Acts // Part 4 - From The Mountain To The Upper Room
Topic: Book Exposition Passage: Acts 1:12–1:14
We are currently working our way through the book of Acts in a study called “You will be My witnesses”. Last Sunday we looked at Acts 1:5-11. If you missed it or would like to hear it again you can listen on our website. This morning we’re looking at Acts 1:12-14. I’ll read it, pray, and we’ll examine it together one verse at a time.
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. 13And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away.
The last charge that Jesus gave to the disciples before his ascension was for them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come to enable them to be his witnesses in the world. Right after his ascension, the disciples came down from the Mount of Olives or Olivet and made their way into the holy city. In verse 12 Luke wrote that the mount called Olivet is near Jerusalem. He did this to help his reader, Theophilus, understand the geography in that part of Palestine. Theophilus wasn’t from the area. He was Greek and may have been from one of the northern towns, city’s or districts. The Mount of Olives really isn’t a mountain it’s more like a big hill. Its height is about 400 feet above sea level which makes it 200 feet above Jerusalem. It is located on the east side of the Kidron Valley which runs along the eastern wall of The Old City of Jerusalem.
Luke added another detail in the text that will help Theophilus know the geography by stating that it was, “a Sabbath day’s journey away”.
A Sabbath Day’s journey was the maximum distance one was permitted to travel on the Sabbath under rabbinic law.
It was fixed at 2000 cubits, or about one half to three quarters of a mile. According to tradition that distance derives from Israel’s encampments during the 40 years of wilderness wanderings. The farthest tents were held to have been 2000 cubits from the tabernacle. Since work was prohibited on the Sabbath, the farthest anyone would need to travel was the 2000 cubits to the tabernacle to worship. Consequently, a Sabbath day’s journey became synonymous with 2000 cubits.
It’s incredible to think that the Jews actually had to keep track of how far they traveled on the Sabbath. If they went past 2000 cubits they were in violation of their law and could be punished. They had hundreds and hundreds of these Sabbath laws; laws about washing your hands, fetching water, and so on. These folks couldn’t even cook during the Sabbath. They had to prepare all their food the day before. Without refrigerators that must have been a nightmare. This is why every household kept a large supply of salt on hand. They used it to preserve their cooked and uncooked meats. Now the majority of these laws were not Scriptural. They were man-made based on tradition. And it was the Pharisees that taught and enforced these laws.
A couple more things popped in my mind when I read “a Sabbath day’s journey away”.
Why would Luke use a Jewish idiom to describe the legal travel distance for the Sabbath when writing to a Greek? Was it because Theophilus was familiar with the rabbinic law and traditions? I think he was. I think he knew what “a Sabbath day’s journey” meant because he was familiar with both the rabbinic law and the traditions. Theophilus means “lover of God” in Greek. This guy may have been a Jewish convert and that might be why Luke used the Jewish idiom or legal term. In any case, Theophilus would have understood that distance that the disciples traveled was reasonably close at 1/2 to 3/4's of a mile.
Let’s look at 13a.
13And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room…
When the disciples came into Jerusalem, they went up to the upper room. Many of the houses during this time had large second stories or upper rooms, especially the bigger homes that belonged to the higher class people. The home that they went into had one of these rooms. Scholars believe that this particular pace is the same one that they used during the last supper. They believe that the home may have belonged to the mother of John Mark who was the writer of the Gospel of Mark.
In Mark 14:12-15 we read.
12 And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 13 And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.”
The upper room mentioned in verse 13 of our text and in Mark 14:15 is probably the same place. John Mark may have been the guy carrying the water jug who led them to his father who was waiting at his house. We don’t know for sure but it’s probable and interesting.
Another cool thing is that the distance between the Mount of Olives and this house was about a Sabbath day’s journey or 2000 cubits. This means that the house had to be close to the eastern entrance of the city because it is roughly 2000 cubits from the Mount of Olives. So they’re in this upper room which was on the outskirts of town by the wall and east entrance. And the room was really big because verse 15 says that 120 people were in it. This room was probably the size of our room, maybe even bigger!
Look at 13b.
where they were staying…
OK this wasn’t a place that the disciples visited here and there it was where they were staying until the Holy Spirit came. It was almost like a temporary residence. But they didn’t stay at this place 24 hours a day for the next 10 days they also went to the temple to bless God. Luke 24:53 says, “they left the Mount of Olives with great joy and were continually in the temple blessing God.”
This shows a in the change disciples behavior. After the resurrection the Scriptures say that they stayed in seclusion behind locked doors (John 20:19). But after witnessing the ascension of Jesus, their confidence and joy increased and they went out and about. This is one more reason why the Doctrine of Ascension is so important. Knowing that Christ returned to the throne he left to come save his people is a great encouragement and proof that he is who he said he is, the Eternal Son of God!
In 13c Luke gives the names of the disciples that came down from the Mount of Olives and entered the upper room.
Look at 13c.
Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James.
Luke placed these guys in a pecking order. Jesus had formed three rings of leadership within the 12 disciples. They could be categorized as rings A, B, and C.
Ring “A” consisted of Peter, John, James, and Andrew. These were the disciples that were closest to Jesus. They were the inner ring.
Ring “B” consisted of Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew. These were the disciples that were 2nd closest to Jesus. They were the middle ring.
Ring “C” consisted of James (son of Alphaeus), Simon the Zealot, Judas (son of James), and Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus. These were the disciples that were 3rd closest to Jesus. They were the outer ring. Evidence of the rings of leadership is scattered throughout the gospels. It can be seen through the special privledges Jesus gave to some like Peter, James and John who were invited to witness his transfiguration as well through how the disciples are listed. We’re not completely certain as to why Jesus placed these guys in this ring and those guys in that ring and so on. I don’t believe that he did it based on personal preference, favoritism, or because of the disciples’ levels of devotion. I believe that the Father Sovereignly chose these men for their roles and that Jesus aligned himself with the will of the Father through much prayer. We need to remember that on the eve of picking and placing the disciples, Jesus prayed all night long.
12 In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve…
Let’s move to verse 14a.
14All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer,
“All these with one accord” means that the disciples were unified. Unified in what? Their devotion to praying together. When the disciples came down from the Mount of Olives they all agreed that prayer was a number one priority and they devoted themselves to it.
Now why did they do this and what were they praying for? Some teach that they were praying for the baptism of the Holy Spirit to come. They take it even further by saying that unless a believer asks for the baptism of the Spirit it will not come. Listen to John MacArthur’s commentary on this text.
“The coming of the Holy Spirit did not depend on their prayer. In the largest circulating Pentecostal publication in North America, the weekly Pentecostal Evangel, there appears on the inside cover of each edition a creedal statement that introduces this thought and includes prayer as a condition of the baptism of the Spirit. The thing says this, and I quote, "We believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is given to believers who ask for it."
That's the creedal statement. That is not the statement of the Word of God. They didn't have to ask for the Spirit to come. The Spirit, if you'll notice very carefully in 1:4, was "the promise of the Father." It was a sovereign dispensing of the Spirit of God apart from their prayers. They were praying because for the first time they were removed from Jesus and the only communication they could have with Him was through prayer and, thus, they were in prayer to Him. And that's the beginning of a new age because up to this point, no one had ever prayed to Jesus. And so you have a classic dispensational distinction in Acts 1:14. You have them praying for the first time to Jesus Christ at the right hand of the Father.
This is a new thing and they're praying to Him up there. And it doesn't say they were asking for the Spirit. In fact, when the Spirit came in Acts 2:2, they weren't praying at all; they were just sitting around. It says so. And the posture of prayer was to stand or kneel and they were just sitting. Their prayers had nothing to do with whether the Spirit came. That was promised of God, signed, sealed and about to be delivered in God's good time at God's great moment. And it was in no way related to their prayers. The baptism of the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with the prayer of a Christian. It has only to do with the sovereign act of God. Nothing they said, nothing they did could affect the coming of the Spirit one iota.”
Prayer for this group was more about being with Jesus and less about asking him for things. They knew that the Holy Spirit was coming because they believed the promise that God made through his Son and so they sought the Christ daily in prayer so that they could continue in his blessed presence.
Let’s zoom in on 14b.
together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
The disciples were in one accord and they devoted themselves to prayer and they included others. Let’s talk about the others for a moment.
Who were the women that Luke referred to? They may have been the gals that were closest to Jesus. Mary Magdalene, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary and Martha, and Salome. These ladies were present during the crucifixion and they came to the tomb to prepare Jesus body for burial.
Luke also places Jesus’ mama, Mary, at the scene. She was often present during Jesus’ ministry.
MacArthur warns against idolatry in his commentary on this particular verse.
“Much legend, myth, and faulty dogma have arisen over the centuries in connection with Mary the mother of Jesus. In contrast to the inordinate devotion to her in some religious systems, the Bible never exalts her. In fact, this is the last reference to her in Scripture. She does not appear again in the book of Acts, in the epistles, or in Revelation.
Mary was a woman of singular virtue, or she would have never been chosen to be the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ. For that role she deserves respect and honor (Luke 1:42). But she was a sinner who exalted God her Savior. She referred to herself as a humble bondslave to God, who needed mercy (Luke 1:46-50). To offer prayers to her and elevate her role as co-redemptrix with Christ is to go beyond the bounds of Scripture and her own confession.
The silence of the epistles, which form the doctrinal core of the NT, about Mary is especially significant. If she played the important role in salvation assigned her by the Roman Catholic Church, or if she were to receive prayers as an intercessor between believers and Christ, surely the NT would have spelled that out.”
Luke also wrote that Jesus’ brothers were present. Matthew named them in Matt 13:55-56.
55 Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us?”
We rarely think of Jesus as having brothers and sisters, right? That seems weird to me but it’s true. Luke doesn’t say which of Jesus’ brothers were with the disciples and the women in the upper room. I suspect that it was James and Judas. These two brothers became followers of Jesus after his resurrection during the 40 days that the Lord showed himself to people. James went on to become the pastor of the church in Jerusalem. And Judas or Jude wrote the NT epistle that bears his name.
And so they were all gathered together in the upper room, they were of one accord, unified in prayer to the ascended Lord Jesus while awaiting the arrival of the Holy Spirit. And they went to the temple to bless God for what he had done. This went on or 10 days. There is one more super important thing that they did during that time and we’ll look at it next week.
Our passage of Scripture answers, in principal, answers one of the most common questions asked by folks in churches today. Many times people will seek advice from a pastor or from other Christians for how to make the right choice in some situation.
They ask how do I deal with this or how do I deal with that or what should I do about this or what should I do about that? In student ministry it is usually which college should I go to or which boy should I date?
Often we’ll try to help by searching the Scriptures for an answer or we’ll point them to somebody wiser than us. Sometimes we’ll employ our default answer. We usually do this when we can’t think of anything else. We’ll say, “You need to wait on the Lord for the answer…”
When we say this, the common response is, “What do I do in the meantime while waiting on the Lord?” This is the question that our text answers in principal. The answer is represented in how the disciples responded while waiting for the Holy Spirit to come. What did they do?
We see three things in the text:
They gathered together (fellowship)They were of one accord (maintained unity)They were devoted to prayer (constantly entering into the Lord’s presence)
These are the very things that we should do while waiting on God. We should:
Stay in fellowship with other believers. Keep attending church and other forms of fellowship.
God provides many, if not most, of the answers to our questions in the context of a fellowship or local body. The fellowship can also provide encouragement and love which are things that we need during seasons of uncertainty. Our natural response in seasons of uncertainty is to recoil, isolate, and disconnect. And that is exactly what Satan wants. He wants recoiled, isolated, disconnected sheep because they are easier to prey on. Can you imagine what would have happened if the disciples had split up and went their separate ways after coming off the mountain? I’m fairly certain that the NT would have ended at Acts 1:13. But that’s not what they did. They stayed together in fellowship while waiting on God.
Be of one accord. This group of men and women were unified on the gospel. They kept the main thing the main thing in their hearts. This characterized the early church. It wasn’t until later that the church began to embrace lesser things. Stay in a fellowship that is unified on the gospel. Stay in a fellowship that keeps the main thing the main thing. God speaks and pours out his power in those groups.
Be committed to entering into the Lords presence through prayer. Waiting on God is really a false thing because it infers that we are apart from God. Jesus said I will never leave or forsake you. God is omnipresent. We’re never apart from God. He is always present. He is always attentive. We outta call it waiting with God instead of waiting on God. And yet so many of us live lives of sporadic fellowship with God because we don’t pray and acknowledge his presence.
The disciples weren’t big fans of being physically apart from Christ so they did what they could to be with him, they prayed. Besides walking 2000 cubits to the upper room, the first thing they did was prayed. And they continued to pray day in and day out. And after the day of Pentecost they kept coming together to pray.
We should be committed to doing the same. And we shouldn’t pray just for answers to our problems and questions, we should pray to be with Christ, to be in his wonderful presence.
What do you do while waiting on God or with God?
Stay in the fellowship of God’s people.Be unified in the gospel keep the main thing the main thing.Devote yourself to prayer.
It worked for the early church and it will work for us. May we commit ourselves to the word of God this week as well as to the ministry of the gospel in our homes and in our community.
More in Acts
May 10, 2015Acts // Part 108 - The Mission Of Paul In Rome
May 3, 2015Acts // Part 107 - The Mission Of Paul On Malta
April 26, 2015Acts // Part 106 - Paul's Incredible Journey To Rome