Bible study: Acts 2 – Peter’s first sermon

Some thoughts from my personal Bible study, mainly asking questions of the text and pondering some potential answers.

The disciples were “all” together, but how many were there?

There is some debate about whether the Holy Spirit was given to the Twelve or the 120 believers mentioned in chapter 1. I’ve certainly heard the logical argument that since there are more then twelve languages being spoken, it must have been the whole group of followers. On the other hand, we’re told that when the Holy Spirit came they were “all in one place”; finding anywhere that can seat 120 people today is a tall order, and presumably more so back then, when they were still effectively cowering in the shadows. We also read in verse 2 that the noise “filled the entire house“, indicating a smaller abode, and therefore a smaller group of people. Finally, the listening Israelites say that all those speaking are Galileans, which surely wouldn’t have been the case had it been 120.

We’re still left with the conundrum that 12 apostles can’t speak as many languages as there were nationalities, so we might have to wonder whether the miracle was in the hearing as much as the talking – the message was heard in their native languages, even if that particular language wasn’t technically being spoken. If that was the case, it’s another testament to the way God works in the lives of people even if they’re not necessarily believers!

How did Peter know they thought he was drunk?

What we don’t get here is any stage directions to inform us of where all this physically took place. The Spirit came while they were in a house, but by the time the Israelites hear them they must be outside. For Peter to be heard, one must assume he got up somewhere high, so that people would be able to hear and see him. Maybe before then they were mixing in with the crowds, and that’s when Peter heard their snide remarks.

Or, as was the case with Jesus previously, Peter knew in his heart what people were saying, having been prompted by the Holy Spirit. Given how filled they were with the Spirit at that moment, it’s not a huge leap to reach that conclusion. We don’t know for sure, and it’s probably not important.

Lazarus was raised too, what happened to him?

Much of Peter’s argument revolves around the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, fulfilling prophecy from hundreds of years previous. But Jesus wasn’t the only person ever to have been raised to life. Couldn’t Lazarus have fulfilled the prophecy already?

The difference, I guess, is that Lazarus was ‘just some bloke’ (sorry Lazarus), raised to life by Jesus. Jesus, on the other hand, had a public ministry, predicted his own death and resurrection, and identified himself as the Messiah. And there wasn’t someone else standing outside his tomb summoning him back from Hades – he did that part himself. The ‘convincing proofs’ Peter put forward simply echoed what Jesus had already said would happen, making him even more special.

How did Peter convert 3000 when Jesus only managed 120?

You’d think that Jesus, being God and all, would have managed a better score. After all, he had a good 40 days to show himself around in person. Peter managed 3000 in one morning.

This perhaps ties in with what Jesus said about the disciples doing “even greater things” than he did, through the promised power of the Holy Spirit. It’s not that Jesus was less powerful, or less eloquent. But I wonder if perhaps it has something to do with motives. Jesus’s primary aim during his last 40 days was to convince his few followers without any shadow of a doubt that he really was alive. It wasn’t about a thin spreading of a little understanding to many, it was a massive investment in a few. It was about ensuring that the foundation was secure. From that, Peter could build the Church as big as it needed to be, but without the firm foundation it could easily have collapsed in on itself. So it’s not just about numbers. And it’s a massive encouragement to us too, a reminder that the same Spirit that helped Peter reach 3000 people is the same Spirit who fills us today. Maybe we should expect more…

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