We moderns have relegated the word repent to a message on a sandwich board worn by some bearded cartoon figure. We chuckle at him in his lonely crusade to convince people that the end is near. We are about as ready to listen to such a message as was the temple crowd that gathered in amazement after the healing of the crippled beggar. Yet Peter does not hesitate to tell them--and us--that they should repent, and why.
After the prayer service in the court of Israel, the apostles, with the beggar clinging to them, return through the Nicanor gate into the court of the Gentiles. All the people rush to see them, gathering at Solomon's colonnade, a many-pillared, three-aisled portico that ran the length of the eastern boundary of the court of Gentiles. The people are astonished, and their amazement is mingled with fear (compare 3:10, 12; 13:41; Is 52:13; 1 Km 4:13 Sym).
Peter seizes the moment and asks the people about their amazement (NIV has surprise, which may be too weak) and their staring (see comment at 3:4). If they think the miracle was produced by power resident in the apostles or by godliness--the superior practice of the duty one owes to God (compare 10:2)--they are mistaken.
Peter prepares the way for his Deuteronomy and Genesis quotes by declaring that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (compare Ex 3:6, 15) has in this healing glorified his servant Jesus. The title servant is an allusion to Messiah as the servant of the Lord featured in the servant songs of Isaiah. In particular it points to Messiah's suffering servant role in Isaiah 53. Boldly Peter alleges that the people handed [Jesus] over (compare Lk 9:44; 18:32; 22:21-22; 23:25; NIV adds to be killed) and disowned him by rejecting Pilate's judgment that he was innocent (Lk 23:13-25). Disowning the Holy and Righteous One, they asked that a murderer be released to them.
With a striking phrase, Peter asserts that "the crown prince" (NIV says author) of life has been deprived of life. Life in Luke can be a synonym for salvation (Acts 5:20; 11:18; 13:46, 48).
Today we are so jaded by constant exposure to violence through the news media that in our entertainment we demand ever more grisly acts of violence. Can we still be shocked by this "greatest crime in human history" (Barclay 1976:33) which Peter lays before his listeners? We must be, for only then will we be able to receive that great good news that Peter immediately declares: God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this (compare 1:22; 2:32; 4:10; 10:40-41; 13:30-31).
By faith (both the apostles' and the beggar's--compare 14:8-10) in the name of Jesus (that is, Jesus himself present in his resurrection power; compare 1 Kings 8:27-30), this man . . . was made strong. Literally, the Greek says, "Based on faith in his name this one . . . his name strengthened." "Faith is the manner and Jesus' name is the cause of the man's restoration" (Kistemaker 1990:130). In the end all is from Jesus, for faith is present not only as a human activity (faith in the name of Jesus) but also as a divine gift (faith . . . through him). And today the economy is the same. There is no room for relying on manipulative, magical technique. All Jesus asks us to bring is humble dependence lived out in prayer and faith (Jas 5:14).
Peter's transition from indictment to call to repentance is the empathic yet searching assertion that his compatriots (brothers) killed the Messiah in ignorance. They failed to recognize Jesus' true identity, though it should have been evident from his words and actions. This does not mitigate their guilt; rather, it makes their predicament all the worse (see Lk 23:34; Acts 13:27; see God's provision for sins of ignorance, Num 15:22-31).
Yet not even this ghastly mistake was outside God's plan, foretold through all the prophets (Lk 24:25-27, 46-47; Acts 2:23; 8:35; 13:27-29; 17:2-3; 26:22-23). The theme of Messiah's suffering can be traced through four of the five major prophets and one minor prophet (Is 53; Jer 11:19; Dan 9:26; Zech 13:7).
Peter commands the crowd to repent, renounce the sinful lives that led to Jesus' death, and turn (NIV adds to God) so that . . . sins may be wiped out (compare Ps 51:1, 9; Is 43:25) and times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord--that is, God the Father. Here is the immediate relief that the people can expect, since salvation is now accomplished and they are living in the last days (Lk 4:18-21; Acts 2:17-21, 38). But there is more. God will send to them the Christ, who has been appointed for them, at the end, when he restores all things (compare 2 Pet 3:13).
What positive motivations for repentance! Our slate has been wiped clean. Our parched lives are refreshed in the present by seasons of the Spirit's outpouring. Our future perfection is beyond imagination.
Peter now places his call to repentance in "promise-and-fulfillment" as well as eschatological perspective. Moses prophesied that God would raise up a prophet like himself, whom the people would be responsible to hear and obey (Lev 23:29; Deut 18:15-16, 19). If they didn't, they would forfeit their right to be part of the people of God. All the prophets from Samuel onward "proclaimed" these days, the days of fulfillment and of decision. Will Peter's hearers heed Jesus, the prophet like Moses, as he speaks his message through his apostles--"Repent . . . and turn to God" (Lk 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19)?
Today this message is vital to the eternal destiny of not only ethnic children of Abraham, the Jews, but also that largest of hidden people groups, nominal Christians. If 75-80 percent of the world's Christians are Christian in name only, then one billion people need to be awakened out of their "smug assurance of salvation by biological birthright" (Kingsmore 1990:446; Willimon 1988:48).
Peter concludes with an encouraging appeal to the Jewish audience's place in salvation history. As "sons" of the prophets and of the covenant (NIV translates hyioi as heirs), they stand in line with those who received covenant promises of salvation blessings (compare Lk 1:72). In a text form closer to the Hebrew original than to the LXX, Luke gives us the foundational covenant promise: Through your offspring (literally "your seed") all peoples on earth (literally "families of the land") will be blessed (Acts 3:25/Gen 22:18). Understood literally and concretely, the "seed" is one person, the Messiah (compare Gal 3:16).
Peter's audience already received the promised salvation blessings in anticipation, when God sent his servant Jesus (compare Acts 3:13) for his earthly ministry. Now, in the preaching of the gospel and its reception through repentance, Jesus blesses his people by turning each away from [his] wicked ways (compare 26:23).
Too often today these salvation blessings are treated as cheap grace. Many claim to be Christians, yet their lives are not markedly different from the lives of others. Divorce rates do not vary greatly between professing Christians and the general population. Peter lets us know in clear terms that salvation is not simply a matter of wiping away sin (3:19) but also a matter of righteousness (3:26; 26:20).