(Act 2:38-39 ESV) 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 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.”
To no one’s surprise, the solution is to repent. The Prophets had been preaching repentance for 1,000 years! Of course, Peter preaches repentance! The question is what does repentance require?
Well, what sin was the audience charged with? Rejection of Jesus as Messiah and LORD. How would they repent of that rejection? By accepting Jesus as Messiah and LORD. Faith.
In this passage, “repent” means “have faith in Jesus as the Messiah and LORD.” Every word of Peter’s sermon points to this claim.
This makes a lot of sense. If this is not so, then Peter did not require faith in Jesus as a condition to salvation. In fact, traditional Church of Christ preaching treats Acts 2:38 as an incomplete, insufficient formula for salvation. We must add to it “hear,” “believe,” and “confess,” as though Peter’s audience was supposed to have learned Rom 10:9-11 from (what?) a correspondence course?
But if we were just to read the language in context, the error from which they were to turn back was a lack of faith that Jesus is the Messiah and LORD. And if we accept Jesus as King and LORD, we’ve also submitted to him and so we’ve repented from our sins. And if we’ve submitted to baptism in the name of Jesus Messiah for forgiveness, we’ve not only repented of sins, but we’ve also confessed our faith in Jesus.
And if we expect to receive forgiveness of sins from Jesus because Joel promised, “[E]veryone who calls upon the name of the LORD [YHWH] shall be saved,” then we’ve confessed Jesus as Lord (Rom 10:9!) as well as Messiah.
Baptism at this point in history was new, especially to Jews who’d traveled there as pilgrims and may have had very little or no knowledge of John the Baptist’s work in Judea.
Ritual washing was required to enter the Temple, and we should understand that Jesus replaced the Temple with himself and the church — but Peter did not preach this lesson.
Ritual washing was also likely required of proselyte conversions, and if so, then to a Jew, submitting to baptism was to admit being outside of God’s family and having to re-enter. It was an act of great contrition — and exactly the opposite of claiming salvation as a descendant of Abraham. Rather, it was claiming salvation by faith in Jesus as Messiah and LORD — as a matter of grace, not entitlement — an individual decision that most of Israel would decline to make.
Most Jews ultimately refused to accept Jesus as Messiah and preferred to find “salvation” in a military uprising against Rome. And they suffered the fate prophesied in Deu 30 and 32. Only those who submitted to God in humility and who accepted Jesus as Messiah received the blessing of the Spirit.
Gift of the Holy Spirit
Peter’s promise that those baptized would receive the “gift of the Holy Spirit” is parallel with —
(Act 2:33 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.
That is, the “gift of the Holy Spirit” is the “promise of the Holy Spirit,” which is the Spirit outpoured as promised by the Prophets.
(Tit 3:4-7 ESV) 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. “
For the forgiveness of sins
Acts 2:38 is the first explicit mention of forgiveness of sins by Peter, but it’s obviously an interpretation of Joel 2:31, quoted earlier by Peter —
(Act 2:21 ESV) 21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Moreover, to devout Jews, the promise of forgiveness of sins was closely tied to repentance as well receipt of the Spirit. For example,
(Psa 32:1-5 ESV) Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah 5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
(Jer 31:33-34 ESV) 33 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
(Jer 36:2-3 ESV) 2 “Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today. 3 It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.”
Peter’s audience knew that the path to forgiveness, to receipt of the Spirit, and to entry into the Kingdom was repentance, but repentance from what?