37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
when they heard this (v.37) — that God made Jesus both Lord and Christ — and that they had crucified Him.
pricked (v.37) — pained, as if by a sharp point (John 16:8-9)
testify (v.40) — testimony, witness
In the prophetic program, still in effect at Pentecost, the cross made enmity between God and the nations (especially Israel) which calls for judgment (v.35). It wasn’t until Paul’s message that the cross was revealed as the reconciliation between God and men.
We must bear in mind that Peter addressed those who had openly rejected Jesus. They had, therefore, also openly to acknowledge their wrong and openly own Him as Messiah, whom they had disowned by delivering Him into the hands of lawless men. Repentance meant for them to own their guilt i having opposed and rejected Jesus. Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (in which it differs from the baptism of John) was the outward expression of that repentance. It was for these Jews, therefore, a preliminary necessity. And here we must not forget that Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost had still to do with the Kingdom, as we shall more fully learn from his second address in the third chapter.
In this national testimony the word “repent” stands in the foreground, and their baptism in the name of Him whom they had crucified was a witness that they owned Him now and believed on Him. As soon as we leave the first part of this book in which Peter’s preaching to the Jews is prominent, we find the word repentance no longer in the foreground; all the emphasis is upon “believe.” The Gospel in all its blessed fullness as revealed to the great apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, which he called “my Gospel,” and as preached by him, makes faith — “believe” as prominent as Peter’s preaching “repent.” — The Acts of the Apostles, by Arno C. Gaebelein, pages 61-62.
In the gap between the two paragraphs above, Gaebelein writes a sentence I left out — “The great fact that the Holy Spirit had begun to form the body of Christ, the church, as stated before, was not revealed then.” Why he, and other commentaries, insist on starting the church at a point when the message wasn’t delivered and nobody knew about it, is a mystery to me.
What terms, then, did Peter offer his hearers for salvation when they were brought under conviction. “Repent, and be baptized [and not only those who feel led, but] every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, [and not merely as a testimony to your burial with Christ, but] for the remission of sins, and [and THEN and not until then] ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
How different this all is from “the gospel of the grace of God,” which was later committed to the Apostle Paul and to us! Peter’s message, however, harmonized perfectly with the “great commission”: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved (Mark 16:16).
Indeed, the requirements for salvation here are no different than those previously laid down by John the Baptist, for we read in Mark 1:4, that John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
The only difference between Peter’s proposition and John’s was one of historical development. The Holy Spirit had now come and Peter could add: and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. But there was no change in the meaning of the ordinance, for at John’s baptism too they had come confessing their sins (Matthew 3:6). John’s baptism and Peter’s both signified a confession of sin and a cleansing therefrom. — Acts Dispensationally Considered, by C.R. Stam, pages 108-109.
At first sight it may seem that the “you” and “your children” of verse 39 refer to Israel, while the phrase, “all that are afar off” refers to the Gentiles. But a more careful examination of the passage will prove that this cannot be so.
First, the promise of the Spirit (verse 33, 38) was never made to the Gentiles. True, it affected the Gentiles, but it was unquestionably made to Israel. We Gentiles in the flesh are exhorted in Ephesians 2:11-12 to remember that we were strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.
Nor does the phrase “afar off,” used here and elsewhere in Scripture, refer exclusively to Gentiles. We Gentiles were spiritually “afar off” (Ephesians 2:17) but Israelites outside of their own land were geographically “afar off” and are so designated again and again in the Old Testament Scriptures. Among other places, we find the phrase “afar off” in Daniel’s famous prayer:
O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto Thee, but unto us confusion of faces as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither Thou has driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against Thee (Daniel 9:7).
Peter, addressing a Jewish audience, then, declared simply that the promise of the Spirit was both to them and their children and those (of their people) who were afar off. and this harmonizes with the closing verses of chapter 3, where he reminds his Hebrew hearers that they are the children of the covenant and that unto them first God has raised up a Savior, “His Son Jesus,” since through them the nations of the earth are to be blessed. Acts Dispensationally Considered, by C.R. Stam, pages 113-114).