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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
Acts 2

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-47

Acts 2:1. The day of Pentecost. The fiftieth day after our Lord’s resurrection, and the day when the sheaf of the firstfruits was offered. Though the feast of Pentecost was but one day, yet like the passover, it was continued through all the week by a course of after services. See on Exodus 19:1.

Acts 2:3. There appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire. The prophet Ezekiel, in his vision of the chariot of Jehovah, twice names the fire or glory of the colour of amber: chap. 1. 10. This glory descended with a sound of Jehovah’s presence. St. Luke does not say fire, but “like as of fire.” The glory was not transient; it sat upon each of them, as coronation flames on the elder sons of Zion. The glory however was not confined to the apostles; “it sat on each” of the assembly, in such manifestations as heaven was pleased to confer. Nay, the Lord, on his ascension, received gifts for the rebellious gentiles also; for while Peter spake in the house of Cornelius the gentiles received the Spirit as well as the believing jews. — And how can men do the Lord’s work, unless, as in chap. Acts 1:8, they receive power from on high? God left not himself without witnesses in any age.

When the palace of Priam was stormed by the Greeks, and while Iüli, a boy, was held in his mother’s arms, Virgil reports that a luminous phenomenon crowned the head of the boy, followed by a meteor from heaven, which, by its course, pointed out their way of escape. God sets his mark on those he loves.

Ecce levis summo de vertice visus Iüli

Fundere lumen apex, tractuque innoxia molli

Lambere flamma comas, et circum tempora pasci. ÆNEID. 2:682.

Strange to relate, from young Iüli’s head

A lambent flame arose, which gently spread

Around his brow, and on his temples fed.

DRYDEN.

Acts 2:4. They began to speak with other tongues. The Holy Spirit highly illuminated their thoughts, and gave them words unknown before. Yet their elocution and utterance, like all things human, had their defects. We gather this from St. Jerome, who affirms that when St. Paul first began to preach in Greek, “He made many solecisms, and knew not how to construe a hyperbatic phrase, nor how to conclude a sentence elegantly.” He affirms farther, that at first “he did not know how to express his profound conceptions in Greek, and that his elocution was so defective that he laboured under difficulties in the communication of his ideas.” — Iste qui solæcismos in verbis facit, qui non potest hyperbaton reddere, sententiamque concludere, audacter sibi vindicat sapientiam, &c. — Hieron. Comm. in episad Ephesians tom. 6. p. 384: and ep. 15, ad Algas. qu. 10. The apostles then had need to read and study as other men: grace does not supersede diligence.

Acts 2:7. Are not all these which speak Galileans? Thus, the gift of tongues was a sign to them that believed not. Those jews, devout men out of the eighteen nations, were competent judges, and their conclusions were correct, that the preachers must have been divinely inspired. The seventy weeks of Daniel being accomplished, and the sceptre in the hands of Herod, those holy men had preferred a residence in the city to be ready to meet their Lord.

Acts 2:9. Parthians, Medes, and Elamites. The Persians, dwelling east of the Euphrates. The Medes, whose capital was Ecbatana. Elamites, from Elam, Genesis 10:22; a nation associated with the Persians, and dwelling on the sea coast.

Acts 2:14. Ye men of Judea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem. These addresses indicate that this sermon was delivered in the courts of the temple, and at nine o’clock, the hour before the usual worship began.

Acts 2:16. This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel, Joel 2:28-32. The days mentioned by the prophet are those new days or times, which the Messiah should create. See the notes on the passage. There is no other period in jewish history to which this luminous prophecy can be referred.

Acts 2:19. Blood and fire, and vapour of smoke. Not content with quoting the prophecy of the effusion of the Spirit, St. Peter speaks of the consequent rejection of the gospel; the more than a million of lives that were lost in the rebellion against the Romans, the burning of the city, and the total obscuration of the Hebrew sun: and all this before the great and final day of scrutiny of the whole world.

Acts 2:23. Him being ( εκδοτον given) delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. Dr. Lightfoot makes Peter here anticipate the objection of the jews who said, “Can he be the Messiah that was crucified and slain? The Messiah to whom belong honour and glory above all kings, as all the prophets have said. Can he be the Messiah who was spit upon, scourged, and pierced with a spear? Yes, says Peter; these things had all been foretold of him from Moses to Malachi.” Nor could he at all have been the Messiah, had he not suffered all those indignities, as stated on Luke 24:44. See on Jeremiah 36:3.

Acts 2:24. Whom God hath raised up. Peter asserts the divinity of Christ by three acts; — by his resurrection from the dead — by his session at the right hand of God, which designates the highest regal glory — and by the effusion of the Holy Ghost. “He hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear.” Could either prophet or rabbi expect more of the Messiah? A large remnant of Israel was saved, and the fulness of the gentiles began to come in.

Acts 2:27. Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, or hades. The spirit of our Saviour descended into hades, or the state of the dead. The rabbinical theology says that in hades there are two roads, the one for good men, and the other for bad. Hence, our Saviour’s going to hades was no other than his going to paradise. This gloss is very obvious from Isaiah 14:9, where the good kings of Judah are represented as in hades.

Acts 2:36. God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. This was the grandest stroke of pulpit eloquence. He arraigns, he accuses, and he convicts his auditory. Being first wounded, then they apply for balm. A minister must preach as the prophets preached, else he cannot have the echo of the hearer’s heart. He must commend himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. Nathan’s sermon had been lost on David, without the final stroke which clinched the nail, “thou art the man.”

Acts 2:37. When they heard this they were pricked in their heart. The Hebrews had terrific ideas of the blood of a prophet. They saw, or thought they saw, the blood of Zechariah and his brothers, still springing up between the porch and the altar. Now, the blood of Christ being shed, they were filled with alarms for its visitation on them, and on their children. All their personal sins, how great soever they might be, were light compared with this.

It is the same still. We cannot arouse the consciences of the wicked without demonstrations of guilt, and alarms of punishment. Young people will not forsake their pleasures till they feel their emptiness and insufficiency. The world will not leave their courses till they perceive the abyss; the unclean will not exscind their right hand till they glance on the fire of gehenna. The cry of guilt is, turn or burn.

But how shall the preacher do this? How shall he follow the proteus in all its changing shapes, and the windings and workings of the carnal mind in all its evasions; for as he reasons against the sinner, the sinner will reason against him. Let him pray, like Peter, to be filled with the Holy Ghost, and then his sermons will be the voice of God, and be echoed by the sinner’s conscience.

Acts 2:41. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized. They burst at once into the spiritual birth of the family of God, and entered the Messiah’s kingdom. They saw the old testament full of the sufferings and the glory of Christ, and rushed as the new Israel, the chosen of God and precious, into the new and living temple of their God and king. No man touched by the ministry is safe unless he join himself to his minister, and to the people of God.

Acts 2:42. They continued stedfast in the apostles’ doctrine; and so much so, that they would shut their ears against any doctrine not taught by the holy apostles.

And in fellowship. There were at that time about four hundred and eighty synagogues in Jerusalem and its vicinity, and as the christians encreased to almost twenty thousand, the apostles divided them into christian synagogues for prayer, reading the scriptures, exhortations, and hymns of praise. These were infant churches in the houses and rooms of the brethren, as circumstances allowed.

And in breaking of bread. This phrase being used for bread broken at a common meal, as well as for the holy sacrament, I see no reason why it may not be taken in both the senses here. The apostles breaking of bread seems first and principally to refer to the holy supper; and breaking bread from house to house seems to be a christian entertainment, accompanied with prayer, praise, and heavenly conversation.

Acts 2:44. They had all things common. Like the manna in the days of Moses, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack. Being all cut off from the old synagogues, the widows and the sick did not want in the daily administrations. And as the ordinary contributions failed, such was the strength of faith in Christ, that Jerusalem should soon be burned, and such was their love to his name, that they spontaneously and gradually began to sell houses to supply the church with funds, that there might be no want. Their love, like a morning fire, burned with a pure and heavenly flame.

Acts 2:46. Breaking bread from house to house. It will most gratify the reader to translate the exact words of Syrus and Œcumenius. After prayer, “they celebrated the eucharist. Then followed the agapæ or love feast, [epulum] their peace-offerings or common feast, in memory of our Lord’s last supper, and in such humble way as the church could afford; not always in one house, but in rotation, as convenience and the encreasing numbers of the faithful might require.” In these love feasts they enjoyed christian liberty, and could, as St. Paul says, “all prophecy one by one.”

Oh what an age of golden days,

Oh what a choice peculiar race!

Washed in the Lamb’s all-cleansing blood,

Anointed kings and priests to God!

Acts 2:47. Such as should be saved. The Vulgate has misguided very many future translators. Dominus autem augebat qui salvi fierent quotidie in idipsum. The passive participle, σωζομενος, is always rendered in the present tense. See 1 Corinthians 1:18 : to us “who are saved.” Also Revelation 21:24 : the nations “which are saved” shall walk in the light of it. The word applies likewise to such as had escaped the pollutions of the age; and to the present sufferings of the saints, who “scarcely escape.” 1 Peter 4:18, I do not recollect any example, either in the septuagint or the new testament, in which τονς σωζομενους is applied to future time. The Lord added to the church those, who being obedient to the word, Acts 2:40, saved themselves from that untoward generation.

REFLECTIONS.

Our Lord having made a suitable preparation for his work and kingdom on earth, opened this day the cataracts of heaven, and poured down the promised Spirit from on high. Let us trace the instructive characters of so great a glory.

The ministers of the glorious work were all together with one accord. They assembled at the rising of the sun for prayer, and all expected the promised Spirit of power from on high. When ministers are in this temper, the whole world cannot resist their influence and energy. Heaven is open to their prayers, truth carries conviction, and love melts the heart of enemies. The Holy Spirit descended suddenly, and in emblems of wind and flame; for he is the breath of God, and he purifies the soul by the fire of love. When God has exalted his people, and revived his feeble church, it has often been by some sudden and even unexpected manifestations of mercy. So it was at the burning bush; so it was on mount Carmel, and in Babylon; when religion was at the lowest ebb, he saved his three confessors from the fiery furnace.

The Holy Spirit replenished the souls of the apostles and apostolic men with an unutterable unction of wisdom, courage and love, to preach and publish the glory of their crucified Lord. And the gospel must still be preached in the same temper, or it will degenerate into problems and dry opinions.

Christ gave his disciples the key of nations in the gift of tongues. God had confounded the language of the seventy two families dispersed from Babel, which was, in some sort, a gracious curse, because it obliged them to disperse, and prevented their corrupting one another by the intercourse of vice. Yet all these nations had the original promise concerning the woman’s seed to bruise the serpent’s head; and God, ever mindful of his word, now wrought a miracle to accomplish his promise, and convey to the nations groaning with crimes, and travailing in pain, the joyful tidings of redeeming love. Now, this gift of tongues, connected with all the glory of the christian ministry, which carried conviction to three, and to five thousand jews and proselytes, was a most astonishing display of God’s gracious indulgence in opening the word of life at once to eighteen nations. And the accession of those converts to the christian church affords the most indubitable proof of the truth of revelation, and of the christian religion. Living on the spot, they examined the facts, and prejudice was banished by truth. The council perceived that Peter and John were unlettered men; and were astonished to find that divine endowments had created a new order of doctors of the law.

How impetuous soever the effusion of the Spirit might be, and accompanied with apparent confusion and noise, the ministry was highly argumentative. St. Peter closed the general preaching by a most forcible address. He accounts for the glory of the day, as being foretold in a luminous prophecy of Joel. He asserts the miracles and mission of his Master in the age and place where they were made manifest. He accounts for his crucifixion, according to the whole scope of prophecy. Christ was given into their hands conformably to the definitive counsel and foreknowledge of God; but this foreknowledge, discovered by the spirit of prophecy, lays no man under a necessity to sin, as is proved in the note on Matthew 27:19, where Pilate’s wife warned her husband from a divine dream to have nothing to do with Christ’s crucifixion. St. Peter demonstrates him to be the true Messiah by his descent from David, and by his resurrection, as David had foretold. Here reason, argument, and truth displayed their energies. The auditors being now completely in the power of the speaker, he closed by a full application to the heart, and charged the guilt of crucifying the Lord of glory home on their conscience. Then being pricked in the heart, they enquired what they must do to be saved.

From this great display of glory we may learn, that conversion is always a work of argument; their judgment was gained by truth. Conversion is also a work of conviction; they were pricked in the heart. Conversion is likewise a work of enquiry; men and brethren, what must we do to exonerate our conscience from so great a guilt? Lastly, conversion is a work of comfort; ye shall receive remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. But the gift of the Holy Spirit, absolutely essential to regeneration, is twofold in its operations. First, ordinary, to warn and cheer the heart of every believer. So we have remarked on Luke 24. Next, it is extraordinary, in the gift of tongues, and the power of working miracles. The latter is confined solely to as many as the Lord shall call to that high office and ministry.

Thus after Christ had laid the foundation of his church, we see the master builders start this day under the highest smiles of heaven; and the success of their ministry, connected with the happy temper of the first converts, was a most encouraging specimen to all future preachers, and the fairest image of heaven which mortals ever saw.

A second class of reflections turn on the purity, the love, and glory of the church of the firstborn. They were in general devout men before their conversion to the Lord, but now the sun of righteousness having burst upon them all at once, made them doubly so. Being now suddenly ushered into the glory and grace of the Messiah’s kingdom, their joys were without bounds; their love was kindled from the heavenly altar; they sung the prophet’s songs with new light, and new hearts. Nay, they composed new hymns on the deity and humanity of Christ, hymns that are often referred to with approbation by the fathers.

The love of the primitive christians led to obedience; they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, in prayer, in fellowship, and in breaking of bread. Devotion is the glory of man, and the communion of saints is the most hallowed of all social enjoyments.

“They mixed their friendly souls in one.”

This charity was not a feigned but a living flame. The poor being cut off from the charities of the synagogue, they raised funds to supply them with daily distributions of bread; and when money was inadequate, they continued to sell houses and lands, that the widows might have no lack. Their love became a proverb in all the east. See, said the world, how these christians love one another.

They were a happy and prosperous church, serving the Lord with gladness and singleness of heart. Heaven inspired the soul, and hymns were sung in every house. The handful of corn grew on the tops of the mountains of Judea; and they of the city flourished like grass of the earth. Psalms 72:16. A glorious church, the model of every future age.

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 2:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/acts-2.html. 1835.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, June 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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