Acts 2:14–47: Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost, The Fellowship of the Believers
In the previous chapter the disciples received the Holy Spirit and immediately started preaching the Word to all around. But not in a “normal” way; in the power of the Spirit they preached in multiple languages, such that everyone in that very multicultural crowd heard the Word preached in their own language. This amazed most of the hearers, though some stubborn folks decided to dismiss the event, claiming the disciples were just drunk.
In this passage Peter stands up and addresses the crowd. First of all, he says, they can’t be drunk, because it’s only 9AM1! That’s not what I would call completely solid proof, but it means that those who are accusing the disciples of being drunk are actually accusing them of being full-on drunkards, because who else would be drunk first thing in the morning?
However, that’s not Peter’s only argument. He says that what’s really happening is that Jesus’ disciples are living out a prophecy that was given by Joel; verses 17–21 are a quotation of Joel 2:28–32 in which Joel prophecies that God will pour out His Spirit and that His people will prophesy.
Having cleared this up, Peter now begins to talk about Jesus, starting with the fact that He was unjustly crucified:
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it." (verses 22–24)
But Jesus wasn’t just some guy who got killed; Peter then goes on to quote Psalm 16:8–11:
"For David says concerning him,
“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’”
However, Peter points out that David did die, and was buried, so he couldn’t have meant that God would literally prevent him from dying (his soul going to Hades), or decaying (seeing “corruption”); he must have meant something else. And Peter says that what David was prophesying was his descendant, Jesus, the Christ:
“Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” (verses 30–33)
This is another good opportunity to point out that “Christ” wasn’t Jesus’ surname, it was his title: the Jews were looking forward to a “Messiah,” or “Saviour,” or “Christ” (depending what language you speak) to come and save them. Many of them were anticipating the Christ to “save” them in the sense of restoring the nation of Israel, whereas the New Testament clarifies that the “salvation” provided by the Christ is deeper (and better) than that, making us right with God—“saving” us from God’s just wrath.
So Peter’s claim here is that Jesus is the Christ the Jews had been anticipating. And then he quotes Psalm 110:1 (“The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool”), which he likely remembered from Jesus’ teaching on the same passage, which is mentioned in Matthew 22:34–46, Mark 12:35–37, and Luke 20. Peter echoes Jesus’ point here: this passage from Psalm 110 doesn’t make sense unless one of David’s descendants is more than just a descendant, such that it makes sense for David to call that man “Lord,” and Jesus is the one that God has made Lord and Christ.
Peter’s listeners hear all that he has said, and take it very seriously, which Peter recognizes:
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (verses 37–39)
We’re told that Peter continued preaching, and that 3,000 people were baptised and added to the believers that day.
Verses 42–47 then give us a glimpse of the very earliest days of the Church, with the twelve Apostles teaching the people, the people devoting themselves to that teaching as well as to prayer, and everyone sharing all of their possessions with each other. Verse 46 indicates that the people are also still going to the Jewish temple; I don’t know if Acts will specifically tell us when that stops. (If it does, we’ll get to it later.)
We definitely see Peter becoming an early leader of the Church in this passage, delivering the first Christian sermon ever recorded in the Bible. There are many instances in the Gospels where Peter is impulsive, not thinking things through, but we can see in the book of Acts that he was also listening carefully to the things Jesus taught. Not just the fact that he quotes Psalm 110 here, showing that he was listening when Jesus preached on that particular passage, but I’m guessing that he probably learned much of what he teaches in this whole sermon from Jesus.
God’s People Will Prophesy
It might be worth calling out that a prophecy is just a message from God intended to be delivered to someone (usually His people) by the prophet—that is, the person who received the message from God. These days whenever we hear the word “prophecy” we think of it as telling the future, and some of the prophecies listed in the Old Testament were of that nature, but more often than not prophecies in the Old Testament were about the present: God sees that we are doing something He doesn’t like, and He wants us to turn from those ways.
When the disciples “prophesied” at Pentecost I don’t think they were telling the future, I think they were sharing the Gospel.
Prophecy and Prophesy
Just to make things more confusing, the noun and the verb are spelled differently:
- Prophecy (with a “c”) is a noun
- Prophesy (with an “s”) is a verb
So, the Spirit enabled the disciples to prophesy, and they delivered a prophecy to the hearers, but when the hearers heard the prophecy some didn’t believe it was a prophecy and assumed the disciples hadn’t prophesied at all.
I just noticed this difference as I was writing this post, so there’s a very good chance that this blog has only been spelling the word with a “c” even in cases where it should have been spelled with an “s.” There’s also a good chance I’ll forget this, and continue to misspell the verb form in the future…
Christianity and Judaism
The way that Peter peppers references to Joel and the Psalms throughout this sermon, as well as the fact that these early believers are attending the Jewish temple, should remind us that, at this point, following Jesus is still seen as a “sect” of Judaism, not a completely new thing2. And that’s valid!
We sometimes think of it as if Judaism was one religion and now Christianity is a new one, but the Bible doesn’t treat Christianity that way: it’s a continuation of the work God started “in the beginning.” God’s plan of saving His people through His Son was always His plan; it was never not His plan. Therefore, when we’re reading the Old Testament, we should read it in that light: It wasn’t a bunch of stuff God tried in an effort to get His people to listen to Him before finally giving up and trying something new. It was always pointing ahead to Jesus’ work on the cross, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the salvation of people from every tribe and nation and language.
Obviously we ended up with two different religions over time. Judaism is still a thing on its own, and Christianity ended up growing separately from Judaism. I’m sure many Christians, at least in North America (where I’m from), don’t even think of Christianity and Judaism as being related, other than in a very narrow chronological way. (i.e. there was Judaism, and then there was Christianity.) Given the amount of anti-semitism in the Church3 I don’t see that changing, either; the ones who hate Jews are going to want to hate the Jews’ religion, too, and tying Christianity too closely to Judaism puts a damper on that—even though the Scriptures don’t put this kind of separation between Judaism and Christianity.
The passage says “the third hour,” but remember that time, though imprecise, was counted from when the sun rose. So “the third hour” means “about three hours after sunrise,” and the ESV footnote translates that to 9AM for us. ↩︎
I’m guessing (though the text doesn’t say this anywhere) that the disciples might have been assuming at this point that Judaism as they knew it would just “morph into” belief in Jesus. ↩︎
I was tempted to say “by some Christians in the Church,” but couldn’t bring myself to soft pedal it that much. If the Church did a better job at rooting hate out of its midst maybe I’d go easier on us, but I think the Church has too often ignored, given into, or even fed hate within its ranks, especially when it comes to anti-semitism. It’s technically true that “the Church” isn’t anti-semitic, that’s not part of Christianity and it doesn’t come from the Holy Spirit, but the institution(s) that the Church has become, run by humans, can be legitimately seen as anti-semitic, until we do a better job of rooting it out. ↩︎
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