Acts 2 Commentary

The church is born (2:1-13)

Pentecost was a Jewish harvest festival held on the Sunday fifty days after Passover, when Israelites presented the first portion of their harvest to God (Lev 23:15-21). It was therefore a fitting day to mark the birth of the Christian church. Christ, the true Passover had been sacrificed (1 Cor 5:7), and now fifty days later God poured out his Spirit on that small group of disciples who were to become the first members of the church of Jesus Christ.

In Old Testament times a person who received a special gift of God’s Spirit may have announced a message from God as evidence of the Spirit’s presence (e.g. Num 11:26). So also on the Day of Pentecost, when the followers of Jesus received the promised gift of his Spirit, they spoke words from God, and they did so in ‘other tongues’. This means that their speech was in words that did not belong to their own language and that they did not understand, unless someone interpreted them (2:1-4; cf. 1 Cor 14:13-19).

When the disciples moved from the house into the street outside (possibly on the way to the temple), people were attracted by the noisy activity. Some Jews of the Dispersion who were in Jerusalem for the festival recognized their local languages in the speech of the disciples and praised God. Others recognized no languages at all and accused the disciples of being drunk (5-13).

Peter’s preaching (2:14-42)

Seeing the people’s interest, Peter addressed them, this time speaking in his normal language. His address shows some features of the early apostolic preaching. First he quoted from the Old Testament, to show that the Pentecost events fulfilled what the prophets foretold. To Peter the important point of the prophecy was that God poured out his Spirit on everyone – not everyone whether believers or not, but everyone within the community of God’s people, whether male or female, young or old, slave or free (14- 21; see v. 39).

Peter followed this with a short summary of Jesus’ work, death and resurrection, showing that in spite of human injustice, God was working out his purposes (22-24). Next he quoted Old Testament Scriptures that Jews in general believed referred to the Messiah. Although David was the author of the passages quoted, the words could not refer to him, as he was dead, whereas the person referred to here was alive.

This person, though not David, was a descendant of David; in fact, the Messiah. And this Messiah was Jesus, who had risen from the dead, returned to his Father in heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit upon his disciples (25-36). (‘Messiah’ was a Hebrew word meaning ‘the anointed one’. It was used to refer to the descendant of David who would be God’s chosen king and saviour, not just for Israel, but for the world. The Greek equivalent of ‘Messiah’ was ‘Christ’.)

Finally, Peter called on the people to turn from their sins and believe in Jesus Christ. Because these people were part of the ‘wicked generation’ of Jews who killed the Messiah Jesus (cf. v. 23,40), they were to show their change of heart by being baptized in the name of the Messiah Jesus. They had to show publicly that they believed Jesus to be the Christ, the one whose divine authority was shown by the mighty works that God did through him (cf. v. 22). In this way they, and in fact people of any generation, would receive the same gift of the Holy Spirit as the apostles and others had just received (37-40).

With the addition of three thousand people, the church now consisted largely of new believers, but these believers soon grew into a strong body. They were built up through learning the teachings of Jesus passed on to them by the apostles, and through joining in fellowship where they worshipped and shared in the Lord’s Supper (41-42).

Baptism with the Spirit

Both John the Baptist and Jesus had foretold the outpouring of the Holy Spirit described by Luke, referring to it as a baptism (Matt 3:11; Acts 1:4-5). The baptism with the Holy Spirit may be defined as that event on the Day of Pentecost by which the risen Christ gave the Holy Spirit to his disciples as he had promised and, in so doing, united them into one body, the church (Acts 2:33; 11:15-16; 1 Cor 12:13).

On the Day of Pentecost two separate groups received the baptism, or gift, of the Spirit. The first was the group of apostles and others mentioned in Acts 1:15 and 2:1-4, the second the group of three thousand mentioned in Acts 2:37-42. But there were several important differences between the two groups.


The first group consisted of people who were already believers and who had to wait till after Jesus’ ascension to receive the Spirit. The second group consisted of people who became believers only after hearing Peter preach on the Day of Pentecost and who received the Holy Spirit immediately. The experience of those of the first group (i.e. their speaking in tongues) should not be considered the normal experience of the Christian, because of the special circumstances in their case. They had lived with Jesus and could receive the Holy Spirit only after Jesus had completed his work and returned to the Father (John 7:39; 16:7). The experience of those of the second group, who received the Holy Spirit when they believed, without any unusual happenings, was the normal experience of Christians, then as well as now.

Of all the people in the New Testament who received the Holy Spirit (meaning, in other words, all Christians; see Rom 8:9-11), in only two other places, both special cases, does it state that the people spoke in tongues (see notes on Acts 10:44-48; 19:1-6).

Christians of all eras have a part in what occurred on the Day of Pentecost. Through that baptism of the Spirit they are, the moment they believe, made part of Christ’s body, the church, and made sharers in his Spirit (1 Cor 12:13). Jesus’ promised gift of the Holy Spirit, given initially at Pentecost, extends through the ages to all who repent and believe the gospel (Acts 2:38-39).

Life in the new community (2:43-47)

The early Christians had such a strong sense of unity that they brought their money and possessions together to form a central pool, from which all could receive help as they had need (43-45). Perhaps they were too hasty in sharing out their collective wealth, because soon none was left. As a result other churches (who did not copy the idea of a central pool) had to send money to help them through their difficulties (cf. Rom 15:26; Gal 2:10).

In addition to having fellowship in each others homes, the Christians went to the temple for public prayer and witness day by day. Their numbers increased continually, as others who were attracted by this new life of joy and love joined them. They enjoyed the goodwill of the citizens of Jerusalem in general (46-47).

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