After the death of Judas, the eleven disciples looked for another to replace him and bring their number up to twelve. This number seemed to hold a symbolic meaning, occurring in the scriptures with the sons of Jacob, the tribes of Israel, the first recorded words of Jesus as a twelve-year old boy, and the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem. (Revelations 21).
In Acts 1 we read that Peter addressed a group of 120 believers to choose a replacement, with the requirement that to validate his witness he would need to be someone who had seen Jesus’s baptism, crucifixion and resurrection.
Their choice came down to two followers, well known to them, who had probably been among the seventy whom Jesus “sent out two by two to go ahead of him to every town and place where he himself was about to go.” They had obviously been empowered for their mission because we read that “they came back with great joy. Even the demons obeyed when we gave them a command in your name.”
One candidate was Joseph, called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and another called Matthias. Peter called the assembly to pray asking God “show us which of these you have chosen.” They cast lots and Matthias was chosen.
It is worth noting that all this took place before the coming down of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. For any further reference to Matthias the Scriptures are silent, and we only hear of his ministry through legend and non-canonical writings. It is believed he evangelised in the region of the Caucasus, Armenia and Cappadocia on the shores of the Caspian Sea, and, like all the other apostles (except John who reached old age) suffered a violent martyrdom. (For him, beheading)
Much of this information originates with a medieval monk at Trier Abbey in the German Rhineland where Matthias’s relics were held as an object of pilgrimage and reputed to have miraculous powers. There was a lucrative trade in holy relics in those days, with probably enough fragments of “the true cross” and “nails from the crucifixion” to stock a timber or scrap yard.
Matthias is held by some to have been chosen for his honest and loyalty as an atonement for Judas’s disloyalty and treachery.
Not to be confused with Matthew, he is the patron saint of carpenters, tailors, reformed alcoholics and “hope” – a somewhat diverse group from which to find a pattern.