I received the following question:

Nathan, in reviewing some of your material in early Acts I have a question.

We believe that it was not the masses of Israel but the leaders that had rejected and crucified Christ. We believe that it was a kangaroo court that convicted Christ and set Barabbas free.  They had convicted Him in the middle of the night with His rejectors in the crowd crying for His crucifixion.  

Why then is it that we see Peter in Acts 2 and 3 proclaiming to what seems to be the masses, their guilt of crucifying the Lord?  Your comments on these chapters don’t seem to address this.  Was wondering what I am missing.  

I understand that if your leadership commits a heinous crime, the populous can be considered guilty.  If our president took it into his own hands and nuked Canada, we as a nation would be considered responsible and would pay dearly for such an act.  Is that what is going on here?  

If as you so rightly teach, the masses that welcomed Him into Jerusalem at his triumphal entry could not possibly have turned on him in two days to call for His crucifixion.  Why then is Peter’s message to what seems would be this same crowd, so convicting of their guilt?

Yes, it was the leaders who rejected Christ generally, and not the common people. Of course, this is the rule, but this is not to say that there were not some among the leaders who received Him (like Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea) and among the people who rejected Him (like those in decapolis.) However, it was generally true that the leaders were the ones who rejected Him.

The accusation Peter makes in Acts 2 is mostly in verse 23.

23. Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;

The “you” refers to the “men of Israel” of verse 22, and speaks of Israel’s national guilt. Yes, it was done by their rulers, but the nation is responsible for what their rulers have done, as you say.

The condemnation in Acts 3 is much more pointed.

13. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. 14. But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15. and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.

17. “Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers.

This is because of who the audience was in Acts 2 versus Acts 3. In Acts 2, Peter was proclaiming in the temple at the time of the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost.) That was one of the three yearly feasts wherein every Israelite male had to appear in Jerusalem. Therefore, the crowd he was talking to were from all over Israel, and even the world. In Acts 3, however, the feast is over, the pilgrims have returned home, and only the usual Jerusalemites are left. They are the ones whose rulers rejected Christ, and, considering that Barabbas and his movement were part of Jerusalem politics, it was the Jerusalemites who were present at Christ’s trial who called for Barabbas and demanded crucifixion for Jesus Christ. Peter’s audience in Acts 3, therefore, were the very people who really were responsible for Christ’s death.

As far as the triumphal entry versus the crowd at the trial, it is clear that those who participated in the triumphal entry were those who were coming up to Jerusalem for the feast. For in Matthew 21, after we read of those participating in the entry, we read in verses 10 and 11:

10. And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?”

11. So the multitudes said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”

So the people of the city of Jerusalem were not involved in the triumphal entry. That was the crowds arriving for the feast. So no, the ones involved in the Lord’s trial were not the ones who cheered Him at the triumphal entry at all. They did not even know Who this was Who was arriving, and they did not participate in the entry.

The ones in Peter’s audience in Acts 3 were indeed guilty of rejecting Him, since they were from Jerusalem. Since that was the capital of the land, many of them either worked directly for the leaders of the nation, or else would have provided services for those leaders and had them as customers. As such, they would have been strongly biased to supporting those leaders and their point of view. It was from these, the people who were beholden to them, that the leaders would have chosen the crowd that they used to call for the Lord’s death. Therefore, they did deny Him, and call for Barabbas instead. The rest of Israel may have been uninvolved in this, but it was the people of Jerusalem who actually were complicit with their leaders in what happened to the Lord. That is why Peter accuses them of this so strongly in Acts 3. He knows he is talking to the ones responsible.

Hope this helps. Thanks for the great question. Talk to you soon!