For forty days after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and family (Acts 1:3), leaving no doubt that he was alive. This was a hectic time for his followers. They left Jerusalem and walked seventy miles home to Galilee. Jesus met with them there beside the sea and on a mountain top. Then, perhaps, after settling their affairs, they returned to Jerusalem where they received their final instructions: “Do not leave Jerusalem but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about…. In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4, 5). During this time, they worshiped him, were filled with joy, prayed in the Temple, and studied the Scriptures (Luke 24:52, 53).
It’s just as well that they had ten days before the promise was fulfilled. They had so much to think about and to prepare! Their world had been turned upside down. Jesus didn’t establish an earthly kingdom as they had expected. Their view of the Messiah was wrong. Now they needed to start over. They studied the ancient Scriptures with this new light. Peter discovered two insights that called for action. First, the fall of Judas had been prophesied nearly 1,000 years before (Psalm 69). Second, they began to understand their role as “apostles” and the need for twelve witnesses.
The word “apostle” (apostolos in Greek) means “someone who has been commissioned and sent as a special messenger.” The word is often used in a general sense (Barnabas is called an apostle in Acts 14:14), but in Acts 1, it refers to a particular group of “witnesses.” Peter realized there was a need for someone to take his place (Psalm 109). There must be twelve.
Why twelve? Biblical numbers are significant. Three represents heaven – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Four represents the earth – North, South, East, and West. Thus, three plus four equals seven: the number of completion. Three times four is twelve. Think how many times this number is found in the Bible: twelve tribes, twelve patriarchs, twelve judges – the list goes on. Peter realized there must be twelve witnesses to the Christ. Because of that, Peter lays down some very specific qualifications for the new apostle. He said:
“So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 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.” (Acts 1:21 – 22)
Notice that this was a one-time action. Later, when one of the other apostles, James, was killed, there was no replacement (12:2). The Church was to be built on the foundation of twelve stones. Two men were nominated: Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias (1:23). Early Christian writers suggested that both of these men had been part of the group of 70 that Jesus sent on the “limited commission” (Luke 10), but we have no way of proving that for certain.
With my love of stories, I wish we knew more about Matthias. Did God see something in him that He didn’t see in Joseph Barsabbas? Was Joseph hurt that he wasn’t selected? What did Matthias do after standing with the eleven on the day of Pentecost? Did he go on great missionary journeys like Paul? Some have even gone so far as to say Peter made a mistake. They believe Paul was God’s choice of a replacement for Judas, but I don’t think so. Peter pointed out the need for a witness – the need for twelve witnesses – at the beginning of the New Age.
Seven is the perfect number. Six is one short of perfection; thus, 6-6-6 means “incomplete, incomplete, incomplete.” Likewise, eleven would have been one short. On Pentecost, when the sound of the “mighty rushing wind” (Acts 2:2) died down, twelve men testified. Their witness is still true: Jesus is the Chosen One! Jesus is Lord!