“The promise is for you and your children”
(Act 2:39 ESV) 39 “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.”
“Promise” is clearly a reference back to Acts 2:33: “the promise of the Spirit.” And that makes sense, because this passage parallels such prophecies as —
(Isa 44:3 ESV) For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.
(Jer 32:38-39 ESV) 38 And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them.
As a result, the Spirit poured out in Acts 2 was not a one-generation event! We have today the very same “gift of the Spirit” and “promise of the Spirit” and “baptism with the Spirit” as the original 120. (But we are, of course, very differently gifted.)
“Everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Now, we get to a challenging passage! What does “calls to himself” refer to? Well, we obviously have to start with the Prophets, not Calvin or Arminius. The word is borrowed from —
(Joel 2:32 ESV) And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.
Peter’s earlier quotation from Joel ended with the first sentence of Joel 2:32. He now paraphrases the last sentence, and “calls” in Joel 2:32 is the same Greek word as in Acts 2:39 — proskaleo. It means to summon, and it’s never used of a human calling on God, but rather is only used of God summoning a person —
(Act 13:2 ESV) While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
(Act 16:10 ESV) And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
In Acts, the word is used of God’s call to a mission. It’s not the same word as used by Paul in Rom 8 —
(Rom 8:30 ESV) And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
But the interpretive challenge remains. Peter says the promise is for those whom God will call, that is, whom God will invite or summon to himself. (The ancient texts disagree as to whether “to himself” is in the original, which is why several translations don’t have the phrase.)
Well, it makes sense. After all, at this point in history, God has only called the Jews and, so far, only the Jews in Jerusalem. The call will be expanded, as Acts will soon tell us. But the promise is only for those who are called — but, of course, those who are called must respond in faith. And not all the Jews present did.
- If the Spirit is promised to all generations, why aren’t the Spirit’s gifts as spectacular as they were back then? God continued to do miracles after the Exodus, but did he continually do miracles? Did he do them on request — every time?
- Why does God something answer prayers and sometimes choose not to do so?
- What is the purpose of a miracle? If it’s to show God’s glory, then how often are miracles necessary?
- What does it mean to be “called” in this Acts 2:39 sense? If God “summons” us, what does he summon us to do?