“And you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea …” (Acts 1:8)
Following the ascension of the Lord Jesus, the apostles waited in Jerusalem for the promise of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:12-14). As they waited, they followed the leadership of the Lord to select Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot as the twelfth apostle (Acts 1:15-26). It was important and significant that their number remain at twelve, because it was the number associated with Israel, the nation toward which their ministry and apostleship was directed.
The Day of Pentecost
When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues (languages). They were heard and understood by Jews and proselytes from every nation, who were in Jerusalem to celebrate this Jewish feast day (Acts 2:1-13). As some of the people began to mock them and to accuse them of being full of wine, Peter stood and declared to the people of Judea and Jerusalem, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:13-21). What they were witnessing was a prophesied event.
Peter then proceeded to preach the Word of God to the men of Israel (Acts 2:22). He declared that they had crucified Jesus of Nazareth by lawless hands, but that God had raised Him from the dead (Acts 2:22-24). His resurrection was in full accord with the prophecy uttered by David in the 16th Psalm (Acts 2:25-28). This prophecy declared that God would raise up the Christ to sit on the throne of David (Acts 2:29-31). Peter concluded by saying that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, which they had just seen and heard, was proof that God had made this same Jesus, whom they had crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:32-36).
Please notice the following facts about this passage. The place where this occurred was Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews. The event was the day of Pentecost, a Jewish feast day. The people witnessed signs (i.e. tongues) which were specifically directed to the Jews (I Cor. 14:20-22, Isa. 28:11-12, I Cor. 1:22). The people who were present for this feast were Jews and proselytes. The spokesman was the apostle Peter, whose apostleship was directed toward the circumcised (i.e. Jews) (Gal. 2:7-9). The events which occurred were prophesied by Joel (Joel 2:28-32), who spoke concerning God’s purposes for the people and land of Israel. The message Peter preached was the gospel of the kingdom (Acts 2:30,36), a message which was directed to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 10:5-7; 15:24).
The events of Pentecost stand in sharp contrast to God’s plan and purpose today for His church, the body of Christ. Consider the following three key differences:
- The events that occurred on the day of Pentecost specifically concerned the Jews. Paul states that in the church there is no Jew or Gentile (Col. 3:11); the distinction between them has been abolished (Eph. 2:11-18).
- The events that occurred on the day of Pentecost were prophesied by Joel. Paul states that the truth concerning the church, the body of Christ was unprophesied (Eph. 3:1-9). It was a “mystery” which “in other ages was not made known.” Paul calls it the “unsearchable riches of Christ” and declares that it was “hidden in God.”
- God’s spokesman on the day of Pentecost was the apostle Peter. The truth of the church, the body of Christ, was not made known except through the apostle Paul (Col. 1:24-27).
When we consider these basic differences, it seems clear that Pentecost did not mark the beginning of the church of today.
When Peter had finished speaking, the people asked him what they should do. Peter said, “Repent, … and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Carefully compare this statement with the message preached by John the Baptist in Matt. 3:2, Mark 1:4-5, and Luke 3:3. Though Peter’s statement was directed to individual Jews, it was also a message for the nation as a whole. Israel was a nation who had once been in covenant relationship with God, but because of the sin of idolatry, needed to repent and turn back to God. Hence, we see John the Baptist’s message to them to repent. As a nation, they had crucified their promised Messiah, the Son of God, and they needed to repent of this terrible sin. Therefore, we see Peter’s call to them to repent.
The Kingdom Offered
The condition of the nation of Israel, at this time, was illustrated by the first miracle performed by Peter in the book of Acts. In Acts chapter 3, we find Peter and John going to the temple to pray. As they approached the gate of the temple, a man who had been lame from birth asked them for alms. This poor, lame beggar is a picture of the nation of Israel at that time; spiritually lame—unable to walk or even to stand. As the man fixed his attention upon Peter and John, expecting to receive something, Peter commanded him, “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, to rise up and walk.” The result? The man was lifted up and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping and praising God (Acts 3:1-9).
This man’s hope rested in the name and power of Jesus Christ. The same was true for the nation of Israel. If they would look in faith to Jesus Christ, they too could be restored to walk, leap and praise God!
Peter then proceeded to show these very truths to the people; to show them that in crucifying Jesus of Nazareth, they had denied the Holy One of God and killed the Prince of Life; to show them that God had raised Him from the dead; to show them that this lame man had not been healed by their power, but had been made whole and strong through faith in the name of Jesus Christ; to show them that they had crucified Jesus through ignorance and had thus fulfilled the Scriptures which foretold His sufferings (Acts 3:12-18).
Having said all this, Peter exhorted them to “repent and be converted” that their sins might be blotted out and that “times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19). What did this mean? Peter was making a genuine offer of the kingdom of heaven to the nation of Israel, if they would repent. This is seen in the very next verse where he says, “and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before” (Acts 3:20). Send Him where? Where was He? Look at verse 21, “whom the heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things which God had spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.” Jesus Christ was in heaven, thus Peter was saying that God was prepared to send Jesus Christ back to the earth to establish His kingdom, if Israel would repent, as a nation. Here was their opportunity. How would they respond?
The Kingdom Rejected
Please notice what Peter said in Acts 3:17, “Yet now, brethren, I know you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers.” Israel’s national repentance was dependent upon both the people and their rulers. The rulers of Israel were representatives and leaders for the people of Israel. The rulers spoke for the nation, therefore, their directives and their decisions were made in behalf of the entire nation of Israel.
In Acts chapter 4, we find the first reaction of the Jewish rulers was to try to suppress the truth. They put Peter and John in custody, being disturbed that they taught and “preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). They could not deny the miracle that had been performed on the lame man, so they sought to keep the matter from spreading any further among the people by commanding Peter and John “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:16-18). What was the response of Peter and John? “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). They continued to speak the Word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31).
As Peter and the twelve continued teaching, preaching, and healing in the name of Jesus Christ, the Jewish leaders “were filled with indignation” and put the apostles in prison (Acts 5:17-18). When Peter and the other apostles accused them of murdering the Lord Jesus, the rulers became furious and plotted to kill them, but Gamaliel intervened. Having failed in their attempts to suppress the truth, the Jewish leaders resorted to oppressing those who preached the truth. They called for the apostles, beat them, commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go (Acts 5:33-40).
The apostles departed, rejoicing that they “were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name,” and they continued daily in the temple (publicly) and in every house (privately) teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (Acts 5:41-42).
The rulers of Israel demonstrated their final decision in Acts chapter 7. They seized Stephen, “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” who was performing “great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:5-8). They set up false witnesses against him, just as they had done with the Lord Jesus, and then they allowed him to speak. Stephen reviewed the history of God’s dealings with the nation of Israel and their rejection of Him. He concluded by accusing these rulers of being “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit!” He declared that they were just like their fathers, who killed God’s prophets, but, in their case, they had become the betrayers and murderers of the Just One, the very Son of God (Acts 7:51-53)!
When the rulers of Israel heard these things, “they were cut to the heart” (Acts 7:54). As Stephen continued speaking, they “cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord” (Acts 7:57). They cast him out of the city and stoned him (Acts 7:58).
As Stephen prayed for them, he asked the Lord not to charge them with this sin, but he did not say they were still ignorant of what they were doing. Remember, “they were cut to the heart” and “stopped their ears.” This was an act of their own will. They willfully rejected the Holy Spirit of truth.