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Addresses in Acts (1)

W Ferguson, Antrim

Peter’s Address on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2.14-40)


The coming of the Holy Spirit was marked by the sight of flame-like tongues which rested on each of the Christian company. We should probably see in the tongue shapes an indication of the Holy Spirit at work as Christians would witness by word of mouth to the risen Christ. The Spirit’s coming was also marked by a sound as if a mighty wind were blowing, for the power in the preaching would be that of the Spirit. It was marked, thirdly, by the believers speaking by the Holy Spirit in languages other than their own, languages which presumably they did not know. Individuals in the crowd which gathered understood what they were saying, for the speakers spoke in the various languages which the audience normally used. These sights and sounds were sensational, a sign which could not be gainsaid. An explanation was called for, and Peter acted as spokesman to provide it.

The purpose of Peter’s address

Peter set out to explain that the miraculous sights and sounds were proof that God had sent down the Holy Spirit, as the prophet Joel (2.28-32) had foretold. (We notice that Joel had written of sights and sounds combining to show God at work.) More fundamentally, he set out to show that the coming of the Holy Spirit was proof that Jesus had been received up to God’s right hand in glory. In delivering this message he must show that this coming of the Holy Spirit was proof of the sin of those who rejected Him. This was in accord with the word of the Lord Jesus to His disciples in John 16.8-11 (RV) concerning the Holy Spirit: "And he, when he is come, will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye behold me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world hath been judged". This is why, immediately after his quotation from Joel, Peter begins to speak of Jesus. The coming of the Holy Spirit could not take place until Jesus was glorified (Jn 7.39). It is important to see that God has not only raised Him from the dead, but He has also exalted Him to the highest place in glory.

Peter’s exposition of the Person of Christ, His rejection, His resurrection, and His exaltation

It is noteworthy that Peter begins with reference to Christ as Jesus of Nazareth. This was the name used by people generally, and indeed the name which had been nailed to His cross. It is the name which tells how close He came to us in His condescension:

Humbled for a season to receive a name
From the lips of sinners unto whom He came

(C M Noel).

Peter establishes, first, that the miracles of Jesus were God’s attestation to His being the Anointed One, the Christ. (We recall that in Luke 7.20-22 He had used the miracles as evidence to reassure John the Baptist that He was indeed the Coming One, the Christ.) Peter here asserts that his audience is well aware of the miracles. This is a vital factor in convincing them of their guilt.

He refers next to the crucifixion. He establishes the fact that the Jews were responsible: it was they who saw to it that the Romans crucified Him. The Romans were also responsible, for they performed the crucifixion ("by the hand of lawless men", v.23, RV). But God was also responsible for events at the cross – "delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God". God’s perfect will was worked out at the cross, despite the rebellion and sin of Israel. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility meet most wonderfully at the cross and both have full scope in the events there.

Peter is now ready to move forward to the next fact: Christ was raised again from the dead on the third day. God did this, and we can be sure, Peter is saying, that God disapproved of the people’s rejection of His Son. God raised Him, says Peter, because it was impossible that death should detain Him. This is a triumphant assertion and one which still causes His people to exult and worship. Peter says that this is shown by Psalm 16.8-11, written by David, but basically about David’s greater Son, for David died and remained dead, but Christ was not abandoned to Sheol and saw no corruption.

This leads to the triumphant climax: God has exalted Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, David’s greater Son, to the throne at God’s right hand. Peter cites Psalm 110.1 in support of this. David’s Lord sits at Jehovah’s right hand, the exalted Christ.

Humbled for a season to receive a name
From the lips of sinners unto whom He came,
Faithfully He bore it spotless to the last,
Brought it back victorious when from death He passed.

The impact of Peter’s address

The audience was moved to a deep conviction of their guilt and begged Peter to tell them what they must do to express their repentance. If they have truly repented and wished to dissociate themselves from the rejection and crucifixion of Christ they can show that they are now believers by a public act. They can be baptised, for they have made a new beginning. They will join the company of the believers, enjoying the new indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So they will be well and truly severed from "this untoward (perverse) generation" of Christ-rejecters.

This powerful address begins with Jesus of Nazareth, "a man approved of God", and ends with "that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ". Peter put the argument carefully together, but the power in the presentation of it was that of the newly descended Holy Spirit. When the Lord Jesus had promised the Spirit He had said, "Ye shall be witnesses". The power which the apostles received was the power to witness. What an introduction to the preaching in the book of Acts! Men preached factually, carefully, logically, accurately, fervently, and the Holy Spirit worked with His divine power.

To be continued.


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