12 All were astounded and greatly confused, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others jeered at the speakers, saying, “They are drunk on new wine!”
14 But Peter stood up with the eleven, raised his voice, and addressed them: “You men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, know this and listen carefully to what I say. 15 In spite of what you think, these men are not drunk, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 But this is what was spoken about through the prophet Joel:
17 ‘And in the last days it will be,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 And I will perform wonders in the sky above and miraculous signs on the earth below, blood and fire and clouds of smoke. 20 The sun will be changed to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and glorious day of the Lord comes. 21 And then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’1
25 For David says about him, ‘I saw the Lord always in front of me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced; my body also will live in hope, 27 because you will not leave my soul in Hades, nor permit your Holy One to experience decay. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of joy with your presence.’
29 “Brothers, I can speak confidently to you about our forefather David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 So then, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, 31 David by foreseeing this spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did his body experience decay. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend into heaven, but he himself says,
‘The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at my right hand 35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’
36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.”
I’ve mentioned my “five minute rule” in the past, but I’ll repeat it for those who may not have heard it previously. Even before I attended seminary, I had set a high standard for the preaching of others. I expected the preacher to get to his text promptly. What I often experienced was that the Scripture text was read and then never mentioned again. I found that some preachers had a dominant theme to which they retreated every Sunday. No matter what the text, the old theme arose week after week. In self defense, I established my “five minute rule” – once he began to preach, I gave the preacher five minutes to get to his text. If he did not promptly get to the Scripture text, I would start reading the Scriptures for myself.
As I was studying Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2, I was almost tempted to think that Peter had violated the “five minute rule.” It wasn’t too long before I realized that Peter did not cite from Joel 2, never return to his text. His sermon is all about this text, as I hope to show in this message. Let us remember that this sermon was delivered by a divinely-energized Peter, who now boldly warns those who several weeks earlier had taken part in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. He warns them that the day of divine judgment is near, and yet he gives hope because there is still an opportunity for repentance, salvation, and divine blessing. Let us listen well to these words, bearing in mind that thousands came to faith through this sermon.
Acts 1 began with the report that Jesus not only rose from the dead, but that He appeared to His disciples and others for a period of forty days, during which He taught them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:1-3). Jesus instructed His disciples not to leave Jerusalem until after they had been endued with power by the Holy Spirit, according to what John the Baptist had indicated in his preaching (Acts 1:4-5). The disciples pressed Jesus regarding the exact timing of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel but Jesus refused to supply this information, insisting instead that they were to be empowered to be His witnesses, beginning in Jerusalem and spreading from there to all Judea, Samaria, and the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:6-8). After this, Jesus was taken up into heaven, and the disciples returned to Jerusalem where they spent much time together in prayer, waiting for the promised Spirit. It was during this time that Matthias was selected as the twelfth apostle (Acts 1:9-26).
The Day of Pentecost arrived when the small company of believers3 were gathered together in one place. It was then that the Holy Spirit came upon them in a powerful and dramatic way. The accompanying sound from heaven attracted a large crowd, many of whom were devoutly religious. A large number of them had come from distant lands to reside in Jerusalem (to be there when Messiah appeared?). These Hellenistic Jews heard the mighty works of God proclaimed in their own native tongue. The sincere among this crowd wanted to know the meaning of what they heard, while others merely mocked, attributing what they heard to excessive drinking (Acts 2:12). This lesson takes up as Peter stands to address this crowd, boldly proclaiming Jesus as both Lord and Christ.
Peter promptly brushed aside the mocking explanation that those speaking in tongues were drunk. He simply replied, “It is too early in the morning for that!” Folks didn’t start drinking that early in the morning, and so the charge was seen to be senseless.
The explanation of Pentecost, Peter declared, was to be found in the Old Testament Book of Joel. And so he cites Joel 2:28-32, with only a few slight modifications:
17 “‘And in the last days it will be,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 And I will perform wonders in the sky above and miraculous signs on the earth below, blood and fire and clouds of smoke. 20 The sun will be changed to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and glorious day of the Lord comes. 21 And then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Acts 2:17-21).
28 After all of this I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your elderly will have revelatory dreams; your young men will see prophetic visions. 29 Even on male and female servants I will pour out my Spirit in those days. 30 I will produce portents both in the sky and on the earth— blood, fire, and columns of smoke. 31 The sunlight will be turned to darkness and the moon to the color of blood, before the day of the Lord comes— that great and terrible day! 32 It will so happen that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered. For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who survive, just as the Lord has promised; the remnant will be those whom the Lord will call (Joel 2:28-32).
In some ways, the Book of Joel was an ideal text for Peter to cite. It was a distinctly Jewish book, addressed to those Jews dwelling in Israel, and particularly those in Jerusalem.4 It was a book that seemingly made no direct reference to the salvation of Gentiles. It spoke of the “day of the Lord” and called Jews to repentance, with the hope that God would be merciful and restore Israel to God’s blessings.
On the other hand, the Book of Joel might have appeared to some as shockingly inappropriate for this occasion. We would do well to recall that Peter’s sermon was delivered on the day of the Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost was a festive and joyful celebration of the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest. Joel’s prophecy might not have come to mind at such a time of celebration. The first chapter of Joel describes a devastating sequence of plagues of locusts, which stripped the land of Israel of all its food crops. There was no harvest of barley or of wheat:
9 No one brings grain offerings or drink offerings to the temple of the Lord anymore. So the priests, those who serve the Lord, are in mourning. 10 The crops of the fields have been destroyed. The ground is in mourning because the grain has perished. The fresh wine has dried up; the olive oil languishes. 11 Be distressed, farmers; wail, wine dressers, over the wheat and the barley. For the harvest of the field has perished (Joel 1:9-11).
While the apostles were accused of being “full of sweet wine” (Acts 2:13, Greek text), Joel speaks of the absence of wine, so much so that normal sacrifices were impossible:
5 Awake, you drunkards, and weep! Wail, all you wine drinkers, over the sweet wine because it has been taken away from you. . . . 13 Get dressed and lament, you priests! Wail, you who minister at the altar! Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you servants of my God, because no one brings grain offerings or drink offerings to the temple of your God anymore (Joel 1:5, 13).
Since Peter chooses to cite from the middle of the Book of Joel, it would be wise to briefly look at the message of the entire book, in order to gain insight into the portion of Joel that Peter has chosen to quote. I believe that the book falls into three major sections:
Section one: The Literal Locust Plague (Joel 1:1-20)
Section two: The Locust Plague as a prototype of Israel’s Future Judgment (Joel 2:1-27)
Section three: The Day of the Lord as Divine Blessings on the Jews and Judgment on Unbelieving Gentiles (Joel 2:28—3:21)
The division of sections two and three may seem somewhat arbitrary because of the chapter divisions in our English Bibles. It is worth noting that the three sections I have suggested follow the chapter divisions of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament – the version of the Old Testament frequently cited by the New Testament writers).5
Joel 1 describes a literal locust plague. As I understand verse 4, it was actually a sequence of locust attacks, the end result of which was that Israel was left a barren wasteland, that was finally consumed with fire (Joel 1:19-20). This devastation was greater than any Israel had experienced up to this point in time:
2 Listen to this, you elders, and pay attention, all inhabitants of the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your whole life or in the lifetime of your ancestors? 3 Tell your children about it, and have your children tell their children, and their children the following generation (Joel 1:2-3, emphasis mine).
Such a plague should not come as a great surprise. We should remember that one of the judgments God brought upon Egypt was a locust plague:
12 And the Lord said to Moses, “Extend your hand over the land of Egypt for the locusts, that they may come up over the land of Egypt and eat everything that grows in the ground, all that the hail has left.” 13 So Moses extended his rod over the land of Egypt, and then the Lord brought an east wind on the land all that day and all night. The morning came, and the east wind had brought up the locusts! 14 The locusts went up over all the land of Egypt and settled down in all the territory of Egypt. It was very severe; there had been no locusts like them before, nor will there be such ever again.6 15 They covered the surface of all the ground, so that the ground became dark, and they ate all the vegetation of the ground and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Nothing green remained on the trees or on anything that grew in the fields throughout all the land of Egypt (Exodus 10:12-15).
When God made His covenant with Israel, He warned that if Israel disregarded His covenant He would bring the plagues of Egypt upon her:
58 “If you refuse to obey all the words of this law, the things written in this scroll, and refuse to fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God, 59 then the Lord will increase your punishments and those of your descendants—great and long-lasting afflictions and severe, enduring illnesses. 60 He will infect you with all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded, and they will persistently afflict you. 61 Moreover, the Lord will bring upon you every kind of sickness and plague not mentioned in this scroll of commandments until you have perished (Deuteronomy 28:58-61; see also 29:18-28).
Therefore, the plague of locusts was an indication of great sin on the part of Israel, and thus also of divine indignation on the part of God. This was to serve as a warning that the “day of the Lord” was near:
Joel therefore calls upon the nation, and particularly its leaders, to repent and to plead for mercy.
13 Get dressed and lament, you priests! Wail, you who minister at the altar! Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you servants of my God, because no one brings grain offerings or drink offerings to the temple of your God anymore. 14 Announce a holy fast; proclaim a sacred assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the temple of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord (Joel 1:13-14).
Chapter 2 (Joel 2:1-27) continues the theme of the locust plague, but in my opinion there is a double reference here. I see this kind of double reference frequently in biblical prophecy. Thus David can speak of his own sufferings, and yet be describing the sufferings of Messiah as well (Psalm 22). Likewise (in Peter’s sermon), we find David describing his future hope of resurrection, but going beyond this to describe the resurrection of Messiah (Psalm 16:8-10; Acts 2:25-27). Perhaps the double reference is most apparent in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28, where human kings are rebuked, yet they are described in Satan-like terms. Let me illustrate from Ezekiel 28:
11 The word of the Lord came to me: 12 “Son of man, lament for the king of Tyre, and say to him, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“‘You were the signet ring of perfection,
full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden, the garden of God.
Every precious stone was your covering,
the ruby, topaz, and diamond,
the beryl, onyx, and jasper,
the sapphire, turquoise, and emerald;
your settings and engravings were made of gold.
On the day you were created they were prepared.
14 I placed you there with an anointed guardian cherub;
you were on the holy mountain of God;
you walked in the midst the stones of fire.
15 You were blameless in your behavior
from the day you were created,
until sin was discovered in you.
16 In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence, and you
so I defiled you and banished you from the mountain of God,
the guardian cherub expelled you from the midst of the stones of fire.
17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
you perverted your wisdom on account of your splendor.
I threw you down to the ground;
I placed you before kings, that they might see you.
18 By the multitude of your iniquities,
through the sinfulness of your trade,
you desecrated your sanctuaries.
So I brought out fire from within you;
it consumed you,
and I turned you to ashes on the earth
before the eyes of all who saw you.
19 All who know you among the peoples are shocked at you;
you have become terrified and will be no more’”
(Ezekiel 28:11-19; see also Isaiah 14:4-14).
This lament is for the “king of Tyre” (verse 12), but some of the descriptions cannot be of an earthly king. Instead, Satan is described. The point of this is that the king of Tyre manifests the same character flaws that characterize Satan himself. Or, to put it differently, Satan is behind many of the evils that take place at the hands of heathen kings.
The same kind of things seems to be taking place in the Book of Joel. On the one hand, Joel continues the imagery of the literal locust plague of chapter one, but the plague in chapter two is worse than the plague Israel experienced in chapter one. In chapter one, the plague was the worst the Jews had yet seen (Joel 1:2); in chapter two, the plague is the worst plague that will ever be for many generations:
It will be a day of dreadful darkness, a day of foreboding storm-clouds, like blackness spread over the mountains. It is a huge and powerful army— there has never been anything like it ever before, and there will not be anything like it for many generations to come! (Joel 2:2, emphasis mine)
As Joel indicates (Joel 2:2), this plague will be accompanied by cosmic events that are associated with the “day of the Lord”:
The earth quakes before them; the sky reverberates. The sun and the moon grow dark; the stars refuse to shine (Joel 2:10).
This sounds very much like the description of the “day of the Lord” elsewhere, such as in Isaiah 13:
9 Look, the Lord’s day of judgment is coming; it is a day of cruelty and savage, raging anger, destroying the earth and annihilating its sinners. 10 Indeed the stars in the sky and their constellations no longer shine; the sun is darkened as soon as it rises, and the moon does not shine. 11 I will punish the world for its evil, and wicked people for their sin. I will put an end to the pride of the insolent, I will bring down the arrogance of tyrants. 12 I will make human beings more scarce than pure gold, and people more scarce than gold from Ophir. 13 So I will shake the heavens, and the earth will shake loose from its foundation, because of the fury of the Lord who leads armies, in the day he vents his raging anger (Isaiah 13:9-13).
Joel’s description of some of the phenomena of the “day of the Lord” also sounds strikingly similar to some of the supernatural events at the time of our Lord’s death at Calvary (see Matthew 27:50-54; Luke 23:44-48).
In Joel 2, Israel is once again called to repentance, with the hope of finding mercy and compassion:
12 “Yet even now,” the Lord says, “return to me with all your heart— with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Tear your hearts, not just your garments!” 13 Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and boundless in loyal love— often relenting from calamitous punishment (Joel 2:12-13).
Joel ends this section by assuring his Jewish readers that their repentance will bring defeat for Israel’s foes and showers of blessing for the people of God:
23 Citizens of Zion, rejoice! Be glad because of what the Lord your God has done! For he has given to you the early rains as vindication. He has sent to you the rains— both the early and the late rains as formerly. 24 The threshing floors are full of grain; the vats overflow with fresh wine and olive oil. 25 I will make up for the years that the ‘arbeh-locust consumed your crops— the yeleq-locust, the hasil-locust, and the gazam-locust— my great army, that I sent against you. 26 You will have plenty to eat, and your hunger will be fully satisfied; you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has acted wondrously in your behalf. My people will never again be put to shame. 27 You will be convinced that I am in the midst of Israel. I am the Lord your God; there is no other. My people will never again be put to shame (Joel 2:23-27, see also verses 18-22).
The third section begins with the text that Peter cited at the beginning of his sermon at Pentecost. It is a three-part promise. First, it is a promise that God will send His Spirit upon His people as the time of Israel’s restoration and blessing draws near (Joel 2:28-29). Second, it is a promise that judgments of the “day of the Lord” will be preceded by miraculous cosmic phenomena (Joel 2:30-31). Third, is the assurance that all those who call upon the name of the Lord for salvation will be saved (Joel 2:32a). The remainder of this section is a description of God’s wrath that is poured out in the “day of the Lord” upon those who have mistreated the Jews (Joel 3:1-17), as well as a depiction of the outpouring of divine blessings on Judah and Jerusalem (Joel 3:18-21).
From this background, let us seek to learn how Peter uses Joel 2:28-32 to explain the meaning of the miraculous events that have just occurred in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. Peter said it in a very few words: “This is what was spoken about through the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16). The question he must answer in his sermon then is, “What was spoken about through the prophet Joel?”
Peter first lays the death of the Lord Jesus at the feet of his audience. They, along with the Gentiles who participated in the execution of Jesus, were responsible for His death. Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus claimed to be acting on behalf of His Father in Heaven:
“I can do nothing on my own initiative. Just as I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me” (John 5:30).
Then Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak just what the Father taught me” (John 8:28).
Jesus replied, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come from God and am now here. I have not come on my own initiative, but he sent me” (John 8:42).
“For I have not spoken from my own authority, but the Father himself who sent me has commanded me what I should say and what I should speak” (John 12:49).
“Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds” (John 14:10).
It was this claim which prompted such a strong reaction from those who opposed Jesus:
17 So he told them, “My Father is working until now, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason the Jewish leaders were trying even harder to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was also calling God his own Father, thus making himself equal with God (John 5:17-18).
The Jews persisted in demanding signs from Jesus, to justify His claims, and Jesus declared that His resurrection would be the ultimate and final sign:
38 Then some of the experts in the law along with some Pharisees answered him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights” (Matthew 12:38-40).
Peter therefore declares that God the Father was intimately involved in the ministry of the Lord Jesus. While human hands were sinfully involved in the death of Jesus, His death was the sovereign plan and purpose of God from eternity past:
This man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles (Acts 2:23).
The ministry of Jesus the Nazarene was attested by God the Father to be of divine origin. Those who stood before Peter witnessed some of these attesting signs:
“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know (Acts 2:22).
His coming was in the divine plan, and His ministry was divinely empowered and attested. His death was part of God’s eternal purpose, even though sinful men played a role in it. And when Jesus was put to death, God raised Him from the dead, a vindication of His claim to be the promised Messiah.
These things were prophesied in the Old Testament. David himself prophesied concerning the resurrection of the Messiah:
25 For David says about him,
‘I saw the Lord always in front of me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced;
my body also will live in hope,
27 because you will not leave my soul in Hades,
nor permit your Holy One to experience decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of joy with your presence’” (Acts 2:25-28).
This psalm is one of David’s dual-layer psalms. On the one hand, it expresses his hope and assurance of eternal life.9 On the other hand, it goes beyond David, to someone greater than he, namely his Son, the Messiah. Verse 27 goes beyond anything David can claim for himself. He dare not refer to himself as God’s “Holy One.” Neither dare he claim that his body will avoid decay in the tomb.
This is exactly the point Peter is making in verses 29-32:
29 “Brothers, I can speak confidently to you about our forefather David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 So then, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, 31 David by foreseeing this spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did his body experience decay. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it” (Acts 2:29-32).
Peter might even have gestured in the direction of David’s tomb there in Jerusalem as he reminded his audience that David had died, and that his tomb was in their midst. Who would doubt that David’s body had suffered corruption and decay in that tomb? No, David had to be speaking of someone other than himself when he claimed that God’s Holy One would not see corruption. David was speaking as a prophet here, and he was speaking of his descendant, the Christ. David was foretelling the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His tomb was there in (or just outside) Jerusalem, but unlike David’s tomb, the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth was empty. His body did not see decay. God raised Jesus from the dead, and the apostles were all witnesses of this fact. As Luke has already informed us in chapter one, the resurrected Jesus appeared to His followers for forty days, until He was taken up into heaven. They had seen Jesus alive from the dead less than two weeks earlier!
Peter now forcefully draws his sermon to a close:
33 So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend into heaven, but he himself says,
‘The Lord said to my lord,
“Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’
36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:33-36).
Peter has brought us full circle, and we are once again at the events surrounding the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost. Jesus had instructed His apostles to remain in Jerusalem until they received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father:
4 While he was with them, he declared, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait there for what my Father promised, which you heard about from me. 5 For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6 So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He told them, “You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth” (Acts 1:4-8).
Pentecost did come, as described in Acts 2:1-11, and the devout Jews who witnessed these events asked what they meant. Peter now tells them that these events signaled the coming of the Holy Spirit, as the Father promised, and as Jesus told His apostles. The sending of the Spirit could only come after, and as a result of, the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. This is clearly the teaching of our Lord and the apostles:
37 On the last day of the feast, the greatest day, Jesus stood up and shouted out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and 38 let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 (Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.) (John 7:37-39)
It is also the teaching of the Apostle Paul:
7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he captured captives; he gave gifts to men.” 9 Now what is the meaning of “he ascended,” except that he also descended to the lower regions, namely, the earth? 10 He, the very one who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things (Ephesians 4:7-10).
Peter is very clear in what he is saying here in verses 33-36, and the implications are staggering. He claims that the spectacular arrival of the Spirit is the doing of our Lord Jesus:
“So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear” (Acts 2:33, emphasis mine).
We must recognize that “he” in verse 33 refers to our Lord Jesus. In verses 34-35, Peter will insist that it was not David who ascended into heaven, but Jesus. And in verse 33, Peter is emphatic that the One who has poured out the Spirit is Jesus. The promise of the Father was received by Jesus, and then poured out by Him. Now I believe that the Scriptures are clear on this fact. The Father is surely involved in this but Jesus is the One who, having been glorified and exalted at the Father’s right hand, bestows the Spirit on the church:
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me” (John 15:26, emphasis mine).
“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7; emphasis mine).10
Peter makes certain that his audience understands that here, as before (in verses 25-31), David was not speaking of himself, but rather of the Christ. David did not ascend into heaven, and the One of whom he was speaking was his “lord” (“my lord,” verse 34). God the Father said to Him, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet” (Acts 2:34b-35).
Not only did God raise Jesus from the dead, He seated Him at His right hand to wait until He made Messiah’s enemies a “footstool for His feet.” It doesn’t take a great deal of thought to figure out who would be included among those enemies who were destined to become footstools. Surely Christ’s enemies would include those who had heard Him, had observed His miracles, had rejected Him, and had taken part in His execution.
All Israel needed to know that God had made Jesus the Nazarene both Lord and Christ. But what is the meaning of this? What is the difference between being “Lord” and being the “Christ”? To be “the Christ” was to be the Messiah, the anointed One who would suffer and die for the sins of men. This was the substance of Peter’s great confession:
15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15-16).
What, then, did it mean for Jesus to be Lord? The word used here for “Lord” was the Greek word often employed in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word for Yahweh. To be “Lord,” then, was to be God. Jesus was the Christ, but He was also God. This term also conveys the idea of control and authority. When the Father puts all of the enemies of Christ under His feet, He will be honored as the One with all authority and power.
I believe that we see both aspects of our Lord’s identity as Lord and as the Christ (in the opposite order) in Philippians 2:
5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death —even death on a cross! 9 As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow —in heaven and on earth and under the earth— 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).11
Now consider how all this explains Pentecost. Jesus of Nazareth had an earthly ministry that was authenticated by God the Father, by means of His miraculous deeds. The Jews in Jerusalem rejected Him as their Messiah and took part in the conspiracy which resulted in His death. (Granted, they did this with the help of Gentiles; see Acts 2:23.) They rejected Jesus as a fraud, and as one guilty of blasphemy, because He made Himself equal with God (John 5:18; 19:7). God raised Him from the dead because corruption could not overtake the Son of God, and because Old Testament prophecies promised that He would rise from the dead. Jesus was the first-born from the dead, the first fruits, if you would, of the resurrection. Fifty days after the presentation of the first fruits the feast of Pentecost is celebrated, a feast that celebrates the completion of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest. Fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus, He pours the Spirit out on the believers and a harvest of souls will be won, the beginning of a new harvest which will include Gentiles. The outpouring of the Spirit on the few followers of Jesus shows that He has identified with them and with their message.
According to the prophet Joel, the outpouring of the Spirit signaled the nearness of the “day of the Lord.” This was not only a day of restoration for Israel, it was a day of judgment on all those who had mistreated His people. If God would deal severely with Gentile pagans for their mistreatment of His people (as indicated in Joel 3), how much more severely would He deal with those Jews who had personally observed the life and ministry of Jesus, and then took part in His crucifixion? The “day of the Lord” was near, and they were the ones who most deserved the judgment it would bring!12
What did “these things” (pertaining to Pentecost) mean? They meant that both judgment and blessing were near. And the key to both was Him whom God had declared both Lord and Christ. The key to judgment or blessing was Jesus, the Nazarene, whom they had rejected and crucified. No wonder those in the audience would ask, “What should we do, brothers?” (Acts 2:37b)
Gratefully, there is hope for Peter’s audience, and that hope is the message of the gospel, the good news. Peter will explain this hope in the next few verses, which we shall take up in our next lesson. For now let us consider some of the lessons for us from this sermon.
First, let us take note of the serious consequences of rejecting Jesus as Lord and Christ. Those whom Peter addressed were Jews,13 many of whom were devout Jews,14 but they had also joined with those who called for the crucifixion of Jesus.15 Peter warned these Jews that the day of God’s wrath was near and that they would be the objects of that wrath. Just as Joel spoke of Gentiles enduring the wrath of God (chapter 3), so Peter warned his Jewish audience about this same wrath. God does not show partiality. Those who reject Jesus as the Messiah, Lord, and Christ will suffer divine wrath, a wrath that is drawing near.
Some today seem to think that one’s decision about who Jesus is and what He has done is a rather academic matter, with few implications. Not so! The day of the Lord is a day of restoration for Israel, and of blessing for those who have trusted in Jesus as Messiah. But the “day of the Lord” is a day of wrath for all who have rejected Him as Messiah. Determining who Jesus is and whether you will submit to Him, and receive His salvation, is the most important decision you will ever make. Do not take this matter lightly. And since the “day of the Lord” is near, don’t delay. Trust in Jesus as the One who died in your place, bearing the penalty for your sins, and you will experience the forgiveness of your sins and the blessed hope of eternity in His presence.
Second, for those who want only a serendipity gospel of happy thoughts and of a God who is too kind to condemn any, take a good look at our text again. The God who offers men forgiveness for their sins and an eternity of bliss in His presence is also the God who takes the rejection of His blessed Son seriously. The gospel is indeed good news to those who accept it, but it is bad news to those who reject it. Like it or not, divine judgment is a prominent theme in the Bible, and one we dare not ignore.
7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You offspring of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Therefore produce fruit that proves your repentance, 9 and don’t think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones! 10 Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 3:7-10).
When Peter quotes Joel 2:28-32, he includes both the good news and the bad news. Let us not miss the point at which Peter ends his citation from Joel:
“‘And then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Acts 2:21).
All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. This is the good news. So what hinders you from doing so? Call upon Him who is both Lord and Christ; call upon Him who died in your place and who was raised from the dead for salvation. If you do, you will be saved.
Third, I have to smile as I read Acts 2 and Peter’s sermon because I don’t believe that Peter saw the full implications of this text in Joel. Joel was a Jewish book, written to Jews, and particularly to Jews living in or near Jerusalem. Thus it was most appropriate for those gathered at Pentecost, to whom Peter preached. But Peter had not yet been enlightened concerning the extent to which God would save Gentiles, or on what basis. That will come in Acts chapters 10 and 11. It would be further clarified in Acts 15. Peter preached a text from a Jewish book (Joel) to a Jewish audience, warning them of impending judgment and offering them salvation in the name of Jesus. Little did he know or see that this same text from Joel 2 would later be cited by Paul:
11 For the scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. 13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:11-13, emphasis mine).
How often our knowledge of God’s Word is only partial. How often God’s plans and purposes exceed our own thoughts.
8 “Indeed, my plans are not like your plans, and my deeds are not like your deeds, 9 for just as the sky is higher than the earth, so my deeds are superior to your deeds and my plans superior to your plans” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
9 But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
When Joel promised that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on “all people” (Acts 2:17; citing Joel 2:28), he meant “all people,” and not just Jewish people. When he wrote that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved,” he meant everyone, and not just Jews. The warning of judgment and the promise of salvation that Peter proclaimed to the Jews we now have proclaimed to us (Gentiles), because of the rejection of the Jews (Romans 11:11-12, 30-32). We must respond to such salvation as Paul did in Romans 11:
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how fathomless his ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? 35 Or who has first given to God, that God needs to repay him? 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen (Romans 11:33-36).
1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
2 Copyright © 2005 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 4 in the Studies in the Book of Acts series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on October 23, 2005. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.
3 It is not exactly clear whether this refers only to the twelve, or to the larger group of 120. We are certain that it did at least include the twelve.
4 See, for example, Joel 2:1, 15, 23, 32. It should be noted that scholars differ greatly about when this book was written. It does not really seem to matter a great deal as the date of the locust plague is not indicated, nor does it have a great bearing on the interpretation and application of the message of Joel. (My inclination, however, is that the book was written early, rather than late.)
5 In other words, Joel 3:1 in the Septuagint is actually Joel 2:28 in our English Bibles.
6 I would understand this to mean that Egypt never saw the likes of such devastation again. Israel’s devastation as described in Joel 1 would seem to surpass the desctruction Egypt suffered. Thus the New Living Translation renders Exodus 10:14: “And the locusts swarmed over the whole land of Egypt, settling in dense swarms from one end of the country to the other. It was the worst locust plague in Egyptian history, and there has never been another one like it.”
7 For the “day of the Lord,” in Joel see 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14. Elsewhere see Isaiah 13:6, 9; Ezekiel 13:5; 30:3; Amos 5:18, 20; Obadiah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:7, 14; Malachi 4:5; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10.
8 In Joel, as elsewhere in Scripture, the “day of the Lord” is always represented as “near.” If one were to gauge the nearness of God’s coming wrath in terms of the magnitude of our sin (rather than in terms of time), I suspect that we could always say that the day of His wrath is near. John the Baptist saw the coming wrath of God as near (see Matthew 3:10-12). Indeed, Romans 1:18-32 (note the present tense in verse 18) would seem to say that God’s wrath is presently being revealed as He gives men over to a depraved mind and to a depraved lifestyle.
9 See also Psalm 23:6.
10 To be fair, I must also point out that John 14:26 says that the Father will send the Spirit. Why would we be surprised to hear that the work of the Son is also the work of the Father, when Jesus made such a point of emphasizing that He did what the Father did, and what the Father gave Him to do? Just as the Father and the Son were involved in creation (Genesis 1:1ff.; John 1:1-3), so the Father and the Son were both involved in the sending of the Spirit. It is Peter’s aim in our text to emphasize the work of the Son in sending the Spirit, for it is He whom they have rejected and crucified.
11 See also 1 Corinthians 15:22-27.
12 Peter’s argument here is similar to the way Paul argued in Romans 1-3. Paul began by showing that the heathen were worthy of God’s wrath because they rejected what they knew about God from creation and chose to worship the creation rather than the Creator. Then, in Romans 2 Paul addressed the Jews. They had far more revelation about God. They had the Word of God. But did they obey it? No, they did not. Thus, their guilt was greater than the guilt of the heathen. More knowledge brings more responsibility.
13 Granted, a few were proselytes, Gentiles who had converted to Judaism (see Acts 2:11-12).
14 Acts 2:5.
15 Acts 2:23.