Peter’s Sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Part 2)
This afternoon, we return to our consideration of Acts 2, the subject of which is the sermon preached by the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost. We began our study of this chapter by looking at vv. 1-13. I want to take a few minutes to review what was said previously under the first point in my treatment of this chapter, which was “The Occasion for the Sermon.”
- The Occasion for the Sermon (2:1-13)
I called attention to four facts in the opening verses. First, the disciples were doing what Jesus commanded—they were “all together in one place.” Second, I noted the manner of the Spirit’s arrival. Luke describes the sound that accompanied the Spirit’s arrival as a noise from heaven “like a violent, rushing wind” which filled the house.
Third, I pointed out that along with the sound, the disciples saw “tongues as of fire” resting on one another. In Jewish tradition, fire meant the presence of God and it also pointed to the Spirit’s ministry of purifying these disciples for the task ahead, as the context makes clear. Fourth, I observed that the disciples shared in this experience.
No one was singled out; all were affected and all were equipped in the same manner. This says something about how the Church will operate and, therefore, how the message of the Church will be spread.
Beyond this, I stated that one of the major issues unfolding on the day of Pentecost was the beginning of the termination of Israel’s status as a covenant nation before God. The tongues phenomenon was not just intended for the equipping of the disciples; it also was intended as a signal that a major step in God’s plan of redemption was taking place. This information is mentioned first in Isa. 28, as I explained last time.
The remainder of this opening section had to do with the reaction of the Jews. As they witnessed the event of the Spirit’s arrival, these men were “bewildered” because they heard the disciples speaking in various languages. All of this forms the occasion for Peter’s sermon. Pentecost has come; the Holy Spirit has arrived and now it is time for Peter to explain what is going on.
End of Review
- The Substance of the Sermon (2: 14-36)
I’m going to divide Peter’s sermon into three parts. He begins by quoting from the prophet Joel, then he turns to the matter of the Jews’ part in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and he concludes with words concerning the resurrection and exaltation of the Savior.
Let’s consider first, then, Peter’s use of a prophecy from Joel (vv. 14-21):
14 But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea, and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give heed to my words. 15 “For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; 16 but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS,’ God says, ‘THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT UPON ALL MANKIND; AND YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, AND YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, AND YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS; 18 EVEN UPON MY BONDSLAVES, BOTH MEN AND WOMEN, I WILL IN THOSE DAYS POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT And they shall prophesy. 19 ‘AND I WILL GRANT WONDERS IN THE SKY ABOVE, AND SIGNS ON THE EARTH BENEATH, BLOOD, AND FIRE, AND VAPOR OF SMOKE. 20 ‘THE SUN SHALL BE TURNED INTO DARKNESS, AND THE MOON INTO BLOOD, BEFORE THE GREAT AND GLORIOUS DAY OF THE LORD SHALL COME. 21 ‘AND IT SHALL BE, THAT EVERYONE WHO CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED.’”
There is something that strikes me as significant in what Peter does here. He quotes from the prophecy of Joel, but then offers no interpretation. He assumes, I believe, that those familiar with Joel would understand what was intended by these words. Regrettably, modern Christians don’t understand Joel at all and they have come up with some strange interpretations of this passage, interpretations, which have nothing to do with the context and do not faithfully explain Joel’s words.
The first thing to remember as we approach this section is that Peter is explaining what the Jews were witnessing. Notice what he says as he stands up: “These men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel…” (vv. 14-16)
Peter says that Joel predicted the events that were coming to pass on this day. What have we already learned about the events of this day? We’ve already learned that the Spirit came to the disciples according to God’s promise and the promise of the Savior. We’ve already learned that the appearance of tongues as of fire over the heads of the disciples was a sign of divine presence and divine equipping. We’ve already learned that this manifestation of the tongues phenomenon constituted a sign to the Jews that God was preparing to judge them even as He began to make Himself known to the Gentiles.
Now, with that reminder, hear Peter again: “this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel.” This means that however we interpret this prophecy from Joel, we cannot come up with a conclusion that excludes the facts we already know. And this is precisely where modern commentators in Bible prophecy amateurs have completely misapplied this particular prophecy and, in so doing, have contributed greatly to the Biblical illiteracy to be observed in the modern church.
As we consider Joel’s prophecy, then, we have to take what we know and apply it. Let’s start with the phrase “and it shall be in the last days.” (v. 17) In spite of what modern-day prophecy buffs tell us, the last days began in the first century. This is what Scripture teaches here and elsewhere (cf. Heb. 1:2).
Immediately, therefore, you should be aware that much of what has been said about this portion of Scripture in our day is misguided. The “last days” was a reference to the final period of God’s covenantal relationship with the nation of Israel, even as the resurrected Savior prepared His disciples to go to the Gentiles. That is what is coming to a close and that is part of the significance of Pentecost, as I’ve been saying.
Peter stood up to explain the Spirit’s arrival and his explanation is a warning, it is a call to repentance for the Jews, as later verses clearly show. Joel foresaw this day, this time when God would equip His people to go beyond the borders of Israel and take knowledge of His redemption to the far parts of the earth.
This is what Jesus commanded in the Great Commission; it is what we saw repeated in the first chapter of this book. These were the last days for Israel’s exclusive access to God. Unfaithfulness on Israel’s part, on the one hand, and God’s intention to bless all the nations of the earth, on the other, came together at Pentecost. The Church is going to explode and start covering the earth, while Israel, as a nation, is going to be called to repentance and, in a few years, destroyed once and for all when the Romans overrun Jerusalem and the Temple.
This prophecy identifies the key occurrence that would tell Israel that the last days had begun. The key occurrence would be what the Jews on this day were already witnessing—it would be an unprecedented display of the Spirit’s presence.
In Joel’s time, the Spirit’s special equipping or enabling was seen in the gifts of prophecy, dreams, and visions. These works of the Spirit were rare and normally confined to men. So, the Jews had a history of seeing the Spirit at work on a very limited basis. But now God is going to send His people all over the world and now every nation will hear the gospel and people from throughout the earth will be called to faith.
All of this will be the work of the Holy Spirit. He will have a ministry that is much more extensive and obvious than anything seen previously in history.
So, if you are Joel, how do you picture this coming age? How do you convey the unparalleled activity of the Spirit that is going to begin at this time in history? Obviously, you take what you know about the Spirit’s activity thus far and you exaggerate it; you use what you know the Spirit is doing in your day and you magnify that a thousand times so that you get the point across that a day is coming when the Spirit is not going to be rare in His ministry among people. In fact, you want to get the point across that the day is coming when the Spirit is going to be operating all over the world and through all people to bring about the blessings of redemption.
Any Jew in Joel’s time who heard or read this prophecy would be astonished. He would conclude that the prophet was describing a day when God was going to do something He had never done before. He would conclude that a day is coming when people of all places and all races are going to be given knowledge of the true God of Israel (notice the reference to “all mankind” in v. 17).
He would conclude that this will be a day when everyone—men, women, and children, bond and free—will be given God’s Spirit and they will be used by the Spirit to honor God. This is what Joel meant. He takes language and images that were understood in his day and exaggerates them to an astonishing level to try and convey the glory of what God is going to do when He prepares His people to take the gospel to all the nations of the earth. There is going to be this worldwide explosion of the Holy Spirit’s activities and it will be unlike anything the world had ever witnessed.
This prophecy is not telling us that all believers will utter prophesies or have divinely-inspired dreams. It is not telling us that unless you do these things, you don’t have the Holy Spirit. Joel is emphasizing the coming world-wide ministry of the Spirit and he uses images that the Jews of his day associated with the Spirit.
How do we know that we are right to follow this interpretation? We know we are right by going back to Peter’s words as he stood up: “This is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel.” Peter is explaining what was being set in motion on this day. He was not giving us a description of the normal Christian experience from this point forward. He’s talking to the Jews present in Jerusalem. He’s making use of a prophecy given to them long ago.
Peter is leading them to understand that God is turning to the Gentiles and that turning will be evidenced by, once again, the worldwide ministry of the Holy Spirit. Because they have reached this crucial time in God’s unfolding plan of redemption, now is the time for them to repent.
We also know we are right to follow this interpretation because the rest of the New Testament supports it. There is no evidence that the age that has just commenced with the outpouring of the Spirit was to be characterized by men, women, and children prophesying and seeing visions and dreaming dreams.
On the contrary, those very activities continue to be rare in the New Testament age, but what is not rare is the Spirit’s presence witnessed by mass conversions and changed lives. This is what Joel meant. The day of the Spirit has arrived. He’s going to be the essential Participant in the activity of the Church from this day forward. This is precisely what Jesus promised just before His crucifixion.
With that said, I want to address the second part of Peter’s opening statement. In vv. 19 ff., we have a different thought to consider. Peter stops talking about the Holy Spirit and starts talking about an event that is very troubling. He is still quoting from the second chapter of Joel, but the image turns from one of blessedness to one of judgment.
The phrases that we find in vv. 19 and 20 are typical of prophetic vocabulary. These are the phrases used by the prophets to describe the judgment of God. Peter, as he continues using Joel, therefore, is saying that along with the outpouring of God’s Spirit, this new day that has come also will involve a judgment. As I said before, this judgment is the one pending against the nation of Israel; it is the one finalized in AD 70.
Take note that in the final verse quoted from Joel, Peter holds out the invitation to be delivered from what is to come (v. 21). Peter is warning the Jews that time is running out and the rest of his sermon and their response verify this interpretation. God is offering the Jews one more opportunity to turn from their rebellion—in fact, this is what is going on as the apostles hereafter preach in the synagogues and attempt to persuade Jews everywhere to repent.
The second part of Peter’s sermon, as I said before, has to do with the responsibility of the Jews in the death of Christ:
22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-- 23 this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.”
After telling the Jews that the last days have arrived, Peter gets straight to the point of recent events. He indicates, of course, that the events foreseen by Joel and described in his prophecy have something to do with a Figure well-known to the Jews, namely, Jesus the Nazarene. Peter confronts these men with the fact that God had borne witness to the truth of who Jesus claimed to be through “miracles and wonders and signs.” (v. 22)
These things were done by the Savior and they were done “in your midst,” as Peter emphasizes. His point is that Jesus should have been believed and received for who He claimed to be. Peter is stressing that in spite of evidence—the kind that would normally be received as convincing—the Jews refused to listen to the Savior.
In fact, Peter goes on to say, they did a lot more than simply refuse to receive God’s testimony concerning Jesus: “this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” (v. 23)
Two things should be should be emphasized here. First, Peter teaches that Jesus was “delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.” The word translated “delivered up” (ekdotos) means “to give over” or “to hand over” and it has particular significance in a context where an enemy is involved.
The idea here is that Jesus was not taken unaware; He wasn’t caught off guard by what happened. Peter teaches that God determined beforehand to send Jesus to the Jews and give Him over to them to do as they pleased. He was their Messiah and He came to them and this was what God ordained.
Second, Peter charges the Jews with the death of Jesus the Nazarene: “You nailed [Him] to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” Jesus came according to God’s appointment, according to God’s plan, but Peter does not make that fact the answer to the question “Why was Jesus killed in spite of God’s testimony through the miracles and signs and wonders?” The apostle clearly is charging the Jews with wrong-doing in the death of the Savior. They had Him crucified in spite of proof that He was their promised Messiah.
This was the ultimate act of covenant breaking and this is why Peter mentions this issue. We are at that point in history, as I said before, where God is preparing to expand redemption to include the Gentiles and, at the same time, bring a final judgment on the nation of Israel. Peter simply is declaring facts, facts that vindicate God as faithful, but prove the Jews to be unfaithful.
This brings us to the third part of Peter’s sermon, which is concerned with the resurrection and exaltation of Christ (vv. 24-36). I will not read all of these verses, instead, I’ll summarize the next few in which Peter quotes from David. You’ll notice, of course, that as soon as he charges the Jews with having put Jesus to death, Peter immediately declares that this same Savior was raised from the dead by God (v. 24).
Death could not hold Him, Peter says. This is where he quotes from Psa. 16 and puts the words of David in the mouth of the Messiah (vv. 25-28). The words of the Psalm are marked by gladness, hopefulness, and thanksgiving.
Don’t miss the point here: “You put Him to death,” Peter announces, “but God raised Him from the dead.” We hear and talk about the death and resurrection of the Savior so much that it becomes routine to us. But imagine what it sounded like the first time it was declared in a public arena. That’s what is going on here.
This is the first sermon from the apostles. This is the first sermon of the Church. And as Peter stands to speak, he says something that no one had ever said before. “Jesus came to you,” Peter cries, “and you refused His words and you rejected the testimony of God Himself and you had the Savior crucified. But you don’t know what happened. You don’t know what I am about to tell you. He is risen from the dead! Death could not hold Him!”
The Jews were hearing things that must have stunned them. They knew what Jesus claimed and they knew what happened to Him. Now Peter is telling them that this was the Messiah. Those words they had learned in their youth, those words about the One who was to come to deliver them, those words were written about Jesus the Nazarene. Those prophecies were about Him, not another, but Jesus the Nazarene.
When David wrote those words, Peter assures them, he wasn’t talking about himself (v. 29). David is dead and his bones are still in the tomb. David was a prophet, Peter states, and he spoke of One who would sit on his throne one day, just as God promised (v. 30). This One was Jesus the Nazarene. He was crucified, but He lives, Peter says. He was raised up by God, just like David predicted, and “we are all witnesses.” (vv. 31, 32)
This Jesus was not only raised from the dead, Peter announces, He also was “exalted to the right hand of God.” (v. 33) He means that Jesus, the One despised and rejected by the Jews, has been honored in the highest manner by God. Part of that honor, part of that recognition from the Father that He had accomplished His mission, was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Upon His return to heaven, Jesus was able to send His Spirit to care for His Church, as He had promised. “This is what you are seeing today,” Peter states.
The fact that the Spirit has come means that Jesus is on His throne and redemption is accomplished and all who love Him may rejoice, but all who hate Him are in trouble. Before He came to plead and was mistreated, but now He is exalted in the heavens and has sent the Spirit to equip His people to take His message to the far ends of the earth.
The enemies of Christ are doomed. They will become a footstool for His royal feet (v. 35). He has overcome the strongest enemy of all, death, and now there is no stopping Him as He makes region after region and nation after nation aware of His glorious gospel.
“Therefore,” Peter concludes, “let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” (v. 36) “The One whose word you would not heed is now your Ruler,” Peter says. “The One you would not have as a Deliverer is God’s Christ. You crucified Your Redeemer.”
For our application, I want to return to just one thing that I mentioned. I asked you to imagine what it must have sounded like the first time the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were declared publicly in that sermon from Peter. That message had never been preached before.
Now here we are so many centuries later and we know that this message has been preached not only a countless number of times, but throughout the whole earth. And we know what has happened as a result of this message—this simple message of Peter—being preached over and over again. The group in Jerusalem has grown from a few dozen to multiple millions who are alive right this moment, not to mention all those over the years who have heard this message, believed it, and died in Christ.
Peter’s message is the message of the Church. Jesus came and He died and God raised Him from the dead. This declaration is filled with powerful, earth-shaking implications. It’s this message and those implications that have shaped the world in which we live today.
What I want to stress to you is that Peter’s message still is the central message of the Church, considered collectively, and still is the central message of any faithful single congregation within that Body. The facts haven’t changed and, therefore, the message hasn’t changed. What God wanted Peter to preach on the Day of Pentecost is what God wants us to preach today. The words that rang out in the streets of Jerusalem that day are the words that should ring out in our streets today.
Preaching about the Christ, about His death, and His resurrection, along with all the implications of these truths, is what should concern us as a church. This message still is that which frees us from sin and this message is still that which brings restoration where sin has caused such separation and destruction.
Every Sunday, we conclude with the Lord’s Supper. Every Sunday, we are reminded of what is truly important in terms of our existence as a church. This sacrament tells us about our foundation, about our duty and about our hope. All that we are and all that we do is about Jesus Christ who died for sinners and was raised from the dead by God.
Matt. 26:26 While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”