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In-Depth Bible Study Notes for Acts 2:14-21

In-Depth Bible Study Notes for Acts 2:14-21

(I recently taught a Bible study covering the book the Acts of the Apostles. I used my mother's Ryrie Study Bible to provide the basic outline of the Bible study.)

Back to Acts...  When we last saw our heroes, we left them in the midst of a divine miracle.  There had been an incredible sound of a rushing wind, tongues of fire had appeared over their heads and they were speaking in human languages unknown to the speakers, but known to their audience.  To review, who were their audience?  These were Jews and converts to Judaism from all over the Roman Empire { Show map of Pentecost "Bible Atlas" by Yohanan Aharoni and Michael Avi-Yonah, page 240 } as well as Gentiles currently living in Jerusalem.  Read Acts 2:5, 12-13.

As a quick side note, who would have been the Gentiles living in Jerusalem at this time?  I would expect that they would include merchants who traded in and around Jerusalem and Judea, as well as the Roman soldiers and officials and their families and slaves who were stationed in the city to keep order in this troublesome province. 

Acts 2:14-36 gives us the text of Peter's first (sometimes called "great") sermon.  Here we have a dramatic example of what Jesus promised would happen, when the time came for the apostles to speak publicly.  Read Matthew 10:18-20.  No, Peter was not arrested here (though he would be later), but as we read his sermon we can almost feel the rushing power of the Holy Spirit moving through him, providing him with the words to say that would best reach the crowd.  His sermon flows logically, powerfully, with quotes from the Old Testament to back up his position.  Because he is speaking primarily to Jews - and Jews that have shown a reverence for God by being willing to take the time and spend the money to travel so far to worship at the temple - quoting from the Old Testament would have added power to his message.  When we study Paul's sermons, we will see how the Spirit worked in Paul to tailor his messages to meet his audience where they were at culturally and spiritually, which was in a different place from orthodox Jews.

The first thing Peter does is to refute that they were drunk.  Read Acts 2:14-15.  He points out something which would have made sense to the orthodox Jew:  it was only 9 am or the "third hour", as some translations might say.  They were all probably outside the temple, or near the temple district.  On a feast day such as Pentecost, the orthodox Jew would not break his fast (he would not eat or drink) until 10 am, so it is highly unlikely a group of men would be drunk so early in the morning.

Peter then goes on to explain this incredible phenomenon, by quoting a prophetic passage they should all be familiar with.  Read Acts 2:16-21.  (As just a comment, this passage is taken almost verbatim from Joel 2:28-32a.)  As we look at this passage, several things jump out at me:

In the last days.  Peter clearly believes that the death and resurrection of Christ (followed by this experience at Pentecost) begins that period of time called "the last days."  That is not how many modern day Christians think of that phrase, of course!  We tend to think of living in the "last days" to mean we are getting closer and closer to the Lord's return, which of course is true, but to Peter and the apostles the sand started running out of the hourglass, so to speak, at that moment.  From this point on, all of Church history occurred during "the last days."  (I believe my pastor has preached on this point before, when discussing the overall time-line of history.)  One of my commentaries said "the age of Messianic fulfillment had arrived."  

The next concept that jumped out at me from Joel's prophecy was the lack of people discrimination, at several levels, when it came to the revelation of the Spirit's power.  We have "on all people" (not just for the Jews), "sons and daughters", "men and women" (so not just for men), and "young men", "old men" (so for all age groups.)  Joel is making it clear that the Holy Spirit is for everybody, regardless of ethnicity, sex, age, rank, or station.  I believe this passage helps to support the belief that it was the 120 individuals mentioned in chapter 1 who experienced the tongues of fire and speaking in other languages, and not just the 12 apostles (as we might assume from Acts 2:14).   We know that there were women present with the 120, so it make sense to assume that the women were also speaking in tongues, and not just the men, since women are mentioned in this passage by Joel.

Then there were three gifts or spiritual experiences mentioned that would happen to these people in the last days:  they would prophesy, see visions, and have dreams.  What do these gifts entail?   I think one common theme is that these are all gifts where God chooses to speak directly to people, through other people.  We tend to see these as gifts that give hints of the future:  Joel's words, here, are the result of the gift of prophesy.  God has given him the words to describe what is going to happen in the future and Joel has been called upon to share those words with other people.  We have numerous examples of prophesy in the Old Testament, and several in the New Testament.  Let's read two examples from the New Testament.  Read Luke 2:25-38, Acts 21:10-11.   

The book of Revelation is an example of someone having a vision or "waking dream."  Read Revelation 1:9-11.  John is commanded to write down what he sees and hears during this vision.  This gift, too, we have numerous examples of in the Old and New Testaments.  Read Isaiah 6:1-2, Acts 10:9-13.  If we read through Revelation we see that much of it deals with describing future events.  With these last two examples, however, God uses the gift of vision to teach truths about Himself, about Heaven, and about His love for all people (not just for the Jews).

And finally we know that God can speak to people through dreams.  This is a vision that one has while sleeping.  We have several examples we can study.  Interestingly, many of these dreams are sent to Gentiles, not Jews or believers.  For the sake of time, we'll just look at two passages.  Read Genesis 20:1-7, Matthew 2:11-13.  Here, again, God uses dreams to warn about future events.

So, back to our passage in Joel and Acts...  these were gifts that the Jews would have been familiar with, from their knowledge of the Old Testament.  But in the past, these were very rare occurrences, happening only to special people, but now Peter is reminding them that one of the signs of the last days would be that a large variety of people, from different backgrounds and experiences, would start manifesting these gifts.  So, now they are confronted by a group of people (either 12 or 120, depending on how you interpret scripture), all prophesying (speaking God's words and truths) at the same time, in their own languages!  That would have really got their attention.

But interestingly, Peter didn't stop here in this passage in Joel.  He goes on to read about signs in nature that would herald the coming of the "day of the Lord."  Re-read Acts 2:19-20.  Now this is clearly talking about something more than just "the last days."  This is talking about the Second Coming of Christ.  I think what Joel (and now Peter) were doing, through the Holy Spirit, was "bracketing" a time span by describing signs one could look for:  when people start prophesying, having visions, etc. in large number, this is the beginning of the time span.  When these physical manifestations in nature start occurring, that should be a warning that we were reaching the end of this time span, climaxing with the Lord's return.  Since we know, from this end of time, that this time span is going to last more than 2000 years, it is much appreciated that God would let us know, at this other end of time, what to watch out for!  Joel's words are remarkably like what John describes in Revelation 6:12-14.  What exactly does this all mean?  We don't know now, but I would expect that anyone familiar with these verses will recognize it when it happens. 

To be continued...

Philip Yancey and Tim Stafford (notes). The Student Bible.  NIV Version
Aharoni, Yohanan and Michael Avi-Yonah. Bible Atlas