Why Matthias? God’s Continuing Work
“May another take his place of leadership. Therefore, it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us . . . to take over this apostolic ministry. Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias, so he was added to the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:20, 25-26)
After Judas’ suicide, the disciples sought to fill his office with a 12th apostle. There were two definite qualifications (1:22) for this successor: (1) he must have been present with the other disciples for the three-year period of Jesus’ public ministry; and (2) they must have been witnesses to his resurrection.
Some people speculate that the apostles were in error as they did this. As Peter calls for the replacement of Judas, some Christians think this act was incorrect. They either say the early church used the wrong method or the wrong occasion.
– The Method (‘Lots’) was wrong. It is alleged that if these were truly spiritual, they would have waited for the Holy Spirit to more directly guide and specify who was to be the successor. It was wrong and unspiritual to resort to the casting of lots. To be sure, this method may be descriptive and not prescriptive. By that I mean, what actually happened is described; however, it is not mandatory for all elections to occur by casting of lots. Sanctified judgment may be used in the church.
– The Timing was wrong. Others suggest that the church should have waited for Paul. This other criticism is that these disciples ‘ran ahead’ of the Lord’s will by prematurely electing a replacement for Judas. The theory is that the Lord really had selected Paul, and that these early Christians erred in running ahead to elect Matthias, when they should have waited on Paul. However, besides apparently second-guessing the Lord, this theory is unfounded and calls into question what God evidently led, merely to accommodate someone’s preferred script.
– Better is the interpretation that the early church took the correct action. Far better would it be to acknowledge the casting of lots as appropriate here, even if not apt for the rest of situations.
David Pao, a New Testament Professor at Trinity Divinity School outside of Chicago, in his book, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus, makes several salient points on this topic. He notes that the number 12 is important. There were 12 tribes of Israel, there were 12 original disciples, and the final book of the Bible refers to the 12 redeemed tribes. The point is that the church in the NT, just as in the OT, is to have his full leadership.
Pao argues that the election of Matthias is part of the reconstituting of true Israel. Judas is called “one of the twelve” in Luke 22, and that same term is used by Luke in Acts 1:17. He notes succinctly: “In Acts 1:12-26, therefore, the election of Matthias to complete the circle of the twelve should be understood as signaling the beginning of the restoration of Israel, for the twelve apostles become representatives of the twelve tribes of Israel.” Luke seems very aware that God’s work is ongoing; also, that it arcs back to his call to Israel. Indeed, it is almost as if Acts is a New Exodus, with God’s protected and chosen people being delivered from evil enslavement.
It is not necessary that these Twelve all be related to physical Israel (nor is it, later, for deacons in Acts 6:1-7 to be Jewish), yet the Spirit is certainly constituting a new, true Israel. Luke also seems to draw on Isaiah many times, intentionally yoking his writing to the theme of God leading Israel as a chosen son.
So, yes, the Lord wanted a 12th apostle as quickly as possible, without interruption of his divine movement—not waiting years on the apostle Paul. David Pao notes that the recurrent symbolism of “the Twelve” also finds “its climactic manifestation in this reunification of the people of Judea and Samaria; and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that follows further confirms the significance of this passage that witnesses the accomplishment of a major step in the New Exodus program in Acts.”
Yes, the Risen Lord is continuing his work—the method and timing of Matthias, even though he’s not mentioned again in the Bible—was a confirming work of the Holy Spirit. It is a covenantal work that started long ago, before the foundations of the world were laid, offered to Abraham’s seed, and now it is flowing to the ends of the earth.
Acts is telling us about God’s continuing, unstoppable march. Count on it—it will not wither or die or fade. And we are blessed to be included in that.
We are not numbered as one of the “12,” but we are among the “144,000”—a number that symbolizes the whole company of God’s elect.
Rejoice today that your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.