Acts chapter 2 will be our focus for the next three weeks. It is very helpful to take this chapter in three waves since it is so important to the narrative of Luke as a whole. The account is firstly about the arrival of the promised Holy Spirit but it is important to read carefully just what the passage says or else we fall into all sorts of theological trouble here.
The book of Acts follows directly from the book of Luke. It is one narrative broken into two parts. Chapter one described Jesus as no longer dead but alive and leaving his disciples to wait in Jerusalem ‘for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about…you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witness…’ (Acts 1:5, 8). Acts 2 opens up with the believers all together in one place, in Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost.
The coming of the Holy Spirit was promised in Isaiah 32:15; Joel 2:28-32 and marks the beginning of the last days.
Pentecost is the NT language for the Festival of Weeks (Leviticus 23:15-21, also vs9-14; ) – a yearly festival held fifty days after harvest. It is celebrated in thanksgiving for the firstfruits of the harvest. Tradition tells us that the Jews believed God gave Moses the law at the time of Pentecost but it is not possible to know if this was known or believed at the time of Luke’s writing (see Acts commentary in the TNTC series by Howard Marshall, p73). If this link is correct then the gifting of the Holy Spirit who teaches us and leads us into all truth corresponded to the same time God gifted Israel with the law – showing them how to live as the people of God.
Here’s another interesting idea…Deut 16:16 and Exodus 23:14-17 are a few places that mention three main festivals in the year that everyone must come together to celebrate. They are not the only Jewish festivals but a trio of key annual events for the people of Israel. Go ahead and use a concordance or bible-searching software to trace the three festivals but they are
- The Festival of Unleavened Bread – AKA the Passover,
- The Festival of Weeks – AKA The Festival of Harvest – AKA Pentecost and
- The Festival of Tabernacles – AKA The Festival of Ingathering – this was held at the end of the harvest season, the end of the year.
The Passover pointed back to the great Exodus BUT forward to Jesus being our passover lamb. Pentecost gives thanks to God for the firstfruit of the harvest AND for the coming of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the universal church of Christ. The Tabernacle or Ingathering festival thanks God for the end of the harvest – an event that has no NT fulfilment, only a promise to come. I’ll leave that with you to ponder and discuss (Exod 34:22).
‘They were all gathered‘ must refer to the 120 and not just the 12 (Acts 1:14-15).
‘a sound like the blowing of a violent wind…’ This phenomenon is not literally the sound of a violent wind but LIKE the blowing of a violent wind – Luke can only report what the sound resembled since this was a unique event.
‘They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire…’ again, Luke reports the way that others had described the event to him. Wind and fire are both images pre-associated with the Spirit of God. The word for spirit is the same word that also means ‘breath’. The Holy Spirit was once seen in the form of a dove but now he is associated with wind and fire. John the baptist promised that Jesus would not baptise with water but with fire.
‘…came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled…’ Firstly, the Spirit did not swirl around aimlessly but was directed to the people in the house. The Spirit is described as a single source which separated and came to rest on each person there – the people were the reason the Spirit came. Secondly, the process is described as ‘resting’, ‘filling,’ ‘baptising’ (1:5; 11:16), ‘pouring out’ (2:17; 10:45, and ‘receiving’ (10:47). There are many words the bible uses to describe the gift of the Holy Spirit and it does us harm to restrict the language to just the word of baptism.
‘…and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.’ Jesus had promised the apostles that they would receive the Holy Spirit to give them power to be his witness to the ends of the earth. When the Spirit arrives, he equips the apostles with foreign language. The link is clear: as soon as the Spirit was given, the task of praising God to the nations begins.
The tongues spoken were different earthly languages – this seems clear from the text. 1 Corinthians 13:1 suggests a type of ‘gift of tongues’ which is the language of angels BUT it is listed alongside the tongues of men! Paul addresses the misuse of the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians rather than an encouragement or suggestion to desire it. Again, when we make more out of a thing than what the bible describes, we can fall into all sorts of theological trouble.
What the gift shows here is that God is going to drive this global mission. It is said from time to time that Acts 2 shows a reversal of the Tower of Babel story. While the story of Babel is about God scattering mankind through confusion because of their wickedness, Acts 2 describes God calling humanity back to himself through universal understanding and clarity. I do like this, however, there’s not much more in the text to indicate that Luke wants us to think of the Babel story here. The crowd which heard them speaking had already gathered for the Jewish festival and they seem to all speak with one voice in verses 7-12 and the story ends with people genuinely confused.
‘The Spirit enabled them.’ Note that this is not a new thing – the Spirit is described as enabling people to do specific tasks right through the OT (Judges 14:6, 19; 15:14; 1 Sam 10:10; 11:6; 16:13).
Note also that Jesus is described in John 20:22 as giving the disciples the Holy Spirit before he ascends. The incident is in the context of Jesus sending them out to continue his mission – an identical theme to Acts 1-2. Here’s the tricky thing to consider – the Holy Spirit is not a new entity. He has been around since eternity, he was involved in creation, with equipping the prophets of old, in the incarnation of the Son of God, in affirming Jesus as God’s Son whom he loved, in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Wherever God is at work, the Spirit of God is at work – always. He is not a Spirit that was awakened at the time of Pentecost. BUT, in order to convey the unfolding work of God in saving this world, Pentecost demonstrated publicly that God was at work in the apostles. Think of this: Abraham did not know Jesus but was credited righteousness – a righteousness that can only come by faith in the Son of God. Abraham demonstrated his faith in the promises of God and the death of Jesus would cover his sins centuries after he was stamped ‘justified.’ I believe a similar thing is true of the work of the Holy Spirit. He has always been active and it is only through the work of the Spirit that Abraham can show any trust and faith in the Lord. Yet, it wasn’t until Acts 2 that God shows the world how his church will grow.
With so much text written on the first 4 verses, I feel that verses 5-13 can be left read as straight forward as it sounds. Luke describes in summary, how vast was the audience and how universally they were perplexed about what was happening. They didn’t literally all say in one voice what Luke quotes in verses 7-11 – that would be a miracle too! But everyone present witnessed an extraordinary thing and such a large crowd were all affected by what they saw.
Some wanted to know more and some just made fun of what was happening. How normal for humanity to be so divided over the divine.
The end days are here and these days are all about taking the glory of God to the nations. The cross has saved us, the resurrection amazes us and the Spirit equips us. Passover (check)- Pentecost (check) – the full harvest (has started and is happening still).
- The Holy Spirit is a gift to all believers and is not confined to a supernatural event as described in this passage. The Spirit is given, fills, poured out and received. Thank God that the Spirit is for all believers equally and is a gift, not a medal.
- We need the Holy Spirit in order to do God’s work. Thank God that he is a free gift and not a merit award.
- Even with the full power of God behind us, we will still face opposition and ridicule.
- The apostles waited for the Spirit to equip them. This is an application that can be taken too far, but I suspect we fall to quickly into the error of driving the mission of God on our own strength.
Prayer for the week…
Thank you Father that as you sent your Son, you also send us. We pray for your Spirit to equip us, unite us and to engage us into action. May we be your mouthpieces into this world. Show us who we will speak to and what we will say. Amen.