15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,
“‘May his camp become desolate,
and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and
“‘Let another take his office.’
21 “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” – Acts 1:15-26 ESV
So, what happened to Judas? We know he died, but how? Matthew records that, after having returning the money he had been paid by the Jewish religious authorities, he went out and hung himself.
And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. – Matthew 27:5 ESV
But in today’s passage, we have Luke’s record of Peter’s words, which describe a seemingly different scenario.
Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. – Acts 1:18 ESV
Did he hang himself or jump off a cliff? In Matthew’s account, it states that the Jewish religious leaders took the silver coins that Judas had returned and “bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers” (Matthew 27:7 ESV). In Peter’s recollection, recorded in the book of Acts, he indicates that Judas “acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness” (Acts 1:18 ESV). Which was it? What really happened here? Is this a contradiction in Scripture? The answer is, “No” and the solution is simple. Judas, in his dismay at finding out his betrayal was going to result in the death of Jesus, was grief-stricken and attempted to return the blood money he had received. He confessed that he had betrayed an innocent man (Matthew 27:4). But the leading priests and elders of the people could have cared less. They had no concern for Judas’ remorse. They only problem they had was deciding what to do with the money he had returned.
“It wouldn’t be right to put this money in the Temple treasury,” they said, “since it was payment for murder.” – Matthew 27:6 NLT
After some discussion among themselves, they determined to buy a field with the 30 pieces of silver. And since the transaction required a name, they most likely used that of Judas. The field became his by default. So, in essence, he did buy a field. And the likely scenario surrounding his death was that he did hang himself. Most likely from a tree. And when it came time to dispose of his body, he was thrown into the field that had been purchased with the 30 pieces of silver, where his already decomposing body burst open, creating the graphic scene described by Peter. And it was likely this image that resulted in the potter’s field being renamed, Akeldama (Field of Blood).
Now, why does Peter go into such great detail to describe the death of Judas? Because he wants to address an important issue that this former disciple’s death has created. Jesus had originally chosen 12 disciples. Now, there were only 11. The number 12 had special significance to the Jews. It was the number of the tribes of Israel. And Jesus had told the disciples something very significant regarding their role in His future Kingdom.
Jesus replied, “I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” – Matthew 19:28 NLT
They were one disciple short. And Peter, quoting from two of the psalms of David (Psalm 69:5; Psalm 109:8), uses these Old Testament writings as proof that Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was part of God’s plan. Peter, most likely under divine inspiration, recognizes that Judas must be replaced. The Psalm 109:8 passage clearly says, “Let another take his office.” They could not continue their ministry a man down. So, Peter proposed that they remedy this problem immediately. They needed to take action and find a replacement for Judas as quickly as possible, before the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise of the Spirit took place.
What happens next is interesting. First of all, Peter laid out the criteria for their candidate search. The man they were looking for would have to be someone who had been there from the beginning.
21 “So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— 22 from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.” – Acts 1:21-22 NLT
This couldn’t be just anybody. They had to be someone who had been a part of Jesus’ entourage from the very start of His earthly ministry. They also had to have been an eye-witness of Jesus’ resurrection. These requirements would have narrowed the field significantly. And it leaves them with the names of two men: Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. Both met the qualifications. Now, it was a matter of which one God wanted. This is where it gets interesting and a bit confusing. First of all, they prayed.
“You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” – Acts 1:24-25 ESV
Then, they cast lots. What? How in the world was this a spiritually viable means of determining the will of God? It seems like little more than a case of blind luck. But we have to keep in mind that both of the men they had picked were viable candidates for the role of replacing Judas. Now, it was a matter of which one God wanted. That was an important point. Jesus had chosen the original 12. So, it was important that God be the one to choose Judas’ replacement. This was not to be up to the disciples. They would not have a vote and go with the majority. Casting lots was a common way of making a determination over an important matter, because it left the decision up to God. They firmly believed that, after they had prayed over the matter, God would answer their prayer and reveal the right candidate. And the lot fell to Mathias.
The question we must ask ourselves is whether or not this scene creates a prescriptive model for the church to follow. In other words, is this an indication of the methodology we are to use within the church to determine God’s will regarding important decisions? The answer would seem to be no. Once the Holy Spirit comes, there is no other example of lots being used by the disciples or anyone else in the early church to make decisions. The coming of the Spirit and His indwelling of all believers seems to have created a new capacity for believers to know the will of God. They were given a Spirit-empowered discernment that they had not had before. So, lots were no longer necessary. Therefore, we are not dependent upon this methodology in order to know God’s will.
There are some who argue that Peter was impulsive and out of bounds in orchestrating this selection process. They believe that Peter acted on his own initiative and without the clear direction of God. Their argument is that Paul was God’s intended choice to replace Judas, but that Peter would not have known this. The problem with this viewpoint is that Paul would not have met the requirements set aside by Peter. Paul was not there from the beginning. He had not been a constant follower of Jesus from His baptism all the way to His death. In fact, at the point that this decision was being made, Paul was not a follower of Jesus at all. He was a Pharisee who could become a fierce opponent of any and all who claimed to be followers of Christ. And, while Paul would later be called by Christ and have a personal encounter with the resurrected Savior, he would spend a great deal of his ministry life defending his apostleship because he did not seem to fit the established criteria. Was he an apostle? Yes. Should he have been Judas’ replacement? Not likely. There is no indication from Luke that this election or selection process conducted by Peter and the other disciples was out of bounds or inappropriate. God never condemns there efforts. In fact, it seems that God confirmed the selection of Mathias through the casting of Lots. And as we will see, this selection process is immediately followed by the coming of the Holy Spirit, and Mathias was one of those who found himself filled with and empowered by the Spirit of God that fateful day.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.