Several weeks ago, I began posting portions of a paper I wrote for my Biblical Theology course titled, “That Times of Refreshing May Come: A Biblical Theology of Repentance.” This is the seventh installment of a multi-post series. The previous parts can be found at the following: parts one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven.
A CALL TO RETURN / REPENT IN THE APOSTOLIC PREACHING
The early church, under the inspiration and power of the Holy Spirit, followed Jesus’ commission to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19–20). The book of Acts records the preaching of the apostles and their message regularly appealed for people, Jews and Gentiles alike, to return to God. Repentance appears as the desired response of the audience in the sermons of Peter and Paul.
Peter’s Sermons in Acts
After the day of Pentecost, Peter stood up among the people to explain the extraordinary event they had witnessed. At the climactic conclusion to his sermon, Peter proclaimed, “Repent [metanoesate] and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). The result was that many heeded his call and that thousands were saved. Some time later, Peter addresses a crowd in the Temple area after the healing of a lame beggar. Peter again makes repentance the key response to his message:
“Repent [metanoesate] therefore, and turn again [epistrepsate], that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago” (Acts 3:19–21).
When Peter and John were brought before the council to defend themselves, Peter once again takes the opportunity to explain his message of repentance: “God exalted him [Jesus] at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance [metanoian] to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31). In the major speeches of Peter in the book of Acts, repentance figures prominently in his message and is regularly followed by a statement of forgiveness of sins.
Paul’s Missionary Message
Paul, likewise, had a desire to see people turn from “vain things to a living God” (Acts 14:15). As an apostle to the Gentiles, Paul witnessed firsthand their conversion [Grk. epistrophen] to Christ (cf. Acts 15:3). Indeed, Paul’s message certainly included a declaring “to the Gentiles, that they should repent [metanoein] and turn [epistrephein] to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:20). Paul’s message of repentance and turning to God through Jesus Christ to Jews and Gentiles alike is illustrated in his speech at the Areopagus in Athens. At the close of his speech Paul declares,
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent [metanoein], 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:30–31).
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