HOW COULD PETER INTERPRET SCRIPTURE IN ACTS 1:16-20?
by Shawn Brasseaux
The Holy Spirit did not come upon the apostles until Acts chapter 2, or 10 days after Christ’s literal, physical, visible resurrection. There was no indwelling Spirit of God in Acts chapter 1, so how could the Apostle Peter know two verses in Psalms applied to Judas? That used to puzzle me for the longest time, until I found some verses that clarified it for me. We will read the verses in Acts chapter 1 first, then proceed to the book of Psalms, and finally we will reveal the fascinating answer.
We read in Acts 1:15-20: “ And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,)  Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus.  For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry.  Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.  And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.  For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.”
Now we look at the two verses in Psalms that Peter quoted in verse 20 above:
- Circa 1000 years before Christ, David wrote in Psalm 69:25: “Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents.” (Acts 1:20a: “For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein.”)
- Circa 1000 years before Christ, David wrote in Psalm 109:8: “Let his days be few; and let another take his office.” (Acts 1:20b: “For it is written in the book of Psalms, … and his bishoprick let another take.”)
A Jew living in the centuries before Jesus Christ came in the flesh, would have never had the understanding that Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8 were talking about a friend of Jesus betraying Him. Yet, it seems strange that Peter would take these two verses and apply them to Judas Iscariot. What made Peter understand that David was writing about Judas in these two verses? How did Peter know that Psalm 69 and Psalm 109 were Messianic? That is, how did Peter know these two chapters contained prophetic glimpses of events in Christ’s earthly ministry? (Remember, there was no Holy Spirit yet to give them Bible understanding.) Two passages and we will conclude.
Luke chapter 24, post-resurrection, Jesus Christ gave His disciples a Bible study. Verses 44-46 relate: “ And he [the Lord Jesus Christ] said unto them [His apostles and disciples], These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.  Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,  And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:….” And now, the companion verse, Acts 1:3: “To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:”
How could Peter interpret the book of Psalms in Acts chapter 1, if the Holy Spirit was not given until Acts chapter 2? Friends, it is quite simple. Jesus Christ spent 40 days after His resurrection teaching His apostles and disciples the various Old Testament prophecies that had just been fulfilled during those last three years. Imagine a 40-day-long Bible conference with the Lord Jesus Christ Himself as the Teacher! By the time it concluded, and Christ had ascended into heaven, Peter had enough spiritual insight into the Old Testament—in this case, the book of Psalms—that he knew which “obscure” passages were really predictions of what Judas would do centuries later.
CONCLUSION – WHY IT MATTERS
While the Holy Spirit was not present on Earth until Acts chapter 2, Jesus Christ had spent 40 days post-resurrection giving Bible understanding to His Little Flock. The book of Luke and the book of Acts both confirm that Jesus Christ explained the various Old Testament Scriptures that had just been fulfilled concerning Him. Peter quoted two of these verses in Acts chapter 1. Peter did not have the Holy Spirit to guide and enlighten him yet, but the Lord Jesus had given a lot of insight into the Old Testament. Peter knew, according to Psalms, that Judas was now permanently out of the picture. Psalms had also taught Peter that they would have to appoint a twelfth apostle to take Judas’ now-vacated office. This is important, since Peter is often criticized today for appointing Matthias instead of waiting for Paul to replace Judas. Paul could not have taken Judas’ position for several major reasons (see our study linked below). Most importantly, Peter knew that they would have to fill the spot now, and Paul (Saul of Tarsus) was still a lost man at that time of Acts chapter 1. Peter knew that the Holy Spirit would be coming in less than 10 days, and that twelfth apostle needed to be present and ordained. Evidently, Jesus Christ had made that clear to them in those 40 days.