The Jerusalem Ministry of Peter and John
Peter and John (3:1)
Acts 3 describes the dramatic healing of a beggar. How soon after Pentecost this occurred is not clear. Days, weeks or months may have elapsed. The story begins with the indefinite, “One day…” This chapter describes the preaching of the gospel in Jerusalem (specifically, at the temple) by Peter and John, two of the church’s leaders. What Luke wrote is important because it shows us how the apostles preached the gospel.
Luke began his story by referring to John (presumably the son of Zebedee) as teaching alongside Peter. We do not know why Luke mentioned him, for he had no active role in Luke’s story. John was the silent partner in this story, as well as on one other occasion where his name appeared (8:14-17). Some scholars suggest that Luke referred to two apostles witnessing together for “legal” purposes, following the biblical pattern that two witnesses were needed to establish a matter. [Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; Matthew 18:15; 1 Timothy 5:19.]
We are not sure why Luke included John’s name, or why he left out the other apostles. But his stress on Peter is clear. Luke’s account is, in some ways, a “Tale of Two Apostles” — the acts of Peter, and then those of Paul. (Of course, the real “actor” is the Holy Spirit, who guides the church and its preaching.)
Praying in the temple (3:1)
In chapter 3, Luke described Peter and John going to the temple for a formal prayer time. It was the ninth hour of the day, about 3:00 p.m. Devout Jews observed three times of prayer at the temple — at 9:00 a.m., at noon, and at 3:00 p.m. The special feature of the first and last prayer time was the offering of the morning and evening sacrifices (Exodus 29:38-42; Numbers 28:1-8). The Jewish historian Josephus gives an example of how important these daily sacrifices were for the Jews. They continued to be offered even when food was scarce when the Romans besieged the city during the Jewish War of a.d. 66-70. [Josephus, Antiquities 14:65.]
The fact that the apostles went to the temple to pray at these times indicates that they were continuing to follow Jewish forms of worship and Jewish customs. The apostles remained at the heart of Jewish national life, where they could reach people with the gospel message.
Crippled beggar (3:2-6)
“Many wonders and miraculous signs [were] performed by the apostles” (Acts 2:43). The healing of the beggar was a striking exhibit of this apostolic power. A man crippled from his birth, a beggar, regularly asked for charity at the temple gate called Beautiful. Scholars are not sure which gate this was, as neither the Talmud nor Josephus mention a “Beautiful Gate.”
Among Jews of the time, almsgiving was considered an act that gained a person religious merit. Giving to the poor was emphasized in the rabbinic tradition and in Jewish writings such as the book of Tobit (4:7-11; 12:8-9). In line with this tradition, Jews coming to the temple would often give people a coin or two. Beggars stationed themselves in strategic positions to receive some of these alms.
So, as Peter and John approached the gate, this beggar asked them for money. But Peter spoke to him, saying, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (3:6). Peter didn’t mean he had absolutely no money — as though he didn’t have access to a single coin. Rather, he was stressing the much greater value of God’s healing.
Peter was also making a statement about the role of the messianic community in the world. Its main mission was to enable humans to partake of the spiritual gifts God gives. “A crippled man asks for alms but the community which holds all goods in common has little silver or gold to offer him. Temporary modest financial gain and charitable handouts are not what this community is primarily about.” [Willimon, 44.]
We shouldn’t assume that it is useless to give financial help to the poor and needy. The church can make available the knowledge of spiritual salvation and provide material help where possible and appropriate.
Healing in Jesus’ name (3:6-11)
When Peter offered the beggar healing in Jesus’ name, he was instantly made whole and he jumped to his feet. Think of the impact this had on any Jews who saw what had happened. There was no denying that a miracle had occurred. This man had been born lame. No doubt he had begged at the gate for many years and was a known figure. Now, he was up and jumping about.
To emphasize how dramatic this healing was, Luke piled detail upon detail of the beggar’s condition and activity upon being healed. The man’s feet and ankles became strong (3:7). Then he jumped to his feet and began to walk (3:8). Next, the beggar went into the temple, walking and jumping, praising God (3:8-9). (No doubt, there was much about the story to excite Luke, a physician.)
The beggar had been healed at Peter’s initiative, who invoked the name of Jesus. The power of the risen Christ was with him, and when he called on “the name,” God healed the man. Luke used the phrase, “the name of Jesus” several times in this and the next chapter to show the source of the apostles’ power (3:6, 16, 4:10, 18, 30). Luke used this story to show an important connection between Jesus and the apostles: because the apostles teach in Jesus’ name, they also have the same power to heal as he did. That they continued the teaching ministry of Jesus is evidence that they continued the healing ministry as well. The same power was at work.
This point can be seen in the similar words used to describe Peter’s healing and when Jesus healed a paralyzed man in Capernaum. [Matthew 9:2-8; Mark 2:3-12; Luke 5:17-26.] There, as here in Acts, the paralyzed man was told to rise, and he jumped to his feet and went home praising God. Everyone who had seen the miracle was amazed and filled with awe (Luke 5:26). In the same way, the people who saw the beggar healed and praising God, were filled with wonder and amazement (Acts 3:10).
The Capernaum miracle gave Jesus public confirmation of his authority to forgive sins as well as to heal the sick. When the apostles healed the lame beggar at the temple gate, they were seen as having the same spiritual authority and power as Jesus. Those who had seen the healing of the beggar — and who had spiritual eyes to see — understood that something of the kingdom of God was being revealed. Isaiah had spoken of the messianic age when “the lame [will] leap like a deer” (Isaiah 35:6). Those at the Beautiful gate had seen the prophecy come to pass.
Peter’s sermon (3:12-26)
The healing of the beggar created a commotion as people rushed to Peter and John in Solomon’s Colonnade (3:11). The outer court of the temple, called the Court of the Gentiles, was surrounded by porticoes. Solomon’s Colonnade ran along the eastern portion of the outer court. The colonnades or porticos were busy places. Religious teachers debated, and taught their pupils in its shade (Luke 2:46; 19:47; John 10:23). Merchants and money changers conducted business there (Luke 19:45; John 2:14-16). The early church met and taught there (2:46; 5:12; 42).
As the crowd converged on Solomon’s Colonnade, Peter had an opportunity to preach the gospel. Luke recounted his words in what turned out to be another major presentation of the gospel, similar in content and style to Peter’s Pentecost sermon (2:14-41). Both sermons focused on the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Savior. Here, Peter stressed the role of Jesus as both Isaiah’s Suffering Servant and Moses’ “prophet to come” whom Israel was to obey.
The particular interest of this sermon lies in the way in which it gives further teaching about the person of Jesus, describing him as God’s servant, the Holy and Righteous One, the Author of life and the prophet like Moses. This indicates that a considerable amount of thinking about Jesus, based on study of the Old Testament, was taking place. [I. Howard Marshall, Acts, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980), page 90.]
In this speech, Peter stressed the Jews’ rejection of Jesus and his vindication by God. Peter again called for repentance in terms of accepting Jesus as Messiah. At the heart of the speech was the important point that a new reality had entered the world. The presence of the Spirit of God, through the name of Jesus, was beginning to work in new and powerful ways in the lives of ordinary human beings. Luke probably intended his report of Peter’s sermon here and at Pentecost to be examples of how the faith was typically proclaimed to Jews, both as to content and approach.
God of Abraham (3:12-13)
With the healed beggar still holding him, Peter began speaking to the crowd. The first matter he dealt with was the surprise of the onlookers. It was essential that they understood by whose power this healed beggar was standing. The healing was caused by the power of Jesus, the one whom God had chosen and glorified (3:13). To place this event within the context of the Jews’ belief system, Peter referred to God as “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers” (3:13).
By beginning his speech with the greeting, “Fellow Israelites,” and referring to God in the way he did, Peter was attempting to speak from the Jews’ point of view. He was also making an important point about Jesus. This man whom they ignorantly crucified was intimately associated with God and the fathers of the nation in an important way.
To say that God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was to refer to a time-honored way by which Jews spoke of God. Indeed, God had introduced himself to Moses at the burning bush as the God of the fathers (Exodus 3:6, 15; 4:5). It underscored the Jewish nation’s self-identification as the people of God from ancient times. This formulaic way of speaking about God was seen throughout the Old Testament, and emphasized Israel as a sanctified nation (1 Kings 18:36; 1 Chronicles 29:18). By New Testament times the phrase “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” connected the glory of ancient Israel to the Jews’ concept of themselves as God’s remnant people (Mark 12:26; Acts 7:32).
“God’s Servant” (3:13)
Peter called Jesus “God’s servant,” echoing the theme of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant (Isaiah 42-53). The most direct part of that prophecy in Isaiah began with the words, “My servant…will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted” (52:13). Jesus’ title as “Servant” is only here (3:13, 26) and in one other place in Acts (4:27, 30). But the Servant Songs of Isaiah, especially the section 52:13-53:12, had a great influence on the New Testament. The New Testament contains a number of quotations from these songs. [Matthew 8:17; 12: 18-21; Luke 22:37; John 12:38; Acts 8:32; Romans 10:16; 15:21.] Allusions to “Servant” theology, as well as its influence, are also frequently seen. [Mark 10:45; 14:24; Luke 22:37; John 12:38; Acts 8:32; Romans 4:25; 5:19; 8:3, 32-34; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 2:21-25; 3:18.]
For the first Christians no Old Testament passage was more significant than Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (cf. Acts 8:32). In its words they saw not only the meaning of the Crucifixion as being within the plan of God, but also found there the foundation for a doctrine of Atonement through the death of Christ and a promise of Christ’s vindication beyond the Cross. [Neil, 85.]
They wanted Barabbas (3:13-14)
The Servant described by Isaiah had been handed over by the Jewish people to be killed by Pilate (Luke 23:1-25). Pilate, representing a pagan government, wanted to let Jesus go free. Luke set up Peter’s point by citing this fact in his Gospel. On three occasions, Luke mentioned Pilate wanting to release Jesus (Luke 23: 4, 16, 22), all against the clamor of God’s own people.
The Jews demanded that another prisoner, a murderer, should be released to them (3:14). This man, Barabbas, was identified by Luke as a rebel who had been imprisoned for rioting and murder (Luke 23:18-19, 25). So there was a bitter irony in Jesus’ crucifixion. A criminal was given freedom, but the man who wanted to bring the nation spiritual freedom was executed. Jesus’ death became a supreme travesty of humanity’s injustice and spiritual blindness. In contrast to the murderer Barabbas, Jesus was “the Holy and Righteous One” (verse 14). Both titles are used of Jesus in the New Testament. [The “Holy One” is found in Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34 John 6:69; 1 John 2:20; Revelation 3:7 and the “Righteous One” is in Acts 7:52; 22:14; 1 John 2:1.]
God raised him up
Continuing with his sermon, Peter said his hearers had disowned Jesus and “killed the author of life.” But “God raised him from the dead” (3:15). The Greek word translated “author” has a range of meanings, including leader, founder, cause, originator, pioneer. Jesus is the founderof eternal life in the sense that he is its giver (John 10:28; 1 John 1:4). He is also the leaderin that he has paved the way by being the first-born of many who will follow him in resurrection (Romans 8:29). Ultimately, Jesus is the source and perfecter of salvation, the pioneer who paved the way and accomplished the task (Hebrews 2:10; 5:9; 12:2).
By virtue of his resurrection, Jesus is the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Thus, Jesus is representative of the total harvest. His resurrection was the beginning of the entire episode. Jesus’ rising to life is part of the same event as the general resurrection of believers, though the two are separated in time.
We are witnesses (3:15-16)
In his sermon, Peter proclaimed that he and John were witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. Peter then pointed to an example of God’s power to “raise up.” It was the crippled beggar standing right beside them (3:16). The one who was raised to eternal life, Jesus, had “completely healed” the beggar (3:16). Peter insisted that the cripple had been cured on the grounds of “faith in the name of Jesus” (3:16).
There is a question regarding the nature of the faith Peter referred to. According to Luke’s account, the beggar did not show any particular “faith.” He had simply asked Peter and John for money. The possibility of his being healed apparently didn’t enter his mind. Seemingly, God bestowed a gracious gift on the man through the two apostles, apart from any work of faith on his part. Once the beggar saw what happened to him, he believed not only in his healing but understood the source of his healing. It was God whom the beggar praised for his good fortune (3:8).
However, the beggar’s faith was expressed only after the miracle occurred. His healing was by grace — a totally unmerited gift — given to the man apart from his expressing any faith beforehand. If anything, it was Peter’s faith that made the healing possible. He had walked up to the beggar and said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (3:6). There is another dimension of faith that helps us understand what Peter meant when he said the beggar had been healed by faith. The believer’s faith does not originate from within the person but comes from the gift that God provides (Romans 4:17; 11:29; Ephesians 1:18-20; 2 Timothy 1:9).
Acted in ignorance (3:17)
As Peter continued speaking, he softened his earlier, more strident rhetoric. Before, he accused his listeners of being murderers. On this occasion, he had a more conciliatory tone. Peter said, “I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders” (3:17). Peter had declared God’s judgment on his compatriots for crucifying the One who had been designated Savior. Here, he stressed God’s foreknowledge of what they would do to Jesus. The “killers” were merely God’s instruments. In the spirit of Jesus, Peter offered God’s mercy to them (Luke 23:34).
The mood has changed from devastating reproof to pleading conciliation. Peter was no longer interested in bringing an accusation against the Jews for their crime. Rather, he hoped his listeners would act on the hopeful message of salvation God was making available to his people Israel. Peter was being charitable to his listeners and their leaders. This is especially evident when we compare this with John’s matter-of-fact condemnation of the people who were responsible for having Jesus crucified (John 9:41; 15:22).
It may be thought that Peter’s words were surprisingly lenient to people like Caiaphas and the other chief priests, whose determination to have Jesus put to death is underscored in all the Gospels. Nevertheless, here is the proclamation of a divine amnesty, offering a free pardon to all who took part in Jesus’ death, if only they acknowledge their error, confess their sin, and turn to God in repentance. [Bruce, 83.]
Sufferings foretold (3:18, 21)
Continuing his sermon, Peter mentioned a second mitigating factor regarding his listeners’ guilt in the murder of Jesus. Not only did they act in ignorance (3:17), it had been foretold beforehand that Jesus had to suffer at their hands. God was guiding events so that the predictions about the Messiah suffering persecution and martyrdom would be carried out (3:18). God had willed the Servant’s shameful crucifixion (3:21). The Messiah was to suffer and die. This was precisely why the vast majority of Jews would not accept Jesus as Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth had been executed as a common criminal. In the eyes of the Jews, he was under the curse of the Law (Deuteronomy 21:33; Galatians 3:13). Thus, they reasoned, he could not have been their Messiah.
Peter was claiming that the reverse was true. It was only because Jesus was crucified that he qualified to be the Savior. He was saying that the witness of the prophets, when properly understood, focused on the Messiah’s suffering. Of course, the Scriptures don’t specifically say that it was the Messiah who would suffer. (Messiah is actually a rare word in the Old Testament.) Isaiah spoke of the Servant (not the Messiah) as the one who would suffer and die for the sins of others. It is not clear that the Jews understood the Servant and the Messiah to be one and the same. This perhaps was where faith entered. One had to accept Jesus’ own claim that his messianic mission was fulfilled in terms of the Servant sufferer.
Nevertheless, Peter claimed that “all the prophets” contain promises of the Messiah’s suffering (3:24). Today, we are unable to find references, literally, in all the prophets to a suffering Messiah. On the other hand, there are passages in several prophets and Psalms that could be taken to refer to a suffering Messiah. [Psalm 22, 69; Jeremiah 11:19; Zechariah 13:7; Daniel 9:26.] We can probably understand “all the prophets” in a collective sense. What is written down from one or a few prophets can be attributed to all of them as a class.
Repent and turn to God (3:19)
Throughout his sermon, Peter insisted that Jesus is Savior. He suffered according to God’s plan and the prophets had foretold his suffering. The apostles had seen Jesus’ death and resurrection. At least some of the audience would have heard Jesus teach and heal — and seen him die. Given these facts, Peter preached that only one reaction from the audience is appropriate. Luke summarized it in a sentence: “Repent…and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (3:19).
The meaning of “repent” here (as in Peter’s first sermon) must be seen in context. He was speaking to devout Jews who prayed at the temple and kept the Law. For them, repentance was not so much turning away from a sin-filled life. In general, these Jews would have already been following the principles of a good life, based on the Law. What “repent” almost certainly wouldn’t have meant to the Jews was their need to turn away from idols to serve God. Pagan Gentile converts would have to take this step, as they did in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:9) and Lystra (14:15). The Jews, however, abhorred idolatry, and they worshipped the one true God.
Nonetheless, Peter did speak here of repentance as a turning to God (1:19). The reason is because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God — Jew and Gentile alike (Romans 3:23). All people must turn to God, even those who have understood and tried to follow the Holy Scriptures (Acts 26:20). To experience reconciliation with God, everyone needs forgiveness, repentance, and the Holy Spirit.
For this audience, “repentance” would mean turning to God by accepting Jesus as Lord, and as the Messiah whom God had chosen (9:35; 11:27). When people acknowledge the Savior, they acknowledge the need for being saved from a condition of sinfulness. Jesus had already paid for their sins, but they would not experience his forgiveness unless they turned to God (3:19).
Times of refreshing
Peter associated the forgiveness of sins with the “times of refreshing” to come (3:19). This is a unique phrase in the New Testament. It has generally been thought to refer to Jesus’ return at a time of general salvation (1:7). Jesus must remain in heaven until that time, that is, “until the time comes for God to restore everything” (3:21). Luke here used his characteristic word dei to show the compelling need for different aspects of God’s plan. Dei means “it is necessary.” Jesus must remain in heaven simply because that is what God has decreed as part of his purpose for humanity.
Peter associated this time of restoration with the future rebirth of Israel, as described in the Old Testament. In many Old Testament prophecies, this rebirth was placed in the context of the Messiah’s coming. In terms of a New Testament understanding, the restoration would occur at the “second coming” of the Messiah in the last days — and then “everything” would be restored.
In one sense, however, the time of renewal began with Jesus’ earthly ministry, and with John the Baptist. [Malachi 4:5; Mark 9:12-13; Matthew 11:7, 14; 17:11-13.] The kingdom of God was with human beings in the presence of the incarnate Jesus. Something of a “restoration” or rebirth is occurring in the world right now. This is the spiritual rebirth or conversion of people through the Holy Spirit, as they are brought into his body, the church.
But the “restitution” or “refreshing” that Peter spoke about is something that occurs at Jesus’ return. This was announced by “his holy prophets.” Until this time, when all the enemies of God are overthrown, Jesus must remain in heaven — at God’s right hand, to use another metaphor (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
Peter seemed to connect Jesus’ return (the refreshing) to his listeners’ repentance, as though one depends on the other (3:19). But this is trying to force precision out of words that were not meant to provide a precise timetable or causal relationship. Some have suggested that if Christians fail to spread the message of salvation and people refuse to respond to the gospel, then God cannot send Jesus a second time. This would make humans, not God, sovereign. It presupposes that God cannot get his message to the world or accepted unless enough people are interesting in disseminating it — or responding to it.
The book of Revelation, written at the close of the apostolic era, takes a different viewpoint. It describes conditions of the end-time in apocalyptic format. This book insists that Jesus’ return will occur even though the entire world is hostile to God. Indeed, Jesus’ return will be necessary to eliminate this hostility, as well as the world’s rejection of the gospel message. There is no bold talk in Revelation about the church spreading the gospel. Humans will not necessarily even be required to spread the message, for a supernatural messenger of God (“an angel”) will preach the gospel to the world (Revelation 14:6-7). In short, God does not need humans; humans need God.
What Peter probably meant was that his listeners should repent so that the “times of refreshing” could come to them. They will experience this refreshing for themselves when they repent and sense the forgiveness and acceptance of God. When God will send Jesus a second time is a secret he alone holds. When he decrees it is time, Jesus will return and “restore everything” (3:21).
A prophet like Moses (3:22-23)
Peter continued to plead with his hearers to respond to his challenge and repent. He used another proof-text from the Hebrew Scriptures to show that the prophets spoke of a Messiah to come, whom Peter said is Jesus. This time Peter cited the words of Moses. They must hear his words about Jesus, Peter insists, because Moses, one of their fathers, said God would raise up a prophet like him and “you must listen to everything he tells you” (3:22). If that prophet was not heeded, those rejecting him would no longer be considered to be part of God’s people (3:23).
While conciliatory, Peter’s speech here contained a threat. Would they listen to the prophet of whom Peter was speaking and accept Jesus? Or would they reject him a second time? If they spurned him, they would forfeit their privileges.
In his sermon, Peter used Moses’ prophetic reference to the prophet whom the nation should one day obey (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19), and applied it to Jesus. If some Jews did not identify “the Prophet” with the Messiah, they did associate his appearance with the messianic age (John 1:20-21; 7:40-41). Many Jews accepted this prophecy as pointing to an individual, a second Moses, who would stand as a mediator between Israel and God. Peter was using a widely accepted text that pointed to the Messiah — or spoke directly of him. Peter was saying that Moses backed up his exhortation: don’t reject Jesus, because he is the prophet that must be listened to (3:23).
No group within Israel that considered itself to be God’s righteous remnant in the inauguration of the final eschatological days could expect to win a hearing among Jews without attempting to define its position vis-a-vis Israel’s great leaders of the past — particularly Abraham, Moses and David. And that is exactly what Luke shows Peter doing as he concludes his call for repentance. [Longenecker, 298.]
Foretold since Samuel (3:24)
Peter next appealed to all the prophets “beginning with Samuel” as having “foretold these days” (3:24). He reminded the people that every past spiritual luminary whom they considered to have spoken God’s word, pointed to Jesus as being the Messiah. They each prefigured him in a partial way, and all their functions were performed in the fullest way by Jesus.
Commentaries on Acts of the Apostles
Peter had already referred to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — and then to Moses, Israel’s first and greatest prophet. Now, he told them that every prophet spoke of Jesus. The Hebrew Scriptures as a whole bear testimony to Jesus, and his listeners should accept this.
The reference to Samuel foretelling the message is difficult to understand. We have only a few words of Samuel recorded in the Old Testament, and they don’t seem to refer to the Messiah. Perhaps Samuel’s prophecies of David’s kingdom [1 Samuel 16:13; 13:13-14; 15:27-29; 28:17.] were thought to refer to the messianic rule of his descendant (the Messiah), although they are indirect. Peter could have also referred to Nathan’s prophecy, which spoke of the establishment of the kingdom by a son who would come from David (2 Samuel 7:12-16). It spoke of a human being, Solomon. However, elements of the prophecy could be interpreted as having messianic meaning.
Heirs of the covenant (3:25)
Peter then spoke in hopeful tones to his Jewish listeners. He said they were the heirs of the prophets and the covenant about which he had been talking. In line with their status as God’s people Israel, Jesus was sent to them first (3:25). Peter cast his appeal in terms of the promise to Abraham, quoting Genesis 22:18 and 26:4. There the Scripture spoke of a future descendant of Abraham in messianic terms: “Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed” (3:25).
Peter insisted that the promise to Abraham — one of their revered fathers — was fulfilled in the Messiah, that is, in Jesus. The prophecy implied that the Jews would be only the first to receive the message of salvation. But the prophecy speaks of “all peoples” and not just Jews as being blessed.
How clearly did Peter understand that the gospel would go to all nations? It’s doubtful that at the time Peter understood the scope of God’s international plan. He later had to learn through a vision and by personal experience that God was giving salvation to non-Jews. At best, says Howard Marshall, “The reference to the Gentiles is at this stage a quiet hint.” [Marshall, 96.]
Of course, Peter would not be emphasizing a work to the Gentiles before a Jewish crowd. To do so would not have been taken lightly by his listeners, as Paul later discovered (22:21-22).
Author: Paul Kroll, 1995, 2012