One of the most illustrious discourses adorning the Book of Acts is Peter’s proclamation on the day of Pentecost.
We do not, of course, possess the entirety of the words and events of that remarkable day described in Acts 2. It is not revealed, for example, what the apostles were preaching in those new languages when they were accused of drunkenness, nor is the substance of Peter’s “many other words” (Acts 2:40) recorded.
It is evident, however, from the preserved words of the apostle in this important chapter that the core of the inspired teaching was Christ. Let us briefly examine some interesting aspects of Peter’s preaching.
First of all, the apostle feels obligated to refute the ignorant charge of drunkenness made by some of the Jews present. He suggests that the hour is too early for such conduct.
He then affirms that this occurrence is but the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy in the Old Testament. Peter suggests, of course, that the prophecy will have further fulfillment with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles (cf. “all flesh” 2:17), which did in fact later occur (cf. Acts 10).
Some writers feel that inspiration may even be alluding to additionally remote events (e.g., the destruction of Jerusalem) by the use of the figurative language of Acts 2:19, 20.
At any rate, it should be stressed that this phenomenal demonstration of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was a very special endowment within the plan of God and certainly not one that was to be granted to Christians generally.
In Acts 2:22ff, Peter introduces “Jesus of Nazareth” to his audience. The thrust of the apostle’s presentation may be summed up as follows: Jesus: Approved, Disapproved, and Proved. Consider these, please.
Peter commences with a reference to “Jesus of Nazareth ...” The name “Jesus” was a common name in Palestine, being the Greek correspondent of the Hebrew “Joshua,” for whom many Jews were named. So it is needful that a specific Jesus be identified.
Incidentally, it is interesting to note that Peter uses the term Nazoraion for Nazareth. This was the Syriac pronunciation of the name as used in Galilee. This harmonizes remarkably with the accusation, during the trial of Jesus, that Peter’s “speech” betrayed his knowledge of the Galilean Jesus (Mt.26:69-73). The Bible is filled with thousands of these incidental agreements which evidence its inspiration.
The announcement was made that Jesus was
“a man approved of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, even as ye yourselves know.”
God’s approval of Christ was made apparent by the miracles which he performed. They are called “mighty works” because of the supernatural power involved; “wonders” because of the amazement they effected; and, “signs” because of their design.
The miracles of Jesus signified the credibility of the Lord. They were utterly undeniable. They were not, as alleged modern-day miracles, secluded, back-street affairs. They were performed in the middle of the multitudes as the Jews very well knew.
In fact, the contemporaries of Christ did not deny that he performed miraculous feats.
“The chief priests therefore and the Pharisees gathered a council, and said, ‘What do we? for this man doeth many signs’” (Jn. 11:47).
The miracles of Christ and his apostles were even admitted by infidel writers for centuries subsequent to the apostolic age. Thomas Horne wrote:
“While the facts were too recent to be disputed, Celsus, Porphyry, Hierocles, Julian and other adversaries, admitted their [Christ’s miracles] reality, but ascribed them to magic, and denied the divine commission of him who performed them. But to whatever cause they ascribed them, their admission of the reality of these miracles is an involuntary confession that there was something preternatural in them.” (1841, p. 103)
Though Christ’s miracles validated his preaching (including the claim of being the Messiah and Son of God), he was nonetheless “delivered up” to be crucified. It is important to note that Peter stresses both the divine and the human involvement in the Savior’s death.
Jesus’ death was no mere human lynching. Calvary was a part of Jehovah’s eternal plan, foreknown and decreed by the divine Godhead. This does not imply that men were programmed to do evil, but it does suggest that the fall of man was known, and that correspondingly, a divine plan for redemption was drawn.
Peter indicts both Jews and Gentiles in the death of Christ.
“Ye (Jews) by the hands of lawless men (the Romans) did crucify and slay” him, charges the apostle. It was undoubtedly the design of God that both branches of humanity (Jew and Gentile) should participate in the murder of Christ, that both might keenly feel the need of Heaven’s saving grace.
Further, it is very important here that emphasis be placed upon the fact that Jesus was killed by the hand of “lawless” men. The Greek word denotes “departing from the law, a violator of the law,” and it suggests that Christ was crucified in spite of the fact that he had legally been declared innocent. No less than three times Pilate, the Roman procurator, affirmed the innocence of the Lord (cf. Lk. 23:4, 14, 22). And so his rightfully deserved “judgment (of innocence) was taken away” (cf. Acts 8:33).
Because of this, the apostles could forcefully proclaim the concept of the atonement. Christ died in our stead. He, dying innocently, can effectively function as a substitute sin-offering for those who surrender to his holy will (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21)
Even though the Jews disapproved of Jesus, as evidenced by their crucifixion of him, Christ was proved with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4). On Pentecost Peter could courageously announce of Christ “whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.”
The apostle dared to make this claim to the very ones who killed the Man of Nazareth. Surely if the Lord had not been raised, someone in that vast multitude could have given a clue as to the whereabouts of the corpse. The fact that no one even attempted such is a demonstration of considerable consequence itself.
The evidence for the resurrection has even made its impact on the unwilling minds of unbelievers. Dr. Shirley Jackson Case, a modernist who denied the Savior’s resurrection, was once forced to concede:
“The first Christians confidently believed that Jesus really died, was really buried, and actually rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples. The testimony of Paul alone is sufficient to convince us beyond any reasonable doubt that this was a commonly accepted opinion in his day—an opinion at that time supported by the highest authority imaginable, the eyewitnesses themselves.” (1909)
Having forcefully argued for the resurrection of Christ on the basis of Old Testament prophecy (Psa. 16: 8ff) and first century witnesses (2:32), Peter contends that the Lord was exalted to the right hand of God to be seated on David’s throne. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles was evidence of Christ’s heavenly ascension and subsequent exaltation (cf. 2:33).
Peter’s affirmation is in direct conflict with the claim of modern “dispensationalists” who assert that Christ has not as yet been seated upon the throne of David.
When it was announced that God had made both Lord and Christ “this Jesus whom ye crucified” (note the pointedness of apostolic preaching), the people urged, “what shall we do?” It is significant that these sincere persons obviously had neither been taught nor had they adopted the “man versus the plan” fabrication. They knew there was something to be done! They were instructed,
“Repent ye, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38).
All who gladly received the heavenly message were baptized. And apparently then, even as now. those who did not gladly receive that apostolic instruction’ were not submissive to the command to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.
Thus, was the simple gospel preached on that memorable Pentecost more than nine teen centuries past. May we attempt to duplicate such today that the Master’s kingdom may go on and on.