When the day of Pentecost finally arrived the apostles and those with them experienced what had been promised by Jesus – the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 16:7; Acts 1:8). Pentecost literally means, 'fiftieth' and, as one of the Jewish festivals, it always fell on the fiftieth day counted from the Feast of First-fruits which took place on the day after the Sabbath that followed the Passover (Leviticus 23:10, 15-16). It was therefore the fiftieth day since the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and ten days after His ascension back to heaven (Acts 1:3, 9-11).
The sending of the Holy Spirit was not only the fulfilment of Christ’s promise to His apostles, it also was 'phase one' of the fulfilment of the prophecy spoken by Joel centuries earlier and this Peter confirmed when he stood up to address the assembled multitude (Acts 2:16-21). It was therefore an event of immense significance and a phenomenon accompanied by supernatural signs. Put simply, the Spirit coming down proved that Christ had gone up and this is what Peter declared in his preaching on that notable day. The experience of the Spirit’s baptism occurred in an upper room in Jerusalem with about one hundred and twenty disciples (Acts 1:12-15; 2:1-4). The effect of the baptism upon these disciples was witnessed by the multitudes of Jews present in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost. They were stunned 'because everyone heard them speak in his own language' (Acts 2:6). This was what is called 'speaking in tongues' and it wasn’t babbling nonsense or some unearthly communication, but the native language of those who heard them. They spoke 'the wonderful works of God' to the amazement of the audience (Acts 2:11-12). "Whatever could this mean?" Questioned some, and "they are full of new wine" accused others (Acts 2:12-13). At this point Peter stands up to speak, the other eleven apostles being with him:
"Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
'And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy… And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved.' " (Acts 2:14-18, 21).
Having explained the reason for this phenomenon by citing the prophet, Peter goes on to expound why it was happening:
"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it" (Acts 2:22-24).
This had all to do with Jesus of Nazareth. His name was known to those hearing Peter and His history recent. Peter appeals to his audience on the basis of what they knew. Moreover, he was speaking to people who both believed in God and a promised Messiah and so Peter sets out to show that Jesus of Nazareth is that Messiah, the one sent from God. His ministry, death, resurrection and exaltation prove this. Peter therefore establishes four things about God’s activity in the experience of Jesus of Nazareth that led to the events of that day:
1. He was Approved by God 2. He was Handed over by God 3. He was raised up by God 4. He was Exalted by God
1. He was Approved by God – Acts 22:22
God approved and affirmed Jesus as the Messiah by clearly making His power known through Him and the works of Jesus, which Peter calls ‘miracles, wonders and signs,’ demonstrated that He was indeed God’s Son and Servant. The record of the gospels tell the story of Jesus’ miraculous ministry. Peter refers to the same thing in three different ways. His miracles 'were … works of supernatural power, creating wonder and amazement but full of heavenly, divine significance as works of divine grace' (R. C. H. Lenski). The life and ministry of Jesus prove that He was ‘Immanuel … God with us’ (Matthew 1:23) and that He came as the Messiah and Saviour of Israel (Acts 13:23) and of the world (John 4:42). His coming was a visitation of divine grace and His ministry the revelation of divine power. Tragically though, when Christ Himself was here performing these mighty works He encountered a 'wall' of unbelief. Matthew records how He rebuked 'the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent' (Matthew 11:20). Jesus had this to say concerning them:
"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you" (Matthew 11:21-24).
Many who saw the miracles of Jesus did not believe in Him. Privileged though they were, they did not respond positively, yet because of such privilege they bore a greater responsibility for their unbelief. We do well to heed the warning. The more privileged people are who reject Christ the more severe will be their judgment.
Peter, having informed his audience that the works of Christ proved He was the true Messiah, now tells them something even more startling:
2. He was Handed over by God – Acts 2:23
"Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death." The Cross was, says Peter, according to the predetermined plan of God. He not only knew beforehand what would happen to Christ, He planned it to be that way. Men only did and went as far as God allowed. They were limited to the plan of God and could do nothing beyond what God determined. Jesus was 'handed over' by God to the Jews who took Him and by the use of lawless hands, namely the Romans, had Jesus crucified and put to death. Paul speaks in a similar vein when in the synagogue of Antioch Pisidia: "Those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they did not know Him, nor even the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled them in condemning Him. And though they found no cause for death in Him, they asked Pilate that He should be put to death" (Acts 13:27-28).
Many times the leaders sought to arrest Christ but couldn’t 'for His hour had not yet come' (John 8:20). Motivated by Satan and inflamed by hatred men fulfilled with all viciousness and malignity their murderous desire against Jesus unaware that they were in fact fulfilling prophecy and the redemptive plan of God. The Psalmist addressing God said: "Surely the wrath of man shall praise you" (Psalm 76:10). It did at the Cross. The Old Testament story and experience of Joseph from the book of Genesis illustrates the point. His brothers hated him and mistreated him by selling him as a slave, yet despite this Joseph and the circumstances of his life were in the hand of God. His experience was tough. He endured slavery, false accusation and unlawful imprisonment until God finally exalted him to the throne of Egypt as the ruler and saviour of its people.
Joseph, after his brothers were ultimately reconciled to him, assured them both of His forgiveness and the plan of God: "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive" (Genesis 50:20). So it was at the Cross. Through the evil that men did God accomplished good. God is sovereign and He is love. He intervened in history to fulfil His purpose of redemption and salvation for the human race through His son Jesus and in so doing, displayed His love toward us – 'God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us' (Romans 5:8).
3. He was Raised up by God – Acts 2:24
Men did their worst; they always do when they choose the path of hate. But God raised Jesus from death. Death couldn’t hold Him nor the grave keep Him for He entered that realm not as a victim, but as a volunteer. It had no claim upon Him as it has upon us. Death is the result of sin – ‘Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned’ (Romans 5:12), but unlike you and me, Jesus is without sin in His person and never sinned in His life. His crucifixion and His entering into death was for us in order to set us free from sin’s power and consequences.
"Whom God raised up, having loosed the pains [or birth pangs] of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it." Death is described figuratively as being in labour. Just as when an expectant mother has reached the full term of her pregnancy the birth pangs begin and the child must be born, so 'the idea is that, when Christ died, death was taken with birth pains and suffered them until God delivered death of Christ by raising him up, thus "loosing the birth pains," ending their strain' (R.C.H Lenski). The Lord Jesus came forth in triumph from the sepulchre as 'the firstborn from the dead' (Revelation 1:5).
Peter now follows this statement by showing that the resurrection of Jesus was indeed promised in the Old Testament. David, says Peter after citing Psalm 16:8-11 (Acts 2:25-28), "spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption" (Acts 2:31). Jesus 'was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay' (NIV). He did die, but for Him death was only and of necessity temporary. God would not leave the soul of Christ in ‘the realm of the dead’ nor His body in the grave. He raised Him from death as promised through David. Someone may ask, 'If Christ’s body was in the sepulchre just exactly where was His soul?' His soul was in ‘paradise’ for that is where He said He was going to the thief that hung at His side (Luke 23:43), which according to Paul, is ‘up’ in the ‘third heaven,’ the very presence of God (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).
Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of God and according to His promise. And, the resurrection of Jesus guarantees the fulfilment of God’s oath to David that 'He would raise up Christ to sit on his throne' (Acts 2:30). He will one day do just that when He comes to rule the world. Are you ready for that day?
4. He was Exalted by God – Acts 2:32-36
Peter speaks on this occasion not only as a preacher, but also as a witness to the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:32). He along with the other apostles bore testimony to their experience of ‘the many infallible proofs’ given to them from Christ Himself over that period of forty days between His resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:3). It is important to understand that the gospel witness to the world began with the very men who were uniquely qualified to verify the accuracy and actuality of the truth they proclaimed from their first-hand experience. Moreover, not only did they preach Jesus whom they saw, heard, touched and talked to after His resurrection, they also declared that the witness of the Old Testament scriptures found their fulfilment in the risen and exalted Lord Jesus Christ. To deny the validity of the apostolic testimony is to not only accuse the Bible of being inaccurate, it also charges the apostles with being liars. If they were lying then it was a monumental fabrication in terms of what they were openly claiming in the very place Jesus was crucified not many weeks previous and considering the numbers who claimed to have seen Jesus alive after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:6), an ingenious cover up would hardly have been possible for someone surely would have 'spilled the beans!' Also, if Christ never rose from the dead and if, as the Jewish leaders propagated, the disciples stole the body of Jesus away, why did no one investigate that claim and find the body? (Matthew 28:12-15). It’s easy to deny, denounce and dismiss something; it’s another thing altogether to prove and demonstrate that it’s wrong or false. But I digress.
"Therefore," says Peter, "being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear" (Acts 2:33). Peter’s point is clear: that Christ had gone up was validated by the Spirit coming down, and the evidence that the Spirit had come down to earth was before the thousands who were seeing and hearing for themselves the unmistakable effect of the Spirit’s presence and power that day in Jerusalem.
The throne of David awaits the day Christ will sit upon it when He returns to earth. Meantime, upon His ascension and the invitation of His Father, He took His place at His Father’s right hand according to another Messianic and prophetic psalm of David (Acts 2:34-35). And so Peter concludes with these words:
"Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36).
The exaltation of Jesus of Nazareth confirmed to Israel and to the world that He is both Lord and Christ, exactly who He said He was and proved Himself to be while on earth. The gospel distilled down to one statement is simply this: Jesus is Lord. Acceptance of Jesus as Saviour also means acknowledgment of Him as Lord. Paul wrote:
'God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father' (Philippians 2:9-11).
The gospel calls for voluntary submission. To accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour is to experience His saving power, acknowledge Him for who He really is, and to give to Him His rightful place in your heart, mind and life. When we understand what He has done for us, how much we need Him and the consequences of rejecting Him, we will gladly confess and believe:
'If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved' (Romans 10:9).
The Response of the Audience – Acts 2:37-42
Peter preached and the audience responded. They were convicted by the truth they heard (Acts 2:37) and thousands repenting believed in Jesus Christ, received the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). The outcome was this:
'Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers' (Acts 2:41-42).
"Be saved from this perverse generation" was Peter’s appeal (Acts 2:40); how very applicable such an appeal is today.