We are now in the season of Easter. It stretches for fifty days, from Easter Sunday up to Pentecost Sunday. Throughout this season, in place of a reading from Hebrew Scriptures, we follow passages from the book of Acts, the second volume in the orderly account which, by tradition, is attributed to Luke.
We saw earlier that the passage set for this Sunday (the second Sunday in the season of Easter) places Peter in the public square, making a speech to the crowd which had gathered in Jerusalem on the Festival of Pentecost (Acts 2:1). See https://johntsquires.com/2020/04/14/what-god-did-through-him-proclaiming-faith-in-the-public-square-acts-2/
In his speech, Peter interprets the phenomena of the day, articulates the significance of Jesus, and describes the nature of the community. This blog post focussed on the middle element, the significance of Jesus.
The body of the the speech concerns the life of Jesus (2:22-36). Peter frames his words about Jesus with a clear declaration about his significance, using the what God did through him at beginning and end (2:22,36). That God acts in and through Jesus is directly specified both at the beginning of the body of the speech (mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him, 2:22) and at the conclusion of the speech (both Lord and Messiah, God has made him, this Jesus …, 2:36). (The Greek text is precisely parallel in these verses. The same Greek verb can be translated as “do” or “make”.)
Peter refers to the delivering up of Jesus by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God (2:23); this important Lukan motif is repeated by the Jerusalem community (4:28), Gamaliel (5:39) and Paul (13:36; 20:27). The precise means of this delivering up is stated starkly by Peter: you crucified him (2:23); this is repeated in a gradually refined form over subsequent speeches (“you killed”, 3:15; 5:30; “they put him to death”, 10:39; “they asked Pilate to have him killed”, 13:27-28).
This does not, however, invalidate the divine plan; for God acts further in Jesus, now described as whom God raised (2:24). The same claim is made again at 3:15; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30; 17:31. This resurrection validates all that Jesus had said, and done, during his life in Galilee and Jude. The death and resurrection of Jesus thus stand, together, at the very centre of “the plan of God”.
Peter also describes Jesus in terms of how he fulfilled prophecy (2:25-31,33-35). For Luke, as Peter demonstrates, the life of Jesus can readily be understood in terms of the ancient “God-talk” of scriptural prophecy. Prophetic testimony provides another means of validation.
Peter first quotes Psalm 16:8-11 (Acts 2:25-28) to interpret the risen Jesus as incorruptible; verse 10 is repeated in a modified form by Peter at Acts 2:31 and by Paul at Acts 13:35. Then Peter quotes Psalm 110:1 (Acts 2:34-35) to substantiate the claim that Jesus can be acclaimed as Messiah.
This application of scripture to Jesus is a persistent element in subsequent speeches, not only those given by Peter (3:18,21-26; 10:43), but also in speeches by Stephen (7:2-50), Philip (8:32-35), James (15:16-18) and Paul (13:27,29,33-37; 14:15; 17:11; 23:5; 24:14; 26:22-23; 28:23,25-27).
This continues a quite notable feature of the Lukan account of Jesus’ “inaugural sermon” in Capernaum (Luke 4:18-21), in which the blended citation of Isa 58:6; 61:1-2 is said to be fulfilled by Jesus’ presence in the synagogue. It is a consistent Lukan motif that God’s plan can be known by means of scripture (God speaking through the prophets) which is coming to fruition in the events being narrated.
Peter supports the claims made concerning Jesus with the apostolic witness (this Jesus God raised; of him we all are witnesses, 2:32). This witness complements and continues the ancient prophetic witness. It is another means of validating Jesus. The elements in this speech are typical of the pattern which is followed in subsequent speeches. Peter often refers to the witness of the apostles (3:15; 5:32; 10:39,41). Paul also refers to this in his speech in Pisidian Antioch (13:31), and he is subsequently identified as a specially chosen witness (22:15; 26:16).
The speech that Luke places on the mouth of Peter, on the day of Pentecost, thus provides a paradigm for subsequent speeches. Luke has reconstructed the preaching of the apostles and ensured that they are remembered as having provided a consistent message. We reflect on that on this Sunday, during the season of Easter.
This blog is based on a section of my commentary on Acts in the Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, ed. Dunn and Rogerson (Eerdmans, 2003). I have also explored the theme of the plan of God at greater depth in my doctoral research, which was published in 1993 by Cambridge University Press as The plan of God in Luke-Acts (SNTSM 76).
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