When Pentecost Arrived
The Book 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, 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 began to come to fruition - “Tarry in Jerusalem until you receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, then you will be my witnesses… to the uttermost part of the Earth” - (Acts 2:1-4).
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The proclamation of the Gospel began in Jerusalem, and the Book of Acts concludes with Paul proclaiming the “Kingdom of God” to Jews and Gentiles alike near the city of Rome, the center of the Empire.
The Messiah of Israel had become the Lord of all the Earth, and therefore, he exercised his messianic authority over the nations by sending his “Good News” across the planet through his Spirit-filled Assembly - (Psalm 2:6-9, Matthew 28:18-20, Revelation 1:4-6).
In Israel, the Feast of Pentecost celebrated the completion of the barley harvest. It occurred fifty days after Passover, hence the Greek name ‘pentekosté.’ It was 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 was the offering of the first sheaf in the Temple, the “first fruits” of the coming harvest. Every male who was able was required to appear in the Temple during the Feast - (Exodus 34:22-23).
On this occasion, the entire congregation of 120 disciples was assembled in the city “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 was gathered in anticipation of the Spirit’s arrival – (Acts 1:15-26).
The granting of the Spirit on that day was no coincidence, and its theological significance is indicated by the use of 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 symbolized came to fruition as the age of the Spirit dawned that day. On Pentecost, God gave the true “first fruits” of the end-time harvest that was foreshadowed in the ancient ritual, namely, the Gift of the Spirit - (Romans 8:23, Luke 24:49).
SOUNDS AND SIGHTS
Those present that day heard “a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind.” The event was described with two analogies - “like a wind” and “tongues like fire.”
Later, at the end of his sermon, Peter described how the newly exalted Jesus had “poured this forth, which you see and hear. Thus, the arrival of the Spirit was 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 that “tongues of fire” were being separated from a single flame and distributed to each of the 120 disciples.
The significance of the “tongues of fire” is not readily apparent, and Peter made no reference to them in his sermon. Likewise, the crowd reacted to hearing the disciples “speaking in tongues,” but nothing was 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 and fire.” 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 of the passage in Luke, both terms, “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”).
“They began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Unfortunately, the Book provides only a few details about this phenomenon. 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).
There is a distinct experiential aspect. The Book of Acts is not only presenting a theological proposition about the Gift of the Spirit, but it is also describing what the disciples experienced, and what the crowd of pilgrims observed. The event included visual and audible phenomena that were 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.”