascension, had become believers. Later, James would even become a leader in the church (see 12:17; 15:13; 21:18) and author of the Book of James.

This group of apostles, friends, and family members was continuing in prayer as they waited in Jerusalem for the promise of God. The expression Luke uses is an important one. The disciples “joined together” not just in the sense of being together in the same place. They remained together in the sense of unity of mind and purpose. This expression of oneness (ὁμοθυμαδὸνhomothymadon, in Greek) will appear several more times in Acts (see 2:46; 5:12; 8:6; 15:25). Luke’s motive is to show how the believers carried out their ministry and worship with a spirit of harmony. It is no surprise that such unity should follow when Christians are praying and waiting for the Spirit.

SOURCE: The College Press NIV Commentary: Acts By Dennis Gaertner, Ph.D.; New Testament Series Co-Editors: Jack Cottrell, Ph.D., Cincinnati Bible Seminar; Tony Ash, Ph.D., Abilene Christian University; College Press Publishing Company, Joplin, Missouri


The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament:  (Acts 1:4-8,12-14)

1:4. In vv. 4-5 Luke parallels his emphasis on the living Christ by stressing the coming and baptism of the Holy Spirit as essential to the advance of the gospel. Luke gives us an individualized scene (so the inserted connective “on one occasion,” NIV) of Jesus and his disciples eating together at the time when he commanded them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, who had been promised by God the Father and spoken of by Jesus. The command not to leave Jerusalem is a repetition of the one in Luke 24:49, with Hierosolyma, the Hellenized name for Jerusalem, being used. This breaks the usual pattern in Acts where Ierousalem appears exclusively in chapters 1-7 and always on the lips of those whose native tongue was Aramaic. “The gift my Father promised” also repeats Luke 24:49 and is defined in v. 5: “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” It is a promise that Jesus had made on behalf of the Father; its tradition has been incorporated in John’s Gospel (cf. John 14:16-21, 26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15).

1:5. The statement appears to come from Mark 1:8, with parallels in Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16 (which add “and with fire”), where it is part of the message of John the Baptist. One might take v. 5 as an explanatory comment on Luke’s part, but its parallel in Acts 11:16, where it is given as the word of the Lord Jesus, suggests that here too it should be understood as being attributed to Jesus. It may be that the transferral of the logion (“saying”) from the Baptist to the lips of Jesus occurred in the early church before Luke wrote Acts, though by the common attribution of the saying to the Baptist in the synoptic tradition (including Luke’s Gospel) this seems doubtful. The ascription of the statement to Jesus is probably Luke’s own doing. But this need not be considered strange, particularly for an author who can quote the same logion of Jesus in two such diverse forms and in two so closely connected passages as Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:4.

The Mandate to Witness (1:6-8)

Though 1:6-8 is usually treated either as the last part of the Preface (1:1-8) or as an introduction to the Ascension narrative (1:6-11), in reality it serves as the theme, setting the stage for all that follows in Acts: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (v. 8). The concept of “witness” is so prominent in Acts (the word in its various forms appears some thirty-nine times) that everything else in the book should probably be seen as subsumed under it—even the primitive kerygma that, since Dodd’s Apostolic Preaching, so many have taken as the leading theme of Acts. So as Luke begins his second book, he highlights this witness theme and insists it comes from the mandate of Jesus himself.

1:6. The expression men oun (“so,” NIV) is a favorite connective of Luke’s, used sometimes, as here, in beginning a new pericope (e.g., 8:4; 11:19; 12:5), at other times in conclusions (e.g., 2:41; 5:41; 8:25; 9:31;  16:5), and frequently within the narrative to tie its various parts together. The question the disciples asked reflects the embers of a once blazing hope for a political theocracy in which they would be leaders (cf. Mark 9:33-34; 10:35-41;  Luke 22:24). Now the embers are fanned by Jesus’ talk of the coming Holy Spirit. In Jewish expectations, the restoration of Israel’s fortunes would be marked by the revived activity of God’s Spirit, which had been withheld since the last of the prophets. But though his words about the Spirit’s coming rekindled in the disciples their old nationalistic hopes, Jesus had something else in mind.

1:7.  Jesus’ answer to his disciples’ misguided question is not a denial of any place for the nation of Israel in God’s future purposes. Paul speaks in Romans 9-11 not only of a remnant within Israel responding to God but also of the nation of Israel still being involved in some way in God’s redemptive program (Rom 11:15-16) and yet to be “saved” in the future (vv. 25-29). Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ words here is not in opposition to that. Jesus’ answer does, however, lay stress on the fact that the disciples were to revise their thinking about the divine program, leaving to God the matters that are his concern and taking up the things entrusted to them.

Jesus’ insistence that “it is not for you to know” echoes his teaching in Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32, which Luke did not include in his Gospel either in 17:22-37 or 21:5-36—evidently preferring to hold that aspect of Jesus’ eschatological message for this place in Acts. The “times” (chronoi) and “dates” (kairoi) refer, it seems, to the character of the ages preceding the final consummation of God’s redemptive program and to the particular critical stages of these ages as they draw to a climax (cf. 1 Thess 5:1). These “the Father has set by his own authority,” and they are not to be the subject of speculation by believers—a teaching that, sadly, has been all too frequently disregarded.

1:8.  Here the mandate to witness that stands as the theme for the whole of Acts is explicitly set out. It comes as a direct commission from Jesus himself—in fact, as Jesus’ last word before his ascension and, therefore, as one that is final and conclusive. All that follows in Acts is shown to be the result of Jesus’ own intent and the fulfillment of his express word. This commission lays an obligation on all Christians and comes to us as a gift with a promise. It concerns a person, a power, and a program—the person of Jesus, on whose authority the church acts and who is the object of its witness; the power of the Holy Spirit, which is the sine qua non for the mission; and a program that begins at Jerusalem, moves out to “all Judea and Samaria,” and extends “to the ends of the earth.” The Christian church, according to Acts, is a missionary church that responds obediently to Jesus’ commission, acts on Jesus’ behalf in the extension of his ministry, focuses its proclamation of the kingdom of God in its witness to Jesus, is guided and empowered by the self-same Spirit that directed and supported Jesus’ ministry, and follows a program whose guidelines for outreach have been set by Jesus himself.

Whereas the geographical movement of Luke’s Gospel was from Galilee through Perea to Jerusalem, in Acts the movement is from Jerusalem through “Judea and Samaria” and on to Rome. The joining of Judea and Samaria by one article (te) in the Greek (en pase te loudaia kai Samareia, “in all Judea and Samaria”) suggests a single geographical area that can be designated by its two ethnological divisions. And the fact that neither Galilee nor Perea is included in Acts 1:8 as a place to be evangelized (even though 9:31 speaks in summary fashion of a growing church in “Judea, Galilee and Samaria”) probably reflects Luke’s emphasis in his Gospel on Jesus’ evangelization of those areas. So here Jesus’ mandate to witness not only gives us the theme of Acts but also a basic table of contents by the threefold reference to “Jerusalem,” “all Judea and Samaria,” and “the ends of the earth.” To be sure, Luke’s development of this table of contents is fuller and more subtle than its succinct form here. Nevertheless, in what follows he shows through a series of vignettes how the mission of the church in its witness to Jesus fared at Jerusalem (2:42-8:3), throughout Judea and Samaria (8:4-12:24), and as it progressed until it finally reached the imperial capital city of Rome (12:25-28:31).


The Full Complement of Apostles (1:12-26)

Luke’s third factor underlying the rise and expansion of the early Christian mission is the centrality of the apostles and their ministry. His interest in the apostles was evident in chapter 6 of his Gospel, where in reporting Jesus’ choosing his twelve disciples he alone among the evangelists adds “whom he also designated apostles” (Luke 6:13). Now he resumes that interest, telling how under God’s direction the apostolic band regained its full number after the defection of Judas Iscariot.

Structurally, the passage appears to be the intermingling of early source material with Luke’s editorial statements. Here the seams between the two are more obvious than in many other passages in Acts. They are the basic Christian tradition regarding the selection of Matthias (vv. 15-17, 21-26), Luke’s own introduction to the pericope (vv. 12-14), his short comment at the end of v. 15, and a longer and particularly obvious comment in vv. 18-19. Luke’s writing in Acts is usually so artistic as to make it almost impossible to separate his editorial comments from his source material. Here, however, different strands are apparent.

In the upper room (1:12-14)

1:12. The disciples had been instructed by Jesus to “stay in the city [of Jerusalem] until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). They were “not [to] leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised” (Acts 1:4) and begin their witness “at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8). So they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance Luke speaks of as being “a Sabbath day’s walk from the city.” The Mishnah tells us that travel on the Sabbath was limited to two thousand cubits (Sotah 5:3), which would be somewhere around eleven hundred meters (NIV mg.). Therefore we may estimate that the disciples’ journey from the place of the Ascension on Olivet back to Jerusalem was about a kilometer, or about two-thirds of a mile.

1:13.  Upper rooms in Palestinian cities were usually the choicest rooms because they were above the tumult of the crowded streets and beyond the prying eyes of passersby. For the wealthy, the upper room was the living room. Sometimes upper rooms were rented out. Often they served as places of assembly, study, and prayer (SBK, 2:594). On their return to Jerusalem, the disciples “went upstairs to the room where they were staying.” The use of the definite article in speaking of “the room” (to hyperoon) and the emphatic place these words have at the beginning of the clause suggest that the room was well known to the early Christians—perhaps the room where Jesus and his disciples kept the Passover just before his crucifixion (Mark 14:12-16, 11) Perhaps it was the room where he appeared to some of them after he rose from the dead (Luke 24:33-43; cf. John 20:19, 26). Or, though this is more inferential, it may have been a room in the house of Mary, John Mark’s mother, where the church later met (Acts 12:12).

Luke has already listed the names of the Twelve in his Gospel (6:14-16). Now he lists them again—though without Judas Iscariot. This is another instance of parallelism in Luke’s writings. Here, however, the list points to the incompleteness of the apostolic band and sets the stage for the account of its rectification through the choosing of Matthias. All this prepares for the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the apostolic ministry. In obedience to their Lord and in anticipation of what is to follow, the apostles have returned to Jerusalem—only they lack the full complement needed for their witness within Jewry.

1:14.  In addition to the Eleven, there were also present in the upper room “the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” They fill out the nucleus of the early church and in some way are to be included in the apostolic witness. The reference to “the women” undoubtedly has in mind those mentioned in Luke 8:2-3; 23:49; and 23:55-24:10, who followed Jesus throughout his ministry—even to his death—and contributed out of their personal incomes to support him and his followers. The Western text (D) has “the wives and children” (sun gynaixin kai teknois, paralleling Acts 21:5), presumably of the apostles, and thus minimizes the independent activity of women in the early church. But Luke’s mention of “the women” fully accords with the attitude toward women as portrayed in his Gospel and the consciousness within the church of the implications of the gospel proclamation. So the Western text must be viewed as unnecessarily restrictive.

The reference here to “Mary the mother of Jesus” continues Luke’s interest in Mary begun in chapter 1 of his Gospel, though this is the last occasion where she is recorded as being involved in the redemptive history of the NT. The reference to Jesus’ “brothers” (adelphoi) is particularly interesting because Mark 3:21-35 shows that during his ministry they thought him to be “out of his mind,” perhaps even demon possessed, and because John 7:2-10 presupposes their disbelief. Paul, however, recounts an appearance of the risen Christ to James (cf. 1Cor 15:7), and we may infer that Joses (or Joseph), Judas (or Jude), and Simon (cf. Matt 13:55-56; Mark 6:3) likewise came to believe in Jesus and attached themselves to the congregation of early Christians. These all are depicted as being assiduous in prayer, with the article (te) in te proseuche (“the prayer”) suggesting an appointed service of prayer (cf. Acts 2:42; 6:4). There must also have been others who were at various times with the Eleven, the women, Mary, and Jesus’ brothers in that upper room, for Acts 1:15 speaks of the total number of believers at the selection of Matthias as being “about a hundred and twenty.”

SOURCE: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers


Complete Biblical Library Commentary  (Acts 1:4-8,12-14)

1:4. Luke's Gospel condenses his account of the 40 days after the Resurrection and jumps to the final exhortation for the 120 to wait in Jerusalem until they had received the Promise of the Father (Luke 24:49). In Acts Luke goes again to the time immediately preceding the Ascension. Jesus repeated the command not to leave Jerusalem.

"The promise of the Father" relates the gift of the Spirit to Old Testament prophecies. The idea of promise is one of the bonds that unites the Old and New Testaments. The promise to Abraham spoke of personal blessings, and blessings to the nation, as well as to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3).

The story of God's dealings with His people is a step-by-step revelation. First was the promised defeat of that old serpent, the devil, through the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). Next, the promise was given to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. The chosen line was then narrowed down to Judah, then to David. This led to Jesus, David's greater Son. Now through Jesus would come the Promise of the Father, the gift of the Spirit.

1:5. Jesus had already promised this mighty outpouring of the Spirit to His followers (John 7:38, 39 and chapters 14-16). So had John the Baptist. Jesus, as John promised, would baptize them in the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8). Now Jesus further promised that it would be after "not many days."

1:6. Acts and the Epistles contain a great deal more about the Holy Spirit and the Church than about the kingdom of God. But the Kingdom was important in Jesus' teaching. Jesus told the disciples it was the Father's good pleasure to give them the Kingdom. Kingdom in the New Testament deals primarily with the King's power and rule. Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit show God is ruling in the lives of believers and they are in His kingdom (Romans 14:17).

The future rule of Christ was what the disciples had in mind here. They knew the prophecy of Ezekiel 36:24-27. They knew God's promise to Abraham included not only the seed, but the land. All through the Old Testament God's promise to Israel was connected with the promise of the land.

1:7. Jesus did not deny that it was still God's plan to restore the kingdom (the rule) of God (the theocracy) to Israel. But on earth they would never know the specific times and proper occasions of that restoration before Jesus returned.

In Old Testament times God did not reveal the timespan between the first and second comings of Christ. Sometimes the prophets jump from one to the other in almost the same breath. At Nazareth, Jesus stopped His reading from Isaiah 61 in the middle of verse 2 because the rest of the verse refers to the Second Coming. Again and again Jesus warned the disciples that no man knows the day or the hour of His return (Mark 13:32-35, for example). Jesus also warned that the kingdom of God would not immediately appear (Luke 19:11, 12). The Father has placed the times and seasons under His own authority. He alone has the knowledge and wisdom to take all things into account. In His wisdom He has made the times and seasons His business; it is not the concern of the Church.

1:8. What is the believers' business? Verse 8 gives the answer. The disciples would receive power after the Holy Spirit came upon them. Through the Spirit's power their business would be to serve as Christ's witnesses (1 John 1:1) telling what they had seen, heard, and experienced. Beginning at Jerusalem they would carry their witness through Judea (probably including Galilee) and Samaria, and then to the uttermost parts of the earth. This method of procedure for witnessing gives a virtual table of contents for the Book of Acts.

Christians do not need to fail. The coming of the Spirit is an empowering experience. "Ye shall receive power" (Greek, dunamis, "mighty power, ability"). Jesus (Matthew 24) emphasized that His followers could not wait for ideal conditions before spreading the gospel to the nations. He told them this age, and especially the end times, would be characterized by wars, rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes. Followers of Jesus must spread the gospel to all nations despite all these natural calamities and political upheavals. How would this be possible? Jesus promised they would receive power as a result of being filled with the Spirit. This would be the secret of success in the Church Age until its final consummation when Jesus returns.

1:12. The Gospel of Luke describes the return of Jesus' followers to Jerusalem as being "with great joy" (Luke 24:52). It was only a Sabbath day's journey (about 1,000 yards) from the Mount of Olives back to the city. (Compare Exodus 16:29 and Numbers 35:5.)

1:13. The 11 apostles were staying in a large upper room. Judas the son of James is called Thaddeus in Matthew 10:3. Zealots were Jewish nationalists (cf. the Aramaic Kanʾana, "Canaanite" in Mark 3:18). The Upper Room may be the place of the Last Supper and the Resurrection appearances. Some believe it was at the home of Mary the mother of John Mark (12:12).

1:14. Five things are seen here: (1) The Eleven were in one accord, in contrast to the jealousy exhibited before the Cross where each wanted to be the greatest (Matthew 20:24). Jesus had dealt with them all after the Resurrection. Now all were restored and recommissioned. There was no more conflict, no more jealousy. All were with one mind, with one accord. "One accord" (Greek, homothumadon) is an important repeated word in Acts. Being in one accord is an important key to getting God's work done.

(2) They all continued steadfastly in prayer. This included faithfulness to the morning and evening hours of prayer at the temple as well as prayer in the Upper Room. Prayer and praise were the chief occupation during those days (Luke 24:49).

(3) The women joined them in prayer with the same steadfastness. Actually, the women were present all along. In those days, if one man was present, the masculine pronoun was used for the mixed group. Even when Peter calls them brethren (verse 16), the women were included. The Jews all understood this. But Luke wanted the Gentiles to know the women were present and praying, so he mentioned them specifically. They included Mary Magdalene, Salome, Joanna, Mary and Martha of Bethany, John Mark's mother, and others.

(4) Mary the mother of Jesus is given special mention. She was present because the apostle John was fulfilling Jesus' request to take care of her. She was not there as a leader but simply joined the others in prayer and in waiting for the Promise of the Father, the baptism in the Holy Spirit. This also indicates she had accepted Jesus as her Saviour from sin and as her Lord and Master. She was obeying His command to stay in Jerusalem. She, along with the others, felt her need of the power of the Spirit. Thus, it is certain she received the Spirit even though this is the last time she is mentioned in the Book of Acts. Some traditions say she died in Jerusalem and point to a tomb near St. Stephen's gate. Other writers of the Early Church said she went with the apostle John to Ephesus and died there.

(5) The brothers of Jesus were present, though before the Cross they did not believe on Him (John 7:5). Some say these were cousins of Jesus or children of Joseph by a previous marriage. However, Matthew 1:25 makes it clear that Joseph entered into a physical marriage relation with Mary after Jesus was born. Thus, there is every reason to believe these brothers were actual children of Mary and Joseph. Their names were James (a form of Jacob), Joses (a form of Joseph), Judah, and Simon (Mark 6:3).

After His resurrection, Jesus made a special appearance to His eldest brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7). James later became the leader and chief elder, or bishop, of the Jerusalem church. Jude also became a leader in the church (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; Galatians 2:9; James 1:1; Jude 1). Now these brothers were in one accord with the apostles and the rest of the 120 as they all waited for the promised Holy Spirit.

SOURCE: The Complete Biblical Library Commentary – Acts.  Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.



“It is not for you to know. . .”(Acts 1:7)—Jesus corrected the disciples by directing them away from the question about “times or periods” (v. 7).  These are matters wholly within God’s own purposes and authority.  During His earthly life Jesus had denied such knowledge even for Himself (Mark 13:32).  In denying such knowledge to the disciples, the hope in the Parousia* is not abandoned.  If anything, it is intensified by the vivid picture of Jesus returning on the clouds of heaven in the same mode as his ascension (Acts 1:11).  Neither did Jesus reject the concept of the “restoration of Israel.”  Instead, He “depoliticized it” with the call to a worldwide mission.  The disciples were to be the true, “restored” Israel, julfilling its mission to be a :light for the Gentiles” so that God’s salvation might reach “to the ends of the earth” (Isa. 49:6).  In short, to speculate on times and dates is useless.  The Lord’s return does not revolve around such speculation but around God’s own purposes, and those purposes embrace the salvation of the world.

* PAROUSIA (puh ruhyoo’ ssih uh) Transliteration of Greek word which means “presence” or “coming.” In New Testament theology it encompasses the events surrounding the second coming of Christ.Holman Bible Dictionary.

Witnesses (v. 8)—A witness (Greek: martys) gives a testimony of something he or she has experienced. Our English word “martyr” comes from the same Greek root.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

Witness: wit´nes (nouns עֵדʽēdh, and עֵדָהʽēdhah, and verb עָנָהʽānāhμάρτυςmártus, with all derivative words and their compounds): The word “witness” is used of inanimate things, e.g. the heap of stones testifying to the covenant between Jacob and Laban (Gen 31:44-54), and the Song of Moses. (Dt 31:19, 21). The main use of the word is forensic, and from this use all other applications are naturally derived. Important legal agreements required the attestation of witnesses, as in the case of the purchase of property, or a betrothal (Ruth 4:1-11, where we are told that the ancient form of attestation was by a man drawing off his shoe and giving it to his neighbor).

The Mosaic Law insisted on the absolute necessity of witnesses in all cases which came before a judge, especially in criminal cases. Not only in criminal cases, but in all cases, it was necessary to have at least two witnesses to make good an accusation against a person (Dt 17:6; 19:15; compare Nu 35:30; Mt 18:16; Jn 8:17; 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tim 5:19). According to the Talmud (Peṣāḥı̄m 113b), if in a case of immorality only one witness came forward to accuse anyone, it was regarded as sinful on the part of that witness.

On the other hand, anyone who, being present at the adjuration (Lev 5:1 the Revised Version (British and American)), refused to come forward as a witness when he had testimony to bear, was considered to have sinned (Prov 29:24). Among those not qualified to be witnesses were the near relations of the accuser or the accused, friends and enemies, gamesters, usurers, tax-gatherers, heathen, slaves, women and those not of age (Ṣanhedhrı̄n 3 3, 4; Rōʼsh Ha-shānāh 1 7; Bābhāʼ Ḳammāʼ 88a; compare Ant., IV, viii, 15). No one could be a witness who had been paid to render this service (Bekhōrōth 4 6). In cases of capital punishment there was an elaborate system of warning and cautioning witnesses. Each witness had to be heard separately (Ṣanhedhrı̄n 5; compare 3 5). If they contradicted one another on important points their witness was invalidated (Ṣanhedhrı̄n 5).

No oath was required from witnesses. The meaning of Lev 5:1 was not that witnesses had to take an oath, as some think; it describes the solemn adjuration of the judge to all those with knowledge of the case to come forward as witnesses (see OATH). When a criminal was to be put to death, the witnesses against him were to take the foremost share in bringing about his death (Dt 17:7; compare Acts 7:58), in order to prove their own belief in their testimony. In the case of a person condemned to be stoned, all the witnesses had to lay their hands on the head of the condemned (Lev 24:14). “False witnessing” was prohibited in the Decalogue (Ex 20:16); against it the lex talionis was enforced, i.e. it was done to the witness as he meant to do to the accused (Dt 19:16-21). The Sadducees held that only when the falsely accused had been executed, the false witnesses should be put to death; the Pharisees, that false witnesses were liable to be executed the moment the death sentence had been passed on the falsely accused (Maḳḳōth 17). In spite of prohibitions, false witnessing was a very common crime among the people (Ps 27:12; 35:11; Prov 6:19; 12:17; 14:5; 19:5; 24:28; Mt 26:60; Acts 6:13).

In Acts 22:20; Rev 2:13; 17:6 the word martus, “witness”, seems to be beginning to acquire the meaning of “martyr,” as in the King James Version, although the Revised Version (British and American) translates “witness” in the first two passages, retaining “martyr” only in the third with “witness” in the m.

SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa





Jesus Post Resurrection Appearances

By Gregory T. Pouncey

Gregory T. Pouncey is pastor of First Baptist Church, Tillman’s Corner, Mobile, Alabama.


HEN THE DISCIPLES first proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ, they did not simply include the fact that “Jesus died for our sins and that He was raised.”1  Rather, they emphasized that He died, was raised, and appeared to eyewitnesses after His resurrection.  Nearing the conclusion of the first recorded Christian sermon, Simon Peter said, “God has resurrected this Jesus.  We are all witnesses of this” (Acts 2:32).2  At Peter’s sermon in Solomon’s Colonnade, the apostle proclaimed, “You killed the source of life, whom God raised from the dead; we are witnesses of this” (3:15).  When Peter responded to the high priest and Sanhedrin after his arrest, he defended his right to preach the message by stating, “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (5:32).  To the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house, Peter declared, “God raised up this man on the third day and permitted Him to be seen, not by all the people, but by us, witnesses appointed beforehand by God, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead” (10:40-41).  Lastly, Paul summarized the gospel thusly, “For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.  Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:3-6).  But why were the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus Christ central to the gospel? 

The importance of the post-resurrection appearances lies in the promise and fulfillment of Jesus’ foretelling of His death and resurrection.  One of the most striking traditions of the Gospels is Jesus’ threefold passion declaration (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34 and parallels).  In these statements, Jesus explained He would suffer rejection, be killed, and rise from the dead.  Jesus’ death would be vindicated by His resurrection; but in order for that promise to reach its intended fulfillment, people would have to witness the resurrected Christ.3   Certainly the people closest to Jesus, though they had heard His statements of His death and resurrection, did not expect Him to rise from the dead on Sunday morning.  This was evidenced by the women wondering who would roll away the stone for them so they could finish anointing Jesus’ body (Mark 16:3).  Clearly they were not expecting to encounter the resurrected Christ.

Neither did the disciples dare believe that Jesus had fulfilled His passion statements.  They thought the women’s report of an empty tomb to be “nonsense” (Luke 24:11).  Thomas refused to believe that Jesus’ passion statements could be fulfilled—until he saw the resurrected Christ with his own eyes (John 20:25b).  The disciples and the others who were closest to Jesus certainly were not in a heightened sense of expectation that Jesus’ words would be fulfilled—but something changed their minds.

Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances changed the disciples from defeated skeptics to encouraged believers.  Though reconstructing an exact timetable and chronology of Jesus’ appearances is difficult, the fact that He appeared to those who knew Him best is certain.  Something changed the disciples from their skepticism to belief, and that something was seeing the resurrected Christ.4  Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene (vv. 11-18).  Again, she was not expecting Jesus’ resurrection.  When she heard someone talking to her and asking her why she was crying, she thought it was the gardener.  But when Jesus called her name, she realized who this was; and this discourage woman returned to the disciples with encouraging news, “I have seen the Lord!” (v. 18).  Apparently on the way to tell the disciples, Jesus made an appearance to the other women who had accompanied Mary to the tomb (Matt. 28:8-10).  These same women who had pondered how the stone would be rolled away now worshiped Jesus by falling at His feet.

After appearing to the women near the tomb, Jesus made an appearance to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32).  These travelers had heard stories of strange occurrences at the tomb, but they did not dare believe that the prophecies of Jesus’ resurrection had been fulfilled.  The resurrected Christ appeared to them along the way and even chided them for being unwise and slow to believe (v. 25).  However, when He broke bread with them, they realized that they had indeed seen the resurrected Christ.

Jesus appeared several times specifically to His disciples.  John 20:19-23 records Jesus appearing to 10 of His disciples; Thomas, though, was absent.  Jesus made an appearance eight days later to all of His disciples, including Thomas (John 20:26-29).  This changed Thomas from skeptic to believer; he responded to Jesus in faith, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).  Jesus also appeared to the Eleven (Luke 24:33-49) and later to seven apostles (John 21:1-14).  In this last appearance, He reassured Peter of his calling to ministry and encouraged the disciples to shepherd His sheep (v. 16).  Prior to this encounter, Peter had returned to his fishing nets; he had been a fisherman before Jesus called him to fish for men (Matt. 4:19).  Jesus also appeared on a mountain to teach the disciples, giving them the Great Commission (28:19-20).  Interestingly, some worshiped; others doubted.  They still struggled with the fulfillment of Jesus’ earlier statements.  However, Jesus continued to appear to them in order to help them believe and to instruct them in what they would do after His ascension.

Paul mentioned three appearances of Jesus that the Gospels do not.  In his list in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, he mentioned Jesus appearing to over 500 brothers at one time.  We know no further details about this, except that some of the witnesses were still alive and available to validate the claims of Jesus’ resurrection.  Paul also mentioned Jesus appearing to James, His brother, and to Paul himself, though the apostle admitted this was after the ascension, explaining he was “abnormally born” (1 Cor. 15:8).  The increasing number of people who saw Jesus served to verify the truth that He had indeed fulfilled the predictions of His death and resurrection.

Jesus’ final appearance to His disciples was at His ascension (Acts 1:4-11).  Luke described what Jesus did: “After He had suffered, He also presented Himself alive to them my many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and dpeking about the kingdom of God” (v. 3).  This summarized the purpose of Jesus’ resurrection appearances.  Jesus had foretold that He would die and rise in three days.  Then He validated His promise by appearing to various groups of people, convincing them that He had fulfilled His promise.  Then He ascended into heaven and left those eyewitnesses to bear witness to the truth of His claims.  Jesus emphasized this in His words in His special appearance to Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed.  Those who believe without seeing are blessed” (John 20:29).                                                                                                                                         Bi

1.  Stein, Jesus the Messiah: A Survey of the Life of Christ (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 270.

2.  All Scripture quotations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

3.  Osborne, “Resurrection” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Green and McKnight (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 675.

4.  For a list of resurrection appearances, see Strobel, The Case of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 234.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Spring 2015.


Post-Resurrection Appearances of Jesus:

·   To Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18)

·   To the other women (Matthew 28:8-10)

·   To Cleopas and another disciple on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:13-32)

·   To ten disciples excluding Thomas (John 20:19-23)

·   To eleven disciples with Thomas (John 20:26-30)

·   To eleven disciples again (Luke 24:33-39)

·   To seven disciples (John 21:1-14)

·   To the disciples in giving the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20)

·   To Simon Peter and the other disciples (1 Corinthians 15:5)

·   To the 500 (1 Corinthians 15:6)

·   To James (1 Corinthians 15:7)

·   To the disciples at His ascension (Acts 1:4-9)

·   To Paul (1 Corinthians 15:8)

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Spring 2015.



By Paul E. Kullman

Paul E. Kullman has over 30 years experience as an architect, is a member of the American Institute of Architects and the Texas Society of Architects, and is a freelance writer living in College Station, Texas.


ESUS ASCENDED FROM EARTH from the Mount of Olives as His disciples stood and looked heavenward (Acts 1:9-11).  As startling and dramatic as this scene was, it could not compare to what awaited these men upon their return to Jerusalem.  Jesus had instructed them to return to Jerusalem and to wait the coming of the Holy Spirit (vv. 4-5).  Jesus’ word about the coming of the Spirit was a reiteration of an earlier promise He had made following the last supper (John 14:16-18).  Obediently, the disciples returned to Jerusalem. In “an upper room” (KJV) they assembled with fellow believers and prayed, not fully comprehending what awaited them on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:12-14).  What do we know about this upper room?


To determine the location of the upper room requires an exegetical approach to the scriptural text.  What clues does the text provide in assisting the reader?  First, the Acts 1d passage states the disciples left from the place of Jesus’ ascension on the Mount of Olives, which lies about a “Sabbath day’s journey” from Jerusalem (Acts 1:12, HCSB).  The Mount of Olives is east of Jerusalem.  Rabbis, using Old Testament distance limitations, restricted a Sabbath day’s journey to no more that 2, 000 cubits (Num. 35:5; Josh. 3:4-5).  That distance would, therefore, narrow the location of the upper room to a site about a half mile west of the place of Jesus’ ascension.

A second clue comes from considering another event that occurred in an upper room.  Luke recorded that Jesus and His disciples met for the last supper in an “upper room” (Luke 22:12, KJV).  Some scholars uphold that this upper room, known as the Cenacle, or Coenaculum, is the same location where the disciples assembled for prayer after Jesus’ ascension.1 Arguing against the two events occurring in the same location is the fact that Luke used two different Greek words to describe the “upper room” for these two meetings, although both terms refer to the highest room in a house. 

Supporting the possibility that these two events occurred in the same upper room would be the feasibility from a logistics point.  That is, reassembling in the same upper room would have been an attractive choice for the disciples as they would have already known its location and spatial limits.  The sentiment that Jesus Himself had chosen this location for His private meeting (the last supper) with His disciples may have also made this an attractive choice for Jesus’ followers after His ascension.

Thus, while we cannot be certain about the exact location of the apostles’ post-ascension prayer meeting, many scholars have supported the view that the disciples used the same location for this meeting as Jesus had used for the last supper.  Tradition has held that Jesus’ followers continued to meet in this same room until Pentecost.

Those who assembled for prayer numbered 120 (Acts 1:14-15).  Accommodating such a sizable group would have required a space large enough for the people to be able to move around comfortably.  Holding the meeting in an upstairs location would keep the group from the crowded street level, away from any prying eyes, and out of view from any who might be seeking Jesus’ accomplices.


With the 120 assembled, Peter challenged the group that they needed to fill the apostolic void left by Judas Iscariot’s death.  Following the procedure that would have been familiar to them from the Old Testament, that of casting lots (1 Chron. 26:12-19), the disciples determined Matthias to be Judas’s replacement (Acts 1:15-26).

Within the walls of the large room, Jesus’ followers would wait in anticipation for an event that none of them could have understood or described beforehand.  The next step in God’s plan for bringing salvation to the world was about to unfold.  This dramatic event, the coming of the Holy Spirit, would cause Christ’s followers to spill into the streets and compel them to tell “the magnificent acts of God” (2: 1-11, HCSB).

Certain aspects of this incident may have been foreshadowed in Scripture.  The Old Testament speaks of 120 priests who blew trumpets at the dedication of the first temple.  This was part of the ritual that accompanied the ark being moved into place.  As the celebration unfolded, the presence and glory of God, in the form of a cloud, filled the temple (2 Chron. 5:11-14).  Perhaps Luke saw that God’s presence could reside within the holy of holies in the first temple, but a large upper room would not contain it.  The Old Testament priests had to stop ministering because of the cloud, but the New Testament believers were empowered for their ministry because of the fire.


Adequate space for 120 people and availability for an undetermined amount of time: these required a rather large assembly area that would not have been typical of a first-century home.  Access was by an exterior stair.  The room would have been either an upper chamber with an enclosed roof or an open hall over a street-level business.

Tradition holds the most likely candidate for the site to be the modern Holy Zion Church on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.2 Archeologists have determined a synagogue originally stood on this site.  Having Jewish backgrounds, the earliest believers would have continued to use synagogues for worship.  Jews fled Jerusalem in AD 70, after Titus destroyed the temple and city.  Archaeological evidence indicates that when they returned, Jewish Christians rebuilt this as a place of worship, honoring both the last supper and that apostles’ post-ascension meeting place.  This could have served, therefore, as the first church used exclusively by believers.3

Crusaders completely renovated the room in the 12th century and added an additional story.  Next the room was converted into a mosque as indicated by the mihrab (a prayer niche oriented towards Mecca).  Franciscan friars purchased the site in the 14th century and constructed a  structural system with multiple columns supporting Gothic arches.  The arches allowed a larger span and divided the room into equal-size naves.  Arches also framed the windows, allowing natural light.

Although modern visitors to the upper room will see the arches and floor, they should keep in mind the existing room was built over another church or large structure with the original foundation below modern street level.  Yet seeing this room serves as a reminder that the original room would have has a similar arrangement and size and would have been able to accommodate the large number of occupants who were waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

1.  “Upper Room” in Holman Bible Dictionary, gen. ed. Trent C. Butler (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1991), 1383-85.

2.  NIV Archaeological Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 1654.

3.  Bargil Pixner, “Church of the Apostles Found on Mt. Zion” in Biblical Archaeological Review  16.3 (May/June 1990); 16-35, 60.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 35, No. 3 Spring 2008-09.



By Darryl Wood

Darryl Wood is pastor of Moulton Baptist Church, Moulton, Alabama.

The effective disciple of Christ inevitably influences other people to become disciples.  Jesus began that cycle when He commissioned His followers to “make disciples.”

ONE OF MY FAVORITE seminary professors explained something he learned early in his ministry.  He said, “I feel a heavy responsibility as a teacher of preachers.  They learn invaluable lessons from academic exercises and books.  But the most important thing is that they see me live for Christ.  I teach them more in that way than any other.  In turn, these ministers will teach their congregations by how they live for Christ.”

This seasoned teacher understood the cycle of Christian discipleship.  The effective disciple of Christ inevitably influences other people to become disciples.  Jesus began that cycle when He commissioned His followers to “make disciples” (Matt. 28:19).

The imperative to “make disciples” (matheteusate) originated from the verb manthano-“learn from someone” or “come to know.”1 As Jesus’ pupils, His disciples learned from Him about how to live God’s way.  Their attachment to Jesus began with a commitment to believe in Him and continued as a lifelong process of learning from Him.

A true Christian disciple is a person given over to Christ in mind and heart.  Discipleship requires more than mental assent.  The Lord demanded a commitment to live as He lived day by day.2 Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31).3 He made that statement to Jews who said they believed in Him.  Jesus told them that true discipleship results in more than verbal commitment.  It includes continued obedience.  

When Jesus commanded His followers to “make disciples,” then He expected them to participate in the disciple-making business.  They functioned as more than learners themselves.  A true disciple also served as a teacher of others to bring them to loving obedience to Christ.

The context in which Jesus spoke this imperative affects the interpretation of its meaning.  The command to “make disciples” occupies the central place in the passage known as the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20).  After His resurrection and prior to His ascension, Jesus prepared His followers to continue His mission.  He spoke the Great Commission during that time of training.  Through this commission, Jesus’ disciples received specific direction for the nature of their future ministry.

Greek and Jewish cultures both provide background for the concept of disciple-making among Christians.  Greek teachers exhibited a superior knowledge.  Pupils affiliated themselves with these teachers in an extended relationship.  Over time the learners gained knowledge from the teachers.  A disciple gathered either technical skills or academic information from the teacher.4

The Jewish rabbinic schools probably provided the background of Jesus’ ideas even more.  The teacher-pupil relationship took on unique characteristics.  Teaching the law revolved around a lengthy training process in which a rabbi taught and practiced the law in front of his pupils.  Societal tradition bestowed a special status on rabbis that gave them authority among their students.  Generally, potential students approached the teacher for permission to be admitted to study with that rabbi.  Students and teacher established a close relationship, which included eating and traveling together and living in close proximity.  Intense sessions consisted of instruction by the teacher in the law.  Memorization on the part of the student required great effort.  After years of faithful study, the student received status as a rabbi.  He then began the process of training other students.  Thus the cycle continued.  He became responsible to impart knowledge of the law and demonstrate life under the law to others.5 The rabbi’s goal was not his own veneration.  Ultimately the rabbi assisted the student in an approach to God.  The teacher practiced his craft as an instrument of God.6

In some ways Jesus’ role as a teacher resembled that of the rabbis.  Jesus, like the rabbis, claimed authority as a Teacher (Matt. 28:18).  He expected complete submission to God’s teachings.  Jesus sent His disciples out to spread the good news of salvation and win converts.  They were to demonstrate what He taught them through obedience.7

As Master Teacher, however, Jesus differed from the rabbis.  His authority extended beyond theirs.  He held “all” authority (Matt. 28:18).  Additionally, unlike the rabbis, Jesus took the initiative to call out His own disciples.  They did not seek to attach themselves to Him.  Jesus’ teaching style showed direct personal involvement with His disciples.  This exceeded the more formal relationship of rabbis to students.  The Jewish rabbis eventually sent out their disciples to be rabbis themselves.  The students shed the learner status in rabbinic culture.  Jesus’ disciples, however, remained as learners after Him all their lives.8

The rabbi-student association lasted for an extended period.  Jesus’ relationship with His disciples, however, continued even after He left the earth. He committed to remain with them “always” (Matt. 28:20).

What did Jesus mean, then, when He commanded His followers to “make disciples”?  The rest of the Great Commission explains Jesus’ intent.  Three subordinate participles accompany the central command to “make disciples.”  These participles (going, baptizing, teaching) explain how to go about the disciple-making task.

Matthew 20:19 opens with the command to “Go” (poreuthentes).  Great debate surrounds this term.  Some argue that the word was an urgent command for the disciples to go into the world with the gospel.  Thus the term carried the weight of an imperative.  Since the term is a participle, it also can to translated “as you are going” or “as you go.”  The emphasis, then, could be that as the disciples went about their daily lives, they were to practice disciple-making.  Thus Jesus intended making disciples to be a normal part of life as one went about a daily routine.

A second  participle, “baptizing” (baptizontes), indicates another aspect of the disciple-making process (Matt. 28:19).  Christian baptism signified initiation into kingdom life.  At one point, the Pharisees noted that Jesus made and baptized more people than John the Baptist (John 4:1).  This highlighted the fact that Jesus reached new converts.  So baptism referred to more than the act of baptism.  It conveyed the idea of reaching people, who committed themselves to follow Christ.  Disciples were to be made by bringing new people into the faith.

A third participle, “teaching” (didaskontes), further defines the work of making disciples (Matt. 28:20).  Discipleship extends beyond an initial commitment to Christ.  It includes an ongoing obedience to Christ’s ethical demands.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19, NASB).  Discipleship embodies teaching right action based on a commitment to live like Christ.

How did Jesus’ followers understand this command to “make disciples”?  Certainly out of their relationship with Jesus and their culture, they grasped His command clearly.  Just as Jesus took the initiative to draw them to Himself, they were to draw other people to Him.  Jesus was their model.

The Master Teacher took them into His inner circle.  They became His disciples and His friends.  He invested Himself in them in a personal way.  Jesus’ disciples subsequently opened themselves up to other people for the same purpose.  The original disciples welcomed others into their number as Jesus had welcomed them.

To accomplish this task of going, baptizing, and teaching, the disciples had to focus on obedience to Christ.  Even though He eventually left this world in human form, discipleship meant a continued obedience to His demands.  Jesus’ followers knew these expectations because they saw Jesus live them Himself.

Jesus envisioned a cycle of disciple-making.  As the disciples followed His example, they introduced other people into the process of Christian learning.  The chain reaction created a multiplication effect.

The goal of the disciples became to make other people into learners as they were themselves.9 They did not attempt, however, to duplicate people after their human image.  Rather, they pointed new learners to the example of Christ’s life. As the disciples submitted their lives to Christ, they directed others to do the same.

What implications does this idea of disciples producing other disciples foster for Christians today?  A unique responsibility falls on modern believers to continue the discipleship multiplication cycle instituted by Jesus.  If other disciples become like you, what quality of disciples will the Lord have?  Generally, those who learn from you about Christ will be no more committed to Him than you.

Effective disciples desire that other people become disciples.  This requires that you create an environment whereby others can grow as learners after Christ.  Do you seek people out and invite them to join you in the process of learning about God?  Do you build personal relationships with potential disciples to enable them to see a learner in action?  Do you provide an example of obedience by the way you live?

1 William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), 485, 489.

2 Kalevi Lehtinen, “The Evangelist’s Goal: Making Disciples” in The Work of an Evangelist, J. D. Douglas, ed. (Minneapolis: World Wide Publications, 1984), 193.

3 Biblical quotations in this article are taken from the New American Standard Bible.

4 K. H. Rengstarf, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), G. Kittel, ed., G. W. Bromiley, trans. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 4:416.

5 Clean Rogers, “The Great Commission,” Bibliotheca Sacra 130 (July-September 1973): 263-64.

6 TDNT, 4:430-31.

7 Rogers, 265.

8 TDNT, 4:444-48.

9 Archibald Thomas Robertson, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930), 1:245.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Summer 2001



By LaMoine DeVries

LaMoine DeVries is campus minister, Southwestern Missouri State University, Springfield, Missouri.

THE DISTRICT OF SAMARIA was a relatively small area in Palestine during the New Testament period.  Although it was a small region, it was nevertheless an extremely important one because of the many different cultures which had influenced it.  Additionally, Samaria was the homeland for people from many different lands.  That Samaria had a significant foreign population is reflected in Jesus’ reference to the Samaritan leper who is identified as a “foreigner” (Luke 17:18, RSV).1 Because Samaria was a hotbed of cultures and a land, although very rural, with a cosmopolitan flavor, it was one of the major target area of the early church for sharing the gospel (Acts 1:8; 8:4-25).

Samaria was that region of the central hill country located between the territory of Galilee to the north and the land of Judea to the south.  It was approximately forty miles from north to south and thirty-five miles from east to west.2 The natural boundaries of the area were the Mediterranean Sea on the west, the Jordan River on the east, the Valley of Jezreel and Esdraelon Plain on the north, and the Valley of Aijalon on the south.

At least two names were associated with the region at different times during the biblical period – namely, Ephraim and Samaria.  The name “Ephraim” was a carry-over from the period of the Judges, when the southern part of the territory was occupied by the tribe of Ephraim.  The use of the name Ephraim is seen in the prophets.  Hosea, for instance, used the name thirty-six times to refer to this region.  The name “Samaria” as a title for the region came into usage during the period following the division of Solomon’s kingdom and the establishment of the city of Samaria as the capital by Omri.

While the southern half of Samaria was characterized by relatively high elevations, the northern half was comprised of a central basin, with mountains rising out of the basin floor.  The terrain of the southern part made access to that area more difficult, while access to the northern part was accomplished more easily.

The annual rainfall and fertile soil made Samaria a very productive agricultural area.  Grains such as wheat and barley were grown in the plains.  Fruit trees, vineyards, and olive orchards were cultivated on the hillsides.

Two other important features of Samaria were its mountains and its cities.  Mt. Gilboa, the scene of the battle in which King Saul lost his life, (1 Sam. 31) is located in the northern part of the region.  Mt. Ebal, the mountain on which Joshua built an altar (Deut. 27:1-8; Josh. 8:30-35), and Mt. Gerizim, the mountain on which the Samaritans to this day celebrate the Passover, are located more in the central part of Samaria.

The region of Samaria also had a number of important cities and towns during biblical times.  The most important cities of the Old Testament period included Megiddo, Taanach, Beth-Shan, Dothan, Tirzah, Samaria, Shechem, and Bethel.  During the Canaanite period the region was divided into city-states with large Canaanite centers such as Megiddo and Shechem serving as hubs. Excavations at these cites have helped us gain a better understanding of the Canaanite culture that prevailed during this period.

Important cities or sites of the New Testament era included Sebaste (Samaria renamed), Sychar, Alexandrium, Bethel, Antipatris, Joppa, and Caesarea.  Sythopolis, originally the Old Testament site of Beth-Shan, was one of the cites of the Decapolis.

Samaria was a region exposed to and influenced by many cultures.  Its history was shaped to a great extent by the strategic location of major trade routes of the ancient world.  While parts of Palestine were very remote, Samaria was traversed by at least two major highways, the coastal plain route and the inland route.

The inland route, which ran north and south through the central hill country, connected the towns of Beersheba, Hebron, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Bethel, Sychar, and Scythopolis.  However, the coastal plain route, the Via Majas, was the major thoroughfare through Palestine in ancient times.  Moving up the coast through the cities of Gaza and Jamnia, the route divided as it approached the region of Samaria.  One branch continued up the coast through Joppa, Apollonia, and Caesarea.  The other branch turned inland several miles and moved northeast through the towns of Lydda, Antipatris, the plain of Esdraelon, and the towns of Sepphoris, Tiberias, and Capernaum in Galilee.  These routes led to Damascus, the great caravan center, and other points north, as well as south to Egypt and Arabia.

However, the influence of other cultures on Samaria came not only through travelers, merchants, and caravans that traveled the highways through the region.  There also were several occasions when the people or customs of other cultures were transported and transplanted in the area of Samaria.  One such time was the cultural and religious revolution initiated by King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel.  Intent on reshaping life and culture in the Northern Kingdom, Ahab and Jezebel introduced customs and practices from her homeland.  They promoted the worship of Baal and the goddess Asherah to function as religious officials (1 Kings 16:30-33; 18:19).

Also, there were occasions when people from other lands were resettled in the land of Samaria.  Assyria “brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria” (2 Kings 17:24, RSV) during the period following the fall of the Northern Kingdom.

The history of the region stretches back prior to the use of the name Samaria.  From approximately 1200 to 722 BC the region was held by the Israelites, an occupation that might be divided into three phases – namely, the tribal era, the time of the united monarchy, and the Northern Kingdom phase.

As the tribes entered Canaan, this region was settled by the Joseph tribes, the tribe of Ephraim located in the southern part, and half of Manasseh in the northern territory.  In most communities the Canaanites apparently continued to live among the Israelites (Judg. 1:27-29).  During Solomon’s reign in the period of the united monarchy some of the major cities of the region such as Megiddo and Gezer were rebuilt and became royal cities (1 Kings 9:15).  From about 928 to 722 BC this area constituted the heart of the Northern Kingdom.  During this period the region witnessed much political unrest and numerous dynastic changes among the kings of the Northern Kingdom (1 Kings 15:25 to 16:20).  One of the must unique events of the period was the establishment of a new capital city.  King Omri bought the hill of Shemer, on which a city never had been built, and there constructed the city of Samaria.  The city not only became the quarters of the kings of the Northern Kingdom, but also the citadel  for the landed aristocracy, a wealthy class that developed and was responsible for oppressing the poor (Amos 4:1-3).

In 722 BC, following a period of political anarchy, moral and spiritual decline, and the establishment of an oppressive class system, Samaria fell to the Assyrians.  Assyrian control continued until about 612 BC.  According to the Sargon Cylinder, the Assyrian account of the event, the Assyrian king, Sargon II, deported 27,290 people from the area.

Following the deportation the Assyrians attempted to colonize the area with people from different parts of their kingdom (2 Kings 17:24).  During this period the region was named Samaria.

Assyrian control apparently became lax toward the end of the seventh century.  King Josiah of Judah made an attempt to purge the area of its idolatry and to lay claim to the territory (2 Kings 23:19-20).  His reforms ended, however, when he was killed in battle at Megiddo in 609 BC while fighting the Egyptian pharaoh, Neco.

With the fall of Assyria in 612 BC, Samaria came under the control of Babylon.  This rule lasted until the Persian conquest in 539 BC.  After the fall of Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom to the Babylonians in 587 BC, Jerusalem and the northern part of Judah were incorporated into the province of Samaria.

Persia continued Samaria’s stance as a province or satrapy.  This type rule gave the people a measure of freedom and self-government, although they still answered to Persepolis, the Persian capital.  During this period the southern part of Samaria was removed from the province and returned to Judea. 

One of the most notable features of this period was the obvious hostility that began to appear between the inhabitants of Samaria and Judea.  The hostility is reflected in the story of Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, and his attempt to halt the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem (Neh. 2:9-20; 4:1-9).  This hostility continued to grow until a deep-seated schism developed between the Jews and the Samaritans, as they came to be called either during the Persian period or the Greek period.

Although the reasons for this growing tension are not completely clear, we know some of the major factors that provided the basis for the schism.  The Jews and Samaritans shared a common background (John 4:12), but they had some radically different religious beliefs, which we will examine later.

With the fall of the Persian Empire to Alexander the Great in 332 BC, Samaria came under Greek control.  The Greek period, also called the Hellenistic era, lasted until about 63 BC.  During this period Samaria was successively under the control of rulers from several different families or lines, including the Macedonians, the Ptolemies, and the Seleucids.  Unhappy with Macedonian rule, some of the inhabitants of the city of Samaria revolted and fled to the ancient city of Shechem, which they rebuilt.  The remaining citizens of the capital rebuilt it as a Hellenistic city.  It was perhaps during this period that the Jewish-Samaritan schism developed with great intensity.

Perhaps the single most important event in the development of the Samaritan religion took place during the early part of the Hellenistic period.  According to Josephus, Alexander the Great erected a temple for the Samaritans on Mt. Gerizim during the time of Sanballat (apparently Sanballat II, a successor of the Sanballat of Nehemiah’s day).  Apparently, many of the priestly officials on the Mt. Gerizim temple had officiated in the temple in Jerusalem but now were placed in service in Samaria, heightening the animosity between the two groups.

The Jews regarded Jerusalem as the place where worship was to take place, but the Samaritans made that claim for Mt. Gerizim.  Both had religious teachings that regarded the other as unclean or contaminated (John 4:7-10). 

Also, the two groups disagreed on what constituted Scripture.  For the Samaritans, the Pentateuch alone – that is, the first books of the Old Testament – was the sum total of Scripture.  For the Jews both the Law and Prophets were included, and a growing number of the writings were held in the same esteem.

During the latter part of the Greek period, Samaria was affected by the Maccabean Revolt beginning in 168 BC, and the events that followed.  The revolt, the Jewish response to the Hellenistic culture that had been forced upon the people by Antiochus Epiphanes, eventually resulted in the establishment of a new Jewish state about 142 BC.  During this period, often referred to as the Maccabean or Hasmonean period, animosity between Jews and Samaritans grew even stronger.  The most bitter expression of Jewish hatred came when the Hasmonean ruler, John Hyrcanus, and his troops moved north from Judea, captured the cities of Shechem and Samaria, destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim, and incorporated Samaria in the new Jewish state.

Samaria came under Roman control in 63 BC with the arrival of Pompey.  Initially the region was incorporated in the Roman province of Syria.  About 30 BC Emperor Augustus gave Samaria to Herod the Great.  Herod rebuilt the capital and named it Sebaste in honor of his friend Augustus, the Greek form of whose name was Sebastos.   The elaborately built Herodian city included a new city wall and a temple with a large altar.

Samaria continued to be under Roman control during the first century AD, although the leadership of the land went through several changes.  The region was ruled by Archelaus, the son of Herod, from 4 BC to AD 6; Roman procurators, such as Pontius Pilate, from AD 6 to AD 41; Herod Agrippa I from AD 41 to AD 44; and Roman procurators again after AD 44.

During this period the ministries of Jesus and the early church took place.  Jesus recognized the compassion (Luke 10:25-37) and gratitude (Luke 17:11-19) of the Samaritans.  While the Jews were antagonistic toward Samaritans and generally avoided contact with them (John 4:9), Jesus transcended the cultural and religious barriers between the two (John 4:7-38).  The Samaritan response was very positive (John 4:39-42).  Luke indicated that the outreach to Samaria initiated by Jesus was continued by those in the early church who shared His vision of acceptance and evangelism (Acts 1:8; 8:4-25).

1 From the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1946, 1952, ã 1971, 1973.  Used by permission.  Subsequent quotations are marked RSV.

2 G. W. Van Beek, “Samaria, Territory of,” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 5 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), 4:189.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Winter 1989


Sabbath-Day Restrictions

By Lynn O. Traylor

Lynn O. Traylor is pastor of Buckner Baptist Church, LaGrange, Kentucky.


NE OF THE ENDURING FAITH PRACTICES shared by Jews and Christians is observing a day each week devoted to acknowledging God as Creator and making “space” in one’s routine to rest from labor.1  Many parts of the United States had cultural rules for keeping a day of rest.  Cities and states thus enacted “Blue Laws,” which prohibited certain business transactions and activities on Sunday.2  While many of the more restrictive laws have been repealed, others still remain in force, reflecting the values of the ancient commandment to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8).3

Keeping the Sabbath—A Matter of Faith

The word “Sabbath” comes from a Hebrew term shabath, which carries a basic meaning “to repose, i.e. desist from exertion” or simply, “to rest.”4  In the Scriptures “Sabbath” first occurs as Moses instructed the Israelites to take a “day of complete rest,” a day made possible through the Lord’s provision of a double portion of food “on the sixth day,” enabling them to stay in their dwellings and rest “on the seventh day” (16:22-30).  Describing the day as “holy” and “to the Lord” (v. 23) clearly indicates that the giving of the Sabbath has divine purpose and significance.  The “rest” God provided Israel carried a command that it be time spent “to the Lord” (v. 25).  In providing for their needs, God demonstrated faithfulness to Israel and asked them to acknowledge, “that I am Yahweh your God” (v. 12) by keeping God’s “commands and instructions” (v. 28).  Put simply, the Sabbath became a “sign” for Israel that their God alone fed and sustained Israel.  The God of creation established this relationship and confirmed it through a “covenant” (31:16-17) that generations of Israelites would celebrate by continuing to observe the Sabbath.5

A Crisis of Faith

In 587 BC, Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar sent his armies to Jerusalem, where they successfully laid an 18-month siege to the city.  In July 586 BC, they destroyed the temple, captured King Zedekiah, and took many Jews captive.6  The Babylonian exile was a crisis of faith for the Jewish people.  The depth of their anguish is evident in the words of the psalmist: “By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion . . . .  How can we sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil?” (Ps. 137:1,4).  The exile was shockingly traumatic for the Jews.  They attempted, therefore, to understand what had brought them to this point—in hopes of preventing such a crisis from ever happening again.  In their desire both to repent and return to Jerusalem, the Sabbath became a focal point of reflection and hope for the future.  The reflection was because Israel had “profaned” the Sabbath and had failed to follow the Lord’s “statutes” and “ordinances” (Ezek. 20:11-16).7  The hope for the future lay in the promise that God would “regather them to their own land” (39:28) when once again they might observe the Sabbath (45:17).  Since failing to properly observe the Sabbath contributed to the exile, a greater concern for keeping the Sabbath naturally followed.

“Proper” Sabbath-Keeping

During and after the exile, the Jews gave great thought to how Israel might properly observe the Sabbath.  This thought began with reflection on the Scriptures, especially the commandment to “remember the Sabbath day” (Ex. 20:8; Deut. 5:12).  How to properly remember the Sabbath became a topic of great discussion among the teachers of Israel.  Over a period of several hundred years, their deliberations were compiled into a “commentary” known as the Mishnah, which addresses many Scriptural commands, including guidelines on how to “remember” the Sabbath.8  In the Mishnah, rabbis composed certain prescriptions for proper Sabbath keeping.9  Since the Sabbath is to be a day of rest, the Mishnah defines 39 categories of work to be avoided, such as sowing, plowing or related harvest activities, baking and related bread-making labors, sewing or weaving fabric, trapping or slaughtering a deer, and building or carrying anything from one house to another, to name a few.10  As the giving of the first Sabbath required that “no one is to leave his place on the seventh day” (Ex. 16:29), the Mishnah identifies “place” for each household, including how far one may travel on the Sabbath, generally forbidding anyone from walking “a distance further than 2,000 cubits from his home.”11  The 2,000 cubit limitation (approx. 1,000 yards) seems to have come from Numbers 35:5, which provides for a measurement of “1,000 yards outside the city” for the Levites to pasture cattle.  Numbers 35:4 listing a measure of “500 yards” likely indicates that the Law allowed different travel distances.  The Mishnah’s teachings on Sabbath observances and practices vary, depending on which rabbinic interpretation one followed.12  Another means of easing travel restrictions on the Sabbath is to make a “place” of residence larger by placing food at certain distances from the threshold of a home in a location (known as the ‘erub) marked off before the Sabbath.13  The rabbis reasoned that where a person’s food was stored make that location a “place of residence,” thus allowing for Sabbath-day travel restrictions to be eased (a practice still followed today).14  The rabbinic Sabbath-day restrictions and guidelines consider both a person’s motives and behaviors, as intentions of the heart and consequences of one’s actions are taken into account in weighing whether or not someone was keeping a Sabbath law.15  Jesus focused on the motives and intentions in His conversations about the Sabbath with the Pharisees.  For Jesus, Sabbath keeping was a matter of either giving life and freedom, or surrendering to death and bondage (Luke 6:1-9), illustrating and strengthening the fact that “the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).                                               Bi

  1.  Neusner, Chilton, and Levine, Torah Revealed, Torah Fulfilled; Scriptural Laws in Formative Judaism and Earliest Christianity (New York: T&T Clark International, 2008), 99.

  2.  “Blue Laws” in West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, 2nd ed. [online; accessed 7 February 2016]. Available from the Internet: legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Blue+Laws.

  3.  All Scripture quotations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

  4.  “7673, shabath” in Strong, The New Song’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words (Nashville: Nelson, 1996), 528.

  5.  Waterman, “Sabbath” in The Zondervan Pictorial Dictionary of the Bible, gen. ed. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 4:181-89.

  6.  Longman III, Old Testament Essentials: Creation, Conquest, Exile and Return (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 204.

  7.  Waskow, “Shabbat” in The Reconstructionist 51, no. 6 (April, 1986): 21.

  8.  “Mishnah” in The Jewish Virtual Library [online; accessed 7 February 2016]. Available from the Internet: www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0014_0_13999.html.

  9.  Weiss, A Day of Gladness: The Sabbath Among Jews and Christians in Antiquity (Columbia: Univ. of So. Carolina Press, 2003), 13.

 10.  Goldenberg, “The Place of the Sabbath in Rabbinic Judaism” in The Sabbath in Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed. Eskenazi, Harrington, and Shea (New York: Crossroad, 1991), 34.

 11.  The Mishnah [online; accessed 7 February 2016], “Eruvin,” Chapter 3, p. 131. Available from the Internet: www.emishnah.com/PDFs/Eruvin%203.pdf.

 12.  Weiss, A Day of Gladness,17.

 13.  Schechter, Friedlander, “Erub” in Jewish Encyclopedia [online; accessed 7 February 2016]. Available from the Internet: jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5841-erub.

 14.  Weiss, A Day of Gladness, 18.

 15.  Neusner, Torah Revealed, Torah Fulfilled, 90-91.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 42, No. 3; Spring 2016.




(1.193)  What is the Answer To & Where in The Bible is This Week’s Trivia Question Found  What fish-shaped god of the Philistines was disgraced with his statue was broken by the presence of the ark of the covenant?  Answer Next Week: 

Last Week’s Question: ?  What people burnt their children as an offering to the gods Adramelech (uh dram’ mih lehkh) and Anammelech (uh nam’ meh lehkh)?  Answer:  The Sepharvites; 2 Kings 17:31.