Acts 1:21-26 ­– Matthias Appointed an Apostle by Lot

(Reading Acts 1:12-26)

12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, ‘Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.’

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

20 ‘For,’ said Peter, ‘it is written in the Book of Psalms:

‘“May his place be deserted;
    let there be no one to dwell in it,”


‘“May another take his place of leadership.”

21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.’

23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.’ 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.


I was asked to preach this morning on Acts 1:21-26 – on Matthias being appointed as an apostle to replace Judas. My initial reaction was one of bewilderment. What could I say from this passage that would be helpful to us this morning? I felt that the lot had fallen on me and that I was more like Jonah than Matthias. Janet was kind enough to say that if I felt unable to preach on this passage I could select another passage of my own. But I remembered the words of the apostle Paul (a hint there of something more to come) when he wrote, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). And that includes this passage of Scripture. This incident is recorded here in Scripture for our learning and so I was determined to learn from it and to help us all learn something from it.

Nevertheless, I have chosen to read from Acts 1 verse 12 so that we might be reminded of the context of this passage. After all, verse 21 begins (at least in its English translation) with the word "therefore." And, as has often been said, whenever we see the word "therefore" we have to ask the question, "What is it there for?" It's a word that links what is now being said to what preceded it. It is because Judas, one of the twelve had betrayed the Lord Jesus and, with Jesus' crucifixion had gone out and killed himself, that Peter leads the church in coming to a decision as to who will replace him – who will now complete the number of the 12 apostles.

So let's look at this passage together and seek to learn from it and to profit from it.

Why was it necessary for there to be twelve apostles?

In the verses we are looking at Peter says, "Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men… to take over this apostolic ministry" (vv. 21, 25). Why was this necessary? Why could they not have carried on with 11 apostles? Or, given that there were 120 people believers gathered there, why could there not have been 13, perhaps both Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias if they were both suitable, or why not 15 or even 20? What is so significant about the number 12?

Luke, who wrote the Book of Acts, records how Jesus selected twelve out of his disciples for special training and mission. He writes in Luke 6:12-16 –

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

This choice of 12 apostles was a deliberate act of the Lord Jesus, preceded by a night of prayer on a lonely mountainside. It was not a casual decision. For Jesus, the choice of the twelve was to be of great significance.

And I am sure that you know something of its significance. The people of God up to this point were the Israelites, a people called and chosen by God firstly in Abraham, then in Isaac and Jacob, whom God renamed Israel. The twelve sons of Jacob were the children of Israel from whom the whole nation was descended. These twelve formed the foundation for the people of God under the Old Covenant (if I may call it that).

Jesus, by choosing these 12 men is declaring that in him God is doing something new. Jesus is calling into being a new people of God defined not by descent from Jacob / Israel, but defined in relationship to him. This was the tenor of Jesus' preaching from the beginning, The kingdom of heaven is at hand – the kingdom of God is breaking into this world, and these 12 apostles will have a key role in the establishment of this kingdom, in the creation of the newly defined people of God.

The word 'apostle' simply means one who is sent, and it is used in this general sense in the New Testament (e.g. of Epaphroditus in Phil. 2:25). Jesus selected these 12 to be trained by him that they might be sent out with his authority to continue his kingdom work of preaching and healing and casting out demons (Luke 9:1f.). They are to have a foundational role in the creation of the newly defined people of God, defined in Christ.

Jesus, by his ministry, was declaring himself to be the Messiah, the one in whom God had come to fulfil all the promises he had made to Israel. But his own people rejected him, "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him" (John 1:11). That rejection would end up in him being delivered up by the representatives of Israel to be executed at the hands of the Romans – it would end in the cross.

All of this is described by Jesus in the parable of the tenants of the Vineyard in Matthew 21:33-44. Jesus tells the story of a landowner who planted and equipped a vineyard. This was a well-known picture of God's relationship with his people Israel (see Isaiah 5). In Jesus' parable, the owner lets his vineyard out to tenants who beat and kill the servants sent to collect the owner's share of its fruit. Finally they conspire to kill the owner's son. Jesus tells the Jewish leaders listening to this parable, "Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit" (Matthew 21:43). Jesus is saying that by rejecting him as their Messiah and Lord, the leadership of the people of God is being taken away from them and given to others who will serve God faithfully and fruitfully.

Judas, by betraying Jesus and delivering him into the hands of his captors had identified himself with faithless Israel. It was necessary therefore that a faithful replacement should be found who could take up his ministry with the other eleven of giving himself to the creation of the people of God newly defined in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. They will be foundational to a people who will bear fruit for their Lord, fruit that comes from the presence and power of the risen Christ with and in his people.

Let me mention here the picture of the New Jerusalem which we have described for us in Revelation 21 where John records that an angel,

showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God… It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel… The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Revelation 21:10-14)

Here is a picture of the glorious people of God as they shall be when Christ returns when God's dwelling place will be with humankind. The New Jerusalem is a picture of God's people, the bride of the Lamb. The 12 gates of the city are pictured as having on them the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve foundations have on them the names of the twelve apostles. We should not think that God has turned his back on Israel and its twelve tribes. All that God promised to them is now fulfilled in Christ. The twelve apostles and their ministry is foundational to the people of God defined in Christ and encompassing Jew and Gentile ­– they are agents of God's plan in Christ to restore the 'twelve tribes of Israel'.

So the number 12 is of great symbolic significance. It speaks of the foundational ministry which will be creative of the people of God in Christ. As is again expressed by the apostle Paul, writing to Gentile Christians in Ephesus –

You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19-21)

So, for symbolic reasons, it was vital that there were 12 apostles. Since Judas had betrayed Christ and was now no more, it was vital that another twelfth person was appointed to take up this apostolic ministry.

What was required that someone might be an apostle?

Peter, having said that it is necessary to find a replacement for Judas, goes on to say, "It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection" (Acts 1:21-22). An apostle, one who was to be foundational for the life of the church, had to be someone who had been with Jesus during the entire period of his earthly ministry. He had to be someone who had given up everything to follow Jesus; someone who had listened to the teaching of Jesus; someone who had witnessed all that Jesus had done including the miracles he had performed; someone who had been trained by Jesus and in all likelihood had been one of the 72 sent out by Jesus to minister in his name (see Luke 10:1f). And above all, he needed to be one who had seen the Lord Jesus risen from the dead and had listened to Jesus as "He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3).

Why was all of this so necessary for someone to be one of the twelve apostles?

One commentator expresses it as follows, "This close and comprehensive knowledge of Jesus ensures the reliability of what is said about him to others in his absence" (Robert W. Wall, The New Interpreter's Bible). The witness and ministry of these apostles was to be foundational for the life of the church – telling of all that Jesus had said and done.

And the witness and ministry of these apostles is still foundational for the life of the church – for our lives as Christian men and women. Their witness is now recorded in all the pages of Scripture, and particularly in the four Gospel accounts.

Some of those named in the Gospel accounts whom Jesus chose for the twelve are not heard of again in the pages of the New Testament beyond Luke's list in Acts 1:13. What, for instance, do we know of Bartholomew or Simon the Zealot or James son of Alphaeus? What beyond these verses do we know of Matthias? But that is not to say that their ministry was insignificant. Where did Luke get the material he included in his Gospel account of the Lord Jesus, material such as the story of the Pharisee and tax collector at prayer in the temple or the parable of the rich man and Lazarus? Where did he learn of the wonderful parable Jesus told concerning the prodigal son? Luke tells us that he carefully investigated everything about Jesus and listened to "those who from the first were eye witnesses and servants of the word… so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught" (Luke 1:1-4). Luke may have talked with and listened to Bartholomew and Simon the Zealot, to James son of Alphaeus and to Matthias. These were the witnesses and servants of the word whose eye-witness accounts of Jesus are recorded for us in the Gospels "so that [we] may know the certainty of the things [we] have been taught. These apostles and their testimony are foundational to the life of the people of God.

Our faith and hope rest in the Lord Jesus – this Lord Jesus whose words, deeds, death and resurrection are recorded for us from the testimony of eyewitnesses. Our faith has a secure foundation in this apostolic witness.

The process by which Matthias was chosen

Now notice with me the process by which Matthias was selected as the replacement for Judas.

Just as Jesus had spent the night in prayer before selecting the twelve, so Peter and the 120 gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem, "all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers" (Acts 1:14). Note that Jesus' brothers now appear to believe in him.

On the basis of the criteria Peter has specified and their knowledge of those present, they decide that there are two men who seem suitable to take up this role as the twelfth apostle and they want the Lord to indicate which of the two is the right candidate, for the Lord is the only one who knows the hearts of these men. The risen Lord Jesus is to choose this twelfth apostle. "Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles" (Acts 1:26).

And there we could leave the matter, except for one burning question…

Did Peter Get it right?

G. Campbell Morgan, a notable preacher and Bible student, Minister at Westminster Chapel before Martyn Lloyd-Jones thinks that Peter and the other apostles and disciples acted precipitously and got it quite wrong. He writes concerning their behaviour in the verses we are looking at, "Their need for that Spirit for guidance is revealed in an election to fill the place of Judas. Casting lots was wholly out of place, and was never resorted to after the coming of the Spirit. That the action was a mistake is revealed in that in his own time and way God found and fitted an apostle. It is to be noted how in consequence of this initial blunder, Paul had constantly to defend his right to the place of apostleship."

I want to be more cautious in my own judgements. The number 12 in connection with the apostles is of great symbolic significance, as we have seen, but the designation of "apostle" is not necessarily confined to the twelve.

Paul clearly claims to be an apostle. He saw the risen Lord Jesus when on his way to Damascus and is insistent that he was commissioned by the risen Christ to preach the good news that centred in Christ's death and resurrection (see Acts 9:15-16, cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1). In his letter to the Galatians he announces himself as, "Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead" (Galatians 1:1), and he insists that he did not receive the message he preaches by learning it from other people, but "received it by revelation from Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:12). He is an apostle, commissioned and sent by Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, Paul acknowledges that there is something different about his apostleship – it does not fit the criteria outlined by Peter. In 1 Corinthians 15:7-11 Paul speaks of the appearances of the risen Lord Jesus saying,

Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Paul recognises that his apostolic calling was different from that of the other apostles. Nevertheless, he insists that he is a genuine apostle, commissioned by Jesus to proclaim the gospel, the very same gospel message preached by all the other apostles. Indeed, Paul glories in the fact that Christ commissioned him to be an apostle to the Gentiles (see Romans 1:5, Galatians 2:6-10).

And let me add that the title of "apostle" is used of others in the pages of the New Testament. James, the brother of the Lord Jesus, seems to be referred to as an apostle in Galatians 1:19 and 1 Corinthians 15:7. Barnabas, along with Paul, is called an apostle in Acts 14:3-4 and verse 14. And in an enigmatic expression at the end of Romans, Paul seems to suggest that Andronicus and Junia (a woman), were outstanding apostles!

I think the argument over whether Peter got it right is academic and rather pointless. What is clear is that we owe out New Testament Scriptures to eye witnesses who had been with Jesus, who heard what he said and saw what he did. And along with them, we owe our New Testament to the apostle Paul who was appointed by the risen Christ to be an apostle to Gentiles – to the likes of us.

The bottom line

So what? Is this just an interesting piece of ancient church history? No, not at all. It vitally concerns us.

These apostles, whether the twelve or the apostle Paul, were commissioned by the Lord Jesus to act as witnesses to him, and particularly to his death and resurrection. Remember the words of the Lord Jesus before he ascended into heaven. Addressing the eleven remaining apostles Jesus said,

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

The apostles were faithful to Jesus calling. Equipped by his Spirit they bore witness to all that Jesus had said and done; they made disciples from many nations, disciples whom they baptised and taught to live in obedience to Jesus' teaching. As those first disciples began to be taken away by death, that apostolic witness was recorded in the pages of Scripture so that generations to come could know what Jesus has done and what he calls his disciples to be. And we are now the recipients of their testimony.

Firstly, then, let us pay careful attention to the apostolic witness to the Lord Jesus which we have received in all the pages of Scripture that we might learn of Christ and grow in likeness to Christ. If I can take Paul's words out of context for a moment, let me encourage you:

Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it… you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

We have receives these Scriptures from eyewitnesses to Christ's life, death and resurrection. We need to listen to what they have to say to us and to respond in glad obedience.

But secondly, Jesus made it quite clear that the commission he gave his apostles before his ascension would last "to the very end of the age". We are therefore the heirs of this apostolic commission and mission. We have now been entrusted with the good news about the Lord Jesus – that there is forgiveness for all who trust in the crucified saviour and there is life through his resurrection from the dead. We now are to be his witnesses, the heirs of Bartholomew, Matthias and Joseph Barsabbas, telling others of what we have heard and experienced, confident that the risen Lord is with us and will work through us to the very end of the age. The risen Christ is sending each one of us out with the good news. We too are apostles.


Peter Misselbrook

Marshfield, 12/5/24