Acts 2:14a, 22-32
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 Peter’s sermon) interpret the speaking in tongues of Pentecost in the light of a quotation from the prophet Joel. Verses 22-32 (this Sunday’s text) present the kerygma (a Greek word meaning the proclamation of the Good News of Christ). Verses 33-36 (the last part of Peter’s sermon) establish the relationship between the coming of the Spirit with the Good News of Jesus Christ (Chance, 51).
ACTS 2:14a. PETER LIFTED UP HIS VOICE AND SPOKE TO THEM
14But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spoke out to them….
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 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 2:22-24. JESUS, A MAN APPROVED BY GOD TO YOU
22 “Men of Israel (Greek: Andres Israelitai—Men, Israelites), hear these words! Jesus of Nazareth (Greek:ton Nazoraion—the Nazarene), a man approved (Greek: apodedeigmenon) by God to you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, even as you yourselves know, 23him, being delivered up by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by the hand of lawless men, crucified and killed; 24 whom God raised up, having freed him from the agony of death (Greek: lusas tas odinas tou thanatou—having loosed the birth pains of death), because it was not possible that he should be held by it.
“Men of Israel (Andres Israelitai—Men, Israelites), hear these word! Jesus of Nazareth”(ton Nazoraion—the Nazarene)” (v. 22a). Peter goes immediately to the crux of the matter—Jesus. The people listening to Peter know who Jesus was. Whether or not they were present in the crowds that heard Jesus teach or watched him heal, his reputation was such that they had heard of him. It is almost certain that many in this large Jerusalem crowd had encountered Jesus personally at some time during his ministry. Some of them may have been present during his crucifixion.
“a man approved (apodedeigmenon) by God to you” (v. 22b). This word, apodedeigmenon, is at the heart of this verse. It can mean “approved” or “shown” or “demonstrated” or “accredited” or “attested.” It is God who has approved Jesus—has shown Jesus to be acting by the power of God—has proven Jesus’ Godly nature.
“by mighty works and wonders and signs” (v. 22c). God attested to Jesus with works of power, wonders and signs. God intended these works, wonders and signs to do something more than to capture people’s attention. When Jesus healed a blind man or a woman with a hemorrhage, God intended those who witnessed such works to recognize that Jesus was acting by God’s power. Jesus did not do these works, wonders, and signs to inspire a WOW! factor. These works were God-inspired and God-powered to make it crystal clear to everyone who saw them that Jesus was working by God’s power—that Jesus enjoyed a special relationship with God that made it possible for him to work miracles. It is as if God had taken his Stamp of Approval and used it to mark Jesus as God’s special man.
“which God did by him in the midst of you” (v. 22d). It was not Jesus acting alone who worked these works of power. As a matter of fact, this portion of this verse shows God as the actor and Jesus as God’s agent.
When God used Jesus to work these mighty works, he did not do so quietly and unobserved. In most cases, God worked mighty works through Jesus in the presence of crowds, and the crowds spread the word concerning what they had seen, causing the crowds surrounding Jesus to grow even larger. Even when Jesus healed a person in an isolated setting, that person became a witness to the Godly power behind Jesus’ works. That person’s friends would see the change in that person’s life, and would also become witnesses. The word of Jesus’ works of power spread like wildfire.
Luke, the author of the book of Acts, also authored the Gospel of Luke. That Gospel includes many accounts of Jesus’ teaching with authority (Luke 4:32, 36) and healing (Luke 4:31-41; 5:12-26; 6:6-11, 18-19; 7:1-17; etc.).
“even as you yourselves know” (v. 22e). Peter won’t let his listeners off the hook. He reminds them that they know exactly what he is talking about when he speaks of “mighty works and wonders and signs.” Many of them saw these things, and all of them heard of them. There should be no reason for them to doubt that God was the power behind Jesus’ works of power.
“him, being delivered up by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God” (v. 23a). As was the case in the last verse, God is the primary actor in this verse. God handed Jesus over to the people of Israel. God knew what would happen. It was God’s plan that it would happen. Jesus’ crucifixion was no accident of history. Not only did God plan it, but the prophets foretold it (Luke 18:31; 24:25-26, 46).
But, in spite of the prophetic pointers to the crucifixion, it nevertheless came as a surprise to the Jewish people. They weren’t surprised that their leaders caused him to be crucified, because they could see how Jesus provoked them with his words and deeds. The part that came as a surprise was not that Jesus was crucified, but that the messiah would be crucified. In their minds, the crucifixion erased any possibility that Jesus was the messiah. As Peter preaches this sermon, he needs to help his congregation understand that the crucifixion was God’s plan—that it was, indeed, the messiah who was crucified.
This verse raises the question of responsibility for Jesus’ death. If Jesus died according to God’s plan, does that exonerate the people who carried out Jesus’ execution? The answer is “No!” The divine plan “carries no diminution of the guilt of those who handed him over to death or carried the sentence out; but it does point the way to the removal of their guilt and the assurance of pardon. Peter, however, says nothing about this until his hearers are truly convicted of sin (Bruce, 64).
“you have taken by the hand of lawless men, crucified and killed” (v. 23b). 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 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.
“lawless men” (v. 23b). The law in question is the Jewish Law—the Torah. Those “outside the law” were Roman soldiers, who carried out the crucifixion. It was Roman hands that nailed Jesus to the cross. It was Roman soldiers who mocked Jesus, saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Luke 23:37). But these soldiers were simply carrying out the will of Jewish people who had persuaded the authorities to have Jesus crucified.
“whom God raised up” (v. 24a). Once again, God is the primary actor. Jesus didn’t just rise up from the dead. God raised him up. God freed him from death. Humans killed him, expecting that to be the last word. God raised him up so that the last word would not be death but resurrection.
Don’t miss this point. God was behind all that happened. God made it clear by “mighty deeds and wonders and signs” (v. 22) that Jesus was acting by God’s power (v. 22). It was God’s plan that Jesus would die by crucifixion (v. 23). After the crucifixion, God raised Jesus from the dead (v. 24a).
“having freed him from the agony of death” (lusas tas odinas tou thanatou—having loosed the birth pains of death) (v. 24a). This verse alludes to Psalm 18:4-6, where the Psalmist speaks of the “cords of Sheol” entangling him and God answering his cry for relief.
The Greek word, odinas, usually means birth pains. However, the equivalent Hebrew word can mean either “birth pains” or “bonds.” “Bonds” might be a better translation here, because it makes sense in context and captures the meaning of Psalm 18:5 more exactly (Chance, 55; Williams, 51).
“because it was not possible that he should be held by it” (v. 24c). “The abyss can no more hold the Redeemer than a pregnant woman can hold the child in her body” (G. Bertram, quoted in Fernando, 103).
ACTS 2:25-28. FOR DAVID SAYS CONCERNING HIM
25 For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before my face,
For he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved.
26 Therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced.
Moreover my flesh also will dwell in hope;
27 because you will not leave my soul in Hades,
neither will you allow your Holy One to see decay (diaphthoran).
28 You made known to me the ways of life.
You will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
Verses 25b-28 quote Psalm 16:8-11 as it appears in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures). That Psalm appears to be a statement of faith by the Psalmist, who says that keeping the Lord always before him will assure him of the Lord’s help—to include relief from Sheol, the abode of the dead.
Peter assumes that David is the author of Psalm 16, and the Jewish people of the time would accept that.
“because you will not leave my soul in Hades, neither will you allow your Holy One to see decay” (v. 27). This verse (quoting Psalm 16:10) is the key to understanding Peter’s argument, which unfolds in verses 29-31.
Hades is the Greek word for the place of the dead (Sheol is the Hebrew word). Hades is thought to be a place where the unrighteous suffer punishment. The Psalmist seems to be saying that he expects God not to abandon him to the place of the dead or to allow his body to decay.
ACTS 2:29-31. DAVID SPOKE OF THE RESURRECTION OF THE CHRIST
29 “Brothers, I may tell you freely of the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, he would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, 31 he foreseeing this spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was his soul left in Hades, nor did his flesh see decay.
“Brothers, I may tell you freely of the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day” (v. 29). The first point in Peter’s argument is that David (the author of Psalm 16) could not have been speaking about himself when he said that God would not abandon him to Hades or let him experience corruption. David did die—everyone knows that. His death is recorded in 1 Kings 2:10, where it says, “David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.” Peter’s listeners—people of Jerusalem—would know exactly where David’s tomb was located. Many of them would have visited it.
“Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, he would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne” (v. 30). The second point of Peter’s argument is that the Lord promised to set one of David’s sons on Israel’s throne. That promise is recorded in Psalm 132:11.
“he foreseeing this spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was his soul left in Hades, nor did his flesh see decay” (v. 31). Peter’s final point is that, in Psalm 16, David was not speaking of the Lord exempting David personally from death. Instead, David was speaking about the son of David whom the Lord promised to set on Israel’s throne. Peter interprets this messianically, and concludes that it was Jesus, the messiah, whom David foresaw as the one who would not be abandoned to Hades and whose flesh would not experience decay.
Peter doesn’t use Psalm 16 to prove Jesus’ resurrection. He will address that in the next verse. He uses Psalm 16 to establish that the messiah was to be raised from the dead.
ACTS 2:32. TO WHICH WE ALL ARE WITNESSES
32This Jesus God raised up, to which we all are witnesses.
This is the proof of the resurrection. The apostles have witnessed the resurrected Christ. Luke recorded several of these resurrection appearances. Jesus appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32)—and to Peter (Luke 24:34)—and to the disciples (Luke 24:36-43). Jesus even ate a piece of broiled fish in the presence of the disciples (Luke 24:42-43). Other resurrection appearances are related in Matthew 28:18-20; John 20:21-22; 21:15-17; 1 Corinthians 15:5. It was important that the apostles be eyewitnesses to the resurrection so that they could bear witness to other people concerning the resurrection.
Peter and the apostles are believable witnesses to the resurrection:
• For one thing, the apostles knew that their Lord had been crucified, so people expect them to be fearful and in hiding. That had, in fact, been the case until the apostles saw the risen Christ. Now these Jerusalem residents are seeing energized, fearless apostles making a public proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection in the very city where Jesus was killed only weeks earlier. Their boldness in this dangerous setting is, in itself, a strong testimony to the truth of their witness.
• For another thing, these Jerusalem residents have just seen and heard things that qualified as “mighty works and wonders and signs” (v. 22). They have heard “like the rushing of a mighty wind” (2:2). They have seen tongues of fire resting on the apostles (2:3). They have heard the apostles “speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (2:4). Jews from many nations were visiting Jerusalem for Pentecost, and “everyone heard them speaking in his own language” (2:6). These were not just circus tricks—entertainment. These were signs to show the people of Jerusalem that the apostles are authentic agents of God.
So the people who are listening to Peter preach have good reason to believe him when he says that the apostles have witnessed the risen Christ.
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 at the right hand of God” and being the one who “has poured out this that you both 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 Psalm 110:1 and then said,“David himself calls him Lord, so how can he be his son?” (Mark 12:37). 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; cf. Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20, 22; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22).
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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Bock, Darrell L., Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007)
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Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year A (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)
Bruce, F. F., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Acts (Revised)(Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, A (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1992)
Faw, Chalmer E., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Acts, (Scottdale, Pennsyvania: Herald Press, 1993)
Fernando, Ajith, The NIV Application Commentary: Acts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998)
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: The Acts of the Apostles (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003)
Polhill, John B., New American Commentary: Acts, Vol. 26 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)
Soards, Marion L., The Speeches in Acts (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994)
Walaskay, Paul W., Westminster Bible Companion: Acts (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998)
Wall, Robert W., The New Interpreter’s Bible: Acts, Romans, I Corinthians, Vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002)
Williams, David J., New International Biblical Commentary: Acts (Paternoster Press, 1995)
Willimon, William H., Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Acts (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988)
Copyright 2009, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan