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Bible Commentaries
Acts 2

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Verse 1

And when the day of Pentecost - The word “Pentecost” is a Greek word signifying the 50th part of a thing, or the 50th in order. Among the Jews it was a applied to one of their three great feasts which began on the 50th day after the Passover. This feast was reckoned from the 16th day of the month Abib, or April, or the second day of the Passover. The paschal lamb was slain on the 14th of the month at evening, Leviticus 23:5; on the 15th day of the month was a holy convocation - the proper beginning of the feast; on the 16th day was the offering of the firstfruits of harvest, and from that day they were to reckon seven weeks, that is, 49 days, to the feast called the Feast of Pentecost, so that it occurred 50 days after the first day of the Feast of the Passover. This feast was also called the Feast of Weeks, from the circumstance that it followed a succession of weeks, Exodus 34:22; Numbers 28:26; Deuteronomy 16:10. It was also a harvest festival, and was accordingly called the Feast of Harvest; and it was for this reason that two loaves made of new meal were offered on this occasion as first-fruits, Leviticus 23:17, Leviticus 23:20; Numbers 28:27-31.

Was fully come - When the day had arrived. The word used here means literally “to be completed,” and as employed here refers, not to the day itself, but to the completion of the interval which was to pass before its arrival (Olshausen). See Luke 9:51. Compare Mark 1:15; Luke 1:57. This fact is mentioned, that the time of the Pentecost had come, or fully arrived, to account for what is related afterward, that there were so many strangers and foreigners present. The promised influences of the Spirit were withheld until the greatest possible number of Jews should be present at Jerusalem at the same time, and thus an opportunity be afforded of preaching the gospel to vast multitudes in the very place where the Lord Jesus was crucified, and also an opportunity be afforded of sending the gospel by them into distant parts of the earth.

They were all - Probably not only the apostles, but also the 120 people mentioned in Acts 1:15.

With one accord - See Acts 1:14. It is probable that they had continued together until this time, and given themselves entirely to the business of devotion.

In one place - Where this was cannot be known. Commentators have been much divided in their conjectures about it. Some have supposed that it was in the upper room mentioned in Acts 1:13; others that it was a room in the temple; others that it was in a synagogue; others that it was among the promiscuous multitude that assembled for devotion in the courts of the temple. See Acts 2:2. It has been supposed by many that this took place on the first day of the week; that is, on the Christian Sabbath. But there is a difficulty in establishing this. There was probably a difference among the Jews themselves as to the time of observing this festival: The Law said that they should reckon seven sabbaths; that is seven weeks, “from the morrow after the sabbath,” Leviticus 23:15. By this Sabbath the Pharisees understood the second day of the Passover, on whatever day of the week it occurred, which was kept as a day of holy convocation, and which might be called a Sabbath. But the Karaite Jews, or those who insisted on a literal interpretation of the Scriptures, maintained that by the Sabbath here was meant the usual Sabbath, the seventh day of the week. Consequently, with them, the day of Pentecost always occurred on the first day of the week; and if the apostles fell in with their views, the day was fully come on what is now the Christian Sunday. But if the views of the Pharisees were followed, and the Lord Jesus had with them kept the Passover on Thursday, as many have supposed, then the day of Pentecost would have occurred on the Jewish Sabbath, that is, on Saturday (Kuinoel; Lightfoot). It is impossible to determine the truth on this subject. Nor is it of much importance. According to the later Jews, the day of Pentecost was kept also as a festival to commemorate the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai; but no trace of this custom is to be found in the Old Testament.

Verse 2

And suddenly - It burst upon them at once. Though they were waiting for the descent of the Spirit, yet it is not probable that they expected it in this manner. As this was an important event, and one on which the welfare of the church depended, it was proper that the gift of the Holy Spirit should take place in some striking and sensible manner, so as to convince their own minds that the promise was fulfilled, and so as deeply to impress others with the greatness and importance of the event.

There came a sound - ἦχος ēchos. This word is applied to any noise or report. Hebrews 12:19, “the sound of a trumpet”; Luke 4:37, “The fame of him,” etc. Compare Mark 1:28.

From heaven - Appearing to rush down from the sky. It was suited, therefore, to attract their attention no less from the direction from which it came, than on account of its suddenness and violence. Tempests blow commonly horizontally. This appeared to come from above; and this is all that is meant by the expression. “from heaven.”

As of a rushing mighty wind - Literally, “as of a violent blast borne along” - φερομένης pheromenēs - rushing along like a tempest. Such a wind sometimes borne along so violently, and with such a noise, as to make it difficult even to hear the thunder in the gale. Such appears to have been the sound of this remarkable phenomenon. It does not appear that there was any wind, but the sudden sound was like such a sweeping tempest. It may be remarked, however, that the wind in the sacred Scriptures is often put as an emblem of a divine influence. See John 3:8. It is invisible, yet mighty, and thus represents the agency of the Holy Spirit. The same word in Hebrew רוּח ruwach and in Greek πνεῦμα pneuma is used to denote both. The mighty power of God may be denoted also by the violence of a tempest, 1 Kings 19:11; Psalms 29:1-11; Psalms 104:3; Psalms 18:10. In this place the sound as of a gale was emblematic of the mighty power of the Spirit, and of the effects which his coming would accomplish among people.

And it filled - Not the wind filled, But the sound. This is evident:

  1. Because there is no affirmation that there was any wind.

(2)The grammatical structure of the sentence will admit no other construction. The word “filled” has no nominative case but the word “sound”: “and suddenly there was a sound as of a wind, and (the sound) filled the house.” In the Greek, the word “wind” is in the genitive or possessive case. It may be remarked here that this miracle was really far more striking than the common supposition makes it to have been. A tempest would have been terrific. A mighty wind might have alarmed them. But there would have been nothing unusual or remarkable in this. Such things often happened; and the thoughts would have been directed of course to the storm as an ordinary, though perhaps alarming occurrence. But when all was still; when there was no storm, no wind, no rain, no thunder, such a rushing sound must have arrested their attention, and directed all minds to a phenomenon so unusual and unaccountable.

All the house - Some have supposed that this was a room in or near the temple. But as the temple is not expressly mentioned, this is improbable. It was probably the private dwelling mentioned in Acts 1:13. If it be said that such a dwelling could not contain so large a multitude as soon assembled, it may be replied that their houses had large central courts (See the notes on Matthew 9:2), and that it is not affirmed that the transactions recorded in this chapter occurred in the room which they occupied. It is probable that it took place in the court and around the house.

Verse 3

And there appeared unto them - There were seen by them, or they saw. The fire was first seen by them in the room before it rested in the form of tongues on the heads of the disciples. Perhaps the fire appeared at first as scintillations or coruscations, until it became fixed on their heads.

Tongues - γλῶσσαι glōssai. The word “tongue” occurs often in the Scriptures to denote the member which is the instrument of taste and speech, and also to denote “language” or “speech” itself. It is also used, as with us, to denote what in shape resembles the tongue. Thus, Joshua 7:21, Joshua 7:24 (in Hebrew), “a tongue of gold,” that is, a wedge of gold; Joshua 15:5; Joshua 18:19; Isaiah 11:15, “The tongue of the sea,” that is, a bay or gulf. Thus also we say “a tongue of land.” The phrase “tongue of fire” occurs once, and once only, in the Old Testament Isaiah 5:24, “Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble (Hebrew: tongue of fire), and the flame consumeth,” etc. In this place the name tongue is given from the resemblance of a pointed flame to the human tongue. Anything long, narrow, and tending to a point is thus in the Hebrew called “a tongue.” The word here means, therefore, “slender and pointed appearances” of flame, perhaps at first moving irregularly around the room.

cloven - Divided, separated - διαμεριζόμεναι diamerizomenai - from the verb διαμερίζω diamerizō, “to divide, or distribute into parts.” Matthew 27:35, “they parted his garments”; Luke 22:17, “Take this (the cup) and divide it among yourselves.” Probably the common opinion is, that these tongues or flames were, each one of them split, or forked, or cloven. But this is not the meaning of the expression. The idea is that they were separated or divided one from another; it was not one great flame, but was broken up, or cloven into many parts, and probably these parts were moving without order in the room. In the Syriac it is, “And there appeared unto them tongues which divided themselves like fire, and sat upon each of them.” The old Ethiopic version reads it, “And fire, as it were, appeared to them and sat on them.”

And it sat upon each of them - Or “rested,” in the form of a lambent or gentle flame, upon the head of each one. This showed that the prodigy was directed to them, and was a very significant emblem of the promised descent of the Holy Spirit. After the rushing sound and the appearance of the flames, they could not doubt that here was some remarkable interposition of God. The appearance of fire, or flame, has always been regarded as a most striking emblem of the Divinity. Thus, Exodus 3:2-3, God is said to have manifested himself to Moses in a bush which was burning, yet not consumed. Thus, Exodus 19:16-20, God descended on Mount Sinai in the midst of thunders, and lightnings, and smoke, and fire, striking emblems of his presence and power. See also Genesis 15:17. Thus, Deuteronomy 4:24, God is said to be “a consuming fire.” Compare Hebrews 12:29. See Ezekiel 1:4; Psalms 18:12-14. The Classic reader will also instantly recall the beautiful description in Virgil (Aeneid, b. 2:680-691). Other instances of a similar prodigy are also recorded in profane writers (Pliny, H. N., 2:37; Livy, 1:39). These appearances to the apostles were emblematic, doubtless:

  1. Of the promised Holy Spirit, as a Spirit of purity and of power. The prediction of John the Immerser, “He shall baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire” Matthew 3:11 would probably be recalled at once to their memory.
  2. The unique appearance, that of tongues, was an emblem of the diversity of languages which they were about to be able to utter. Any form of fire would have denoted the presence and power of God; but a form was adopted expressive of “what was to occur.” Thus, “any divine appearance” or “manifestation” at the baptism of Jesus might have denoted the presence and approbation of God; but the form chosen was that of a dove descending - expressive of the mild and gentle virtues with which he was to be imbued. So in Ezekiel 1:4, any form of flame might have denoted the presence of God; but the appearance actually chosen was one that was strikingly emblematical of his providence. In the same way, the appearance here symbolized their special endowments for entering on their great work - the ability to speak with new tongues.

Verse 4

Were all filled with the Holy Ghost - Were entirely under his sacred influence and power. See the notes on Luke 1:41, Luke 1:67. To be filled with anything is a phrase denoting that all the faculties are pervaded by it, engaged in it, or under its influence, Acts 3:10, “Were filled with wonder and amazement”; Acts 5:17, “Filled with indignation”; Acts 13:45, “Filled with envy”; Acts 2:4, “Filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”

Began to speak with other tongues - In other languages than their native tongue. The languages which they spoke are specified in Acts 2:9-11.

As the Spirit gave them utterance - As the Holy Spirit gave them power to speak. This language implies plainly that they were now endued with a faculty of speaking languages which they had not before learned. Their native tongue was that of Galilee, a somewhat barbarous dialect of the common language used in Judea - the Syro-Chaldaic. It is possible that some of them might have been partially acquainted with the Greek and Latin, as each of those languages was spoken among the Jews to some extent; but there is not the slightest evidence that they were acquainted with the languages of the different nations afterward specified. Various attempts have been made to account for this remarkable phenomenon without supposing it to be a miracle. But the natural and obvious meaning of the passage is, that they were endowed by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit with ability to speak foreign languages, and languages to them before unknown. It does not appear that each one had the power of speaking all the languages which are specified Acts 2:9-11, but that this ability was among them, and that together they could speak these languages, probably some one and some another. The following remarks may perhaps throw some light on this remarkable occurrence:

(1) It was predicted in the Old Testament that what is here stated would occur in the times of the Messiah. Thus, in Isaiah 28:11, “With ...another tongue will he speak unto this people.” Compare 1 Corinthians 14:21 where this passage is expressly applied to the power of speaking foreign languages under the gospel.

(2) It was promised by the Lord Jesus that they should have this power, Mark 16:17, “These signs shall follow them that believe ...they shall speak with new tongues.”

(3) The ability to do it existed extensively and long in the church, 1 Corinthians 12:10-11, “To another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit”; Acts 2:28, “God hath set in the church ...diversities of tongues.” Compare also Acts 2:30, and Acts 14:2, Acts 14:4-6, Acts 14:9,Acts 14:13-14; Acts 14:18-19, Acts 14:22-23, Acts 14:27, Act 14:39. From this it appears that the power was well known in the church, and was not confined to the apostles. This also may show that in the case in the Acts , the ability to do this was conferred on other members of the church as well as the apostles.

(4) It was very important that they should be endowed with this power in their great work. They were going forth to preach to all nation; and though the Greek and Roman tongues were extensively spoken, yet their use was not universal, nor is it known that the apostles were skilled in those languages. To preach to all nations, it was indispensable that they should be able to understand their language. And in order that the gospel might be rapidly propagated through the earth, it was necessary that they should be endowed with ability to do this without the slow process of being compelled to learn them. It will contribute to illustrate this to remark that one of the principal hindrances in the spread of the gospel now arises from the inability to speak the languages of the nations of the earth, and that among missionaries of modern times a long time is necessarily spent in acquiring the language of a people before they are prepared to preach to them.

(5) One design was to establish the gospel by means of miracles. Yet no miracle could be more impressive than the power of conveying their sentiments at once in all the languages of the earth. When it is remembered what a slow and toilsome process it is to learn a foreign tongue, this would I be regarded by the pagan as one of the most striking miracles which could be performed, 1 Corinthians 14:22, 1 Corinthians 14:24-25.

(6) The reality and certainty of this miracle is strongly attested by the early triumphs of the gospel. That the gospel was early spread over all the world, and that, too, by the apostles of Jesus Christ, is the clear testimony of all history. They preached it in Arabia, Greece, Syria, Asia, Persia, Africa, and Rome. Yet how could this have been effected without a miraculous power of speaking the languages used in all those places? Now, it requires the toil of many years to speak in foreign languages; and the recorded success of the gospel is one of the most striking attestations to the fact of the miracle that could be conceived.

(7) The corruption of language was one of the most decided effects of sin, and the source of endless embarrassments and difficulties, Genesis 11:0: It is not to be regarded as wonderful that one of the effects of the plan of recovering people should be to show the power of God over all evil, and thus to furnish striking evidence that the gospel could meet all the crimes and calamities of people. And we may add,

(8) That from this we see the necessity now of training people who are to be missionaries to other lands. The gift of miracles is withdrawn. The apostles, by that miracle, simply were empowered to speak other languages. That power must still be had if the gospel is to be preached. But it is now to be obtained, not by miracle, but by stow and careful study and toil. If possessed, people must be taught it. And as the church is bound Matthew 28:19 to send the gospel to all nations, so it is bound to provide that the teachers who shall be sent forth shall be qualified for their work. Hence, one of the reasons of the importance of training men for the holy ministry.

Verse 5

There were dwelling at Jerusalem - The word rendered “dwelling” - κατοικοῦντες katoikountes - properly means to have a fixed and permanent habitation, in distinction from another word - παροικοῦντες paroikeountes - which means to have a temporary and transient residence in a place. But it is not always confined to this signification; and it is not improbable that many wealthy foreign Jews had a permanent residence in Jerusalem for the convenience of being near the temple. This was the more probable, as about that time the Messiah was expected to appear, Matthew 2:0.

Jews - Jews by birth; of Jewish descent and religion.

Devout men - ἀνδρες ἐυλαβεῖς andres eulabēis. Literally, men of cautious and circumspect lives, or who lived in a prudent manner. The term is then applied to men who were cautious about offending God; who were careful to observe his commandments. It is hence a general expression to denote pious or religious men, Acts 8:2, “And devout men carried Stephen to his burial”; Luke 2:25,” And the same man (Simeon) was just, and devout.” The word “devout” means “yielding a solemn and reverential attention to God in religious exercises, particularly in prayer, pious, sincere, solemn” (Webster), and very well expresses the force of the original.

Out of every nation under heaven - A general expression meaning from all parts of the earth. The countries from which they came are more particularly specified in Acts 2:9-11. The Jews at that time were scattered into almost all nations, and in all places had synagogues. See the John 7:35 note; James 1:1 note; 1 Peter 1:1 note. Still they would naturally desire to be present as often as possible at the great feasts of the nation in Jerusalem. Many would seek a residence there for the convenience of being present at the religious solemnities. Many who came up to the Feast of the Passover would remain to the Feast of the Pentecost. The consequence of this would be, that on such occasions the city would be full of strangers. We are told that when Titus besieged Jerusalem, an event which occurred at about the time of the Feast of the Passover, there were no less than three million people in the city.

Josephus also mentions an instance in which great multitudes of Jews from other nations were present at the feast of Pentecost (Jewish Wars, book 2, chapter 3, section 1). What is here stated as occurring at that time is true of the inhabitants of Jerusalem - four or five thousand in number who reside there now. A large portion of them are from abroad. Prof. Hackett (Illustrations of Scripture, p. 228, 229) says of them, “Few of them, comparatively, are natives of the country. The majority of them are aged persons, who repair to the holy city to spend the remainder of their days and secure the privilege of being buried in the Valley of the Kedron, which, as their traditions assert, is to be the scene of the last judgment. At the Jews’ Wailing Place one day I met a venerable man, bowed with age, apparently beyond 80, who told me that, in obedience to his sense of duty, he had forsaken his children and home in England, and had come, unattended by any friend, to die and make his grave at Jerusalem. Others of them are those who come here to fulfill a vow, or acquire the merit of a pilgrimage, and then return to the countries where they reside. Among them may be found representatives from almost every land, though the Spanish, Polish, and German Jews compose the greater number.

Like their brethren in other parts of Palestine, except a few in some commercial places, they are wretchedly poor, and live chiefly on alms contributed by their countrymen in Europe and America. They devote most of their time to holy employments, as they are called; they frequent the synagogues, roam over the country to visit places memorable in their ancient history, and read assiduously the Old Testament and the writings of their rabbis. Those of them who make any pretensions to learning understand the Hebrew and rabbinic, and speak as their vernacular tongue the language of the country where they formerly lived, or whence their fathers emigrated.”

Verse 6

When this was noised abroad - When the rumor of this remarkable transaction was spread, as it naturally would be.

Were confounded - συνεχύθη sunechuthē̄. The word used here means literally “to pour together,” hence, “to confound, confuse.” It is used:

(a)Of an assembly or multitude thrown into confusion, Acts 21:27;

(b)Of the mind as perplexed or confounded, as in disputation, Acts 9:22; and,

(c)Of persons in amazement or consternation, as in this place. They did not understand this; they could not account for it.

Every man heard them speak ... - Though the multitude spoke different tongues, yet they now heard Galileans use the language which they had learned in foreign nations. “His own language.” His own dialect - διαλέκτῳ dialektō. His own idiom, whether it was a foreign language, or whether it was a modification of the Hebrew. The word may mean either; but it is probable that the foreign Jews would greatly modify the Hebrew, or conform almost entirely to the language spoken in the country where they lived. We may remark here that this effect of the descent of the Holy Spirit was not special to that time. A work of grace on the hearts of people in a revival of religion will always “be noised abroad.” A multitude will come together, and God often, as he did here, makes use of this motive to bring them under the influence of religion. Curiosity was the motive here, and it was the occasion of their being brought under the power of truth, and of their conversion. In thousands of cases this has occurred since. The effect of what they saw was to confound them, to astonish them, and to throw them into deep perplexity. They made no complaint at first of the irregularity of what was done, but were all amazed and overwhelmed. So the effect of a revival of religion is often to convince the multitude that it is indeed a work of the Holy One; to amaze them by the display of his power; and to silence opposition and cavil by the manifest presence and the power of God. A few afterward began to cavil Acts 2:13, as some will always do in a revival; but the mass were convinced, as will be the case always, that this was a mighty display of the power of God.

Verse 7

Galileans - Inhabitants of Galilee. It was remarkable that they should speak in this manner, because:

  1. They were ignorant, rude, and uncivilized, John 1:46. Hence, the term Galilean was used as an expression of the deepest reproach and contempt, Mark 14:70; John 7:52.
  2. Their dialect was proverbially barbarous and corrupt, Mark 14:70; Matthew 26:73. They were regarded as an outlandish people, unacquainted with other nations and languages, and hence, the amazement that they could address them in the refined language of other people. Their native ignorance was the occasion of making the miracle more striking. The native weakness of Christian ministers makes the grace and glory of God more remarkable in the success of the gospel. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us,” 2 Corinthians 4:7. The success which God often grants to those who are of slender endowments and of little learning, though blessed with an humble and pious heart, is often amazing to the people of the world. God has “chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise,” 1 Corinthians 1:27. This should teach us that no talent or attainment is too humble to be employed for mighty purposes, in its proper sphere, in the kingdom of Christ; and that pious effort may accomplish much, and then burn in heaven with increasing luster for ever, while pride, and learning, and talent may blaze uselessly among people, and then be extinguished in eternal night.

Verse 8

Wherein we were born - That is, as we say, in our native language; what is spoken where we were born.

Verse 9

Parthians ... - To show the surprising extent and power of this miracle, Luke enumerates the different nations that were represented then at Jerusalem. In this way the number of languages which the apostles spoke, and the extent of the miracle, can be ascertained. The enumeration of these nations begins at the east and proceeds to the west. Parthians mean those Jews or proselytes who dwelt in Parthia. This country was a part of Persia, and was situated between the Persian Gulf and the Tigris on the west, and the Indus River on the east. The term “Parthia” originally referred to a small mountainous district lying to the northeast of Media. Afterward it came to be applied to the great Parthian kingdom into which this province expanded. Parthia proper, or Ancient Parthia, lying between Asia and Hyrcania, the residence of a rude and poor tribe, and traversed by bare mountains, woods, and sandy steppes, formed a part of the great Persian monarchy. Its inhabitants were of Scythian origin. About 256 years before Christ, Arsaces rose against the Syro-Macedonian power, and commenced a new dynasty in her own person, designated by the title of Arsacidae. This was the beginning of the great Parthian empire, which extended itself in the early days of Christianity over all the provinces of what had been the Persian kingdom, having the Euphrates for its western boundary, by which it was separated from the dominions of Rome (Kitto’s Encyclop.). Their empire lasted about 400 years. The Parthians were much distinguished for their manner of fighting. They usually fought on horseback, and when appearing to retreat, discharged their arrows with great execution behind them. They disputed the empire of the East with the Romans for a long time. The language spoken there was that of Persia, and in ancient writers Parthia and Persia often mean the same country.

Medes - Inhabitants of Media. This country was situated westward and southward of the Caspian Sea, between 35 degrees and 40 degrees of north latitude. It had Persia on the south and Armenia on the west. It was about the size of Spain, and was one of the richest parts of Asia. In the Scriptures it is called Madai, Genesis 10:2. The Medes are often mentioned, frequently in connection with the Persians, with whom they were often connected under the same government, 2 Kings 17:6; 2 Kings 18:11; Esther 1:3, Esther 1:14, Esther 1:18-19; Jeremiah 25:25; Daniel 5:28; Daniel 6:8; Daniel 8:20; Daniel 9:1. The language spoken here was also that of Persia.

Elamites - Elam is often mentioned in the Old Testament. The nation was descended from Elam, the son of Shem, Genesis 10:22. It is mentioned as being in alliance with Amraphel, the king of Shinar, and Arioch, king of Ellasar, and Tidal, king of nations, Genesis 14:1. Of these nations in alliance, Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, was the chief, Genesis 14:4. See also Ezra 2:7; Ezra 8:7; Nehemiah 7:12, Nehemiah 7:34; Isaiah 11:11; Isaiah 21:2; Isaiah 22:6, etc. They are mentioned as a part of the Persian empire, and Daniel is said to have resided at Shushan, which is in the province of Elam, Daniel 8:2. The Greeks and Romans gave to this country the name of Elymais. It is now called Kusistan. It was bounded by Persia on the east, by Media on the north, by Babylonia on the west, and by the Persian Gulf on the south. The Elamites were a warlike people, and celebrated for the use of the bow, Isaiah 22:6; Jeremiah 49:35. The language of this people was of course the Persian. Its capital, Shusan, called by the Greeks Susa, was much celebrated. It is said to have been fifteen miles in circumference, and was adorned with the celebrated palace of Ahasuerus. The inhabitants still pretend to show there the tomb of the prophet Daniel.

Mesopotamia - This name, which is Greek, signifies between the rivers; that is, the region lying between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. In Hebrew it was called Aram-Naharaim; that is, Aram, or Syria, of the two rivers. It was also called Padan Aram, the plain of Syria. In this region were situated some important places mentioned in the Bible: “Ur of the Chaldees, the birthplace of Abraham Genesis 11:27-28; Haran, where Terah stopped on his journey and died Genesis 11:31-32; Charchemish 2 Chronicles 35:20; Hena 2 Kings 19:13; Sepharvaim 2 Kings 17:24. This region, known as Mesopotamia, extended between the two rivers from their sources to Babylon on the south. It had on the north Armenia, on the west Syria, on the east Persia, and on the south Babylonia. It was an extensive, level, and fertile country. The language spoken here was probably the Syriac, with perhaps a mixture of the Chaldee.

In Judea - This expression has greatly perplexed commentators. It has been thought difficult to see why Judea should be mentioned, as if it were a matter of surprise that they could speak in this language. Some have supposed that there is an error in the manuscripts, and have proposed to read Armenia, or India, or Lydia, or Idumea, etc. But all this has been without any authority. Others have supposed that the language of Galilee was so different from that of the other parts of Judea as to render it remarkable that they could speak that dialect. But this is an idle supposition. This is one of the many instances in which commentators have perplexed themselves to very little purpose. Luke recorded this as any other historian would have done. In running over the languages which they spoke, he enumerated this as a matter of course; not that it was remarkable simply that they should speak the language of Judea, but that they should steak so many, meaning about the same by it as if he had said they spoke every language in the world. It is as if a similar miracle were to occur at this time among an assembly of native Englishmen and foreigners. In describing it, nothing would be more natural than to say they spoke French, and German, and Spanish, and English, and Italian, etc. In this there would be nothing remarkable except that they spoke so many languages.

Cappadocia - This was a region of Asia Minor, and was bounded on the east by the Euphrates and Armenia, on the north by Pontus, west by Phrygia and Galatia, and south by Mount Taurus, beyond which are Cilicia and Syria. The language which was spoken here is not certainly known. It was probably, however, a mixed dialect, made up of Greek and Syriac, perhaps the same as that of their neighbors, the Lycaonians, Acts 14:11. This place was formerly celebrated for iniquity, and is mentioned in Greek writers as one of the three eminently wicked places whose name began with C. The others were Crete (compare Titus 1:12) and Cilicia. After its conversion to the Christian religion, however, it produced many eminent men, among whom were Gregory Nyssen and Basil the Great. It was one of the places to which Peter directed an epistle, 1 Peter 1:1.

In Pontus - This was another province of Asia Minor, and was situated north of Cappadocia, and was bounded west by Paphlagonia. Pontus and Cappadocia under the Romans constituted one province. This was one of the places to which the apostle Peter directed his epistle, 1 Peter 1:1. This was the birthplace of Aquila, one of the companions of Paul, Acts 18:2, Acts 18:18, Acts 18:26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19.

And Asia - Pontus and Cappadocia, etc., were parts of Asia. But the word Asia is doubtless used here to denote the regions or provinces west of these, which are not particularly enumerated. Thus, it is used Acts 6:9; Acts 16:6; Acts 20:16. It probably embraced Mysia, Aeolis, Ionia, Caria, and Lydia. “The term probably denoted not so much a definite region as a jurisdiction, the limits of which varied from time to time, according to the plan of government which the Romans adopted for their Asiatic provinces” (Prof. Hackett, in loco). The capital of this region was Ephesus. See also 1 Peter 1:1. This region was frequently called Ionia, and was afterward the seat of the seven churches in Asia, Revelation 1:4.

Verse 10

Phrygia, and Pamphylia - These were also two provinces of Asia Minor. Phrygia was surrounded by Galatia, Cappadocia, and Pisidia. Pamphylia was on the Mediterranean, and was bounded north by Pisidia. The language of all these places was doubtless the Greek, more or less pure.

In Egypt - This was that extensive country, well known, on the south of the Mediterranean, watered by the Nile. It extends 600 miles from north to south, and from 100 to 120 miles east and west. The language used there was the Coptic tongue. At present the Arabic is spoken. Vast numbers of Jews dwelt in Egypt, and many from that country would be present at the great feasts at Jerusalem. In this country the first translation of the Old Testament was made, which is now called the Septuagint.

In the parts of Libya - Libya is a general name for Africa. It properly denoted the region which was near to Egypt; but the Greeks gave the name to all Africa.

About Cyrene - This was a region about 500 miles west of Alexandria in Egypt. It was also called Pentapolis, because there were in it five celebrated cities. This country now belongs to Tripoli. Great numbers of Jews resided here. A Jew of this place, Simon by name, was compelled to bear our Saviour’s cross after him to the place of crucifixion, Matthew 27:32; Luke 23:26. Some of the Cyrenians are mentioned among the earliest Christians, Acts 11:20; Acts 13:1. The language which they spoke is not certainly known.

Strangers of Rome - This literally means “Romans dwelling or tarrying,” that is, at Jerusalem. It may mean either that they were permanently fixed, or only tarrying at Jerusalem - ὁι ἐπιδημοῦντες Ῥωμαῖοι hoi epidēmōuntes Rōmaioi. They were doubtless Jews who had taken up their residence in Italy, and had come to Jerusalem to attend the great feasts. The language which they spoke was the Latin. Great numbers of Jews were at that time dwelling at Rome. Josephus says that there were eight synagogues there. The Jews are often mentioned by the Roman writers. There was a Jewish colony across the Tiber from Rome. When Judea was conquered, about 60 years before Christ, vast numbers of Jews were taken captive and carried to Rome. But they had much difficulty in managing them as slaves. They pertinaciously adhered to their religion, observed the Sabbath, and refused to join in the idolatrous rites of the Romans. Hence, they were freed, and lived by themselves across the Tiber.

Jews - Native-born Jews, or descendants of Jewish families.

Proselytes - Those who had been converted to the Jewish religion from among the Gentiles. The great zeal of the Jews to make proselytes is mentioned by our Saviour as one of the special characteristics of the Pharisees, Matthew 23:15. Some have supposed that the expression “Jews and proselytes” refers to the Romans only. But it is more probable that reference is made to all those that are mentioned. It has the appearance of a hurried enumeration; and the writer evidently mentioned them as they occurred to his mind, just as we would in giving a rapid account of so many different nations.

Verse 11

Cretes - Crete, now called Candia, is an island in the Mediterranean, about 200 miles in length and 50 in breadth, about 500 miles southwest of Constantinople, and about the same distance west of Syria or Palestine. The climate is mild and delightful, the sky unclouded and serene. By some this island is supposed to be the Caphtor of the Hebrews, Genesis 10:14. It is mentioned in the Acts as the place touched at by Paul, Acts 27:7-8, Acts 27:13. This was the residence of Titus, who was left there by Paul” to set in order the things that were missing,” etc., Titus 1:5. The Cretans among the Greeks were famous for deceit and falsehood. See the notes on Titus 1:12-13. The language spoken there was probably the Greek.

Arabians - Arabia is the great peninsula which is bounded north by part of Syria, east by the Euphrates and the Persian Gulf, south by the Indian Ocean, and west by the Red Sea. It is often mentioned in the Scriptures; and there were doubtless there many Jews. The language spoken there was the Arabic.

In our tongues - The languages spoken by the apostles could not have been less than seven or eight, besides different dialects of the same languages. It is not certain that the Jews present from foreign nations spoke those languages perfectly, but they had doubtless so used them as to make them the common tongue in which they conversed. No miracle could be more decided than this. There was no way in which the apostles could impose on them, and make them suppose they spoke foreign languages, if they really did not; for these foreigners were abundantly able to determine that. It may be remarked that this miracle had most important effects besides that witnessed on the day of Pentecost. The gospel would be carried by those who were converted to all these places, and the way would be prepared for the labors of the apostles there. Accordingly, most of these places became afterward celebrated by the establishment of Christian churches and the conversion of great multitudes to the Christian faith.

The wonderful works of God - τὰ μεγαλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ ta megaleia tou Theou. The great things of God; that is, the great things that God had done in the gift of his Son; in raising him from the dead; in his miracles, ascension, etc. Compare Luke 1:49; Psalms 71:19; Psalms 26:7; Psalms 66:3; Psalms 92:5; Psalms 104:24; etc.

Verse 12

Were in doubt - This expression, διηπόρουν diēporoun, denotes “a state of hesitancy or anxiety about an event.” It is applied to those who are traveling, and are ignorant of the way, or who hesitate about the road. They were all astonished at this; they did not know how to understand it or explain it, until some of them supposed that it was merely the effect of new wine.

Verse 13

Others, mocking, said - The word rendered “mocking” means “to cavil, to deride.” It occurs in the New Testament in only one other place: Acts 17:32, “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked.” This was an effect that was not confined to the day of Pentecost. There has seldom been a revival of religion, a remarkable manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit, that has not given occasion for profane mockery and merriment. One characteristic of wicked people is to deride those things which are done to promote their own welfare. Hence, the Saviour himself was mocked; and the efforts of Christians to save others have been the subject of derision. Derision, and mockery, and a jeer, have been far more effectual in deterring people from becoming Christians than any attempts at sober argument. God will treat people as they treat him, Psalms 18:26. And hence, he says to the wicked, “Because I have called and ye refused ...but ye have set at naught my counsel; I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh,” Proverbs 1:24-26.

These men are full of new wine - These men are drunk. In times of a revival of religion men will have some way of accounting for the effects of the gospel, and the way is commonly about as wise and rational as the one adopted on this occasion. “To escape the absurdity of acknowledging their own ignorance, they adopted the theory that strong drink can teach languages” (Dr. McLelland). In modern times it has been usual to denominate such scenes fanaticism, or wildfire, or enthusiasm. When people fail in argument, it is common to attempt to confute a doctrine or bring reproach upon a transaction by “giving it an ill name.” Hence, the names Puritan, Quaker, Methodist, etc., were at first given in derision, to account for some remarkable effect of religion on the world. Compare Matthew 11:19; John 7:20; John 8:48. And thus people endeavor to trace revivals to ungoverned and heated passions, and they are regarded as the mere offspring of fanaticism. The friends of revivals should not be discouraged by this; but they should remember that the very first revival of religion was by many supposed to be the effect of a drunken frolic.

New wine - γλεύκους gleukous. This word properly means the juice of the grape which distils before a pressure is applied, and called must. It was sweet wine, and hence, the word in Greek meaning “sweet” was given to it. The ancients, it is said, had the art of preserving their new wine with the special flavor before fermentation for a considerable time, and were in the habit of drinking it in the morning. See Horace, Sat., b. 2:iv. One of the methods in use among the Greeks and Romans of doing this was the following: An amphora or jar was taken and coated with pitch within and without, and was then filled with the juice which flowed from the grapes before they had been fully trodden, and was then corked so as to be air-tight. It was then immersed in a tank of cold water or buried in the sand, and allowed to remain six weeks or two months. The contents after this process were found to remain unchanged for a year, and hence, the name ἀεί γλεύκος aei gleukos - always sweet. The process was not much unlike what is so common now of preserving fruits and vegetables. Sweet wine, which was probably the same as that mentioned here, is also mentioned in the Old Testament, Isaiah 49:26; Amos 9:13.

Verse 14

But Peter - This was in accordance with the natural temperament of Peter. He was bold, forward, ardent; and he rose now to defend the apostles of Jesus Christ, and Christ himself, from an injurious charge. Not daunted by ridicule or opposition, he felt that now was the time for preaching the gospel to the crowd that had been assembled by curiosity. No ridicule should deter Christians from an honest avowal of their opinions, and a defense of the operations of the Holy Spirit.

With the eleven - Matthias was now one of the apostles, and now appeared as one of the witnesses for the truth. They probably all arose, and took part in the discourse. Possibly Peter began to discourse, and either all spoke together in different languages, or one succeeded another.

Ye men of Judea - People who are Jews; that is, Jews by birth. The original does not mean that they were permanent dwellers in Judea, but that they were Jews, of Jewish families. Literally, “men, Jews.”

And all ye that dwell ... - All others besides native-born Jews, whether proselytes or strangers, who were abiding at Jerusalem. This comprised, of course, the whole assembly, and was a respectful and conciliatory introduction to his discourse. Though they had mocked them, yet he treated them with respect, and did not render railing for railing 1 Peter 3:9, but sought to convince them of their error.

Be this known ... - Peter did not intimate that this was a doubtful matter, or one that could not be explained. His address was respectful, yet firm. He proceeded calmly to show them their error. When the enemies of religion deride us or the gospel, we should answer them kindly and respectfully, yet firmly. We should reason with them coolly, and convince them of their error, Proverbs 15:1. In this case Peter acted on the principle which he afterward enjoined on all, 1 Peter 3:15, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” The design of Peter was to vindicate the conduct of the apostles from the reproach of intoxication; to show that this could be no other than the work of God; and to make an application of the truth to his hearers. This he did:

  1. By showing that this could not be reasonably supposed to be the effect of new wine, Acts 2:15.

(2)By showing that what had occurred had been expressly predicted in the writings of the Jewish prophets, Acts 2:16-21.

(3)By a calm argument, proving the resurrection and ascension of Christ, and showing that this also was in accordance with the Jewish Scriptures, Acts 2:22-35. We are not to suppose that this was the whole of Peter’s discourse, but that these were the topics on which he insisted, and the main points of his argument.

Verse 15

For these are not drunken ... - The word these here includes Peter himself, as well as the others. The charge doubtless extended to all.

The third hour of the day - The Jews divided their day into twelve equal parts, reckoning from sunrise to sunset. Of course the hours were longer in summer than in winter. The third hour would correspond to our nine o’clock in the morning. The reasons why it was so improbable that they would be drunk at that time were the following:

(1) It was the hour of morning worship, or sacrifice. It was highly improbable that, at an hour usually devoted to public worship, they would be intoxicated.

(2) It was not usual for even drunkards to become drunk in the daytime, 1 Thessalonians 5:7, “They that be drunken are drunken in the night.”

(3) The charge was, that they had become drunk with wine. Ardent spirits, or alcohol, that curse of our times, was unknown. It was very improbable that so much of the weak wine commonly used in Judea should have been taken at that early hour as to produce intoxication.

(4) It was a regular practice with the Jews not to eat or drink anything until after the third hour of the day, especially on the Sabbath, and on all festival occasions. Sometimes this abstinence was maintained until noon. So universal was this custom, that the apostle could appeal to it with confidence, as a full refutation of the charge of drunkenness at that hour. Even the intemperate were not accustomed to drink before that hour. The following testimonies on this subject from Jewish writers are from Lightfoot: “This was the custom of pious people in ancient times, that each one should offer his morning prayers with additions in the synagogue, and then return home and take refreshment” (Maimonides, Shabb., chapter 30). “They remained in the synagogue until the sixth hour and a half, and then each one offered the prayer of the Minchah before he returned home, and then he ate.” “The fourth is the hour of repast, when all eat.” One of the Jewish writers says that the difference between thieves and honest men might be known by the fact that the former might be seen in the morning at the fourth hour eating and sleeping, and holding a cup in his hand. But for those who made pretensions to religion, as the apostles did, such a thing was altogether improbable.

Verse 16

This is that - This is the fulfillment of that, or this was predicted. This was the second part of Peter’s argument, to show that this was in accordance with the predictions in their own Scriptures.

By the prophet Joel - Joel 2:28-32. This is not quoted literally, either from the Hebrew or the Septuagint. The substance, however, is preserved.

Verse 17

It shall come to pass - It shall happen, or shall occur.

In the last days - Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic, after these things, or afterward. The expression the last days, however, occurs frequently in the Old Testament: Genesis 49:1, Jacob called his sons, that he might tell them what should happen to them in the last days, that is, in future times - Heb. in after times; Micah 4:1, “In the last days (Hebrew: in later times) the mountain of the Lord’s house,” etc.; Isaiah 2:2, “in the last days the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the tops of the mountains,” etc. The expression then properly denoted “the future times” in general. But, as the coming of the Messiah was to the eye of a Jew the most important event in the coming ages - the great, glorious, and crowning scene in all the vast futurity, the phrase came to be regarded as properly expressive of that. It stood in opposition to the usual denomination of earlier times.

It was a phrase in contrast with the days of the patriarchs, the kings, the prophets, etc. The last days, or the closing period of the world, were the days of the Messiah. It does not appear from this, and it certainly is not implied in the expression, that they supposed the world would then come to an end. Their views were just the contrary. They anticipated a long and glorious time under the dominion of the Messiah, and to this expectation they were led by the promise that his kingdom should be forever; that of the increase of his government there should be no end, etc. This expression was understood by the writers of the New Testament as referring undoubtedly to the times of the gospel. And hence they often used it as denoting that the time of the expected Messiah had come, but not to imply that the world was drawing near to an end: Hebrews 1:2, “God hath spoken in these last days by his Son”; 1 Peter 1:20, “Was manifested in these last times for you”; 2Pe 3:3; 1 Peter 1:5; 1 John 2:18, “Little children, it is the last time,” etc.; Jude 1:18. The expression the last day is applied by our Saviour to the resurrection and the day of judgment, John 6:39-40, John 6:44-45; John 11:24; John 12:48. Here the expression means simply “in those future times, when the Messiah shall have come.”

I will pour out of my Spirit - The expression in Hebrew is, “I will pour out my Spirit.” The word “pour” is commonly applied to water or to blood, “to pour it out,” or “to shed it,” Isaiah 57:6; to tears, “to pour them out,” that is,” to weep, etc., Psalms 42:4; 1 Samuel 1:15. It is applied to water, to wine, or to blood, in the New Testament, Matthew 9:17; Revelation 16:1; Acts 22:20, “The blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed.” It conveys also the idea of “communicating largely or freely,” as water is poured freely from a fountain, Titus 3:5-6, “The renewing of the Holy Spirit, which he shed on us abundantly.” Thus, Job 36:27, “They (the clouds) pour down rain according to the vapor thereof”; Isaiah 44:3, “I will pour water on him that is thirsty”; Isaiah 45:8, “Let the skies pour down righteousness”; Malachi 3:10, “I will pour you out a blessing.” It is also applied to fury and anger, when God intends to say that he will not spare, but will signally punish, Psalms 69:24; Jeremiah 10:25. It is not infrequently applied to the Spirit, Proverbs 1:23; Isaiah 44:3; Zechariah 12:10. As thus used it means that he will bestow large measures of spiritual influences. As the Spirit renews and sanctifies people, so to pour out the Spirit is to grant freely his influences to renew and sanctify the soul.

My Spirit - The Spirit here denotes the Third Person of the Trinity, promised by the Saviour, and sent to finish his work, and apply it to people. The Holy Spirit is regarded as the source or conveyer of all the blessings which Christians experience. Hence, he renews the heart, John 3:5-6. He is the source of all proper feelings and principles in Christians, or he produces the Christian graces, Galatians 5:22-25; Titus 3:5-7. The spread and success of the gospel is attributed to him, Isaiah 32:15-16. Miraculous gifts are traced to him, especially the various gifts with which the early Christians were endowed, 1 Corinthians 12:4-10. The promise that he would pour out his Spirit means that he would, in the time of the Messiah, impart a large measure of those influences which it was his special province to communicate to people. A part of them were communicated on the day of Pentecost, in the miraculous endowment of the power of speaking foreign languages, in the wisdom of the apostles, and in the conversion of the three thousand,

Upon all flesh - The word “flesh” here means “persons,” or “people.” See the notes on Romans 1:3. The word “all” here does not mean every individual, but every class or rank of individuals. It is to be limited to the cases specified immediately. The influences were not to be confined to any one class, but were to be communicated to all kinds of persons - old men, youth, servants, etc. Compare 1 Timothy 2:1-4.

And your sons and your daughters - Your children. It would seem that females shared in the remarkable influences of the Holy Spirit. Philip the Evangelist had four daughters which did prophesy, Acts 21:9. It is probable also that the females of the church of Corinth partook of this gift, though they were forbidden to exercise it in public, 1 Corinthians 14:34. The office of prophesying, whatever was meant by that, was not confined to the people among the Jews: Exodus 15:20, “Miriam, the prophetess, took a timbrel,” etc.; Judges 4:4, “Deborah, a prophetess, judged Israel”; 2 Kings 22:14. See also Luke 2:36, “There was one Anna, a prophetess,” etc.

Shall prophesy - The word “prophesy” is used in a great variety of senses:

(1) It means to predict or foretell future events, Matthew 11:13; Matthew 15:7.

(2) To divine, to conjecture, to declare as a prophet might, Matthew 26:68, “Prophesy who smote thee.”

(3) To celebrate the praises of God, being under a divine influence, Luke 1:67. This seems to have been a considerable part of the employment in the ancient schools of the prophet, 1 Samuel 10:5; 1Sa 19:20; 1 Samuel 30:15.

(4) To teach - as no small part of the office of the prophets was to teach the doctrines of religion, Matthew 7:22, “Have we not prophesied in thy name?”

(5) It denotes, then, in general, “to speak under a divine influence,” whether in foretelling future events, in celebrating the praises of God, in instructing others in the duties of religion, or “in speaking foreign languages under that influence.” In this last sense the word is used in the New Testament, to denote those who were miraculously endowed with the power of speaking foreign languages, Acts 19:6. The word is also used to denote “teaching, or speaking in intelligible language, in opposition to speaking a foreign tongue,” 1 Corinthians 14:1-5. In this place it means that they would speak under a divine influence, and is specially applied to the power of speaking in a foreign tongue.

Your young men shall see visions - The will of God in former times was communicated to the prophets in various ways. One was by visions, and hence one of the most usual names of the prophets was seers. The name seer was first given to that class of men, and was superseded by the name prophet, 1 Samuel 9:9, “He that is now called a prophet was beforetime called a seer”; 1 Samuel 9:11, 1 Samuel 9:18-19; 2 Samuel 24:11; 1 Chronicles 29:29, etc. This name was given from the manner in which the divine will was communicated, which seems to have been by throwing the prophet into an ecstasy, and then by causing the vision, or the appearance of the objects or events to pass before the mind. The prophet looked upon the passing scene, the often splendid diorama as it actually occurred, and recorded it as it appeared to his mind. Hence, he recorded rather the succession of images than the times in which they would occur. These visions occurred sometimes when they were asleep, and sometimes during a prophetic ecstasy, Daniel 2:28; Daniel 7:1-2, Daniel 7:15; Daniel 8:2; Ezekiel 11:24; Genesis 15:1; Numbers 12:6; Job 4:13; Job 7:14; Ezekiel 1:1; Ezekiel 8:3.

Often the prophet seemed to be transferred or transported to another place from where he was, and the scene in a distant land or age passed before the mind, Ezekiel 8:3; Ezekiel 40:2; Ezekiel 11:24; Daniel 8:2. In this case the distant scene or time passed before the prophet, and he recorded it as it appeared to him. That this did not cease before the times of the gospel is evident: Acts 9:10, “To Ananias said the Lord in a vision,” etc.; Acts 9:12, “and hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias,” etc.; that is, Paul hath seen Ananias represented to him, though absent; he has had an image of him coming in to him; Acts 10:3, Cornelius “saw in a vision evidently an angel of God coming to him,” etc. This was one of the modes by which in former times God made known his will; and the language of the Jews came to express a revelation in this manner. Though there were strictly no visions on the day of Pentecost, yet that was one scene under the great economy of the Messiah under which God would make known his will in a manner as clear as he did to the ancient Jews.

Your old men shall dream dreams - The will of God in former times was made known often in this manner; and there are several instances recorded in which it was done under the gospel. God informed Abimelech in a dream that Sarah was the wife of Abraham, Genesis 20:3. He spoke to Jacob in a dream, Genesis 31:11; to Laban, Genesis 31:24; to Joseph, Genesis 37:5; to the butler and baker, Genesis 40:5; to Pharaoh, Genesis 41:1-7; to Solomon, 1 Kings 3:5; to Daniel, Daniel 2:3; Daniel 7:1. It was prophesied by Moses that in this way God would make known his will, Numbers 12:6. It occurred even in the times of the gospel. Joseph was warned in a dream, Matthew 1:20; Matthew 2:12-13, Matthew 2:19, Matthew 2:22. Pilate’s wife was also troubled in this manner about the conduct of the Jews to Christ, Matthew 27:19. As this was one way in which the will of God was made known formerly to people, so the expression here denotes simply that His will would be made known; that it would be one characteristic of the times of the gospel that God would reveal Himself to mankind. The ancients probably had some mode of determining whether their dreams were divine communications, or whether they were, as they are now, the mere erratic wanderings of the mind when unrestrained and unchecked by the will. At present no confidence is to be put in dreams. Compare the introduction to Isaiah, section 7, 12.

Verse 18

And on my servants - The Hebrew text in Joel is “upon the servants.” The Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, however, render it “on my servants.” In Joel, the prophet would seem to be enumerating the different conditions and ranks of society. The influences of the Spirit would be confined to no class; they would descend on old and young, and even on servants and handmaids. So the Chaldee Paraphrase understood it. But the Septuagint and Peter evidently understood it in the sense of servants of God, as the worshippers of God are often called servants in the Scriptures. See Romans 1:1. It is possible, however, that Joel intended to refer to the servants of God. It is not “upon your servants,” etc., as in the former expression, “your sons,” etc.; but the form is changed, “upon servants and handmaids.” The language, therefore, will admit the construction of the Septuagint and of Peter; and it was this variation in the original Hebrew which suggested, doubtless, the mention of “my servants,” etc., instead of your servants.

And on my handmaids - Female servants. The name is several times given to pious women, Psalms 86:16; Psalms 116:16; Luke 1:38, Luke 1:48. The meaning of this verse does not materially differ from the former. In the times of the gospel, those who were brought under its influence would be remarkably endowed with ability to declare the will of God.

Verse 19

I will show wonders - Literally, “I will give signs” - δώσω τέρατα dōsō terata. The word in the Hebrew, מופתים mowpatiym, means properly “prodigies; wonderful occurrences; miracles performed by God or his messengers,” Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:3, Exodus 7:9; Exodus 11:9; Deuteronomy 4:34, etc. It is the common word to denote a miracle in the Old Testament. Here it means, however, a portentous appearance, a prodigy, a remarkable occurrence. It is commonly joined in the New Testament with the word “signs” - “signs and wonders,” Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22; John 4:48. In these places it does not of necessity mean miracles, but unusual and remarkable appearances. Here it is used to mean great and striking changes in the sky, the sun, moon, etc. The Hebrew is, “I will give signs in the heaven and upon the earth.” Peter has quoted it according to the sense, and not according to the letter. The Septuagint is here a literal translation of the Hebrew; and this is one of the instances where the New Testament writers did not quote from either.

Much of the difficulty of interpreting these verses consists in affixing the proper meaning to the expression “that great and notable day of the Lord.” If it be limited to the day of Pentecost, it is certain that no such events occurred at that time. But there is, it is believed, no propriety in confining it to that time. The description here pertains to “the last days” Acts 2:17; that is, to the whole of that period of duration, however long, which was known by the prophets as “the last times.” That period might be extended through many centuries; and during that period all these events would take place. The day of the Lord is the day when God will manifest himself in a special manner; a day when he will so strikingly be seen in his wonders and his judgments that it may be called his day. Thus, it is applied to the day of judgment as the day of the Son of man; the day in which he will be the great attractive object, and will be signally glorified, Luke 17:24; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; Philippians 1:6; 2 Peter 3:12. If, as I suppose, “that notable day of the Lord” here refers to that future time when God will manifest himself in judgment, then we are not to suppose that Peter meant to say that these “wonders” would take place on the day of Pentecost, or had their fulfillment then, “but would occur under that indefinite period called “the last days,” the days of the Messiah, and before that period Was closed by the great day of the Lord.” The gift of tongues was a partial fulfillment of the general prophecy pertaining to those times. And as the prophecy was thus partially fulfilled, it was a pledge that it would be entirely; and thus there was laid a foundation for the necessity of repentance, and for calling on the Lord in order to be saved.

Blood - Blood is commonly used as an emblem of slaughter or of battle.

Fire - Fire is also an image of war, or the conflagration of towns and dwellings in time of war.

Vapour of smoke - The word “vapor,” ἀτμίς atmis, means commonly an exhalation from the earth, etc., easily moved from one place to another. Here it means (Hebrew: Joel) rising columbus or pillars of smoke, and is another image of the calamities of war the smoke rising from burning towns. It has always been customary in war to burn the towns of an enemy, and to render him as helpless as possible. Hence, the calamities denoted here are those represented by such scenes. To what particular scenes there is reference here it is impossible now to say. It may be remarked, however, that scenes of this kind occurred before the destruction of Jerusalem, and there is a striking resemblance between the description in Joel and that by which our Saviour foretells the destruction of Jerusalem. See the notes on Matthew 24:21-24. Dr. Thomson (Land and the Book, vol. 2, p. 311) supposes that the reference in Joel may have been to the usual appearances of the sirocco, or that they may have suggested the image used here. He says: “We have two kinds of sirocco, one accompanied with vehement wind, which fills the air with dust and fine sand. I have often seen the whole heavens veiled in gloom with this sort of sandcloud, through which the sun, shorn of his beams, looked like a globe of dull smouldering fire. It may have been this phenomenon which suggested that strong prophetic figure of Joel, quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost. Wonders in the heaven and in the earth; blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke; the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood. The pillars of smoke are probably those columns of sand and dust raised high in the air by local whirlwinds, which often accompany the sirocco. On the great desert of the Hauran I have seen a score of them marching with great rapidity over the plain, and they closely resemble ‘pillars of smoke.’”

Verse 20

The sun shall be turned into darkness - See the notes on Matthew 24:29. The same images used here with reference to the sun and moon are used also there: They occur not infrequently, Mark 13:24; 2 Peter 3:7-10. The shining of the sun is an emblem of prosperity; the withdrawing, the eclipse, or the setting of the sun is an emblem of calamity, and is often thus need in the Scriptures, Isaiah 60:20; Jeremiah 15:9; Ezekiel 32:7; Amos 8:9; Revelation 6:12; Revelation 8:12; Revelation 9:2; Revelation 16:8. To say that the sun is darkened, or turned into darkness, is an image of calamity, and especially of the calamities of war, when the smoke of burning cities rises to heaven and obscures his light. This is not, therefore, to be taken literally, nor does it afford any indication of what will be at the end of the world in regard to the sun.

The moon into blood - The word “blood” here means that obscure, sanguinary color which the moon has when the atmosphere is filled with smoke and vapor, and especially the lurid and alarming appearance which it assumes when smoke and flames are thrown up by earthquakes and fiery eruptions, Revelation 6:12, “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and lo, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood,” Revelation 8:8. In this place it denotes great calamities. The figures used are indicative of wars, and conflagrations, and earthquakes. As these things are Matthew 24:0 applied to the destruction of Jerusalem; as they actually occurred previous to that event (see the notes on Matthew 24:0), it may be supposed that the prophecy in Joel had an immediate reference to that. The meaning of the quotation by Peter in this place therefore is, that what occurred on the day of Pentecost was the beginning of the serges of wonders that was to take place during the times of the Messiah. It is not intimated that those scenes were to close or to be exhausted in that age. They may precede that great day of the Lord which is yet to come in view of the whole earth.

That great and notable day of the Lord - This is called the great day of the Lord, because on that day he will be signally manifested, more impressively and strikingly than on other times. The word “notable,” ἐπιφανῆ epiphanē, means “signal, illustrious, distinguished.” In Joel the word is “terrible or fearful”; a word applicable to days of calamity, and trial, and judgment. The Greek word here rendered notable is also in the Septuagint frequently used to denote “calamity” or “times of judgment,” Deuteronomy 10:21; 2 Samuel 7:23. This will apply to any day in which God signally manifests himself, but particularly to a day when he shall come forth to punish people, as at the destruction of Jerusalem, or at the day of judgment. The meaning is, that those wonders would take place before that distinguished day should arrive when God would come forth in judgment.

Verse 21

Whosoever shall call - In the midst of these wonders and dangers, whosoever should call on the Lord should be delivered (Joel). The name of the Lord is the same as the Lord himself. It is a Hebraism, signifying to call on the Lord, Psalms 79:6; Zechariah 13:9.

Shall be saved - In Hebrew, shall be delivered, that is, from impending calamities. When they threaten, and God is coming forth to judge them, it shall be that those who are characterized as those who call on the Lord shall be delivered. This is equally true at all times. It is remarkable that no Christians perished in the siege of Jerusalem. Though more than a million of Jews perished, yet the followers of Christ who were there, having been warned by him, when they saw the signs of the Romans approaching, withdrew to Aelia, and were preserved. So it shall be in the day of judgment. All whose character it has been that “they called on God” will then be saved. While the wicked will then call on the rocks and the mountains to shelter them from the Lord, those who have invoked his favor and mercy will find deliverance. The use which Peter makes of this passage is this: Calamities were about to come; the day of judgment was approaching; they were passing through the last days of the earth’s history, and therefore it became them to call on the name of the Lord, and to obtain deliverance from the dangers which impended over the guilty. There can be little doubt that Peter intended to apply this to the Messiah, and that by the name of the Lord he meant the Lord Jesus. See 1 Corinthians 1:2. Paul makes the same use of the passage, expressly applying it to the Lord Jesus Christ, Romans 10:13-14. In Joel, the word translated “Lord” is יהוה Yahweh, the incommunicable and unique name of God; and the use of the passage before us in the New Testament shows how the apostles regarded the Lord Jesus Christ, and proves that they had no hesitation in applying to him names and attributes which could belong to no one but God.

This verse teaches us:

1. That in prospect of the judgments of God which are to come, we should make preparation. We shall be called to pass through the closing scenes of this earth; the time when the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, and when the great day of the Lord shall come.

2. It is easy to be saved. All that God requires of us is to call upon him, to pray to him, and he will answer and save. If people will not do so easy a thing as to call on God, and ask him for salvation, it is obviously proper that they should be cast off. The terms of salvation could not be made plainer or easier. The offer is wide, free, universal, and there is no obstacle but what exists in the heart of the sinner.

And from this part of Peter’s vindication of the scene on the day of Pentecost we may learn also:

1. That revivals of religion are to be expected as a part of the history of the Christian church. He speaks of God’s pouring out his Spirit, etc., as what was to take place in the last days, that is, in the indefinite and large tract of time which was to come, under the administration of the Messiah. His remarks are by no means limited to the day of Pentecost. They are as applicable to future periods as to that time; and we are to expect it as a part of Christian history, that the Holy Spirit will be sent down to awaken and convert people.

2. This will also vindicate revivals from all the changes which have ever been brought against them. All the objections of irregularity, extravagance, wildfire, enthusiasm, disorder, etc., which have been alleged against revivals in modern times, might have been brought with equal propriety against the scene on the day of Pentecost. Yet an apostle showed that that was in accordance with the predictions of the Old Testament, and was an undoubted work of the Holy Spirit. If that work could be vindicated, then modern revivals may be. If that was really liable to no objections on these accounts, then modern works of grace should not be objected to for the same things. And if that excited deep interest in the apostles; if they felt deep concern to vindicate it from the charge brought against it, then Christians and Christian ministers now should feel similar solicitude to defend revivals, and not be found among their revilers, their calumniators, or their foes. There will be enemies enough of the work of the Holy Spirit without the aid of professed Christians, and that man possesses no enviable feelings or character who is found with the enemies of God and his Christ in opposing the mighty work of the Holy Spirit on the human heart.

Verse 22

Ye men of Israel - Descendants of Israel or Jacob, that is, Jews. Peter proceeds now to the third part of his argument, to show that Jesus Christ had been raised up; that the scene which had occurred was in accordance with his promise, was proof of his resurrection, and of his exaltation to be the Messiah; and that, therefore, they should repent for their great sin in having put their own Messiah to death.

A man approved of God - A man who was shown or demonstrated to have the approbation of God, or to have been sent by him.

By miracles, and wonders, and signs - The first of these words properly means the displays of power which Jesus made; the second, the unusual or remarkable events which attended him, as suited to excite wonder or amazement; the third, the sights or proofs that he was from God. Together, they denote the array or series of remarkable works - raising the dead, healing the sick, etc., which showed that Jesus was sent from God. The proof which they furnished that he was from God was this, that He would not confer such power on an impostor, and that therefore Jesus was what he pretended to be.

Which God did, by him - The Lord Jesus himself often traced his power to do these things to his commission from the Father, but he did it in such a way as to show that he was closely united to him, John 5:19, John 5:30. Peter here says that God did these works by Jesus Christ, to show that Jesus was truly sent by him, and that therefore he had the seal and attestation of God. The same thing Jesus himself said, John 5:36, “The work which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.” The great works which God has made in creation, as well as in redemption, he is represented as having done by his Son, Hebrews 1:2, “By whom also he made the worlds,” John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-19.

In the midst of you - In your own land. It is also probable that many of the persons present had been witnesses of his miracles.

As ye yourselves also know - They knew it either by having witnessed them, or by the evidence which everywhere abounded of the truth that he had performed them. The Jews, even in the time of Christ, did not dare to call his miracles in question, John 15:24. While they admitted the miracle, they attempted to trace it to the influence of Beelzebub, Matthew 9:34; Mark 3:22. So decided and numerous were the miracles of Jesus, that Peter here appeals to them as having been known by the Jews themselves to have been performed, and with a confidence that even riley could not deny it. On this he proceeds to rear his argument for the truth of his Messiahship.

Verse 23

Him, being delivered - ἔκδοτον ekdoton. This word, delivered, is used commonly of those who are surrendered or delivered into the hands of enemies or adversaries. It means that Jesus was surrendered, or given up to his enemies by those who should have been his protectors. Thus, he was delivered to the chief priests, Mark 10:33. Pilate released Barabbas, and delivered Jesus to their will, Mark 15:15; Luke 23:25. He was delivered unto the Gentiles, Luke 18:32; the chief priests delivered him to Pilate, Matthew 27:2; and Pilate delivered him to be crucified, Matthew 27:26; John 19:16. In this manner was the death of Jesus accomplished, by being surrendered from one tribunal to another, and one demand of his countrymen to another, until they succeeded in procuring his death. It may also be implied here that he was given or surrendered by God Himself to the hands of people. Thus, he is represented to have been given by God, Joh 3:16; 1 John 4:9-10. The Syriac translates this, “Him, who was destined to this by the foreknowledge and will of God, you delivered into the hands of wicked men,” etc. The Arabic, “Him, delivered to you by the hands of the wicked, you received, and after you had mocked him you slew him.”

By the determinate counsel - The word translated “determinate” - τῇ ὡρίσμένῃ tē hōrismenē - mean, properly, “what is defined, marked out, or bounded; as, to mark out or define the boundary of a field,” etc. See Romans 1:1, Romans 1:4. In Acts 10:42, it is translated “ordained of God”; denoting His purpose that it should be so, that is, that Jesus should be the Judge of quick and dead; Luke 22:22, “The Son of man goeth as it is determined of him,” that is, as God has purposed or determined beforehand that he should go; Acts 11:29, “The disciples ...determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea,” that is, they resolved or purposed beforehand to do it; Acts 17:26, “God ...‘hath determined’ the times before appointed and fixed,” etc. In all these places there is the idea of a purpose, intention, or plan implying intention, and marking out or fixing the boundaries to some future action or evens. The word implies that the death of Jesus was resolved by God before it took place. And this truth is established by all the predictions made in the Old Testament, and by the Saviour himself. God was not compelled to give up his Son. There was no claim on him for it. He had a right, therefore, to determine when and how it should be done. The fact, moreover, that this was predicted, shows that it was fixed or resolved on. No event can be foretold, evidently, unless it be certain that it will take place. The event, therefore, must in some way be fixed or resolved on beforehand,

Counsel - βουλή boulē. This word properly denotes “purpose, decree, will.” It expresses the act of the mind in willing, or the purpose or design which is formed. Here it means the purpose or will of God; it was his plan or decree that Jesus should be delivered: Acts 4:28, “For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel ἡ βουλή σου hē boulē sou determined before to be done”; Ephesians 1:11, “Who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will”; Hebrews 6:17, “God willing ...to show ...the immutability of his counsel.” See Acts 20:27; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Luke 23:51. The word here, therefore, proves that Jesus was delivered by the deliberate purpose of God; that it was according to his previous intention and design. The reason why this was insisted on by Peter was that he might convince the Jews that Jesus was not delivered by weakness, or because he was unable to rescue himself. Such an opinion would have been inconsistent with the belief that he was the Messiah. It was important, then, to assert the dignity of Jesus, and to show that his death was in accordance with the fixed design of God, and therefore that it did not interfere in the least with his claims to be the Messiah. The same thing our Saviour has himself expressly affirmed, John 19:10-11; John 10:18; Matthew 26:53.

Foreknowledge - This word denotes “the seeing beforehand of an event yet to take place.” It implies:

  1. Omniscience; and,
  2. That the event is fixed and certain.

To foresee a contingent event, that is, to foresee that an event will take place when it may or may not take place, is an absurdity. Foreknowledge, therefore, implies that for some reason the event will certainly take place. What that reason As, however, God is represented in the Scriptures as purposing or determining future events; as they could not be foreseen by him unless he had so determined, so the word sometimes is used in the sense of determining beforehand, or as synonymous with decreeing, Romans 8:29; Romans 11:2. In this place the word is used to denote that the delivering up of Jesus was something more than a bare or naked decree. It implies that God did it according to his foresight of what would be the best time, place, and manner of its being done. It was not the result merely of will; it was will directed by a wise foreknowledge of what would be best. And this is the case with all the decrees of God. It follows from this that the conduct of the Jews was foreknown. God was not disappointed in anything respecting their treatment of his Son, nor will he be disappointed in any of the actions of people. Notwithstanding the wickedness of the world, his counsel shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure, Isaiah 46:10.

Ye have taken - See Matthew 26:57. Ye Jews have taken. It is possible that some were present on this occasion who had been personally concerned in taking Jesus, and many who had joined in the cry, “Crucify him, Luke 23:18-21. It was, at any rate, the act of the Jewish people by which this had been done. This was a striking instance of the fidelity of that preaching which says, as Nathan did to David, “Thou art the man!” Peter, once so timid that he denied his Lord, now charged this atrocious crime to his countrymen, regardless of their anger and his own danger. He did not deal in general accusations, but brought the charges home, and declared that they were the people who had been concerned in this amazing crime. No preaching can be successful that does not charge to people their personal guilt, and that does not fearlessly proclaim their ruin and danger.

By wicked hands - Greek: “through or by the hands of the lawless or wicked.” This refers, doubtless, to Pilate and the Roman soldiers, through whose instrumentality this had been done. The reasons for supposing that this is the true interpretation of the passage are these:

  1. The Jews had not the power of inflicting death themselves.

(2)The term used here, “wicked,” ἀνόμων anomōn, is not applicable to the Jews, but to the Romans. It properly means lawless, or those who had not the Law, and is often applied to the pagan, Romans 2:12, Rom 2:14; 1 Corinthians 9:21.

(3)The punishment which was inflicted was a Roman punishment.

(4)It was a matter of fact that the Jews, though they had condemned him, yet had not put him to death themselves, but had demanded it of the Romans. But, though they had employed the Romans to do it, still they were the prime movers in the deed; they had plotted, and compassed, and demanded his death, and they were, therefore, not the less guilty. The maxim of the common law and of common sense is, “He who does a deed by the instrumentality of another is responsible for it.” It was from no merit of the Jews that they had not put him to death themselves. It was simply because the power was taken away from them.

Have crucified - Greek: “Having affixed him to the cross, ye have put him to death.” Peter here charges the crime fully on them. Their guilt was not diminished because they had employed others to do it. From this we may remark:

1. That this was one of the most amazing and awful crimes that could be charged to any people. It was malice, and treason, and hatred, and murder combined. Nor was it any common murder. It was their own Messiah whom they had put to death; the hope of their fathers; he who had been long promised by God, and the prospect of whose coming had so long cheered and animated the nation. They had now imbrued their hands in his blood, and stood charged with the awful crime of having murdered the Prince of Peace.

2. It is no mitigation of guilt that we do it by the instrumentality of others. It is often, if not always, a deepening and extending of the crime.

3. We have here a striking and clear instance of the doctrine that the decrees of God do not interfere with the free agency of people. This event was certainly determined beforehand. Nothing is clearer than this. It is here expressly asserted; and it had been foretold with undeviating certainty by the prophets. God had, for wise and gracious purposes, purposed or decreed in his own mind that his Son should die at the time and in the manner in which he did; for all the circumstances of his death, as well as of his birth and his life, were foretold; and yet in this the Jews and the Romans never supposed or alleged that they were compelled or cramped in what they did. They did what they chose. If in this case the decrees of God were not inconsistent with human freedom, neither can they be in any case. Between those decrees and the freedom of man there is no inconsistency, unless it could be shown - what never can be that God compels people to act contrary to their own will. In such a case there could be no freedom. But that is not the case with regard to the decrees of God. An act is what it is in itself; it can be contemplated and measured by itself. That it was foreseen, foreknown, or purposed does not alter its nature, anymore than it does that it be remembered after it is performed. The memory of what we have done does not destroy our freedom. “Our own purposes” in relation to our conduct do not destroy our freedom; nor can the purposes or designs of any other being violate one free moral action, unless he compels us to do a thing against our will.

4. We have here a proof that the decrees of God do not take away the moral character of an action. It does not prove that an action is innocent if it is shown that it is a part of the wise plan of God to permit it, Never was there a more atrocious crime than the crucifixion of the Son of God; and yet it was determined on in the divine counsels. So with all the deeds of human guilt. The purpose of God to permit them does not destroy their nature or make them innocent. They are what they are in themselves. The purpose of God does not change their character; and if it is right to push them in fact, they will be punished. If it is right for God to punish them, it was right to resolve to do it. The sinner must answer for his sins, not for the plans of his Maker; nor can he take shelter in the day of wrath against what he deserves in the plea that God has determined future events. If any people could have done it, it would have been those whom Peter addressed; yet neither he nor they felt that their guilt was in the least diminished by the fact that Jesus was “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.”

5. If this event was predetermined; if that act of amazing wickedness, when the Son of God was put to death, was fixed by the determinate counsel of God, then all the events leading to it, and the circumstances attending it, were also a part of the decree. The one could not be determined without the other.

6. If that event was determined, then others may also be consistently with human freedom and responsibility. There can be no deed of wickedness that will surpass that of crucifying the Son of God, and if the acts of his murderers were a part of the wise counsel of God, then on the same principle are we to suppose that all events are under his direction, and ordered by a purpose infinitely wise and good.

7. If the Jews could not take shelter from the charge of wickedness under the plea that it was foreordained, then no stoners can do it. This was as clear a case as can ever occur; and yet the apostle did not intimate that an excuse or mitigation for their sin could be pled from this cause. This case, therefore, meets all the excuses of sinners from this plea, and proves that those excuses will not avail them or save them in the day of judgment.

Verse 24

Whom God hath raised up - This was the main point, in this part of his argument, which Peter wished to establish. He could not but admit that the Messiah had been in an ignominious manner put to death. But he now shows them that God had also raised him up; had thus given his attestation to his doctrine; and had sent down his Spirit according to the promise which the Lord Jesus made before his death.

Having loosed the pains of death - The word “loosed,” λύσας lusas, is opposed to bind, and is properly applied to a cord, or to anything which is bound. See Matthew 21:2; Mark 1:7. Hence, it means to free or to liberate, Luke 13:16; 1 Corinthians 7:27. It is used in this sense here; though the idea of untying or loosing a band is retained, because the word translated “pains” often means “a cord or band.”

The pains of death - ὠδῖνας τοῦ θάνατου ōdinas tou thanatou. The word translated “pains” denotes properly “the extreme sufferings of parturition, and then any severe or excruciating pangs.” Hence, it is applied also to death, as being a state of extreme suffering. A very frequent meaning of the Hebrew word of which this is the translation is cord or band. This, perhaps, was the original idea of the word; and the Hebrews expressed any extreme agony under the idea of bands or cords closely drawn, binding and constricting the limbs, and producing severe pain. Thus, death was represented under this image of a band that confined people, that pressed closely on them, that prevented escape, and produced severe suffering. For this use of the word חבל chebel, see Psalms 119:61; Isaiah 66:7; Jeremiah 22:23; Hosea 13:13. It is applied to death, Psalms 18:5, “The snares of death prevented me”; corresponding to the word “sorrows” in the previous part of the verse; Psalms 116:3, “The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell (Hades or Sheol, the cords or pains that were binding me down to the grave) gat held on me.”

We are not to infer from this that our Lord suffered anything after death. It means simply that he could not be held by the grave, but that God loosed the bonds which had held him there; that he now set him free who had been encompassed by these pains or bonds until they had brought him down to the grave. Pain, mighty pain, will encompass us all like the constrictions and bindings of a cord which we cannot loose, and will fasten our limbs and bodies in the grave. Those bands begin to be thrown around us in early life, and they are drawn closer and closer, until we lie panting under the stricture on a bed of pain, and then are still and immovable in the grave - subdued in a manner not a little resembling the mortal agonies of the tiger in the convolutions of the boa constrictor, or like Laocoon and his sons in the folds of the serpents from the Island of Tenedos.

It was not possible - This does not refer to any natural impossibility, or to any inherent efficacy or power in the body of Jesus itself, but simply means that “in the circumstances of the case such an event could not be.” Why it could not be he proceeds at once to show. It could not be consistently with the promises of the Scriptures. Jesus was the “Prince of life” Acts 3:15; he had life in himself John 1:4; John 5:26; he had power to lay down his life and to take it again Judges 10:18; and it was indispensable that he should rise. He came, also, that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death that is, the devil Hebrews 2:14; and as it was his purpose to gain this victory, he could not be defeated in it by being confined to the grave.

Verse 25

For Daniel speaketh ... - This doctrine that the Messiah must rise from the dead Peter proceeds to prove by a quotation from the Old Testament. This passage is taken from Psalms 16:8-11. It is made from the Greek version of the Septuagint, with only one slight and unimportant change. Nor is there any material change, as will be seen, from the Hebrew. In what sense this Psalm can be applied to Christ will be seen after we have examined the expressions which Peter alleges.

I foresaw the Lord - This is an unhappy translation. To foresee the Lord always before us conveys no idea, though it may be a literal translation of the passage. The word means “to foresee,” and then “to see before us,” that is, “as present with us, to regard as being near.” It thus implies “to put confidence in one; to rely on him, or expect assistance from him.” This is its meaning here. The Hebrew is, “I expected, or waited for.” It thus expresses the petition of one who is helpless and dependent, who waits for help from God. It is often thus used in the Old Testament.

Always before my face - As being always present to help me, and to deliver me out of all my troubles.

He is on my right hand - To be at hand is to be near to afford help. The right hand is mentioned because that was the place of dignity and honor. David did not design simply to say that he was near to help him, but that he had the place of honor, the highest place in his affections, Psalms 109:31. In our dependence on God we should exalt him. We should not merely regard him as our help, but should at the same time give him the highest place in our affections.

That I should not be moved - That is, that no great evil or calamity should happen to me; that I may stand firm. The phrase denotes “to sink into calamities, or to fall into the power of enemies,” Psalms 62:2, Psalms 62:6; Psalms 46:6. This expresses the confidence of one who is in danger of great calamities, and who puts his trust in the help of God alone.

Verse 26

Therefore - Peter ascribes these expressions to the Messiah. The reason why he would exult or rejoice was, that he would be preserved amidst the sorrows that were coming on him, and could look forward to the triumph that awaited him. Thus, Paul says Hebrews 12:2 that “Jesus ...“for the joy that was set before him,” endured the cross, despising the shame,” etc. Throughout the New Testament, the shame and sorrow of his sufferings were regarded as connected with his glory and his triumph, Luke 24:26; Philippians 2:6-9; Ephesians 1:20-21. In this our Saviour has left us an example that we should walk in his steps. The prospect of future glory and triumph should sustain us amidst all afflictions, and make us ready, like him, to lie down in even the corruptions of the grave.

Did my heart rejoice - In the Hebrew this is in the prescott tense, “my heart rejoices.” The word “heart” here expresses “the person,” and is the same as saying “I rejoice.” The Hebrews used the different members to express the person. And thus we say, “every soul perished; the vessel had 40 hands; wise heads do not think so; hearts of steel will not flinch,” etc. (Prof. Stuart on Psalms 16:1-11). The meaning is, because God is near me in time of calamity, and will support and deliver me, I will not be agitated or fear, but will exult in the prospect of the future, in view of the “joy that is set before me.”

My tongue was glad - Hebrew, My glory or my honor exults. The word is used to denote “majesty, splendor, dignity, honor.” It is also used to express the heart or soul, either because that is the chief source of man’s dignity, or because the word is also expressive of the liver, regarded by the Hebrews as the seat of the affections, Genesis 49:6, “Unto their assembly, mine honor,” that is, my soul, or myself, “be not thou united”; Psalms 57:8, “Awake up, my glory,” etc.; Psalms 108:1, “I will sing ...even with my glory.” This word the Septuagint translated “tongue.” The Arabic and Latin Vulgate have also done the same. Why they thus use the word is not clear. It may be because the tongue, or the gift of speech, was what chiefly contributes to the honor of man, or distinguishes him from the brutal creation. The word “glory” is used expressly for “tongue” in Psalms 30:12; “To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent.”

Moreover also - Truly; in addition to this.

My flesh - My body. See Acts 2:31; 1 Corinthians 5:5. It means here properly the body separate from the soul; the dead body.

Shall rest - Shall rest or repose in the grave, free from corruption.

In hope - In confident expectation of a resurrection. The Hebrew word rather expresses confidence than hope. The passage means, “My body will I commit to the grave, with a confident expectation of the future, that is, with a firm belief that it will not see corruption, but will be raised up.” It thus expresses the feelings of the dying Messiah; the assured confidence which he had that his repose in the grave would not be long, and would certainly come to an end. The death of Christians is also in the New Testament represented as a sleep, and as repose Act 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:6, 1 Corinthians 15:18; 1Th 4:13, 1 Thessalonians 4:15; 2 Peter 3:4; and they may also, after the example of their Lord, commit their bodies to the dust, in hope. They will lie in the grave under the assurance of a happy resurrection; and though their bodies, unlike his, will moulder to their native dust, yet this corruptible will put on incorruption, and this mortal will put on immorality, 1 Corinthians 15:53.

Verse 27

Thou wilt not leave my soul - The word “soul,” with us, means “the thinking, the immortal part of man,” and is applied to it whether existing in connection with the body or separate from it. The Hebrew word translated “soul” here, נפשׁ nephesh, however, may mean “spirit, mind, life,” and may denote here nothing more than “me” or “myself.” It means, properly, “breath”; then “life,” or “the vital principle, a living being”; then “the soul, the spirit, the thinking part.” Instances where it is put for the individual himself, meaning “me” or “myself” may be seen in Psalms 11:1; Psalms 35:3, Psalms 35:7; Job 9:21. There is no clear instance in which it is applied to the soul in its separate state, or disjoined from the body. In this place it must be explained in part by the meaning of the word hell. If that means grave, then this word probably means “me”; thou wilt not leave me in the grave. The meaning probably is, “Thou wilt not leave me in Sheol, neither,” etc. The word “leave” here means, “Thou wilt not resign me to, or wilt not give me over to it, to be held under its power.”

In hell - - εἰς ᾅδου eis Hadou. The word “hell,” in English, now commonly denotes “the place of the future eternal punishment of the wicked.” This sense it has acquired by long usage. It is a Saxon word, derived from helan, “to cover,” and denotes literally “a covered or deep place” (Webster); then “the dark and dismal abode of departed spirits”; and then “the place of torment.” As the word is used now by us, it by no means expresses the force of the original; and if with this idea we read a passage like the one before us, it would convey an erroneous meaning altogether, although formerly the English word perhaps expressed no more than the original. The Greek word “Hades” means literally “a place devoid of light; a dark, obscure abode”; and in Greek writers was applied to the dark and obscure regions where disembodied spirits were supposed to dwell. It occurs only eleven times in the New Testament. In this place it is the translation of the Hebrew שׁאול Sheowl.

In Revelation 20:13-14, it is connected with death: “And death and hell (Hades) delivered up the dead which were in them”; “And death and hell (Hades) were cast into the lake of fire.” See also Revelation 6:8; Revelation 1:18, “I have the keys of hell and death.” In 1 Corinthians 15:55 it means the grave: “O grave (Hades), where is thy victory?” In Matthew 11:23 it means a deep, profound place, opposed to an exalted one; a condition of calamity and degradation, opposed to former great prosperity: “Thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell” (Hades). In Luke 16:23 it is applied to the place where the rich man was after death, in a state of punishment: “In hell (Hades) he lifted up his eyes, being in torments.” In this place it is connected with the idea of suffering, and undoubtedly denotes a place of punishment. The Septuagint has used this word commonly to translate the word שׁאול Shèowl.

Once it is used as a translation of the phrase “the stones of the pit” Isaiah 14:19; twice to express silence, particularly the silence of the grave Psalms 94:17; Psalms 115:17; once to express the Hebrew for “the shadow of death” Job 38:17; and sixty times to translate the word Sheol. It is remarkable that it is never used in the Old Testament to denote the word קבר qeber, which properly denotes “a grave or sepulchre.” The idea which was conveyed by the word Sheol, or Hades, was not properly a grave or sepulchre, but that dark, unknown state, including the grave, which constituted the dominions of the dead. What idea the Hebrews had of the future world it is now difficult to explain, and is not necessary in the case before us. The word originally denoting simply “the state of the dead, the insatiable demands of the grave,” came at last to be extended in its meaning, in proportion as they received new revelations or formed new opinions about the future world. Perhaps the following may be the process of thought by which the word came to have the special meanings which it is found to have in the Old Testament:

(1) The word “death” and the grave קבר qeber would express the abode of a deceased body in the earth.

(2) Man has a soul, a thinking principle, and the inquiry must arise, What will be its state? Will it die also? The Hebrews never appear to have believed that. Will it ascend to heaven at once? On that subject they had at first no knowledge. Will it go at once to a place of happiness or of torment? Of that, also, they had no information at first Yet they supposed it would live; and the word שׁאול Sheowl expressed just this state - the dark, unknown regions of the dead; the abode of spirits, whether good or bad; the residence of departed people, whether fixed in a permanent habitation, or whether wandering about. As they were ignorant of the size and spherical structure of the earth, they seem to have supposed this region to be situated in the earth, far below us, and hence, it is put in opposition to heaven, Psalms 139:8, “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in hell (Sheol), behold, thou art there”; Amos 9:2. The most common use of the word is, therefore, to express those dark regions, the lower world, the region of ghosts, etc. Instances of this, almost without number, might be given. See a most striking and sublime instance of this in Isaiah 14:9; “Hell from beneath is moved to meet thee,” etc.; where the assembled dead are represented as being agitated in all their vast regions at the death of the King of Babylon.

(3) The inquiry could not but arise whether all these beings were happy. This point revelation decided; and it was decided in the O d Testament. Yet this word would better express the state of the wicked dead than the righteous. It conveyed the idea of darkness, gloom, wandering; the idea of a sad and unfixed abode, unlike heaven. Hence, the word sometimes expresses the idea of a place of punishment: Psalms 9:17, “The wicked shall be turned into hell,” etc.; Proverbs 15:11; Proverbs 23:14; Proverbs 27:20; Job 26:6. While, therefore, the word does not mean properly a grave or a sepulchre, it does mean often “the state of the dead,” without designating whether in happiness or woe, but implying the continued existence of the soul. In this sense it is often used in the Old Testament, where the Hebrew word is Sheol, and the Greek Hades: Genesis 37:35, “I will go down into the grave, unto my son, mourning” I will go down to the dead, to death, to my son, still there existing; Genesis 42:38; Genesis 44:29, “He shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave; Numbers 16:30, Numbers 16:33; 1 Kings 2:6, 1 Kings 2:9; etc. etc. in the place before us, therefore, the meaning is simply, thou wilt not leave me among the dead. This conveys all the idea. It does not mean literally the grave or the sepulchre; that relates only to the body. This expression refers to the deceased Messiah. Thou wilt not leave him among the dead; thou wilt raise him up. It is from this passage, perhaps, aided by two others (Romans 10:7, and 1 Peter 3:19), that the doctrine originated that Christ “descended,” as it is expressed in the Creed, “into hell”; and many have invented strange opinions about his going among lost spirits. The doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church has been that he went to purgatory, to deliver the spirits confined there. But if the interpretation now given be correct, then it will follow:

  1. That nothing is affirmed here about the destination of the human soul of Christ after his death. That he went to the region of the dead is implied, but nothing further.
  2. It may be remarked that the Scriptures affirm nothing about the state of his soul in that time which intervened between his death and resurrection. The only intimation which occurs on the subject is such as to leave us to suppose that he was in a state of happiness. To the dying thief he said, “This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” When Jesus died, he said, “It is finished”; and he doubtless meant by that that his sufferings and toils for man’s redemption were at an end. All suppositions of any toils or pains after his death are fables, and without the slightest warrant in the New Testament.

Thine Holy One - The word in the Hebrew which is translated here “Holy One” properly denotes “One who is tenderly and piously devoted to another,” and corresponds to the expression used in the New Testament, “my beloved Son.” It is also used, as it is here by the Septuagint and by Peter, to denote “One that is holy, that is set apart to God.” In this sense it is applied to Christ, either as being set apart to this office, or as so pure as to make it proper to designate him by way of eminence the Holy One, or the Holy One of God. It is several times used as the wellknown designation of the Messiah: Mark 1:24, “I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God”; Luke 4:34; Acts 3:14, “But ye denied the Holy One, and the just,” etc. See also Luke 1:35, “That holy thing that is born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”

To see corruption - To see corruption is to experience it, to be made partakers of it. The Hebrews often expressed the idea of experiencing anything by the use of words pertaining to the senses, as, to taste of death, to see death, etc. Corruption here means putrefaction in the grave. The word which is used in the Psalm, שׁחת shachath, is thus used in Job 17:14, “I have said to corruption, thou art my father,” etc. The Greek word used here properly denotes this. Thus, it is used in Acts 13:34-37. This meaning would be properly suggested by the Hebrew word, and thus the ancient versions understood it. The meaning implied in the expression is, that he of whom the Psalm was written should be restored to life again; and this meaning Peter proceeds to show that the words must have.

Verse 28

Thou hast made known ... - The Hebrew is, “Thou wilt make known to me,” etc. In relation to the Messiah, it means, Thou wilt restore me to life.

The ways of life - This properly means the path to life; as we say, the road to preferment or honor; the path to happiness; the highway to ruin, etc. See Proverbs 7:26-27. It means, thou wilt make known to me life itself, that is, thou wilt restore me to life. The expressions in the Psalm are capable of this interpretation without doing any violence to the text; and if the preceding verses refer to the death and burial of the Messiah, then the natural and proper meaning of this is, that he would be restored to life again.

Thou shalt make me full of joy - This expresses the feelings of the Messiah in view of the favor that would thus be showed him; the resurrection from the dead, and the elevation to the right hand of God. It was this which is represented as sustaining him the prospect of the joy that was before him, in heaven, Hebrews 12:2; Ephesians 1:20-22.

With thy countenance - Literally, “with thy face,” that is, in thy presence. The words “countenance” and “presence” mean the same thing, and denote “favor,” or the “honor and happiness” provided by being admitted to the presence of God. The prospect of the honor that would be bestowed on the Messiah was what sustained him. And this proves that the person contemplated in the Psalm expected to be raised from the dead, and exalted to the presence of God. That expectation is now fulfilled, and the Messiah is now filled with joy in his exaltation to the throne of the universe. He has “ascended to his Father and our Father”; he is “seated at the right hand of God”; he has entered on that “joy which was set before him”; he is “crowned with glory and honor”; and “all things are put under his feet.” In view of this, we may remark:

  1. That the Messiah had full and confident expectation that he would rise from the dead. This the Lord Jesus always evinced, and often declared it to his disciples.

(2)If the Saviour rejoiced in view of the glories before him, we should also. We should anticipate with joy an everlasting dwelling in the presence of God, and the high honor of sitting “with him on his throne, as he overcame, and is set down with the Father on his throne.”

(3)The prospect of this should sustain us, as it did him, in the midst of persecution, calamity, and trials. Thy will soon be ended; and if we are his friends, we shall “overcome,” as he did, and be admitted to “the fulness of joy” above, and to the “right hand” of God, “where are pleasures forevermore.”

Verse 29

Men and brethren - This passage of the Psalms Peter now proves could not relate to David, but must have reference to the Messiah. He begins his argument in a respectful manner, addressing them as his brethren, though they had just charged him and the others with intoxication. Christians should use the usual respectful forms of salutation, whatever contempt and reproaches they may meet with from opposers.

Let me freely speak - That is, “It is lawful or proper to speak with boldness, or openly, respecting David.” Though he was eminently a pious man, though venerated by us all as a king, yet it is proper to say of him that he is dead, and has returned to corruption. This was a delicate way of expressing high respect for the monarch whom they all honored, and yet evinced boldness in examining a passage of Scripture which probably many supposed to have reference solely to him.

Of the patriarch David - The word “patriarch” properly means “the head or ruler of a family”; and then “the founder of a family, or an illustrious ancestor.” It was commonly applied to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by way of eminence, the illustrious founders of the Jewish nation, Hebrews 7:4; Acts 7:8-9. It was also applied to the heads of the families, or the chief men of the tribes of Israel, 1 Chronicles 24:31; 2 Chronicles 19:8, etc. It was thus a title of honor, denoting “high respect.” Applied to David, it means that he was the illustrious head or founder of the royal family, and the word is expressive of Peter’s intention not to say anything disrespectful of such a king, at the same time that he freely canvassed a passage of Scripture which had been supposed to refer to him.

Dead and buried - The record of that fact they had in the O d Testament. There had been no pretence that he had risen, and therefore the Psalm could not apply to him.

His sepulchre is with us - Is in the city of Jerusalem., Sepulchres wore commonly situated without the walls of cities and the limits of villages. The custom of burying in towns was not commonly practiced. This was true of other ancient nations as well as the Hebrews, and is still in Eastern countries, except in the case of kings and very distinguished men, whose ashes are permitted to rest within the walls of a city: 1 Samuel 28:3, “Samuel was dead ...and Israel ...buried him in Ramah, in his own city”; 2 Kings 21:18, “Manasseh ...was buried in the garden of his own house”; 2 Chronicles 16:14, Asa was buried in the city of David; 2 Kings 14:20. David was buried in the city of David 1 Kings 2:10, with his fathers; that is, on Mount Zion, where he built a city called after his name, 2 Samuel 5:7. Of what form the tombs of the kings were is not certainly known. It is almost certain, however, that they would be constructed in a magnificent manner.

The tombs were commonly excavations from rocks, or natural caves; and sepulchres cut out of the solid rock, of vast extent, are Known to have existed. The following account of the tomb called “the sepulchre of the kings” is abridged from Maundrell: “The approach is through an entrance cut out of a solid rock, which admits you into an open court about 40 paces square, cut down into the rock. On the south side is a portico nine paces long and four broad, hewn likewise out of the solid rock. At the end of the portico is the descent to the sepulchres. The descent is into a room about 7 or 8 yards square, cut out of the natural rock. From this room there are passages into six more, all of the same fabric with the first. In every one of these rooms, except the first, were coffins placed in niches in the sides of the chamber,” etc. (Maundrell’s Travels). If the tombs of the kings were of this form, it is clear that they were works of great labor and expense.

Probably, also, there were, as there are now, costly and splendid monuments erected to the memory of the mighty dead. The following extract from “The Land and the Book,” and cut on the next page (from Williams’ Holy City), will illustrate the usual construction of tombs: “The entire system of rooms, niches, and passages may be comprehended at once by an inspection of the plan of the Tombs of the Judges near Jerusalem. The entrance faces the west, and has a vestibule (a) 13 feet by 9. Chamber (B), nearly 20 feet square, and 8 high. The north side is seen in elevation in Fig. 2, and shows two tiers of niches, one over the other, not often met with in tombs. There are seven in the lower tier, each 7 feet long, 20 inches wide, and nearly 3 feet high. The upper tier has three arched recesses, and each recess has two niches. From this room (B) doors lead out into chambers (C and D), which have their own special system of niches, or Ioculi, for the reception of the bodies, as appears on the plan. I have explored scores of sepulchres at Ladakiyeh closely resembling this at Jerusalem, and there are many in the plain and on the hillsides above us here at Sidon of the same general form chambers within chambers, and each with niches for the dead, variously arranged according to taste or necessity.”

These tombs are about a mile northwest of Jerusalem. “The tombs which are commonly called the ‘Tombs of the Kings’ are in an olivegrove about half a mile north of the Damascus Gate, and a few rods east of the great road to Nablus. A court is sunk in the solid rock about 90 feet square and 20 deep. On the west side of this court is a sort of portico, 39 feet long, 17 deep, and 15 high. It was originally ornamented with grapes, garlands, and festoons, beautifully done on the cornice; and the columns in the center, and the pilasters at the corners, appear to have resembled the Corinthian order. A very low door in the south end of the portico opens into the ante-chamber - 19 feet square, and 7 or 8 high. From this three passages conduct into other rooms, two of them, to the south, having five or six crypts. A passage also leads from the west room down several steps into a large vault running north, where are crypts parallel to the sides. These rooms are all cut in rock intensely hard, and the entrances were originally closed with stone doors, made with panels and hung on stone hinges, which are now all broken. The whole series of tombs indicates the hand of royalty and the leisure of years, but by whom and for whom they were made is a mere matter of conjecture. I know no good reason for ascribing them to Helena of Adiabene. Most travelers and writers are inclined to make them the sepulchres of the Asmonean kings” (The Land and the Book, vol. 2, pp. 487, 488). The site of the tomb of David is no longer known.

Unto this day - That the sepulchre of David was well known and honored is clear from Josephus (Antiq., book 7, chapter 15, section 3): “He (David) was buried by his son Solomon in Jerusalem with great magnificence, and with all the other funeral pomps with which kings used to be buried. Moreover, he had immense wealth buried with him: for one thousand and three hundred years afterward Hyrcanus the high priest, when he was besieged by Antiochus, and was desirous of giving him money to raise the siege, opened one room of David’s sepulchre and took out three thousand talents. Herod, many years afterward, opened another room, and took away a great deal of money,” etc. See also Antiq., book 13, chapter 8, section 4. The tomb of a monarch like David would be well known and had in reverence. Peter might, then, confidently appeal to their own belief and knowledge that David had not been raised from the dead. No Jew believed or supposed it. All, by their care of his sepulchre, and by the honor with which they regarded his grave, believed that he had returned to corruption. The Psalm, therefore, could not apply to him.

Verse 30

Therefore - As David was dead and buried, it was clear that he could not have referred to himself in this remarkable declaration. It followed that he must have had reference to some other one.

Being a prophet - One who foretold future events. That David was inspired is clear, 2 Samuel 23:2. Many of the prophecies relating to the Messiah are found in the Psalms of David: Psalms 22:1, compare Matthew 27:46; Luke 24:44 - Psalms 22:18, compare Matthew 27:35 - Psalms 69:21, compare Matthew 27:34, Matthew 27:48 - Psalms 69:25, compare Acts 1:20.

And knowing - Knowing by what God had said to him respecting his posterity.

Had sworn with an oath - The places which speak of God as having sworn to David are found in Psalms 89:3-4, “I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, Thy seed will I establish,” etc.; and Psalms 132:11, “The Lord hath sworn in truth unto David, he will not turn from it, Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon my throne”; Psalms 89:35-36. The promise to which reference is made in all these places is in 2 Samuel 7:11-16.

Of the fruit of his loins - Of his descendants. See 2 Samuel 7:12; Genesis 35:11; Gen 46:26; 1 Kings 8:19, etc.

According to the flesh - That is, so far as the human nature of the Messiah was concerned, he would be descended from David. Expressions like these are very remarkable. If the Messiah was only a man, they would be unmeaning. They are never used in relation to a mere man; and they imply that the speaker or writer supposed that there pertained to the Messiah a nature which was not according to the flesh. See Romans 1:3-4.

He would raise up Christ - That is, the Messiah. To raise up seed, or descendants, is to give them to him. The promises made to David in all these places had immediate reference to Solomon and to his descendants. But it is clear that the New Testament writers understood them as referring also to the Messiah. And it is no less clear that the Jews understood that the Messiah was to be descended from David, Matthew 12:23; Matthew 21:9; Matthew 22:42, Matthew 22:45; Mark 11:10; John 7:42, etc. In what way these promises that were made to David were understood as applying to the Messiah, it may not be easy to determine. The fact, however, is clear. The following remarks may throw some light on the subject:

  1. The kingdom which was promised to David was to have no end; it was to be established forever. Yet his descendants died, and all other kingdoms changed.
  2. The promise likewise stood by itself; it was not made to any other of the Jewish kings; nor were similar declarations made of surrounding kingdoms and nations. It came, therefore, gradually to be applied to that future king and kingdom which was the hope of the nation; and their eyes were anxiously fixed on the long-expected Messiah.
  3. At the time that he came it had become the settled doctrine of the Jews that he was to descend from David, and that his kingdom was to be perpetual.

On this belief of the prophecy the apostles argued; and the opinions of the Jews furnished a strong point by which they could convince them that Jesus was the Messiah. Peter affirms that David was aware of this, and that he so understood the promise as referring not only to Solomon, but in a far more important sense to the Messiah. Happily we have a commentary of David himself as expressing his own views of that promise. That commentary is found particularly in Psalms 2:1-12; Psalms 22:0; Psalms 69:0; and Psalms 16:1-11; In these Psalms there can be no doubt that David looked forward to the coming of the Messiah; and there can be as little that he regarded the promise made to him as extending to his coming and his reign.

It may be remarked that there are some important variations in the manuscripts in regard to this verse. The expression “according to the flesh” is omitted in many mss., and is now left out by Griesbach in his New Testament. It is omitted also by the ancient Syriac and Ethiopic versions, and by the Latin Vulgate.

To sit on his throne - To be his successor in his kingdom. Saul was the first of the kings of Israel. The kingdom was taken away from him and his posterity, and conferred on David and his descendants. It was determined that it should be continued in the family of David, and no more go out of his family, as it had from the family of Saul. The unique characteristic of David as king, or what distinguished him from the other kings of the earth, was that he reigned over the people of God. Israel was his chosen people, and the kingdom was over that nation. Hence, he that should reign over the people of God, though in a manner somewhat different from David, would be regarded as occupying his throne, and as being his successor. The form of the administration might be varied, but it would still retain its prime characteristic as being a reign over the people of God. In this sense the Messiah sits on the throne of David. He is his descendant and successor. He has an empire over all the friends of the Most High. And as that kingdom is destined to fill the earth, and to be eternal in the heavens, so it may be said that it is a kingdom which shall have no end. It is spiritual, but not the less real; defended not with carnal weapons, but not the less really defended; advanced not by the sword and the din of arms, but not the less really advanced against principalities, and powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places; not under a visible head and earthly monarch, but not less really under the Captain of salvation and the King of kings.

Verse 31

He, seeing this before ... - By the spirit of prophecy. From this it appears that David had distinct views of the great doctrines pertaining to the Messiah.

Spake ... - See Psalms 16:1-11.

That his soul ... - See the notes on Acts 2:27.

Verse 32

This Jesus - Peter, having shown that it was predicted that the Messiah would rise, now affirms that such a resurrection occurred in the case of Jesus. If it was a matter of prophecy, all objection to the truth of the doctrine was taken away, and the only question was whether there was evidence that this had been done. The proof of this Peter now alleges, and offers his own testimony, and that of his brethren, to the truth of this great and glorious fact.

We are all witnesses - It seems probable that Peter refers here to the whole 120 who were present, and who were ready to attest it in any manner. The matter which was to be proved was that Jesus was seen alive after he had been put to death. The apostles were appointed to bear witness of this. We are told by Paul 1 Corinthians 15:6 that he was seen by more than five hundred brethren, that is, Christians, at one time. The 120 assembled on this occasion were doubtless part of the number, and were ready to attest this. This was the proof that Peter alleged; and the strength of this proof was, and should have been, perfectly irresistible:

  1. They had seen him themselves. They did not conjecture it or reason about it; but they had the evidence on which people act every day, and which must be regarded as satisfactory the evidence of their own senses.

(2)The number was such they could not be imposed on. If 120 persons could not prove a plain matter of fact, nothing could be established by testimony; there could be no way of arriving at any facts.

(3)The thing to be established was a plain matter. It was not that they “saw him rise.” That they never pretended: Impostors would have done this. But it was that they saw him, talked, walked, ate, drank with him, being alive, after, he had been crucified. The fact of his death was matter of Jewish record, and no one called it in question. The only fact for Christianity to make out was that he was seen alive afterward, and this was attested by many witnesses.

(4)They had no interest in deceiving the world in this thing. There was no prospect of pleasure, wealth, or honor in doing it.

(5)They offered themselves now as ready to endure any sufferings, or to die, in attestation of the truth of this event.

Verse 33

Therefore, being by the right hand - The right hand among the Hebrews was often used to denote “power”; and the expression here means, not that he was exalted to the right hand of God. but by his power. He was raised from the dead by his power, and borne to heaven, triumphant over all his enemies. The use of the word “right hand” to denote “power” is common in the Scriptures: Job 40:14, “Thine own right hand can save thee”; Psalms 17:7, “Thou savest by thy right hand them that trust in thee”; Psalms 18:35; Psalms 20:6; Psalms 21:8; Psalms 44:3; Psalms 60:5, etc.

Exalted - Constituted King and Messiah in heaven. Raised up from his condition of humiliation to the glory which he had with the Father before the world was, John 17:5.

And having received ... - The Holy Spirit was promised to the disciples before his death, John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:13-15. It was expressly declared:

  1. That the Holy Spirit would not be given except the Lord Jesus should return to heaven John 16:7; and,
  2. That this gift was in the power of the Father, and that he would send him, John 14:26; John 15:26. This promise was now fulfilled, and those who witnessed the extraordinary scene before them could not doubt that it was the effect of divine power.

Hath shed forth this ... - This power of speaking different languages and declaring the truth of the gospel. In this way Peter accounts for the remarkable events before them. What had occurred could not be produced by new wine, Acts 2:15. It was expressly foretold, Acts 2:16-21. It was predicted that Jesus would rise, Acts 2:22-31. The apostles were witnesses that he had risen, and that he had promised that the Holy Spirit would descend; and the fulfillment of this promise was a rational way of accounting for the scene before them. It was unanswerable; and the effect on those who witnessed it was such as might be expected.

Verses 34-35

For David is not ascended into the heavens - That is, David has not risen from the dead and ascended to heaven. This further shows that Psalms 16:1-11 could not refer to David, but must refer to the Messiah. Great as they esteemed David, and much as they were accustomed to apply these expressions of the Scripture to him, yet they could not be applicable to him. They must refer to some other being; and especially that passage which Peter now proceeds to quote. It was of great importance to show that these expressions could not apply to David, and also that David bore testimony to the exalted character and dignity of the Messiah. Hence, Peter here adduces David himself as affirming that the Messiah was to be exalted to a dignity far above his own. This does not affirm that David was not saved, or that his spirit had not ascended to heaven, but that he had not been exalted in the heavens in the sense in which Peter was speaking of the Messiah.

But he saith himself - Psalms 110:1.

The Lord - The small capitals used in translating the word “Lord” in the Bible denote that the original word is יהוה Yahweh. The Hebrews regarded this as the unique name of God, a name incommunicable to any other being. It is not applied to any being but God in the Scriptures. The Jews had such a reverence for it that they never pronounced it; but when it occurred in the Scriptures they pronounced another name, אדני ̀Adonaay. Here it means, “Yahweh said,” etc.

My Lord - This is a different word in the Hebrew - it is אדני ̀Adonaay. It properly is applied by a servant to his master, or a subject to his sovereign, or is used as a title of respect by an inferior to a superior. It means here, “Yahweh said to him whom I, David, acknowledge to be my superior and sovereign.” Thus, though he regarded him as his descendant according to the flesh, yet he regarded him also as his superior and Lord. By reference to this passage our Saviour confounded the Pharisees, Matthew 22:42-46. That the passage in this Psalm refers to the Messiah is clear. Our Saviour, in Matthew 22:42, expressly applied it thus, and in such a manner as to show that this was the well-understood doctrine of the Jews. See the notes on Matthew 22:42, etc.

Verse 36

Therefore let all ... - “Convinced by the prophecies, by our testimony, and by the remarkable scenes exhibited on the day of Pentecost, let all be convinced that the true Messiah has come and has been exalted to heaven.”

House of Israel - The word “house” often means “family”: “let all the family of Israel, that is, all the nation of the Jews, know this.”

Know assuredly - Be assured, or know without any hesitation or possibility of mistake. This is the sum of his argument or his discourse. He had established the points which he purposed to prove, and he now applies it to his hearers.

God hath made - God hath appointed or constituted. See Acts 5:31.

That same Jesus - The very person who had suffered. He was raised with the same body, and had the same soul; he was the same being, as distinguished from all others. So Christians, in the resurrection, will be the same beings that they were before they died.

Whom ye have crucified - See Acts 2:23. There was nothing better suited to show them the guilt of having done this than the argument which Peter used. He showed them that God had sent him as the Messiah, and that he had showed his love for him in raising him from the dead. The Son of God, and the hope of their nation, they had put to death. He was not an impostor, nor a man sowing sedition, nor a blasphemer, but the Messiah of God; and they had imbrued their hands in his blood. There is nothing better suited to make sinners fear and tremble than to show them that, in rejecting Christ, they have rejected God; in refusing to serve him they have refused to serve God. The crime of sinners has a double malignity, as committed against a kind and lovely Saviour, and against the God who loved him, and appointed him to save people. Compare Acts 3:14-15.

Both Lord - The word “lord” properly denotes “proprietor, master, or sovereign.” Here it means clearly that God had exalted him to be the king so long expected; and that he had given him dominion in the heavens, or, as we should say, made him ruler of all things. The extent of this dominion may be seen in John 17:2; Ephesians 1:21, etc. In the exercise of this orifice, he now rules in heaven and on earth, and will yet come to judge the world. This truth was particularly suited to excite their fear. They had murdered their sovereign, now shown to be raised from the dead, and entrusted with infinite power. They had reason, therefore, to fear that he would come forth in vengeance, and punish them for their crimes. Sinners, in opposing the Saviour, are at war with their living and mighty sovereign and Lord. He has all power, and it is not safe to contend against the judge of the living and the dead.

And Christ - Messiah. They had thus crucified the hope of their nation; imbrued their hands in the blood of him to whom the prophets had looked; and put to death that Holy One, the prospect of whose coming had sustained the most holy men of the world in affliction, and cheered them when they looked on to future years. He who was the hope of their fathers had come, and they had put him to death; and it is no wonder that the consciousness of this - that a sense of guilt, and shame, and confusion should overwhelm their minds, and lead them to ask, in deep distress, what they should do.

Verse 37

Now when they heard this - When they heard this declaration of Peter, and this proof that Jesus was the Messiah. There was no fanaticism in his discourse; it was cool, close, pungent reasoning. He proved to them the truth of what he was saying, and thus prepared the way for this effect.

They were pricked in their heart - The word translated were “pricked,” κατενύγησαν katenugēsan, is not used elsewhere in the New Testament. It properly denotes “to pierce or penetrate with a needle, lancet, or sharp instrument”; and then “to pierce with grief, or acute pain of any kind.” It corresponds precisely to our word “compunction.” It implies also the idea of sudden as well as acute grief. In this case it means that they were suddenly and deeply affected with anguish and alarm at what Peter had said. The causes of their grief may have been these:

  1. Their sorrow that the Messiah had been put to death by his own countrymen.

(2)Their deep sense of guilt in having done this. There would be mingled here a remembrance of ingratitude, and a consciousness that they had been guilty of murder of the most aggravated and horrid kind, that of having killed their own Messiah.

(3)The fear of his wrath. He was still alive; exalted to be theft Lord; and entrusted with all power. They were afraid of his vengeance; they were conscious that they deserved it; and they supposed that they were exposed to it.

(4)What they had done could not be undone. The guilt remained; they could not wash it out. They had imbrued theft hands in the blood of innocence, and the guilt of that oppressed their souls. This expresses the usual feelings which sinners have when they are convicted of sin.

Men and brethren - This was an expression denoting affectionate earnestness. Just before this they mocked the disciples, and charged them with being filled with new wine, Acts 2:13. They now treated them with respect and confidence. The views which sinners have of Christians and Christian ministers are greatly changed when they are under conviction for sin. Before that they may deride and oppose them; then, they are glad to be taught by the obscurest Christian, and even cling to a minister of the gospel as if he could save them by his own power.

What shall we do? - What shall we do to avoid the wrath of this crucified and exalted Messiah? They were apprehensive of his vengeance, and they wished to know how to avoid it. Never was a more important question asked than this. It is the question which all convicted sinners ask. It implies an apprehension of danger, a sense of guilt, and a readiness to “yield the will” to the claims of God. This was the same question asked by Paul Acts 9:6, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” and by the jailor Acts 16:30 “He ...came, trembling, ...and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The state of mind in this case - the case of a convicted sinner - consists in:

  1. A deep sense of the evil of the past life; remembrance of a thousand crimes perhaps before forgotten; a pervading and deepening conviction that the heart, and conversation, and life have been evil, and deserve condemnation.
  2. Apprehension about the justice of God; alarm when the mind looks upward to him, or onward to the day of death and judgment.

(3)An earnest wish, amounting sometimes to agony, to be delivered from this sense of condemnation and this apprehension of the future.

(4)A readiness to sacrifice all to the will of God; to surrender the governing purpose of the mind, and to do what he requires. In this state the soul is prepared to receive the offers of eternal life; and when the sinner comes to this, the offers of mercy meet his case, and he yields himself to the Lord Jesus, and finds peace.

In regard to this discourse of Peter, and this remarkable result, we may observe:

(1) That this is the first discourse which was preached after the ascension of Christ, and is a model which the ministers of religion should imitate.

(2) It is a clear and close argument. There is no ranting, no declamation, nothing but truth presented in a clear and striking manner. It abounds with proof of his main point, and supposes that his hearers were rational beings, and capable of being influenced by truth. Ministers have no right to address people as incapable of reason and thought, nor to imagine, because they are speaking on religious subjects, that therefore they are at liberty to speak nonsense.

(3) Though these were eminent sinners, and had added to the crime of murdering the Messiah that of deriding the Holy Spirit and the ministers of the gospel, yet Peter reasoned with them coolly, and endeavored to convince them of their guilt. People should be treated as endowed with reason, and as capable of seeing the force and beauty of the great truths of religion.

(4) The arguments of Peter were adapted to produce this effect on their minds, and to impress them deeply with the sense of their guilt. He proved to them that they had been guilty of putting the Messiah to death; that God had raised him up, and that they were now in the midst of the scenes which established one strong proof of the truth of what he was saying. No class of truths could have been so well adapted to make an impression of their guilt as these.

(5) Conviction for sin is a rational process on a sinner’s mind. It is the proper state produced by a view of past sins. It is suffering truth to make an appropriate impression; suffering the mind to feel as it ought to feel. The man who is guilty ought to be willing to see and confess it. It is no disgrace to confess an error, or to feel deeply when we know we are guilty. Disgrace consists in a hypocritical desire to conceal crime; in the pride that is unwilling to avow it; in the falsehood which denies it. To feel it and to acknowledge it is the mark of an open and ingenuous mind.

(6) These same truths are adapted still to produce conviction for sin. The sinner’s treatment of the Messiah should produce grief and alarm. He did not murder him, but he has rejected him; he did not crown him with thorns, but he has despised him; he did not insult him when hanging on the cross, but he has a thousand times insulted him since; he did not pierce his side with the spear, but he has pierced his heart by rejecting him and contemning his mercy. “For these things he should weep.” In the Saviour’s resurrection he has also a deep interest. He rose as the pledge that we may rise; and when the sinner looks forward, he should remember that he must meet the ascended Son of God. The Saviour reigns; he lives, Lord of all. The sinner’s deeds now are aimed at his throne, and his heart, and his crown. All his crimes are seen by his sovereign, and it is not safe to mock the Son of God on his throne, or to despise him who will soon come to judgment. When the sinner feels these truths he should tremble and cry out, What shall I do?

(7) We see here how the Spirit operates in producing conviction of sin. It is not in an arbitrary manner; it is in accordance with truth, and by the truth. Nor have we a right to expect that he will convict and convert people except as the truth is presented to their minds. They who desire success in the gospel should present clear, striking, and impressive truth, for such only God is accustomed to bless.

(8) We have in the conduct of Peter and the other apostles a striking instance of the power of the gospel. Just before, Peter, trembling and afraid, had denied his Master with an oath; now, in the presence of the murderers of the Son of God, he boldly charged them with their crime, and dared their fury. Just before, all the disciples forsook the Lord Jesus and fled; now, in the presence of his murderers, they lifted their voice and proclaimed their guilt and danger, even in the city where he had been just arraigned and put to death. What could have produced this change but the power of God? And is there not proof here that a religion which produces such changes came from heaven?

Verse 38

Then Peter said unto them - Peter had been the chief speaker, though others had also addressed them. He now, in the name of all, directed the multitude what to do.

Repent - See the notes on Matthew 3:2. Repentance implies sorrow for sin as committed against God, along with a purpose to forsake it. It is not merely a fear of the consequences of sin or of the wrath of God in hell. It is such a view of sin, as evil in itself, as to lead the mind to hate it and forsake it. Laying aside all view of the punishment of sin, the true penitent hates it. Even if sin were the means of procuring him happiness; if it would promote his gratification and be unattended with any future punishment, he would hate it and turn from it. The mere fact that it is evil, and that God hates it, is a sufficient reason why those who are truly penitent hate it and forsake it. False repentance dreads the consequences of sin; true repentance dreads sin itself. These persons whom Peter addressed had been merely alarmed; they were afraid of wrath, and especially of the wrath of the Messiah. They had no true sense of sin as an evil, but were simply afraid of punishment. This alarm Peter did not regard as by any means genuine repentance. Such conviction for sin would soon wear off, unless their repentance became thorough and complete. Hence, he told them to repent, to turn from sin, to exercise sorrow for it as an evil and bitter thing, and to express their sorrow in the proper manner. We may learn here:

(1) That there is no safety in mere conviction for sin: it may soon pass off, and leave the soul as thoughtless as before.

(2) There is no goodness or holiness in mere alarm or conviction. The devils ...tremble. A man may fear who yet has a firm purpose to do evil, if he can do it with impunity.

(3) Many are greatly troubled and alarmed who never repent. There is no situation where souls are so easily deceived as here. Alarm is taken for repentance; trembling for godly sorrow; and the fear of wrath is taken to be the true fear of God.

(4) True repentance is the only thing in such a state of mind that can give any relief. An ingenuous confession of sin, a solemn purpose to forsake it, and a true hatred of it, is the only thing that can give the mind composure. Such is the constitution of the mind that nothing else will furnish relief. But the moment we are willing to make an open confession of guilt, the mind is delivered of its burden, and the convicted soul finds peace. Until this is done, and the hold on sin is broken, there can be no peace.

(5) We see here what direction is to be given to a convicted sinner. We are not to direct him to wait; nor to lead him to suppose that he is in a good way; nor to tell him to continue to seek; nor to call him a mourner; nor to take sides with him, as if God were wrong and harsh; nor to advise him to read, and search, and postpone the subject to a future time. We are to direct him to repent; to mourn over his sins, and to forsake them. Religion demands that he should at once surrender himself to God by genuine repentance; by confession that God is right and that he is wrong; and by a firm purpose to live a life of holiness.

Be baptized - See the notes on Matthew 3:6, Matthew 3:16. The direction which Christ gave to his apostles was that they should baptize all who believed, Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16. The Jews had not been baptized; and a baptism now would be a profession of the religion of Christ, or a declaration made before the world that they embraced Jesus as their Messiah. It was equivalent to saying that they should publicly and professedly embrace Jesus Christ as their Saviour. The gospel requires such a profession, and no one is at liberty to withhold it. A similar declaration is to be made to all who are inquiring the way to life. They are to exercise repentance; and then, without any unnecessary delay, to evince it by partaking of the ordinances of the gospel. If people are unwilling to profess religion, they have none. If they will not, in the proper way, show that they are truly attached to Christ, it is proof that they have no such attachment. Baptism is the application of water, as expressive of the need of purification, and as emblematic of the influences from God that can alone cleanse the soul. It is also a form of dedication to the service of God.

In the name of Jesus Christ - Not εἰς eis, into, but ἐπί epi, upon. The usual form of baptism is into the name of the Father, etc. - εἰς eis. Here it does not mean to be baptized by the authority of Jesus Christ, but it means to be baptized for him and his service; to be consecrated in this way, and by this public profession, to him and to his cause. The expression is literally upon the name of Jesus Christ: that is, as the foundation of the baptism, or as that on which its propriety rested or was based. In other words, it is with an acknowledgment of him in that act as being what his name imports the Sinner’s only Hope, his Redeemer, Lord, Justifier, King (Prof. Hackett, in loco). The name of Jesus Christ means the same as Jesus Christ himself. To be baptized to his name is to be devoted to him. The word “name” is often thus used. The profession which they were to make amounted to this: a confession of sins; a hearty purpose to turn from them; a reception of Jesus as the Messiah and as a Saviour; and a determination to become his followers and to be devoted to his service. Thus, 1 Corinthians 10:2, to be baptized unto Moses means to take him as a leader and guide. It does not follow that, in administering the ordinance of baptism, they used only the name of Jesus Christ. It is much more probable that they used the form prescribed by the Saviour himself Matthew 28:19; though, as the special mark of a Christian is that he receives and honors Jesus Christ, this name is used here as implying the whole. The same thing occurs in Acts 19:5.

For the remission of sins - Not merely the sin of crucifying the Messiah, but of all sins. There is nothing in baptism itself that can wash away sin. That can be done only by the pardoning mercy of God through the atonement of Christ. But baptism is expressive of a willingness to be pardoned in that way, and is a solemn declaration of our conviction that there is no other way of remission. He who comes to be baptized, comes with a professed conviction that he is a sinner; that there is no other way of mercy but in the gospel, and with a professed willingness to comply with the terms of salvation, and to receive it as it is offered through Jesus Christ.

And ye shall receive ... - The gift of the Holy Spirit here does not mean his extraordinary gifts, or the power of working miracles, but it simply means, you shall partake of the influences of the Holy Spirit “as far as they may be adapted to your case” - as far as may be needful for your comfort, peace, and sanctification. There is no evidence that they were all endowed with the power of working miracles, nor does the connection of the passage require us thus to understand it. Nor does it mean that they had not been awakened “by his influences.” All true conviction is from him, John 16:8-10. But it is also the office of the Spirit to comfort, to enlighten, to give peace, and thus to give evidence that the soul is born again. To this, probably, Peter refers; and this all who are born again and profess faith in Christ possess. There is peace, calmness, joy; there is evidence of piety, and that evidence is the product of the influences of the Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,” etc., Galatians 5:22, Galatians 5:24.

Verse 39

For the promise - That is, the promise respecting the particular thing of which he was speaking - the influences of the Holy Spirit. This promise he had adduced in the beginning of his discourse Acts 2:17, and he now applies it to them. As the Spirit was promised to descend on Jews and their sons and daughters, it was applicable to them in the circumstances in which they then were. The only hope of lost sinners is in the promises of God, and the only thing that can give comfort to a soul that is convicted of sin is the hope that God will pardon and save.

Unto you - To you Jews, even though you have crucified the Messiah. The promise had special reference to the Jewish people.

To your children - In Joel, to their sons and daughters, who would, nevertheless, be old enough to prophesy. Similar promises occur in Isaiah 44:3, “I will pour my Spirit on thy seed, and my blessing on thine offspring”; and in Isaiah 59:21, “My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and forever.” In these and similar places their descendants or posterity are denoted. It does not refer merely to children as children, and should not be adduced as applicable exclusively to infants. It is a promise I to parents that the blessings of salvation shall not be confined to parents, but shall be extended also to their posterity. Under this promise parents may be encouraged to train up their children for God; they are authorized to devote them to him in the ordinance of Christian baptism, and they may trust in his gracious purpose thus to perpetuate the blessings of salvation from age to age.

To all - To the whole race; not limited to Jews.

Afar off - To those in other lands. It is probable that Peter here referred to the Jews who were scattered in other nations; for he does not seem yet to have understood that the gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles. See Acts 10:0: Yet the promise was equally applicable to the Gentiles as the Jews, and the apostles were afterward brought so to understand it, Acts 10:0; Romans 10:12, Romans 10:14-20; Romans 11:0. The Gentiles are sometimes clearly indicated by the expression “afar off Ephesians 2:13, Ephesians 2:17; and they are represented as having been brought nigh by the blood of Christ. The phrase is equally applicable to those who have been far off from God by their sins and their evil affections. To them also the promise is extended if they will return.

Even as many ... - The promise is not to those who do not hear the gospel, nor to those who do not obey it; but it is to those to whom God in his gracious providence shall send it. He has the power and right to pardon. The meaning of Peter is, that the promise is ample, full, free; that it is suited to all, and may be applied to all; that there is no defect or lack in the provisions or promises, but that God may extend it to whomsoever he pleases. We see here how ample and full are the offers of mercy. God is hot limited in the provisions of his grace; but the plan is applicable to all mankind. It is also the purpose of God to send it to all people, and he has given a solemn charge to his church to do it. We cannot reflect but with deep pain on the fact that, although these provisions have been made - fully made; that they are adapted to all people; but that yet they have been extended by his people to so small a portion of the human family. If the promise of life is to all, it is the duty of the church to send to all the message of mercy.

Verse 40

Many other words - This discourse, though one of the longest in the New Testament, is but an outline. It contains, however, the substance of the plan of salvation, and is admirably arranged to attain its object.

Testify - Bear witness to. He bore witness to the promises of Christianity; to the truths pertaining to the danger of sinners; and to the truth respecting the character of that generation.

Exhort - He entreated them by arguments and promises.

Save yourselves - This expression here denotes, preserve yourselves from the influence, opinions, and fate of this generation. It implies that they were to use diligence and effort to deliver themselves. God deals with people as free agents. He calls upon them to put forth their own power and effort to be saved. Unless they put forth their own strength, they will never be saved. When they are saved, they will ascribe to God the praise for having inclined them to seek him, and for the grace whereby they are saved.

This generation - This age or race of people; the Jews then living. They were not to apprehend danger from them from which they were to deliver themselves; but they were to apprehend danger from being with them, united in their plans; designs, and feelings. From the influence of their opinions, etc., they were to escape. That generation was signally corrupt and wicked. See Matthew 23:0; Matthew 12:39; Matthew 16:4; Mark 8:38. They had crucified the Messiah; and they were, for their sins, soon to be destroyed.

Order? this untoward generation? - Untoward: “Perverse, refractory, not easily guided or taught” (Webster). The same character our Saviour had given of that generation in Matthew 11:16-19. This character they had shown uniformly. They were smooth, cunning, plausible; but they were corrupt in principle, and wicked in conduct. The Pharisees had a vast hold on the people. To break away from them was to set at defiance all their power and doctrines; to alienate themselves from their teachers and friends; to brave the authority of those in office, and those who had long claimed the right of teaching and guiding the nation. The chief danger of those who were now awakened was from that generation; that they would deride, or denounce, or persecute them, and induce them to abandon their seriousness, and turn back to their sins. And hence, Peter exhorted them at once to break off from them, and give themselves to Christ. We may hence learn:

(1) That if sinners will be saved they must make an effort. There is no promise to any unless they will exert themselves.

(2) The principal danger which besets those who are awakened arises from their former companions. They are often wicked, cunning, rich, mighty. They may be their kindred, and will seek to drive off their serious impressions by derision, or argument, or persecution. They have a powerful hold on the affections, and they will seek to use it to prevent those who are awakened from becoming Christians.

(3) Those who are awakened should resolve at once to break off from their evil companions, and unite themselves to Christ and his people. There may be no other way in which this can be done than by resolving to forsake altogether the society of those who are infidels, and scoffers, and profane. They should forsake the world, and give themselves up to God, and resolve to have only so much contact with the world, in any respect, as may be required by duty, and as may be consistent with a supreme purpose to live to the honor of God.

Verse 41

They that gladly received - The word rendered “gladly” means “freely, cheerfully, joyfully.” It implies that they did it without compulsion, and with joy. Religion is not compulsion. They who become Christians do it cheerfully; they do it rejoicing in the privilege of becoming reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Though so many received his word and were baptized, yet it is implied that there were others who did not. It is probable that there were multitudes assembled who were alarmed, but who did not receive the word with joy. In all revivals there are many who become alarmed, and who are anxious about their souls, but who refuse to embrace the gospel, and again become thoughtless, and are ruined.

His word - The message which Peter had spoken respecting the pardon of sin through Jesus Christ.

Were baptized - That is, those who professed a readiness to embrace the offers of salvation. The narrative plainly implies that this was done the same day. Their conversion was instantaneous. The demand on them was to yield themselves at once to God. And their profession was made, and the ordinance which sealed their profession administered without delay.

And the same day - The discourse of Peter commenced at nine o’clock in the morning, Acts 2:15. How long it continued it is not said; but the ceremony of admitting them to the church and of baptizing them was evidently performed on the same day. The mode in which this is done is not mentioned; but it is highly improbable that in the midst of the city of Jerusalem three thousand persons were wholly immersed in one day. The whole narrative supposes that it was all done in the city; and yet there is no probability that there were conveniences there for immersing so many persons in a single day. Besides, in the ordinary way of administering baptism by immersion, it is difficult to conceive that so many persons could have been immersed in so short a time. There is, indeed, here no positive proof that they were not immersed; but the narrative is one of those incidental circumstances often much more satisfactory than philological discussion, that show the extreme improbability that all this was done by wholly immersing them in water. It may be further remarked that here is an example of very quick admission to the church. It was the first great work of grace under the gospel. It was the model of all revivals of religion. And it was doubtless intended that this should be a specimen of the manner in which the ministers of religion should act in regard to admissions to the Christian church. Prudence is indeed required; but this example furnishes no warrant for advising those who profess their willingness to obey Jesus Christ, to delay uniting with the church. If persons give evidence of piety, of true hatred of sin, and of attachment to the Lord Jesus; they should unite themselves to his people without delay.

There were added - To the company of disciples, or to the followers of Christ.

Souls - Persons. Compare 1 Peter 3:20; Genesis 12:5. It is not affirmed that all this took place in one part of Jerusalem, or that it was all done at once; but it is probable that this was what was afterward ascertained to be the fruit of this day’s labor, the result of this revival of religion. This was the first effusion of the Holy Spirit under the preaching of the gospel; and it shows that such scenes are to be expected in the church, and that the gospel is suited to work a rapid and mighty change in the hearts of people.

Verse 42

And they continued stedfastly - They persevered in, or they adhered to. This is the inspired record of the result. That any of these apostatized is nowhere recorded, and is not to be presumed. Though they had been suddenly converted; though they were suddenly admitted to the church; though they were exposed to much persecution and contempt, and to many trials, yet the record is that they adhered to the doctrines and duties of the Christian religion. The word rendered “continued stedfastly” - προσκαρτεροῦντες proskarterountes - means “attending one, remaining by his side, not leaving or forsaking him.”

The apostles’ doctrine - This does not mean that they held or believed the doctrines of the apostles, though that was true; but it means that they adhered to, or attended on, their teaching or instruction. The word doctrine has now a technical sense, and means a collection and arrangement of abstract views supposed to be contained in the Bible. In the Scriptures the word means simply “teaching”; and the expression here denotes that they continued to attend on their instructions. One evidence of conversion is a desire to be instructed in the doctrines and duties of religion, and a willingness to attend on the preaching of the gospel.

And fellowship - The word rendered “fellowship,” κοινωνία koinōnia, is often rendered “communion.” It properly denotes “having things in common, or participation, society, friendship.” It may apply to anything which may be possessed in common, or in which all may partake. Thus, all Christians have the same hope of heaven; the same joys; the same hatred of sin; the same enemies to contend with. Thus, they have the same subjects of conversation, of feeling, and of prayer; or they have communion in these things. And thus the early Christians had their property in common. The word here may apply to either or to all of these things to their conversation, their prayers, their dangers, or their property; and means that they were united to the apostles, and participated with them in whatever befell them. It may be added that the effect of a revival of religion is to unite Christians more and more, and to bring those who were before separated to union and love. Christians feel that they are a band of brethren, and that, however much they were separated before they became Christians, now they have great and important interests in common; they are united in feelings, in interests, in dangers, in conflicts, in opinions, and in the hopes of a blessed immortality.

Breaking of bread - The Syriac renders this “the eucharist” or the Lord’s Supper. It cannot, however, be determined whether this refers to their partaking of their ordinary food together, or to feasts of charity, or to the Lord’s Supper. The bread of the Hebrews was made commonly into cakes, thin, hard, and brittle, so that it was broken instead of being cut. Hence, to denote “intimacy or friendship,” the phrase “to break bread together” would be very expressive in the same way as the Greeks denoted it by drinking together, συμπόσιον sumposion. From the expression used in Acts 2:44, compare with Acts 2:46, that they had all things common, it would rather seem to be implied that this referred to the participation of their ordinary meals. The action of breaking bread was commonly performed by the master or head of a family immediately after asking a blessing (Lightfoot).

In prayers - This was one effect of the influence of the Spirit, and an evidence of their change. A genuine revival will be always followed by a love of prayer.

Verse 43

And fear came - That is, there was great reverence or awe. The multitude had just before derided them Acts 2:13; but so striking and manifest was the power of God on this occasion, that it silenced all clamors, and produced a general veneration and awe. The effect of a great work of God’s grace is commonly to produce an unusual seriousness and solemnity in a community, even among those who are not converted. It restrains, subdues, and silences opposition.

Every soul - Every person or individual; that is, upon the people generally; not only on those who became Christians, but upon the multitudes who witnessed these things. All things were suited to produce this fear: the recent crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth; the wonders that attended that event; the events of the day of Pentecost; and the miracles performed by the apostles, were all suited to diffuse solemnity, thought, anxiety through the community.

Many wonders and signs - See the notes on Acts 2:22. This was promised by the Saviour, Mark 16:17. Some of the miracles which they performed are specified in the following chapters.

Verse 44

All that believed - That is, that believed that Jesus was the Messiah; for that was the distinguishing point by which they were known from others.

Were together - Were united; were joined in the same thing. It does not mean that they lived in the same house, but they were united in the same community, or engaged in the same thing. They were doubtless often together in the same place for prayer and praise. One of the best means for strengthening the faith of young converts is for them often to meet together for prayer, conversation, and praise.

Had all things common - That is, all their property or possessions. See Acts 4:32-37; Acts 5:1-10. The apostles, in the time of the Saviour, evidently had all their property in common stock, and Judas was made their treasurer. They regarded themselves as one family, having common needs, and there was no use or propriety in their possessing extensive property by themselves. Yet even then it is probable that some of them retained an interest in their property which was not supposed to be necessary to be devoted to the common use. It is evident that John thus possessed property which he retained, John 19:27. And it is clear that the Saviour did not command them to give up their property into a common stock, nor did the apostles enjoin it: Acts 5:4, “While it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold was it not in thine own power?” It was, therefore, perfectly voluntary, and was as evidently adapted to the special circumstances of the early converts. Many of them came from abroad. They were from Parthia, and Media, and Arabia, and Rome, and Africa, etc. It is probable, also, that they now remained longer in Jerusalem than they had at first proposed; and it is not at all improbable that they would be denied now the usual hospitalities of the Jews, and excluded from their customary kindness, because they had embraced Jesus of Nazareth, who had been just put to death. In these circumstances, it was natural and proper that they should share their property while they remained together.

Verse 45

And sold - That is, they sold as much as was necessary in order to procure the means of providing for the needs of each other.

Possessions - Property, particularly real estate. This word, κτήματα ktēmata, refers properly to their fixed property, as lands, houses, vineyards, etc. The word rendered “goods,” ὑπάρξεις huparxeis, refers to their personal or movable “property.”

And parted them to all - They distributed them to supply the needs of their poorer brethren, according to their necessities.

As every man had need - This expression limits and fixes the meaning of what is said before. The passage does not mean that they sold all their possessions, or that they relinquished their title to all their property, but that they so far regarded all as common as to be willing to part with it if it was needful to supply the needs of the others. Hence, the property was laid at the disposal of the apostles, and they were desired to distribute it freely to meet the needs of the poor, Acts 4:34-35.

This was an important incident in the early propagation of religion, and it may suggest many useful reflections:

1. We see the effect of religion. The love of property is one of the strongest affections which people have. There is nothing that will overcome it but religion. That will; and one of the first effects of the gospel was to loosen the hold of Christians on property.

2. It is the duty of the church to provide for the needs of its poor and needy members. There can be no doubt that property should now be regarded as so far common as that the needs of the poor should be supplied by those who are rich. Compare Matthew 26:11.

3. If it be asked why the early disciples evinced this readiness to part with their property in this manner, it may be replied:

  1. That the apostles had done it before them. The family of the Saviour had all things common.

(2)It was the nature of religion to do it.

(3)The circumstances of the persons assembled on this occasion were such as to require it. They were many of them from distant regions, and probably many of them of the poorer class of the people in Jerusalem. In this they evinced what should be done in behalf of the poor in the church at all times.

4. If it be asked whether this was done commonly among the early Christians, it may be replied that there is no evidence that it was. It is mentioned here, and in Acts 4:32-37, and Acts 5:1-7. It does not appear that it was done even by all who were afterward converted in Judea; and there is no evidence that it was done in Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi, Rome, etc. That the effect of religion was to make people liberal and willing to provide for the poor there can be no doubt. See 2 Corinthians 8:19; 2Co 9:2; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Galatians 2:10. But there is no proof that it was common to part with their possessions and to lay them at the feet of the apostles. Religion does not contemplate, evidently, that people should break up all the arrangements in society, but it contemplates that those who have property should be ready and willing to part with it for the help of the poor and needy.

5. If it be asked, then, whether all the arrangements of property should be broken up now, and believers have all things in common, we are prepared to answer “No.” Because:

  1. This was an extraordinary case.

(2)It was not even enjoined by the apostles on them.

(3)It was practiced nowhere else.

(4)It would be impracticable. No community where all things were held in common has long prospered. It has been attempted often, by pagans, by infidels, and by fanatical sects of Christians. It ends soon in anarchy, licentiousness, idleness, and profligacy; or the more cunning secure the mass of the property, and control the whole. Until all people are made alike, there could be no hope of such a community; and if there could be, it would not be desirable. God evidently intended that people should be excited to industry by the hope of gain; and then he demands that their gains shall be devoted to his service. Still, this was a noble instance of Christian generosity, and evinced the power of religion in loosing the hold which people commonly have on the world. It rebukes also those professors of religion, of whom, alas, there are many, who give nothing to benefit either the souls or bodies of their fellow-men.

Verse 46

With one accord - Compare Acts 1:14; Acts 2:1.

In the temple - This was the public place of worship; and the disciples were not disposed to leave the place where their fathers had so long worshipped God. This does not mean that they were constantly in the temple, but only at the customary hours of prayer - at nine o’clock in the morning, and at three o’clock in the afternoon.

And breaking bread - See the notes on Acts 2:42.

From house to house - In the margin, “at home.” So the Syriac and Arabic. The common interpretation, however, is, that they did it in their various houses, now in this and now in that, as might be convenient. If it refers to their ordinary meals, then it means that they partook in common of what they possessed, and the expression “did eat their meat” seems to imply that this refers to their common meals, and not to the Lord’s Supper.

Did eat their meat - Did partake of their food. The word “meat” with us is applied to “flesh.” In the Bible, and in Old English authors, it is applied to “provisions” of any kind. Here it means all kinds of sustenance; what nourished them - τροφῆς trophēs - and the use of this word proves that it does not refer to the Lord’s Supper; for that ordinance is nowhere represented as designed for an ordinary meal, or to nourish the body. Compare 1 Corinthians 11:33-34.

With gladness - With rejoicing. This is one of the effects of religion. It is far from gloom; it diffuses happiness over the mind; it bestows additional joy in the participation of even our ordinary pleasures.

Singleness of heart - This means with a sincere and pure heart. They were satisfied and thankful. They were not perplexed or anxious; nor were they solicitous for the luxurious living, or aspiring after the vain objects of the people of the world. Compare Romans 12:8; 2 Corinthians 1:12; Colossians 3:22; Ephesians 6:5.

Verse 47

Praising God - See Luke 24:53.

And having favour - See Luke 2:52.

With all the people - That is, with the great mass of the people; with the people generally. It does not mean that all the people had become reconciled to Christianity; but their humble, serious, and devoted lives won the favor of the great mass of the community, and silenced opposition and cavil. This was a remarkable effect, but God has power to silence opposition; and there it nothing so well suited to do this as the humble and consistent lives of his friends.

And the Lord added - See Acts 5:14; Acts 11:24, etc. It was the Lord who did this. There was no power in man to do it; and the Christian loves to trace all increase of the church to the grace of God.

Added - Caused, or inclined them to be joined to the church.

The church - To the assembly of the followers of Christ - τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ tē ekklēsia. The word rendered “church” properly means “those who are called out,” and is applied to Christians as being called out, or separated from the world. It is used only three times in the gospels, Matthew 16:18; Matthew 18:17, twice. It occurs frequently in other parts of the New Testament, and usually as applied to the followers of Christ. Compare Acts 5:11; Acts 7:38; Acts 8:1, Acts 8:3; Acts 9:31; Acts 11:22, Acts 11:26; Acts 12:1, Acts 12:5, etc. It is used in Classic writers to denote “an assembly” of any kind, and is twice thus used in the New Testament Acts 19:39, Acts 19:41, where it is translated “assembly.”

Such as should be saved - This whole phrase is a translation of a participle - τοὺς σωζομένους tous sōzomenous. It does not express any purpose that they should be saved, but simply the fact that they were those who would be, or who were about to be saved. It is clear, however, from this expression, that those who became members of the church were those who continued to adorn their profession, or who gave proof that they were sincere Christians. It is implied here, also, that those who are to be saved will join themselves to the church of God. This is everywhere required; and it constitutes one evidence of piety when they are willing to face the world, and give themselves at once to the service of the Lord Jesus. Two remarks may be made on the last verse of this chapter; one is, that the effect of a consistent Christian life will be to command the respect of the world; and the other is, that the effect will be continually to increase the number of those who shall be saved. In this case they were daily added to it; the church was constantly increasing; and the same result may be expected in all cases where there is similar zeal, self-denial, consistency, and prayer.

We have now contemplated the foundation of the Christian church and the first glorious revival of religion. This chapter deserves to be profoundly studied by all ministers of the gospel, as well as by all who pray for the prosperity of the kingdom of God. It should excite our fervent gratitude that God has left this record of the first great work of grace, and our earnest prayers that He would multiply and extend such scenes until the earth shall be filled with His glory.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Acts 2". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/acts-2.html. 1870.
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