I’m teaching Acts as the first book in my Faith Academy 10th grade Bible class. Here are some notes I scribbled while the EMCOR workers were unloading our furniture from their delivery truck yesterday:
1:1 – “Jesus began to do and to teach”. He continues to do these things through the Church. That is what we mean when we call the Church “apostolic”: it is related to Jesus as an emissary is to the one who sends him. The Church’s work is not its own. It is the work of Christ.
1:2 – “gave commandments to apostles he had chosen” – This is the Jewish institution of the shaliach, which I have discussed often on this blog. Jesus picked men to send out as his representatives, and then gave them instructions about their job. Indeed, my Aramaic Pesshita NT calls the Acts of the Apostles “The Deeds of the Blessed Legates”.
1:3 – “to whom He presented Himself alive” – Per Jewish law, one could not be a shaliach for a dead man, since a shaliach could only represent a person in mitzvot that pertained to that person. The dog-catcher cannot appoint a shaliach to carry out the functions of the President of the United States, but only to carry out the job of the dog-catcher. Dead men cannot perform any commandments at all; therefore a dead man also cannot have a shaliach carry out such commandments for him. If you are a shaliach for a man, and the man dies, you can no longer represent him or carry out his functions. (This ought to have some interesting implications for laws about corporations and other “persons in law”.)
So a shaliach or apostolos can only represent a living person. Thus, the apostolicity of the Church, the fact that it represented and still represents Jesus, depends entirely upon His resurrection. You cannot be a shaliach for a dead man, but there’s no reason you can’t be a shaliach for a living man who has ascended to heaven. Such a man is still perfectly capable of giving you commandments to carry out, and He may return to see whether you have done them.
“many convincing proofs” – We see in many of the accounts of Jesus after his resurrection that it was not immediately apparent to His disciples that He was the same person. One of the ways to prove that He was the same person was to show that there was a continuity or sameness between His new resurrection body and the body that had suffered on the cross. Another was to resume relationship with those who had known Him.
Thomas inspecting some of the “many convincing proofs”. Painting by Caravaggio.
1:4 – “being assembled together with them” – The beginnings of a new politeia require an assembly. That is what Moses did with Israel at Sinai; it is what Joshua did at Gilgal; it is what David and Solomon did at Jerusalem; it is what Ezra did at the return from Babylon.
“not to depart from Jerusalem” – Jesus is not instituting an Essene-style movement. He does not instruct His followers to go sulk in caves as an alternative community, envying and hating the power and grandeur of Jerusalem and its establishment. He intends, instead, that His disciples should boldly testify to Jerusalem about the power that He has now received.