Peter’s Pentecost Sermon
Pentecost is a central day in the Christian calendar, which the Encyclopaedia Britannica describes as follows.
Pentecost, also called Whitsunday, (Pentecost from Greek pentecostē, “50th day”), major festival in the Christian church, celebrated on the Sunday that falls on the 50th day of Easter. It commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and other disciples following the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ (Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2), and it marks the beginning of the Christian church’s mission to the world.
After the descent of the Holy Spirit a large crowd of Jews from many nations gathered “because each one heard their own language being spoken” (Acts 2:6, NIV). The Apostle Peter stood up to address them. This was the first Christian sermon preached after Christ’s resurrection. It is saturated with direct and indirect allusions to the Old Testament, which Peter demonstrates predicted and prepared the way for Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
The focus of comments on this sermon will be the Old Testament sources from which Peter proclaimed Jesus Christ to be “both Lord and Messiah.” Excerpts from The International Bible Commentary (F.F. Bruce General Editor, (c) 1986) will be indicated by purple text. My comments are in regular unbolded black text.
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!
The gathered crowd initially attributed the Apostle’s ecstatic behavior to drunkenness.
16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
The conditions for quotation from the OT are fulfilled if we understand that elements of Joel’s prophecy were seen in the happening of Pentecost, and that the cross and resurrection had opened a new age which would culminate in universal spiritual blessing.
22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
Peter appealed to the personal knowledge of the Palestinian Jews when he spoke of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, whose mighty works showed that he was attested by God as His messenger to Israel. The terrible responsibility for rejection of such a Man fell squarely on the shoulders of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. … But their unreasoning hatred became the instrument for the fulfillment of the divine plan established in the fore knowledge of God.
25 David said about him:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.
Both Peter and Paul (13:35) appeal to Ps. 16 as a prophecy of the Resurrection. Much of the Psalm expressed David’s own experiences, but certain elements — as in all the messianic Psalms — could only be fulfilled in his greater Son. Note especially the phrase: Nor will you let your Holy One see decay. As a prophet David saw that the resurrection life of his descendent would be the means of fulfilling the covenant (2 Sam. 7:12-17; Ps. 89:3,4, 26-37; 132:11-18).
33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”’
The verb raised of 2:32 refers to the resurrection to which the apostles bore witness, but it leads directly to the exaltation of the Messiah as prophesied by Ps. 110:1.
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
Prophecy and contemporary fact had been welded into a strong argument which was the basis of a direct appeal to all Israel. God had constituted Jesus, the crucified one, both Lord and Messiah for His people, despite their tragic rebellion.
Thus, with this sermon the eternal, unbreakable bond between the Old Testament and the Gospel of Jesus Christ was confirmed.
The Apostle Paul’s Epistles and sermons are no less saturated in what we now call the Old Testament. But then they were the only existing Scriptures by which the Gospel of Jesus Christ could be proclaimed. By them and the Holy Spirit’s power tens, then hundreds, then thousands then tens-of thousands were converted to Christ. The fact that we now also have the New Testament makes the Old Testament no less potent a witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.