Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
St. Luke's prologue, containing a repetition of Christ's history from his passion till his ascension, Act 1:1-9. Remarkable circumstances in the ascension, Act 1:10, Act 1:11. The return of the disciples to Jerusalem, and their employment there, Act 1:12-14. Peter's discourse concerning the death of Judas Iscariot, Act 1:15-20, and the necessity of choosing another apostle in his place, Act 1:21, Act 1:22. Barnabas and Matthias being set apart by prayer, the apostles having given their votes, Matthias is chosen to succeed Judas, Act 1:23-26.
The former treatise - The Gospel according to Luke, which is here most evidently intended.
O Theophilus - See the note on Luk 1:3.
To do and teach - These two words comprise his miracles and sermons. This introduction seems to intimate that, as he had already in his Gospel given an account of the life and actions of our Lord, so in this second treatise he was about to give an account of the lives and acts of some of the chief apostles, such as Peter and Paul.
After that he, through the Holy Ghost, etc. - This clause has been variously translated: the simple meaning seems to be this - that Christ communicated the Holy Spirit to his disciples, after his resurrection, as he had not done before. In Luk 24:45, it is said that he opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures; and in Joh 20:22, that he breathed on them, and said, receive ye the Holy Ghost. Previously to this, we may suppose that the disciples were only on particular occasions made partakers of the Holy Spirit; but from this time it is probable that they had a measure of this supernatural light and power constantly resident in them. By this they were not only able to proclaim the truth, but to discern the meaning of all the Old Testament Scriptures which referred to Christ; and to appoint whatever rites or ordinances were necessary for the establishment of his Church. There were many things which the apostles said, did, and decreed, for which they had no verbal instructions from our Lord, at least, none that are recorded in the Gospels; we may therefore conclude that these were suggested to them by that Holy Spirit which now became resident in them, and that it is to this that St. Luke refers in this verse, After that he, through the Holy Ghost, had given commandments unto the apostles.
To whom - he showed himself alive - by many infallible proofs - Πολλοις τεκμηριοις; by many proofs of such a nature, and connected with such circumstances, as to render them indubitable; for this is the import of the Greek word τεκμηριον. The proofs were such as these:
1. Appearing to several different persons at different times.
2. His eating and drinking with them.
3. His meeting them in Galilee according to his own appointment.
4. His subjecting his body to be touched and handled by them.
5. His instructing them in the nature and doctrines of his kingdom.
6. His appearing to upwards of five hundred persons at once, Co1 15:6. And,
7. Continuing these public manifestations of himself for forty days.
The several appearances of Jesus Christ, during the forty days of his sojourning with his disciples, between his resurrection and ascension, are thus enumerated by Bishop Pearce:
The first was to Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, Mat 28:1-9.
The second, to the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, Luk 24:15.
The third, to Simon Peter, Luk 24:34.
The fourth, to ten of the apostles, Thomas being absent, Luk 24:36, and Joh 20:19. (All these four appearances took place on the day of his resurrection.)
The fifth was to the eleven disciples, Thomas being then with them, Joh 20:26.
The sixth, to seven of the apostles in Galilee, at the sea of Tiberias, Joh 21:4.
The seventh, to James, Co1 15:7, most probably in Jerusalem, and when Jesus gave an order for all his apostles to assemble together, as in Act 1:4.
The eighth, when they were assembled together, and when he led them unto Bethany, Luk 24:50, from whence he ascended to heaven. But see the note on Joh 21:14, for farther particulars.
Pertaining to the kingdom of God - Whatever concerned the doctrine, discipline, and establishment of the Christian Church.
And, being assembled together - Instead of συναλιζομενος, being assembled together, several good MSS. and versions read συναυλιζομενος, living or eating together, which refers the conversation reported here to some particular time, when he sat at meat, with his disciples. See Mar 16:14 : Luk 24:41-44. But probably the common reading is to be preferred; and the meeting on a mountain of Galilee is what is here meant.
The promise of the Father - The Holy Spirit, which indeed was the grand promise of the New Testament, as Jesus Christ was of the Old. And as Christ was the grand promise of the Old Testament, during the whole continuance of the old covenant; so is the Holy Ghost, during the whole continuance of the new. As every pious soul that believed in the coming Messiah, through the medium of the sacrifices offered up under the law, was made a partaker of the merit of his death, so every pious soul that believes in Christ crucified is made a partaker of the Holy Spirit. Thus, as the benefit of the death of Christ extended from the foundation of the world till his coming in the flesh, as well as after, so the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has been, and will be continued through the whole lapse of time, till his coming again to judge the world. It is by this Spirit that sin is made known, and by it the blood of the covenant is applied; and indeed, without this, the want of salvation cannot be discovered, nor the value of the blood of the covenant duly estimated. How properly do we still pray, and how necessary is the prayer, "Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen." Communion Service.
Ye have heard of me - In his particular conversations with his disciples, such as those related Joh 14:16-26 (note); Joh 15:26 (note); Joh 16:7-15 (note); to which passages, and the notes on them the reader is requested to refer: but it is likely that our Lord alludes more particularly to the conversation he had with them on one of the mountains of Galilee.
Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence - This must refer to some conversation that is not distinctly related by the evangelists; as these identical words do not occur in any of the preceding histories. The Codex Bezae reads this passage thus: but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, which ye shall receive not many days hence. John baptized with water, which was a sign of penitence, in reference to the remission of sin; but Christ baptizes with the Holy Ghost, for the destruction of sin, the illumination of the mind, and the consolation of the heart. John's baptism was in reference to the spiritual kingdom; but Christ's baptism established and maintained that kingdom. From this passage we may also learn that baptism does not always mean being plunged or immersed in water; for as this promise most evidently refers to the communication of the Holy Spirit on the following pentecost, and then he sat upon each as a cloven tongue of fire, this certainly has more affinity to sprinkling than to plunging. However, the mode of administering the sign is of very little consequence; and which is the best mode is exceedingly dubious: the stress should be laid on receiving the thing signified - the Holy Ghost, to illuminate, regenerate, refine, and purify the heart. With this, sprinkling or immersion are equally efficient: without this, both are worth nothing.
When they therefore were come together - It is very likely that this is to be understood of their assembling on one of the mountains of Galilee, and there meeting our Lord.
At this time restore again the kingdom - That the disciples, in common with the Jews, expected the Messiah's kingdom to be at least in part secular, I have often had occasion to note. In this opinion they continued less or more till the day of pentecost; when the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit taught them the spiritual nature of the kingdom of Christ. The kingdom had now for a considerable time been taken away from Israel; the Romans, not the Israelites, had the government. The object of the disciples' question seems to have been this: to gain information, from their all-knowing Master, whether the time was now fully come, in which the Romans should be thrust out, and Israel made, as formerly, an independent kingdom. But though the verb αποκαθιστανειν signifies to reinstate, to renew, to restore to a former state or master, of which numerous examples occur in the best Greek writers, yet it has also another meaning, as Schoettgen has here remarked, viz. of ending, abolishing, blotting out: so Hesychius says, αποκαταστασις is the same as τελειωσις, finishing, making an end of a thing. And Hippocrates, Aph. vi. 49, uses it to signify the termination of a disease. On this interpretation the disciples may be supposed to ask, having recollected our Lord's prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, and the whole Jewish commonwealth, Lord, Wilt thou at this time destroy the Jewish commonwealth, which opposes thy truth, that thy kingdom may be set up over all the land? This interpretation agrees well with all the parts of our Lord's answer, and with all circumstances of the disciples, of time, and of place; but, still, the first is most probable.
The times or the seasons - Χρονους η καιρους. Times here may signify any large portion of a period, era, or century - such as an Olympiad, lustrum or year; and seasons, the particular part, season, or opportunity in that period, etc., in which it might be proper to do any particular work. God has not only fixed the great periods in which he will bring about those great revolutions which his wisdom, justice, and mercy have designed, but he leaves himself at full liberty to choose those particular portions of such periods as may be best for the accomplishment of those purposes. Thus God is no necessary agent - every thing is put in his own power, εν τῃ ιδιᾳ εξουσιᾳ, under his control and authority; nor will he form decrees of which he must become the necessary executor. The infinite liberty of acting or not acting, as wisdom, justice, and goodness shall see best, is essential to God, nor can there be a point in the whole of his eternity in which he must be the necessary agent of a fixed and unalterable fate. Infinite, eternal liberty to act or not to act, to create or not create, to destroy or not destroy, belongs to God alone, and we must take care how we imagine decrees, formed even by his own prescience, in reference to futurity, which his power is from the moment of their conception laid under the necessity of performing. In every point of time and eternity, God must be free to act or not to act, as may seem best to his godly wisdom.
But ye shall receive power - Ληψεσθε δυναμιν. Translating different terms of the original by the same English word is a source of misapprehension and error. We must not understand δυναμις which we translate power in this verse, as we do εξουσια, translated by the same word in the preceding verse. In the one, God's infinite authority over all times and seasons, and his uncompellable liberty of acting or not acting in any given case, are particularly pointed out: in the other, the energy communicated by him to his disciples, through which they were enabled to work miracles, is particularly intended; and δυναμις, in general, signifies such power, and is sometimes put for that of which it is the cause, viz. a miracle. See Mat 7:22; Mat 11:20-23; Mat 13:54, Mat 13:58; Mar 6:5; Luk 10:13; and Act 2:22. The disciples were to be made instruments in the establishment of the kingdom of Christ; but this must be by the energy of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; nevertheless, this energy would be given in such times and seasons, and in such measures, as should appear best to the infinite wisdom of God. Christ does not immediately answer the question of the disciples, as it was a point savouring too much of mere curiosity; but he gave them such information as was calculated to bring both their faith and hope into action. St. Chrysostom has well observed, "that it is the prerogative of an instructer to teach his disciple, not what he wishes to learn, but what his master sees best for him:" Διδασκαλου τουτο εστι μη ἁ βουλεται ὁ μαθητης, αλλ' ἁ συμφερει μαθειν, διδασκειν.
Ye shall be witnesses - in all Judea, etc. - Though the word earth, ἡ γη, is often used to denote Judea alone, yet here, it is probable, it is to be taken in its largest extent. All the inhabitants of the globe might at that period be considered divisible into three classes.
1. The Jews, who adhered to the law of Moses, and the prophetic writings, worshipping the true God only, and keeping up the temple service, as prescribed in their law.
2. The Samaritans, a mongrel people, who worshipped the God of Israel in connection with other gods, Kg2 17:5, etc., and who had no kind of religious connection with the Jews. See on Mat 10:5 (note). And,
3. The Gentiles, the heathens through all other parts of the world, who were addicted to idolatry alone, and had no knowledge of the true God.
By the terms in the text we may see the extent to which this commission of instruction and salvation was designed to reach: to the Jews; to the Samaritans, and the uttermost part of the earth, i.e. to the Gentile nations, thus, to the whole human race the Gospel of the kingdom was to be proclaimed. When the twelve disciples were sent out to preach, Mat 10:5, their commission was very limited - they were not to go in the way of the Gentiles, nor enter into any city of the Samaritans, but preach the Gospel to the lost sheep of the house of Israel: but here their commission is enlarged, for they are to go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. See Mat 28:18.
He was taken up - He was speaking face to face with them, and while they beheld he was taken up; he began to ascend to heaven, and they continued to look after him till a cloud received him out of their sight - till he had ascended above the region of the clouds, by the density of which all farther distinct vision was prevented. These circumstances are very remarkable, and should be carefully noted. They render insupportable the theory that states, "that our Lord did not ascend to heaven; that his being taken up signifies his going into some mountain, the top of which was covered with clouds, or thick vapours; and that the two men in white garments were two priests, or Levites, who simply informed the disciples of his revisiting them again at some future time." One would suppose that an opinion of this kind could hardly ever obtain credit among people professing Christianity; and yet it is espoused by some men of considerable learning and ingenuity. But the mere letter of the text will be ever sufficient for its total confutation. He that believes the text cannot receive such a miserable comment. Foreign critics and divines take a most sinful latitude on subjects of this kind.
Looked steadfastly - Keeping their eyes intensely fixed on their ascending Lord; continuing to look even after he had ascended above the region of the inferior clouds.
Two men stood by them - Doubtless, angels in human shape.
In white apparel - As emblematical of their purity, happiness, and glory.
Gazing up into heaven - Not to the top of a mountain, to which an unbridled fancy, influenced by infidelity, would intimate he had ascended, and not to heaven.
This same Jesus - Clothed in human nature, shall so come in like manner - with the same body, descending from heaven by his sovereign and all-controlling power, as ye have seen him go into heaven. Thus shall he come again to judge the quick and the dead. It was a very ancient opinion among Christians, that when Christ should come again to judge the world he would make his appearance on Mount Olivet. Some think that his coming again to destroy the Jewish nation is what the angels refer to. See a connected account of the different appearances of Christ at the end of this chapter.
A Sabbath day's journey - See the difficulties in this verse explained in the note on Luk 24:50 (note). A Sabbath day's journey was seven furlongs and a half. Olivet was but five furlongs from Jerusalem; and Bethany was fifteen. The first region or tract of Mount Olivet, which was called Bethany, was distant from the city a Sabbath day's journey, or seven furlongs and a half; and the same distance did that tract called Bethphage extend from the city. When, therefore; our Lord came to the place where these two tracts touched each other, he there ascended, which place was distant from Jerusalem a Sabbath day's journey, as St. Luke here remarks. See the notes referred to above.
They went up into an upper room - This was either a room in the temple, or in the house of one of the disciples, where this holy company was accustomed to meet. In Luk 24:53, it is said that, after their return from Mount Olivet, they were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God: it is probable, therefore, that the upper room mentioned in this verse is that apartment of the temple mentioned above. But still it is not certain that this place should be so understood; as we have the fullest proofs that the upper rooms in private houses were used for the purpose of reading the law, and conferring together on religious matters. See several proofs in Lightfoot. Add to this, that the room here mentioned seems to have been the place where all the apostles lodged, οὑ ησαν καταμενοντες, and therefore most probably a private house.
These - continued - in prayer and supplication - Waiting for the promise of the Father, according to the direction of our Lord, Luk 24:49. The words και τῃ δεησει, and in supplication, are omitted by ABC*DE, both the Syriac, the Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Vulgate, Itala, and some of the primitive fathers. On this evidence, Griesbach has left them out of the text; and others contend for the propriety of this omission, because, say they, τῃ προσευχῃ and τῃ δεησει, prayer and supplication, mean the same thing. Whether the reading be genuine or spurious, this inference is not just. Prayer may simply imply any address to God, in the way of petition or request; supplication, the earnest, affectionate, and continued application to God for the blessing requested from him by prayer. Prayer asks, supplication expostulates, entreats, urges and re-urges the petition.
With the women - Probably those who had been witnesses of his resurrection, with the immediate relatives of the apostles. Peter we know was married, Mat 8:14, and so might others of the disciples; and therefore the wives of the apostles, as well as of other pious men, may be here intended.
In the midst of the disciples - Μαθητων; but instead of this, αδελφων, brethren, is the reading of ABC, a few others, with the Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, and Vulgate. This seems the best reading, because of what immediately follows; for it was not among the disciples merely that he stood, but among the whole company, which amounted to one hundred and twenty. It is remarkable that this was the number which the Jews required to form a council in any city; and it is likely that in reference to this the disciples had gathered together, with themselves, the number of one hundred and twenty, chosen out of the many who had been already converted by the ministry of our Lord, the twelve disciples, and the seventy-two whom he had sent forth to preach, Luk 10:1, etc., thus they formed a complete council in presence of which the important business of electing a person in the place of Judas was to be transacted.
The Holy Ghost by the mouth of David - Thus is a strong attestation to the Divine inspiration of the book of Psalms. They were dictated by the Holy Spirit, and spoken by the mouth of David.
Obtained part of this ministry - Ελαχε τον κληρον, He obtained the lot of this ministry - not that he or any of the twelve apostles, was chosen to this ministry by lot, but as lot signifies the portion a man has in life, what comes to him in the course of the Divine providence, or as an especial gift of God's goodness, it is used here, as in many other parts of the sacred writings, to signify office or station. On this subject the reader is referred to the notes on Lev 16:8, Lev 16:9 (note); Jos 14:2 (note): see also Act 1:26 (note).
Purchased a field with the reward of iniquity - Probably Judas did not purchase the field himself, but the money for which he sold his Lord was thus applied, see Mat 27:6-8. It is possible, however, that he might have designed to purchase a field or piece of ground with this reward of his iniquity, and might have been in treaty far it, though he did not close the bargain, as his bringing the money to the treasury proves: the priests, knowing his intentions, might have completed the purchase, and, as Judas was now dead, applied the field thus bought for the burial of strangers, i.e. Jews from foreign parts, or others who, visiting Jerusalem, had died there. Though this case is possible, yet the passage will bear a very consistent interpretation without the assistant of this conjecture; for, in ordinary conversation, we often attribute to a man what is the consequence of his own actions, though such consequence was never designed nor wished for by himself: thus we say of a man embarking in a hazardous enterprise, he is gone to seek his death; of one whose conduct has been ruinous to his reputation, he has disgraced himself; of another who has suffered much in consequence of his crimes, he has purchased repentance at a high price, etc., etc. All these, though undesigned, were consequences of certain acts, as the buying of the yield was the consequence of Judas's treason.
And falling headlong, he burst asunder - It is very likely that the 18th and 19th verses are not the words of Peter, but of the historian, St. Luke, and should be read in a parenthesis, and then the 17th and 20th verses will make a connected sense. On the case of Judas, and the manner of his death, see the observations at the end of this chapter.
It was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem - The repentance of Judas, his dying testimony in behalf of our Lord's innocence, and his tragical death, were publicly known, as was also the transaction about the purchase of the field, and hence arose the name by which at was publicly known. These circumstances must have lessened the credit of the chief priests, and have prepared the public mind to receive the Gospel of the kingdom, when preached to them after the day of pentecost.
That field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama - This proper tongue was not the Hebrew; that had long ceased to be the proper tongue in Palestine: it was a sort of Chaldaio-Syriac which was commonly spoken. The word in the Syriac version is chacal-demo, and literally signifies the field of blood; because it was bought by the price of the life or blood of the Lord Jesus.
For it is written in the book of Psalms - The places usually referred to are Psa 69:25 : Let their habitation be desolate, and let none dwell in their tents. And Psa 109:8 : Let his days be few, and let another take his office, פקדתו pekudato, his overseership, his charge of visitation or superintendence, translated by the Septuagint, την επισκοπην, Vulgate, episcopatum; and We, following both, bishopric, but not with sufficient propriety, for surely the office or charge of Judas was widely different from what we call bishopric, the diocess, estate, and emoluments of a bishop. Επισκοπος, episcopos, which was corrupted by our Saxon ancestors into biscop, and by us into bishop, signifies literally an overseer or superintendent, from επι, over, and σκεπτομαι, I see, a person who had the inspection, overseeing, or superintendence of others. The ancient επισκοποι were persons who had the care of different congregations of the Church of Christ; who traveled, preached, enforced the discipline of the Church, and took care to prevent false doctrines, heresies, etc. Those who still deserve this title, and it is an august and noble one, walk by the same rule, and mind the same thing. Επισκοπος, episcopus, or bishop, is a scriptural and sacred title; was gloriously supported in the primitive Church; and many to the present day are not less ornaments to the title, than the title is ornamental to them. The best defenses of the truth of God, and the Protestant faith, are in the works of the bishops of the British Churches.
The words quoted from the Psalms were originally spoken against the enemies of David; and as David, in certain particulars, was a type of Christ, the words are applied to him in an especial manner who had sinned against his own soul and the life of his Master.
Which have companied with us - They judged it necessary to fill up this blank in the apostolate by a person who had been an eye witness of the acts of our Lord.
Went in and out - A phrase which includes all the actions of life.
Beginning from the baptism of John - From the time that Christ was baptized by John in Jordan; for it was at that time that his public ministry properly began.
Must one be ordained - This translation misleads every reader who cannot examine the original text. There is no term for ordained in the Greek: γενεσθαι, to be, is the only word in the verse to which this interpretation can be applied. The New Testament printed at London, by Robert Barker, the king's printer, in 1615, renders this and the preceding verse more faithfully and more clearly than our common version: Wherefore of these men who have companied with us, all the time that the Lord Jesus was conversant among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto the day he was taken up from us, must one of them Be Made a witness with us of his resurrection. The word ordained would naturally lead most readers to suppose that some ecclesiastical rite was used on the occasion, such as imposition of hands, etc., although nothing of the kind appears to have been employed.
They appointed two - These two were probably of the number of the seventy disciples; and, in this respect, well fitted to fill up the place. It is likely that the disciples themselves were divided in opinion which of these two was the most proper person, and therefore laid the matter before God, that he might decide it by the lot. No more than two candidates were presented; probably because the attention of the brethren had been drawn to those two alone, as having been most intimately acquainted with our Lord, or in being better qualified for the work than any of the rest; but they knew not which to prefer.
Joseph called Barsabas - Some MSS. read Joses Barnabas, making him the same with Joses Barnabas, Act 4:36. But the person here is distinguished from the person there, by being called Justus.
Thou Lord, which knowest the hearts - Συ, κυριε, καρδιογνωστα. The word καρδιογνωστης, the searcher of hearts, seems to be used here as an attribute of God; he knows the hearts, the most secret purposes, intentions, and dispositions of all men; and because he is the knower of hearts, he knew which of these men he had qualified the best, by natural and gracious dispositions and powers, for the important work to which one of them was now to be appointed.
That he may take part of this ministry, etc. - Instead of τον κληρον, the lot, which we translate part, τον τοπον, the place, is the reading of ABC*, Coptic, Vulgate, and the Itala in the Codex Bezae, and from them the verse may be read thus, That he may take the place of this ministry and apostleship, (from which Judas fell) and go to his own place; but instead of ιδιον, own, the Codex Alexandrinus, and one of Matthai's MSS., read δικαιον, just - that he might go to his just or proper place.
This verse has been variously expounded:
1. Some suppose that the words, that he might go to his own place, are spoken of Judas, and his punishment in hell, which they say must be the own place of such a person as Judas.
2. Others refer them to the purchase of the field, made by the thirty pieces of silver for which he had sold our Lord. So he abandoned the ministry and apostolate, that he might go to his own place, viz. that which he had purchased.
3. Others, with more seeming propriety, state that his own place means his own house, or former occupation; he left this ministry and apostleship that he might resume his former employment in conjunction with his family, etc. This is primarily the meaning of it in Num 24:25 : And Balaam returned to His Own Place, i.e. to his own country, friends, and employment.
4. Others think it simply means the state of the dead in general, independently of either rewards or punishments; as is probably meant by Ecc 3:20 : All go unto One Place: all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. But,
5. Some of the best critics assert that the words (as before hinted) belong to Matthias - his own place being the office to which he was about to be elected. Should any object, this could not be called his own place, because he was not yet appointed to it, but hell might be properly called Judas's own place, because, by treason and covetousness, he was fully prepared for that place of torment, it may be answered, that the own or proper place of a man is that for which he is eligible from being qualified for it, though he may not yet possess such a place: so St. Paul, Every man shall receive His Own reward, τον ιδιον μισθον, called there his own, not from his having it already in possession, for that was not to take place until the resurrection of the just; but from his being qualified in this life for the state of glory in the other. See the observations at the end of the chapter.
They gave forth their lots - In what manner this or any other question was decided by lot, we cannot precisely say. The most simple form was to put two stones, pieces of board, metal, or slips of parchment, with the names of the persons inscribed on them, into an urn; and after prayer, sacrifice, etc., to put in the hand and draw out one of the lots, and then the case was decided. I have considered this subject at large on Lev 16:8, Lev 16:9; and Jos 14:2.
He was numbered with the eleven apostles - The word συγκατεψηφισθη, comes from συν, together with, κατα, according to, and ψηφος, a pebble or small stone, used for lots, and as a means of enumeration among the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians; hence the words calculate, calculation, etc., from calculus, a small stone or pebble. From this use of the word, though it signifies in general to sum up, associate, etc., we may conjecture that the calculus or pebble was used on this occasion. The brethren agreed that the matter should be determined by lot; the lots were cast into the urn; God was entreated to direct the choice; one drew out a lot; the person whose name was inscribed on it was thereby declared to be the object of God's choice, and accordingly associated with the disciples. But it is possible that the whole was decided by what we commonly call ballot, God inclining the hearts of the majority to ballot for Matthias. Nothing certain can, however, be stated on this head. Thus the number twelve was made up, that these might be the fountains under God of the whole Christian Church, as the twelve sons of Jacob had been of the Jewish Church. For it has already been remarked that our Lord formed his Church on the model of the Jewish. See the notes on Joh 17:1, etc. As the Holy Ghost, on the day of pentecost, was to descend upon them and endue them with power from on high, it was necessary that the number twelve should be filled up previously, that the newly elected person might also be made partaker of the heavenly gift. How long it was found necessary to keep up the number twelve, we are not informed: the original number was soon broken by persecution and death.
On the death of Judas there is a great diversity of opinion among learned men and divines.
1. It is supposed, following the bare letter of the text, that Judas hanged himself, and that, the rope breaking, he fell down, was burst with the fall, and thus his bowels gushed out.
2. That, having hanged himself, he was thrown on the dunghill, and, the carcass becoming putrid, the abdomen, which soonest yields to putrefaction burst, and the bowels were thus shed from the body, and possibly torn out by dogs.
3. That, being filled with horror and despair, he went to the top of the house, or to some eminences and threw himself down; and thus, failing headlong, his body was broken by the fall, and his bowels gushed out.
4. That Satan, having entered into him, caught him up in the air, and thence precipitated him to the earth; and thus, his body being broken to pieces, his bowels gushed out. This is Dr. Lightfoot's opinion, and has been noticed on Mat 27:5.
5. Others think that he died or was suffocated through excessive grief; and that thus the terms in the text, and in Mat 27:5, are to be understood. The late Mr. Wakefield defends this meaning with great learning and ingenuity.
6. Others suppose the expressions to be figurative: Judas having been highly exalted, in being an apostle, and even the purse-bearer to his Lord and brother disciples, by his treason forfeited this honor, and is represented as falling from a state of the highest dignity into the lowest infamy, and then dying through excessive grief. The Rev. John Jones, in his Illustrations of the four Gospels, sums up this opinion thus: "So sensible became the traitor of the distinguished rank which he forfeited, and of the deep disgrace into which he precipitated himself, by betraying his Master, that he was seized with such violent grief as occasioned the rupture of his bowels, and ended in suffocation and death." P. 571.
After the most mature consideration of this subject, on which I hesitated to form an opinion in the note on Mat 27:5, I think the following observations may lead to a proper knowledge of the most probable state of the case.
1. Judas, like many others, thought that the kingdom of the Messiah would be a secular kingdom; and that his own secular interests must be promoted by his attachment to Christ. Of this mind all the disciples seem to have been, previously to the resurrection of Christ.
2. From long observation of his Master's conduct, he was now convinced that he intended to erect no such kingdom; and that consequently the expectations which he had built on the contrary supposition must be ultimately disappointed.
3. Being poor and covetous, and finding there was no likelihood of his profiting by being a disciple of Christ, he formed the resolution (probably at the instigation of the chief priests) of betraying him for a sum of money sufficient to purchase a small inheritance, on which he had already cast his eye.
4. Well knowing the uncontrollable power of his Master, he might take it for granted that, though betrayed, he would extricate himself from their hands; and that they would not be capable of putting him either to pain or death.
5. That having betrayed him, and finding that he did not exert his power to deliver himself out of the hands of the Jews, and seeing, from their implacable malice, that the murder of his most innocent Master was likely to be the consequence, he was struck with deep compunction at his own conduct, went to the chief priests, confessed his own profligacy, proclaimed the innocence of his Master, and returned the money for which he had betrayed him; probably hoping that they might be thus influenced to proceed no farther in this unprincipled business, and immediately dismiss Christ.
6. Finding that this made no impression upon them, from their own words, What is that to us? See thou to that, and that they were determined to put Jesus to death, seized with horror at his crime and its consequences, the remorse and agitation of his mind produced a violent dysentery, attended with powerful inflammation; (which, in a great variety of cases, has been brought on by strong mental agitation); and while the distressful irritation of his bowels obliged him to withdraw for relief, he was overwhelmed with grief and affliction, and, having fallen from the seat, his bowels were found to have gushed out, through the strong spasmodic affections with which the disease was accompanied. I have known cases of this kind, where the bowels appeared to come literally away by piece meal.
Now; when we consider that the word απηγξατο, Mat 27:5, which we translate hanged himself, is by the very best critics thus rendered, was choked, and that the words of the sacred historian in this place, falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out, may be no other than a delicate mode of expressing the circumstance to which I have alluded under observation 6, perhaps this way of reconciling and explaining the evangelist and historian will appear, not only probable, but the most likely. To strengthen this interpretation, a few facts may be adduced of deaths brought about in the same way with that in which I suppose Judas to have perished. The death of Jehoram is thus related, Ch2 21:18, Ch2 21:19 : And after all this, the Lord smote him in his bowels with an incurable disease: and it came to pass that, after the end of two years, His Bowels Fell Out, by reason of his sickness; so he died of sore diseases; בתחלאים bethachaluim, with inflammations, or ulcers. The death of Herod was probably of the same kind, Act 12:23. That of Aristobulus, as described by Josephus, War, book i. chap. 3, is of a similar nature. Having murdered his mother and brother, his mind was greatly terrified, and his bowels being torn with excruciating torments, he voided much blood, and died in miserable agonies. Again, in his Antiq. book xv. chap. 10., sect. 3, he thus describes the death of Zenodorus: "His bowels bursting, and his strength exhausted by the loss of much blood, he died at Antioch in Syria."
Taking it for granted that the death of Judas was probably such as related above, collating all the facts and evidences together, can any hope be formed that he died within the reach of mercy? Let us review the whole of these transactions.
I. It must be allowed that his crime was one of the most inexcusable ever committed by man: nevertheless, it has some alleviations.
1. It is possible that he did not think his Master could be hurt by the Jews.
2. When he found that he did not use his power to extricate himself from their hands, he deeply relented that he had betrayed him.
3. He gave every evidence of the sincerity of his repentance, by going openly to the Jewish rulers:
(1.) Confessing his own guilt;
(2.) asserting the innocence of Christ;
(3.) returning the money which he had received from them; and there
(4.) the genuineness of his regret was proved by its being the cause of his death. But,
II. Judas might have acted a much worse part than he did:
1. By persisting in his wickedness.
2. By slandering the character of our Lord both to the Jewish rulers and to the Romans; and, had he done so, his testimony would have been credited, and our Lord would then have been put to death as a malefactor, on the testimony of one of his own disciples; and thus the character of Christ and his Gospel must have suffered extremely in the sight of the world, and these very circumstances would have been pleaded against the authenticity of the Christian religion by every infidel in all succeeding ages. And,
3. Had he persisted in his evil way, he might have lighted such a flame of persecution against the infant cause of Christianity as must, without the intervention of God, have ended in its total destruction: now, he neither did, nor endeavored to do, any of these things. In other cases these would be powerful pleadings.
Judas was indisputably a bad man; but he might have been worse: we may plainly see that there were depths of wickedness to which he might have proceeded, and which were prevented by his repentance. Thus things appear to stand previously to his end. But is there any room for hope in his death? In answer to this it must be understood,
1. That there is presumptive evidence that he did not destroy himself; and,
2. That his repentance was sincere.
If so, was it not possible for the mercy of God to extend even to his case? It did so to the murderers of the Son of God; and they were certainly worse men (strange as this assertion may appear) than Judas. Even he gave them the fullest proof of Christ's innocence: their buying the field with the money Judas threw down was the full proof of it; and yet, with every convincing evidence before them, they crucified our Lord. They excited Judas to betray his Master, and crucified him when they had got him into their power; and therefore St. Stephen calls them both the betrayers and murderers of that Just One, Act 7:52 : in these respects they were more deeply criminal than Judas himself; yet even to those very betrayers and murderers Peter preaches repentance, with the promise of remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, Act 3:12-26.
If, then, these were within the reach of mercy, and we are informed that a great company of the priests became obedient to the faith, Act 6:7, then certainly Judas was not in such a state as precluded the possibility of his salvation. Surely the blood of the covenant could wash out even his stain, as it did that more deeply engrained one of the other betrayers and murderers of the Lord Jesus.
Should the 25th verse be urged against this possibility, because it is there said that Judas fell from his ministry and apostleship, that he might go to his own place, and that this place is hell; I answer,
1. It remains to be proved that this place means hell; and,
2. It is not clear that the words are spoken of Judas at all, but of Matthias: his own place meaning that vacancy in the apostolate to which he was then elected. See the note on Act 1:25.
To say that the repentance of Judas was merely the effect of his horror; that it did not spring from compunction of heart; that it was legal, and not evangelical, etc., etc., is saying what none can with propriety say, but God himself, who searches the heart. What renders his case most desperate are the words of our Lord, Mat 26:24 : Wo unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born! I have considered this saying in a general point of view in my note on Mat 26:24; and, were it not a proverbial form of speech among the Jews, to express the state of any flagrant transgressor, I should be led to apply it in all its literal import to the case of Judas, as I have done, in the above note, to the case of any damned soul; but when I find that it was a proverbial saying, and that it has been used in many cases where the fixing of the irreversible doom of a sinner is not implied, it may be capable of a more favorable interpretation than what is generally given to it. I shall produce a few of those examples from Schoettgen, to which I have referred in my note on Mat 26:24.
In Chagigah, fol. ii. 2, it is said: "Whoever considers these four things, it would have been better for him had he never come into the world, viz. That which is above - that which is below - that which is before - and that which is behind; and whosoever does not attend to the honor of his Creator, it were better for him had he never been born."
In Shemoth Rabba, sect. 40, fol. 135, 1, 2, it is said: "Whosoever knows the law, and does not do it, it had been better for him had he never come into the world."
In Viyikra Rabba, sect. 36, fol. 179, 4, and Midrash Coheleth, fol. 91, 4, it is thus expressed: "It were better for him had he never been created; and it would have been better for him had he been strangled in the womb, and never have seen the light of this world."
In Sohar Genes. fol. 71, col. 282, it is said: "If any man be parsimonious towards the poor, it had been better for him had he never came into the world." Ibid. fol. 84, col. 333: "If any performs the law, not for the sake of the law, it were good for that man had he never been created." These examples sufficiently prove that this was a common proverb, and is used with a great variety and latitude of meaning, and seems intended to show that the case of such and such persons was not only very deplorable, but extremely dangerous; but does not imply the positive impossibility either of their repentance or salvation.
The utmost that can be said for the case of Judas is this he committed a heinous act of sin and ingratitude; but he repented, and did what he could to undo his wicked act: he had committed the sin unto death, i.e. a sin that involves the death of the body; but who can say (if mercy was offered to Christ's murderers, and the Gospel was first to be preached at Jerusalem that these very murderers might have the first offer of salvation through him whom they had pierced) that the same mercy could not be extended to the wretched Judas? I contend that the chief priests, etc., who instigated Judas to deliver up his Master, and who crucified him - and who crucified him too as a malefactor - having at the same time the most indubitable evidence of his innocence, were worse men than Judas Iscariot himself; and that, if mercy was extended to those, the wretched penitent traitor did not die out of the reach of the yearning of its bowels. And I contend, farther, that there is no positive evidence of the final damnation of Judas in the sacred text.
I hope it will not displease the humane reader that I have entered so deeply into the consideration of this most deplorable case. I would not set up knowingly any plea against the claims of justice; and God forbid that a sinner should be found capable of pleading against the cries of mercy in behalf of a fellow culprit! Daily, innumerable cases occur of persons who are betraying the cause of God, and selling, in effect, Christ and their souls for money. Every covetous man, who is living for this world alone, is of this stamp. And yet, while they live, we do not despair of their salvation, though they are continually repeating the sin of Judas, with all its guilt and punishment before their eyes! Reader! learn from thy Lord this lesson, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. The case is before the Judge, and the Judge of all the earth will do right.