Who is Jesus?
Acts 3:11-15 Now as the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch which is called Solomon’s, greatly amazed. (12) So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? (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.
Picking up in the middle of Acts 3; Peter has healed a blind man in the name of “Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” I want to look at two things in this section of Acts – first, what it says about who Jesus was and is, and second, what it says about the right response to the gospel.
There’s a seeming distinction here – as there is throughout the New Testament – between God and Jesus Christ. As long as Christianity has existed, there has been this question – what do we do with the fact that Jesus and God, or the Son and the Father, appear to be distinct, and yet elsewhere are referred to as one? The answer that would become the “orthodox” one – that there are three distinct persons in the Trinity, each of whom is individually God and also who taken together are God – was not formulated until 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicea. But it’s clear that there had to be some idea of two in one or three in one before that.
The answer presented in the Writings for the New Church provides a different frame from the tri-personal Trinitarian frame, and one that I think fits better on Scripture as a whole. In this perspective, Jesus Christ / the Son refers to God’s Humanity, the way He interacts in Person with His creation (Swedenborg’s Latin calls this “the Lord’s human” or “the Divine Human of the Lord.” Unfortunately, English demands, “His Human what?” Human form? Human-ness? Human-ity? I think the best translation might simply be “His Divine Human,” along with this unwieldy explanation.). This is the Word. Before coming into the world as Jesus, God appeared to people in person by an angel, as is evident throughout the Old Testament, where God spoke through angels. But at the incarnation, He took on a body of flesh – the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. That humanity that He took on in the world is what is meant by the Son, and by Jesus Christ; His Divine Essence, where He is invisible and unapproachable (except via His Divine Human expression) is the Father, or God.
This passage from Acts makes a lot of sense through this frame. God’s servant – i.e., His human [human form / humanness] – was glorified by God, that is, the became completely full of the infinite Divine, so that the Son and the Father became completely one, as Jesus told His disciples shortly before His crucifixion and resurrection: “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5). Everything merely human was emptied out, and the Lord’s humanity was made completely Divine, the perfect expression of the visible God. He was both glorified, and raised “by God” – i.e., by the infinite Divine Love at His soul – from the dead.
Peter’s names for Jesus are deliberate: the Holy One, the Just, the Prince of life. “The Holy One of Israel” is a name that YHWH / Jehovah (rendered as LORD in most English translations), the one God, used for Himself. For example, Isaiah 43:3 says, “For I am Jehovah your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Calling Him “Just,” too, echoes Old Testament prophecies. Jeremiah prophesied of the coming Messiah, and he wrote, “In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell safely; Now this is His name by which He will be called: Jehovah our Justice.” (Jeremiah 23:6) And “Prince of life” echoes the prophecy in Isaiah of the Prince of Peace: “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). (The word for “prince” here in the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, is ἄρχων – the same as the word used for “prince” in this passage from Acts.) All of these are obvious suggestions by Peter that Jesus was the promised messiah, and perhaps less obviously, that He was Jehovah God Himself made flesh.
Faith and Salvation
Acts 3:16-26 And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all. (17) “Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers. (18) But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. (19) Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, (20) and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, (21) whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. (22) For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. (23) And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ (24) Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days. (25) You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ (26) To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.”
Looking back to Acts 3:14-15, it’s interesting to note again that nothing here is said about Jesus offering Himself as a sacrifice. That does not seem to be part of the gospel as Peter’s preaching it here. Jesus’s death in this case is presented as a bad thing, as evidence that His people – albeit through ignorance – killed God’s own Messiah. Jesus’s death in this case seems more than anything else to be a mirror held up to the people to show them their need for repentance. And in that, Jesus was doing much the same thing as many of the prophets. For example, Hosea was told to marry a prostitute, to hold up a mirror to the people showing them their own unfaithfulness to God. Jesus allowing Himself to be crucified showed the people how they truly held His Word, and gave them a clear choice: do you want to be numbered with those who would kill God, or those who would worship Him? He is a touchstone – those who will accept Him are those who love to live the truth, and those who will reject Him are those who hate to live the truth; as the gospel of John puts it,
John 3:17-21 For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (18) He who believes in Him is not judged; but he who does not believe is judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (19) And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (20) For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. (21) But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.
In this prophetic role, Jesus “bore the people’s sins” – not in that He removed them, but in that He bore the pain that came from their sin, and more to the point, He held up their sin for them to see in stark clarity, to give them (and us) that clear choice of whether to walk in the light or to try to kill the light.
From all that, Peter lays out the hoped-for response to the gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord. And once again, as we saw in the last chapter, the first and foremost thing he urges in response is to repent. It is in repentance and “being converted” that sins are blotted out. The word translated “converted’ is ἐπιστρέφω and it literally means, “to turn back.” In some contexts it means “return” (e.g., the shepherds who visited Jesus as a baby “returned” to their fields, which is the same word.) That’s an important point, because it’s a reminder that it is not God who has turned away – we’ve turned away from Him, and converting to Him means turning back to Him.
Repenting and turning back to the Lord brings about “times of refreshing,” as well as “the sending of Jesus Christ.” The fact that this is talking about the need for repentance for Jesus Christ to be sent makes me think that this is not referring to the time of the Second Coming, but to Christ coming to dwell directly with those who look to Him – the same idea as the sending of the Holy Spirit, which in fact, is the Lord’s presence with a person.
The faith mentioned here, which comes along with repentance, is clearly not faith that Jesus died as a substitute for us, since this concept is not even hinted at; it’s a faith “in His name,” and a faith “which comes through Him.” See my last post for a little bit on “the name” of Jesus. I think the description of faith coming through Him is way of describing something similar as describing faith in His name – that within and through His Divine Human, we’re able to see the expression of His divine soul itself, since these two make one.
The final verse here to me summarizes the Lord’s mission, and the essence of salvation. God sent His servant Jesus – i.e., God came in the flesh – to bless His people, here first the Jewish people, and then also (as becomes abundantly clear) all peoples. And that blessing is this: that he turns everyone away from his iniquities. It’s not that He paid the price for those iniquities – it’s that in something He did here, and by His presence with us now (made possible by the resurrection), He enables us to turn away from our iniquities. Salvation is not just a result of repentance, it is that turning away from loving sin to loving God and our neighbor – which could not have happened if Jesus had not come into the world, defeated the forces of hell, and risen again in a Divine Human in which He could keep hell in subjugation to eternity. That’s the gospel.