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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Acts 2

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-47

Chapter 2

THE DAY OF PENTECOST (Acts 2:1-13)

We may never know precisely what happened on the Day of Pentecost but we do know that it was one of the supremely great days of the Christian Church. for on that day the Holy Spirit came to the Christian Church in a very special way.

Acts has been called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit; so before we turn to detailed consideration of its second chapter let us take a general view of what Acts has to say about the Holy Spirit.

The Coming Of The Spirit

It is perhaps unfortunate that we so often speak of the events at Pentecost as the coming of the Holy Spirit. The danger is that we may think that the Holy Spirit came into existence at that time. That is not so; God is eternally Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In fact Acts makes that quite clear. The Holy Spirit was speaking in David (Acts 1:16); the Spirit spoke through Isaiah (Acts 28:25); Stephen accuses the Jews of having, all through their history, opposed the Spirit (Acts 7:51). In that sense the Spirit is God in every age revealing his truth to men. At the same time something special happened at Pentecost.

The Work Of The Spirit In Acts

From that moment the Holy Spirit became the dominant reality in the life of the early Church.

For one thing, the Holy Spirit was the source of all guidance. The Spirit moves Philip to make contact with the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:29); prepares Peter for the coming of the emissaries of Cornelius (Acts 10:19); orders Peter to go without hesitation with these emissaries (Acts 11:12); enables Agabus to foretell the coming famine (Acts 11:28); orders the setting apart of Paul and Barnabas for the momentous step of taking the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 13:2; Acts 13:4); guides the decisions of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:28); guides Paul past Asia, Mysia and Bithynia, down into Troas and thence to Europe (Acts 16:6); tells Paul what awaits him in Jerusalem (Acts 20:23). The early Church was a Spirit-guided community.

For another thing, all the leaders of the Church were men of the Spirit. The Seven are men of the Spirit (Acts 6:3); Stephen and Barnabas are full of the Spirit (Acts 7:55; Acts 11:24). Paul tells the elders at Ephesus that it was the Spirit who made them overseers over the Church of God (Acts 20:28).

For still another thing. the Spirit was the source of day-to-day courage and power. The disciples are to receive power when the Spirit comes (Acts 1:8); Peter's courage and eloquence before the Sanhedrin are the result of the activity of the Spirit (Acts 4:31); Paul's conquest of Elymas is the work of the Spirit (Acts 13:9). The Christian courage to meet the dangerous situation, the Christian power to cope with life more than adequately, the Christian eloquence when eloquence is needed, the Christian joy which is independent of circumstances are all ascribed to the work of the Spirit.

For a last thing, Acts 5:32 speaks of the Spirit "whom God has given to those who obey him." This has in it the great truth that the measure of the Spirit which a man can possess is conditioned by the kind of man he is. It means that the man who is honestly trying to do the will of God will experience more and more of the wonder of the Spirit.

In Acts 1:1-26; Acts 2:1-47; Acts 3:1-26; Acts 4:1-37; Acts 5:1-42; Acts 6:1-15; Acts 7:1-60; Acts 8:1-40; Acts 9:1-43; Acts 10:1-48; Acts 11:1-30; Acts 12:1-25; Acts 13:1-52 there are more than forty references to the Holy Spirit; the early Church was a Spirit-filled Church and that was the source of its power.

THE BREATH OF GOD (Acts 2:1-13 continued)

2:1-13 So when the day of Pentecost came round, they were all together in one place; and all of a sudden there came from heaven a sound like that of a violent, rushing wind and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And tongues, like tongues of fire, appeared to them, which distributed themselves among them and settled on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them the power of utterance.

There were staying in Jerusalem, Jews, devout men from all the races under heaven. When the news of this got abroad the crowd assembled and came pouring together; for each one of them heard them speaking in his own language. They were all astonished and kept saying in amazement, "Look now! Are all these men who are speaking not Galilaeans? And how is it that each one of us hears them speaking in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes. Elamites, those who stay in Mesopotamia, in Judaea and Cappadocia, in Pontus. in Asia, in Phrygia and Pamphylia. in Egypt and the parts of Libya round about Cyrene, Romans, who are staving here, Jews and proselytes. people from Crete and Arabia--we hear these men telling the wonders of God in our own tongues." They were all astonished and did not know what to make of it, and they kept on saying to each other, "What can this mean?" But others kept on saying in mockery, "They are filled with new wine."

There were three great Jewish festivals to which every male Jew living within twenty miles of Jerusalem was legally bound to come--the Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. Pentecost means "The Fiftieth," and another name for Pentecost was "The Feast of Weeks." It was so called because it fell on the fiftieth day, a week of weeks, after the Passover. The Passover fell in the middle of April; therefore Pentecost fell at the beginning of June. By that time travelling conditions were at their best. At least as many came to the Feast of Pentecost as came to the Passover. That explains the roll of countries mentioned in this chapter; never was there a more international crowd in Jerusalem than at the time of Pentecost.

The Feast itself had two main significances. (i) It had an historical significance. It commemorated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. (ii) It had an agricultural significance. At the Passover the crop's first omer of barley was offered to God; and at Pentecost two loaves were offered in gratitude for the ingathered harvest. It had one other unique characteristic. The law laid it down that on that day no servile work should be done (Leviticus 23:21; Numbers 28:26). So it was a holiday for all and the crowds on the streets would be greater than ever.

What happened at Pentecost we really do not know except that the disciples had an experience of the power of the Spirit flooding their beings such as they never had before. We must remember that for this part of Acts Luke was not an eye-witness. He tells the story as if the disciples suddenly acquired the gift of speaking in foreign languages. For two reasons that is not likely.

(i) There was in the early Church a phenomenon which has never completely passed away. It was called speaking with tongues (compare Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6). The main passage which describes it is 1 Corinthians 14:1-40 . What happened was that someone, in an ecstasy, began to pour out a flood of unintelligible sounds in no known language. That was supposed to be directly inspired by the Spirit of God and was a gift greatly coveted. Paul did not greatly approve of it because he greatly preferred that a message should be given in a language that could be understood. He in fact said that if a stranger came in he might well think he had arrived in a congregation of madmen (1 Corinthians 14:23). That precisely fits Acts 2:13. Men speaking in tongues might well appear to be drunk to someone who did not know the phenomenon.

(ii) To speak in foreign languages was unnecessary. The crowd was made up of Jews (Acts 2:5) and proselytes (Acts 2:10). Proselytes were Gentiles who had accepted the Jewish religion and the Jewish way of life. For a crowd like that at most two languages were necessary. Almost all Jews spoke Aramaic; and, even if they were Jews of the Dispersion from a foreign land, they would speak that language which almost everyone in the world spoke at that time--Greek.

It seems most likely that Luke, a Gentile, had confused speaking with tongues with speaking with foreign tongues. What happened was that for the first time in their lives this motley mob was hearing the word of God in a way that struck straight home to their hearts and that they could understand. The power of the Spirit was such that it had given these simple disciples a message that could reach every heart.

THE FIRST CHRISTIAN PREACHING (Acts 2:14-41)

(i) There was kerugma (Greek #2782). Kerugma (Greek #2782) literally means a herald's announcement and is the plain statement of the facts of the Christian message, about which, as the early preachers saw it, there can be no argument or doubt.

(ii) There was didache (Greek #1322). Didache (Greek #1322) literally means teaching and elucidated the meaning of the facts which had been proclaimed.

(iii) There was paraklesis (Greek #3874) which literally means exhortation. This kind of preaching urged upon men the duty of fitting their lives to match the kerugma (Greek #2782) and the didache (Greek #1322) which had been given.

(iv) There was homilia (Greek #3657) which means the treatment of any subject or department of life in light of the Christian message.

Fully rounded preaching has something of all four elements. There is the plain proclamation of the facts of the Christian gospel; the explanation of the meaning and the relevance of these facts; the exhortation to fit life to them; and the treatment of all the activities of life in the light of the Christian message.

In Acts we shall meet mainly with kerugma (Greek #2782) because Acts tells of the proclamation of the facts of the gospel to those who had never heard them before. This kerugma (Greek #2782) follows a pattern which repeats itself over and over again all over the New Testament.

(i) There is the proof that Jesus and all that happened to him is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. In modern times less and less stress has been laid on the fulfillment of prophecy. We have come to see that the prophets were not nearly so much fore-tellers of events to come as forth-tellers of God's truth to men. But this stress of early preaching on prophecy conserved the great truth that history is not haphazard and that there is meaning to it. To believe in the possibility of prophecy is to believe that God is in control and that he is working out his purposes.

(ii) In Jesus the Messiah has come, the Messianic prophecies are fulfilled and the and the New Age has dawned. The early Church had a tremendous sense that Jesus was the hinge of all history; that with his coming, eternity had invaded time; and that, therefore, life and the world could never be the same again.

(iii) The kerugma (Greek #2782) went on to state that Jesus had been born of the line of David, that he had taught, that he had worked miracles, that he had been crucified, that he had been raised from the dead and that he was now at the right hand of God. The early Church was sure that the Christian religion was based on the earthly life of Christ. But it was also certain that that earthly life and death were not the end and that after them came the resurrection. Jesus was not merely someone about whom they read or heard; he was someone whom they met and knew, a living presence.

(iv) The early preachers went on to insist that Jesus would return in glory to establish his kingdom upon earth. In other words, the early Church believed intensely in the Second Coming. This doctrine has to some extent passed out of modern preaching but it does conserve the truth that history is going somewhere and that some day there will be a consummation; and that a man is therefore in the way or on the way.

(v) The preaching finished with the statement that in Jesus alone was salvation, that he who believed on him would receive the Holy Spirit and that he who would not believe was destined for terrible things. That is to say, it finished with both a promise and a threat. It is exactly like that voice which Bunyan heard as if at his very shoulder demanding, "Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven, or wilt thou have thy sins and go to hell?"

If we read through Peter's sermon as a whole we will see how these five strands are woven into it.

God's Day Has Come (Acts 2:14-21)

2:14-21 But Peter stood up with the eleven and raised his voice and said to them, "You who are Jews and you who are staying in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and listen to my words. These men are not, as you suppose, drunk; for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel, 'It will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out from my Spirit upon all men, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy and your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams, And I will pour out from my Spirit upon my men servants and my maid servants in these days and they will prophesy. I will send wonders in the heaven above and signs upon the earth below, blood and fire and vapour of smoke. The sun will be changed into darkness and the moon into blood before there comes the great and famous day of the Lord. And it shall be that all whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."'

This passage brings us face to face with one of the basic conceptions of both the Old and the New Testaments--that of The Day of the Lord. Much in both the Old and in the New Testaments is not fully intelligible unless we know the basic principles underlying that conception.

The Jews never lost the conviction that they were God's chosen people. They interpreted that status to mean that they were chosen for special privilege among the nations. They were always a small nation. History had been for them one long disaster. It was clear to them that by human means they would never reach the status they deserved as the chosen people. So, bit by bit, they reached the conclusion that what man could not do God must do; and began to look forward to a day when God would intervene directly in history and exalt them to the honour they dreamed of The day of that intervention was The Day of the Lord.

They divided all time into two ages. There was The Present Age which was utterly evil and doomed to destruction; there was The Age to Come which would be the golden age of God. Between the two there was to be The Day of the Lord which was to be the terrible birth pangs of the new age. It would come suddenly like a thief in the night; it would be a day when the world would be shaken to its very foundations; it would be a day of judgment and of terror. All over the prophetic books of the Old Testament and in much of the New Testament, are descriptions of that Day. Typical passages are Isaiah 2:12; Isaiah 13:6 ff.; Amos 5:18; Zephaniah 1:7; Joel 2:1-32 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:2 ff.; 2 Peter 3:10.

Here Peter is saying to the Jews--"For generations you have dreamed of the Day of God, the Day when God would break into history. Now, in Jesus, that Day has come." Behind all the outworn imagery stands the great truth that in Jesus, God arrived in person on the scene of human history.

Lord And Christ (Acts 2:22-36)

2:22-36 "Men of Israel, listen to these words. Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved by God to you by deeds of power and wonders and signs, which God, among you, did through him, as you yourselves know this man, delivered up by the fore-ordained knowledge and counsel of God, you took and crucified by the hand of wicked men. But God raised him up and loosed the pains of death because it was impossible that he should be held subject by it. For David says in regard to him, 'Always I foresaw the Lord before me, because he is at my right hand so that I should not be shaken. Because of this my heart has rejoiced and my tongue has exulted, and, furthermore, my flesh shall dwell in hope, because thou wilt not leave my soul in the land of the dead nor wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life. Thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance.' Brethren, I can speak to you freely about the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried and his memorial is amongst us to this day. Thus he was a prophet; and because he knew that God had sworn an oath to him, that one of his descendants should sit upon his throne. He spoke with foresight about the resurrection of the Christ, that he would neither be left in the world of the dead nor would his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up and all of us are his witnesses. So then when he had been exalted to the right hand of God he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured out this which you see and hear. For David did not ascend up into heaven. and yet he says, 'The Lord said to my Lord, sit upon my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool for thy feet.' So then let all the house of Israel certainly know that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified Lord and Christ."

Here is a passage full of the essence of the thought of the early preachers.

(i) It insists that the Cross was no accident. It belonged to the eternal plan of God (Acts 2:23). Over and over again Acts states this same thing (compare Acts 3:18; Acts 4:28; Acts 13:29). The thought of Acts safeguards us from two serious errors in our thinking about the death of Jesus. (a) The Cross is not a kind of emergency measure flung out by God when everything else had failed. It is part of God's very life. (b) We must never think that anything Jesus did changed the attitude of God to men. It was by God Jesus was sent. We may put it this way--the Cross was a window in time allowing us to see the suffering love which is eternally in the heart of God.

(ii) Acts insists that this in no way lessens the crime of those who crucified Jesus. Every mention of the crucifixion in Acts is instinct with a feeling of shuddering horror at the crime it was (compare Acts 2:23; Acts 3:13; Acts 4:10; Acts 5:30). Apart from anything else, the crucifixion shows supremely how horrifyingly sin can behave.

(iii) Acts is out to prove that the sufferings and death of Christ were the fulfillment of prophecy. The earliest preachers had to do that. To the Jew the idea of a crucified Messiah was incredible. Their law said, "A hanged man is accursed by God" (Deuteronomy 21:23). To the orthodox Jew the Cross made it completely impossible that Jesus could be the Messiah. The early preachers answered, "If you would only read your scriptures rightly you would see that all was foretold."

(iv) Acts stresses the resurrection as the final proof that Jesus was indeed God's Chosen One. Acts has been called The Gospel of the Resurrection. To the early Church the resurrection was all-important. We must remember this--without the resurrection there would have been no Christian Church at all. When the disciples preached the centrality of the resurrection they were arguing from experience. After the Cross they were bewildered, broken men, with their dream gone and their lives shattered. It was the resurrection which changed all that and turned them from cowards into heroes. It is one of the tragedies of the Church that so often the preaching of the resurrection is confined to Easter time. Every Sunday is the Lord's Day and every Lord's Day should be kept as resurrection day. In the Eastern Church on Easter day, when two people meet, one says, "The Lord is risen"; and the other answers, "He is risen indeed!" A Christian should never forget that he lives and walks with a Risen Lord.

Save Yourselves (Acts 2:37-41)

2:37-41 When they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and they said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brethren, what are we to do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, for this promise is to you and to your children and to all who are afar off, to all those whom the Lord your God invites." With many other words he gave his witness and he urged them, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." So they accepted his word and were baptized and on that day there were added to them about three thousand people.

(i) This passage shows with crystal clarity the effect of the Cross. When men realised just what they had done in crucifying Jesus their hearts were broken. "I," said Jesus, "when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all men to myself" (John 12:32). Every man has had a hand in that crime. Once a missionary told the story of Jesus in an Indian village. Afterwards he showed the life of Christ in lantern slides thrown against the white-washed wall of a house. When the Cross appeared on the wall, one man rose from the audience and ran forward. "Come down from that Cross, Son of God," he cried. "I, not you, should be hanging there." The Cross, when we understand what happened there, must pierce the heart.

(ii) That experience demands a reaction from men. "Repent," said Peter, "first and foremost." What does repentance mean? The word originally meant an afterthought. Often a second thought shows that the first thought was wrong; and so the word came to mean a Change of mind. But, if a man is honest, a change of mind demands a change of action. Repentance must involve both change of mind and change of action. A man may change his mind and come to see that his actions were wrong but be so much in love with his old ways that he will not change them. A man may change his ways but his mind remains the same, changing only because of fear or prudence. True repentance involves a change of mind and a change of action.

(iii) When repentance comes something happens to the past. There is God's forgiveness for what lies behind. Let us be quite clear that the consequences of sins are not wiped out. Not even God can do that. When we sin we may well do something to ourselves and to others which cannot be undone. Let us look at it this way. When we were young and had done something bad there was an invisible barrier between us and our mother. But when we went and said we were sorry, the old relationship was restored and we were right with her again. Forgiveness does not abolish the consequences of what we have done but it puts us right with God.

(iv) When repentance comes something happens for the future. We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and in that power we can win battles we never thought to win and resist things which by ourselves we would have been powerless to resist.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CHURCH (Acts 2:42-47)

2:42-47 They persevered in listening to the apostles' teaching, in the fellowship. in the breaking of bread and in prayers. Awe was in every soul; and many signs and wonders were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and they were in the habit of selling their goods and possessions and of distributing them amongst all as each had need. Daily they continued with one accord in the Temple, and breaking bread from house to house they received their food with joy and in sincerity of heart; and they kept praising God and everyone liked them. Daily the Lord added to them those who were being saved.

In this passage we have a kind of lightning summary of the characteristics of the early Church.

(i) It was a learning Church; it persisted in listening to the apostles as they taught. One of the great perils of the Church is to look back instead of forward. Because the riches of Christ are inexhaustible we should ever be going forward. We should count It a wasted day when we do not learn something new and when we have not penetrated more deeply into the wisdom and the grace of God.

(ii) It was a Church of fellowship; it had what someone has called the great quality of togetherness. Nelson explained one of his victories by saying, "I had the happiness to command a band of brothers." The Church is a real Church only when it is a band of brothers.

(iii) It was a praying Church--these early Christians knew that they could not meet life in their own strength and that they did not need to. They always went in to God before they went out to the world; they were able to meet the problems of life because they had first met him.

(iv) It was a reverent Church--in Acts 2:43 the word which the King James Version correctly translates fear has the idea of awe in it. It was said of a great Greek that he moved through this world as if it were a temple. The Christian lives in reverence because he knows that the whole earth is the temple of the living God.

(v) It was a Church where things happened--signs and wonders were there (Acts 2:43). If we expect great things from God and attempt great things for God things happen. More things would happen if we believed that God and we together could make them happen.

(vi) It was a sharing Church (Acts 2:44-45); these early Christians had an intense feeling of responsibility for each other. It was said of William Morris that he never saw a drunken man but he had a feeling of personal responsibility for him. A real Christian cannot bear to have too much when others have too little.

(vii) It was a worshipping Church (Acts 2:46); they never forgot to visit God's house. We must remember that "God knows nothing of solitary religion." Things can happen when we come together. God's Spirit moves upon his worshipping people.

(viii) It was a happy Church (Acts 2:46); gladness was there. A gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms.

(ix) It was a Church whose people others could not help liking. There are two Greek words for good. Agathos (Greek #18) simply describes a thing as good. Kalos (Greek #2570) means that a thing is not only good but looks good; it has a winsome attractiveness about it. Real Christianity is a lovely thing. There are so many people who are good but with their goodness possess a streak of unlovely hardness. Struthers of Greenock used to say that it would help the Church more than anything else if Christians ever and again would do a bonnie thing. In the early Church there was a winsomeness in God's people.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Acts 2:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/acts-2.html. 1956-1959.

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Tuesday, June 25th, 2019
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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