In Acts 1:15-26, the Apostle Peter addressed what might be called the church’s Judas Problem.
To understand this problem, a bit of background information is necessary. Mark 3:14-15 tells us that Jesus “appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.”
Notice five things: (1) Just as there are twelve tribes in Israel, so there are twelve apostles of Jesus. The apostles symbolize Israel reconstituted. (2) An apostle—literally, “one sent”—is the personal representative of the person who sent him. The Hebrew term for such a person is shaliach, and the crucial thing to understand is that the sendee acts with the full authority of the sender. (3) The authority of the apostle derives from his up-close interaction with and observation of Jesus. That is why Jesus calls the apostles first and foremost to “be with him.” (4) Because the apostles are Jesus’ hand-selected representatives, they have the responsibility to preach the gospel he taught them. (5) And they have his authority to exorcize demons, just as he did.
The Judas Problem arises because Judas—a member of reconstituted Israel, Jesus’ hand-selected representative, the eyewitness of his ministry who preached his message and performed his miracles—was complicit in Jesus’ murder. Not only that, but after his treachery, he committed suicide. Here’s how Acts 1:15-19 narrates the issue:
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus—he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.”
(With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
Judas’ death created a gap in the church’s foundation. Reconstituted Israel needed twelve apostles, not eleven. It needed eyewitnesses, not second- and third-hand informants. It needed preachers of Jesus’ gospels and doers of Jesus’ deeds, not historians of the great deeds of others. And so, the early church selected Matthias to replace Judas (Acts 1:20-26). Or rather, God provided the Matthias Solution for the church’s Judas Problem.
This was a one-off solution, however. When the Apostles James died (Acts 12:2), he was not replaced. Why? Because he had performed his apostolic functions properly. He had witnessed to Jesus in word and deed, even to the point of death, unlike Judas, whose only testimony was his own “wickedness.”
Why are the Judas Problem and the Matthias Solution important? Because there is no Jesus apart from the testimony of the apostles. If you want to follow him, you must listen to them, for they are his hand-selected, one-of-a-kind, personal representatives to all ages, including ours.