Acts 1:12

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. Acts 1:12

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The two men who appeared with the apostles just relayed the news of Christ’s promised return. With that complete, nothing more is said of them. It simply states, “Then they returned to Jerusalem.”

In Luke 24, it says the following –

“Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen.” Luke 24:51-53

The words, “And they worshiped Him,” appear to have occurred after His ascension. It may be that the confirming words of the two men that Jesus Christ is, in fact, the Lord (see previous commentary), resulted in a time of prayer and praise to God. If so, it is after this time of worship that they proceeded to head back to Jerusalem “from the mount called Olivet.”

The word translated as “Olivet” is found only here in the Bible, Elaión. It is derived from elaia, meaning “an olive tree.” It is the area where an orchard of olive trees was located. The mountain ridge is one that is separated from Jerusalem by the Kidron Valley. Of this walk from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, Luke specifically says that it is “a Sabbath day’s journey.”

There are two possibilities for the inclusion of this statement. The first is that it is a general term used to describe the distance if it were a Sabbath, even if it was not a Sabbath. In other words, even if this was not a Saturday (Sabbath), it is the distance that would be considered allowable to walk on a Sabbath. This maximum distance is two thousand cubits as is based on Joshua 3:4. It is about three-quarters of a mile. Luke is careful to give specific distances elsewhere, such as in Luke 24:13.

The other possibility is that this was, in fact, a Sabbath. As such, Luke is noting that the distance they walked was not a violation of the Sabbath laws. This would then mean that they had gone to the mount on Friday, and walked back Friday evening, the start of the Sabbath (or even Saturday morning after a night of worship and sleep). This would then be in accord with statements recorded by Luke, such as –

“And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.” Luke 23:55, 56

Without being dogmatic, it would appear that Luke is stating this distance because it was a Sabbath. If so, then the traditional dating for the ascension is incorrect. The church places it ten days prior to Pentecost. Acts 1:3 says that Christ was seen “during forty days.” The Greek reads “through forty days.” As such, instead of a Thursday ascension, it very well could be a Friday (or Friday evening) ascension. Thus, Luke is now specifying that with the term “a Sabbath day’s journey.”

If so, then the ascension of Christ until Pentecost is eight days. The reason this is possible is because of typology. Christ would then be seen to have completed all of His work and then entered into His rest on (or just at the coming of) the Sabbath. The importance of this for believers is explained in Hebrews 4 –

“Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said:
“So I swore in My wrath,
‘They shall not enter My rest,’”
although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; and again in this place: “They shall not enter My rest.”
Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said:
“Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts.”
For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.” Hebrews 4:1-10

Believers enter into Christ’s rest through faith in what He has done. As He is the Lord God, the typology would be appropriate.

Life application: The term “a Sabbath day’s journey” prescribes nothing. Remember the five principal rules of proper biblical interpretation – Descriptive, Prescriptive, Context, Context, Context. Luke is describing what occurred, and quite possibly on the day it occurred. Luke is neither arguing for either a Sabbath observance nor is he stipulating that one can only walk so far on a Sabbath Day.

Rather, he was (possibly) stating that the recorded event occurred on a Sabbath, and this is his way of noting that fact. Today in Israel people observe the Sabbath. It is a fact that prescribes nothing for those who know they do.

Several times later in Acts, it will be noted that Paul went into the synagogues and preached on the Sabbath. This does not mean that Paul is prescribing Sabbath observance. Instead, it is describing to us what Paul did because the Jews (who had not come to Christ and who were being evangelized by Paul) were, in fact, Sabbath observers.

This is a problem with the Hebrew Roots Movement, Judaizers, etc. They take such descriptive passages in the book of Acts, and they treat them as prescriptive. This leads to a faulty hermeneutic. Such a doctrine places believers back under the Law of Moses. As such, it is heresy.

Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (see Romans 10:4). Don’t be misdirected by such people. Read Acts with the understanding that it is a historical recording of events. Nothing is prescribed by Luke’s inclusion of the words of Acts 1:12. Hold fast to Christ alone and you will be in the sweet spot.

Lord God, how good it is to know that Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf. In knowing this, we have every reason to rejoice in Him and what He has done. We are freed from the impossible yoke placed upon Israel through His full, final, and forever satisfaction of the law. Thank you, O God, for Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.