Psalm 110 describes the comprehensive rule of the Messiah over His kingdom. What the OT does not reveal is that this rule and kingdom would begin in a mystery form, an entity organizationally and functionally distinct from Israel, called the church. Then, it would be consummated in the earthly, visible kingdom promised in the OT. Yet, there is one Davidic eschatological kingdom, one program, though distinguished by different dispensations and institutions. The reason I connect Psalm 110 to Christ’s rule over the world and the church in the current age is because of verse 2b: Christ is told by God the Father, “Rule in the midst of Your enemies.” Christ’s rule is in in the midst of those who hate and rebel against Him. Indeed, it is out from among these enemies that He creates His bride and subjects. His ruling does not (initially) vanquish all enemies; nor does the presence of enemies invalidate His real and effectual reign over all things as Messiah. It is this dynamic we see at work in the second half of Acts 4. We see again Christ’s effectual authority and rule impacting the realm of human experience and existence through the means of His people (specifically, His apostles, who are channels of His authority in a unique and unrepeatable way). This chapter also shows believers how to respond to the real threats and challenges posed by God’s enemies as believers seek to fulfill God’s program. The sermon was divided into two parts: The apostles’ response to their persecution, and God’s response to them.
A. The Apostles’ Response (vv. 23-30)
After being released from the custody of the Jewish leadership, Peter and John go to the other believers and tell them about what happened. Because the church numbers over 5,000 people by this point in the narrative, it is highly unlikely that they are meeting with the whole congregation. More likely, they are meeting with an “inner circle”—the other Apostles, their wives, and the early elders. Possibly the other members of the 120 of Acts 2, or some of the 500 who were present at the Ascension, were there as well. What it notable is their first response was to pray. They did not vent or attack (though certainly they would have been honest about what transpired), but they did appeal to the only One who could actually do anything about the threats they faced. “With one accord” is a sweet phrase that is used at least six times in the book (Acts 1:14; 2:1, 43, 46; 4:24; 15:25). It describes the remarkable and Spirit-empowered unity the believers enjoyed, particularly as they united in prayer to their reigning Lord.
Their quotation of Psalm 2 is fascinating in how they understand it. They quote Exodus 20:11 to describe the character of God as Creator. Here is a way to smooth out the long sentence: “Lord, it is You…who…said.” Then, they quote Psalm 2. More fully, they say God said Psalm 2 by the Spirit through the mouth of David. First off, this is notable because it reveals their understanding of the nature of Scripture. A careful study of the following verses will show God’s people have historically accepted the Scriptures in their entirety as the written Word of God, spoken directly from His mind and breathed out by Him with His full authority—such that biblical quotations can be introduced with “God says,” or quotes of God’s direct speech can be called “Scripture” (Matt. 1:22, 4:4, 19:4-5, 22:31; Mk. 7:9-13; Lk. 1:70; Jn. 5:45-47, 12:48; Acts 1:16, 2:16-17, 3:18, 21, 28:25; Rom. 1:2, 9:17; 1 Cor. 9:8-10, 14:37; Gal. 3:8; Heb. 1:1, 6-7; 1 Tim. 5:18, 6:3; 2 Pet. 1:21, 3:2; Lev. 8:31, 36; 2 Chron. 36:16; 1 Kings 13:21, 26; Hag. 1:12; Zech. 7:7, 12, etc.).
Second, their use of Psalm 2 is instructive because it shows how the earliest believers understood both God’s authority and Christ’s kingly rule and ownership of the nations. They address God the Father as “Lord,” which is the Greek word despotes. This means He is absolute ruler, master, and sovereign. There is no higher authority than Him for those who are His subjects and there is no higher authority in the world. To appeal to Him is to appeal to the One who can rule and overrule all things, the One whose will prevails in all matters, the One who has final say. Psalm 2, like Psalm 110, reveals the relationship between Christ and the nations—they are His enemies, who wish to cast off His and the Father’s cords from them (v. 2). But God the Father has installed His authoritative king, the Christ, on His holy hill (v. 6). That Christ’s Sonship has kingly as well as divine qualities is clear from verse 7, which also informs the constant use of the titles “Son” and “Christ” in the NT; Jesus is the anointed, ruling king of church saints now, not just in the future millennium. As ruling king, Jesus is told by the Father to ask Him for the nations, and they will be Christ’s inheritance (v. 8), which in this context emphasizes His judgment of those who refuse His ownership, to which they are accountable (vv. 9-12). However, Acts as well as the rest of the NT records the positive results of Christ’s prayer—for He is currently calling out a people for His name from among the Gentiles (Acts 15:14).
The believers apply Psalm 2 to the experience of Christ during His ministry, identifying the Jewish leaders, not Gentile nations (though they include Roman governmental officials), as those who opposed the rule of God through His Christ. But they highlight the precious sovereignty of God in that opposition, saying that the leaders were only doing what God’s hand and purpose “predestined to occur” (v. 28; cf. Eph. 1:11; Isa. 44:26a; 46:9-11). But these believers recognize these men are still a threat to them as the physical body of Christ on earth, so they ask God to take note of them, and empower them to speak boldly as He works miracles to demonstrate His presence and power through the Apostles (vv. 29-30). Having completed this petition, we turn to God’s response to it.
B. God’s Response (vv. 31-37)
God immediately responds to their prayer—an earthquake demonstrates His power, and the Holy Spirit falls in power, enabling them to speak His word boldly (v. 31). It is as though God is saying, “You are doing exactly what I asked you to do. I am pleased. Keep doing it! I am with you and will hear you when you call to Me.” It is important to know that even though in this case appealing to God did not (that we know of) reverse the persecution or stop future threats, it is yet the birthright of believers to appeal to their sovereign God to intervene in the difficult circumstances they face, including seeking reversal, protection, and blessing. We can do this in faith and boldness and leave the results to His perfect will. Here, God still blesses in spite of (because of?) the persecution—the church is unified and expressing sacrificial love (vv. 32, 34-37) and the apostles’ ministry bears the marks of God’s empowerment and favor, and grace is upon every believer (v. 33). This grace is evidenced by the empowerment of God’s people to sacrificially give (note “for,” v. 34; cf. 2 Cor. 8:1-4). But, I wonder if perhaps the apostles’ powerful ministry was also in some way connected to this giving. Likely the decision to take up a collection in this fashion was at least approved by, if not directly sourced in, the apostles’ decision. God, then, is signifying His approval of this act of love by not only prodding the hearts of many believers to sacrifice their goods, but also by favoring the apostles with demonstrations of Christ-exalting power and Spirit-anointed preaching. This would be another confirmation they were obeying Christ’s specific will for them and the first church. There is an important principle here: God blesses obedience. In this case, that blessing was not the removal or restraining of persecution (though reversal of negative circumstances is certainly one way God blesses His people). Rather, God decides to empower and enable their ministry and sanctify His people in the midst of the rebellion of the nations and His covenant people Israel.
God sent His Messiah to earth, fully man and fully God, to substitute Himself for sinners and begin the program to reclaim His creation. After His glorious resurrection, He ascended into heaven to inaugurate His messianic rulership. The OT promises this rule would begin in the midst of rebels against and enemies of that rule, from both Israel and the nations (Psalms 2, 110). Christ begins to overturn this rebellion now by regenerating and sanctifying these rebels, as they lay down their arms in surrender to Him. But because His plan is not yet consummated, there are still enemies who oppose Him and by extension, His people. One day all opposition will be vanquished, but until then Acts 4 gives us a concise, divine unfolding of how believers should respond to the assaults of those yet unconverted, and how God will graciously, powerfully, and joyfully respond to us for our joy and the furtherance of His glorious program.