4. Putting Pentecost in Perspective (Part 3) Peter’s Interpretation of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-40)
Joe Bayly is now with the Lord, but he is a man I have always respected. He used to write a regular article in “Eternity” magazine, entitled, “Out of My Mind.” He wrote an excellent book on a topic few wish to consider—that of death and dying. It was first entitled, The View From a Hearse, but has in later printings been entitled, The Last Thing We Talk About. He has taken a stand on some issues which others have avoided. I can well remember one occasion when Mr. Bayly challenged his readers to beware of the logic which tested truth in terms of what it might lead to. Biblical truth in particular needs to be accepted as such, regardless of its implications.
There are some people who will openly acknowledge that the reason they reject Jesus Christ as their personal Savior is because they know that to accept Him would mean that He must be Lord of their lives, and they have no intention of giving up their lifestyle. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day put Him to death, to a large degree, because of what allowing Him to live would lead to—the end of their power, prestige, and positions.
While we may be willing to admit the folly of rejecting a particular truth because of its implications, we often repeat the same folly ourselves. For example, when we approach the second chapter of the Book of Acts, we know that this passage is a kind of proof text for some Christians. And we may not be very disposed to give their position or practices any ground whatsoever. I am going to ask you to acknowledge to yourself, before we even look at our text, that you probably have some strong feelings about the interpretation and application of this text. I am going to ask you to momentarily set these aside, as best you can, and to pray that the Spirit of God will open your eyes to the truth that is recorded for us here, whatever that might be, and wherever that might lead us.
For those who come with a charismatic theology and practice, I am going to challenge you to be willing to set this aside, even to reject it, if the text clearly says otherwise. For those who are strongly anti-charismatic, I will ask you to be willing to admit that the charismatics are right if this text teaches that they are. I am enough of a realist to know that few will allow this text (or any combination of passages) to totally reverse their thinking—though it has happened, and hopefully it will continue to do so where needed. I would hope, however, that the gap between charismatics and anti-charismatics (many non-charismatics I know of are also anti-charismatic) would somehow narrow, and that we would be willing to give some ground where it is required, even if we would not take the implications as far as our brother or sister might.
There is another related danger here which we must first recognize and then deal with. There is the danger of “reading back” into Acts from the Epistles, rather than “reading forward” from Acts to the Epistles. Let me illustrate what I mean. We are all waiting for the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” to occur here at Pentecost. But when we look for it, we look for a “baptism” that is defined in the Epistles, rather than to read the Epistles in the light of Acts. We therefore look for a “baptism of the Spirit” by the church at Pentecost, but we will run headlong into several difficulties.
First, we do not find a description of the “church” being baptized here, but only the apostles, and perhaps a few others. The “baptism” which is described here is not of those saved, but the occasion for those who are saved. It is the cause, not the result of the salvation of the 3,000. The message which Peter preached was very Jewish, and the promise was that the kingdom of God might come.
Second, we think of the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” as being very distinct from the “filling of the Holy Spirit,” but in our text they are not carefully distinguished. In this text, which describes the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” (anticipated in Acts 1:4-5 and looked back on in Acts 11:15-16) the term “baptized” is not found. Instead, the text tells us that they were all “filled with the Holy Spirit” (2:4).
Third, we think of the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” in terms of John the Baptist’s baptism and of believer’s baptism, and thus we come to this text thinking in terms of immersion. This is not based upon the origin of the expression “baptized” as John the Baptist used it, but upon later references to “baptism” in the New Testament. Being an immersionist, it troubled me greatly to discover that the term baptism is not found in the Old Testament (in the NIV and NASB concordances at least). Would you like to know the Old Testament term which John speaks of in terms of baptism? It is the expression found several times in our text—“pour out.” It is difficult for an immersionist (I think I still am one, incidentally) to admit that the Old Testament terminology for baptism has a strong kinship to sprinkling or pouring.
This danger of “reading back” into Acts from the Epistles must be acknowledged. Instead of “reading back,” let us look at Acts as giving us a foundation, a historical context for that which will be more formally stated in terms of definitions and doctrines. And let us beware of those definitions or doctrines which ignore or contradict the content of Acts.
The Approach of this Lesson
In this lesson, I will first explore what happened at Pentecost, as described by Luke in verses 1-4. We will consider also who those were who experienced the “outpouring of the Spirit” and who those were who witnessed it. Then we will turn our attention to the meaning of Pentecost as Peter explained it in his first sermon. The meaning of this event and sermon to that generation of Israelites will be summarized along with the response to Peter’s sermon. Finally, we will very briefly consider the broader meaning of this event to Luke’s first readers, as well as to those in our present age. This will be done by emphasizing the placement of this passage in the overall content and context of the Book of Acts.
Observations on the Passage as a Whole
First, the context is clearly “Jewish” in Acts chapter 2. The events take place in Jerusalem. The apostles are all Jews (Galileans, too). Peter’s message is rooted in Old Testament prophecy, prophecies given to Israel. Peter speaks of God’s coming judgment on Israel, and calls on the “men of Israel” to repent, offering not only forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, but the kingdom as well (clearly implied).
Second, Luke’s emphasis is not on the spectacular phenomenon of the sound of a rushing wind, or of tongues, but on the meaning of the phenomenon. We cannot deny the phenomenon which are described here, but these are not the focus or the emphasis. A simple observation of the amount of space (the law of proportion) devoted to these spectacular events shows this to be true. There are but four verses in this long chapter which deal with the phenomenon. There are nearly twice as many verses devoted to the places from which the men witnessing the events have been born. And there is by far the most attention given to the meaning of the event, as explained by Peter in his sermon.
Third, even when the text deals with the spectacular, the focus is not on the individual on whom the Spirit has fallen, but on those who witness it. So often the subject of tongues, for example, is dealt with largely in terms of the tongues-speaker, but here the emphasis is only on the tongues-hearer. The gifts of the Spirit are not primarily for our benefit, but for the edification of others. Self-centeredness can quickly arise in this area, as elsewhere. Was this, in fact, not the problem of the disciples? When they thought of power, they thought of their position and prestige, and of their ranking with others. Jesus talked of power in terms of service. The strong are to minister to the weak, not to themselves.
Fourth, the “Pentecost” of Acts chapter 2 is but the first of four “pentecosts.” There are four “pentecosts” in Acts: Acts 2:1-4; Acts 8:14-25; Acts 10:44-48 (cf. 11:15-18); Acts 19:1-7. It is my conviction that we cannot understand the first “Pentecost” of Acts 2 apart from a study of all of the “pentecosts” of Acts. Thus, our study is but an introduction, and our conclusions must be subject to further information, which Luke will supply.
Fifth, Peter’s explanation of Pentecost here is given to a specific audience, telling them all that they needed to know, but not all that there was to know. Peter has not given a full explanation of the meaning of Pentecost in chapter 2. It is Luke, in this Book of Acts, who will supply much more of an explanation of its long-term meaning. Peter told this group of Jews what they most needed to know. Peter himself does not yet seem to understand the full implications of Pentecost, as can be seen from chapters 10 and 11, and beyond.
The People and the Phenomenon of Pentecost
When Jesus told the disciples to wait until they were endued with power, He only told them that it would not be many days until this took place (Acts 1:5). The actual day was the “day of Pentecost.” Pentecost was one of the three major celebrations of Israel,6 which every Israelite was to observe:
“The day of Pentecost was so called because it fell on the fiftieth day after the presentation of the first sheaf to be reaped of the barley harvest, that is, the fiftieth day from the first Sunday after Passover (pentekostos being the Greek word for ‘fiftieth’). Among Hebrew- and Aramaic-speaking Jews it was known as ‘the feast of weeks’ (Ex. 34:22a; Deut. 16:10) and also as ‘the day of the firstfruits’ (Num. 28:26; cf. Ex. 23:16a) because on that day ‘the firstfruits of wheat harvest’ (Ex. 34:22a) were presented to God.”7
It seems worthy of note that this is the only major feast of Israel which was not directly rooted in some event in Israel’s history. We know from Paul’s words in Colossians that it was, at least, a “mere shadow of what is to come” (Colossians 2:17). While there must be a typological or symbolic deeper meaning in the feast of Pentecost, Luke does not inform us of what this was. Thus, I shall pass on as well, knowing that there is more here than meets the eye.
The phenomenon of Pentecost was spectacular. First, there was a loud sound, like the sound of a mighty, rushing wind, but only “like” it. This perhaps “tornado-like” sound seems to be that which drew the large crowd to the place where the apostles were gathered. The sound of their speaking in tongues was probably not that loud. There was also the sight of the fire-like tongues which divided themselves among those present in that room. This sight was surely seen by those present in the room. It is not so certain whether or not the spectators who were attracted there by the great sound saw it—perhaps so (cf. verse 33).
This loud sound and the accompanying flames which descended8 may well be a fulfillment of prophecy, or at least have some Old Testament background as a symbol of God’s coming judgment:
“What is my beloved doing in my temple as she works out her evil schemes with many? Can consecrated meat avert your punishment? When you engage in your wickedness, then you rejoice.” 16 The Lord called you a thriving olive tree with fruit beautiful in form. But with the roar of a mighty storm he will set it on fire, and its branches will be broken. The LORD Almighty, who planted you, has decreed disaster for you, because the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done evil and provoked me to anger by burning incense to Baal (Jeremiah 11:15-16).
The Lord Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire (Isaiah 29:6; cf. also 30:27-33).
Most significant was the speaking in tongues. These “tongues” were languages, the native tongues of those who had gathered. Everyone who on whom the Spirit fell seems to have spoken in tongues. No other gifts or manifestations are mentioned. The precise logistics of how this took place is not clear, but every man did hear a Galilean speaking in his own native language. This, of course, would exclude the native Hebrews, who prided themselves for not ever having lived outside of the land of promise, and who would thus have no foreign tongue which he could understand. While the languages differed, the content of the utterances was the same in essence: the “mighty deeds of God” (2:11).
This is, in my estimation, the first instance of “tongues” in the Bible. While the “filling of the Spirit” produced prophecy and other phenomenon in the Old Testament, only now is tongues found. Why? Because I think this was, in and of itself, a sign. It was a sign that the gospel was going to be proclaimed to and received by men of every nation. God was to be praised not only in the nations, but by them. This, incidentally, was something which the apostles did not fully grasp either. Peter will only slowly, and not irreversibly, come to—ala Acts 10-11, Galatians 2.
It is interesting that while these men all heard the “mighty deeds of God”9 in their native languages, they heard the gospel in Peter’s native tongue. The gospel was not preached in tongues; it was preceded by tongues. The gospel was proclaimed in the native tongue of the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem, which I assume to be Aramaic.
I wonder if those who were speaking in tongues understood what they were saying. These who were speaking in tongues were all Galileans (2:7). It would seem that they would all be speaking languages they did not know and would not understand apart from the gift of interpretation. We are simply not told what the speakers felt or understood, for the focus of Luke is on the audience.
All of the spectacular phenomenon that are described come about suddenly and take the group by surprise. It is nothing which they particularly expected. It is nothing which they brought about. God sovereignly poured out His Spirit, with the manifestations He chose. The disciples were “sitting” as this took place, indicating their passivity. They were, as it were, at rest as this happened. God works in us, not due to our striving, but due to our resting and abiding in Him.
One of the problems is determining just who is to be included in the “all” that Luke spoke of—”And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues” (verse 4). From the immediate context of chapter one (verse 15 in particular), we might conclude that the number of those on whom the Spirit was poured out was one hundred and twenty, which would have included the apostles. On further study and consideration, I have come to the conclusion that it was only the apostles who experienced the gift of tongues at this moment. I will try to explain why I have come to this conclusion.
The event described in verses 15-26 of chapter 1 takes place during the (approximately) ten days between the ascension of our Lord and Pentecost. There were one hundred and twenty gathered when Matthias was selected as the twelfth apostle. Statements prior to this seem to suggest that those on whom the Spirit fell, or at least who spoke with tongues at Pentecost, were only twelve in number. When Jesus gave the Great Commission to the disciples and promised them power from on high, He did so to the eleven, according to Matthew (28:16ff.), the eleven by themselves, according to Mark (16:14ff). Luke’s Gospel is more ambiguous because all of our Lord’s post-resurrection appearances, as well as His ascension, are lumped together, not distinguishing different times, places, or groups of people.
The account of Acts 1:1-5 also seems to set the apostles apart. Those referred to by “they” or “you” in verses 6-11 is not defined until we get to verses 12 and 13. Take note of who is named as the “they”:
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers (Acts 1:12-14).
The “they” are thus defined as the eleven, shortly to become the twelve, once again, with the addition of Matthias.
It was the apostles who were called to be witnesses to the resurrection of the Lord, and it was they who were to lay down the terms of salvation (cf. Matthew 16:18-19). It was the apostles who were especially given the promise of the Holy Spirit, who would bring Jesus’ words and teaching to their remembrance. All those who spoke in tongues were, according to the witness of those present, Galileans (2:7). Those who rejected the sign of tongues accused those who thus spoke of being drunk. Only Peter and the eleven took their stand and were defended by Peter (2:14). When Peter was finished, those who wanted to be saved looked to Peter and the eleven for the answer to the question, “What must we do to be saved?” (2:37).
As the seventy, who were to carry out much of the work of Moses, were set apart, empowered and accredited by the descent of the Spirit of Moses upon them (Numbers 11:17, 25-29), so here as well the apostles, who were to carry on with the work of the Lord Jesus, who were to speak for Him, with complete authority, were endowed with power from on high and accredited before the nation. Pentecost here is primarily a matter of the apostles. We are not told that the Spirit fell on the newly-born church of 3,000 but that the Spirit fell on the apostles and, as a result, the church was born.
Now let us pause to reflect on those who witnessed Pentecost, those for whom Pentecost was publicly performed. The emphasis of the text falls far more on those who were witnesses to Pentecost, than on those who were participants. The audience at Pentecost was made up, to a large degree at least, of “devout men” (verse 5). These were not only Jews, but devout Jews. I would understand this to mean that they were, like Simeon and Anna, Elizabeth and Zecharias, Mary and Joseph, looking for the kingdom of God and for its Messiah. Many of the spectators had come from all over the world. Some may have come just for this feast, but the great distance and their piety would suggest that they had immigrated to Israel, knowing that the King would manifest Himself here, and that their hopes were to be fulfilled here. It would seem then that they were originally from other parts of the world (and thus their native tongues were those in which the apostles spoke of the mighty deeds of God), but whose faith and hope caused them to move to the promised land.
In verse 14 Peter referred to his audience with these words: “Men of Judea, and all you who live in Jerusalem.” My inclination is to see this as Peter’s recognition of the two major groups present: (1) those who were native Hebrews (“Men of Judea”), and (2) those who had immigrated to Jerusalem and were living there (“Hellenistic Jews”).10 This two-fold division is evident in Acts chapter 6. Indeed, this distinction seems to have been the basis of discrimination and bitterness:
Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food (Acts 6:1).
It may very well be that the devout Jews, who were largely Hellenistic Jews, were the ones who sincerely wanted to know what Pentecost meant. It may also be that the native Jews were those who not only did not speak any foreign tongues (and thus could not hear the praise of God in these tongues) but were those who accused the apostles of drunkenness. As the power of the Spirit in the life of Jesus was attributed to Satan by those who rejected Him, so the manifestation of the Spirit here was attributed to alcohol. There is always a ready excuse for those determined not to believe.
Peter’s Explanation of Pentecost
The question has been asked of Peter and the other apostles: “What does this mean?” (verse 12). Peter will now take his stand, along with the rest of the apostles, and give them the explanation of Pentecost, its meaning, and its implications.
The first thing Peter did was to answer the charge of some that they were drunk. He denies this charge, not on the basis that none of them ever touched wine, but on the fact that it was too early in the morning—the “third hour of the day” (verse 15), or 9 a.m.11 It was not only untrue (a simple denial probably would not have convinced them), it was unreasonable (this would carry greater weight).
Peter did not hesitate to tell his audience what Pentecost did mean. He quickly turned their attention to the prophecy of Joel and specifically to his words recorded in Joel chapter 2, verses 28-32:
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 TO 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.’
The phenomenon of Pentecost was not the result of “spirits” (alcohol), but the Spirit. The prophet Joel foretold of the time when the Spirit of God would be poured out on all mankind. If the Spirit of God had been poured out in the Old Testament times, it was on a few people who had specific tasks to perform. In the future, however, the Spirit would be much more widely poured out and not just upon Jews, but upon “ALL MANKIND” (Acts 2:17).
Peter was thus claiming that what these Jews had witnessed was the outpouring of the Spirit which Joel foretold. But there was much more to it than that. The question was not so much the source of this phenomenon, but the meaning of it. Peter would tell them, but it was not all good news. In the context of Joel’s prophecy, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was a sign which was to precede the coming “day of the Lord” ( Acts 2:20; cf. Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14). The “day of the Lord” was not only the day when the kingdom of God would be established on the earth and God’s promised blessings would be poured out on His people, Israel. It was to begin with judgment.
It is of this judgment which Joel spoke in his prophecy. It is very evident in that portion of Joel which Peter quoted. He spoke much more of the judgment of God than of His blessings. Israel must first be judged and purged of her sins and then blessings could come. The outpouring of the Spirit was said by Joel to be a warning that the time of judgment was at hand. Fortunately, the last verse cited by Peter was the promise of salvation, to all who called upon the Lord (2:21). Before Peter will tell his audience about this salvation, he will explain the specifics of the judgment which looms large before them, from which they could be saved.
In verses 22-24 Peter lays the charge against the people of this city, the people who stand before him:
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. 24 “And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its powers.
Jesus the Nazarene presented Himself to His people in Jerusalem, even as the prophets had foretold. Jesus came not only with the claim to be the Messiah, but God Himself testified to His identity and authority through the signs and wonders He performed through the Holy Spirit.
In spite of this, Israel rejected Jesus as the Messiah. And not “Israel” in some general sense; those hearing Peter rejected His claim to be Messiah. The One whom God accredited, they rejected. Worse yet, they nailed Him to a cross. This was all within the sovereign plan and purpose of God, but they put Him to death in an evil conspiracy which involved the Gentiles as well. God’s purposes were not overthrown in all of this, for He raised Jesus from the dead.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Peter will first demonstrate the necessity of Christ’s resurrection and then he will spell out its implications. He told this audience that it was impossible for Him not to be raised. As proof, Peter turns to Psalm 16, a psalm of David. He quotes these words from the psalm:
‘I WAS ALWAYS BEHOLDING THE LORD IN MY PRESENCE; FOR HE IS AT MY RIGHT HAND, 26 ‘THEREFORE MY HEART WAS GLAD AND MY TONGUE EXULTED; MOREOVER MY FLESH ALSO WILL ABIDE IN HOPE; 27 BECAUSE THOU WILT NOT ABANDON MY SOUL TO HADES, NOR ALLOW THY HOLY ONE TO UNDERGO DECAY. 28 ‘THOU HAST MADE KNOWN TO ME THE WAYS OF LIFE; THOU WILT MAKE ME FULL OF GLADNESS WITH THY PRESENCE.’
In this psalm, David reveled in the inheritance which God had prepared for him and promised to him. The blessings to which David looked forward were largely “heavenly blessings” as I understand his words. Note the words in verse 11 which conclude David’s psalm:
Thou wilt make known to me the path of life; In Thy presence is fullness of joy; In Thy right hand there are pleasures forever (NASB).
What is the basis of David’s confidence in these future blessings? How can he know he will experience them? Will they not be terminated by his own death? David’s answer seems to be this: “My future rests in God, and specifically in my own offspring, the Messiah, whose kingdom will be eternal” (cf. 2 Samuel 7:14). “I know that I will die, but my future rests in God’s Holy One, who cannot be held by death or the grave.” David somehow knows that His Savior will die, but this does not shake his faith, for he also knows that death cannot hold him. His Savior may die, but he will not stay dead. He will die, but His flesh will not see corruption. Since David’s future rests on His Messiah, his future is secure, even after his own death, for God has made known to David the “path of life” (verse 16). David will rise from the dead, to enjoy the blessings God has promised him because His Messiah will rise from the dead.
When David spoke of resurrection in this psalm, Peter pointed out, he was not speaking of his own resurrection but of his Son’s resurrection. David’s tomb was still there, and it was occupied—with David! The empty tomb was that of Jesus, the Nazarene. David was speaking of Jesus in Psalm 16, and the empty tomb was proof of that. The Old Testament taught both the necessity of the death of Messiah and of His resurrection.
If prophecy was one line of evidence, pointing to the resurrection, Pentecost was another. Pentecost was not just a fulfillment of God’s promise, it was the pouring out of the Spirit as proof that Jesus had risen from the dead. John the Baptist had said that Jesus would pour out the Spirit, that He would baptize with fire and with the Holy Spirit. And he was absolutely right! Having been raised from the dead, He was also ascended into heaven. The outpouring of the Spirit was from above, where Jesus now was, at the Father’s right hand. Both prophecy and Pentecost were proof of Jesus’ resurrection.
The death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ is not only a fact, it is a truth loaded with implications, very distressing implications. If Messiah is now in heaven, at the right hand of the Father, for what is He waiting? The answer was given in Joel chapter two, but it is also to be found in Psalm 110:1, which Peter now cites:
‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I MAKE THINE ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR THY FEET.”’
Having been raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father, the Christ is now acclaimed Lord. He is given full power and authority, the right to reign. Then what delays the establishment of His kingdom? Psalm 110 tells us: before He can reign, the Father must put all of His enemies under His feet. The delay in the establishment of the kingdom is only until the enemies of the Messiah are put down. To sum it up, God has made this Jesus “both LORD and Christ” (verse 36). This is a very pregnant expression, but at minimum it means that Jesus is not only the Messiah who was rejected and put to death, but He is the LORD who is returning to reign, just as soon as His enemies are put down.
And just who might those enemies be? The answer to this question was all too clear from Peter’s message. They had rejected and crucified the Messiah. God had raised Him from the dead, and He was soon to subdue all of Messiah’s enemies. God was soon to bring judgment upon this generation. Jesus had spoken of this. Joel foretold it. And Psalm 110 spoke of it as well. The outpouring of the Spirit was not good news, but bad news. All except for the last verse of Joel’s prophecy which Peter cited,
“And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved” (verse 21).
No wonder Peter’s audience is cut to the heart (verse 37). They need no prompting, no persuasion, to ask what it is that they must do to be saved and to be delivered from the wrath of God. The answer is short, but profound. They must repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Jesus the Christ, the anointed One, the Messiah). Doing so, their sins will be forgiven, they will be saved from God’s wrath, and they will receive the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, the firstfruits of the kingdom to come.
Verse 40 is a further clarification of Peter’s words of application. What is most important to see in these words is that there are two senses in which the Israelites of that day were saved by their repentance and faith. They were saved, first of all, from the coming wrath of God upon that city and that generation, for rejecting Messiah and putting Him to death. They were also saved from God’s eternal wrath and assured of eternal life and the blessings of His promised kingdom.
The application for Peter’s audience was simple and straight-forward. The day of God’s judgment was near. They were guilty of rejecting Jesus of Nazareth, who had the testimony of God that He was Israel’s Messiah. If they repented, they would be saved from God’s coming wrath, and better yet, they would enter into the promised kingdom. If they did not, judgment was imminent.
It’s simple, but there is no more important decision, no more urgent matter, than this. The application for us is identical, in principle. While God’s wrath was poured out on Jerusalem in 70 A.D., there is a coming day of judgment which will precede the establishment of the kingdom of God on the earth. You and I have also learned of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the King who will come to judge and then to reign. He is also the One who bore the penalty for our sins. While we may not have been in that crowd which called for His death, we have just as wickedly rejected Him, and were we given the chance, we would have done just as Peter’s audience had done.
There is a coming day of judgment for us, one way or the other. That day of judgment may come before our death or it may come after, but there is a day of judgment (Hebrews 9:27). To the threat of eternal judgment is God’s offer of salvation, to all who will “call upon the name of the Lord.” By admitting your sin, and by trusting in Jesus of Nazareth as God’s Messiah and your Savior, you will be forgiven, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and look forward to the coming kingdom of God and all of its blessings. Have you, in simple faith, done this? I pray that if you have not, you will, even now.
6 “It was the second of the three great annual feasts which every male Israelite was required to attend (Deut. 16:16).” Charles W. Carter and Ralph Earle, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), p. 28.
7 F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), pp. 49-50.
8 Jesus was described in chapter one as being taken up, into heaven. Now, in this verse the phenomenon is described as “coming down” from heaven. The connection is deliberate and necessary. The one who was taken up has sent down the Spirit.
9 I would imagine that the “wonders of God” which were proclaimed in these foreign tongues were seemingly similar to those praises of Mary, Elizabeth, Zacharias, Simeon, and Anna.
10 I take it, then, that these Hellenistic Jews would not leave Jerusalem immediately after Pentecost, taking with them the good news of the gospel. They would probably stay in Jerusalem, for they were still expecting the kingdom to come at any moment. In fact, their expectation and hope would have been enhanced by Peter’s promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit. It would not have been until the persecution resulting from the stoning of Stephen that these saints would have fled, now taking the good news along with them (or at least some may have done so. Cf. Acts 11:19-21).
11 It is, of course, possible that the group had carried on an all-night prayer vigil. We might have expected the Spirit to fall on them after a long day of fervent prayer. The impression I get is that the Spirit fell upon them before they even got started that day. This would be just like God, answering before we have even called to Him.
Related Topics: Pneumatology (The Holy Spirit)