Have you ever wondered what went on in the place we refer to as “the upper room”? That location, that name, has always held a sort of mystique about it. The replacement of Judas by casting lots is about all chapter one of Acts records as to what was happening behind those closed doors.
However, I believe this room holds the key for something we as believers would like to see repeated in our day. I believe that there are clues in the biblical narrative in the weeks leading up to the upper room experience and in the days immediately following that can give us not only a glimpse into what actually took place in that room but provide a template for the future of our church today.
According to the record in Acts, this room was “upstairs where they were staying,” (Acts 1:13) indicating that the group had already made this location a recognized meeting place. Earlier the two disciples, presumably a married couple, returning from Emmaus knew exactly where to find the group after their encounter with the risen Lord.
Prior to the Passover celebration, Jesus had directed Peter and John to obtain “a large room upstairs, already furnished.” (Luke 22: 12) Previously, the group had stayed in Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem. But now following the Passover meal and the arrest of Jesus in the garden, it appears his followers remained in the city and elected to make this room their headquarters.
To find out what happened in that room, one needs to first look at the people who were gathered there.
The Gathered Believers
Acts 1 identifies 15 of the 120 gathered believers by name. There were 11 of the original 12 disciples, Justus, Matthias, and Mary, Jesus’ mother. Luke records that Jesus’ brothers and “certain women” were also among the group. It is likely that others who were present among the group had names we might recognize, such as Steven, Cleopas, Andronicus, Julia, Nicodemus , Joseph of Arimathea, Martha of Bethany, Barnabas and John Mark to name a few.
The 120 individuals gathered in the upper room prior to Pentecost appear to have been comprised of those who had “followed from the beginning “, those who had been eye witnesses to Jesus’ death and had subsequently witnessed the risen Lord. (Acts 1:22) They were an elite group.
The gospels, in giving the names of women who witnessed Jesus death and his burial in Joseph’s tomb, specifically mention the fact that these women “had followed him from Galilee.” (Luke 23:49, 55)
The women present in the upper room were those who had been with Jesus from the beginning of his public ministry, they had been witnesses of his miracles and teachings and had been eye witnesses to his death and post resurrection appearances.
Luke 8:3 lists some of these women by name: Mary, from Magdelene, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, Chuza, andSusanna. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary, James’ mother, whom Luke documents as being at the cross and who later told the disciples about the empty tomb. (Luke 24:10) Matthew adds the mother of the sons of Zebedee to the list, but does not give her name. ( Matthew 27:56) Mark adds Joses and Salome and the gospel of John identifies one of the Mary’s as being the wife of Peter. (Mark 15:40,41; John 19:25)
Criteria of a witness.
“You shall be my witnesses,” were Jesus’ parting words. (Acts 1: 8; Luke 24:48)
Both Jewish law and the teachings of Jesus indicate that an occurrence could only be established as valid by the testimony of two or more eye-witnesses. (Deut 19:15; Matt 18:16) While the chosen “12” were with Jesus from the beginning, where were they during the final events of his life?
Jesus knowing his friends would run when the chips were down, had said to the twelve, “You will all become deserters.” (Mark 14:27) and later Mark confirms his prophecy by saying, “All of them deserted him and fled.” (Mark 14:50) The disciple John is the only man listed by name as being present at the cross. Thus many of the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion are known today because of the witness of “certain women.”
Mark records that when Jesus first appeared to the eleven following his resurrection, “he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness BECAUSE they had not believed those (the women) who saw him after he had risen.” (Mark 16:14) When the Emmaus disciples told Jesus that some of them had checked out the women’s story but were not convinced, Jesus’ incredulously replied, “Oh, how foolish you are!” (Luke 24:25)
For the gospel story to be told in its entirety, the witness of “certain women” must be believed.
Jesus’ Presence in the Upper Room
“Peace be with you,” Jesus said as he greeted the frightened men and women locked behind closed doors on Sunday evening. After eating some fish and allowing them to touch him, he again said to them, “Peace be with you.” Then, according to John’s gospel, Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ ” (John 20:20,21)
This breath of the Spirit was reminiscent of the comfort God provided the discouraged captives in Babylon who said, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is lost.” At that time God called forth his Spirit from the four winds and breathed upon them saying, “I will put my spirit within you and you shall live.” (Ezekiel 37:11,14) Now it was the crestfallen disciples who grieved, “We believed he would be the one who would deliver Israel.” (Luke 24:21) It is Jesus himself who breathes on them, imparting life and hope. They (this elite group) were to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth and for this work the indwelling Holy Spirit was essential.
Both men AND women were recipients of the Holy Spirit as a pre-Pentecostal gift. His followers were assured of the Spirit’s presence and guidance as they continued their study of scripture together and prepared to publically witness for him.
At the close of his final meal with them before his passion, Jesus had prayed, “As you, Father, have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:21) Now, in the upper room, he repeats his commission: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21) You, all of you here in this room are my witnesses and all of you are sent to the world. You are my apostles – my sent ones.
The Greek word ”apostello” means to send out as on a mission. An “apostelos” is one who is sent. Those who hold this title in the New Testament are part of a group much larger than the original twelve disciples. Paul considers himself to have been “sent by Christ” and assumes this title. Paul also includes Andronicus and Julia among the apostles. (Romans 1:1; 16:7) All those who received their anointing and commission by the risen Lord in the upper room were indeed “apostles.”
The gospel of Luke records, that when the couple from Emmaus recognized Jesus in the “breaking of the bread” they returned to Jerusalem. Finding the disciples “and their companions gathered together” in the upper room, they began to share their experience of meeting the risen Christ. Suddenly, “Jesus himself stood among them and said to them. ‘Peace be with you.’ ” (Luke 24:36)
After providing the group of men and women with physical evidence of his identity, Jesus “opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” Jesus had promised them that “when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth,” and now that promise was a reality. Jesus said to them, “everything written about me in Scripture must be fulfilled.” You all have seen the fulfillment of Scripture; these things have happened before your very eyes. “You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:44-48)
The Comforter gave them courage and hope; the Spirit of Truth opened their minds to understand Scripture and Jesus pronounced them his witnesses. Now the women and men who had followed Jesus wait in the Upper Room to be “clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)
To be continued.