When Pentecost Arrived

The book of Acts lays stress on fulfillment. The things foreshadowed in the Hebrew scriptures are actualized when the disciples are “filled with the Spirit and spoke in other tongues” on Pentecost. This is the seminal event that marks the inauguration of the Church, the age of the Spirit, and the commencement of the final harvest.

With the outpouring of the Spirit, what Jesus commanded his disciples to do comes to fruition - “tarry in Jerusalem until you receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” - (Acts 2:1-4).

The proclamation of the gospel began in the city of Jerusalem, and 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, and therefore, he exercises his messianic authority over the nations by propagating his “good news” across the earth through his Spirit-filled church - (Psalm 2:6-9, Matthew 28:18-20, Revelation 1:4-6).

FEAST OF PENTECOST


In Israel, the feast of Pentecost celebrates the completion of the barley harvest. It occurs fifty days after Passover, hence the Greek name ‘pentekosté.’ It is known also 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 is the offering of the first sheaf in the Temple, the “first fruits” of the coming harvest.  Every male who is able is required to appear in the Temple - (Exodus 34:22-23).

And so, on this occasion, the entire congregation of 120 disciples is 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 a new twelfth member to complete their number, Matthias, the entirety of the new covenant community is gathered in anticipation of the Spirit’s arrival – (Acts 1:15-26).

The granting of the Spirit 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. It has the sense of something being “filled up completely” - to fill something to the very brim.

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

SOUNDS AND SIGHTS


And they heard “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 “poured this forth, which you see and hear. Thus, the arrival of the Spirit is confirmed by audible and visible signs – (Acts 2:33).

The tongues like fire were “parting asunder.” This rendering represents the Greek verb diamerizô, “to cleave asunder; cut in pieces.” The idea is “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 nothing is said 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 that the Messiah would “baptize in the Spirit.” His statement is quoted at the start of Acts when Jesus commands the disciples to “tarry in Jerusalem” - (Luke 3:16-17).

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

The clause presents two sides of the same coin. Precisely what is meant by “fire” is not clear, though in the context of 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 this 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 in “unknown” tongues – (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, Ezekiel 37:9-10).

There is a distinct experiential aspect. Acts is not just presenting a theological proposition about the gift of the Spirit. It is describing what the disciples experienced, and what the crowd of pilgrims observed. The event includes visual and audible phenomena that are unusual enough to cause confusion 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 and the commencement of the “last days.”


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