The first thing we see for the early Christians is that this ten-day period was a time to practice obedience. If we compare verse 12 with verse 4, we find that what the disciples did in verse 12 was a direct response to what the Lord Jesus Christ told them they were to do earlier. Earlier Jesus had said, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” In verse 12, we find that this is precisely what they were doing.
I do not think it was easy for them. We might say, as we look at this from our perspective, “Well, what else could they do? They had to wait.” Actually there were many things they could have done—and had been doing—before Jesus gave His commandment. After the crucifixion they had been scattering each to his or her own home. They had looked upon Jesus as the Messiah, thinking that He was going to drive out the Romans. But when He did not do that, well, that was the end of the dream, as far as they were concerned. The Emmaus disciples were going back to Emmaus. The others were on their way back to Galilee. And why not? There was nothing there to hold them together.
Another thing they might have done was to get on about their various business obligations. Some had been fishermen. One was a tax collector. During the prior forty days some of them went back to Galilee and began to take up fishing again. The disciples could have said, “Jesus has left us. He said He is going to come back, but we don’t know when that’s going to be. Right now we have to get on with the business of living.”
Again, if they had been thinking along spiritual lines, they might have said, “There are people to be won. There is work to do. There are cities to be evangelized.” I suppose it must have seemed utterly pointless for them to wait inactively in Jerusalem.
The reason they did not do these things is that Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The situations in which we learn most about obedience are those in which we cannot see why we are called to do what we are doing. This is because if we can give a reason for what we are doing, then we are not necessarily learning obedience, at least not simple obedience. What we are really doing is trusting our ability to reason things out. We are doing what we are doing because we think it is the best thing to do. There is nothing wrong with thinking things out, but it is quite another thing to learn obedience when the prescribed course does not seem the best option.
If you are going through a period like that in your life, when you know what you should do but do not know why, or if you are experiencing a delay in God’s dealings with you and it seems that you are stuck in one spot, learn that there is valuable preparation for future work just in remaining where God has put you. The action will come later.
There is another way in which the disciples prepared for what was coming: they gathered together for fellowship. We read about it in verse 14: “They all joined together constantly.” There were the eleven disciples. They are mentioned in verse 13: “Peter, John, James, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.” (This was not Judas Iscariot.) There were also women. “The women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”1
As we go on to verse 15, we find that by the time Peter stood to give his speech about the need to choose a twelfth person to fill out the apostolic band, there were 120 gathered. We do not know who the 120 were. But we can think who some of them might have been. Nicodemus had shown an interest in Christ. He may have been there. Joseph of Arimathea may have been present. How about the Emmaus disciples? They had returned to Jerusalem earlier, according to Luke 24. They probably stayed on once they knew that Jesus had been raised from the dead. And what about Mary, Martha and Lazarus? What about people Jesus had healed? These and others would have been present, the nucleus of the emerging church.
People need people. This is part of what it means to be a human being. One of the worst things that can happen to a person is to be utterly isolated from other people, and the converse of this is that if we are to grow intellectually, socially and spiritually, we need others. Christians need other Christians. When you become a Christian, you do not become a Christian in isolation. Rather, you enter into the body of those who are also Christ’s disciples, and you find fellowship with them.
I always tell high school students who are about to go away to college, “Get in touch with a Christian group right off. It does not make a great deal of difference what group it is. Just identify with the other Christians on the campus. God will work through those others to hold you and build you up during your days of preparation.”
1F. F. Bruce has the interesting observation that on this last occasion of a legitimate historical reference to Mary, Jesus’ mother, we find her with the other followers of Jesus engaged in worship (F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975], 44).