Commentary on Acts 2 (Peter’s First Sermon)

As the crowd of Jews listens to the disciples of Jesus praise God in a dozen different languages, some of the crowd accuse the disciples of being drunk. Peter then stands up, with the eleven, and begins to explain to the crowd what exactly is happening.

Peter calls out to the crowd to listen carefully to what he is about to say. As it is only 9 am, the accusation of drunkenness is nonsensical. Instead, what the crowd is witnessing was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel. Peter then quotes Joel 2:28-32, where God promises that He will pour out His spirit on all of Israel – men, women, sons, daughters, and even slaves. The reason that the disciples of Jesus are miraculously able to speak in foreign languages, proclaiming the glory of God to the assembled crowds in Jerusalem, is because God has poured out the Holy Spirit on them.

Joel’s prophecy indicated that the pouring out of the Spirit would occur before God would bring judgment on the world for her sins. That judgment day is known as the “day of the Lord.” Those who are proclaimed not guilty before God on judgment day would then populate the ensuing messianic kingdom.

Peter is telling the crowd that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit has initiated the “last days.” The clock has started ticking on the “last days.” At the end of the last days, God will come in judgment, and then the messianic kingdom will begin. Joel 2:30-31 (cited in Acts 2:19-20) refers to the future cosmic signs that will manifestly herald the day of the Lord. Pay close attention to Acts 2:21 where Peter, quoting Joel, reminds the crowd that only those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved from God’s judgment and enter the messianic kingdom. More on this later.

Now that Peter has explained that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on Jesus’ disciples, Peter quickly moves to the person of Jesus. First, Peter reminds the crowd that they all witnessed for themselves the public miracles that Jesus performed. These miracles were the evidence that Jesus was commissioned by God.

Jesus was killed by the Jewish leadership, Pilate, and indirectly Herod. The Jews in Jerusalem who shouted for him to be crucified by Pilate were also culpable. It is likely that many of those Jews were standing in the crowd listening to Peter. Jesus’ death was not a surprise to God, but was part of God’s plan all along. What was also part of God’s plan was to raise Jesus from the dead, and that is exactly what He did.

Peter then quotes Psalm 16:8-11, where David is speaking of a person who would not be abandoned to Hades (death) and whose body would not see corruption. It was commonly thought in first century Palestine that David was talking about himself in Psalm 16, but Peter offers a corrective.

Peter argues that David did not escape Hades because his body is still in the tomb where he was buried one thousand years prior. David’s tomb was located in Jerusalem and was well-known by all who lived there. So, Psalm 16 could not be talking about David. Instead, David, when he was prophetically writing Psalm 16, was writing about his descendant, the Messiah, who was promised to David in 2 Samuel 7.

So who did escape Hades? Whose body did not see corruption? Jesus of Nazareth. The disciples of Jesus, Peter argues, were eyewitnesses of his bodily resurrection, so Jesus must be the Messiah whom David wrote about in Psalm 16.

This same Jesus, whom Peter has shown is the promised Messiah, is also Lord. Peter tells the crowd that Jesus ascended into heaven and was exalted to a unique position of power at the right hand of God the Father. Jesus then sent the Holy Spirit, as promised by the Father, to his followers on that very day.

Peter notes that David never ascended to heaven, but instead wrote about someone who would be given all authority by God the Father in Psalm 110:1: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” The Lord to whom David refers in this Psalm is none other than Jesus of Nazareth. Not only is Jesus Messiah, but Jesus is also Lord.

Psalm 110:1 is the most cited Old Testament verse by New Testament writers. John Polhill, in Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary, explains that

Psalm 110:1 was a favorite text for the early church. According to Mark 12:35–37, it was first used of the Messiah by Jesus himself to attack the usual political understanding of a Davidic Messiah. It reappears throughout the New Testament, in 1 Cor 15:25; Heb 1:13; 10:13 and with strong allusions in Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20, 22; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22. Originally it may have been an enthronement psalm acknowledging the earthly king as God’s representative. For the early Christians it became the basis for the affirmation that Jesus has been exalted to God’s right hand. For Peter it served as a natural transition from the confession of Jesus as Messiah, the dominant concept to this point, to the ultimate confession that Jesus is Lord.

The climax of Peter’s sermon is verse 36: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Clinton Arnold writes, in John, Acts: Volume Two (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary): “As Messiah, he is the fulfillment of Israel’s expectations for a descendant of David to come and sit on the throne. As Lord, Jesus is at the right hand of God and is the sovereign.”

Remember that Peter cited Joel, who said that those who call on the name of the Lord would be saved from God’s judgment. All Jews had understood the Lord to be God the Father. Peter has now argued that the Lord, the name to be called upon, is instead Jesus. Jesus has the same authority as God the Father!

Thousands of people in the crowd are shocked into the reality of their guilt before God. They have been a party to the murder of the Lord and Messiah, the one who was sent by God Himself, the One who is God. The crowd asks Peter and apostles what they are to do?

Peter responds with a four-part answer that would be become the basis for all conversions to Christianity: 1) repentance, 2) baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, 3) forgiveness of sins, and 4) receipt of the Spirit. John Polhill warns, however, that we are not to read this four-part answer as a mechanistic pattern:

These four generally form a single complex throughout Luke-Acts. They are the normative ingredients of conversion. There is no set, mechanistic pattern by which the various components come into play, particularly baptism and the receipt of the Spirit. The connection of the Spirit with baptism is depicted in various sequences through Acts. Here the Spirit seems to be promised immediately following or as a concomitant of baptism, whereas in 10:44–48 the coming of the Spirit seems to have preceded water baptism. The Ethiopian eunuch was baptized, but receipt of the Spirit was not mentioned (8:38), though his resulting joy was a gift of the Spirit. Baptism and the gift of the Spirit are separated by some interval of time for the Samaritans (8:12, 17). The disciples of John at Ephesus were rebaptized and immediately received the Spirit (19:5–6). The Spirit cannot be tied down to a set pattern. Clearly, however, both baptism and receipt of the Spirit are normative to the experience of becoming a Christian believer.

Repentance is the critical first step to conversion, for without repentance a person is not saved. Clinton Arnold explains what repentance is:

Repentance (metanoia) involves primarily a radical change in a person’s central affections, convictions, and life direction. It signifies a recognition that one’s life has been oriented around self and sinful pursuits and an embracing of God’s will and priorities. The call to repent is a continuation of Jesus’ own ministry introduced by John the Baptist with his call to repentance (Luke 3:3) and repeatedly urged by Jesus himself in his earthly ministry (Luke 13:3, 5; 24:47).

Peter also adds that this four-fold pattern applies to future generations and to anyone whom God calls from that day forward. As the church spread in the early years, this would even come to include Gentiles. This conversion process was to become universal across time and place.

Luke records that Peter’s sermon included many more words of exhortation, but Luke’s purpose – capturing the highlights of the address – has been accomplished. Peter’s first sermon attracts three thousand souls to Jesus. When Jesus told the disciples they would do greater works than him, this is exactly the kind of thing to which he was referring!

Darrell Bock, in , summarizes the importance of Peter’s Pentecost sermon:

The speech thus shows how God’s activity through Jesus stands at the core of the Christian message. Jesus’s resurrection means far more than merely that there is life after death. It is a vindication of Jesus’s life and mission, a demonstration that Jesus lives and still rules, and a reflection that Jesus is a unique person, sharing the precious presence and glory of God in a unique way. Christ’s death led to Christ’s victory and rule (Fernando 1998: 108–9). The reality of the resurrection transformed the apostles from those who were timid to those who were bold to share Jesus with others. Peter also makes clear that the sin of rejecting God’s unique messenger stands at the base of why Jesus had to die and that forgiveness and the Spirit are what the gospel offers, as the next unit will show. The Spirit’s central place in the promise of God also is highlighted here. The Spirit is the evidence that Jesus is raised and reigns with God. The believer’s changed life is a testimony to Jesus’s current activity in the world and enables the mission. So God works through the Son and gives the Spirit. Undergirding the salvation message is the united work of Father, Son, and Spirit.