This week, our Workbook examined the idea of conviction through the lens of Acts 2:32-41. This is the end of Peter’s address to the crowd at Pentecost.
These verses present an example of how conviction works in practice. First, the truth is presented (vv. 32-36). Then the people, upon hearing the truth, are convicted of its truth… and thus indirectly, are convicted of their mistake in crucifying their own Messiah (v. 37)! Their realization of the truth naturally leads to them to the question of what they should now do based upon this truth; true conviction always demands response on our part. Finally, Peter answers this question (v. 38). When God convicts us of something, he never leaves us in the lurch, but always gives us the direction that our response must take. (If we ask for it and truly want it, at any rate).
Hopefully all this (which our lesson in the Workbook covered – more or less) is clear enough. But this page, instead of focusing upon these main points, will instead briefly examine a couple contextual points that may throw into relief the true importance of this day in Church history, and the poignance of thousands of Jews all at once becoming aware of their past blindness, and collectively being pierced to the heart. It’s powerful stuff.
Acts 2 is really when the Church takes off numbers-wise. It represents a massive change in scale
Acts 1:15 states quite clearly that the number of believers at that time numbered around 120. Contextually, the “they” of Acts 2:1 is this group (we get this from the third person plural ending on ἦσαν combined with the fact that there is no noun in the sentence to directly serve as a subject – since the subject of “were all together in one place” is not stated directly in the sentence, the subject must come from earlier).
So those who spoke in tongues in the first part of Acts 2 were the people making up this small group of initial believers, the very first people in the New Testament Church. It is somewhat startling when you consider how many people congregated around Jesus when He did miracles and taught the crowds. Thousands were touched by his ministry, yet just a few dozen are gathered soon after His resurrection and ascension. We do not know exactly how many of those Jesus had sent out before (e.g., Luke 10:1ff.) were part of this group, so it is possible there were more godly people who were not present in Jerusalem at this time, for whatever reason. One might also consider some of those from the Samaritan village who had believed (John 4:39-42), for example, among other individuals or groups mentioned throughout the gospels (like the centurions of Matthew 8:5-13 and Mark 15:37-39, who perhaps were not able to leave their posts to be together with the other believers). We needn’t get overly fixated on the precise number; the point is that the overall number of people starts out startlingly small.
This is an important point to make given that after Peter’s Spirit-filled speech at Pentecost, Acts 2:41 says that “about three thousand” (ὡσεὶ τρισχίλιαι) were added to their number. Three thousand. Whether the multiplier was actually a full 30-fold, or was perhaps a bit less than that overall, the point is that the change here is drastic, and would lead to fundamental and sweeping changes in the structure and organization of the Church.
We should thus bear in mind whenever we talk of the conversion of these folks at Pentecost exactly how massive a thing this day was. It represents, in many ways, the day the Church was truly born. For while there were believers before Pentecost, Pentecost marks the coming of Holy Spirit and beginning the Church Age as a distinct phase of human history.
Many of these new converts were the very same people who may have clamored for Jesus’ crucifixion
Consider again Acts 2:36-37 (also cf. v. 23). In context, it clear that the thing that really pierced many of Peter’s listeners to the heart was the realization that they had crucified the very Messiah that they had been waiting for for hundreds of years!
In some ways, this collective realization on the part of the Jews prefigures the collective realization that will occur at the second return of Christ (Revelation 1:7, cf. Matthew 24:30), when Jewish people alive at the second coming will recognize the Messiah returning in glory, and once again collectively turn to Him:
every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him: The dramatic return of our Lord will be visible to everyone on earth. Singled out for special mention are His kindred people, Israel, in the phrase “those who pierced Him”, referring to the episode at the cross as predicted by Zechariah (compare Jn.19:34-37 with Zech.12:10; cf. Ps.22:16). This is a description of an instantaneous repentance and conversion of the Jews alive at the Second Advent when they witness the return of the Messiah as explained by the apostle Paul (Rom.9-11): the “hardness in part” that has characterized the majority of the descendants of Abraham since the 1st Advent will dissolve instantly upon the Messiah’s return.
Of course, we Gentiles are now part of the Church as well. But in these cases – both past and future – there is something decidedly right about God’s chosen people turning to Him en masse, a dramatic show of collective repentance. In much the same way as the prodigal son returning home, the things out of place will be set to rights, as the separation between Israel and the Church will be completely torn down, never again to rise. For we will all then be truly one in Christ, forever. Israel, after millennia of hardness, will have finally come home, joining us at the feet of the Father.
At any rate, the upshot for our passage here in Acts 2 is that this event hits hard on account of exactly who it is being convicted. It was not some group of people who had never heard of Jesus who were so stirred by Peter’s speech that they put their faith in Him. Instead, the crowd here was composed – at least in part – of the very Jews who had pushed for Jesus’ crucifixion (or if not that, had nonetheless not opposed it when Jesus was turned over to Pilate in a mockery of Justice).
So, again, we need to view this account of mass conversion at Pentecost as something a great deal more important than a bunch of random people being converted. For it marks the repentance of many Jews, who would go on to become the backbone of the very early Church as it expanded outwards from Judea to encompass the Roman Mediterranean. Those who had set themselves against God’s Son came to realize the truth, and decided to be born again, throwing themselves upon the Mercy of the very one they had betrayed. It ought to give us chills, even today.