Acts 2 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
Humans were born to ask "Why?" From the chattering toddler tugging at his mother's skirts to the seasoned astrophysicist puzzling over her computer-enhanced images from outer space, the response to the novel is the same: Why? In fact, we ask this question in two directions. We want to know the cause, and we want to know the significance, especially for us.
To find an answer that satisfies both "whys," especially in regard to one's personal destiny, is to discover the best good news.
Seizing the moment in the midst of the crowd's bewilderment and confusion, Peter addresses the people in Spirit-filled utterance (see 2:4). He begins with a formal address, Fellow Jews, which will soften as he proceeds (men of Israel, 2:22; brothers, 2:29). His message will explain the Pentecost event as God's saving acts (see also 4:12; 13:38: 28:28) and show its crucial importance for his hearers and for us.
Though those drunk and those filled with the Spirit are "carried out of themselves into an abnormal sense of freedom and expressiveness," the cause and the end results are entirely different (E. F. Harrison 1986:64). Peter with good humor dismisses this empirical explanation with further empirical evidence: in a culture where the first meal is not taken until ten o'clock, nine o'clock in the morning is too early in the day to find people drunk (see Josephus Life 279).
The ultimate cause and significance of the Spirit's empowerment is found in God and his saving purposes, as the prophet Joel foretold. In the last days--the final days of this age, the time when the "age to come" is inaugurated--God promises to pour out his Spirit on all people. Joel used the imagery of the vivifying impact of a Near Eastern torrential downpour on parched earth to picture the generosity, finality and universality of the Spirit's coming. And Peter declares that this is now happening before the very eyes and in the very hearing of his audience. In contrast to the selective and occasional outpouring of the Spirit on king and prophet in the Old Testament time of promise (1 Sam 10:10; 16:14; Ezek 11:5), here the Spirit comes without regard to age, sex, social status or, as Acts 2:39 indicates, ethnic origin.
What the Spirit empowers people to do is prophesy. Prophecy for Luke encompasses Spirit-filled speaking in other languages (2:12, 16), predictive discourse (11:27; 21:10; compare 9:10; 10:10; 16:9; 18:9, where dreams and visions guide the post-Pentecost church) and proclamatory witness (15:32). As the Old Testament prophets made God's will known by witnessing to his Word, so now, as Luther says, all Christians are Spirit-enabled to bear witness to "knowledge of God through Christ which the Holy Spirit kindles and makes to burn through the word of the gospel" (Stott 1990:74; compare Acts 1:8).
Joel and Peter remind us of the decisiveness of these last days by pointing to cosmic signs on earth and in heaven. The universe will reveal what a shambles sinful humankind makes of things by its constant assault on God's moral order. From this the human race should know that judgment must come at the day of the Lord (Is 13:6, 9; Ezek 30:3; Zeph 1:14-15). The hope held out by Joel is thus vitally significant. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Acts 2:21/Joel 2:32).
Today, living in a time of rapid social change, moral decay, environmental crisis and seemingly unmanageable economic and political problems, we can identify with the apostle's and prophet's sense of the end. We are comforted that history is not out of control, for God is constantly at work. We live in the time of the Spirit's life-giving presence--and there is the challenge: will we call on the name of the Lord and be saved?
Who is this Lord? How can we know he can save? What does Pentecost have to do with this salvation? Peter directs the crowd's attention to Jesus of Nazareth. He characterizes Jesus' earthly ministry as the arena of publicly witnessed divine power. Through him God did miracles, the power of God at work; wonders, astonishing, significant portents that point to God's presence; and signs, miraculous embodiments of spiritual truth. God accredited Jesus' mission by these marks of the messianic age and showed that it was the very beginning of the last days.
Peter next boldly implicates the crowd in Jesus' death. He was handed over into their power. With the help of lawless men--that is, Gentile Romans (NIV wicked men)--they did away with him through crucifixion. Peter sets their responsibility in tension with God's determined purpose and foreknowledge (compare Lk 22:22). Far from discrediting Jesus as God's Messiah, this shameful death was very much a part of God's set purpose and foreknowledge (see Acts 3:18; 13:29). Though Peter does not explicitly refer to Jesus' death as a vicarious atonement, he gives us the objective fact, which is the basis for such an understanding: an innocent man suffered and died.
But there's more. Human beings may have killed Jesus, but God brought him back to life. It was not a resuscitation but an eternal resurrection. In a remarkable mixed metaphor, death's agony became its birth pangs: death was in labor and unable to hold back the "delivery" of Jesus.
As Peter will go on to prove, with respect to Pentecost, Jesus' resurrection is the answer to the question "Why?" from both angles. It is Pentecost's immediate cause (vv. 32-33), and it is the ground for the saving significance of the Pentecost event.
Peter now argues, based on Scripture, that Jesus' resurrection is part of God's saving plan. In verses 25-28 he introduces a quote from Psalm 16:8-11 to explain Jesus' resurrection as the fulfillment of prophecy about the Messiah (NIV does not translate the Greek gar, causal connector between vv. 24 and 25). The psalmist declares that because of his ongoing relationship with the Lord God, he will not be shaken. This accords well with Luke's portrayal of Jesus in his last hours (Lk 23:46/Ps 31:5; the cry of dereliction is absent--Mk 15:34/Ps 22:1). The psalmist expresses joyful confidence that his flesh (sarx, NIV body; v. 26) will live in hope. He openly declares that there is no abandonment to Sheol or experience of decay, but rather the path of life and the joy of God's presence forever.
How is it possible to understand a first-person psalm attributed to David, in which he appears to speak of his protection from death, as a prophecy of the Messiah's hope in a resurrection out of death? Peter comes to such an understanding by using two hermeneutical principles: literal interpretation and a messianic reading of first-person Davidic psalms. Thus David, "not . . . as a mere person but David as the recipient and conveyor of God's ancient but ever-renewed promise," can predict the Messiah's experience (Kaiser 1980:225). Pointing to the well-known (and still extant) tomb of David, Peter contends that David could not be talking about himself. By a process of elimination, then, someone else must qualify to experience the literal fulfillment of this promise. That someone is the Messiah. For David was a prophet. He had received the divinely sworn promise of an eternal reign for one of his descendants, who would be the Messiah (2 Sam 7:12-13; Ps 132:12).
But how can a Messiah who suffers and dies also reign forever (Ps 22:15-16)? It is possible only if that Messiah rises from the dead. David was permitted to see ahead of time this vital stage in God's process of redemption. So he could speak confidently of Messiah's resurrection when he said that Messiah was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay (Acts 2:31). What a wise God to plan a path the Messiah would follow to effect salvation! What a merciful God to reveal a portion of that path to prophets, so that now, as we look back after the fulfillment, it all makes sense (see 1 Pet 1:10-12).
Now Peter moves from argumentation to proclamation (Acts 2:32). The great good news is that God has now raised to life the same Jesus who was crucified (v. 23). Peter adds his voice and those of the other apostles to the witness of the Scriptures. So confident is he of the apostolic witnesses' compelling testimony that he can divide his presentation into two steps: (1) the Old Testament bears witness to a risen Messiah and (2) we bear witness to Jesus as the risen Messiah.
Peter unveils an even greater truth about Jesus which turns his audience into witnesses of God's saving grace. Jesus is the exalted Lord raised to the Father's right hand in heaven (see also v. 30). From that position of authority Jesus mediates the gift of the Spirit (Jn 14:16, 26; 16:7).
Peter now completes the second half of a chiastic (or reverse parallelism) construction that extends all the way back to verse 25. He has (a) preached Scripture proof of Jesus as the Messiah risen from the dead (vv. 25-28), (b) given an interpretation (vv. 29-31) and (c) made a kerygmatic proclamation (v. 32). Now he (c') proclaims Jesus as the exalted Lord and giver of the Spirit (v. 33), (b') gives an interpretation (v. 34) and (a') presents Scripture proof (vv. 34-35/Ps 110:1). This construction binds together Jesus' resurrection, his exaltation and his giving of the Spirit.
Again by a process of elimination and literal interpretation, Peter applies the Old Testament text to the Messiah. David is dead; we cannot claim that he has ascended to heaven. Then, following the lead of Jesus, Peter claims that David is addressing the Messiah when he says, "The Lord [God] said to my Lord [the Messiah]" (Lk 20:41-44/Ps 110:1). When Jesus asked how David could call his descendant "Lord," he was not simply making Messiah and Lord synonymous titles. When the One who is literally exalted to the right hand of the Father is called "Lord," he is addressed as more than an honored human descendant of David. The way Jesus formulated the question implied as much. Peter, unveiling what Jesus' question hinted at, declares him to be Lord in the sense of Yahweh. Jesus is God! (See also Acts 2:21, 36, 38.)
Peter calls his listeners to know for certain that God has openly avowed Jesus to be Lord and Messiah (compare Lk 1:4). Jesus may now rightfully be declared Messiah, since he has done Messiah's saving work and has been vindicated by God, who raised him from the dead. He may properly be proclaimed Lord in the highest sense of the word, as the respectful designation of the unpronounceable name of God (YHWH). For by his resurrection-exaltation he has demonstrated that he is the ever-living and life-giving God, whom death cannot hold and who pours out the Spirit (Acts 2:24, 33).
Peter immediately reminds his listeners that it is this risen and exalted Messiah and Lord whom they have crucified. "They were not trifling with a Galilean carpenter, but God!" (Ogilvie 1983:71).
By the Spirit (Jn 16:8-11) the crowd feels the sharp pain of guilt (the NIV renders the verb literally, were cut to the heart). For Luke, this is as it should be: the heart, the inner life, is the source of all the thoughts, motivations, intentions and plans of sinful human beings (Lk 6:45; 12:34: 21:34; Acts 5:3-4; 7:39; 8:21-22; 28:27). Realizing they have killed the Messiah, their only hope of salvation, they desperately want to know, "Is there anything we can do about this? Or are we doomed to suffer God's certain wrath on the day of the Lord?" (see 2:20). They address Peter and the rest of the apostles, for it is the apostolic gospel, not a gospel of Peter, that they must receive and cling to (2:32, 42).
What will it take today to bring people to their knees--beyond admitting their anxiety (the awareness that something is wrong) to facing their guilt (the recognition that someone is wrong)? The sin of people today put Jesus to death just as surely as the sinful hatred of first-century people. This fact leaves no room for anti-Semitism. With Peter's first audience, we must return to the scene of the crime, the cross. We must face up to our guilt before almighty God, the Judge. We must throw ourselves on his mercy, asking, What shall we do? (v. 37).
Peter's invitation is to repent, "do an about face in your life's orientation and attach yourself to Jesus" (Talbert 1984:16). This turning from sin and turning to Christ is the necessary condition for receiving salvation blessings (Lk 13:3, 5; 15:7; 16:30; 24:47; Acts 3:19; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20). What about faith? It is mentioned in verse 44. John Stott observes, "Repentance and faith involve each other, the turn from sin being impossible without the turn to God, and vice versa" (1990:78).
Peter calls for each one of them individually (hekastos, but NIV every one) to be baptized . . . in (on the basis of) the name of Jesus Christ--that is, as Joseph Addison Alexander puts it, "by his authority, acknowledging his claims, subscribing to his doctrine, engaging in his service, and relying on his merits" (quoted in Stott 1990:78). By repentance and baptism we show that we have met the conditions for receiving forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit. By making repentance and baptism conditions for the reception of salvation blessings, Luke does not imply that salvation comes by merit or ritual. He is not promoting some necessary second experience. He consistently presents both forgiveness and the Spirit as gifts of grace (3:19; 5:31; 13:38; 11:17; 15:8). The gift of the Spirit is the Spirit himself, who regenerates, indwells, unites, and transforms lives. All the fruit and gifts of the Spirit flow from this one great gift.
Peter now declares the universal extent of the salvation offer. He reaches out across time and space, generations and cultures (your children and . . . all who are afar off--that is, Jews of the diaspora and Gentiles; see Is 57:19; Eph 2:13). And he does not let his audience forget, even as he tells them their responsibility, that salvation is God's work from beginning to end. For the promise is for all whom the Lord our God will call. Those who respond are answering the Lord our God's effective call on their lives (compare Acts 13:48; 16:14). "He set me free to want what He wanted to give!" (Ogilvie 1983:72).
Now we have come full circle. The salvation promised by Joel (and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved--Acts 2:21/Joel 2:32) is accomplished by Jesus (God has made this Jesus . . . Lord--Acts 2:36). And it is humanly appropriated when one is baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (v. 38) with the assurance that the gift of salvation is for all whom the Lord our God will call (v. 39).
There were many other things Peter said to the crowd as he warned them. He kept on exhorting them to allow themselves to be saved, rescued from a corrupt (literally, "crooked") generation. The Old Testament labeled the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness a "crooked generation" (Deut 32:5; Ps 78:8). Peter's use of this phrase intensifies the call to repentance. The "wilderness generation" experienced the judgment of God when it did not repent. So will those of the present generation if they do not answer God's call and turn to him in repentance.
The gospel call comes clearly and urgently today. "The question is not, shall I repent? For that is beyond a doubt. But the question is, shall I repent now, when it may save me; or shall I put it off to the eternal world when my repentance will be my punishment?" (Samuel Davies in Wirt and Beckstrom 1974:203).
Three thousand souls welcomed the word (compare 28:30), met its conditions and were baptized. They joined the ranks of the apostles and disciples in the nucleus of the New Testament church. "The kerygma, indeed, has the power to evoke that which it celebrates" (Willimon 1988:36).
We must not be negligent either in giving or heeding invitations. Lloyd Ogilvie strongly encourages pastors to make invitation a standard part of regular worship services. In whatever form--whether printing an invitation in the bulletin, designating a room for inquirers or calling people forward during a closing hymn--the Lord's call for those to be saved should be consistently present. "People are more ready than we dare to assume. And why not? The Holy Spirit is at work!" (Ogilvie 1983:73).