22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[d] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’[e]
29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”’[f]
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
Our youngest son has an absolute knack for asking mind-numbingly difficult questions to answer. He’s especially skilled at doing so when you are most tired and feel the least like doing any sort of mental wrangling to explain some inquiry that he has cooked up in his over-active little mind. Recently he was insistent on wanting me to explain what the government is. You might think that sounds like an easy question but try explaining to a seven year old what government is in a way that will properly satisfy his inquisitiveness. I was doing a particularly poor job of explaining to his young mind the vast wonders of government with all of its elected officials, bureaucracies, and seemingly infinitely expanding powers.
As I was failing disastrously in my meager attempts to explain to him exactly what government is, he looked up at me with his brow furrowed and asked “so, what I really want to know is where is the government?” That threw me back for a moment. Once again, that’s a difficult question to answer. After stumbling around for a moment I finally explained to him that government is more of an entity of ideas and laws that has people all over a particular region or country that work for the government but that there is no particular place that a government is at. The reason I couldn’t explain is because he was making a category mistake. Asking where a government is at assumes that it is a type of thing which it is not. He was not satisfied with that, however, and I knew that I was going to have to find a way to stay within the reality of the situation (I didn’t feel like I could just say that the government is in Washington DC and be done with it because that would be to present the government as something that it is not) and still explain it to him in a way that was satisfactory to him in the moment. Finally, I said, “Government is the direction and control exercised over a specific community and in our country government is by the people and for the people so that means that the government is in each of our minds and hearts.” He either understood what I was saying or had just given up by that point because he just turned around and walked away.
The problem that he was having was that of a category mistake. A category mistake is when we talk of something in terms that really only apply to something of a completely different kind. For the average Jew, the gospel message that Peter preached on Pentecost and that the early church continued to preach seemed like just such a category mistake. They were preaching that Jesus was the Messiah but that he had been crucified. That was impossible in their minds. The Messiah would be a victorious conqueror who led God’s people out of oppression. To speak of a Messiah that was killed by the Romans was a pure category mistake. If he was crucified then he simply could not be Messiah. Theologian Gordon Fee has said that this category mistake would have made as much sense to early Jews as it would seem to talk about “fried ice.”
If the Christians were going to declare that Jesus had indeed been crucified at the hands of the Romans and that he was the true Messiah sent from God they were going to have to come up with some way to explain it so as to remove this stumbling block for those that were open to truth. They had to show that Jesus did die on the Cross but that this was exactly what was supposed to happen and what had to happen in order for God’s word to be shown to be true and reliable.
The first thing that Peter does to lay common ground is to establish that Jesus was indeed a man from Nazareth just as they supposed him to be. They were not making any wild-eyed claims about Jesus but were going to talk realistically about who he was and stick to the facts. He had, however, done incredible miracles, signs, and wonders among them. That much never really seems to have been in dispute. Even those who wished to discredit Jesus during his lifetime and thereafter didn’t claim that he had not done amazing things. They simply argued for a malevolent source of his abilities rather than the power of God. Peter didn’t try to convince them that the miracles and signs were from God, he simply stated that they were. Jesus had already quite ably answered that objection (Lk. 11:14-20) and Peter felt no need to improve upon that answer (although he may have dealt with that issue using just such an argument and Luke chose not to include it in his summation of Peter’s speech for the very reason that he did already address that in the book of Luke).
The next plank in his argument was vital to Jewish acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. All of those who had a hand in Jesus’ death were guilty of evil acts of rebellion against God, yet at the same time, all of this was part of God’s will. What we see Peter arguing is the incredible co-mingling of man’s free will and God’s sovereignty. Those who were responsible for Jesus dying on the Cross really did act wickedly but God knew the wickedness of man and would use it to further rather than subvert his plans. God knows how powerful evil can be but he is greater. He sucked the power from evil and nullified it by sending Jesus to take on the very worst that humans acting in opposition to good could muster up, the violent death of a perfect and sinless human being who was sent by God himself. God, embodied in the Messiah himself, took the full force of human evil straight onto himself and delivered it a death blow.
God allowed Jesus to die on the Cross but it wasn’t a sign of his displeasure. And then God raised him from the dead to confirm what the miracles had been pointing to all along. Jesus was from God. Peter used stunningly powerful language when he said that God freed Jesus from the “agony” of death. The word translated “agony” was actually the specific word used for labor pains. Peter’s powerful point, then, was to give a picture of death itself in the throes of labor unable to hold back the Messiah, who burst forth from death, not as a ghost or some spiritual entity after death. Jesus walked into death and defeated it. He physically rose from the dead and left no body behind in his tomb or anywhere else. Death couldn’t hold him anymore than a pregnant woman can stop a child from coming.
Their mistake was in thinking that the Messiah could not taste death. There was no category mistake when it came to a dying Messiah. It wasn’t that he couldn’t die according to God’s will, it was that death could not keep its hold on him. That is the point that Peter makes in verse 25-28 as he quotes from Psalm 16:8-11. His logic was as simple as it was elegant. David wrote prophetically that the Lord would not allow the godly subject of the Psalm to be abandoned permanently to the grave. He would not let him stay in the realm of death like ordinary people because the “paths of life” were his inheritance. Peter’s point was dramatic. The site of David’s grave was still well-known in Jesus’ day. He had died, been buried, and stayed that way just as every other human being before him and since him. But David was a prophet so if his words did not apply to him then they must have been intended for one of his descendants, the promised Messiah. It was not that the Messiah could not die; quite the opposite in fact. It was God’s plan all along to take on the greatest weapon that evil has in its arsenal, that of death, and defeat it. The Messiah would die, but through God’s power he would be raised to life and never again experience the incorruptibility and decay of death.
The resurrection of Jesus was the central tenet of the gospel. It is what everything else hinged on. It was what showed him to be the Messiah. It was what proved Jesus to be correct when he boldly declared to the Jewish leaders just before his death that he would be exalted to the right hand of God (Lk. 22:69). It was because of the resurrection that Jesus received the inheritance and promise of the Holy Spirit and it was Jesus who was now pouring that same Spirit out on his people. The apostles would act as witnesses to the resurrection but that would simply be a matter of their word. The pouring out of the Spirit that would guide God’s people into sonship and truly being a family (Rom. 8:15-17), was tangible proof that what Peter said was true. Jesus’ resurrection and his pouring out of the promised Spirit would remove the stumbling block of a dead Messiah if they would respond in faith and humility to the truth.
Peter goes on to make the case that David made it clear that Jesus was not just the Messiah and the giver of the Holy Spirit but that he was also Lord, the one to whom their allegiance was due. He was not just a fulfillment of some of God’s promises as Messiah, he was the fulfillment of all of them as both Messiah and Lord. Peter demonstrated this once again by turning to the Old Testament Scriptures themselves, specifically to Psalm 110. Assuming that David was the speaker of the Psalm then he confirmed that the Messiah was also Lord. Messiah carried the idea of being the deliverer and the bringer of salvation but “Lord” spoke of the sovereign rule and kingship of Jesus. Jesus was the true Messiah and the rightful Lord of the entire world. This meant he was on a collision course with the rulers of the world and those who stood apart from God. When one is faced with the rightful King and Lord, there can be only one response. It is to that proper response that Peter will turn in our next section.
Many people relish the idea of Jesus being Messiah, the savior. A much small number of people, however, equally embrace the idea of Jesus being Lord. Have you embraced Jesus as Lord as much as you have enjoyed the aspects of him as savior? Have you truly submitted every area of your life to his lordship?