About 120 people met in a room in Jerusalem to worship. They were disciples of Jesus Christ who, though few, waited for the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit. Christ had commanded His eleven apostles prior to His ascension to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father to them—the outpouring of the Spirit. Now Pentecost had fully come. The few believers met together in one accord in one place. Suddenly the Spirit was poured out upon these believers and they began to speak in other languages.
This was a significant day for the church because on this day the church came of age. It entered from childhood into adulthood. In the Old Testament the church was a child who was under tutors and governors. She needed pictures and laws to guide her. With the pouring out of the Spirit the church grew up.
The church of the Old Testament was as a child being taught by the tutor of the law. The saints were taught the promises of God’s covenant to them. But God used types and shadows—pictures—to teach them. They were as children because they did not fully understand what God had in store for His church in the ages to come. They knew a Messiah would come, but they did not know who He was or what He would accomplish in order that they might remain the friends of God.
With the coming of Pentecost, all this changed. The Spirit was poured out into the church, and now God’s saints were able to understand what had been so long a mystery to them. The church of the Old Testament had now come of age and had entered into the New Testament era as an adult. This needs to be kept in mind as we consider the particular Word of God before us in this broadcast and in the next.
The apostle Peter addresses the Old Testament church in these words of Acts 2:39: “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” A short verse that packs a lot of information. As we said, Peter is addressing men and women who had been long time members of the Old Testament church—the nation of Israel. He was preaching to them faith in Jesus, whom they had crucified but who now had risen from the dead. These men and women were looking for assurance that what Peter now taught about Jesus was indeed the teaching of Old Testament Scripture. They were not ready to jump ship, so to speak, in order to follow after some half-baked sect or religion that would require of them to forsake God’s Word to them.
They needed to know that everything they now saw and heard was indeed the fulfillment of God’s covenant and promise to them in Abraham. And that is the purpose behind Peter speaking the words that he did in the verse we consider. The promise is still unto you and to your children. You are not forsaking God’s covenant and the promise.
But there was something additional that Peter also mentions in this verse, something that would take some time for these early Christians to embrace. That promise is also to those who are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. In other words, the church had come of age. It would now embrace people from afar off. People of other languages. We consider this too in connection with Acts 2:39.
I. The Promise Confirmed
How was Peter in these words reassuring the Israelite people who heard his sermon on the day of Pentecost? What could he say to convince them to cast their lot in with these early disciples of Christ? This: Peter’s declaration, “the promise is unto you and to your children.” These were words this nation had heard for centuries already. They had heard over and over again the words of God’s covenant—since the time of their father Abraham. God had spoken these words to Abraham in Genesis 17:7: “I will be a God unto you and to your children after you in your generations.” The covenant that God had established with the nation of Israel, the seed of Abraham, was His eternal, unchangeable relationship of love and devotion to His people. It was the bond of friendship God established with them in which He swore to be their God and they His people. In other words, God’s covenant is His intimate relationship of love and fellowship that He has sworn to share with His elect people in Christ. Jehovah had entered into this relationship with Abraham and his children. The words of God’s covenant were repeated over and over to His church throughout the Old Testament. They were the people of Jehovah, the one true God of heaven and earth, and He was their God.
Now, we might ask, what does that have to do with the words Peter spoke to these believers in this verse on the day of Pentecost: “the promise is to you and your children.” Well, this covenant that God established with His Old Testament church contained several promises, the chief of which was the promise of the coming Messiah on whom God’s fellowship with His people rested. God would not be the God of His people, He would not be their friend, except on the merits of the coming Messiah, the Christ, whom He would send. In this Messiah remission of sin would be found. On His merits alone one could share in a close, intimate relationship with God.
In Christ all the promises of God’s covenant were yea and amen. Without the fulfillment of this one promise, there could be no fellowship with God. So, as often as the church in the Old Testament heard the words of God’s covenant, so also they heard the words of this promise. And that Christ was promised in the Old Testament to the nation of Israel cannot be doubted. How often we read in the gospel accounts that what took place in the life of Christ was done in fulfillment of Old Testament ceremonies, or laws, or prophecy. This was the testimony of Christ Himself to the unbelieving Jews who refused to believe in Him. Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 5:39, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” Or again, John 5:46, 47: “ For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” If given the time I could cite passages from the Old Testament Scriptures that testify of Christ’s birth, His death, and His resurrection, among other events in Christ’s life. Matthew in his gospel account directs our attention to many different Old Testament passages that speak of Christ. Peter in this sermon on the day of Pentecost used Old Testament Scripture to testify of the pouring out of the Spirit. The saints that stood listening to Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost had heard repeatedly that the promise is to you—and to your children.
Ah yes, and to your children. We need to spend a little bit of time on this whole idea. When God established His covenant with His church under Abraham, then He told His church that He would be a God unto them and to their children in their generations. In other words, God’s covenant was established with believers and with the children of believers from one generation to the next. God did not save the Jews in Abraham’s family only to leave them and save another people in another generation or two. God’s promise to His church was that He would save in Christ a people unto Himself in the continued generations of believers. This is how God saves His church. It is God’s established way of saving His church throughout the ages—in the line of consecutive generations of believers. This is what these Old Testament saints again heard in what Peter said in the verse we consider: the promise is unto you and to your children.
We cannot overlook therefore the emphasis that Scripture places on the gathering of the church throughout the ages. For example, before the nation of Israel entered the promised land, Moses recited to them the law with this command in Deuteronomy 6:6, 7: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” The saints took seriously their calling to instruct their children because it was in this way that God would continue His covenant in the line of their generations.
God taught the importance of children in the church and covenant when He commanded Abraham to circumcise every male child in his family. Circumcision was a sign and seal of the establishment of God’s covenant in the line of continued generations. Israel was as a vine, a living organism that grew from generation to generation. The promise of salvation was not given only to parents but to their believing children too. This was (and is, as we will find) the normal way that God gathers to Himself His church from one age to the next.
This must not be misunderstood. God certainly does save His church from one generation to the next. The Scripture is filled with this testimony. But this does not mean that God saves every child born into the church and sphere of His covenant. The line of election and reprobation cuts through the church too. There are Esaus and Ishmaels—a wicked seed in the church. At times, that wicked seed can overtake the church and we find God cutting off that church as a whole while continuing His promise with the elect remnant. This is what had happened at the time of Pentecost too. The Jewish nation was cut off. That nation, which in pride walked in work righteousness and crucified the Christ. That nation, that church, was cut off. Paul addresses this issue in Romans 9. Paul had a continual sorrow in his heart because his fellow kinsmen according to the flesh were cut off. These were Israelites to whom pertained the covenant, the service of God, the promise, out of whom Christ was born. Now God was cutting this nation off because of its utter unbelief. Yet, Paul is quick to add in Romans 9:6-8, “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” God prunes from His church with each new generation those who do not believe. Not all children born to believers in the church are indeed themselves believers. Natural birth does not determine one’s salvation. It did not in the Old Testament either. But this does not take away from the fact that God saves and gathers His church in the line of generations of believers.
Now, these saints who belonged to the Old Testament stood before Peter and were listening to him give them this sermon about Jesus of Nazareth. They had all heard of Jesus. They had witnessed His miracles and heard His instruction. These were sincere Jews. They were not about to throw their faith aside, which they had been taught as children. They were not about to forsake God’s covenant with them and their children. They were not going to ignore the promise of salvation given the church of the Old Testament in order to follow after some new religion. Yes, what Peter now placed before them was so very true, but to ignore the promise? So Peter says to them, “the promise of salvation in Christ is to you and to your children!” The coming of Christ is the fulfillment of the promise to you and to your children! The Messiah has come and the promise of salvation in Him has come to you! We are not forsaking the Scriptures you have been taught. We are not forsaking the covenant of God with His people. What you have seen take place with the pouring out of the Spirit is exactly the continuation of the church and covenant you have learned from childhood.
In other words, Peter was confirming the covenant God had established with His people in Christ. He was confirming for the sake of his hearers what God had promised them about salvation in Christ. Peter was confirming that Christianity was indeed the continuation of the church and covenant, however, now in its New Testament form. These saints needed to be assured of that. This is why Peter confirms God’s promise with His New Testament church. This means, of course, that the way that God gathers His church in the New Testament is essentially the same as in the Old Testament. There is a new development as far as the gathering of the New Testament church is concerned. That development we will consider in our next broadcast on this verse. The new development is that God will gather His church not from one nation of people as He did in the Old Testament, but He will gather His church throughout the nations of this earth. God will not limit His church only to those born into the church but now adds to His church those of every race, culture, and class.
That is the new development regarding the church of the New Testament. But even with this new development God, still gathers His church in the line of generations of believers. If God establishes His church, let us say, in China, God will not save the church there in one generation only to forsake it and take up another work in India. Where God establishes His church, He will be faithful to continue His church in that place in the line of the generations of believers. The same is true in our own land. We find a myriad of churches that rise up for a decade or two and then suddenly die and are gone. That is not to say that God may not have saved His people in such a church, but it is obvious that God did not choose to establish His church in such a place. Proof of God’s faithfulness in any given work is that the generations to come that are born out of believing parents of that church will carry on in their place in the church and covenant.
That is the idea of this Word of God that Peter spoke on the day of Pentecost. Peter explains to these believers who leave the Judaism of the Old Testament to join the church of the New Testament: the promise is still to you and to your children! God’s covenant has been made new in Christ but still continues with you and with your children after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant. God still enters into a relationship of love and fellowship with you. He still binds you to Himself so that He is your God and you are His people. He dwells with you as a sovereign Friend. You are His. Those blessings He establishes with you today just as He did with Abraham, who is the Father of all believers. And this covenant that He establishes with you is still rooted in the promise that in Christ is the remission of sins and life everlasting. It is equally true that God will establish His covenant in the line of your generations! That has not changed either! To His New Testament church God says: the promise is unto you and to your children! God will be faithful to gather in the line of the generations of believers. Not by virtue of the fact that they are born to believing parents. Natural lines have nothing to do with it. But because Christ has died for them as well as for you! All of us together therefore as church today look for God’s blessings in our generations. No matter where He has called us we take seriously the calling to be busy instructing the next generation of believers. That calling of believing parents is vital to God’s gathering of His church in our generations. God will gather His church from one generation to the next. He has done this and He will continue to do this. But we as believers must be diligent in our calling to instruct our children in the fear of the Lord in order that God’s church and covenant will be carried on with our children. This is the calling of parents and of the church itself. Raise up a seed unto the Lord! Then look and see the faithfulness of God.
If there are godly youth listening to this broadcast, then you too must realize that what you do as you grow up in the church will have a profound effect on the future of the church. The church always prays that God will call others out of the darkness of unbelief and into the church. The church longs for that. That too is evidence to us that God is blessing the labors of the church. The promise is unto all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. As I said, we will devote an entire broadcast to that subject next time. But internal growth is always a sign of God’s continued blessing. Where the church witnesses baptisms, when we see young men and women confess their faith in the Lord, then marry in the Lord and stay in the church, God is gathering His church in that place. Where another generation of young families bring forth children of their own, there is evidence of God’s faithfulness to the church. The covenant and its promise is ours today. We are the continuation of the church of the Old Testament with the covenant and its promises. We can rest assured in this blessed truth just as did the saints who heard Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost. We will hear the rest in the next broadcast, the Lord willing.