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THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES - Chapter 3 - Verse 17
Verse 17. And now, brethren. Though they had been guilty of a crime so enormous, yet Peter shows the tenderness of his heart in addressing them still as his brethren. He regarded them as of the same nation with himself, as having the same hopes, and as being entitled to the same privileges. The expression also shows that he was not disposed to exalt himself as being by nature more holy than they. This verse is a remarkable instance of tenderness in appealing to sinners. It would have been easy to have reproached them for their enormous crimes; but it was not the way to reach the heart. He had indeed stated and proved their wickedness. The object now was to bring them to repentance for it; and this was to be done by tenderness, and kindness, and love. Men are melted to contrition, not by reproaches, but by love.
I wot. I know; I am well apprized of it. I know you will affirm it; and I admit that it was so. Still the enormous deed has been done. It cannot be recalled; and it cannot be innocent. It remains, therefore, that you should repent of it, and seek for pardon.
That through ignorance, etc. Peter does not mean to affirm that they were innocent in having put him to death, for he had just proved the contrary; and he immediately proceeds to exhort them to repentance. But he means to say that that offence was mitigated by the fact that they were ignorant that he was the Messiah. The same thing the Saviour himself affirmed when dying. Lu 23:34, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Comp. Ac 13:27; 1 Co 2:8. The same thing the apostle Paul affirmed in relation to himself, as one of the reasons why he obtained pardon from the enormous crime of persecution, 1 Ti 1:13. In cases like these, though crime might be mitigated, yet it was not taken entirely away. They were guilty of demanding a man to be murdered who was declared innocent; they were urged on with ungovernable fury; they did it from contempt and malice; and the crime of murder remained, though they were ignorant that he was the Messiah. It is plainly implied, that if they had put him to death knowing that he was the Messiah, and as the Messiah, there would have been no forgiveness. Comp. Heb 10:26-29. Ignorance, therefore, is a circumstance which must always be taken into view in an estimate of crime. It is at the same time true, that they had opportunity to know that he was the Messiah; but the mere fact that they were ignorant of it was still a mitigating circumstance in the estimate of their crime. There can be no doubt that the mass of the people had no fixed belief that he was the Messiah.
As did also your rulers. Comp. 1 Co 2:8, where the apostle says that none of the princes of this world knew the wisdom of the gospel, for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. It is certain that the leading scribes and Pharisees were urged on by the most ungovernable fury and rage to put Jesus to death, even when they had abundant opportunity to know his true character. This was particularly the case with the high priest. But yet it was true that they did not believe that he was the Messiah. Their minds had been prejudiced. They had expected a prince and a conqueror. All their views of the Messiah were different from the character which Jesus manifested. And though they might have known that he was the Messiah; though he had given abundant proof of the fact, yet it is clear that they did not believe it. It is not credible that they would have put to death one whom they really believed to be the Christ. He was the hope, the only hope of their nation; and they would not have dared to imbrue their hands in the blood of him whom they really believed to be the illustrious personage so long promised, and expected by their fathers. It was also probably true, that no small part of the sanhedrim was urged on by the zeal and fury of the chief priests. They had not courage to resist them; and yet they might not have entered heartily into this work of persecution and death. Comp. Joh 7:50-53. The speech of Peter, however, is not intended to free them entirely from blame; nor should it be pressed to show that they were innocent. It is a mitigating circumstance thrown in to show them that there was still hope of mercy.
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