The Resurrection of Christ
And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. For David says of Him, “I was always beholding the Lord in my presence; for He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted; moreover my flesh also will abide in hope; because Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; Thou wilt make me full of gladness with Thy presence.” Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet, and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants upon his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. (2:24–32)
As already noted, the resurrection of Jesus Christ was not only the central theme of apostolic preaching but also is without question the climax of redemptive history. It proves beyond doubt the deity of Jesus Christ and establishes His messianic credentials. It is also the guarantee of our own resurrection (John 14:19; Rom. 6:4–5; 1 Cor. 6:14; 15:16–23). The resurrection is the crowning proof that God accepted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 4:25). Without it, His death becomes the heroic death of a noble martyr, the pathetic death of a madman, or the execution of a fraud.
The greatest proof that Jesus is the Messiah, then, is not His teaching, His miracles, or even His death. It is His resurrection. That becomes the main theme of Peter’s sermon. After spending one verse each on Christ’s life and death, he spends nine verses on His resurrection.
Verses 23 and 24 form one connected thought. Israel rejected and crucified her Messiah, but God raised Him up again. Peter forcefully drives home the point that they were guilty of opposing God—despite their boasts to the contrary (Rom. 2:17–20). That tactic was frequently employed in Acts (cf. 3:14–15; 10:39–40; 13:27–30).
By raising Jesus, God put an end to the agony of death for Him. Agony translates ōdinas, which literally means “birth pangs.” Like the pain of a woman in labor, the pain of death for Jesus was temporary and resulted in something glorious—the resurrection.
God delivered Jesus from death since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. Death was powerless to hold Him for several reasons. First, death could not hold Him because of divine power. Jesus was “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), who died “that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). Second, death could not hold Him because of divine promise. John 2:18–22 records the following dialogue:
The Jews therefore answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, seeing that You do these things?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews therefore said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken.
“Thus it is written,” our Lord told the disciples, “that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day” (Luke 24:46). Finally, death could not hold Him because of divine purpose. God has designed that His people be with Him for all eternity. In order to do that, they need to go through death and out the other side. Jesus had to go first to make the way (cf. 1 Cor. 15:16–26). Because He lives, His people will live forever (John 14:19).
To further confirm that the resurrection was God’s plan for the Messiah, Peter quotes a prophetic passage from Psalm 16:8–11. Although written by David, the passage is prophetically Messiah speaking in the first person (cf. Ps. 22). It describes Messiah’s confident trust in God as He looked to the cross. His declaration I was always beholding the Lord in my presence is the key to that trust. Jesus kept His focus on God no matter what trials came His way. He knew that because God was at His right hand, He would not be shaken. The right hand symbolizes protection. In a wedding ceremony, the bridegroom stands to the right of the bride. In the ancient world, a bodyguard stood on the right side of the one he was protecting. In that position he could cover him with his shield and still have his right arm free to fight.
Because of His confidence in God’s protection, Messiah could say my heart was glad and my tongue exulted. Even the prospect of the cross could not dampen Christ’s joy. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, “Jesus … for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). Moreover, another reason for Messiah’s joy was His confidence that His flesh also would abide in hope. Flesh here refers to the physical body. Kataskēnoō (abide) literally means “to pitch a tent.” It expresses Messiah’s certainty that He could commit His body to the grave with the confident hope that it would be raised to life again.
The next statement from Psalm 16 gives the reason for Messiah’s confidence: because Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades. Hades is the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament term “Sheol.” Although it can refer specifically to hell (Matt. 11:23), Peter uses it here in its more general sense of the abode of the dead. The phrase expresses Christ’s confidence that He would not remain a captive in the realm of death. Nor would God allow His Holy One (a messianic title; cf. Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34; John 6:69) to undergo decay. During its three days in the tomb, our Lord’s body experienced no corruption. The significance of this verse will be seen shortly.
Peter’s quote of verse 11 of Psalm 16 has puzzled some commentators, since it doesn’t appear to advance his argument. The phrase the ways of life (The Hebrew text of Psalm 16:11 uses the singular “path of life”), however, can be interpreted as a reference to the resurrection. It would thus have the sense of “the path to resurrection life.” The context strongly implies such an interpretation. As a result of the resurrection, Messiah would be full of gladness as He experienced God’s presence.
Peter now comes to the crux of his argument. Addressing them once again as brethren, he confidently reminds them that the patriarch David both died and was buried. In fact, his tomb provided visible evidence that he had not fulfilled the prophecy of Psalm 16. David spoke as a prophet, however, not of himself. He knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants upon his throne. That promise is recorded in 2 Samuel 7:11–16:
The Lord also declares to you that the Lord will make a house for you. When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.
David, then, looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, who, in contrast to David, was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay.
Peter’s argument from Psalm 16 can be summarized as follows: The psalm speaks of a resurrection. Since David, however, was not resurrected, it cannot speak of him. Thus, David speaks in the psalm of the Messiah. Hence, Messiah will rise from the dead. Peter now delivers his powerful conclusion: This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. The argument is conclusive: Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah.
24 The resurrection of Jesus is attributed directly to God, apart from any action of men or even Jesus himself, just as elsewhere in the NT it is so attributed in quotations from early Christian hymns and catechisms (e.g., 1 Co 15:4; Php 2:9). The imagery is of “death pangs” (ōdinas tou thanatou; NIV, “the agony of death”; GK 6047, 2505) and their awful clutches (cf. 2 Sa 22:6; Pss 18:4–6; 116:3), from which God set Jesus free “because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”
2:24 / Thus was Jesus treated by men, but God raised him from the dead (see note on 4:10). The antithesis is stated with dramatic force (cf. 3:15; 4:10; 10:39). The resurrection, no less than his death, was God’s plan for Jesus, for the Scripture had foretold it. It was impossible, therefore, for death to keep its hold on him. What was foretold must be fulfilled. So God freed him from the agony of death, the resurrection being likened here to a birth out of death—a remarkable metaphor, if indeed that is what Peter meant. The phrase “pains of death” is found in lxx Psalms 17:5 (18:5) and 114:3 (116:3), but it is possible that the Greek version has misread the Hebrew and that, instead of “pains,” we should have “bonds.” The unvocalized Hebrew could be read either way, though in Psalm 18:5 the parallelism clearly favors “bonds,” with death and the grave personified as hunters lying in wait for their prey with nets and nooses. Similarly here, the reference to Jesus being “set free” and to death not being able to keep its hold on him, seem to settle the matter in favor of “bonds.” It is tempting, then, to accept C. C. Torrey’s suggestion that Luke (or an earlier translator) had before him an Aramaic source containing Peter’s speech and that, influenced by his knowledge of lxx Psalm 17:5, he translated as “pains” what had been intended as “bonds” (pp. 28f.).
His resurrection (2:24–32)
It was impossible for death to keep its hold on him (24; Peter sees this moral impossibility without explaining it). So although men had killed him, God raised him from the dead, and thereby freed him from the agony of death. ‘Agony’ means literally ‘birth pains’, so that his resurrection is pictured as a regeneration, a new birth out of death into life.
Peter next confirms the truth of Jesus’ resurrection by appealing to Psalm 16:8–11 in which, he claims, it was foretold. David cannot have been referring to himself, when he wrote that God would not abandon him to the grave or let his Holy One see decay (27), because David had died and was buried, and his tomb was still in Jerusalem (29). Instead, being a prophet and remembering God’s promise to place a distinguished descendant on his throne, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ (30–31). Peter’s use of Scripture probably sounds strange to us, but we need to bear three points in mind. First, all Scripture bears witness to Christ, especially to his death, resurrection and world-wide mission. That is its character and purpose. Jesus himself said so both before and after his resurrection. In consequence, secondly, not least because of Jesus’ post-resurrection teaching, his disciples came naturally to see Old Testament references to God’s anointed or king, to David and his royal seed, as finding their fulfilment in Jesus.46 This is what Dom Jacques Dupont has called ‘the radically christological character of early Christian exegesis’. And, thirdly, once this foundation is granted, a Christian use of the Old Testament like Peter’s of Psalm 16 is ‘scrupulously logical and internally coherent’.
Having quoted these verses of Psalm 16 and applied them to the resurrection of Jesus, Peter adds: God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact (32). Thus the spoken testimony of the apostles and the written prediction of the prophets converged. Or, as we would say, the Old and New Testament Scriptures coincided in their witness to the resurrection of Christ.
2:24–28. Peter’s sermon progresses well; in typical New Testament form, he comes right to the point: resurrection. Verses 25–35 in this chapter contain four evidences of the resurrection: David’s tomb, the witnesses, that very Day of Pentecost, and the ascension witnessed by the eleven disciples. God may have handed Jesus over for crucifixion, but he also raised him from the dead. As strange as it might seem to the human mind, Messiah’s death was God’s will.
Thus Peter turns to Psalm 16:8–11. Surely readers of the Old Testament up to this point had applied Psalm 16 only to David. Peter, speaking through the Holy Spirit, now certified it as a messianic prophecy. He did not use the psalm to prove the resurrection, but to affirm the messiahship of Jesus. Peter didn’t bother to prove the resurrection at all—he just proclaimed it. God raised Jesus to experience joy in your presence.
24. “God raised him up, having freed him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for him to be kept in its power.”
Peter states the fact of Christ’s resurrection. Positively he notes that God raised Jesus from the dead. He asserts the apostolic doctrine of the resurrection, a recurring theme in Acts. God worked out his plan in predetermined stages: first the death of Christ and afterward his resurrection.
God raised Jesus by “having freed him from the agony of death.” The literal reading of the text for “agony” is “birth pains.” But what is the meaning of freeing Jesus from the birth pains of death? Some interpreters have suggested that Peter, speaking Aramaic, used another word for birth pains, namely, cords. They argue that the psalmists speak of “the cords of death” (Pss. 18:4; 116:3; and see 2 Sam. 22:6). We are unable to determine what word Peter used in Aramaic. The Greek, however, has the expression birth pains, which also occurs in Jesus’ discourse on the end of the age (Matt. 24:8; Mark 13:8). This expression is a figure of speech which should not be pressed (compare the phrase the gates of hell in Matt. 16:18). God set Jesus free from the agony that accompanies death.
Peter gives the reason for Jesus’ deliverance from the agony of death: “because it was impossible for him to be kept in its power.” God pronounced the curse of death upon the human race when Adam fell into sin (Gen. 3:17–18; see also Gen. 2:17). But the sinless Jesus, who took upon himself the sin of the world (John 1:29), removed the sting of death (1 Cor. 15:55–56) when he died on the cross. Therefore, death no longer had any power over him.
Death cannot keep his prey—
Jesus, my Saviour.
 Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The message of Acts: the Spirit, the church & the world (pp. 75–77). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.