When Peter addresses the crowd in Acts 2, he argues Jesus’s death fulfilled God’s plan, and Jesus was vindicated by God in his resurrection and ascension. The death of Jesus was according to God’s purpose and foreknowledge, but humans are responsible for his death. There is a fine balance between divine sovereignty and human responsibility here: God determined the death, and people freely chose to kill Jesus. Both of these words (ὁρίζω and πρόγνωσις) are theologically packed words. God was not surprised by the death of Jesus, but knew fully what was going to happen because he had planned it ahead of time.
But Jesus is not dead because God has raised him from the dead in fulfillment of prophecy. Peter goes about proving the resurrection quite a bit differently than we do today. He does not mention the empty tomb or challenge the Pharisees to produce a body to prove that Jesus was really dead. Rather than pursue modern logical arguments, he turns to the Psalms and shows that David does not exhaust the meaning of the text. Since the messiah is to be a new David, the psalms Peter cites are turning into prophecies of Jesus’ resurrection.
Peter quotes Psalm 16:8-11, where David states his faith that God will not abandon him in the grace not allow him to see decay. Peter states the obvious: David died and was not resurrected and his tomb was not far from the location of this sermon. Perhaps people in the audience had already visited the tomb of David during their visit to the City. In the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7) David was told he would not fail to have a man on the throne. This text was also generally thought to refer to a future messiah. For Peter, Psalm 16 is a prophecy of the resurrection of Jesus.
To further his case, Peter also cites Psalm 110, another well-known messianic prophecy. There David is told that he would be exalted to the very throne of God and that God would make all his enemies his footstool. This prophecy cannot have been exhaustively fulfilled in the life David. Although David was given great victories, and he was the greatest king in Israel’s history, he was not raised to the level of the throne of God!
Peter therefore tells the crowd that Jesus non only rose from the dead but was taken up to heaven like Elijah or Moses (or Enoch, for that matter). In those three cases, the person was a highly respected prophet who did not experience death. Like the great men of old, God confirmed Jesus’ message by doing miracles through him, but he allowed him to die in order to initiate the new covenant.
Since Jesus fulfills the psalm which David could not, he is confirmed as the Lord and Christ (verse 36). This is the most shocking point in the whole sermon – everything which the Hebrew Bible looked forward to had happened with Jesus, he was in fact the Lord and Messiah. But Israel crucified him! Here the finger points at the crowd, since they were a part of the people who shouted for Pilate to crucify Jesus. Perhaps they followed Jesus the cross mocking him and watched him suffer before going off to celebrate the Passover with their families!
This is the real point of the sermon – God sent his messiah, but Israel rejected him. Thinking back to the life of Jesus, what are some additional things Peter might have included in this sermon? In what ways did Israel reject Jesus as Messiah?