Acts 2 is certainly the most well-known of all the chapters of Acts due to the account of the Day of Pentecost and the amazing growth of the Church immediately following it. Thus much of the chapter will no doubt be familiar to you. However, because it’s so well known, there have also been many more comments on this chapter than on other chapters, with many differing teachings. We’ll focus on a few of those in our notes here so that we can make clear our confession of what God’s Word teaches in this section.
2:1 The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word for “fiftieth”, which is literally the word that Luke writes, i.e. “the day of the fiftieth”. It came to be the title we know for the day, but originally was the “Feast/Festival of Weeks” which happened fifty days after Passover. The Christian celebration of the Day of Pentecost happens on the fiftieth day not after Passover, but after Easter.
“They all” seems most likely to refer to the whole company of disciples (see 1:15), not just the Apostles.
2:3 The promised Baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire (Luke 3:16) is fulfilled here on Pentecost. It is not an ongoing promise to every believer of every time to receive the Spirit in this way, but specifically referred to this event.
2:4 The Holy Spirit was certainly present in the believers prior to this; wherever faith is present, that’s the result of the Holy Spirit. So we shouldn’t imagine that this is some different Spirit; The Spirit is now filling these disciples so that they might carry out this specific vocation. This is an appropriate way to consider the ongoing “filling” of the Spirit for every Christian: being filled with the Holy Spirit doesn’t at all imply that He wasn’t present before, but that the person is being filled for a specific calling/vocation.
“Tongues” in verse 4 (and everywhere in Scripture) is interchangeable with our English word “languages”. These are real languages that are being spoken (this is made crystal clear in 2:6 and 2:11), not some sort of gibberish or “private prayer language”. The Spirit enabled these disciples to proclaim the Gospel in languages that they had not learned in the ordinary way.
2:11 The people are hearing “the mighty works of God” in their own languages. This would certainly include the recent events in Jerusalem with Jesus’ death and resurrection at the centre of it all. It very well may have included other accounts from the Old Testament; the primary “audience” for this were Jews and converts to Judaism, and the primary way that the Gospel was proclaimed to those audiences was showing that Jesus was the One who was promised to the people of old.
2:16 That last point is illustrated well here; Peter says that what was happening even there on that day was a fulfillment of God’s promise in the Old Testament, this one specifically from Joel 2. So it wasn’t only Jesus’ life, ministry, and saving work that was promised in the Old Testament. That was central, yes, but even the events of this day were promised by God long before.
2:29-36 Peter then specifically turns to preaching about Jesus. Verse 36 is the climatic statement that contains both God’s Law (“whom you crucified”) and Gospel (“God has made him...Christ, this Jesus”).
2:37 Being “cut to the heart” is a most appropriate description of hearing God’s Word and believing that it applies to you personally. There’s a similar experience in Luke 24 that we considered a couple of weeks ago when the disciples on the road to Emmaus hear God’s Word through Jesus (Luke 24:32).
2:38 The appropriate response for unbelievers who hear God’s Word is repentance and receiving Baptism, which brings the forgiveness of sins through the Holy Spirit’s work. Pentecost was a one-time event in history; Baptism is a one-time event in a person’s life. But the Holy Spirit’s work is always ongoing as He calls people by the Gospel, enlightens their hearts, and gathers them into the Church.
2:39 The promise of the gift of the forgiveness of sings in Baptism is for everyone, including children. When we see examples of Christian Baptism in Acts and other times following Pentecost, it often includes entire households, which would have certainly included young children. Therefore we continue to bring Baptism to young children as well as adults, following the example of the early Church, and at Jesus’ own invitation (e.g. Matthew 19:14: “let the little children come to me...for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”)
2:41 About 3,000 people hear the Word, believe it, and are baptized into the fellowship of the Church on that day! What an amazing thing to celebrate!
Here we get a picture of the life of the early Church immediately after Pentecost. It includes the ministry of the Word and Sacrament, as well as what we might think about as “congregational life”, in sharing and serving one another in different ways.
2:42 There are four things included in this description of what these early disciples devoted themselves to. The ESV does a good job in reflecting the Greek usage of the word “the” preceding each of the four, which helps us understand that it’s not just some generic concept, but a specific thing that had intentionality and structure. A quick word about all four:
- the Apostles’ teaching Not just teaching in general, but the teaching of those twelve chosen Apostles.
- the fellowship Not just to some idea of “togetherness” but the fellowship of the Christian Church.
- the breaking of bread Sometimes the Bible speaks about breaking of bread as a more generic thing (as in 2:46), but with the word “the” here, it’s a reference to something more formal. In this context, it’s a reference the Lord’s Supper. The phrase may actually encompass both a regular meal and the Lord’s Supper, since in these early days the Lord’s Supper would be celebrated after a meal (see 1 Corinthians 11:20-34). But in context it by no means is only a generic reference to having meals together. (Remember, table fellowship is a big theme in Luke’s Gospel account, and it is extended in the Lord’s Supper to include the spiritual fellowship as well.)
- the prayers Again a liturgical connotation here. Not just to prayer in general (which is in itself a good thing for Christians to do together) but to the prayers: implying a certain kind of praying - within the context of structured worship.
2:47 Notice who is doing the adding here; in the context of this church life, both in more formal ministry settings (i.e. public worship) and in informal gatherings where they were living out the fellowship they had, when there were people being saved (hearing the Gospel and believing it), it was God doing the adding. Not the Apostles nor any of the other disciples. These all were instruments, yes, but it is God who is doing the work of saving and calling people into the Church.