The Method of Choosing Part 3
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
d. The obvious and natural meaning of the phrase demands the reference to Judas. But those who suppose it refers to Judas differ greatly about its meaning. Some suppose it refers to his house; that he left the apostolic office to return to his own house; and they appeal to Numbers 24:25. But Judas did not do this; nor is there any proof that it was his plan. Others refer it to the grave, as the place of man, where all must eventually lie; and particularly as a dishonorable place where Judas should lie. But there is no example of the word place being used in this sense; nor is there an instance where a man by being buried is said to return to his own, or proper place. Others have supposed that the manner of his death, by hanging, is referred to, as his own or his proper place. But this interpretation is evidently an unnatural and forced one. The word place cannot be applied to an act of self-murder. It denotes habitation, abode, a situation in which to remain; not an act. These are the only interpretations which can be suggested for the passage, except the common and obvious one of referring it to the future abode of Judas in the world of the damned. This might be said to be his own since it was adapted to him, and it was proper that the one who had betrayed his Lord should remain there. This interpretation may be defended by the following considerations:
i. It is the obvious and natural meaning of the words. It commends itself by its simplicity and evident connection with the context. It has always been the common interpretation; no other interpretation has been adopted unless there was a theory to be defended about future punishment. Unless men had previously made up their minds not to believe in future punishment, no one would ever have thought of any other interpretation. This fact alone throws a strong light on the meaning of the passage.
ii. It concords with the crimes of Judas, and with all that we know about him. The future doom of Judas was not unknown to the apostles. Jesus Christ had expressly declared this: "it had been good for that man if he had not been born;" a declaration which could not be true if, after any limited period of suffering, he were at last admitted to eternal happiness (See Matthew 26:24). This declaration was made in the presence of the eleven apostles, at the institution of the Lord's Supper, at a time when their attention was absorbed in a deep interest in what Christ said; and it was, therefore, a declaration which they would not be likely to forget. Since they knew the fate of Judas, nothing was more natural for them than to speak of it familiarly as a thing which had actually occurred when he betrayed his Lord, hung himself, and went to his own place.
iii. The expression, to "go to his own place," is one which is used by the ancient writers to denote going to the eternal destiny. Thus Numbers 24:25, says, "Balaam went to his own place, i.e., to Gehenna," to hell. And a Paraphrase on Ecclesiastes 6:6, says, "Although the days of a man's life were two thousand years, and he did not study the law, and do justice, in the day of his death his soul shall descend to hell, to the one place where all sinners go." The phrase "his own place," means the place or abode which is fitted for him, which is his appropriate home. Judas was not in a place which befitted his character when he was an apostle; he was not in such a place in the church; he would not be in heaven. Hell was the only place which was fitted to the man of greed and of treason. And if this is the true interpretation of this passage, then it follows,
1. That there will be such a thing as future, eternal punishment. One man will certainly be in hell and will be there forever. If there is one there, for the same reason there may be others. All objections to the doctrine are removed by this single fact, and it cannot be true that all men will be saved.
2. Each individual in eternity will find his own proper place. Hell is not an arbitrary appointment. Every man will go to the place for which his character is fitted. The hypocrite is not fitted for heaven. The man of pride, and greediness, and pollution, and falsehood, is not fitted for heaven. The place adapted to such men is hell, and the aim of the judgment will be to assign to each individual his proper abode in the eternal world.
3. The intention of the judgment of the great day will be to assign to all the inhabitants of this world their proper place. It would not be fit that the holy and pure should dwell forever in the same place with the unholy and impure, and the Lord Jesus will come to assign to each his appropriate eternal habitation.
4. The sinner will have no cause to complain. If he is assigned to his proper place, he cannot complain. If he is unfit for heaven, he cannot complain that he has been excluded. And if his character and feelings make it proper that he should find his eternal abode among the enemies of God, then he must expect that a God of justice and equity will assign him such a doom.
5. Some of the best critics make the claim that the words belong to Matthias—his own place being the office to which he was about to be elected. If this is objected to because it could not be called his own place, since he was not yet appointed to it, they should note that it might be proper to call hell Judas's own place, because, he was fully prepared for that place of torment, by the treason and covetousness of which he was guilty. It may be said, that the own or proper place of a man is that for which he is eligible by virtue of him having qualified for it, though he may not yet possess such a place: so Paul says, Every man shall receive HIS OWN reward, which is called that, not from having it already in his possession, since that will not take place until the resurrection of the dead in Christ; but from his being qualified in this life for the state of glory in the other.
26 And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
And they gave forth their lots;
The disciples proposed two men to replace Judas Iscariot, who had committed suicide after he betrayed Jesus. These two men had a close association with Jesus when he began his ministry, and they had witnessed Jesus’ Ascension. Joseph Barsabas was also known as Justus (Lat.). He might have been the brother of Judas Barsabas. Matthias is not mentioned anyplace else in Scripture. The disciples prayed over selecting the 12th disciple, then cast lots to determine God’s choice for the position. This method of determining God’s will was common enough at the time, but no record exists of its use after Pentecost.
The disciples did not engage in gambling, like men that use dice to determine the winner of wagers they make. We must remember that before lots were cast they selected two men whom they judged the most worthy to fill Judas’ vacancy. Having passed that difficult screening test, they were now prepared to receive the will of God. Casting lots to discern God’s will was a very respectable Hebrew custom. The disciples believed in God’s providence and perhaps even remembered, “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord” (Prov 16:33).
Some have supposed that this means they voted. But, there are insurmountable objections to this interpretation.
1. The Greek word translated “lots” is not used to express votes.
2. The expression; "the lot fell upon," is not consistent with the notion of voting. It is a common expression for casting lots (gambling).
3. Casting lots was commonly used among the Jews to determine important and difficult issues, and it was natural that the apostles would resort to this. For that reason:
a. David divided the priests by lot (1 Chronicles 24:5)—“Thus they were divided by lot, one group as another, for there were officials of the sanctuary and officials of the house of God, from the sons of Eleazar and from the sons of Ithamar.”
b. The land of Canaan was divided by lot (Num 26:55)—“But the land shall be divided by lot; they shall inherit according to the names of the tribes of their fathers.”
c. Jonathan, the son of Saul was discovered by lot to have violated his father's command, and to have brought calamity upon the Israelites (1 Samuel 14:41, 42)—“Therefore Saul said to the LORD God of Israel, "Give a perfect lot." So Saul and Jonathan were taken, but the people escaped. And Saul said, "Cast lots between my son Jonathan and me." So Jonathan was taken.”
d. Achan was detected by lot (Joshua 7:16-18)—“So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel by their tribes, and the tribe of Judah was taken. He brought the clan of Judah, and he took the family of the Zarhites, and he brought the family of the Zarhites man by man, and Zabdi was taken. Then he brought his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken.”
In these cases, the use of the lot was regarded as a solemn appeal to God, for his direct involvement in cases which they could not decide themselves. The writer of Proverbs said, “The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD” (Prov 16:33; NKJV). Notice that it is called “Their lots;” the lots which were to decide their case. They are called, theirs, because they were to determine which of them would be called to the apostolic office.