When Pentecost Arrived

On the day of Pentecost, the time of fulfillment arrived when Jesus bestowed the gift of the Spirit on his church – Acts 2:1-4. 

Niagra Falls photo by Edward Koorey on Unsplash
The second chapter of Acts lays stress on the theme of fulfillment. The things foreshadowed in the Hebrew scriptures were actualized when the disciples were “filled with the Spirit and spoke in other tongues” on the Day of Pentecost. This was the seminal event that marked the inauguration of the Church and the age of the Spirit - [Niagra Falls photo by Edward Koorey on Unsplash].

With the outpouring of the Spirit, what Jesus commanded his disciples came to fruition - “tarry in Jerusalem until you receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”
  • (Acts 2:1-4) - “And when the day of Pentecost fully came, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues parting asunder, like fire; and it was sitting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The proclamation of the gospel began in the city of Jerusalem, and the book of Acts concludes with Paul proclaiming the “kingdom of God” in Rome, the center of the empire.

The Messiah of Israel is now the Lord of the earth. Therefore, he exercises his messianic authority over the nations by propagating his “good news” across the earth through his followers - (Psalm 2:6-9, Matthew 28:18-20, Revelation 1:4-6).

FEAST OF PENTECOST

In the religion of Israel, the feast of Pentecost celebrated the completion of the barley harvest. It occurred fifty days after Passover, the Greek name ‘pentekosté.’ It was also known as the “feast of weeks,” and the “feast of harvest, the first fruits of your labors” - (Leviticus 23:11-16, Deuteronomy 16:9-10).

The Greek noun rendered “Pentecost” means “fiftieth.” The highlight of the feast was the offering of the first sheaf, the “first fruits” of the grain harvest.  Every male who was able was required to appear in the Temple during the feast - (Exodus 34:22-23).

And so, on this occasion, the entire congregation of 120 disciples was assembled in Jerusalem “in one accord.” ‘120’ is a multiple of twelve (12 x 10), the number of the twelve tribes of Israel. Just as the apostles elected the twelfth member to complete their number, Matthias, so the entirety of the new covenant community was assembled in anticipation of the Spirit’s arrival – (Acts 1:15-26).

The granting of the Spirit especially on that day is no coincidence, and its theological significance is indicated by the Greek term sumpléroō, which is rendered “fully come” in several English translations. The term has the sense of something being “filled up completely” - to fill something to the very brim.

In the second chapter of Acts, this verb is a present tense infinitive, and that signifies an action in progress. In other words, the feast is in the process of being fulfilled completely as the Spirit fills the 120 disciples.

Harvest - Photo by Joao Marcelo Marques on Unsplash
[Photo by Joao Marcelo Marques on Unsplash]


What the Levitical feast symbolizes comes to fruition as the age of the Spirit dawns and progresses. On Pentecost, God is giving the actual “first fruits” of the end-time harvest that is foreshadowed by the ancient ritual - (Romans 8:23, Luke 24:49).

All male Israelites were required to attend the feast. So, likewise, in Acts, all the disciples are “assembled in one place.”  The “all” is repeated in verse 4 to emphasize the point: “ALL were filled with the Holy Spirit.” The gift is a sign that the age of fulfillment has commenced.

SOUNDS AND SIGHTS

A sound like the rushing of a mighty wind.” The event is described with two analogies - “like a wind” and “tongues like fire.” Later, at the end of his sermon, Peter describes how the newly exalted Jesus has “poured this forth, which you see and hear. Thus, the arrival of the Spirit is confirmed by audible and visible signs – (Acts 2:33).

Parting asunder.” This rendering represents the Greek verb diamerizô, “to cleave asunder; cut in pieces.” The idea is that of “tongues of fire” being separated from a single flame and distributed to each disciple.

The significance of the “tongues of fire” is not readily apparent, and Peter makes no reference to them in his sermon. Likewise, the crowd reacts to hearing the disciples “speaking in tongues,” but they say nothing about the “tongues of fire” or the wind-like sound (“They were confounded because every man heard them speaking in his own language”).

The “tongues of fire” is related to the words of John the Baptist when he warned that the Messiah would “baptize in the Spirit,” and his statement is quoted at the start of Acts when Jesus commands the disciples to “tarry in Jerusalem.” In Luke, John summons all men to repent in preparation for the Messiah:
  • (Luke 3:16-17) – “John answered, ‘I indeed baptize you with water; but there comes he that is mightier than I…he will baptize you in the Holy Spirit AND FIRE, whose fan is in his hand, thoroughly to cleanse his threshing-floor, and to gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.”

In the Greek text of the passage, “Holy Spirit” and “fire” are both modified by a single preposition, en or “in.” The sense is NOT “in Spirit or in fire,” as if there are two distinct baptisms administered by Jesus, but “in-spirit-and-fire.”

The clause presents two sides of the same coin. Precisely what is meant by “fire” is not immediately obvious, though in the context in Luke it must include an element of judgment (i.e., “The chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire”).

TONGUES

They began to speak in other tongues.” Unfortunately, the book of Acts provides only a few details about the phenomenon.

Clearly, the disciples did not speak languages they knew already - this was a supernatural occurrence.  And they did not speak gibberish. The crowd was composed of pilgrims from many different nations, and they understood their words (“Because that every man heard them speaking in his own language… And how hear we every man in our own language wherein we were born?”).

This is the only instance in the New Testament where “speaking in tongues” is identified as a known human language.  Elsewhere, the gift is described as speaking “unknown” languages – (1 Corinthians 13:1, 14:1-9).

Considering the call to proclaim the gospel to the “uttermost parts of the earth,” and the description of Jewish pilgrims being present from many nations, Acts may intend for us to hear echoes of two prophecies from the Hebrew Bible:
  • (Isaiah 66:15-20) - “Yahweh will come with fire, and his chariots shall be like the whirlwind; to render his anger with fierceness, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire will Yahweh execute judgment, and by his sword upon all flesh…I will gather all nations and tongues, and they will come and see my glory. And I will set a sign among them… And they will bring all your brethren out of all the nations for an oblation unto Yahweh…to my holy mountain Jerusalem, declares Yahweh.
  • (Ezekiel 37:9-10) – “Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord Yahweh: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So, I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.”

The possibility that the “tongues of fire” symbolize judgment is strengthened by the subsequent quotation from the book of Joel with its note of judgment:
  • (Acts 2:17-21) – “And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh… And I will show wonders in the heaven above, And signs on the earth beneath; Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the day of the Lord come, That great and notable day.”

There is a distinct experiential aspect to this event. Acts is not just presenting a theological proposition about the gift of the Spirit; it is describing what the 120 disciples experienced, and what the larger crowd of pilgrims observed. The event includes visual and audible phenomena that are unusual enough to cause confusion and anxiety among observers of the event.

Hence, the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was a life-changing and epochal event - the arrival of the long-promised gift of the Spirit of Yahweh and the commencement of the “last days.”



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