Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 is critically important since it demonstrates how the apostles interpreted the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, including the Ascension. Peter uses the Old Testament in this sermon and cites texts which were fulfilled in the events of Jesus’ life, but also in the events of Pentecost.
Peter first explains the significance of the Holy Spirit (2:14-21). Beginning with a prophecy from Joel 2:28-32, Peter states that the presence of the Spirit in the apostles at that moment is what Joel predicted. In short, it is proof that the New Covenant has begun! Several other texts from the Hebrew Bible indicate that the Spirit of God would fall upon his people when the New Age begins (Isa 32:14-15, 44:3; Ezek 11:19, 37:14).
Second, Peter explains that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the purpose of God in his death and was vindicated by God in his resurrection and ascension (2:22-35). The life of Jesus is summarized simply by stating that Jesus was from Nazareth and he was confirmed by God through many miracles. Since this is a summary of the actual sermon, it is entirely possible Peter illustrated this point with his personal experience and witness. Remember that the main theme of chapter one was that the twelve were to be witnesses of these events!
There are several words used to describe the miracles (signs and wonders). Signs is the most significant, since σημειον (semeion) typically refers to a miracle done to prove some sort of point, to make some sort of revelation. Peter states that God did the miracles through Jesus, not that Jesus himself did the miracles. He adds “as you yourselves know,” indicating that at least some of the crowd were witnesses to the miracles of Jesus. It is equally likely that the crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans as a rebel was well known by the crowds in Jerusalem.
But Jesus is not dead – God raised him from the dead in fulfillment of prophecy. Peter goes about proving the resurrection quite a bit differently than we do today. He does not mention the empty tomb or challenge the Pharisees to produce a body to prove that Jesus was really dead. Rather than pursue modern logical arguments, he turns to the Psalms and shows that David does not exhaust the meaning of the text. Since the messiah is to be a new David, the psalms Peter cites are turning into prophecies of Jesus’ resurrection.
Before looking at Peter’s use of the Psalms, I want to pause and think a bit about what Peter is claiming here. He is clearly saying that the messianic age has in some way already begun. The Spirit has been poured out on those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. The dead have already been raised. Miracles are in fact happening. Remember that the crowd assembled to hear this sermon are religiously observant Jews who are spending time in the Temple during a religious feast. Peter is claiming that the age anticipated in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve is beginning at that moment!
If this is on the right track, what might a religiously observant and biblical educated Jew in the first century have expected, if the messianic age was beginning? I suspect the crowd had a more than a few people with rather fervent messianic hopes. They might have expected Israel to be re-gathered from the nations to Mount Zion to worship the Lord. It is not a surprise, then, to find that Jews from all over the world who believe in Jesus as Messiah settle in Jerusalem to prepare themselves for his soon return.