41. Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
As we might well imagine, the reactions of those in the crowd to Peter’s words were not all the same. Some no doubt rejected what he had to say. Others perhaps were not willing to make up their minds one way or the other at this time. But of the men in this crowd, about three thousand of them, which must have been a significant percentage indeed, had the readiness of heart to gladly receive the word of God spoken through Peter to them.
Now those who thus received the word were baptized. Most immediately assume upon reading this that a water ritual is referred to. However, as I have explained previously, the idea of the Greek word for “baptism” is not of a water ritual, but of an identification. There is no mention of water here, and those who think there was water involved are just reading that in from the water ceremony performed in most churches today. Jerusalem was a large city, but the sources of water therein were scarce. It is a logistical problem indeed to imagine enough water for this many people to undergo the kind of water rituals that are performed in churches today. We must ask ourselves if this would even have been possible for them to do. Many of our water ceremonies came out of Europe, where water is relatively plentiful.
The truth of this is that those who received the word were identified with those who believed in and submitted themselves to Jesus Christ. The apostles had the right from the Lord to identify people with Him, and they used that right in identifying these people. From this day on, then, there were not merely 120 followers of Jesus Christ. Now, there were 3,120. This was a huge increase, but things were just starting. The work that God was preparing to do in Israel would result in literally millions of Israelites who believed in the Lord Jesus as their Messiah.
The number three thousand might seem quite impressive. Yet we must keep in mind that these were not God-rejecting pagans who were brought to faith in Christ by Peter’s preaching. These men were God fearing Israelites, described as “devout” in verse 5. They were in the temple of God worshipping God. These were not the type of men who have no relationship to speak of with God that many of us try to lead to the Lord today. Instead, they already were God’s people, and were trying to serve Him. Now, they were brought to a new understanding, and realized and accepted the truth that the rejected Jesus of Nazareth was in fact their Lord and the One God sent to be their Savior. This was an impressive result for the first major announcement of the truth regarding Jesus Christ in the book of Acts, yet we must remember that it was not quite the same as three thousand people who didn’t know God at all being brought into relationship with Him.
It is interesting to consider the fact that this all was taking place in the temple. Where it took place, as I asserted above, we do not really know. Yet we do know that there were different courts in the temple where different groups of people were allowed. One of these was known as the court of the Gentiles, and another as the court of the women. Since this message was exclusively to the men of Israel, we can conclude that this did not take place in the court of the Gentiles. But did it take place in the court of the women? Because if it did not, that would mean that every one of these three thousand people who believed here was male. There is no way to tell from the language, since Greek uses the male pronouns as the default, so just the fact that “men” is used could mean just men, or it could mean men and women. But it is interesting to note, contrary to those who try to make this be the beginning of what God is doing today, that this first announcement of Christ may or may not have been limited to men only. Either way, this announcement in the temple to Israelites alone is not typical at all of the gospel preaching that we engage in today. However God’s work that is going on now began, it did not begin like this!
The use of the word “souls” here is interesting to note. The word is clearly used just to designate “people.” They started with 120, and now are 3,120. This use of “souls” is a figure just for “people,” similar to when you might say, “Three hundred bodies really heat up this room,” when you are referring to three hundred people. The word “soul” can be used for the person as a whole.
42. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
Now we learn how this large group of Israelites, all united by their common belief in and identification with the Lord Jesus Christ, continued their lives from this point. They did not, as many imagine, continue their usual daily lives, adding only that they got together at some church meeting once a week on Sunday. These men had dedicated their lives to Jesus Christ, and all who dwelt at Jerusalem had well known the persecution any who openly confessed Him would face from the priests, Pharisees, and other religious leaders of their ilk. We can see this in John 7:13, John 9:22, and John 12:42. Moreover, the Lord Himself had warned His disciples of the persecution they would face for faithfulness to Him in passages like Matthew 10:25 and Luke 21:16. Thus, by identifying themselves with Him, they had all but signed their own death warrants. Such men were not interested in attending a religious service once a week and then living the rest of their lives as if nothing had changed. They had received the privilege of entering God’s kingdom, and this was a life-changing experience for them. From this point on, their lives and activities centered around the temple, the apostles, and their new life in Christ. Businesses, worldly possessions, and the other concerns of this life were forgotten in the light of the position and responsibility that were now theirs.
These men, we are now told, continued steadfastly in four things. These were the teaching of the apostles, the fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and the prayers. We need to carefully consider what these four things were.
First of all, they continued in the apostles’ doctrine. Doctrine means teaching, and they were all being taught by these twelve men who had first been taught by Christ. The apostles, in their earlier work for Christ, had never been commissioned to teach. Rather, Christ had sent them out to proclaim a very simple message, that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 10:7) Now, however, as the ones who had first been trained by Christ, these men became the teachers of this new multitude of believers, setting forth to them what the Holy Spirit gave them to teach.
Now with twelve apostles and 3,120 people, the believers could have been divided into groups, with about 260 people in each group. This would be a much more manageable crowd to teach, as it would be very hard to do much teaching with a crowd that numbered larger than three thousand. With this number of believers assigned to each apostle, all could hear, and all could learn the precious truths of God that He had for these people to know. The things Christ had taught could be passed on to them, and they could learn what their new life for Him would entail. This is how things were divided at this time.
Secondly, they continued in the fellowship. The translation in the New King James makes it sound like they continued in the apostles’ fellowship. Yet this is not true to the construction of the Greek. The phrase “of the apostles” follows the word for “teaching,” and there is nothing to connect it with the fellowship. One might as well insist that it was the breaking of the bread and the prayers of the bread! No, what is stated here is that they continued in “the fellowship.” What was this fellowship that they continued in?
I believe that “the fellowship” refers to the absolute sharing of all material things that existed among the followers of Jesus Christ. While He was with them on earth, the Lord and His disciples had lived off of a common purse carried, interestingly, by Judas Iscariot (John 12:6,) from which all of them were supported. When the Lord had sent out His disciples, He told them, “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” (John 20:21) Moreover, He had given them no command that had rescinded the previous order of things regarding their livelihood and possessions. Now what must have been very convenient and reasonable for twelve or even one hundred and twenty people would become huge and burdensome for over three thousand. Yet these men were all faithful to what the Lord had commanded, and so they continued in this fellowship that He had established. These were their marching orders, and they were going to continue in them until they were commanded otherwise. We will see more about this in verses 44 and 45 below, and in Acts 4:32.
Thirdly, they continued in the breaking of the bread. Many try to see some kind of bread and wine ritual in this, such as is performed in many churches today. However, this is not what this is talking about. Anyone who is familiar with what the Word of God tells us about their breaking of bread knows that this had to do with the sharing of the common meal, as we see it often used in describing the actions of Christ with His disciples. This is a figure of speech that is not uncommon in English in certain parts of the United States.
To the Israelites, to share a meal had great significance. You did not share a meal with someone you did not like, or whom you did not consider yourself to be in fellowship or agreement with. To share a meal meant a close connection, and these men all shared the common meal together to show how dedicated they were to each other and to the common faith they all professed. Stand or fall, they were in this together, and on the side of the Lord Jesus Christ, Whom they served.
Finally, they continued in prayers. This does not just mean that they prayed often, as we would take “prayers” to mean. The Greek has the definite article in front of it, so this is “the prayers.” These were the common times of prayer in the temple, which we know were at their third hour or approximately 9:00AM, the sixth hour or approximately noon, and the ninth hour which was approximately 3:00PM. In fact, we see Peter and John observing this in Acts 3:1.
So these are the four things in which the believers continued steadfastly. Understanding what these four things were, we can see them continuing and understand their significance in the coming passages.
43. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
Now we read that fear came upon every soul. I do not think this just means the believers, as “all who believed” occurs in contrast to this in the very next verse. Rather, this was all who came in contact with these dedicated, sincere believers, who showed such commonality of purpose and such wholehearted commitment to their newfound faith in the Lord Jesus as their Messiah. This fear was multiplied by the fact that the wonders and signs did not end with those displayed at the feast of Pentecost. Rather, many more of these wonders and signs were done through the apostles. The work God was now doing was powerful, and every day had its new evidence to what was actually happening, and the work that He was now performing.
Fear here does not mean terror. There can be some real fear mixed in with it, but it mainly has to do with awe and respect. All men may not have joined themselves to this sold-out new company, but none could deny their dedication, or the power that their leaders displayed.
The word “soul” is used here for people in general. It would certainly be foolish to suggest that their souls feared, but their bodies and their spirits did not. The soul is particularly associated with the seat of emotions in man, and so “soul” is an appropriate word to use in describing the fear and respect the common people of Jerusalem had for these new followers of Christ.
44. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common,
This verse demonstrates for us the reality of the fellowship that we talked about above. All who believed were constantly together. This was no once-a-week thing. They probably only returned to their homes to sleep.
Moreover, they had all things in common. Some had no doubt been wealthy before they believed, and others had been in poverty. Yet now, all that they had was shared commonly together. This was a truly socialistic arrangement, yet since it was ordered by God Himself, it did not fall into the corruption and oppression that all societies that try to function in a similar manner fall prey to today. Their possessions were all given into the hands of God, and He was seeing to it that all was done in fairness and honesty. No wonder men marveled at this fellowship of believers! What was going on among them could have been nothing short of divine.
45. and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
The communion of these believers and the lengths to which their fellowship extended went far beyond just whatever cash they might have had on hand or readily available. Their union extended even to the possessions and goods of these men, who divided all equally among each other as anyone had need. Some who had very little would have seemed to benefit greatly from this, whereas others who had much would have seemed to lose greatly by it. Yet this was what God wanted of them, and every one of them did this in singleness of heart and in honesty with each other. This was an amazing time indeed, and without God’s hand clearly upon it, this never could have happened.
It seems that those who claim that Pentecost was the birthday of the church, and that we should get back to the way things were in Acts, are generally not willing to extend their statements to this. Why do men not sell what they have and share all things in common with their fellow believers today? Could we really expect the honesty that was shown here in such an arrangement? We make no claims of trying to get back to the Acts period. God was doing a powerful work then that He is not doing now. Rather than trying to get back to Acts, let us move forward to learn and believe the truth He has for us today, and dedicate our lives to His plan for us in this dispensation of grace.
What was happening here was all in line with what the Lord had said of the kingdom of God. In His parable in Matthew 13:45-46, the Lord had said,
45. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46. who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
The Lord had said this is what the kingdom would be like, and now, that very thing was happening. These faithful men had discovered the kingdom of God through the message preached to them, and they had considered it so valuable that they were willing to sell all that they had in order to have a part in it. The goods and possessions of this life seemed of no value next to the precious thing that they now encountered. Thus, they were willing to give it all up to attain to a place in God’s coming kingdom. This all happened just as the Lord had said it would.
Though this was all in line with Christ’s prediction, there is nothing that is similar to this today. Even if one wanted to sell all he had for the sake of God, whom would he give the money to? There are plenty of religious organizations or cults who would be willing to take the money from him, but this is not the same as giving it all to God. Certainly he would not be cared for afterwards by such organizations. Moreover, if anyone thinks that by giving up all his possessions he can secure his place in God’s kingdom, he is mistaken. Our standing before God is based upon our being and believing in Jesus Christ, not on what we do with the material possessions of this life we might have. Thus, even those who might give up everything they own to go penniless to the mission field are doing this to spread the good news to others, and not to attain a place in the kingdom of God for themselves. Yet this is exactly what these men were doing, and they did assure themselves a place in that kingdom by becoming a part of this company.
46. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,
These believers, we are told, continued daily with one accord in the temple, or as the Greek has it, the temple courts. As I have already said, they had left off the rest of their lives, and had dedicated everything to this, the truth they had found regarding their Messiah. Every one of these was an Israelite who believed, and when they believed, they did not give up the heritage of their fathers. Far from leaving Judaism to join some new religion called Christianity, these men met in the temple, the house that God gave to Israel.
They were breaking bread from house to house. Most view this as if they were sharing a meal in each others’ homes, as if they were traveling around from house to house. But remember what we discussed previously concerning these houses. These were actually meeting places in the temple, and probably refer to the same place where they were being taught by the apostles. Now since sharing the common meal was an indication of fellowship, it is clear that if they continued in twelve groups and ate meals together in that group, other men would have started to get the idea that they had divided into twelve separate companies that were only fellowshipping with each other. The meeting places in the temple were quite large enough for each of these twelve groups to meet, yet there was no place that would have accommodated all three thousand plus believers so that they could have comfortably eaten a meal together. Thus they had to eat in their twelve groups. To avoid any thought of twelve divisions, then, it seems that the believers did not remain with one group only to eat, but moved freely from group to group, thus solidifying the picture of the entire fellowship in harmony with each other.
They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart. There was no conniving, no scheming, no politics, no envy, and no strife. All was one, as Christ had prayed it would be in John 17:20-23.
20. “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21. that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23. I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
So the Lord prayed both for His disciples, and for those who would believe in Him through their word. His prayer for them was that they might all be one. Now, what he had prayed for had come to pass. Many had believed on Him through the word of those disciples whom he had prayed for. And God had granted His request, and had seen to it that all these became one. The Lord was bringing to pass everything He wanted to see from His followers. This was all happening according to His plan, because this all was a part of His kingdom.
Again, the work that the Lord began was being continued and fulfilled by these men. Yet this in no way has continued on to this day. Those who believe today are not one, as is evident to us on every side. The divisions, the disagreements, and the disunity among those who believe are obvious to all. Those who truly have faith are scattered, here a few and there a few, often times surrounded by men who do not really believe at all, or who only play at religion. Even when men of faith get together, there is often evidence of disunity among them. The situation we find today is one where God works with those who are faithful to Him on an individual basis. He is not working to bring all together as one, as He was in Acts 2. If He is, He is clearly failing miserably. Yet that is not His purpose. The book of Acts records the continuation of all that the Lord began to do and teach. What we see today, however, is something that began later, and that has a far different purpose, and that is worked out in a very different way. This should be clear to all who are willing to examine it.
47. praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
These people were excited about what God was doing among them, as we can well imagine, and this excitement resulted in praise. True appreciation of God’s work will always turn the hearts of His people to praise and thanksgiving. Also, we see at first that this group of believers had favor, that is, grace with all the people. Their reputation was impeccable, for they were worshipping in the temple and in every way adhering to the law of their fathers. Their adherence to their now-revealed Messiah merely fueled their fervor for serving God through the law He had given.
Then we read that the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. We can hardly imagine that a group with such an amazing harmony and such a good reputation would not attract new members, and many were indeed coming into their company. So the number did not remain as 3,120, but was constantly growing.
Some manuscripts do not have the words “to the church.” Yet most certainly what God was growing here was His ekklesia. The Lord had promised His disciples that on this rock, that is, on them, He would build His ekklesia (Matthew 16:18,) and that is exactly what He was doing here. Yet this ekklesia He was then building was entirely Jewish. Like the ekklesia in the wilderness of Acts 7:38, this group of individuals were positioned out of the rest of Israel and were serving God in a special way. They were being trained for a time in one large group, and though this blessed condition could not last, it most certainly was the will of God for this time. Yet every one of these believed that he was a part of a movement of God within the nation of Israel. We can see that clearly in Acts 11:19, where every one of these who went out carrying the word took it to none but to Jews only. When Peter in Acts 10 was sent to the house of Cornelius, he was accused and questioned upon his return for doing something so strange and unexpected. This all was not caused by Jewish prejudice, but by the fact that this is how God was orchestrating things then. It was not His will to produce some new religion called Christianity. Rather, He was doing a work among His people Israel, and that work was in every way connected with them in these early chapters of Acts.
So those who point to this second chapter of the book of Acts as the beginning of what God is doing today and the birthplace of the “church” are, in fact, pointing to a chapter that is still entirely focused upon the nation of Israel. Those who call upon us to get back to Acts never get back to this situation we see in place here. If we followed this out consistently, we would all have to get back to worshipping in the temple, keeping the services there, and having all our goods and possessions in common, eating in large groups, and so forth. Those who call upon us to return to the way things were done in the book of Acts seldom go to this extent, however, but rather prefer to pick and choose just what it is in Acts they want to get back to. Ultimately, they are so busy asking how they could get back to Acts that they never ask themselves if they should get back to it.
So we finish this important and controversial chapter. In closing, let me say once again, whenever and however God began His work today, after studying this chapter I can only come to one conclusion: He did not begin it like this.