Acts 2:14a, 36-41
For an introduction to Acts 2, see the exegesis for Acts 2:1-21.
This Sunday’s lection is part of Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, and is composed of the middle portion of that sermon. Verses 14-21 (the first part of the sermon) interpret the speaking in tongues of Pentecost in the light of a quotation from the prophet Joel. Verses 22-32 present the kerygma (a Greek word meaning the proclamation of the Good News of Christ). Verses 33-36 (this Sunday’s text) establish the relationship between the coming of the Spirit with the Good News of Jesus Christ (Chance, 51).
ACTS 2:14. PETER LIFTED UP HIS VOICE, AND SPOKE OUT TO THEM
14But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spoke out to them, “You men of Judea, and all you who dwell at Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to my words.
After the death of Judas Iscariot, we heard of “the eleven” (Luke 24:33), but with the addition of Matthias, the eleven became the twelve once more (1:26). “Peter, standing up with the eleven” means Peter plus the other eleven apostles.
It is interesting that Peter should be the preacher on this great occasion. Only seven weeks earlier, he denied Christ three times (Luke 22:56-62). During those seven weeks, Peter and the other disciples were transformed by their encounters with the risen Christ. Now, in Jerusalem, Peter and the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the power behind this sermon. The Spirit is responsible for the crowd’s overwhelming response.
ACTS 2:33-35. NOT INCLUDED IN LECTIONARY READINGS
The lectionary has four readings on Acts 2 which cover the entire chapter with the exception (curiously) of verses 33-35. Verse 33 speaks of Jesus being “exalted by the right hand of God” and being the one who “has poured out this, which you now see and hear” (meaning the miraculous events that the crowd observed at Pentecost. Verses 34-35 read as follows:
“For David didn’t ascend into the heavens, but he says himself,
‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit by my right hand,
until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”‘”
These two verses quote Psalm 110:1, which the Jewish people attributed to Davidic authorship. While teaching in the temple, Jesus quoted David’s words from Psalm 110:1—”Yahweh says to my Lord”—and then said, “Therefore David himself calls him Lord, so how can he be his son?” (Mark 12:35-37). His point was that David, in that Psalm, was speaking, not of himself as people had assumed, but of the messiah-to-come. Left unsaid was the fact that Jesus was the messiah-to-come—the messiah who had already come.
In his Pentecost sermon, Peter uses Psalm 110:1 to establish that the messiah is above the great King David in the heavenly pantheon—that God invited the messiah to sit at his right side—that God established the messiah as Lord—and that Jesus is the messiah.
The writers of the New Testament allude to Psalm 110:1 frequently to establish the Lordship of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 1:13; 10:13; see also Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20, 22; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22).
ACTS 2:36. GOD HAS MADE HIM BOTH LORD AND CHRIST
36Let all the house of Israel therefore know certainly that God has made him both Lord (Greek: kyrion—from kyrios) and Christ (Greek: Christon—from Christos), this Jesus whom you crucified.”
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know certainly that God has made him both Lord (kyrion—from kyrios) and Christ (Christon—from Christos), this Jesus whom you crucified“ (v. 36). The word, “Lord,” is very important in this context. See above for comments on verses 33-35 where God exalted Jesus and made him Lord.
Note the connection with verse 21, where Peter quoted Joel 2:32, saying, “It will be, that whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Also note that, in verse 36, Peter uses the word “Lord” to mean Jesus and in verse 39 uses “Lord” to mean Yahweh.
Note the contrast between the first and second parts of this verse. God made Jesus Lord and Messiah, but these people crucified him.
“that God has made him both Lord (kyrion—from kyrios) and Christ“ (Christon—from Christos) (v. 36b). The words, “Lord” and “Messiah,” are weighty and deserve our attention.
LORD (kyrios): In the Old Testament, God’s name was YHWH—Yahweh. The Jewish people, to avoid violating the commandment against using God’s name wrongfully (Exodus 20:7), used instead the word Adonai (Hebrew: adonay), which means “the Lord.” When the Jewish people translated their Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek language (the translation known as the Septuagint, abbreviated LXX), they translated the Hebrew word, adonay, into the Greek word, kyrios—so the Jewish people were quite used to using this Greek word, kyrios, to speak of God even though kyrios can also be used for human authorities.
The New Testament frequently uses kyrios to speak of Yahweh (Matthew 1:20, 22, 24; 2:13, 15; Mark 13:20; Luke 1:6; Romans 11:34, etc.). It also refers to various Old Testament references to Yahweh (Mark 1:2-3; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13; 1 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 3:15-18), applying the kyrios in those scriptures to Jesus. New Testament writers obviously intend to equate the Lordship of Jesus with the Lordship of Yahweh—and that is what Peter intends when he says that God has made Jesus Lord.
Early Christians lived in an environment where they were expected to say, “Caesar is Lord.” While this was intended to designate Caesar as ruler over the Roman realm, it also took on spiritual connotations—that Caesar was Lord in some spiritual sense. Believing that Jesus was the one and only Lord, early Christians often refused to say, “Caesar is Lord”—and often died violently at the hands of the Romans as a result.
MESSIAH (Christos): The Hebrew word is messiah (messias) and the Greek word is Christ (Christos). Both messias and Christos mean “anointed.” Anointment with oil was a rite used to set people apart for service as kings, priests, or prophets.
The Jewish people looked forward to the coming of the messiah, anticipating that he would deliver them from oppression and restore Israel to greatness. They anticipated that the messiah would be like Moses, who led Israel out of their slavery in Egypt, or David, who established Israel as a great nation. Because of these expectations, Jesus was reluctant to call himself messiah—although when the high priest asked, “‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ Jesus said, ‘I am’ (Mark 14:61-62).
When the New Testament speaks of Jesus as the messiah, it presents him as the deliverer, not from military or political rivals, but from sin.
“this Jesus whom you crucified” (v. 36c). Luke is the author both of the Acts of the Apostles and a Gospel. In Luke’s Gospel, the Jewish people bore primary responsibility for Jesus’ death. It was chief priests, officers of the temple police, and elders who arrested him (Luke 22:52). It was members of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling body) who brought Jesus to Pilate and accused him falsely (Luke 22:66 – 23:2). When Pilate said, “I find no basis for a charge against this man,” it was these same Jewish leaders who insisted that Jesus be punished (Luke 23:4-5). When Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, “the chief priests and the scribes stood, vehemently accusing him” (Luke 23:10). When Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate, Pilate offered to release Jesus—but they all (the chief priests, leaders, and people—Luke 23:13) shouted, “Away with this man! Release to us Barabbas!” (Luke 23:18)—insisting that Pilate crucify Jesus (Luke 23:21-23). In summary, the Jewish leaders instigated the crucifixion, but the Jewish people are also complicit.
Now Peter seems to lay the blame for the crucifixion on the people in his audience, although it seems likely that many of them were not personally involved. Perhaps Peter is using “you” (v. 36c) as the equivalent of “all the house of Israel” (v. 36a).
ACTS 2:37-39. REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED
37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38Peter said to them, “Repent (Greek: metanoesate—from metanoeo), and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness (Greek: aphesin) of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are far off, even as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.”
“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart“ (v. 37a). In response to Peter’s accusation that they have crucified the one whom God made Lord and Messiah, the people suddenly recognize their guilt and peril. There could be no greater sin than murdering God’s anointed—the one whom God sent to save them. That understanding caused a sharp emotional pain as if someone had plunged a knife into their heart.
They know from their history that God has punished people severely for lesser infractions. What will God do with them? What kind of future do they face?
“and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?‘“ (v. 37b). This is the same question that the people asked John the Baptist when he convicted them of their sins and their need of repentance (Luke 3:10).
These people surely ask this question, hoping against hope that some remedy is possible, but being unable to imagine anything that could undo their guilt.
“Repent” (metanoesate—from metanoeo) (v. 38a). Peter knows from personal experience that God offers those who repent a second chance (Wall, 67).
Early in Peter’s sermon, he promised, that “whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (2:21, quoting Joel 2:32). Now he gives this crowd specific steps to secure forgiveness—repentance and baptism. Repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins were also what John the Baptist preached (Luke 3:3).
The Greek verb metanoeo (repent) is a combination of two Greek words—meta (when used in combination with another word, as it is here, meta means exchange or transfer) and nous (mind). Metanoeo, then, means a change of mind—a change of attitudes—a turning from one way of thinking to another way of thinking.
The Greeks believed that a change of one’s mind would naturally lead to a change in one’s actions, because beliefs determine behavior. This is quite different from many psychological disciplines today that emphasize feelings as the determinant of behavior—i.e. to change behaviors we must first “get in touch with” our feelings. However, there has been a movement in recent decades that emphasizes beliefs as the determinant of actions. Beliefs constitute the starting point in the action-cycle. A change of thinking has the power to change both feelings and actions.
So Peter is calling for the members of this Jerusalem crowd to repent of their sin (which was rejecting the messiah)—to change their way of thinking—to do an about-face. These people need to repudiate their rejection of their messiah and to embrace him.
“and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ“ (v. 38b). Once again, we are reminded that John the Baptist practiced a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3). However, Peter introduces a new element. Now baptism is to be done in the name of Jesus Christ.
In that time and place, people considered a person’s name to be more than a label to identify that person. They believed that something of the person’s identity was tied up in the name—that the name expressed something of the person’s identity. As is obvious from this verse, they also assumed that a name possessed something of the power of the one who wore that name. To be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ was to appropriate in some way a measure of the person of Jesus Christ—to receive something of Christ into oneself—to become a new person in the likeness of Christ.
Shortly before his ascension, Jesus commanded his disciples to“make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Most churches today use this triune formula (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) for baptism rather than baptizing people in the name of Jesus Christ alone.
In his Epistle to the Romans, Paul describes baptism as burial with Jesus “through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection” (Romans 6:4-5). In his Epistle to the Galatians, he describes baptism into Christ as clothing oneself with Christ (Galatians 3:27).
“for the forgiveness (aphesin) of sins“ (v. 38c). This word, aphein, can mean pardon or deliverance or remission or forgiveness. It is a “freedom” word—a word that promises freedom from whatever was enslaving a person. It could be used for remission of financial debts, which would free a person from debt. It could be used for deliverance from prison or slavery, which would involve physical freedom. In the Book of Acts, it typically is used to speak of freedom from sin—the kind of freedom that a person can obtain only as a gift from God.
Scholars debate whether forgiveness is appropriated by repentance, baptism, or both. In most Biblical examples, forgiveness is linked only with repentance. However, in this verse (2:38), Peter tells people to repent and be baptized “for the forgiveness of sins”. It is not clear that repentance without baptism can secure forgiveness, and we would be remiss to teach people that repentance is sufficient—or, for that matter, that baptism is sufficient. Both are needed.
“and you (plural) will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit“ (v. 38d). Williams says that the plural “you” in this verse means that Peter’s promise is to the “community of which the individual becomes a part”—i.e., the church (Williams, 54). However, Peter is speaking to a crowd, so there is a question in my mind here. While it is important that repentant persons become members of the community of faith, it is also possible that Peter intends the plural “you” to refer to all the individuals in the crowd.
“For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are far off“ (v. 39a). When Peter speaks of “the promise,” he means the promise of forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit. He assures his listeners that this promise is for them, but not for them alone. It is also for their children and “to all who are far off.”
Peter is saying more than he realizes. If on Pentecost Day he were required to define what “all who are far away” means, he would almost surely say that it applies to Jews of the Diaspora—Jews scattered around the world. If questioned further, he would probably include Jewish proselytes in this promise. However, as he will learn in Acts 10, the potential beneficiaries of this promise are far more numerous than he understands when he says these words. The promise is for Gentiles as well as Jews.
“even as many as the Lord our God will call to himself” (v. 39b). The initiative is the Lord’s. God issues the call, and the blessing is given to those who respond.
ACTS 2:40-41. ABOUT THREE THOUSAND SOULS
40With many other words he testified, and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” 41Then those who gladly received his word were baptized. There were added that day about three thousand souls.
“With many other words he testified, and exhorted them“ (v. 40a). Luke has provided the basic content of Peter’s sermon, but this verse tells us that Peter said much more than Luke recorded.
“Save yourselves from this crooked generation“ (v. 40b). In both Old and New Testaments, the word “generation” is often used to speak of wicked people (Numbers 32:13; Deuteronomy 1:35; 2:14; 5:9-10; 23:2-3; 32:5, 20; Judges 2:10; Psalm 12:7; 78:8; 95:10; Jeremiah 7:29; Matthew 11:16-19; 12:39-45; 16:4; Mark 8:38; 9:19; Luke 11:29).
Jesus often used the phrase “this generation” to speak of an evil generation (Luke 7:31; 11:29-32, 50; 17:25), but Peter makes it explicit—this is a “crooked generation.”
Peter has already told this crowd what to do to receive salvation—”Repent, and be baptized” (2:38).
“Then those who gladly received his word were baptized. There were added that day about three thousand souls” (v. 41). As he was preparing for the day that he would leave his disciples, Jesus said, “Most certainly I tell you, he who believes in me, the works that I do, he will do also; and he will do greater works than these, because I am going to my Father” (John 14:12). Now we get a glimpse of what Jesus meant. Following Jesus’ ascension, his disciples gathered together in Jerusalem—a group of only 120 people (1:15). Now, on the Day of Pentecost, 3,000 people suddenly join their company—a huge increase when expressed in percentage terms (Faw).
Many of these people are Jews who live in other countries—Jews of the Diaspora who have come to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. They will be like seeds scattered to the four winds—believers who will bring Christ to their households and, in many cases, to their communities as well.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2009, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan