Pentecost Apologetics: The Significance of Peter’s Audience in Acts Two
Peter’s sermon on Pentecost was chiefly about the resurrection of Jesus and how by raising him from the dead, God declared him to be the Christ. But Peter doesn’t start with the resurrection. Notice how he begins:
"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know--this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:22-24 ESV)
In a video put out by Faithsearch International entitled, Is The Bible True, Dr. Don Bierle draws attention to the fact that Peter preached this sermon in Jerusalem during the feast of Pentecost. This feast took place just fifty days after the Passover, when Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. The crowd that gathered to celebrate Pentecost was likely much the same crowd that had gathered for the Passover. It would be one thing if Peter left Jerusalem after Jesus died, traveled to Rome, and made extraordinary claims about Jesus that his Roman audience would not reasonably be able to check out for themselves. But Peter preaches in the very city where Jesus was crucified and to the people who were in the best position to weigh the veracity of his claims. To these Jews he declares, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know…” (Acts 2:22).
Peter is banking on the fact that his audience has either seen for themselves or heard from others about the mighty works, wonders, and signs God performed through Jesus. If this were not the case, his message would’ve had no credibility with this particular audience. But Peter’s assumption must’ve been right because three thousand people believed his message that day. By believing Jesus to be the Christ and receiving baptism in his name, these new converts jeopardized their social standing within their Jewish communities.
How could Peter’s message, fifty days after the death of Jesus and in the same city, be believed by three thousand people if it was all some kind of religious fish-tale? How could Peter assume that his audience would know that God performed miraculous deeds through Jesus unless there was clear evidence for it? And how could those gathered in Jerusalem believe that Jesus was truly raised from the dead if his tomb was not empty and if there were no witnesses testifying that they had really seen him? (By the way, Jews at that time were not expecting the Christ to rise from the dead. Certainly, many believed in the resurrection of all the dead on the Last Day, but not in the resurrection of the Christ sometime before the Last Day. This was completely new and unexpected to them.)
Peter’s message during Pentecost commenced the explosion of what we now call Christianity. The Jewish religious authorities, and probably the Roman authorities too, had much incentive to squash this movement before it spread any further. That so many Jews had, in fact, witnessed the miracles of Jesus hurt their efforts. But I suppose even this could be overcome if only they could produce the corpse of the one they had crucified. Without a doubt, this would discredit the message of Peter and the apostles.
But this they could not do.
Because, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32).