“Did the disciples select Judas’ replacement by chance?”
At His ascension Jesus said to his disciples “…stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:48). This they did spending much time in the temple giving praise to God (v. 53). In Acts chapter 1 historian Luke picks up this narrative and tells how the disciples went to the upper room where it was revealed to Peter through the scriptures that a replacement for Judas was necessary.
Two men were selected who met the requirements*- “Joseph called Barsabbas… and Matthias.” (v.23). But how to decide between these two?
Luke’s account is clear. First the disciples prayed asking God to show them His will, “Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.” (v. 26).
“What!?” you say? “You mean God was OK with them just leaving this huge decision to what appears to be nothing more than blind chance?”
Well, yes… and no.
But before I get into the history of this practice remember this one thing: the disciples had gone into Jerusalem, as Christ had told them, to “wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about… the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4,5). But at the time of determining Judas’ successor the Holy Spirit – the One Who “guides into all truth” (John 16:13) — had not yet been given. The incarnate Christ also had departed this world. So the disciples used this method and prefaced it with the prayer. “Lord… Show us which of these two you have chosen…” (v. 24,25).
Now for some backstory…
Casting lots was a common practice in resolving important and difficult issues in the days of the disciples. Albert Barnes gives this quick summary of the practice as found in scripture:
David divided the priests by lot, 1 Chronicles 24:5. The land of Canaan was divided by lot, Numbers 26:55; Joshua 15; Joshua 16:1-10; Joshua 17; etc. Jonathan, son of Saul, was detected as having violated his father’s command. and as bringing calamity on the Israelites by lot, 1 Samuel 14:41-42. Achan was detected by lot, Joshua 7:16-18. In these instances the use of the lot was regarded as a solemn appeal to God for his direct interference in cases which they could not themselves decide. Proverbs 16:33, “the lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” The choice of an apostle was an event of the same kind, and was regarded as a solemn appeal to God for his direction and guidance in a case which the apostles could not determine. – Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible
But lot casting Is typically not a means of knowing God’s will which believers in Christ should use today. Today we DO have the Holy Spirit with us and within us. We have the true Word of God to guide us. We have also the wisdom and experience of other mature brothers and sisters around us and the testimonies of those gone on before us. Best of all we have the sure Presence of Christ Who journeys with us and leads us and Who is only a prayer breath away.
Got a question? Use the Contact page and send It to me. We’ll search the Word for God’s answer.
*The candidate had to be a witness to Christ’s ministry from the time of John the Baptist through to the resurrection of Christ. (Acts 1:21,22).