Resurrection Apologetic in Luke-Acts

©David Peterson (2009)[1]


Conservative apologists for the resurrection of Jesus often use the biblical material to establish two main points: the divinity of Christ and the certainty that believers will share eternal life with him. Although such arguments can be developed from Luke-Acts, this study shows how the author sets Jesus’ resurrection within the broader context of scriptural teaching about God’s saving plan for Israel and the nations. In different ways, the resurrection is used to challenge the beliefs and hopes of a variety of first-century audiences. It is clearly a key to Luke’s Christology and soteriology, but in a more profound sense than is recognised by much contemporary preaching on the subject.

Liberal scholars have other reasons for narrowing the scope and application of biblical teaching about the resurrection of Jesus. For example, with an eye to the scepticism of modern readers, Leslie Houlden has recently made a plea for the validity of a ‘resurrectionless Christianity’.  He concedes that in the book of Acts the resurrection is ‘the clear differentiating point of Christianity’ and ‘the key to salvation’,[2] but insists that Luke does not dwell on the resurrection itself but ‘turns quickly aside to show how Jesus is to be validated (or validate himself) from Scripture and how he is to be known in breaking bread’. He also notes that in Acts the resurrection becomes, in effect, ‘an incident on the way to the ascended glory.’[3] There is some truth in these observations, but Houlden uses them to play down the significance of the resurrection itself. It is not adequate to say that Luke somehow moves beyond ‘the basic if enigmatic story he took from Mark’, just because his narrative becomes absorbed with some of the deeper implications of Jesus’ resurrection.

The offence of a doctrine of physical resurrection in the Greco-Roman world demanded the sort of comprehensive apologetic that Luke gives us at the end of his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles. Instead of avoiding this issue for Gentile readers, Luke confronted it by the way he presented his evidence. We shall also note how much his apologetic is geared for Jewish audiences, challenging them to believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah.

The foundational importance of Luke 24

Most of this paper will be devoted to an examination of the book of Acts, but some brief observations must first be made about the way the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is selected and presented in the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel. In both volumes of his work, Luke is concerned to demonstrate the reality and significance of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Acts begins with a summary statement to the effect that Jesus presented himself alive after his suffering ‘by many convincing proofs’ (1:3).[4] Luke 24 records the evidence of the empty tomb and the angelic witness to Jesus’ resurrection before highlighting three such appearances. The Evangelist links these so that they all seem to have happened on Easter Day, in and around Jerusalem. The redemption promised to Israel (Lk. 24:21; 1:68; 2:38; cf. 21:28) is thus shown to have been accomplished at its heart. From Jerusalem, salvation then goes out to the Gentiles, as predicted in Scripture (24:45-7).

The first resurrection appearance is to Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus (vv. 13-33), the second to Simon (reported briefly in v. 34), and the third to the Eleven and ‘their companions’ (vv. 33-51). Acts 1 suggests that there were other such appearances and that they took place ‘during forty days’ (cf. 13:31; 1 Cor. 15:5-7).[5] One of the aims of these encounters, as Luke saw them, was to demonstrate the physical reality of Jesus’ resurrection. So we are told that Jesus invited them to touch him and that he ate and drank in their presence (cf. Lk. 24:36-43; cf. Acts 10:41). He was no phantom and their experience was not simply visionary or spiritual.

Nevertheless, the Emmaus story suggests that even a resurrection appearance was not sufficient to convince those whose eyes were ‘kept from recognizing him’ (v. 16). God must open such eyes to perceive from the Scriptures the necessity for the Messiah to suffer and enter his glory by resurrection (vv. 25-32, 44-7). This is an important preparation for the resurrection apologetic that appears in the sermons in Acts.

The last scene in Luke 24 is also relevant for understanding the perspective of Acts. Unambiguously, v. 34 indicates that all the assembled disciples believed by this stage that Jesus had risen from the dead. What follows in vv. 36-43, however, is designed to establish the physical and empirical reality of the risen Jesus.[6] His words in vv. 44-47 then function to open their eyes to the saving significance of his death and resurrection, through the Scriptures and with reference to his own predictions. The revelation to the disciples at the end of Luke 24 repeats what has previously been shown to those at the tomb and to those bound for Emmaus. This happens so that the Twelve can become authentic witnesses to the resurrection (v. 48).

As the appointed witnesses, the eleven and those with them must see for themselves the risen Jesus. They must verify on their own that present among them is indeed the Jesus who had been with them before his death and who had died on the cross. As witnesses they themselves must hear directly from the lips of the risen Jesus the explanation of his own prediction and of the Scriptures. This they do only after they had verified and accepted his real presence among them. Moreover, the meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ is not to be their own derivation from the Scriptures but is to be given to them, i.e., revealed.[7]

Luke 24 concludes with the ascension of Jesus and the declaration that the disciples worshipped him (v. 52; cf. Matt. 28:9, 16).[8] This is the first time in Luke’s Gospel that such terminology is used to describe the response of disciples to Jesus (cf. 4:7, 8). Although it is not the first real expression of faith in his resurrection, such a response at this climactic point in the narrative suggests some development in their thinking about him.  ‘Easter faith’ for Luke perhaps involves two stages: belief in the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and then, more fully, an acknowledgement of his divinity.[9]

The sermons in Acts are clearly designed to bring people to that fullness of faith in the resurrected and ascended Lord. Indeed, Jesus’ resurrection, ascension and enthronement are closely linked in Luke’s theology as they are in Hebrews. But this does not mean that belief in a physical resurrection is somehow of less significance in Luke-Acts or that it is subsumed by ascension and enthronement emphases.

The apostles as witnesses of the resurrection

The two volumes of Luke’s work are closely linked together by a focus on the preparation of the apostles to be witnesses of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus. We are first told in Acts 1 about his instructions through the Holy Spirit (v. 2) and his speaking to them about the kingdom of God (v. 3). More specifically, his instruction is the command to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the Spirit (vv. 4-5). The themes of kingdom, Spirit and witness are developed and inter-connected in vv. 6-8, where the groundplan for the book is laid out. The ascension makes possible Jesus’ heavenly enthronement as Messiah, guaranteeing that he will remain sovereign over the life and witness of his people. The manner of his departure also foreshadows his return to consummate God’s saving plan (vv. 9-11). In effect, the preface lays down ‘the eschatological framework within which the Christian story is to unfold.’[10]

The last half of Acts 1 is devoted to the matter of making up the number of the Twelve. This was presumably important so that the disciples could represent in their number the ideal of a reunited and renewed people of God—Israel in its fullness, not just a remnant (cf. Lk. 22:28-30; Ezk. 37:15-28; Rev. 21:12, 14).[11] Here, for the first time in Acts, Old Testament citations are used to justify and explain the outworking of the divine plan, which included the betrayal of Jesus by one of his closest friends and the need to replace Judas with another.

Peter declares in 1:21-2 that being a witness of the resurrection was a vital qualification for apostleship. Consequently, the resurrection assumes a central place in the apostolic preaching (e.g., Acts 2:24-36; 4:33; 13:30-7).  Yet such witnesses needed to be ‘one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us.’[12] With such a perspective on the person and work of Christ, the Twelve had a particular advantage and could be guarantors of the whole gospel tradition (cf. Mt. 28:20). In terms of Luke’s prologue, this enabled them to be both ‘eyewitnesses’ and ‘servants of the word’ (Lk. 1:2), that is, those qualified to interpret and explain the things to which they testified.

Jesus as the resurrected saviour-king of David’s line

The centrality of Jesus’ resurrection to the apostolic preaching is first exemplified in Acts 2. Peter begins by proclaiming the coming of the Spirit as an eschatological event—the beginning of the fulfilment of God’s ancient promise in Joel 2:28-32 (cf. Acts 2:14-21). The prior cause of the Pentecostal event is then shown to be the resurrection and ascension of the Messiah to the right hand of God (2:22-35). Scripture is used to explain and justify these assertions. God is shown to be the hidden actor behind Jesus’ mighty works (v. 22), his death (v. 23), his resurrection (vv. 24, 32), his exaltation and the giving of the Spirit (vv. 33-34), and his enthronement as Lord and Christ (v. 36). Peter then challenges his hearers to change their perception of Jesus, to share the convictions of his followers and their experience of the Holy Spirit (2:36-40). Although charged with rejecting the Messiah, the crowd is given another chance to share in the salvation promised to Israel.

In many ways, the sermon in Acts 2 is programmatic for the events to follow and for understanding the apostolic preaching in subsequent chapters. Peter’s witness as a Spirit-empowered apostle inaugurates the first stage in the fulfilment of Jesus’ mission plan (1:8). His preaching not only explains the anointing with the Spirit of the initial core of disciples but also causes many Jews ‘from every nation under heaven’ to turn in repentance and faith to Jesus as Lord and Christ and receive the gift of the Spirit themselves.

The pouring out of God’s Spirit

According to Joel 2:28-32, the pouring out of the Spirit ‘upon all flesh’ is a sign of the nearness of the End. Since ‘the Lord’s great and glorious day’ is approaching, it is time for people to ‘call on the name of the Lord’ for salvation. In one sense, the rest of Peter’s sermon is designed to show that Jesus is the Lord on whom they are to call (vv. 22-36; cf. Rom. 10:9-13) and to explain that calling upon his name means submitting in repentance and faith to baptism in his name (vv. 37-9; cf. 22:16).

The contrast between God’s exaltation of Jesus and the attitude of those who opposed him is a central aspect of the apostolic preaching (cf. 2:36; 3:14-15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:39-40; 13:28-30). Jesus’ resurrection was his ultimate accreditation and vindication as God’s servant and Messiah. The latter point comes out emphatically as Peter begins to demonstrate the fulfilment of David’s words (Acts 2:25-36). When it is claimed that God freed Jesus from ‘the pains of death’ (2:24, NRSVmg), because it was impossible for him to be ‘held in its power’, a word that normally applies to the ‘agony’ of childbirth is used (τὰς ὠδῖνας, ‘the birthpangs’). The whole expression provides ‘a remarkable mixed metaphor, in which death is regarded as being in labour and unable to hold back its child, the Messiah.’[13]

David’s prophecy of the Messiah’s triumph

As the prophecy of Joel was used to interpret and explain the gift of the Spirit in vv. 16-21, so now a second Old Testament citation is drawn into Peter’s argument, to prepare for the claim that Jesus is the Christ (v. 36).  Psalm 16 (LXX 15):8-11 is not quoted to ‘prove’ the resurrection as a historical event—the apostles present themselves as witnesses in that particular respect (v. 32)—but to show how the resurrection testifies to Jesus’ messiahship. It was impossible for death to keep its hold on Jesus because of what David said about him (vv. 25-31).[14] Note the use of the same passage in connection with Paul’s preaching about the resurrection to another audience of Jews and proselytes in 13:34-7.

Psalm 16 celebrates the benefits of a life lived under the rule of God. But David’s joy reaches beyond his present circumstances to include the hope that he will always be with God (vv. 9-10; Acts 2:26-7). Death no longer terrifies him and he affirms: ‘you will not abandon my soul to Hades’ (the Greek word for the Hebrew Sheol), or let your Holy One experience corruption.’ The impotence of death to destroy his relationship with God is David’s confidence.[15] Since God has already made known to him the paths of life, he anticipates that God will continue to fill him with joy in his presence (v. 11; Acts 2:28).  The last clause of Psalm 16:11 (‘in your right hand are pleasures for evermore’) is not quoted in Peter’s sermon. But the implications of Jesus’ presence ‘at God’s right hand’ are soon discussed in relation to another psalm citation in vv. 33-4.

What elements in Psalm 16 lead to the understanding that it is about the bodily resurrection of Jesus? In what sense could David have spoken about him (lit. ‘with reference to him’, εἰς αὐτόν)?  The fact that the patriarch David ‘died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day’, is sufficient proof for Peter that Psalm 16 speaks about something beyond David’s personal experience.[16] Bodily resurrection is the key issue in his understanding of this passage. If David’s own body had been raised, his grave would have been disturbed or would no longer be present.

Peter’s second assumption is that David was a prophet. This is implicit in what is said in 1:16 and 4:25 and was a common theme in Palestinian Judaism.[17] Jesus himself suggested the prophetic status of David when he gave a messianic interpretation of Psalm 110:1 (cf. Lk.  20:41-4 par.). Since that passage is paired with Psalm 16:8-11 in Acts 2:24-36, it is likely that Jesus’ interpretation of Psalm 110 was the basis for the messianic reading of Psalm 16. Allusion is also made to another important Davidic psalm in v. 30 (cf. the use of Is. 55:3 LXX in Acts 13:34). David knew that ‘God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne’ (Ps. 132:11; cf. 2 Sa. 7:12-16; Ps. 89:3-4, 35-7). But how would this happen? Would it be by one descendant of David after another occupying the throne in Jerusalem? After the Babylonian Exile of the sixth century BC.there were no more Davidic kings. How would God’s covenant with David be maintained?

Peter insists that David was able to see what was ahead and speak of the resurrection of the Christ. Peter’s point is that only through resurrection from the dead could a son of David rule forever over God’s people. David’s confidence about his own resurrection was an oracular statement, inspired by the Spirit of God. It enabled him to indicate many centuries beforehand how God’s covenant with him would ultimately be fulfilled. When Psalm 16:10 is cited again in v. 31, two significant changes are made. The past tense is employed to emphasize fulfilment—‘he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption’—and ‘his flesh’ is substituted for ‘your Holy One’ (cf. v. 27). This last change ‘guarantees that the point of the passage is not merely spiritual translation, bodily preservation, or terminal illness, but bodily resurrection.[18]

So the Holy One is saved from death in his flesh.  But who is this ‘Holy One’?  Most likely, the title ‘your Holy One’ was taken by the earliest Christians to be another way of referring to the Messiah and is a key for understanding Peter’s use of this text.  Peter specifically links the hope of the psalmist with Jesus and his resurrection.  God has raised this Jesus to life (cf. v. 24) and the apostles are all witnesses of the fact (cf. 1:8, 21-2).  By implication, he is the Christ.  But that declaration is held over until the dramatic climax of the message in v. 36.

What emerges in Acts 2, therefore, is the use of Jesus’ resurrection as part of an apologetic to Jews, based on a distinctive way of looking at Scripture, apparently derived from Jesus himself. This approach to the resurrection is reflected in varying degrees in later addresses to Jewish audiences in Acts. The resurrection demonstrates that Jesus is the Christ, who fulfils a complex of Jewish hopes (cf. 3:15, 26; 4:10-12; 5:30-2; 10:40-3; 13:30-9; 17:2-3). He is the saviour-king of David’s line, who reigns for ever over God’s people, bringing the blessings of forgiveness and peace with God. As the one appointed to be the judge of the living and the dead, he offers salvation and a share in his resurrection life to all nations (cf. 13:46-8; 16:30-1).

Gentiles readers were perhaps meant to discern from this Davidic emphasis that Christianity is the rightful heir of Old Testament promises and that salvation comes through being grafted into the vine of the renewed Israel. Acts goes on to show, however, that even outright pagans were confronted with aspects of this teaching about the resurrected Messiah/king, adapted to their understanding and situation (cf. Thessalonica [17:7, in the light of 17:1-3], Athens [17:18, 30-1]). Contemporary preachers of the gospel have something to learn here. The resurrection does not simply prove Jesus’ divinity but inaugurates the End Τime of prophetic expectation, a new world with the exalted Christ at its centre. The resurrection is also the key to a complex and comprehensive offer of salvation.

The heavenly rule of the Messiah

The two themes of the sermon so far —an explanation of the gift of the Spirit (vv. 16-21) and a proclamation of Jesus as Lord and Christ (vv. 22-32)—are tied together in vv. 33-6. As a sequel to his resurrection, Jesus was ‘exalted at the right hand of God’. From Psalm 110:1 it is demonstrated that this is the proper place for the Messiah (vv. 34-5). Furthermore, Joel’s prophecy has been fulfilled by the resurrected and ascended Jesus. What the crowd at Pentecost could ‘see and hear’ were signs of Jesus’ exaltation to the situation of absolute glory, power and authority in the universe. As the dispenser of the Spirit, he was now acting for the Father, sharing fully in his heavenly rule as Lord. With such teaching, the raw materials were provided for later formulations of the doctrine of God as Trinity.

Jesus’ interpretation of Psalm 110:1 suggested that the enthronement of the Christ at God’s right hand was a transcendental event (cf. Lk. 22:67-9 par.).[19] The apostles proclaimed his resurrection-ascension as the fulfilment of that expectation. By this means his heavenly rule as the saviour-king of his people was inaugurated. Resurrection and ascension belong together in Christian theology and proclamation, but not in a way that diminishes the significance of the resurrection as the means by which the Messiah himself was actually delivered from the power of death.

An indication that the sermon has reached its climax is given by Peter’s address to all Israel again in v. 36, recalling v. 14. The link word ‘therefore’ also shows that he intends to summarize and conclude the argument of the preceding section. Peter’s audience and subsequent readers of Acts are to be assured about who Jesus is and how God has vindicated him (cf. Lk. 1:4): ‘God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ The two titles given to Jesus relate back to the psalm citations in vv. 25-34 and the prior claim of Joel 2:32 that whoever calls on the name of ‘the Lord’ will be saved (v. 21). Jesus is the Lord on whom to call, since he is the Messiah, resurrected by God in fulfilment of Psalm 16:8-11 and now exalted to his right hand in fulfilment of Psalm 110:1.[20]

When Peter says God has made Jesus Lord and Messiah, we may not conclude that this is evidence of ‘adoptionism’, the view that Jesus was merely adopted as God’s heavenly co-regent at this point in time. Jesus is proclaimed as Saviour, Messiah and Lord at his birth (Lk. 2:11; cf. 1:32-5; 3:22) and progressively demonstrates his identity in various ways throughout his earthly ministry. Because he was Messiah, Jesus was raised from death and exalted to God’s right hand! However, just as there are several important stages in the life of a king, from birth as heir to the throne, to anointing, to actual assumption of his throne, so it is with Jesus in Luke-Acts:

Although Jesus was called Lord and Messiah previously, the full authority of these titles is granted only through death, resurrection and exaltation. Peter’s concluding statement in 2:36 makes it clear that something new and important has happened through these events. Jesus has been enthroned as Lord and Messiah for Israel, to fulfill all the promises made to it. This newly enthroned ruler will also offer salvation to the world, having been granted universal power to rule and judge.[21]

Jesus’ resurrection inaugurates the new creation

Peter’s address in Acts 3:11-26 proclaims the significance of the healing miracle in the first part of the chapter, identifying Jesus as the one who heals in the ultimate sense, fulfilling all that the Scriptures say about the Christ. The audience is challenged to repent and turn to God for forgiveness, especially acknowledging their part in the death of Jesus. As Peter speaks of Christ bringing about the promised restoration of all things, it becomes clear that the physical healing of the lame man is a sign of the messianic salvation in all its dimensions (cf. 4:9-12). It anticipates the new creation expected by the prophets, where there will be no evil, suffering, sickness or death. Moreover, this passage reveals how further strands of Luke’s Christology are linked with the theme of Jesus’ resurrection.

The glorification of the Servant of the Lord

God is said to have ‘glorified his servant Jesus’ (ἐδοξάσεν τὸν παῖδα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν) after he was dishonoured by those who handed him over to be killed and disowned him before Pilate (3:13). This appears to be an allusion to Isaiah 52:13 (LXX, ὁ παῖς μου . . . δοξασθήσεται σφόδρα, ‘my servant will be highly exalted’), a verse which introduces the so-called ‘Fourth Servant Song’ in Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12. The glorification of the servant refers to his exaltation over the nations and their kings, after terrible humiliation and suffering.

An identification of Jesus as God’s servant is found elsewhere in Acts (3:26; 4:27, 30). The title is more than a formal, honorific way of describing Jesus as a faithful follower or child of God.[22] Peter’s sermon goes on to describe Jesus’ rejection, death and exaltation by God (vv. 13-15) in a way that mirrors the portrait of the servant in Isaiah 53.  When Peter insists that God has fulfilled what the prophets said about the suffering of his Christ (v. 18), it is logical to conclude that Isaiah 53 is a key text in his thinking. Jesus is the messianic servant who accomplished God’s saving purposes for Israel and the nations by fulfilling the pattern set out in that Isaianic prophecy.  The link between Isaiah 53 and the experience of Jesus is further established by the argument in Acts 8:32-5 (cf. Lk. 22:37).[23]

Jesus was glorified by his resurrection and subsequent exaltation into heaven (vv. 14-16). However, it should not be forgotten that Peter’s sermon began as an explanation of the healing of the crippled man (v. 12) and that the apostle soon identifies Jesus as the power behind this miracle (v. 16). It seems best, therefore, to suggest that Jesus’ glorification may have a double meaning in this context. Jesus is glorified by his heavenly exaltation and by the exercise of his continuing, heavenly authority in a healing like this.[24]

The raising of the Author of Life

As in 2:23, 36, the Jerusalemites are directly charged with repudiating Jesus (cf. 4:10; 5:30; 7:52; 13:28), but the theme of rejection is much more prominent in 3:13-15 than in Peter’s first sermon. In v. 15 they are even charged with killing ‘the author of life’ (τὸν ἀρχηγὸν τῆς ζωῆς).  The term ἀρχηγός in Greek literature and the papyri hovers between the two senses of ‘leader, prince’ and ‘author, originator’.[25] In 5:31 this noun is used in conjunction with the title ‘Saviour’, in an expression which English versions render ‘Prince and Saviour’ or ‘Leader and Saviour’. In 3:15 the translation ‘Prince of life’ (KJV, JBP) is similarly possible, since Jesus by his resurrection has become the one who has ‘led the way to life’ (NEB). However, the full import of the construction is better conveyed by the translation author of life (NRSV, NIV). By virtue of his death and resurrection, Jesus is the originator of new life for others, as the argument in vv. 16-21 goes on to suggest.

In simple terms it was the exalted Lord Jesus who healed the crippled beggar. But the ‘name’ of Jesus continues to be the focus of Peter’s thinking in 3:16 because he knows that the salvation promised by Joel and other eschatological prophets (cf. Jl. 2:32 in Acts 2:21) is for those who call upon the name of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 2:38). The healing of this crippled man is a pointer to the saving power of Jesus in the widest sense (cf. 4:10-12).

Experiencing the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection

Having made a series of powerful accusations against his contemporaries (vv. 13-15), Peter challenges them to repent and turn to God (v. 19). Repentance is demanded on the basis of what has been proclaimed about Jesus’ suffering and exaltation (3:16-18). Three positive encouragements to repent are then given in a series of purpose clauses. The first is ‘so that your sins may be wiped out’ (v. 19) and the second is ‘so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord’ (v. 20). Some have argued that this last expression refers to the messianic salvation in all its fullness, which God will send speedily if Israel repents.[26] This involves taking the next clause (‘that he may send the Messiah appointed for you’) as a complementary statement about the same event. However, vv. 20-1 suggest a sequence, by which these times (καιροί, plural) of refreshment occur in an intervening period, before Christ’s return and the consummation of God’s plan. Even now, those who turn to him for forgiveness may enjoy in advance some of the blessings associated with the coming era.[27] A comparison with Peter’s promises in 2:38 suggests that the Holy Spirit may be the one who brings this refreshment. Peter may be describing the subjective effect of the gift of the Spirit for believers at significant stages in their lives.

The apostle finally urges repentance so that God may ‘send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus’. There is no specific mention of Jesus’ second coming elsewhere in the apostolic preaching, though Jesus’ role as ‘judge of the living and the dead’ is highlighted (10:42; cf. 7:55-6; 17:31). Jesus was the one ‘accredited’ (2:22, ἀποδεδειγμένον) by God to Israel in the course of his earthly ministry. He suffered as ‘the Christ’ (3:18), but by means of his resurrection and ascension, became the heavenly, enthroned ruler envisaged in Psalm 110 (cf.  2:36). Peter’s point in 3:19-20 is that the previously rejected Messiah will only return if Israel repents.

The second coming of Jesus is not represented as an occasion for judgment here. Rather, he must ‘remain in heaven’ (lit. ‘whom heaven must receive’) ‘until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets’. Jesus’ present withdrawal from the earthly scene is an important stage in the divine plan of salvation. His withdrawal will continue, (lit.) ‘until the times of restoration of all things’ (͗άχρι χρόνων ἀποκαταστάσεως πάντων), when ‘God, through Christ, will restore his fallen world to the purity and integrity of its initial creation.’[28] NIV implies that this will take place when Christ returns. But the Greek could possibly mean that a process of restoration is already underway (note the plural χρόνων, ‘times’) and that Jesus’ return will mark its climax and dramatic conclusion.

The restoration of ‘the kingdom’ to Israel is probably meant to be understood as part of this process (cf. 1:6, where the cognate verb is used).  Acts 2 suggests that the restoration of Israel began with the preaching of the gospel and the pouring out of God’s Spirit. Acts 3 illustrates that restoration with the healing of the crippled man. However, this miracle also anticipates the ultimate renewal of the whole created order, as God announced long ago ‘through his holy prophets’ (e.g., Is. 35:1-10; 65:17-25; Ezk. 47:1-12; cf. Rom. 8:18-23; 2 Pet. 3:10-13; Rev. 21:1-7; 22:1-5). Furthermore, Peter goes on to teach that the blessing of all the peoples on earth through the messianic restoration of Israel must first take place (Acts 3:25-6; cf. 1:7-8).

In other words, the restoration of all things has begun and will continue until it is consummated at Christ’s return. But ‘the times of universal restoration’ and ‘times of refreshing’ (v. 19) are not simply synonymous or interchangeable terms.[29] ‘Consistent with his eschatological scenario sketched in Luke 21:5-36, Luke separates the time of witness from the end-time.’[30] Yet there is also a sense in which he proclaims the realization of end-time blessings in the present through the preaching of the gospel and the healing that accompanies it.

Jesus as the fulfilment of Israel’s resurrection hope

In Acts 2-3, the resurrection is intimately connected with the suffering of Jesus and his subsequent ascension and heavenly enthronement. The salvation and restoration proclaimed in the apostolic gospel is made possible by this complex of events. Nevertheless, the resurrection receives special prominence as the event that inaugurates the eschatological process. This perspective is confirmed in Acts 4, where Luke notes that the priests, the captain of the temple and the Sadducees were annoyed because the apostles were ‘teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead’ (v. 2).

Sadducees and Christians

The Sadducean party, which was made up of chief priests and elders, the priestly and the lay nobility, denied that on the last day there would be a general resurrection from the dead (cf. Lk. 20:27; Acts 23:7-8).[31] They regarded the Maccabean heroes, Mattathias, Judas, Jonathan, and Simon (1638-134 BC) as having inaugurated the Messianic Age (cf. Jub. 23:23-34; 31:9-20; 1 Macc. 14:4-15, 41). ‘For them, the Messiah was an ideal, not a person, and the Messianic Age was a process, not a cataclysmic or even datable event.’[32]

The Sadducees as a party had no specific authority in the temple but many of the priests came from their ranks. They were offended because the apostles as ‘uneducated and ordinary men’ (4:13) were teaching the people in the precincts of the temple. What disturbed them most, however, was that the apostles were affirming what the Sadducees expressly denied, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. The expression ‘in Jesus’ probably means ‘in the case of Jesus’. They were affirming the prophetic hope for a general resurrection by means of the story of Jesus. But they were also making it clear that his resurrection is the key to the fulfilment of that hope. As the flow of the argument in Acts 3-4 suggests, it is because of Jesus’ resurrection that God’s promise to ‘restore everything’ (3:21) will most surely be accomplished and those who trust in Jesus will enjoy all the benefits of the salvation that his resurrection makes possible (4:10-12).

Salvation ‘by the name of Jesus Christ’

The ‘name’ of Jesus, which was given some prominence in 2:38; 3:6, 16, continues to be a dominant theme in chapter four (vv. 7, 10, 12, 17, 18, 30). Peter and John are tried by the Sanhedrin in connection with the healing of the lame man in the temple forecourt and the preaching about Jesus that ensued. The main concern of the authorities is: ‘by what power or by what name did you do this?’

In Peter’s response, the Greek word σώζω is used in two different ways.  It refers firstly to healing in a physical sense (v. 9, cf. θεραπέυω in v.14).  It is then used in v. 12, together with the noun σωτηρία, to refer to salvation in the sense outlined in Peter’s Pentecost sermon, namely, rescue from the coming judgment of God and enjoyment of life under God’s rule in the messianic age (2:21, 40, 47). As in 2:22-36 and 3:13-18, Peter argues that God has accomplished his eschatological purpose through the death and resurrection of Jesus. In raising him from the dead, God began the great process of renewal and restoration that will culminate in a transformed creation and the resurrection to eternal life (3:19-21). What happened to the crippled man was an anticipation of the glory to come but also a sign of the present, heavenly authority of the exalted Christ.

In terms of Psalm 118:22 (LXX 117:22), Jesus is the despised ‘stone’, rejected by the leaders of Israel, but exalted by God to the place of highest honour and significance. He is now ‘the corner stone’ (lit. ‘head of a corner’, κεφαλὴν γωνίας), playing a critical role in the building which God is constructing.[33] In other words, he is the key figure in God’s plan for the restoration of Israel and the whole of his creation. In the original context of the psalm, the stone is either Israel or Israel’s king, rejected by the nations but chosen by God for the accomplishment of his purpose. As elsewhere in the New Testament, however, ‘God’s purpose for Israel finds its fulfilment in the single-handed work of the Christ.[34] Israel’s destiny is tied up with what happens to its king.

The centrality of Jesus to God’s purpose is stressed again with the assertion that ‘there is salvation in no one else’ (v. 12). This is so because ‘there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved’. Jesus’ name is ‘the inescapable decision point concerning salvation’.[35] Members of the Sanhedrin would doubtless have agreed that Israel’s God was the only saviour (cf. Is. 43:11-12; 45:22). But Peter’s point is that, even for Israel, the name of Jesus is now the only means by which God’s saving power can be invoked and experienced. There is a divine necessity (δεῖ) about calling upon the name that God has provided, because of Jesus’ unique place in the divine plan (v. 11). And it is the resurrection that establishes him as ‘the cornerstone’ in this context, after his rejection by ‘the builders’.

It is difficult for people in a relativistic, multi-faith society to accept the exclusive claim of Acts 4:12.  Various alternatives have been proposed to weaken its impact, including the notion that Jesus somehow benefits sincere adherants of other religions, even though they do not acknowledge him as Saviour and Lord.  But such an approach is not consistent with the teaching of Acts 2-3, that it is actually necessary to call upon the name of Jesus to benefit from the salvation he offers (cf. Paul’s use of Joel 2:32 in Rom. 10:12-15).

Christians and Pharisees

In the concluding chapters of the book of Acts, when Paul makes his defence in a variety of contexts, he identifies himself with the position of the Pharisees. The name ‘Pharisee’ probably derives from the Aramaic verb ‘to separate’ (peras]). The Pharisees saw themselves as ‘the separated’ or ‘the holy ones’, who kept aloof from those who were casual about keeping God’s law. They were a continuation of the ancient Hasidim (‘pious ones’), who joined the Hasmonaean rulers in their struggle for religious freedom in the time when the Seleucids controlled Palestine (second century BC). They withdrew their support, however, when the Hasmonaeans went on to establish political as well as military supremacy for themselves and assumed the high-priesthood.[36] The Pharisees came from diverse backgrounds to devote themselves to the study of the Law in its written and oral forms. They applied the Law to the contemporary scene, but also sought to prepare God’s people for the coming of the Messianic Age by summoning them to live a holy life. In the first century AD, their influence in the Sanhedrin was gradually increasing.

Before that same council, Paul identified himself as ‘a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees’ and declared that he was on trial ‘concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead’ (23:6). On this key matter, the Christian movement aligned itself with the Pharisees rather than the Sadducees concerning the future of Israel (23:8). Paul’s appeal was not simply a political ploy to turn the members of the Sanhedrin against one another. He claimed to have views that were consistent with those of his teachers (cf. 22:3) and many on the council itself.

Although the Pharisees looked for the resurrection of the dead, there was debate amongst them about whether that meant the resuscitation of the body or not.[37] Christian preaching clearly came down on the side of a physical resurrection and identified Jesus as the one in whom the hope of a general resurrection would be fulfilled. From an apologetic point of view, affirming the Pharisaic hope was a way of affirming the prophetic expectations that lay behind it. It was also the way to point those with such convictions to the significance of Jesus in the outworking of God’s purposes.

There has been some scepticism amongst commentators about the reliability of Luke’s presentation of Paul in these chapters. I do not wish to enter that debate at this point. But Haenchen is surely right to highlight Luke’s intention to show that a fellowship between Pharisaism and Christianity is in the end possible:

The Pharisees also hope for the Messiah, await the resurrection of the dead. In this they are at one with the Christians. Their mistake is only that in this hope and faith they are not consistent where Jesus is concerned. The resurrection of Jesus, and his Messiahship thereby attested, are not contrary to the Jewish faith.[38]

Putting it another way, Luke believed that the hope of the resurrection could be ‘a shared starting point with some Jews.[39] By way of contrast, pagans are pictured in Acts as reacting negatively to preaching about a bodily resurrection (17:32; 26:23-4).

In Acts 24, responding to the accusations of his Jewish opponents before Felix the Roman governor, Paul again claims to be on trial concerning the resurrection from the dead (v. 21). He presents himself as an orthodox Jew, who worships ‘the God of our ancestors, believing everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets’ (v. 15). His service to God, however, is ‘according to the Way’, which his opponents call ‘a sect’ (α͑ίρεσις). Yet his apparently sectarian approach to Judaism has at its core a hope in God that ‘there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous’ (v. 15; cf. Dn. 12:2; Jn. 5:28-9; Rev. 20:12-15). This last expression links the thought of judgment with that of resurrection, as the next verse makes clear. It is because of the resurrection that Paul does his best to have ‘a clear conscience toward God and all people.’ (v. 17)

Although Paul is opposed by the high priest Ananias, ‘with some elders and an attorney’ (24:1), he boldly claims that his hope is one that ‘they themselves also accept’ (24:15). He ignores the presence of Sadducees amongst his accusers and insists that ‘it was the Pharisaic hope that characterized—or, at least, should characterize—all true representations of the Jewish faith.’[40]

Paul’s defence before Herod Agrippa II in Acts 26 is his most extensive, because he knows Agrippa to be especially familiar with ‘all the customs and controversies of the Jews’ (v. 3).[41] Once again he establishes himself as an orthodox Jew, who previously belonged to ‘the strictest sect’ of Judaism and who lived as a Pharisee (v. 5). Once again he claims to be on trial for his resurrection faith, describing it as a hope in ‘the promise made by God to our ancestors, a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship day and night’ (v. 6). In other words, the hope of Israel for a restoration of the twelve tribes, under a renewed covenant, in a renewed creation, is here focused on the expectation of a resurrection of the dead. Paul considers it incredible that he is accused by the Jews for proclaiming this hope (v. 7), which he later characterizes as ‘the hope of Israel’ (28:20).

In his former commitment to Judaism, Paul saw Jesus of Nazareth and his followers as opponents (26:9-12). Confronted by the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, his understanding of the way in which the hope of Israel would be fulfilled was dramatically changed (vv. 13-16). From then on, he continued to say ‘nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would take place’ (v. 22). But his encounter with Christ enabled him to discern ‘that the Messiah must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles’ (v. 23).

Summary: the appeal to Jewish audiences

Paul is pictured in the closing chapters of Acts as one who finds ways to speak even to hostile Jews, ‘building a foundation for mutual understanding’.[42] Only in the case of King Agrippa, who is less hostile, does he get to the point of a full missionary appeal (26:27-9). Tannehill notes that Paul’s approach to Jews in this respect is similar to his approach to pagans in Acts 17:

In both cases Paul avoids reference to Jesus until a foundation has been laid, in one case through presenting a view of God that cultured pagans might accept, in the other case through emphasizing the hope that Paul and other Jews share. Such an approach is necessary because Paul is speaking to groups who are difficult to reach.[43]

Acts 26:23 provides an opportunity to summarise the way in which the suffering and resurrection of Jesus are used in Luke-Acts in appealing to Jewish audiences (‘that the Messiah must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles’). The suffering of the Messiah inaugurates the New Covenant (Lk. 22:15-20), which makes possible the definitive offer of forgiveness that is at the heart of the apostolic preaching (Lk. 24:47; Acts 2:38; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18). Jesus’ sacrifice is thus the means by which God’s new covenant people are constituted, in fulfilment of Jeremiah 31:31-4.[44] The resurrection is necessary, however, to free the Messiah himself from the power of death and make him ‘the first to rise from the dead’ in God’s great plan of restoration for Israel and the nations. The resurrection also makes possible his ascension and heavenly enthronement, so that he can pour out God’s Spirit on his disciples and subdue the enemies of God, before the End comes (2:32-9). Through the ministry of his Spirit-led people, he continues to ‘proclaim light’ to the people of Israel and also to the Gentiles, showing them the way to salvation through him. As the exalted Lord and Messiah, he has become the ‘cornerstone’ in the divine plan. There is no other ‘name’ to call upon to share in the blessings of the messianic era and the restoration of all things that will climax with his return.

Jesus’ resurrection and the appeal to pagans

The account of Paul’s ministry in Athens (Acts 17:16-34) gives some indication of the way the Christian message had to be preached to convince the pagan mind. This is anticipated in the much briefer record of Paul’s preaching at Lystra (14:11-18). Luke first notes that, when Paul was waiting for his friends in Athens, ‘he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols’ (17:16). His reaction was twofold. As was his custom, he turned first to the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews and God-fearing Greeks. Doubtless he preached Jesus as the Christ and showed how the Scriptures had been fulfilled in his death and resurrection (cf. 13:16-41; 17:2-4). However, he also dialogued in the market-place daily with ‘those who happened to be there.’

Jesus and the resurrection

Paul may well have employed some of the argument detailed later in the chapter, but those who heard him were convinced that his message was essentially about ‘Jesus and the resurrection’ (v. 18). In other words, Paul was not simply engaged in apologetics or pre-evangelism. He apparently saw that the preaching of Jesus and the resurrection was the key to persuading those who were given over to idolatry. For all that, some of his listeners categorized him as yet another preacher of ‘foreign gods’ or strange powers (ξένων δαιμονίων, v. 18).[45]

Such novel teaching had to be examined by the experts in the court of the Areopagus, an ancient institution exercising jurisdiction in religion and morals in Athens (vv. 19-20). Paul’s defence in this context carefully weaves the themes of ignorance and worship together. He notes the extent of their religious feeling, as indicated by the many objects of their devotion (σεβάσματα), but insists that the altar dedicated ‘to an unknown god’ is a pointer to their ignorance of the true God (vv. 22-3).

Biblical foundations

When the text of the following verses is closely examined, it is clear that Paul puts forward a number of Old Testament perspectives about the character and purpose of God, the foolishness of idolatry, and human responsibility in relation to God, without actually quoting scripture (vv. 24-29).[46] The true God cannot be accommodated in human sanctuaries and have his needs met by those who would serve him. The God who made the world and everything in it, ‘he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things’ (vv. 24-5). Each part of this carefully worded statement attacks an important presupposition of paganism. Furthermore, God’s ordering of nature and history is designed to provoke people to ‘search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him.’ (vv. 26-7)

The characteristic response of humanity has been the lie of idolatry, even though it is totally illogical and has often been acknowledged as such by pagan poets and philosophers (vv. 28-9). Such ‘ignorance’ of God is actually culpable. In the framework of teaching about the judgment of God against all false worship, Paul then returns to the theme of Jesus and the resurrection (vv. 30-1).

The appeal for conversion

Tannehill rightly observes that effective mission requires reflection on theological foundations ‘in order to discover a message that can address the whole world.’[47] Reflection on the relation of the Creator to the creation in Acts 17 enables Paul to proclaim a message that excludes no one. It arises from a profound understanding of the Jewish Scriptures but is taught in connection with ideas and practices manifested in the particular context addressed. Yet, although Paul seeks areas of common understanding with his audience, his speech is basically a call to repentance, ‘a call for the Greco-Roman world to break decisively with its religious past in response to the one God who now invites all to be part of the renewed world.’[48]

Paul’s conclusion is that Gentiles can seek after God and find him by turning in repentance from their idolatry and believing in the resurrected Jesus.[49] Even though the Creator has ‘overlooked the times of ignorance’, not acting in judgment as he might have in response to human sin, ‘now he commands all people everywhere to repent’ (v. 30). God will indeed act as judge and has already ‘fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness’ (v. 31). But perhaps the most surprising feature of this appeal is the statement that he will do this ‘by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance by raising him from the dead.’

The record of this address is brief and more was doubtless said by way of explanation on the day. Readers of Acts, however, have been prepared to understand the import of Paul’s appeal from what has gone before. The resurrected Jesus is ‘the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead’ (10:41-2).  This is so because of his exaltation to God’s right hand, there to ‘sit’ until God makes his enemies his footstool (2:33-5).  Everyone who responds to him with repentance and faith receives the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (2:38-9).  Those who refuse him will be ‘rooted out of the people’ and find no place in the coming restoration (3:19-23).

The doctrine of the resurrection is not ‘tagged on in a sudden transition in verse 31’.[50] Resurrection is critical to the argument because it is a ‘proof’ that the Creator God whom Paul represents is sovereign over nature and history, that he cannot be avoided and must in the end be judge of all.  More particularly, it is a ‘proof’ of the significance of the man who was raised. The resurrection confirms the teaching about the importance of humanity in the divine plan set out in vv. 25-8. At the same time, it affirms that there is one man who is to be the standard and the agent of divine judgment for all.

Such preaching about the resurrection from the dead and the need to acknowledge the divine kingship of Jesus inevitably led the early Christians into direct conflict with the pluralism and relativism of the Greco-Roman world. ‘When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, “We will hear you again about this”’ (v. 32). Luke’s final point, however, is that some believed (v. 33) and the implication is that the preaching of the resurrection of Jesus was the key to effective evangelism in a pagan, as well as in a Jewish context.


Contemporary apologists for Christianity operate in a very different context from the preachers in Acts. The closest parallel to our situation is Paul’s encounter with paganism in Acts 17. In modern western culture, few have any knowledge of the biblical background assumed in the apostolic preaching to Jews. But those who wish to communicate the gospel to our own generation would do well to recover and apply those same perspectives, even as Paul does in Acts 17.

The sermons in Acts highlight the theological issues that rightly belong with the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus. They show that the resurrection links together a whole complex of biblical hopes and is a key to their fulfilment. Proclaimed within that framework, even in a summary way to pagans, the resurrection makes a powerful appeal to acknowledge the significance of Christ in the plan of God for humanity and the whole created order.

Jesus’ resurrection affirms God’s intention to judge humanity, but also to renew and transform all who call upon the name of Christ and, with them, the whole creation. It is a guarantee of the ultimate defeat of sin and all its consequences. It is a pointer to the supreme authority and significance of Jesus Christ for the whole human race.  It makes him the living Lord, to whom all are accountable, the measure and standard of God’s righteousness, but one from whom forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit are available. It is the risen Lord who makes available ‘times of refreshing’, in anticipation of ‘the universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets’.

Questions for further reflection

1. From your reading of Acts consider how adequate it is to say that the resurrection proves that Jesus is the Son of God.

2. How was the resurrection of Jesus the means by which ‘the hope of Israel’ was fulfilled?

3. How is the message to Israel about Jesus adapted for Gentile audiences in the Acts of the Apostles?  What gets left out and what gets proclaimed in a new way?

4. Reflecting on Acts, to what extent would you say that teaching about the resurrection of Jesus is vital for persuading unbelievers today?

5. How would you answer the charge that the resurrection in Luke-Acts is only a stage in Jesus’ heavenly exaltation and that Luke’s real interest is in the ascension and enthronement of Christ?  What is the distinctive importance of the resurrection in Luke’s theology?

[1] Originally published as ‘Resurrection Apologetics and the Theology of Luke-Acts’, in P. M. Head (ed.), Witness to the Resurrection: Papers from the First Oak Hill College Annual School of Theology (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998), 29-57.

[2] Houlden, L., ‘The Resurrection and Christianity’, Theology 99: 789 (May/June 1996), 198-205 (203).

[3] Houlden, ‘Resurrection’, 204. For different perspectives on the relationship between the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, see O’Toole, R. F., ‘Luke’s understanding of Jesus’ resurrection-ascension-exaltation’, Biblical Theology Bulletin 9 (1979), 106-114.

[4] Τεκμηρίον means ‘strict proof’ or ‘a compelling sign’ in Greek literature. The word only occurs here in the NT. Luke could not have chosen a stronger term to convey the sense of proof beyond doubt.  Cf. Angel, G. T. D., NIDNTT 3:571.

[5] The evangelist presents the women as the first witnesses of the resurrection in the sense that they observe the empty tomb and hear the angelic testimony, which affirms that Jesus’ prediction has been fulfilled (Lk. 24:1-11). Cf. Plevnik, J., ‘The Eyewitnesses of the Risen Jesus in Luke 24’, CBQ 49 (1987), 90-103 (91-3).

[6] S. Brown (Apostasy and Perseverance in the Theology of St. Luke, AnBib 36 [Rome: Biblical Institute, 1969], 79) rightly observes that, ‘the object of apistounton in v. 41 is not the resurrection itself but the corporeal nature of the resurrection.’

[7] Plevnik, ‘Eyewitnesses’, 101.

[8] The textual evidence for including προσκυνήσαντες (‘worshipped’) in Lk. 24:52 is quite strong. Although the reading is missing from representatives of the Western text, this is not a sufficient reason for doubting that it was part of the original. Cf. Metzger, B. M. (ed.), A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (London/New York: United Bible Societies, 1971), 190-3.

[9] Cf. Plevnik, ‘Eyewitnesses’, 103.

[10] Barrett, C. K., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, ICC Vol. I (Edinburgh: Clark, 1994), 63.

[11] Several commentators note the parallel in 1 QS 8.1, where twelve leaders appear to represent the Qumran community as the true or renewed Israel, final authority resting with a smaller body of two or three. Cf. Longenecker, R.N., Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 265.

[12] The period indicated here is that covered in the apostolic preaching (e.g., Acts 10:37-42; 13:24-31). The expression in 1:22 cannot be pressed too literally, since it appears from Luke’s Gospel that not all of the apostles were with Jesus from the very beginning. In simple terms, the candidates needed to have been with Jesus throughout the span of his ministry.  Cf. Tannehill, R. C., The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation, Volume 2 The Acts of the Apostles (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), 23.

[13] BAGD, s.v. λύω. Cf. Bertram, G., TDNT 9:673. The expression ὀδῖνες θανάτου (‘pangs of death’) is found in Ps. 18:4 (LXX 17:5); 116 (LXX 114):3 and the parallel expression ὀδῖνες ͑άδου (‘pangs of Hades’) in Ps. 18:5 (LXX 17:6)

[14] Davidic authorship is affirmed by both the Hebrew and Greek versions of this psalm and is clearly foundational to the argument here (cf. 1:20; 2:34-5).

[15] Cf. Eichrodt, W., Theology of the Old Testament, Vol. II (ET, London: SCM, 1967), 524-5; Bock, D.L., Proclamation from Prophecy and Pattern: Lucan Old Testament Christology, JSNTSS 12 (Sheffield: JSOT, 1987), 173-34.

[16] David’s tomb was situated on the slope of Ophel near the Pool of Siloam (cf. Ne. 3:16).  It was entered and robbed during the seige of Jerusalem in 135/134 BC. Over a century later Herod the Great built a monument of white marble at its entrance (cf. Jos. BJ 1.61; Ant. 7.393; 13.249; 16.179-83).

[17] Cf. Fitzmyer, J. A., ‘David, Being Therefore a Prophet…(Acts 2:30)’, CBQ 34 (1972), 332-9.  It is surprising that Fitzmyer makes little of 2 Sa. 23:1-2 as an OT precedent.

[18] Bock, Proclamation, 178.  This change reflects the explanatory parallelism of the psalm as recorded in Acts 2:26b, 27, where ‘the last two elements of the line define how the flesh shall dwell in security with hope’ (v. 26, NIV my body).

[19] Cf. Hay, D. M., Glory at the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity SBLMS 18 (Nashville/New York: SBL ,1973), 110-116; Bock, Proclamation, 128-32. In the final analysis, Luke shows that ‘the Messiah Jesus is not merely the Son of David or the messianic Son of God. He is Son in a fuller sense that entails complete authority and direct access to God’ (Bock, 143).

[20] Ps. 2:7 is used instead of Ps. 110:1 in Acts 13:33, in conjunction with Ps. 16:10, in a similar apologetic. Since Ps. 2:7 puts the focus on Jesus as the exalted messianic Son, it is clear that ‘Son of God’ ([8:37]; 9:20) conveys the same sense as ‘Lord and Messiah’ (2:36).

[21] Tannehill, Narrative Unity, 39.  R. N. Longenecker (‘The Acts of the Apostles’, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9 [John-Acts], [ed.] F. E. Gaebelein [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981], 281) similarly argues that Peter is proclaiming ‘not an adoptionist Christology but a functional one with ontological overtones.’

[22]           E. Haenchen (The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary [ET, Oxford: Blackwell, 1971], 205) takes ‘servant’ as a term adopted from Jewish prayers, ‘in which great men of God, especially David, were called God’s pais’ (cf. Acts 4:25).  D. L. Jones (‘The Title “Servant” in Luke-Acts’, in Talbert, C. H. [ed.], Luke-Acts: New Perspectives from the Society of Biblical Literature Seminar (New York: Crossroad, 1984], 148-65) develops this argument, concluding that Luke used the title ‘servant’ interchangeably with ‘Son of God’ and ‘Christ’, without any identification of Jesus as the Suffering Servant. It is true that two of the references to Jesus as God’s servant in Acts are in the context of prayer (4:27, 30) and that the title mainly lived on as a fixed liturgical formula in some later Christian works, without necessarily connoting his vicarious suffering. But the usage in Acts 3:13, 26 is in an explanatory and apologetic context, with Isaianic associations clearly established in the intervening argument.  Cf. Barrett, Acts, 94.

[23] Further links with Isaiah 53 have been detected in Luke’s passion narrative, cf. Head, P. M., ‘The Self-Offering and Death of Christ as a Sacrifice in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles’, in Beckwith, R.T., and Selman, M.J. (ed.), Sacrifice in the Bible (Carlisle: Paternoster; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), 127, note 52.

[24] Cf. Bock, Proclamation, 189-90; Tannehill, Narrative Unity, 53. Jesus’ exaltation is testified to by this healing just as it is testified to by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33-6).

[25] Cf. Müller, P. G., CHRISTOS ARCHÉGOS: Der religionsgeschichtliche und theologische Hintergrund einer neutestamentlichen Christusprädikation, Europäische Hochsculschriften Reihe 23, Vol. 28 (Frankfurt/Bern: Lang, 1973), 1-247; Johnston, G., ‘Christ as ἀρχηγός’, NTS 27 (1981), 381-5.

[26] E.g. Haenchen, Acts, 208 n. 8; Schweizer, E., TDNT 9:663-5. The verb ἀναψύχω basically means ‘to cool, refresh’ (e.g. Ju. 15:19; 2 Sa. 16:14; 2 Macc 4:46 LXX; 2 Tim. 1:16). The sense of relief from suffering is prominent in Ps. 38:14 (LXX).

[27] Perhaps these times of refreshment are more specifically ‘moments of relief during the time men spend in waiting for that blessed day’ (Barrett, C.K., ‘Faith and Eschatology in Acts 3’, in Grässer, E., and Merk, O. [ed.], Glaube und Eschatologie: Festschrift  für W. G. Kümmel [Tübingen: Mohr , 1985], 12).  Barrett suggests that we have here ‘an example of Luke’s personalizing, or individualizing, of eschatology’ (p. 12f.).

[28] Barrett, ‘Faith and Eschatology’, 6.

[29] Oepke, A., TDNT 1:391, suggests that ἀναψύξεως (‘refreshment, relief’) denotes the subjective side of what what God is doing in the present and that ἀποκαταστάσεως (‘restoration, reconstitution’) denotes the objective side of the matter (the restoration of right relationships and the reconstitution of the creation). However, I am not convinced by his distinction between the two different words for ‘times’, καιροί (marking ‘the beginning of the transformation’) and χρόνων (conveying ‘the thought of the lasting nature of the renewed world’).  Cf. Barrett, ‘Faith and Eschatology’, 10-11.

[30] Johnson, L. T., The Acts of the Apostles, Sacra Pagina 5, (ed.) Harrington, D.J. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1992), 74.  Cf. W. Kurz, ‘Acts 3:19-26 as a Test of the Role of Eschatology in Lukan Christology’, SBL 1977 Seminar Papers, (ed.) Achtemeier, P. J. (Missoula: Scholars, 1977), 309-323.

[31] On the Sadducean beliefs, see Josephus, Ant 13:297-8; 18:16-17; War 2:164-5; and Schürer, E. M., The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 BC – AD 135) (ET, [ed.] Vermes, G. And Miller, F., Edinburgh: Clark, 1973-87), 2:404-14.

[32] Longenecker, ‘Acts’, 301.  Longenecker notes the link between their political views and their eschatology.

[33] Longenecker (‘Acts’, 304-5) notes that in the 1st century AD Testament of Solomon 22:7 – 23:4 ‘the stone at the head of the corner’ unambiguously refers to ‘the final copestone or capstone placed on the summit of the Jerusalem temple to complete the whole edifice’.  Cf. Jeremias, J., TDNT 1:792.

[34] Bruce, F. F., The Book of the Acts, Revised Edition, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 93.

[35] Tannehill, Narrative Unity,  61.

[36] Cf. Bruce, Book of the Acts, 114f. note 51; Schürer, History, 2:381-403.

[37] Cf. Brown, C. (Ed.), New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology Vol 3 Pri-Z (Exeter: Paternoster, 1978), 270-75.

[38] Haenchen, Acts, 643. On the Jewishness of Paul that Luke brings out so obviously in Acts, see Jervell, J., ‘Paul in the Acts of the Apostles’, in Kremer, J. (ed.), Les Acts des Apôtres (Leuven: Leuven University, 1979), 297-306.

[39] Tannehill, Narrative Unity, 288.  Paul is presented in these chapters as ‘a model of a resourceful missionary who takes account of the presuppositions of his audience.’ (p. 289)

[40] Longenecker, ‘Acts’, 540. .  K. Haacker (‘Bekenntnis des Paulus zur Hoffnung Israels’, NTS 31 [1985], 443-8) shows how the theme of resurrection is closely connected in the OT and Jewish tradition with the hopes of Israel as a people.

[41] Cf. O’Toole, R. F., Acts 26 The Christological Climax of Paul’s Defence (Ac 22:1 – 26:32), Analecta Biblica 78 (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1978).

[42] Tannehill, Narrative Unity, 290.

[43] Tannehill, Narrative Unity, 290

[44] For a brief survey of the scholarly debate regarding Luke’s perspective on the death of Jesus, see Head, ‘Self-Offering’, 116-119.

[45] For a brief analysis of the Stoic and Epicurean philosophies and the reaction to Paul’s message, see Bruce, Book of the Acts, 330-1. When Paul spoke about ‘Jesus and the resurrection’ it is possible that they understood him to be speaking about ‘the personified and divinized powers of “healing” and “restoration”.’

[46] So argues Bruce, Book of the Acts, 334-5, while defending the authenticity of this speech and discussing its relation to the theology of Romans 1-3. The essential context of the speech is biblical, ‘but the presentation is Hellenistic.’ (p. 341)

[47] Tannehill, Narrative Unity, 211.  Tannehill, 211-12, also shows how the speech in Acts 17 repeats themes presented elsewhere in Luke-Acts.

[48] Tannehill, Narrative Unity, 218.

[49] On the preaching of the resurrected Christ as the centre of true worship for the nations, see O’Toole, R. F., ‘Paul at Athens and Luke’s notion of Worship’, RB 89 (1982), 185-197. However, his insistence that the speech is a ‘Lukan literary work’ needs to be weighed in the light of Bruce, Book of the Acts, 334-42.

[50] Haenchen, Acts, 530.


2 thoughts on “Resurrection Apologetic in Luke-Acts

  1. Hi David

    Thanks for placing this article online.

    In particular I like you comment that ‘the doctrine of the resurrection is not “tagged on in a sudden transition in verse 31″‘ but that it is the culmination of his appeal in his preaching of the gospel.

    Often I hear verses 30-31 preached wholly in the negative, that “Jesus is the judge of the world, and you better get right with him or else,” but not the positive, which you identify, as Jesus ‘the Lord who makes available “times of refreshing”, in anticipation of “the universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets”.’ Do you think the idea of Jesus returning to judge in justice (v. 31) implies (primarily) the hope of restoration, nevertheless with a corresponding warning not to be part of the wrongs he comes to right by receiving the forgiveness of sins? If so, should the tone and emphasis of our preaching of repentance be more hopeful “repent and come back to the good God who offers you his perfect rest” rather than being so dramatically negative “repent or burn”? Not that the negative shouldn’t be preached. It must be, but only as a warning not to miss out on the good news of salvation which is the offer in the gospel.

    Look forward to hearing from you.



    1. Toby, I think you are right that repentance ought to be preached in the context of grace, as well as reminding people about God’s judgment. After all, Romans 2:4 says that ‘God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance.’ So we should confront people with God’s kindness, as well as with his righteousness in judgment.



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