In our last essay we began a study of 2:1-8:1a, which is a record of the disciples’ witness in Jerusalem. It also can be characterized as a series of firsts for the Church. We specifically studied Acts 2:1-13, in which Luke recorded the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In this essay we are studying 2:14-47, which includes a speech or sermon by the apostle Peter (vv. 14-36), a report on the response to the sermon (vv. 37-42), and a report on the life among the believers in those early days (vv. 43-47). Some scholars call the sermons in Acts speeches. I will refer to them as sermons. In terms of the series of firsts, this is the first recorded Christian sermon. In terms of the disciples’ witness in Jerusalem, the sermon explains the event of the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost and provides an example of the early apostolic preaching.
As we have seen, the speaking in tongues had attracted a large crowd. So Peter stood and addressed them. But before we look at Peter’s sermon, let me say a few words in general about the sermons in Acts. Scholars have debated whether or not the sermons actually represent what was said on the occasions mentioned, and there have been three views. First, some have asserted that the speeches literally represent what was said, though not many, if any, would make that argument today. The sermons are much too short, and Luke did not hear the sermons himself. Second, radical critics argue that the sermons are not historical at all. Rather Luke made them up. The third view, which in my opinion is the best, is to believe that the sermons represent accurate summaries of what was said on each occasion.
Peter begins his sermon by denying that the 120 were drunk, as some had accused. It was only the third hour of the day (about 9:00 AM) and Jews who rarely got drunk anyway would not be drunk at that hour. Then Peter explains that what they were seeing was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel, and he quotes Joel 2:28-32a.
Joel’s prophecy was about the end time. He had predicted that in the end time God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh, that his sons and daughters, and even his slaves, would prophesy, that young and old men would see visions and dream dreams, and there would be signs in the heavens. Peter in his sermon was declaring that the end times had come and that what they were seeing was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy.
Of course the outpouring of the Spirit on 120 Jews did not constitute an outpouring on all flesh. Peter at this point had no idea about the coming Gentile mission. He probably was thinking that “all flesh” meant all Jews. Even from that perspective, Pentecost represented only the beginning of the outpouring. But it was clear to Peter that the end times had come.
Notice that verse 21 represents a great Old Testament anticipation of the gospel message. It reads, quote, “Then [meaning in the end times] everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” First, we see that the invitation is to everyone. It is a universal salvation that is offered. Second, the condition is to call on the name of the Lord. Joel had no idea the “Lord” to be called on would be Jesus, but he got the process right anyway. And third, the result of calling on the name of the Lord is salvation.
In verses 22-24, as Peter continues his sermon, he proclaims Jesus to be Messiah and Lord by outlining the earthly ministry of Jesus. First God attested Jesus as Messiah by “deeds of power,” which refers to Jesus’ miracles. And those “wonders” were “signs,” meaning Messianic signs (v. 22). They demonstrated that Jesus was the messiah.
Then second, Peter accuses his listeners of crucifying Jesus, the Messiah. Notice that Peter considered the crucifixion to be “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” Yet that did not remove his listeners’ culpability, or blameworthiness. They were responsible, because they had instigated Jesus’ death by manipulating “those outside the law,” meaning the Romans, into crucifying the Lord (v. 23).
Third, Peter proclaims that God raised Jesus from the dead. Death could not hold him against the will of God (v. 24). It is quite appropriate that we find this first instance in the New Testament of preaching Jesus’ resurrection in the first recorded Christian sermon.
As you see, in verses 25-28 Peter, at this point in his sermon, quotes Ps. 16:8-11 to support, and indeed confirm, his claims about Jesus. Peter interprets David in Psalm 16 as speaking prophetically about Jesus, rather than about himself. Peter argues that David could not have been speaking about himself, because no one would argue that David escaped the grave (sheol in Hebrew). The NRSV translates it “Hades,” which is the Greek term (v. 27).
Peter’s proof that David did not escape Sheol and decay was that David not only had died, he had been buried, and David’s tomb could be visited (v. 29). Indeed one still can visit David’s tomb. Peter then went on to say in verses 30-31 that God had sworn an oath to David that one of his descendents would come to David’s throne, and that David’s reference to one who would escape sheol and whose body would not see corruption, was a prophetic reference to the resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah. Then Peter declares that God did raise Jesus, just as David had predicted. Moreover the 120 whom they saw speaking in other languages were witnesses of that fact (v. 32).
Next, in verse 33, Peter claims that the risen and ascended Jesus, who had received the Holy Spirit from the Father, poured out that same Spirit on the 120. And Peter tops off his argument with another prophetic quotation from David, this time from Ps. 110:1. It reads, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’”
The argument here is similar to that already made with Ps. 16. David not only was not preserved from decay by resurrection (Ps. 16), he did not ascend into heaven (Ps. 110). Thus the prophetic reference in Ps. 110 was not to David, but to the Messiah. “The Lord,” who is God the Father, “said to my Lord’ that is, David’s Lord, the Messiah, “Sit at my right hand,” meaning in heaven, “until I make your enemies,” that is, the Messiah’s enemies, “your footstool.” The image of making one’s enemies a footstool may refer to the ancient custom of placing one’s foot on the neck of a conquered foe (see Josh. 10:23-25). At any rate, it was Jesus who fulfilled that messianic prophecy. Then in verse 36 Peter concludes his sermon by announcing that God has made Jesus “Lord and Messiah.”
In verses 37-47, we see the response to Peter’s sermon (vv. 37-42) and we see what life among those early believers was like. Notice in verse 37 that the hearers were so convicted by the Spirit, they responded by asking, “Brothers, what must we do?” Peter replied that they must repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus. If they did that, their sins would be forgiven and they would receive the gift of the holy Spirit. Of course the command to repent includes a call to believe. In the New Testament, repentance and faith always go together. And in this case, they obviously did believe, because they are called “believers” in verse 44.
Three thousand answered the call that day. They repented and believed, and they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Under the Old Covenant, it was rare for the Holy Spirit to indwell people. Under the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit indwells every believer.
The water baptism we see here differs from John the Baptist’s water baptism. John’s baptism symbolized repentance from sin only. Christian baptism, which is baptism in the name of Jesus, symbolizes not only repentance from sin, but also the infilling (or baptism) of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus himself said, as recorded in Acts 1:5, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Notice in verse 39 that Peter extended the promise of the Holy Spirit to those “far away.” He probably was not completely aware of what he was saying. He may have had in mind following generations of Jews, but I doubt at that point Peter envisioned that Gentiles would be so blessed.
Notice also in verse 42 that the believers formed a disciplined community by devoting themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to breaking bread, which would have including the Lord’s Supper, and prayers, which would have included both their community prayers and temple prayers.
Finally, in verses 43-47 Luke adds some details of what life among the believers in those early days was like. They lived in awe of the wonders and signs that God was doing through the apostles (v. 43). They spent much time together (v. 44). They had all things in common (vv. 44-45). When physical needs arose in the community, others would sell personal property to raise the money to met those needs. They spent much time together in the temple (v. 46). They ate together in their homes (v. 46). They praised God together (v. 47). And they had the favor of the people (v. 47).