In Genesis 12, God began to form the nation of Israel through the line of Abraham. Intended as God’s mercy to them as well as His redemptive entry-point into a fallen world, the Lord would make several covenants with the nation as a whole that were inviolable and would eventually expand in their application to Gentiles as well. The nation was gifted with God’s inerrant revelation, hope for a restored creation, the way of salvation, and most of all promises of an omnipotent, immanent Deliverer who would accomplish all of these things. This One was the Prophet like unto Moses, whom the nation was warned to obey fully or face dire consequences (Deut. 18:15-19). When He arrived, the nation and its leaders did not see Him for who He was, and they rejected Him—which was ironically the very means of fulfillment of His Suffering Servant prophecies.
After the administrative arrangement and the institution affiliated with it shifted from Israel to the church for the duration of this age (Matt. 13, 21:42-44; Acts 2), God still loved the nation of Israel, for His gifts and callings are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). He will again graft the nation, as a nation, into the olive tree of blessing and covenant benefits (Zech. 12:8-13:3; Ezek. 36-37; Rom. 11:24-27). But for the time being national blessings are in abeyance as the majority of the nation has rejected the Lord. We live in the gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks of Daniel; after the rapture God will again turn the focus of His one kingdom program onto Israel, for the time of Jacob’s trouble out of which a remnant will be saved (Jer. 30:7; Zech. 13:8). Acts 3 covers God’s dealings in microcosm with the Jewish people in the present age, calling them to live under the rod of His appointed Messiah, and to wait with anticipation for His future return to graft their brothers into ancient promises.
A. The Men (vv. 1-5)
The “third hour” (v. 1) is 3 PM. Observant Jews had three daily times of corporate prayer in the Temple, based on Psalm 55:17. Doubtless many godly Jews were seeking the Lord’s face for understanding about the events of the last two or three months. About sixty days prior, Jerusalem had seen the triumphal entry and shouted hosannas at the sight of Christ. Fifty days prior, it had screamed instead for His blood. Less than a week before, the Spirit fell at Pentecost and newly saved Jews were turning the city upside down—the very city that had sent Jesus to His death. Perhaps some of these Jews were in the Temple, repentant. Perhaps others had demurred from the attacks on Christ and were honestly seeking God for answers. In any event, they were primed to hear from God.
Peter and John were, of course, in Jesus’ inner circle along with John, James’s brother. Together they witnessed the Transfiguration, His agony in the Garden, John alone of the three saw His crucifixion, and both John and Peter were the first of the Apostles to see the empty tomb. Both of these men would go on to write significant contributions to the New Testament Canon (John five books, Peter two—together about twenty-six percent of the New Testament). In the first half of Acts, Peter is the main spokesman, so it makes sense he would be seen with John.
The man begging alms was at the Gate Beautiful, which was a large and ornate structure of wrought brass and gold separating the Court of the Women from the Court of the Gentiles. Over seventy feet in height, it was a key entry point for people into the inner Temple complex because of its splendor. It was thus a high-traffic area, which allowed this congenitally lame man to beg for the most alms.
B. The Miracle (vv. 6-10)
The Apostles frequently perform miracles in the Book of Acts. These miracles have at least a twofold function. First, they are to indirectly authenticate Jesus as the living, powerful Messiah who is working decisively and supernaturally through His chosen spokesmen. Secondly, they are to accredit the Apostles (the human agents doing the miracles) as the ones invested by God with the authority to be His emissaries and to accomplish the transition of dispensation and its institution from Israel to the Church. Being the foundation stones of the church in the sense of the doctrine they taught (Acts 2:242; Eph. 2:20) meant they needed to be authenticated as truly representing and speaking for God. The miracles that took place were to effect the transition from Israel to the Church by a supernatural display of God’s power, attesting to the new arrangement of things in Christ, the exalted Head of the church and the world (Eph. 1:18-23; cf. vv. 10-11). The miracles also often got the Apostles a hearing that Jesus did not have, in part because the Holy Spirit had since been given in a new and fresh way, and He was thus active among even unregenerate people—illuminating, convicting, and drawing.
As such, it made perfect sense for Jesus to exercise His power through His representative, in that He is demonstrating to His covenant people that He is yet alive, active, invested in changing things right now on earth…and pursuing them.
Peter immediately heals the paralyzed man “in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazerene” (v. 6). Note that Peter did not wait to see if the man had enough faith, tithed properly, or any of the other things on which charismatics like to blame their failed imitation magic tricks. He simply healed the permanently lame man on command and essentially at will. Divine power was flowing through Peter as Christ’s emissary, and the advancement of His kingdom program was the goal. Unsurprisingly, the miracle was astounding to all who witnessed it—both they and the healed man himself were praising God and in absolute awe of what had just happened. “Wonder” is used three times in the NT, all in Luke’s writings, once of Christ’s casting out of demons (Lk. 4:36), and another of the miraculous catch of fish (5:9). “Amazement” is used a bit more frequently, twice in Mark (5:42, 16:12), five in Luke-Acts (Lk. 5:26, Acts 3:10, 10:10, 11:5, 22:17—the latter three all translated “trance” and referring to some kind of visible divine manifestation). In every instance the Greek terms indicate some kind of response of human beings to supernatural displays of power—always divine, holy power, whether or not it is fully comprehended as such. One might think of it as the very beginning of the fear of God, in that the individual is gripped by the sheer awe and greatness of something much grander, bigger, and majestic then they can ever hope to be. This is indeed a fitting atmosphere for Peter’s message, to which we now turn.
C. The Message (vv. 11-26)
This message is, appropriately, placing great emphasis on the Person and work of the Lord Jesus. Peter uses the miracle to immediately point to Him—that it was not his or John’s “power or piety” that healed the man. Rather, God was intimately involved in something physical, tangible, visible, that had happened in their very presence. God was glorifying His servant, Jesus (v. 13). John MacArthur makes the point that the Greek lemma behind “servant” could be better translated “Son” (it is the word for a male child). Thus, this word refers to both the deity (in that He shares the very nature of His Father) and the kingship (in that the Davidic line and the Messiah Himself were referred to as God’ sons) of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus has been installed in the highest place of authority by God the Father (Eph. 1:18-23), and it is His highest delight to exalted and magnify His beloved Son. The Father decreed this manifestation of His Son’s power to exalt Him as the Ruler and Master of all things, and to thus show the Jews that His Son was both still active and alive, and very intimately and powerfully involved in affecting things on earth from heaven.
But these had disowned the Lord Jesus when He walked the earth—the One who was holy in His essence and sinlessly righteous in His conformity to God’s exacting standard, the One who was the Prince (lit., “Author,” “Originator”) of life. But God the Father raised His Son from the dead, and the Apostles were witnesses of this. This living Christ had healed the man (v. 16). God was at work in the very existence, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—He was fulfilling His prophecies and promises (v. 18). This fulfillment is not to be inconsequential or meaningless, but instead the people are to embrace real responsibility—repent so that sins can be washed away and lit. “seasons of refreshing” may come from the Lord (v. 19). I take this to be a distinct period from the “time of restoration” mentioned in verse 21. The latter refers to the millennial period and to the ingathering of Israel as a restored nation (cf. 1:6). While it is true the millennial kingdom will not arrive until the Jewish people repent, it is a mistake to make the kingdom contingent on repentance, as this seems to undercut the sovereignty of God. However, it is perfectly consistent to say that times of individual, spiritual refreshing and restoration—initial salvation and all the fullness it entails—will not come absent repentance. Still, Peter does draw a clear link between individual Jewish repentance now and the future return of Christ to the nation (v. 20). The threat of judgment for not repenting and yielding one’s life to the ruling Christ is still potent (vv. 22-23, referring to Deut. 18:15, 18 and Lev. 23:29). He again notes fulfillment of prophecy (v. 24). As sons of God’s covenants, the Jews have both great privilege and great responsibility (v. 25)—part of which is to represent God to the world, which they have actually done by producing the Messiah and sending Him to His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection which pours out His Spirit on all people.
Because the Jews were and are God’s covenant people, it was to them first that God sent His Messiah (Jn. 1:11; Rom. 1:16) to turn them from autonomy, sin and unbelief to full surrender to God and His ways (v. 26). The response? Jesus did as He was revealed to do—He turned thousands to Himself (Acts 4:4).
Despite their rejection of Him and His Son, the Scripture consistently reveals the glorious future in store for the Jewish remnant Christ will preserve. Praise God for His dogged faithfulness to Israel—and His faithfulness to us.