Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Acts 1:1-11

Analysis: This first Chapter of the Acts, wich may be regarded as the complement of the Gospel of Luke-since it resumes the History of our Lord’s Ascension, with which his Gospel closes,-opens with a brief Preface adressed to Theophilus, containing a comprehensive account of the History of the life of our Lord (1-2).

We have, next, a narrative of the several circumstances that preceded our Lord’s Ascension, with instructions, mandates, answers given by him immediately before that important event (3-8).  We have, then, a brief history of the Ascension (9).  The address of the Angels (10-11).  The return of the Apostles from Mount Olivet (12-13).  Their persevering union in prayer with the Blessed Virgin (13-14).  The address of Peter relative to the sad fall of Judas, the Prophetic quotation from the Psalms on the subject (14-20).  He, next, exhorts them to elect a suitable substitute.  He describes the qualities he should possess (21-22).  The election of Matthias by lot, after fervent prayer addressed to God (23).


Act 1:1  The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, of all things which Jesus began to do and to teach,

The words of this verse mean: “I had composed, O Theophilus, a former Treatise or narrative embracing the chief and most important actions and teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, during his life here on Earth.”  The term πρωτον (“former”), is frequently used in a comparative sense, signifying not, first, but, former.

Of all things.  The term all, cannot be taken literally, in its strict meaning, as it would be impossible to furnish a detailed account of all (Jn 21:25).  Moreover, St Luke omits many things recorded by the other Evangelists.  It, therefore, means the principal actions and teachings of our Divine Redeemer.

Began to do and teach.  A Hebrew Idiom for “did and taught.”  Of this we have several examples in the Sacred Scriptures (Gen 9:20; Lk 3:23; Mark 6:7; 14:65). Many ancient and modern scholars reject this interpretation, seeing the words as implying that Christ continues to “do” and “teach” in the Acts.  For example, one thing Jesus does is receive the promised Holy Spirit from the Father and pour it out on believers (2:33).  It is repeatedly said in Acts that the Apostles or disciples do or teach “in the name of the Lord,” which is identical to saying “by the power of the Lord.”  See 4:8~”By what power or by what name have you done this?”

Do, denotes His marvelous works, performed to bring about your Salvation.

Teach refers to His Sacred Doctrines, spoken and recorded for our instruction.

It is deserving of remark on the part of those engaged in Missionary work, that our Lord, for our instruction, first taught   by His divine example, what he afterwards inculcated by word of mouth.  Teaching by example is always more effectual than mere teaching by word of mouth.  The period of our Lord’s teaching may be understood of the entire term of His Sacred life, from His Incarnation to His Ascension, or may be said to embrace the interval between His Baptism by John, when he commenced His missionary life, till He gave His final instructions to His Apostles, on Mount Olivet and mounted up to Heaven.  Recall my previous note.

O Theophilus.  The term most likely designates, not the representative of a particular class or church, as is held by some; but a particular man, or individual, probably one of St Luke’s converts from Paganism, a man of great moral worth, of exalted station.  Hence the term most excellent, as in St Luke’s Gospel (1:1-3) where this is more fully explained.  Though dedicated or addressed to Theophilus, this Treatise was not meant for him alone, but for the entire Christian world to the end of time, of whom Theophilus may be regarded as the  representative.  Even in our own time, it is by no means unusual to dedicate or address to individuals, writings meant for the general Public.  We know from the Jewish historian, Josephus, that in Luke’s day there as a High Priest with the name Theophilus, and this has led some to speculate that it is to him that Luke has written his two volumes.  Few scholars accept such a theory.

Act 1:2  Until the day on which, giving commandments by the Holy Ghost to the apostles whom he had chosen, he was taken up

Until the day, the fortieth after His Resurrection (vs 3).

Taken up.  See verse 9.  He mounted up to Heaven in a cloud (Lk 24:51).

giving commandments.  the Greek Aorist ἐντέλλομαι (entellomai)-signifying “after he had commanded,” may denote one Commandment or more.  It was after having done so, he mounted up to Heaven.  Most likely, reference it made here, chiefly to his last and most comprehensive mandate. “to preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15-16) which embraced everything else.

By the Holy Ghost, may be connected with “giving commandments,” thus conveying that His Commandments were not invested with a human, but a divine character, or, with “Apostles,” as if to say, that His Apostles were constituted such, and received their commission from the Holy Ghost.

the words may also mean, that He gave His final instructions to His Apostles regarding the Holy Ghost whose coming in a few days He promised, telling them not to leave the city till He descended upon them.

The apostles-the eleven-whom he had chosen, at an early period of His missionary life (Mt 10; Lk 6).

Taken up, mounted up to Heaven in a cloud (vs 9) by His own innate Power, through the gift of the agility which His glorified body possessed; “taken up in glory” (1 Tim 3:16) or, “taken up” by His Father, whose Power was identical with His own, just as He rose from the dead by His own power, and was also resuscitated by His Father.

Act 1:3  To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion, by many proofs, for forty days appearing to them, and speaking of the kingdom of God

To whom, Apostles, He exhibited himself as really alive, risen from the dead.  The resurrection of Christ is constantly referred to by the writers of the New Testament, as established by many proofs, being the foundation of Christian faith, the chief proof of our Lord’s Divinity, who predicted it with all its circumstances of time, place &c.

After his Passion.  His Sufferings ended in an ignominious death.  Many proofs, confirming by the clearest and most incontestable evidence, the wonderful miracle of His Resurrection, eating with them, appearing to them, exhibiting his wounds, thus removing all fears of deception.

Forty days, not continually, but occasionally at intervals, did he exhibit proofs during “forty days.”

Speaking of the Kingdom of God-the church.  He taught them all things appertaining to the Government of His church, with instructions to transmit the same to their successors.

Act 1:4  And eating together with them, he commanded them, that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but should wait for the promise of the Father, which you have heard (saith he) by my mouth.

Eating together with them. The Greek word, συναλιζομενος– is rendered by some, assembled together with them, a signification the word often bears. It also signifies eating, which is conveyed in its root συναλίζω, Salt, so common at all repasts; this is the most suitable meaning here. For it thus furnishes a fresh proof of His Resurrection, on which the Apostles themselves lay great stress (Acts 10:5 1 ). It also appears from Mark 16:14, that our Lord’s final apparition to His Apostles was while they were at table in Jerusalem, whence, that very day, he brought them out to Mount Olivet.

He commanded that they should not depart from Jerusalem. Likely, Jerusalem had but very little attraction for the Apostles, and they were anxious to leave it on account of the cruel death of their Lord there, and the fear of persecution from the Jews, and other reasons besides. Hence, the mandate given here by our Lord. The Apostles had departed from Jerusalem for Galilee eight days after our Lord’s Resurrection. But now they returned immediately before His Ascension. This was Divinely arranged, as it had been foretold that the Law should come forth from Sion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. There it was, that King David exercised the functions of Royalty. There, the greatest hatred and revolt against the Lord’s anointed were signally displayed. It was, therefore, meet that there the reign of the new David, His Son, the promised Messiah, should be inaugurated, and the Laws of His Kingdom first promulgated.

Wait for the promise of the Father  (Luke 24:49).  Promise  is by metonymy, put for the gift promised or the object of the promise, viz., the Holy Ghost, Our Lord has in view to inflame their desire to receive the Holy Ghost. God the Father promised Him of old, through the mouth of the Prophets, especially Isaiah 44:33; Joel 2:26, &c.

Which you have heard, &c. Here there is a transition from the indirect to the direct form of address, occasioned by the animated style of His discourse. Our Lord, before his Passion, frequently spoke of the Holy Ghost, whom His Father was to send them, though promised by himself also (John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7). But out of modesty He calls Him the promised of the Father, the Father being the fountain of the Trinity.

Act 1:5  For John indeed baptized with water: but you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, not many days hence.

John baptized with water.  Our Lord here institutes a comparison between the effects of John’s Baptism by water, and His own, through the Holy Ghost, which they were soon to receive in its fulness. This He does with a view of conveying to them that this promise of the Father was soon to be fulfilled in their regard.

Not many days hence, after the lapse of ten days, Pentecost Sunday. He does not specify the day, in order to keep them in a state of expectant vigilance, longing desire, and anxious preparation.

The words of our Lord in this verse are evidently allusive to those of the Baptist (Matthew 3:14; Luke 3:16; John 1:33. See Commentary on Matthew 3.). The preceding words were spoken by our Lord to His disciples, on the occasion of His last appearance to them at table. He, then, took them out to Mount Olivet (Luke 24:50) where the words of following verses were spoken.

Act 1:6  They therefore who were come together, asked him, saying: Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom of Israel?

Come together, viz., the Apostles, disciples, and other followers assembled on Mount Olivet, at His Ascension. The Apostles, doubtless, believed Him to be the Messiah. However, their faith being somewhat imperfect before the descent of the Holy Ghost, they shared in the erroneous ideas of their countrymen regarding the restoration by the Messiah, of the temporal rule of Israel, in a style of splendour far exceeding that of Solomon. This Kingdom, long since destroyed, was now in the hands of Herod, a stranger from Idumea. Hence the words, restore again, to its former splendour. Their minds are turned aside from all thoughts of the promised Spirit and His priceless Spiritual gifts to considerations of earthly grandeur.

At this time. After having displayed Almighty Power in raising Himself from the dead. Wilt thou, after the lapse of not many days, now at hand, when sending the Holy Ghost at the same time, restore to Israel her lost Kingdom? The disciples hoped that he would have redeemed Israel (Luke 24:21) and rescue the people
from the odious yoke of the Romans. They seemed to have no doubt of the fact they enquire only regarding the time.

Act 1:7  But he said to them: It is not for you to know the time or moments, which the Father hath put in his own power:

Gently rebuking them for their inordinate curiosity, without directly answering them. Our Lord tells them, it was no business of theirs, or of any other creature, to pry into the secrets of the Divine Mind reserved by God in the depths of His own Infinite counsels, in which His Consubstantial Son essentially and fully participated.

Act 1:8  But you shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth.

If they could understand it, our Lord gives the answer. He conveys to them that His would be a Spiritual Kingdom, founded on His death and Resurrection, of which they were destined to be witnesses, commencing with Jerusalem from which the Law was to go forth, and carried by them to the uttermost bounds of the Earth, even to the entire Gentile world, to whom the Gospel was to be preached. He adds this for their consolation, after repressing their undue curiosity. Whence was the extraordinary vigour and energy necessary for them, as founders and propagators of this Spiritual Kingdom, to be derived? Whence the power, on the part of weak, ignorant fishermen, to cope successfully with Kings and tyrants and learned Philosophers, and successfully bring all under subjection to the yoke of Christ? It was from the power of the Holy Ghost, who would soon descend on them, and by His power only they could succeed. But you shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you. The whole Earth was open to them, not even excepting Samaria, heretofore forbidden to
them. Our Lord conveys to His Apostles that His Kingdom should be established far beyond the precincts of Judea, and that they should be instrumental in carrying on and pushing forward the great work.

Act 1:9  And when he had said these things, while they looked on, he was raised up: and a cloud received him out of their sight.

Raised up. Gradually mounting up by His own power; blessing them as He ascended (Luke 24:51). Then, it was, that, at His Triumphal Ascension, the words were verified,  adorent cum omnes Angeli Dei (And let all the angels of God adore him, Heb 1:6). Quis esi iste quivenit de Edom (Who is this that cometh from Edom Isaiah 63:1). Attollite portas princepes vestras et introibit Rex Gloria  (Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lifted up, O eternal gates: and the King of Glory shall enter inPs 24:7).

Among the sights St. Augustine longed to see, was a Roman triumph.Romam triumphantem. How poor must the most gorgeous Roman triumph appear, compared with this Magnificent Procession, when all Heaven was emptied of its countless hosts, to meet their triumphant Lord with His splendid trophies, the Saints and just of the old Law, whom rescued from the jaws of death, He carried in His train to grace His triumph, throwing open to them the gates of Heaven so long closed. Elevamini portæ æternales ( be ye lifted up, O eternal gates, Ps 24:7).

And a cloud received Him, &c. This cloud was produced anew for the purpose. A bright cloud is often a symbol of the presence of the Deity (Exodus 11:34; Numbers 9:15 ; Matthew 17:5). Nubes et caligo in circuitu ejus  (Clouds and darkness are round about him Ps 97:2). In the clouds He shall come again in glory, to judge mankind. Unlike Elias, snatched away in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11), our Lord mounted up gradually by His own innate Divine power, without any external aid, so that His glorified body could be seen vanishing out of sight; thus furnishing an additional proof of the reality of His Resurrection.

Act 1:10  And while they were beholding him going up to heaven, behold two men stood by them in white garments.

Beholding Him. Anxiously looking after Him, with a steadfast, loving gaze, as He was vanishing out of sight.

Two men. Clearly, angels in human form. Angels are some times called men (Luke 24:4).

White garments. This indicates their heavenly origin, and denotes the glory and triumph of our Lord, whose messengers they were. Angels are sometimes represented as appearing in white apparel (John 20:12; Matthew 28:3).

Stood by them, suddenly and supernaturally.

Act 1:11  Who also said: Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven? This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come as you have seen him going into heaven.

Ye men of Galilee. Most of the Apostles were Galileans. Our Redeemer’s followers were mostly from that obscure and despised Province, God thus selecting the weak and poor, preferably to the powerful and rich (1 Cor 1:26-31).

Why stand you looking, &c. ? Conveying, that henceforth, they must no longer expect to enjoy His visible presence. They must see Him by faith only. They must live by faith, bereft of His corporal presence, until the day when He shall return and visibly appear in Majesty, to judge the world. They should look forward to His second coming.

This Jesus . . . shall so come as you have seen Him. This self-same Man God shall come in glory one day, seated on a cloud, with all the ensigns of Majesty to judge the world.

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One Response to Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Acts 1:1-11

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord | stjoeofoblog

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