Replacing Judas & God’s Prevailing Word
Passage: Acts 1:15–1:26
15In 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. 17For 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.19And 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.’ 21So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning 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.” 23And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
What Can We Trust?
What can we trust? What can we trust when life crumbles around us? What can we trust when relationships erode? What can we trust when close friends abandon us? What can we trust when leaders stumble? What can we trust when entire nations fall? Is there anything sure and stable and solid, absolutely trustworthy?
This passage reassures us that God’s prevailing word is trustworthy. God’s prevailing word must be the rock for your feet. Yeah, this passage is also about replacing Judas and restoring the Twelve. But beneath the decision to do so is the prevailing word of God. And I want to strengthen you with that good news today. But we need to take several steps in order to get there…
The Significance of the Twelve
First, we need to grasp the significance of the Twelve [apostles]. In the Old Testament, God’s people were represented by the twelve tribes of Israel. The twelve tribes stood for God’s old covenant people (Acts 7:8; 26:7; Rev 21:12), which was why it was so grievous when the northern and southern kingdoms split. Sin ripped apart the people of God. But the prophets foretold of a coming restoration, a day when God would reunite his people under a new King in the line of David (Ezek 37:15-28).
The Gospels introduce us to that King, Jesus Christ. Jesus begins the work of creating a new people. In Luke 6:12-16, Jesus prays all night long. The next day he chooses twelve men, whom he names apostles. These twelve apostles end up becoming the nucleus of God’s new people, a true Israel so to speak united to Jesus the King.[i]
“Twelve” isn’t an arbitrary number, in other words. It’s meant to help us connect the dots with God’s unfolding plan to restore his covenant people. In fact, the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 has the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and the names of the twelve apostles inscribed on its walls and foundations—showing the continuity of God’s plan for his people from the old into the new (Rev 21:12, 15).
But notice the significance of their ministry in that plan. The Twelve have a special ministry. Peter calls it “this ministry” in verses 17 and 25. It’s not a ministry they create, but one that Jesus appoints them to—he “numbered” them (cf. Acts 1:17, 26). He also calls it “apostleship” in verses 25 and 26.
Now, it’s true that “apostle” can be used more generally to refer to a “sent out one.” But this apostleship is unique and unrepeatable. It’s apostleship with a capital A, so to speak. They have special qualifications. Verse 21, “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.”
That’s the qualification. These men had to be with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry until he ascended into heaven. They were the kind of men that could say, “The risen Jesus we saw, that’s the same Jesus we walked with for three years, same Jesus we ate with, same Jesus that was crucified and buried.” Not even Paul had that qualification. Paul witnessed the risen Christ (Acts 9), yes. Paul was an apostle, yes. But even Paul called himself the apostle who was “untimely born;” even Paul went up to Jerusalem to check his gospel with that of Peter, James, and John (Gal 2:2, 7-9; cf. 1 Cor 15:8).
The Twelve hold a unique place in God’s plan of redemption. God’s new people, the church, stands on the testimony these Twelve delivered. How does God choose to restore his people? He does it through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus—all of which we access through the testimony of the Twelve. The church is founded on the Twelve’s objective witness to Jesus. Sometimes we call it “the gospel,” “the good news.” The gospel creates and sustains the church. That’s what happens in Acts: the Twelve preach Christ and the church grows and matures.
The church is a people not built on clever programs, or on a particular strategy we dreamed up, or on some fat financial contributions. We don’t survive on a particular political agenda. We stand on the gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, handed down to us through these authorized apostles. Never should we become a people that moves beyond that message, or trades that message for another message.
If I start trading the apostolic gospel for another message, you fire me and call me to repentance. The church lives on the person and work of Christ that these Twelve witnessed and then passed on to us through their preaching. If that gospel doesn’t endure here, we perish. So the Twelve is a significant group authorized by Jesus to establish God’s new people on the gospel of his life, death, and resurrection.
The Seriousness of Judas’ Betrayal
But that also means Judas’ betrayal is quite serious. That’s what I want to look at next, the seriousness of Judas’ betrayal. Verse 17 says that “he was numbered among [the Twelve]” and was “allotted his share in this ministry.” But verse 16 says that “he became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.” Verse 25 says, “he turned aside to go to his own place.” He betrayed Jesus. He left his post and in doing so left Jesus altogether.[ii] He abandoned the kingdom for his “own place.”
The seriousness of his betrayal gets portrayed in the gory details of Judas’ death. Verse 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. 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.”[iii]
Why the details? Why insert this little parenthesis about Judas’ bowels gushing out and his field receiving such a cursed name? Luke includes the details because they help connect Judas to the curses mentioned in Psalm 69:25. He quotes it there in verse 20: “May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it.” This is an imprecatory Psalm. It’s pronouncing a curse on the evildoer who opposes God’s king. It involves a curse on the evildoer’s life and a curse on the evildoer’s land.
That’s exactly what happens to Judas. Matthew 27 simply says that Judas hung himself. But these additional details in Acts show that it was more than that. It seems that either the branch from which Judas hung himself snapped, or his body so decomposed that it eventually fell. The graphic details are disturbing. But that’s the point: God’s curse is disturbing. God’s curse fell on Judas for betraying God’s King. He died a cursed death. His field became a cursed land. Betraying the King meant he suffered the King’s curse.
It’s serious…But what impact might Judas’ betrayal have on the church’s mission? What impact might Judas’ defection have on the new community? Judas was one of the inner circle. He walked with Jesus. Jesus chose him, cared for him, washed his feet. As the Twelve, they were to represent God’s new work of redemption. And then one of the Twelve betrays Jesus. That may raise some doubts, wouldn’t it?
Is this really a new work of redemption? Is God really in this? Does Jesus really have the power to restore God’s people, if he can’t even keep one of his closest disciples? Can Jesus complete the mission if the Twelve are no more? How can we really be expected to commit to this work with such a betrayal?
One of the reasons Luke writes is to answer objections like this. Acts exists to give certainty to its readers, to give us confidence in God’s saving plan through Christ (cf. Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2). Yes, Judas is missing from the Twelve because of his betrayal. But that never meant that God’s plans were frustrated. Rather, they were fulfilled. Judas’ betrayal and replacement fits within God’s sovereign plan as spelled out in the Psalms. Judas is fully responsible for his actions; but God also planned it.
The Sovereignty of God’s Word
That brings us to a third step. Let’s look now at the sovereignty of God’s word. In verse 16 Peter says, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled…” “Had to be fulfilled”—that carries the idea of divine necessity. The Scriptures made Judas’ betrayal and his replacement necessary. The replacement would become the fulfillment of what was promised long ago and was not yet complete.
It also says, “the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas.” The Holy Spirit does not lie about the future. His words will come to pass without fail. This is not God just looking down the course of history and seeing what Judas would do, and then having David prophecy about it. Rather, God creates history by prophesying about it. His word creates the future. His word is a history-shaping word. His word and his plans are sovereign.
But how in the world does Peter get that from the Psalms? Have you ever read about Judas in the Psalms? Would you discover Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and the need to replace Judas in the Psalms? Where are you getting this, Peter? He’s getting it from the way Jesus taught him to read the Psalms. Turn back to Luke 24:44-46. It says…
44Then [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead…”
Peter is teaching us what Jesus taught him from the Psalms. If you read the way Jesus uses the Psalms on his way to the cross, you can pick up on this as well.[iv] But how exactly does Psalm 69 and Psalm 109—the two Psalms quoted here—point to Judas?
We first have to understand how they point to Jesus; then Judas will be much easier. So let’s have a little lesson on reading Scripture. Many times when we think of prophecy being fulfilled, we think merely along lines of direct fulfillment. This in the Old Testament is that in the New Testament, directly—a ruler to be born in Bethlehem, Jesus is born in Bethlehem (Mic 5:2; Matt 2:5-6); a voice will cry in the wilderness, John the Baptist cries in the wilderness (Isa 40:3; Matt 3:3).
But if that’s the only category of prophecy, we’ll walk away rather confused at how the apostles apply this or that Old Testament passage to Jesus or to the church or to someone like Judas. In fact, there are some teachers who will say the apostles just got it all wrong; they’re just forcing the Old Testament to say things that it really isn’t saying at all. We don’t have to draw those conclusions, especially when we know that Scripture is inspired by God. It says right here in verse 16 that the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand through David. God never lies or contradicts himself.
So, we have to ask how? How do these Psalms speak beforehand about Jesus and about Judas? More often than not prophecy is fulfilled along lines of what some have called “typology.” Typology looks at the way God reveals himself through events, persons, and institutions in the Old Testament, and then teases out how those patterns end up pointing forward to Jesus and the kingdom.
So there are events like the flood (1 Pet 3:20-22) and the exodus (1 Cor 10:1-5). There are persons like Adam (Rom 5:14) and Melchizedek (Heb 7:1-28) and David (John 13:18). There are institutions like the Passover (1 Cor 5:7) and the temple (John 2:21), or the whole sacrificial system. These events, persons, and institutions establish patterns in the Old Testament that point forward to the way God plans to work in the future through Christ and the kingdom.
So I mentioned David. David was Israel’s ideal king. God made a special promise to preserve David’s throne forever. Even after David dies, there’s still this expectation for an even greater David to come. David becomes a type within the Old Testament itself, a picture of God’s anointed king that looks forward to Christ (e.g., Isa 9:6-11; Ezek 34:23-24): there must be a David still to come, and a better one.
We have to keep that in mind even as we read the Psalms that David himself wrote. The way David represented the nation, the way David relates to God, the way David prays and suffers and triumphs over his enemies—these aspects of David’s life in the Psalms point forward to the way God would work through the greater Son of David, Jesus Christ. In fact, God had David write about his sufferings in such a way that they anticipated the very sufferings of Jesus.
Perhaps you’re more familiar with Jesus’ words from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s a prayer of David from Psalm 22:1. David’s suffering established a pattern that looked forward to Jesus’ sufferings. Only, Jesus’ sufferings are greater since he endures the wrath of God for us. He cries “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” so that we would never have to. By placing our trust in Jesus who experienced the ultimate forsakenness on our behalf, God accepts us.
But these same Psalms also speak about David’s enemies. God’s anointed king has enemies that come against him in the Psalms. And even these enemies point forward to the enemies who would set themselves against Christ.[v] That’s the connection here to Judas. Do you see it? Psalm 69 and Psalm 109 are both Psalms of David. David looked forward to Christ. David’s sufferings look forward to Christ. And now we see that even David’s enemies looked forward to Christ’s enemies. In this case, Judas.
We already saw how David’s curses on his enemy’s life and land were fulfilled in Judas. Psalm 109 adds a further curse: “Let another take his office.” That’s the second Psalm in verse 20—“Get him out of the way and let someone else take the reins.” Peter sees that curse against the enemy of God’s king, fulfilled in Judas’ replacement. So Peter concludes from Scripture, “We need to find another apostle.”
The Selection of Matthias
Which leads us to one final step: the selection of Matthias. Only two men met the qualifications we looked at earlier. Verse 23…
23And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24And they prayed and said, “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.” 26And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
They pray and flip a coin. Two men, equally qualified. So they pray and cast the lot. That’s not to say that Luke is saying the church should make decisions by casting lots. Yes, God sanctioned the casting of lots in Old Testament (e.g., Lev 16:8-9; Num 26:55-56; Josh 7:4). You have two goats, cast lots to see which one dies. You have the land, cast lots to see who gets what. So the apostles aren’t sinning for casting lots. But I find it very telling that you never find the church making decisions by casting lots after the Spirit comes at Pentecost. So Luke’s point must be something different.
He’s being descriptive more than he is prescriptive. He’s describing a unique situation they have. You see, the risen Jesus must appoint the Twelve directly. Jesus must restore the Twelve. That’s Luke’s emphasis. Look how carefully Luke emphasizes the Lord’s sovereign choice. They pray for the Lord to choose. They confess that it’s the Lord knows the hearts of all. They know the Lord will show them which one he wants. And it’s the Lord that determines how the lot falls. Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”
In other words, the risen Jesus is about to build his church. Judas wasn’t an accident. His plans were never frustrated. The Holy Spirit said this a thousand years before in Scripture, and Jesus is risen from the dead to make sure it happens.
God’s Prevailing Word
What can we take away from this? How does this picture of God’s word in the Psalms give us hope, conviction, joy, fervency, assurance, insight?
God has given us an inspired word, united in all its parts
One takeaway is this: God has given you an inspired word, united in all its parts. One of the catechism questions in our house is, “How do we know that the Bible is the word of God?” Answer: “The Bible evidences itself to be God’s word by the heavenliness of its doctrine, the unity of its parts, and its power to convert sinners and to edify saints…” Notice: “the unity of its parts.”
Why did I go on for so long about how these Psalms anticipated Judas? Why belabor the point with all this typology and patterns? To show you that the Holy Spirit has not left us a disordered mess that makes no sense and contradicts itself from one Testament to the other. No! The Spirit of God has given us a word that’s all of one piece, it all fits together coherently and beautifully and centers us on Jesus.
That doesn’t mean the Bible is always easy to understand. We have to work hard and think hard on how it fits together, and not just throw up our hands, and conclude like some people do that the apostles just used Scripture for their own ends without really caring what the Old Testament was saying. No. The apostles did not abuse Scripture because the Holy Spirit who was leading them to write what they wrote was the same Spirit who inspired the Old Testament, and he is trustworthy. These aren’t just the words of men, but the very words of God.
God’s sovereign word will always prevail
A second takeaway: God’s sovereign word will always prevail. “The Scripture had to be fulfilled…” Judas’ betrayal, Jesus’ sufferings, Judas’ death and replacement—all the darkness surrounding the death of Christ—wasn’t a moment when God’s plan just spun out of control. The need to replace Judas isn’t the result of a glitch in God’s plans. Judas’ defection didn’t catch God by surprise, as if Judas betrayed Jesus and God said, “Oops, I guess we need to find someone else now.”
No, everything happened just as God planned. History is not the result of random events, but of sovereign orchestration to achieve God’s purpose in Scripture. God’s plans are not thwarted by wicked people. No matter what evil comes, no matter the betrayal, God’s word stands. God’s prevailing word is our assurance that life is never spinning out of control. Never!
Jesus’ mission is already planned in Holy Scripture and Jesus is risen in power to make it happen. This is absolutely crucial, because it guards us from despair when we face a world wrought with so much sin and evil and pain and betrayal. God doesn’t just predict the future; his word creates the future; and he is sovereign over all history, so that it will finally reach the glorious destination he has planned for it all.
Things are not spinning out of control when the President implements policies you disagree with. The evil in the Middle East or the evil that’s already present in the US never catches God off guard or frustrates the risen Jesus. The expressed confusion among Christians on matters of race and mercy to the poor and compassion for refugees, is never reason to despair as if God’s sovereign plan has been called into question.
If there was ever a day when someone could have objected, it would have been the day when the world crucified his Son. But even in the world’s darkest moment, God was working to fulfill his promise in Scripture. God sees. God knows. He has a plan to deal with all of it. And his Son entered history as part of that plan to redeem the world from its bondage to corruption (cf. Rom 8:21).
That’s really good news for the world; it’s also really good news for us personally. If God’s word prevails, then every promise in Scripture for God’s elect will prevail. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Phil 1:6). “He will establish you and guard you from the evil one” (1 Thess 3:3). “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Pet 5:10-11). Take it to the bank! God’s word prevails.
How proud we can become sometimes when we look at our own sin and say, “I just don’t ever think this is going away.” Since when did your words determine whether God’s promises will pass or fail? If he said he’s going to finish the work in you, then he will do it.
And what might that mean for the mission of the church? Acts is about Jesus’ mission through the church. Judas defected. Does that mean there should be this worry like the mission of the church could eventually fizzle out? Not a chance. God’s word will prevail in the mission of the church, just like it prevailed in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus said in Luke 24 that the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms promise “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” If Peter just pointed out how the Holy Spirit’s word in the Psalms had to be fulfilled in Judas. It’s just as true that they have to be fulfilled in the forgiveness of sins being broadcast far and wide to the nations. That’s exactly what unfolds in the book of Acts, and what is unfolding in your lives as believers.
God’s word also promises judgment. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ—2 Corinthians 5. That word will prevail. How much more should we forsake our idols and give ourselves wholly to the King.
And, let’s not forget this too, if God’s word prevails, then let the book of Revelation encourage your souls because it paints for us a glorious new heavens and new earth that’s coming. Without fail, it will come. God promised it, and thus it must happen. His word will make it happen. That’s something to trust in—God’s prevailing word. Isaiah said it well: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isa 40:8). Nations may crumble, leaders may fall, life as we thought it should be may fade away, but God’s word endures forever.
[i]Cf. “twelve tribes” in James 1:1 with “the church” in James 5:14 (and also Acts 15:16-17; 1 Pet 1:1). That’s not to say that God has no future plan for ethnic Israel (cf. Rom 9-11), but only that God’s plans for ethnic Israel will come in and through the new covenant people.
[ii]Based on the larger context of Psalm 69, a Psalm Peter quotes from in Acts 1:20 in relation to Judas, it seems that for Judas to “turn to his own place” meant him “no longer being enrolled among the righteous” (Ps 69:28). Thus, he abandons the kingdom by abandoning the King.
[iii]Now, the way Matthew’s Gospel describes Judas’ death is different, but that doesn’t mean contradictory. Some have said that Acts contradicts Matthew here. Matthew 27:5-10 says Judas hung himself, but Luke says that Judas fell headlong. But both those accounts can complement one another. Either the branch from which Judas hung himself snapped, or his body so decomposed that it eventually fell. Matthew 27:7 also says the priests purchased the field, but Luke says that Judas acquired a field. Again, those accounts can complement one another, if we see how careful Luke is to say that Judas simply “acquired” a field, not bought the field. Point being, the priests purchased the field using Judas’ money. Judas acquired it in the sense that they used his blood-money to buy it, and perhaps did it in his name. And one more: Matthew 27:7-8 concludes that the “field of blood” got its name from the blood money used to purchase it, but Acts seems to be saying it was called the Field of Blood due to Judas’ gory death. People may have called it that for both reasons. But it could also be that verse 19 isn’t referring back to Judas’ gory death per se, but again to the blood money mentioned at the beginning of verse 18.
[iv]E.g., Ps 41:9 in John 13:18; Ps 69:5 in John 15:25.
[v]E.g., see the soldiers casting lots for Jesus’ clothes in John 19:24—that’s from Psalm 22:18. People hating Jesus without a cause in John 15:25—that’s from Psalm 69:4. Jesus even makes a connection to Judas from Psalm 41:9 in John 13:18—“He who ate my bread has lifted his heal against me.” Peter does the same in Acts 4:25-28 by applying the enemies of David in Psalm 2:1-2 to the Herod, Pontius Pilate, and the Gentiles gathered against Jesus at the cross.