(Act 2:22-23 ESV) 22 “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 — 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
This passage raises two difficult questions. First, what is meant by “the definite plan and foreknowledge of God”? Well, we don’t have to get into the whole predestination discussion here, since we know these very things were prophesied by the Old Testament prophets. They only knew because God told them — based on his knowledge of the future.
But, of course, it’s more than knowledge; it was God’s plan. Indeed, Ephesians 1 tells us that God’s plan to redeem us in Jesus was set in motion before the foundation of the world.
Now, Peter wasn’t there to preach Calvinism. His point is that Jesus’ crucifixion is no defeat for God’s plans. God meant for Jesus to be crucified for a purpose, and dying a criminal’s death is in fact a victory for God.
Second, how can Peter accuse the crowd for being the ones who “crucified and killed” Jesus by the hands of the Romans? Surely some of them were there. Some may be the very ones who cried “Crucify him!” — but not all.
“You” thus refers to the Jewish people, as a whole, because the Jewish people, as a whole, turned their backs on Jesus and let him die. Not everyone sought his crucifixion, but nearly all sat back and let it happen. Some were caught up in the crowd’s hysteria, crying for his execution, while some huddled cowardly by a fire. But all participated.
They’d seen the miracles, heard the preaching, waved palm branches to announce his kingship, begged him to claim his throne, and then ran when those with swords threatened him. Had the crowds surrounded and defended Jesus, history would be very different. He was only crucified because the crowds demanded it and those who disagreed sat by silently. And their silence condemns them.
(Act 2:24 ESV) 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
“Not possible”? Why not? Because his resurrection was always a part of God’s plan. And because he was God’s son — and God is greater than death.
(Act 2:25-28 ESV) 25 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; 26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. 27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
Peter quotes from Psalm 16. “Hades” is the realm of the dead. The Hebrew word is Sheol, meaning either the grave or where the dead are. Greek-speaking Jews used “Hades” for Sheol without intending to include the associated Greek mythology. “Abandon my soul to Hades” is parallel with “let your Holy One see corruption.” “Corruption” refers, of course, to the decay dead bodies suffer.
(Act 2:29-32 ESV) 29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 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, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.”
Peter takes Psalm 16 to refer to a promise of resurrection — and indeed that seems to be fairest reading. As Paul also argues in Acts 13:35, David himself died and his body decayed. Therefore, the Psalm refers to the one like David, the Messiah —
(Jer 23:5 ESV) 5 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
The oath Peter refers to is —
(1Ki 2:4 ESV) 4 that the LORD may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’
Oddly enough, the making of the actual oath is not recorded, but it is referred to by David here near his death.
Peter then declares that the 12 men standing before the crowd are all witnesses of the resurrection. Implicit in the argument is that the resurrection, by fulfilling Psalm 16, shows Jesus to be the new David, that is, the king placed on David’s throne by God — the Messiah.
(Act 2:33-35 ESV) 33 “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. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”‘
Peter then declares the unimaginable: That Jesus has ascended to heaven, to sit at God’s right hand and rule Israel from David’s throne above. Peter builds his case on Psalm 110 —
(Psa 110:1-4 ESV) The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” 2 The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! 3 Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. 4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
In the ancient world, including Rome and ancient Israel, it was standard practice for a king to serve with his son as co-regents. That is, the king would crown his son while they both lived, so there’d be no transition after the older king’s death and to train the younger king to rule. It was a means of preventing a palace coup (and removing the temptation for the son to kill the father to take the throne).
Thus, to sit at the king’s right hand would be to serve as co-king, having such power and authority as the father chose to delegate. That’s the image. And therefore Peter interprets Psalm 110 to refer to the appointment of a co-regent in heaven — Jesus on the throne of David.
(Act 2:36 ESV) 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
We need to define two terms. “Lord” could mean “sir,” but it was also the term for a superior, especially a king. Among the Jews, it’s the name used of YHWH. To declare Jesus “Lord” to a Jewish audience was to declare him co-equal with God. Peter is referring, of course, to Psalm 110:1, “The LORD [YHWH] says to my Lord,” that is, God speaks to David’s Lord. That Lord is Jesus.
“Christ” means “Anointed One” and is the Greek translation of “Messiah,” also meaning Anointed One. It’s a reference to the Messiah in his kingly role. David famously became king by being anointed (as did Saul and presumably the later kings). Thus, the “Anointed One” is the one coming to sit on David’s throne.
In other words, Peter is telling his hearers that they crucified the Messiah — the one sent by God to establish the Kingdom and rule from David’s throne. He is charging them with an unimaginable crime. Jesus really was the King of the Jews — and they are guilty of regicide, killing the very king sent by God to rescue them.
(Act 2:37 ESV) 37 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?”
Why were they cut to the heart? What changed between Pentecost and the week before Passover? It’s not an easy question to answer.
I figure they’d been impressed by the signs they saw. The tongues of fire, the miracle of languages, and Peter’s speech caused them to reconsider their thinking. And, by now, surely many had heard of the resurrection. Some had likely seen the risen Jesus. There were 120 people ready to testify to it! And the resurrection changed everything.
You see, most Jews believed in the general resurrection, based on a handful of Old Testament passages — a bodily resurrection.
(Dan 12:2-3 ESV) 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
But the resurrection was controversial. The Sadducees, representing the priestly class, rejected the idea. Therefore, the resurrection was not a certainty to the Jews, but something to be debated. Besides, how happy could God be with the Jews, given that the Exile was still ongoing and the Spirit and Messiah had not yet come?
Therefore, to learn that Jesus had been resurrected meant —
* God really would resurrect the dead at the end of time.
* But Jesus’ resurrection was not at the end of time. It therefore marked the end of an age, of sorts, the first fruits of the general resurrection — a promise that the resurrection would come to those right with God in this new age.
* Jesus was especially favored by God, a favor best explained by his being the Messiah. Those palm branches weren’t such a bad idea after all!
* Jesus would rule from heaven, not earth. The Kingdom was coming, but not in the expected way.
* To enjoy the benefits of the Kingdom — forgiveness of sins and the Spirit — we’d better get with the program, because God only promised to save a remnant.
Now, those are all very reasonable conclusions to draw from the prophets and from Peter’s sermon, but it’s unlikely everyone there saw the whole picture. But they would have all seen some of it. They would have certainly seen the outpouring of the Spirit as marking the coming of the Kingdom, and that fact by itself proves Jesus to be the Messiah. After all, God gave his Spirit to these disciples of Jesus.
But what good is a dead Messiah? None at all — unless he’s been resurrected. And so the resurrection proves that God cannot be defeated even by death.
So how do we enter the Kingdom?