Acts 2:39 says, “For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord, our God shall call unto him”.
The promise which Peter spoke of was the promise in the preceding verse: “… repent ye and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Peter had answered a question the multitude asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” by commanding them to both repent and be baptized. He assured them that remission of their sins would be given if they did so. He could make that promise because he was guided by the Holy Spirit which Jesus had promised earlier and had given them that very day (Acts 2:4). Salvation (remission of sins) is a universal promise to all, for it was “to you, your children, to all them that are afar off, even as many as the Lord called”.
The apostle did not promise his audience the Holy Spirit; he promised them the promise the Holy Spirit had given. In an earlier verse Jesus was said to have received the promise of the Holy Spirit (2:33). This promise was that “all power hath been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). He received the promise when He sat down at the right hand of His Father (Psalm 110:1). Therefore, the “promise of the Holy Spirit” was not the Holy Spirit, but the promise the Holy Spirit had given. The promise of the Holy Spirit in v. 39 was the promise of remission of sins. Peter could make that promise because he was given “the keys of the kingdom” by Jesus (Matthew 16:19).
Salvation is offered to all those whom Christ calls, but it is not given to all because not everyone accepts His call. Jesus said, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). The writer of Proverbs personifies wisdom as offering a call to man, but man snubbed the call. Solomon wrote, ”Because I have called, and ye have refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man hath regarded” (Proverbs 1:24). In the same way God calls, but does not force man to accept His call. To the Laodiceans Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man will hear my voice and open the door, I will come into him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20. The blessing of oneness and communion with Christ was dependent upon the Laodiceans “opening the door” before which Jesus stood and knocked. Man has freedom to choose, and it is he who must act to have communion with Christ. Jesus wanted to comfort the city of Jerusalem, but He did not because they refused His comfort. He said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not” (Matthew 23:37).
Jesus calls all men but He speaks to no man apart from His word. Every man is called in exactly the same way. Of that call Paul wrote, “Whereunto he called you through our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:14). Jesus commanded, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). We understand that “every creature” was Jesus’ way of saying “every man”. Because the gospel is the means by which man is called, and the gospel is to be “preached to every creature”, then all men are called. How many of those who heard Peter preach on Pentecost were called? Every one of them! Obviously not all who heard on that day accepted his message — they were called, but they refused.
Jesus, through the gospel message Peter preached, stood at the door of their hearts and knocked, but many would not open the door (cp. Revelation 3:20). Notice what the historian wrote: “They therefore, that gladly received his word were baptized and there were added unto them that day about 3,000 souls” (Acts 2:41, KJV). By these words (“they that gladly received his words”) the historian necessarily implied that some did not receive Peter’s words. Some were not baptized, some were not added to the number of those being saved (Acts 2:47). But they were all called.
Some in the audience had asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” and Peter told them they were to repent and be baptized to have remission of sins, or to be saved (Mark 16:16). Peter spoke many more words to them, and concluded, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation” (Acts 2:40). But how were they to do that? How could they “save themselves”? By obeying the words which Peter spoke.
These who gladly received his words were baptized. They saved themselves. The promise of the Holy Spirit is still offered to all men today, which is the remission of sins to all who will repent and be baptized. That promise will last until Jesus returns. Let’s heed the Spirit’s words: “Today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts …” (Hebrews 4:7).