A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 3:11-26. The apostle Peter preaches to the crowd (continued).
The second promised blessing is *that times of refreshing may come from the Lord* (19c). The Greek word *anapsyxis* can mean rest, relief, respite or refreshment. It seems here to be the positive counterpart of forgiveness, for God does not wipe away our sins without adding his refreshment for our spirits.
The third promised blessing is *that he may send the Christ who has been appointed for you – even Jesus* (20). Although during the present interim period he continuously gives us his forgiveness and his refreshment, yet he himself *must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets* (21). Some commentators believe that the word ‘everything’ in this sentence refers not to the universe which God will ‘restore’ but to the promises which he will ‘establish’. Thus the RSV translates the verse: ‘until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets….” But *apokatastasis* is more naturally understood of the eschatological ‘restoration’, which Jesus called a ‘regeneration’ (Mt.19:28), when nature will be liberated from its bondage to pain and decay (Rom.8:19ff) and God will make a new heaven and earth (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev.21:5). This final perfection awaits the return of Christ.
These Christ-centred promises of total forgiveness (sins wiped out), spiritual refreshment and universal restoration were all adumbrated in the Old Testament. So Peter concludes with more significant quotations and allusions. He refers to three major prophetic strands which are associated with Moses, Samuel (and his successors) and Abraham. First, ‘*Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you (22), for anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people”*’ (23) (Dt.18:15ff; cf. Lk.9:35). Secondly, ‘*all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days*’, the days of the Messiah (24). Although this is a very general statement perhaps the chief reference is to God’s promise, which began with Samuel, to establish the kingdom of David (e.g. 2 Sam.7:12ff). At all events Peter assured his hearers, ‘*you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant of God made with your fathers*’ (25a). It is impressive that Peter regards the many and varied strands of Old Testament prophecy as a united testimony, applying to ‘these days’ because fulfilled in Christ and his people. Thirdly, God ‘*said to Abraham, “Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed”*’ (25b) (Gn. 12:3; 22:18; 26:4). This was a foundation promise of the Old Testament. Consider both the beneficiaries and the nature of the promised blessing. As for the beneficiaries, ‘*When God raised up his servant*’ Jesus, ‘*he sent him first to you to bless you*’ (26a), the physical descendants of Abraham, as is several times emphasized by Paul (‘First the Jew’, e.g. Rom.1:16; 2:9-10; 3:1-2). But later Paul argues, especially in his letters to the Romans and the Galatians, that the promised blessing is for all believers, including Gentiles who by faith have become Abraham’s spiritual children. And what is the blessing? It is not forgiveness only, but righteousness. For God sent Jesus Christ his servant ‘*to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways*’ (26).
Looking back over Peter’s colonnade sermon, it is striking that he presents Christ to the crowd ‘according to the Scriptures’ as successively the suffering servant (13, 18), the Moses-like prophet (22-23), the Davidic king (24) and the seed of Abraham (25-26). And if we add his Pentecost sermon, and glance on to his speech before the Sanhedrin (4:8ff), it is possible to weave a biblical tapestry which forms a thorough portrait of Christ. Arranged chronologically according to the events of his saving career, the Old Testament texts declare that he was descended from David (Ps. 132:11 = 2:30); that he suffered and died for us as God’s servant (Is. 53 = 2:23; 3:18); that the stone the builders rejected has nevertheless become the capstone (Ps.118:22 = 4:11), for God raised him up from the dead (Is.52:13 = 2:25ff), since death could not hold him and God would not abandon him to decay (Ps.16:8ff = 2:24, 27, 31); that God then exalted him to his right hand, to wait for his final triumph (Ps.110:1 = 2:34-35); that meanwhile through him the Spirit has been poured out (Joel 2:28ff =2:16ff, 33); that now the gospel is to be preached world-wide, even to those afar off (Is.57:19 = 2:39), although opposition to him has been foretold (Ps.2:1ff = 4:25-26); that people must listen to him or pay the penalty of their disobedience (Dt. 18:18-19 = 3:22-23); and that those who do listen and respond will inherit the blessing promised to Abraham (Gn. 12:3; 22:18 = 3:25-26).
This comprehensive testimony to Jesus as rejected by men but vindicated by God, as the fulfilment of all Old Testament prophecy, as demanding repentance and promising blessing, and as the author and giver of life, physically to the healed cripple and spiritually to those who believe, aroused the indignation and antagonism of the authorities. The devil cannot endure the exaltation of Jesus Christ. So he stirred up the Sanhedrin to persecute the apostles.
Tomorrow: Acts 4:1-22. The council brings the apostles to trial.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.