Preaching in Acts: Peter in the Temple

What had started as a normal day and a normal hour of prayer at the Temple became extraordinary very quickly. A man was healed; thousands more obtained a better hope and promise of healing and restoration. All this happened because Peter and John had gone up to the Temple to pray.

At some point after the day of Pentecost, after the Gospel began to be proclaimed in Jerusalem and the church had been established, Peter and John went up to the Temple to pray at the ninth hour, or around 3 o’clock in the afternoon (Acts 3:1). A man was at the Beautiful Gate, lame from birth, and one who had been seen frequently by those entering the Temple, seeking alms, and sought alms from Peter and John (Acts 3:2-3). Peter confessed he could not give gold or silver, but gave what he could: the ability to rise and walk in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (Acts 3:4-6). The man arose and entered the Temple with them, walking and leaping, and praising God (Acts 3:7-8). The Israelites noticed the man and recognized him as the one who frequently sought alms at the Beautiful Gate; they were filled with amazement and wonder regarding what had happened (Acts 3:9-10).

Peter then took the initiative and from Solomon’s Porch explained to the Israelites what they were seeing: this was not the work of Peter or John (Acts 3:11-12). Instead, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of their fathers, had glorified His Servant Jesus: this Jesus was the one whom they themselves had delivered up to Pilate to be killed, even though Pilate would have released Him, seeking a murderer to be given to them while they put to death the Author of life, and yet God had raised Him from the dead, and through faith in Jesus’ name the man born lame had been made whole (Acts 3:13-16; cf. Luke 23:16-23).

Peter then worked to assure his audience: he knew they acted against Jesus in ignorance, as had their rulers (Acts 3:17). Nevertheless, all the things God had foreshadowed in the prophets regarding the suffering of the Christ had been fulfilled (Acts 3:18). Peter then invited his audience to repent, turning again to God in Christ, so that their sins might be blotted out and they would receive times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, and He would again send the Christ, Jesus, whom heaven has received until the times of restoration of which the prophets spoke came to pass (Acts 3:19-21).

Peter confirmed his message by appealing to what had been said of old: he quoted Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, 18 and referred to his whole message in Deuteronomy 18:15-19 about the one like Moses who would come and to whom Israel should listen (Acts 3:22-23). He summarized all the other prophets from Samuel onward as promising similar things (Acts 3:24). Peter spoke of his audience as the sons of those who heard these promises, and thus the recipients of the promise, and also as the sons of the covenant God made with Abraham, through whose Seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Acts 3:25; cf. Genesis 22:18). God had sent His Servant, the Christ, first to them to bless them, turning them away from their iniquities (Acts 3:26).

At this point the record of Peter’s preaching is interrupted: the priests and Sadducees had heard of Peter’s proclamation of Jesus and the resurrection, and it disturbed them greatly, and so they arrested Peter and John (Acts 4:1-3). Nevertheless, many of those who had heard Peter’s word believed: at least five thousand men, not counting women or children (Acts 4:4). The Sanhedrin would be confounded, since the miraculous work was evident to all and impossible to deny (Acts 4:5-22).

A great miracle had taken place, and many Israelites proved receptive to Peter’s message on account of having seen the miracle. Nevertheless, without Peter’s proclamation of the Gospel, what would the Israelites have gained by the experience? Signs and wonders may have prepared an audience to hear what the Apostles had to say, but the Apostles still had to tell the message and exhort people to repentance.

Peter’s message in Acts 3:12-26 emphasized the continuity between what had been made known about YHWH the God of Israel and what God was accomplishing in Jesus. Peter identified the God who had made the lame man whole as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the fathers of Israel (Acts 3:13); twice Peter spoke of Jesus as God’s “Servant,” evoking Isaiah’s “Servant Songs” in Isaiah 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-7, 52:13-53:12. Peter associated Jesus with the “prophet like Moses” whom Moses and all the prophets had promised (Acts 3:22-24); he also emphasized the continuity of the Israelites, identifying his audience as the sons of the prophets and the covenant God made with Abraham (Acts 3:25). Peter even maintained continuity in the hope of Israel, speaking of what God would accomplish in Jesus according to times of refreshing and restoration, highly resonant with the encouragement given in the prophets (Acts 3:19-21).

At the same time, Peter did not shy away from making explicit exactly what the Israelites in his audience had done: they were the ones who wanted Jesus to be killed, even though Pilate would have let Him go; they were the ones who wanted Barabbas and not Jesus (Acts 3:13-15). Few statements are as poignant as Acts 3:14: you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you! Peter associates Jesus with God strongly, for God is known as the Holy One of Israel (cf. Isaiah 1:4, etc.); nevertheless, the force of his imagery is the two paths available to Israel. There was the path of Barabbas, the insurrectionist, which would only lead to alienation from God and death for all; and then there was the path of Jesus, the Christ, who would provide refreshment and restoration for all who put their trust in Him.

On that day over five thousand Israelites would choose the path of Jesus. Far more, unfortunately, continued to follow the ways of Barabbas. Nevertheless, the Gospel had done its work. Peter demonstrated how what God accomplished in Jesus is not foreign or alien to the faith of Israel, but is in fact the fulfillment of all God had promised to their fathers, and a demonstration of God’s covenant loyalty to Israel. We do well to heed what Peter said, repent of our ways, and become the children of Abraham by faith, so that we may obtain refreshing from the presence of God as we await the return of Jesus and the restoration of all things as foretold by the prophets on the day of resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry

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