When we last left off the 11 disciples had returned from Mt. Olivet to Jerusalem and were devoting themselves to prayer, presumably for the coming of the promised Holy Spirit. They were joined by others for a total of about 120 people gathered together in prayer. We pick up the action beginning with verse 15:
15 At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together), and said, 16 “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out. 19 And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms,
‘Let his homestead be made desolate,
And let no one dwell in it’;
‘Let another man take his office.’
“At this time” indicates that it was during prayer (again, presumably for the coming of the Holy Spirit) that Peter stood up and spoke the words that follow. I believe that this is a significant thing to note as it is indicative of Peter’s state of mind when he spoke these words. His mind was concentrated and focused on God (he was in prayer after all) when he spoke these words. Thus we can be confident that the words he spoke were of God, and not of himself.
The point of vv. 18-19 in this account is to inform the readers about Judas’ fate as this is left out of Luke’s gospel. I will briefly mention that vv. 18-19 do not align exactly with Matthew’s account of Judas’ death; Matthew 27.5 simply says that Judas went out and hanged himself. An exhaustive attempt at reconciling these accounts is not something I wish to do, so I will simply say that they can be reconciled this way: Judas went out and hanged himself over a cliff and after he had been hanging for some time the branch broke and when he fell his intestines burst open. The accounts do agree however that the field became known as the “Field of Blood” (Matt. 27.8).
Going back to v. 16 Peter says “the Scripture had to be fulfilled” and then in v. 20 he quotes two separate passages from the Psalms. The first, “Let his homestead be made desolate, And let no one dwell in it,” is from Psalm 69.25. The second, “And let another man take his office” is from Psalm 109.8. Both of these Psalms are describing someone who has been betrayed by those to whom he has shown nothing but kindness and is suffering as a result. By betraying Jesus and delivering him into the hands of the chief priests Judas fulfilled these passages by living out the actions described of the betrayers; he caused an innocent man to suffer harm. Peter then is quoting these passages not to say that these Psalms are predicting Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, but rather to say what should happen to Judas as a result of his betrayal of an innocent man.
The first thing that Peter says needs to be fulfilled is: “Let his homestead be made desolate…”; this is essentially asking for someone’s destruction. This “destruction” could be the loss of everything he has worked for his entire life, such as in the case of Job, or it could include the loss of his life. Judas fulfilled this by taking his own life.
The second thing that Peter says needs to be fulfilled is: “Let another man take his office.” This has not yet been fulfilled at this point in the account, thus Peter is calling those who have gathered to pray to take up this task of selecting someone to take Judas’ place.
21 Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— 22 beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” 23 So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen 25 to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.
Peter specifies two criteria that must be met for Judas’ replacement: 1) he must be a man, and 2) he must have been with disciples during the entirety of Jesus’ earthly ministry (this started with Jesus’ baptism by John and ended with his ascension). Peter’s prayer in vv. 24-25 before they draw lots indicates that it is Jesus who revealed to Peter that someone should be selected to occupy the office that Judas left vacant following his death. Then they draw lots and Matthias is selected and added to the eleven apostles.
After reading this passage I ask myself: “Why did someone have to be selected for Judas’ vacant office before the coming of the Holy Spirit?” Or in other words, “Why is this event significant enough to be recorded in Scripture?” It is evident that Peter was directed by Jesus to select a replacement for Judas’ office, but why I cannot say. Perhaps the best explanation I can offer (I emphasize that this is just my opinion) at this point is that since there were twelve tribes of Israel and it was important that no tribe lost its inheritance in the Promised Land (pre-exile of course), so it was important that of the twelve appointed apostles no one lose his inheritance. Since Judas lost his inheritance with his suicide someone then had to be appointed to replace him and receive his inheritance. I’ll avoid going into more detail regarding this for now so this post doesn’t get too long, but if a further explanation is necessary I will be glad to provide it.
Before we move on let’s recap what has happened so far. The author has told us this is a continuation of his “first account,” which we identified to be the Gospel of Luke. Thus Luke-Acts is best read as one continuous book. He begins the second account by telling of Jesus’ ascension and that he (Jesus) commands his disciples to go into the city and wait for the Holy Spirit to come. Thus the expectation going into this account is that the Holy Spirit is going to be featured prominently. But before the Holy Spirit comes Peter is directed by Jesus, while in prayer, to select someone to replace the office that Judas left vacant with his death, and that for some reason it was necessary for someone to replace Judas before the Holy Spirit was bestowed.
Up next, the coming of the Holy Spirit. Finally.