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Why Did the Disciples Replace Judas?

Jesus is alive again, having gone through death and out the other side. What does this mean for the world? What does this mean for those who have believed that Jesus was/is the Messiah? For these questions, we have the book of Acts. It is astounding to think that we possess this ancient document of an account of the life of Jesus AND a continuing account of what the first followers of Jesus did, thought, and said. Or as Luke, the author of Acts, describes it:

“...the first account I wrote was about what Jesus began to do and teach.”  Acts 1:1

In other words, this second book is about what Jesus continued to do and teach through His Spirit in His people. Luke says,

  “I took the story as far as the day when He was taken up, once He had given instructions through the Holy Spirit to His chosen apostles.”  Acts 1:2

The book of Acts is about what the followers of Jesus did next as a result of what Jesus accomplished through His death and resurrection. Hence, the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection is laid out for us in the book of Acts, not as a systematic theology but as an incarnation of the new reality accomplished in Jesus. We should remember that “the Gospel” is by definition “good news”, not merely advice to be taken or left. News is something that impacts the world whether anyone knows about it or believes in it. News is about something that has happened. Announcing that news does not make it happen but it does allow the effect to take root. When the World Trade Centers collapsed on September 11, 2001, I didn’t know it had happened for a few hours because I was using loud machinery and was unaware of the news. Nevertheless, the event changed my world whether I knew it or not. But when my Mom arrived at my work announcing the news, the effect of that news began to reshape my heart, mind, and life. That was the effect of some very bad news. But the book of Acts is about good news, the good news that John the Baptist first announced when he said that the “kingdom of God is at hand.” The book of Acts is about the good news that Jesus claimed to be making happen in the present when He healed the sick and raised the dead. The book of Acts is about how the first Church went about working out what this announcement meant or them and for the world we live in.

With that in mind, it might seem strange to us Westerners that the first thing the disciples did was to replace Judas as one of “the twelve”. There were many people who followed Jesus and who had witnessed Jesus’ death and resurrection (Acts 1:21) and all hands on deck would be needed to announce this good news to the world. Why does there need to be this select group of exactly twelve people?

The twelve apostles were not selected to be an elite group of Jesus followers. They had no special powers or authority so far as I know. The point of them being chosen was not for their own sake but for the sake of the Gospel announcement, that is, the good news that God has renewed and reconstituted the people of Israel in and through Jesus. The twelve symbolically represented what God has done in Jesus. Namely, God has renewed the covenant people of Israel so that they can now fulfill the Law, the Torah, and be a light and a blessing to the Gentile nations (Genesis 12:3). Jesus has brought the long and widening story of Israel to its climax. Through the renewed people of Israel, the world is receiving the recreating blessing of God as was promised to Abraham.

We will not hear from these twelve again as a special group. We don’t know how they functioned or how they were recognized by the rest of the community. Luke just doesn’t tell us. But the notion of the twelve tribes of Israel does not disappear. In the book of Revelation, the twelve tribes of Israel are the symbolic foundations stones of the city of God, the new Jerusalem. And when the apostle Paul talks about Gentiles coming into the faith, he describes them as being “grafted” into Israel (Romans 11:17-21). In short, the disciples did not cease to be Jews after the resurrection. They didn’t become reformed Western theologians or evangelicals. How could they? Jesus Himself said that He had not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. In other words, Jesus didn’t come to scrap God’s plan to rescue the world through Israel, rather He came to resurrect that hope from the dead. And that is exactly what the disciples believed had happened in the resurrection of Jesus. To use a sports analogy, the Israelites were no longer on the disabled list but were healed and ready for action, at least those that identified with Jesus’ redefined Israel. That is what the symbolism of the twelve was meant to say. And that is one of the first things that the disciples of Jesus wanted to make clear after He rose from the dead and ascended to Heaven. #Acts #Disciples #Judas #TheKingdomofIsrael #TheKingdomofGod

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