SYNOPSIS – Peter explained what God had accomplished in Jesus to a confused crowd in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost – Acts 2:16-36.
When the Day of Pentecost had “fully come,” the Spirit of God descended onto the assembly of disciples accompanied by audible and visual manifestations. As the disciples were “filled with the Spirit,” they began to “speak in other tongues as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” This caused a great commotion among many Jewish pilgrims who witnessed the event. Some were confused; others accused the disciples of drunkenness. It was to this crowd that Peter addressed the first “sermon” of the new age of the Spirit.
In Acts chapter 2, Peter’s response is bracketed at its start and finish by two questions from the crowd:
- (Acts 2:12) – “And they were all amazed and perplexed, saying one to another – What does this mean?”
- (Acts 2:37) – “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do?”
The first question sets the stage for his discourse. The second provides the opening for his call for all men and women to repent and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Peter began by citing a prophecy from the book of Joel – “These men are not drunk, but this is that spoken by the prophet Joel.” The emphatic pronoun – “this” – stresses that what the crowd witnessed was in fulfillment of the promise – “In the last days” God would pour out His Spirit on all His people.
In the Hebrew Bible, several times the prophets promised that Yahweh would fill His sons and daughter with His Spirit, a promise linked to the “last days” and the New Covenant. That promise was now being fulfilled – (Joel 2:28-32, Jeremiah 3:31-34, Ezekiel 11:19-21, 36:25-27).
Peter deviated from the original Hebrew text in Joel at several points. First, he changed “afterward” to “the last days.” To “they shall prophesy” he added “servants and handmaidens.” He inserted the term “signs” and paired it with “wonders” (“I will show wonders in the heaven above, And signs on the earth beneath”). The “great and terrible day of Yahweh” became “the great and manifest day of the Lord.”
Next, Peter focused on what God had done through Jesus. The statement about “wonders and signs” from Joel was applied to Jesus:
(Acts 2:22-24) – “You men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man pointed out of God to you by mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know, the same by the marked out counsel and foreknowledge of God given up through the hands of lawless men, suspending, you slew, whom God raised up, loosening the pangs of death, inasmuch as it was not possible for him to continue held fast by it.”
In Acts, the “signs and wonders” that began in the ministry of the Messiah now characterize the “last days” as the Spirit empowers the church, including the manifestations that accompanied the receipt of the Spirit on that day. The term becomes a key theme in the book of Acts as the church takes the gospel from Jerusalem to the “uttermost parts of the earth” – (Acts 2:43, 4:30, 5:12, 6:8, 8:6-13, 14:3, 15:12).
“Who, you slew.” The priestly leaders of the Temple were guilty of conspiring to put Jesus to death by accusing him of sedition to the Roman governor. However, although he was executed by the Romans, Peter places the primary responsibility for his death on the Jewish leaders, even describing them as “lawless men.”
“The counsel and foreknowledge of God…suspending.” But his crucifixion was in accord with the redemptive plan of God. The Messiah was the one truly righteous man – His death was undeserved – Therefore, God raised him from the dead, having “loosed the pangs of death.” Death had no claim on him.
(Acts 2:25-28) – “For David saith concerning him, I beheld the Lord always before my face; For he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore, my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover, my flesh also shall dwell in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul unto Hades, neither wilt thou give thy Holy One to see corruption. You made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with thy countenance.”
Next, Peter quoted a Psalm of David to validate his claim about the resurrection of the Messiah. This application of the Psalm assumes the Messiah was the one speaking through his illustrious ancestor – David – with “your holy one” taken as a reference to Jesus. Some years later, Paul also applied this Psalm to Jesus – (Psalm 16:8-11, Acts 13:36).
(Acts 2:29-32) – “Brethren! it is allowable to say with freedom of speech concerning the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is among us until this day. Being, then, a prophet, and knowing that with an oath God had sworn to him of the fruit of his loins to seat on his throne, with foresight, spoke he concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he abandoned to hades nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we all are witnesses.”
Peter then explained how this Psalm applied to Jesus and his resurrection rather than to David. The latter remained dead and buried; his tomb was still visible to anyone interested in inquiring after David. However, God had promised that the “fruit of his loins” would sit on the Davidic throne, and forever – (“Nor did his flesh see corruption”); therefore, David must have been speaking prophetically of the Messiah.
This proposition was confirmed when God raised Jesus from the dead, an event for which the apostles are “all witnesses.” The introduction of the messianic “throne” prepared the audience for the next point.
(Acts 2:33-36) – “Being therefore by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured forth this, which you see and hear. For David ascended not into the heavens: but he said himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Till I make your enemies the footstool of thy feet. Let all the house of Israel, therefore, know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Since, unlike David, Jesus was raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of God, it follows that he now reigns; therefore, he also received the promise of the “promise of the Holy Spirit” – Which he poured out that very day.
To reinforce his claim, Peter cited Psalm 110, one of the messianic prophecies applied most frequently to Jesus in the New Testament – (1 Corinthians 15:24-28):
(Psalm 110:1) – “Yahweh said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”
“God made him both Lord and Christ.” “Made” or poieō translates a common Greek verb for “make, do, perform, accomplish.” Following his resurrection, God acted to make Jesus “Lord and Christ” – God exalted Jesus to reign at His side. Implicit is that Jesus was not always “both Lord and Christ.”
The activity of the Spirit among the disciples that was evidenced by “signs and wonders” was the incontrovertible proof that the final phase of history, the “last days,” was underway.
The manifestations of the Spirit play an important part in this story. However, in Peter’s sermon, the stress falls on the exaltation and present reign of Jesus on the Messianic throne, and therefore, his receipt of the “promise of the Spirit” that he now pours out on his followers. If the “last days” have begun, then the Messiah now reigns on the Davidic throne from which he dispenses the gift of the Spirit.