The news drives the believers immediately to their knees. In united (compare 1:14; 2:46; 5:12), urgent prayer they raise their voices to God the Father (either praying in unison, repeating the words of one apostle, or greeting his prayer with a hearty amen). They address God the Father as Sovereign Lord (Despotes). Not common in Scripture, this divine title emphasizes the complete ownership God exercises over his servants (Lk 2:29; compare Jude 4; Rev 6:10). It was a common ascription in Jewish prayers (see Josephus Jewish War 7:323) and among the Greeks (see Aelius Aristides Works 37:1; Xenophon Anabasis 3:2, 13).
With such liturgical language, grounded in the Old Testament (such as Ex 20:11; Ps 146:6), the believers declare the scope of God's omnipotence. So they encourage themselves through praise that even the threatening Sanhedrin is not outside God's sovereign control. Confessing the truth about God's relationship to our circumstances always brings encouragement, especially when we are aware of danger and feel out of control.
The prayer turns to an Old Testament text, Psalm 2:1, understood as foretelling the Messiah's suffering and making reference to a united (note the reverse parallelism: nations . . . peoples . . . kings . . . rulers), rebellious, conspiring, yet futile hostility against the Lord's Anointed One. Via the pesher method, the believers proceed to make immediate application to Jesus' suffering at the hands of a king, Herod (Lk 13:31; 23:6-12; see Bruce 1990:158); a ruler, Pilate; the Gentiles (the nations); and the people of Israel (laoi—literally, peoples—probably to maintain correspondence with the quote's wording).
This immediately raises a number of issues. Historically there is no inaccuracy in the believers' interpretation, for even though both Herod and Pilate declared Jesus innocent, they did cooperate with those who conspired against Jesus (Lk 23:6-25; Acts 3:13). The psalm is properly understood as messianic, for it speaks of a universal reign (Ps 2:8, 10-11; contra Marshall 1980:105; compare the pre-Christian Jewish messianic interpretation of the psalm, 4QFlor 1:18-19/Ps 2:1-2; also compare Psalms of Solomon 17:22-23/Ps 2:2, 9). Theologically, Jesus' anointing at a particular time—his baptism (see Acts 10:38)—does not contradict the fact that he was always Messiah, conceived by the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:35); his baptism may be viewed as the time when he "received the endorsement of the Father and the enduement with the Spirit" (E. F. Harrison 1986:97). The identification of Israel with the "peoples," in parallel with a pagan king represented by Herod, points out graphically that by rejecting Jesus, Israel was forfeiting its position as God's special people; if the Jews did not repent, God would view them no differently from Gentiles (see Acts 3:23).
The church's confessional ascription climaxes by celebrating God's sovereignty in the active accomplishment of his plan, as even his enemies do what his power (literally, hand) has predetermined (see 2:23; Lk 22:22). What a great encouragement! The very same group that is threatening these believers opposed their Lord. The persecutors' earlier success brought Christ's death but was really according to God's plan and by his hand. Surely any suffering these believers—or we—endure, then, is not outside God's control and will serve only to advance the purposes of the risen and reigning Messiah.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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