… [Him, this Man, Jesus] delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you [Jews] nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men [Romans] and put Him to death… – Acts 2:23 [i]
The second chapter of Acts is a significant chapter of Holy Scripture. Peter delivers one of the most powerful sermons ever preached. What is seen through the Book of Acts up to this point is God setting the stage for this address. Although the sermon does not start until Chapter 2, verse 14, everything leading up to it is groundwork to the preaching of this commanding discourse.
The event has no parallel. It is a very unusual and dynamic occasion. The Spirit of God has descended. The Spirit of God has fused all believers of God into one body, the Body of Christ. In explaining this phenomenon, Peter answers the contentious question of who killed the Christ.
To begin, note that Jesus is called this Man [ii]. Christians who have an exclusive focus on Jesus’s deity think it honors the Lord to minimize His humanness. While it is true that Jesus is fully God, He is fully human, too. But to diminish one nature over the other does not honor the Lord; in fact, it is heresy. There is no analogy in the created world to which we can compare the hypostatic union. Jesus is not partially man, nor is He less God than the Father is. Yet He is fully God and fully Man. The Gospels show Jesus experienced human limitations: hunger [iii], weariness [iv], ignorance of fact [v], sadness over the loss of a loved one [vi], among others. His human experience is to guarantee that in every moment of demand and pressure in our walk with God, we may go to Him. We can be confident that He has been there before us and therefore He is the Helper we need in time of trouble.
Next Peter tells us that this man Jesus was delivered over. ἔκδοτος (PR: e’k-do-tos) is an interesting word. The only time it appears in Scripture is in this occurrence. How do we know it means to “give over?” And in what sense does it mean this? It is employed in numerous ancient secular Greek texts to indicate “handing over” one person to another. In Herodotus’s, The Histories, a man is “sent (delivered) to the Persians [vii].” We read in Isocrates’s, Panegyricus, that fellow Greeks were “delivered into slavery [viii] and then the author uses the word a few lines later to mean a sense of handing over (delivering) friends to uncultured and ruthless enemies by means of betrayal [ix]. The sense of abandonment is its primary connotation insofar as handing off a friend or relative to a sworn enemy. Peter used it in this way too.
By whom was the Son of God handed over to His enemies? The text tells us that it was God Himself who initiated the “handing over.” The death of Jesus was set apart and appointed from eternity past by Almighty God. Peter’s review of the death of Jesus was to show that it was no mere misfortune that Jesus went to the cross; rather, the crucifixion had occurred within the limits of redemptive plan of God.
When man decrees a thing to happen, he does so suddenly; we call this a hasty decision, a sign of impulsive behavior or impetuousness – indeed, the men who order the Lord’s death, including Pilate himself, rushed to judgment. But God’s plans and decrees are known by Him from time without end. They are known by Him because He decrees them to happen.
The death of Christ is not only a fact of history but has its root in Jewish Old Testament Scriptures. The sufferings and death of the Jewish Messiah was the occasion for intense questioning by those living in the Old Testament period: “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow [x].” Several passages provide specific data about the death of Christ. One of these is Psalm 22. The opening verse of the psalm includes precisely the words that Christ spoke on the cross: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? [xi]” Other psalms contribute information of the sufferings the Messiah would experience in His death. He was to be betrayed by a friend [xii], His bones were not to be broken [xiii], and He was falsely accused and spit upon [xiv]. Many other passages dealing with the death of Christ are found in Isaiah 53. The crucifixion was no accident. It was the set purpose and determined will of God.
God’s eternal purpose and foreknowledge stand as the necessary factors behind what happened; yet, it occurs through wicked people expressing their own human freedom. The Jewish people are also liable for the death of Christ. The “you” stated in Acts 2:23 refers to the men of Israel whom Peter was addressing. “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas; and they plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him [xv].” The instigators of the Lord’s crucifixion were Jews. It was the priestly leaders of the Jewish nation who engineered His death. It was the Jerusalem mob, egged on by the leaders who demanded “Crucify Him! [xvi]” The Jews were responsible for the death of Christ. The plot to kill Jesus was conceived by Jewish leaders who stirred the populace to demand that Pilate should execute Him.
The hands that carried out the gruesome work of crucifixion were lawless men – that is to say the Romans [xvii]. The Jews were the instigators; the Romans were the executioners. The act was carried out by the heathen government. The phrase “nailed to the cross” is translated from the Greek προσπήγνυμι meaning “to affix.” The intended meaning is to convey an image of fastening a picture frame to a wall. The crucified Messiah was on display. The apostle Paul, himself a Jew, tells us that “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it (προσπήγνυμι) to the cross.
Broadly speaking, all of us are guilty of the death of Christ. His death was caused by our grievous sins. Jesus of Nazareth, the Man demonstrated a perfect, sinless life, but was delivered over by the counsel of God who bore our sins in His own Body.
But all who took part, directly or indirectly, in putting Jesus to death were unconsciously fulfilling the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. It was God’s genius that the free will actions of His enemies fit His prearranged plan. Simply because a man is not a Christian does not mean he is outside of the ability of God to use him. God used these people to carry out His will, but He never violated their will to do it. Neither God’s design of the cross, nor bringing the salvation of man out of it, excuses the heinous sin of those by whom it was carried out, for the death of Jesus was their voluntary act. This carries no reduction of the guilt of those who handed Him over to death and carried the sentence out, but it does point the way to the removal of our guilt and the assurance of divine pardon.
The greatest sin a man could commit is the sin of rejecting Jesus Christ’s payment for his sin. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved!
[i] … τοῦτον τῇ ὡρισμένῃ βουλῇ καὶ προγνώσει τοῦ θεοῦ ἔκδοτον διὰ χειρὸς ἀνόμων προσπήξαντες ἀνείλατε … (VULGATE: … hunc definito consilio et praescientia Dei traditum per manus iniquorum adfigentes interemistis…)
[ii] Acts 2:22
[iii] Matthew 4:2
[iv] John 4:6
[v] Luke 8:45-47
[vi] John 11:35, 38
[vii] … καὶ τέκνων ἔκδοτον ἐποίησε ἐς Πέρσας …
[viii] … ὡς ἐλευθερώσοντες τοὺς Ἕλληνας, ἐπὶ δὲ τελευτῆς οὕτω πολλοὺς αὐτῶν ἐκδότους ἐποίησαν …
[ix] … καὶ δι᾽ ἣν πολλάκις ἐσώθησαν, τοῖς δὲ βαρβάροις αὐτοὺς ἐξέδοσαν …
[x] 1 Peter 1:10-11
[xi] Psalm 22:1
[xii] Psalm 41:9
[xiii] Psalm 34:20
[xiv] Psalm 35:11
[xv] Matthew 26:3-4
[xvi] Matthew 27:22
[xvii] … χειρὸς ἀνόμων …