So Peter asked the devout crowd in Jerusalem to repent. They were good and religious Jews, but they had no faith in Jesus as Messiah — and to turn to God, they had to turn to Jesus. There was and is no other path.
Some weeks ago, in the comments, the question was raised how this could be? After all, many — perhaps most — of these devout Jews had never even heard of Jesus. Fewer still had heard that he’s the Messiah. Fewer still had any idea that he was and is God the Son. How could they repent from not believing what they’d never been taught.
But under anyone’s interpretation, the fact is that faith in Jesus as Messiah is required for salvation. Whether or not that concept is found in “repent” in Acts 2:38, the concept is obviously a central claim of Christianity and Peter’s urging that the crowd be baptized in the name of Jesus Messiah certainly required faith in Jesus as Messiah. So what I’m saying is hardly revolutionary. It’s just that I’m posing the question in an unfamiliar way — but it’s an important way of asking the question. Why on earth does God require faith in Jesus at this juncture in history? Why not simply repent of sin?
The Prophets spoke in terms of a repentance that includes faith in God, giving up idolatry, and return to Torah obedience, especially care for the poor and vulnerable. All of this would be included in submission to Jesus as Messiah, as the Messiah — God’s own anointed King — would require all these things. It would be unimaginable to a Jew to submit to God’s King and not have to also do these other things. Rather, to us Western Gentiles, the hard question is why God would add the Messiah to the mix. So we have to get back to basics, because it’s a basic answer.
God promised David that Israel would be ruled by a descendant of David forever. That’s a covenant promise. The Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets connect this promise with the Messiah, the outpouring of the Spirit, and the dawning of the Kingdom. They happen together. They all connect.
For God to honor his promise in Deu 30:6 to circumcise the hearts of his children so they’ll become obedient and live, he must outpour his Spirit. But this happens when the Messiah comes, which happens when the Kingdom comes.
Therefore, if a First Century Jew in Jerusalem on Pentecost ca. 33 AD is to believe that the Spirit has been outpoured — as he could see and hear! — then he must also believe that the Messiah has come — so he either accepts Jesus or he rejects his place in Jewish history. If Jesus is not the Messiah, then the Spirit is not outpoured. (There were no other messianic claimants around less than two months after the crucifixion! No one’s that crazy.) And if the Spirit is not outpoured, the Kingdom has not come. And if that’s the case, then the Jews just need to go about their business in Jerusalem, offering sacrifices, praying, and pretending that nothing has changed — until the Romans tear the Temple down about 40 years later.
Absent 1500 years of prophetic history, the claim that Jesus is the Messiah doesn’t really fit into “faith in God” and “love for the poor and vulnerable.” But with the prophecies and history and covenants that actually happened — with God’s self-revelation being at the stage it was at on Pentecost, Jesus had to be the Messiah or else nothing had changed, the Jews were still in Exile, and they were still separated from God.
But something had happened. If the Spirit, the Messiah, and the Kingdom had all come, and so everything changed. Then for those who turn to God — in faith — and so those who believe that these things were happening, they’d receive the blessings of Deu 30.
(Deu 30:1-6 ESV) “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, 2 and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. 4 If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. 5 And the LORD your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. 6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.“
Peter and John heal a beggar on the Temple steps, providing him through Jesus, now the true temple of God, what the Temple built by Herod could not — healing.
Peter takes the opportunity to preach a sermon —
(Act 3:12b-15 ESV) “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.”
Peter refers to the covenants indirectly by referencing the Patriarchs. He then accuses the Jews — as a people — of guilt in the crucifixion of Jesus because he is the “Holy and Righteous One,” language reserved for YHWH in the OT (e.g., Isa 5:16).
Then he calls Jesus the “Author” of life — again, language descriptive of God as Creator.
Finally, he declares that the disciples are witnesses to the resurrection — the event that confirms the truth of these claims (along with the miracles, the outpouring of the Spirit …).
(Act 3:16 ESV) 16 “And his name — by faith in his name — has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.”
At last, a sermon that speaks of faith by using “faith”! Peter says that the beggar’s faith in Jesus has given him perfect health.
(Act 3:17-18 ESV) “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.”
Peter then grants that the people — and their rulers! — acted in ignorance, so that the prophecies would come true. They are not individually accountable, it would appear. Except ….
(Act 3:19-21 ESV) 19 “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”
They still need forgiveness. The Exile of Deu 28 is still in effect, and will remain in effect as to each Jew until he or she repents. Repentance was required before the crucifixion. The crucifixion makes repentance all the more urgent. God is dividing between those who return to him and those who don’t.
V. 19 is a reference to —
(Isa 44:22 ESV) I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.
The idea of God sending the Christ (Messiah) is a reference to the Second Coming. The Messiah must remain in heaven for now until the time for “restoring all things,” surely parallel with Rev 21:5: “I am making all things new” and the several prophecies that speak in similar terms.
(Act 3:22-24 ESV) 22 “Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. 23 And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ 24 And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.”
Peter says that Moses and the Prophets have all predicted these days. You have to know where you are in covenant history!
(Act 3:25-26 ESV) 25 “You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ 26 God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”
Peter reminds them that God covenanted with Abraham to bless all the families of the earth — but God sent Jesus to the Jews first. Why? To each of the Jews from their wickedness. Wickedness? Didn’t Peter begin by saying they’d acted in ignorance?
“Wickedness” in the Greek is a particularly harsh word. He is not speaking of original sin or even some imputed notion of wrongdoing. He is charging them with the worst kind of evil. But — as a nation — they’d crucified the Messiah. And this fact takes a nation already suffering Exile and places them in even greater jeopardy. They have to either accept Jesus as Messiah or agree with Pilate that it was right to crucify him. Now that the Spirit has been outpoured and miraculous healings occur in Jerusalem at the Temple, it’s time to make a choice — you can no longer plead ignorance. Either he is Messiah and LORD or else else he was a criminal or crazy. Take a position and live with the consequences.
And so, to turn them from their “wickedness” is about faith in Jesus. It’s whether they admit that they — as a nation — crucified God’s Messiah or Jesus was a pretender. They either agree with the crucifixion — manifestly just for a blasphemer or the greatest crime against God imaginable.