Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the LORD.

ACTS 3:19

True faith requires that we believe everything that God has said about Himself, but also that we believe everything He has said about us!

Until we believe that we are as bad as God says we are, we can never believe that He will do for us what He says He will do. Right here is where popular religion breaks down. It never quite accepts the severity of God or the depravity of man. It stresses the goodness of God and man’s misfortune. It makes sin a pardonable frailty and God is not too much concerned about it—He merely wants us to trust in His goodness.

To believe thus is to ground faith upon falsehood and build our eternal hope upon sand. God has spoken. We are all under solemn obligation to hear the affirmations of the Holy Ghost.

To manipulate the Scriptures so as to make them excuse us, compliment us and console us is to do despite to the written Word and to reject the Living Word. To believe savingly in Jesus Christ is to believe all He has said about Himself and all that the prophets and apostles have said about Him.

A dreamy, sentimental faith which ignores the judgments of God against us and listens to the affirmations of the soul is as deadly as cyanide. A faith which passively accepts all of the pleasant texts of the Bible while it overlooks or rejects the stern warnings and commandments of those same Scriptures is not the faith of which Christ and His apostles spoke![1]

Throughout redemptive history, God’s spokesmen have called sinners to repentance. God told Jeremiah to say to rebellious Israel, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Do men fall and not get up again? Does one turn away and not repent? Why then has this people, Jerusalem, turned away in continual apostasy? They hold fast to deceit, they refuse to return’ ” (Jer. 8:4–5). He commanded Ezekiel, “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn your faces away from all your abominations”’ ” (Ezek. 14:6). Second Kings 17:13 summarizes the sad history of God’s dealings with Israel in the Old Testament: “Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah, through all His prophets and every seer, saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments, My statutes according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you through My servants the prophets.’ ” The primary ministry of the prophets was to bring Israel to repentance. Yet the nation refused to heed them, and suffered the terrible consequences of destruction and captivity.

Nor did the message change in the New Testament. Matthew 3:1–2 relates that “John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ ” According to Matthew 4:17, “From that time [of John the Baptist’s imprisonment] Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ ”

Repentance was also the command of apostolic preaching. In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter commanded his hearers to “repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). Paul characterized his ministry in Ephesus as one of “solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). In his defense before Agrippa he said, “I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:19–20).

As he draws his sermon to a conclusion, Peter continues in that tradition and calls his hearers to repentance. They needed to repent, for they had rejected their Messiah and were in rebellion against God. In the first part of his sermon, Peter convicted them of their guilt. He now offers them hope, reassuring them that it is not too late to repent. If they do so, they will receive the promised covenant blessings.

Repentance is a key New Testament term. The literal meaning of metanoeō (repent) is “to change one’s mind or purpose.” Repentance involves far more than a mere intellectual decision. It is a change of mind that issues in a change of behavior. Peter’s use of epistrephō (return), a word used frequently in the New Testament to speak of sinners turning to God (Luke 1:16–17; Acts 9:35; 11:21; 14:15; 15:19; 26:18, 20; 2 Cor. 3:16; 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 Peter 2:25), reinforces that meaning.

In the parable of the two sons, the Lord Jesus Christ gave an illustration of true repentance:

But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, “Son, go work today in the vineyard.” And he answered and said, “I will, sir”; and he did not go. And he came to the second and said the same thing. But he answered and said, “I will not”; yet he afterward regretted it and went. Which of the two did the will of his father? They said, “The latter.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax-gatherers and harlots will get into the kingdom of God before you.” (Matt. 21:28–31)

Note that the second son not only changed his mind but also followed that decision with a change in his behavior. John the Baptist demanded that anyone claiming to have repented validate such a confession with the evidence of a changed life (Matt. 3:6–8). That is the nature of true repentance.

God’s design for men is that they repent (Acts 17:30). To accomplish that purpose, He uses at least four prompters. First, the knowledge of God’s revealed truth should cause men to repent. In Matthew 11:21–24, Jesus sharply rebuked the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum for refusing to repent:

Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.

Luke 16:30–31 illustrates the sufficiency of the Word to cause repentance: “But [the rich man in Hades] said, ‘No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

The apostle John defined his purpose in writing his gospel in these words: “Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30–31). God has given men all the evidence they need to arrive at the proper conclusion about Jesus Christ. Those who refuse to repent are without excuse.

Second, God uses sorrow for sin to lead men to repentance. In 2 Corinthians 7:9–10 Paul wrote,

I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, in order that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

Sorrow or regret for sin, however, must not be confused with genuine repentance. Judas “felt remorse” over his betrayal of Jesus, yet never repented. It is possible to have sorrow for sin without repentance, just as it is possible to have knowledge without repentance.

Third, God’s goodness and kindness are to motivate men to repentance. In Romans 2:4, Paul rebukes Israel for missing that point: “Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” God, in common grace, blesses men with good things to enjoy. Jesus said in Matthew 5:45 that “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” This common grace should lead people to penitence.

A final motivation to repentance is fear of final judgment. The apostle Paul warned the pagan Athenians that “having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31). The sobering reality of coming judgment should cause any rational person to repent and turn to God for forgiveness. There is no other way of escape.

In the first part of his sermon Peter gave his hearers abundant evidence that Israel had reached the wrong conclusion about Jesus Christ. Then he called on them to repent and reverse their verdict concerning Jesus Christ and place their faith in Him. To help persuade them, he gives them promised results if they repent: God will forgive their sin, the kingdom will come, Messiah will return, judgment will be avoided, and blessing will be realized.

God Will Forgive Their Sin

that your sins may be wiped away, (3:19b)

Peter’s words no doubt reminded the crowd of David’s cry in Psalm 51:9, “Hide Thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.” The legalism of first-century Judaism, like any works-righteousness system, could not bring about forgiveness. It served only to “weigh men down with burdens hard to bear” (Luke 11:46). The glorious truth is that God has graciously provided for men what they could never obtain on their own. In Isaiah 43:25 God says, “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins,” while in Isaiah 44:22 He adds, “I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud, and your sins like a heavy mist” (cf. Num. 14:18; Pss. 65:3; 85:2; 86:5; 130:3–4).

There is only one way to receive God’s forgiveness—through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. Peter boldly proclaimed to the Sanhedrin that “[Jesus] is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31). It is “through His name [that] everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43). “In Him,” Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7; cf. Col. 1:14). In Ephesians 4:32 he added, “God in Christ … has forgiven you.” The sacrificial death of Jesus Christ accomplished what the Levitical system was unable to, since “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4).

Exaleiphō (wiped away) pictures the wiping of ink off a document (cf. Col. 2:14). Unlike modern ink, ink in the ancient world had no acid content. Consequently, it did not bite into the papyrus or vellum used for documents. Instead, it remained on the surface where it could easily be wiped away by a damp sponge. God does far more than merely cross out believers’ sins, He wipes them away completely. They are gone beyond the possibility of review or recall. Even their horrible sin of rejecting and executing their Messiah was not indelible and could be wiped away.

Those who place their faith in Christ are united with Him in His death and resurrection (Rom. 6:4–5). Consequently, God has “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). As a result there is eternally “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

Forgiveness produces joy and relief from guilt. Horatio Spafford expressed that reality beautifully in his classic hymn “It Is Well with My Soul.” In it he penned the following familiar words:

My sin, O, the bliss of this glorious thought,

My sin not in part but the whole

Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Those words find their echo in every redeemed heart.

The Kingdom Will Come

in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; (3:19c)

Repentance would not only bring the individual blessing of forgiveness of sin, but ultimately collective blessing also. The phrase times of refreshing refers to the millennial kingdom. For generations, Israel had waited anxiously for that kingdom. They longed to see Messiah reign personally on the earth and to have their enemies vanquished. The prophets had spoken of a glorious period of rest for the people who had known little peace over the centuries. Tragically, when the King came to offer that kingdom, they rejected Him. And, as Peter points out, it is impossible to have the kingdom without accepting the King.

Kairos (times) points to a fixed, set, or predetermined time. Jesus used it in Acts 1:7 to answer the disciples’ query about the restoration of the kingdom. He told them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” God’s sovereign determination of the time of the kingdom encompasses Israel’s repentance. It is only when “all Israel [is] saved” that “the Deliverer will come from Zion” (Rom. 11:26).

The kingdom will be a time of much needed refreshing for Israel. Ezekiel said it would be a time of “showers of blessing” (34:26). Isaiah saw the kingdom as a time when God “will pour water on him that is thirsty” (44:3 KJV). Joel 2 gives a description of the coming of the kingdom, even referring to it as a time of satisfaction (2:26). No people in history have been so ill-treated as the Jewish people. Over the centuries they have endured invasions, deportations, persecutions, and pogroms. All that has culminated in our century in the insane attempt of the Nazis to exterminate them altogether. Although they are back in their own land, their enemies give them no rest. The rest offered by God in the kingdom will fulfill their hearts’ desire.

The kingdom will be a golden age of blessing for Israel (And believing Gentiles), surpassing even the time of David and Solomon’s reigns. Isaiah 11:6–10 describes the peaceful rest of the kingdom in these familiar words:

And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze; their young will lie down together; and the lion will eat straw like the ox. And the nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Then it will come about in that day that the nations will resort to the root of Jesse, who will stand as a signal for the peoples; and His resting place will be glorious.

Isaiah 35:1–10 adds,

The wilderness and the desert will be glad, and the Arabah will rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it will blossom profusely and rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, but He will save you.” Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the Arabah. And the scorched land will become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, its resting place, grass becomes reeds and rushes. And a highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for him who walks that way, and fools will not wander on it. No lion will be there, nor will any vicious beast go up on it; these will not be found there. But the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return, and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

The kingdom will not come about through human efforts, but will come from the presence of the Lord. He will bring it to pass according to His own sovereign will. Revelation 5 presents the scene in heaven when the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, takes the title deed to the universe. The unfolding of that scroll (Chapters 6–19) describes His method of retaking of what is rightfully His from the usurper, culminating in the coming of the kingdom (Rev. 20:4–6).

Peter thus placed the responsibility for the delay in the coming of the kingdom squarely on their shoulders. It was their lack of repentance that, humanly speaking, postponed the kingdom. God, through Peter, gave them the opportunity to repent of that sin. Sadly, though a few individuals responded, the nation as a whole continued to spurn God’s gracious offer. There was nothing left for them except the fulfillment of the Lord’s sorrowful prophecy of Luke 19:41–44:

And when He approached, He saw the city [Jerusalem] and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you, and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

The first devastating divine judgment for Israel’s rejection fell upon them in a.d. 70 when the Romans sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and killed more than one million Jews.

Peter’s hearers paid a fearful price in time and eternity for their rejection of God’s repeated calls for repentance. But “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew” (Rom. 11:2). The kingdom, though delayed at least two thousand years, will yet come when Israel is converted. Zechariah 12:10–13:1; 14:1ff. prophesy the day of salvation for the Jews and the subsequent coming of the King and His kingdom.[2]

3:19 The people of Israel should repent and make an about-face. When they would do this, their sins would be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come.

It must be remembered that this message is addressed to the men of Israel (v. 12). It emphasizes that national repentance must precede national restoration and blessing. The times of refreshingfrom the presence of the Lord refer to the blessings of Christ’s future kingdom on earth, as mentioned in the next verse.[3]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1994). Acts (pp. 111–119). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1593). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s