When Pentecost Arrived

SYNOPSIS – On the day of Pentecost, the long-anticipated time of fulfillment arrived when Jesus unleashed the Spirit of God – Acts 2:1-4

Flame - Photo by Paul Bulai on Unsplash
The second chapter of 
Acts stresses the theme of fulfillment – The things foreshadowed in the Hebrew scriptures were actualized when the gift of the fledgling congregation of disciples were “filled with the Spirit,” especially the fulfillment of the Feast of Pentecost. The arrival of the Spirit was the seminal event that marked the inauguration of the Church and the age of the Spirit. It set the stage for the spread of the new faith - A process documented in the book of Acts. - [Photo by Paul Bulai on Unsplash].
  • (Acts 2:1-4) - “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, 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.
What Jesus had commanded his disciples to do now came to fruition – (“Tarry in Jerusalem”):
  • Tarry until you receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, even as far as the uttermost part of the earth” - (Acts 1:7-9).
In Acts, the proclamation of the gospel began in Jerusalem, the heart of the Jewish nation, and concluded with Paul proclaiming the kingdom in Rome - Center of the Empire. The Messiah of Israel became the Lord of the nations who exercises his sovereignty by propagating his “good news” among the nations through his followers - (Psalm 2:6-9, Matthew 28:18-20, Revelation 1:4-6).

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

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

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

Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem
The outpouring of the Spirit on this feast day was not coincidental. Its theological significance is indicated by the Greek term 
sumpléroō – To “fully come” - which had the sense of being “filled up” - “filled up completely” - to fill something to the very brim. The verb is a present tense infinitive, signifying action in progress - The feast was in the process of being fulfilled fully as the Spirit filled the disciples.

What the Levitical feast symbolized was coming to fruition in the dawning age of the Spirit. God was giving the actual “first-fruits” of the end-time harvest foreshadowed by the older ritual - The gift of the Holy Spirit - (Romans 8:23Luke 24:49).

All male Israelites able to do so were required to attend the feast. Likewise, all the disciples were “assembled in one place.”  The “all” is repeated in verse 4 to emphasize the point - “ALL were filled with the Holy Spirit.” The entire company was gathered in prayer when the Spirit arrived. The gift of the Spirit was the sign that the age of fulfillment had dawned – The time had “fully come.”

A sound like the rushing of a mighty wind.” The event is described with an analogy – “like a wind.” What the disciples heard sounded “like a mighty wind.” This does not mean that they heard or felt an actual wind. Likewise, the “tongues like fire.” Whatever they saw was not literal fire.

That something was “heard” and “seen” is not in dispute. At the end of his sermon to the crowd, Peter described how the newly exalted Jesus had “poured this forth, which you see and hear, the promise of the Holy Spirit” – (Acts 2:33).

In the Greek text, there is a wordplay that is lost in many translations. The same noun translated “spirit” is also used for “wind” - pneuma – (“There came from heaven a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind [pneuma]…and they began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit [pneumagave them utterance”).

Similarly, the descriptions of the flame-like manifestation (“tongues parting asunder like fire”) and the verbal expressions of the 120 disciples (“They began to speak in other tongues”) both use the Greek noun glossa for “tongue.” This cannot be coincidental.

Parting asunder.” This 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 of the 120 disciples. Put another way, parts of the same single flame rested on each of the assembled men and women.

The significance of the “tongues of fire” is not readily apparent; neither Peter nor Luke (as the editor of Acts) makes any reference to this sight in the subsequent sermon. Likewise, the crowd reacted to hearing the disciples “speaking in tongues,” but nothing is said about its reaction to either the “tongues of fire” or the wind-like sound - (“They were confounded because every man heard them speaking in his own language”).

Most likely, the “tongues of fire” is related to the words of John the Baptist when he promised (warned?) that the Messiah would “baptize in the Spirit.” His statement is quoted by Jesus at the start of Acts when Jesus commanded the disciples to “tarry in Jerusalem” until they received the Spirit:
  • (Acts 1:4-5) - “And being assembled together with them, he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, ‘Which you heard from me. For John baptized with water; but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit’.”).
In Luke’s account, as John was baptizing men and women at the Jordan, he summoned them to repent in preparation for the Messiah, the mightier “coming one”:
  • (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, “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 would be two distinct baptisms administered by Jesus, but “in-spirit-and-fire” - The clause presents two sides of the same coin, so to speak. Precisely what is meant by “fire” is not spelled out; however, in this context, it must include an element of judgment - (i.e., “The chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire”).

They began to speak in other tongues.” Unfortunately, Luke provides only a few details about this phenomenon. Clearly, the disciples did not speak languages they knew already - This was a supernatural occurrence - (i.e., “as the Spirit gave them utterance”).  And they did not speak gibberish. The crowd was composed of pilgrims from many different nations, yet 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 an exercise of the gift of tongues is identified as a known language.  Elsewhere, “tongues” are described as unknown languages, even the “tongues of angels” – (1 Corinthians 13:1, 14:1-9).
Considering the stress in the larger context on the mission of the disciples to proclaim the gospel to the “uttermost parts of the earth,” and the description of Jewish pilgrims being present from many nations, Luke 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 can 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.
This possibility that the “tongues of fire” symbolize judgment is strengthened by the subsequent quotation by Peter from the book of Joel with its note of end-time 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.
It is important to note the experiential aspect of this event. Luke is not just presenting a theological proposition about the gift of the Spirit – He is describing what the 120 disciples experienced, and what the larger crowd of pilgrims observed. This event included visual and audible phenomena, and they were unusual enough to cause the crowd great confusion and anxiety. This was a life-changing and epochal event – The arrival of the long-promised gift of the Spirit of Yahweh.


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