Acts Lesson 3: Acts 2:1-13 – Pentecost

2 When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying. And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them. Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them ability for speech. 

There were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. And they were astounded and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? How is it that each of us can hear in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites; those who live in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking the magnificent acts of God in our own languages.” 12 They were all astounded and perplexed, saying to one another, “What could this be?” 13 But some sneered and said, “They’re full of new wine!” (HCSB)

Chapter one was preparation for what now transpires. The disciples had listened to Jesus’ instructions over a forty day period. They received His commission to take the Gospel to the world. They received the promise that the Holy Spirit would fill them with power for their assignment. After Jesus’ ascension, there was nothing left to do but wait and pray for the fulfillment of the promise. Now in chapter two, the promise is fulfilled. 

This passage is split into two sections. The first is the coming of the Spirit in verses 1-4, and the second is their witness to the power of the Spirit in verses 5-13.

Verse 1

The literal translation of the beginning of verse one reads, “when the day of Pentecost was fulfilled.” The period of waiting was over; the promise had arrived.

Let’s take a brief history lesson by looking at the feasts listed in Leviticus 23 and comparing them with the work of Jesus.

  • Passover – pictures the death of Jesus as the Lamb of God.
  • Feast of Firstfruits –  pictures His resurrection.
  • Pentecost – the pouring out of the promised Spirit to the church.

The location, “one place,” is somewhat vague. It was most likely the upper room where they had been praying. It is also likely that it was close to the temple because of the response of the people who had arrived in Jerusalem for Pentecost and who were drawn to what was occurring to Jesus’ followers.

Who was the Spirit poured out upon?

  • From the context of the passage, it appears that it was the 120 who were gathered together.
    • The large range of nations represented in verses 9-11 suggests it was more than the 12 Apostles who received the Spirit.
    • Peter also quotes Joel in verses 17-18, indicating that both men and women received the Spirit.

Verses 2-4 describe the coming of the Spirit in three consecutive verses, each pointing to a specific aspect of the event.

  • Sound that filled the house.
    • The picture is one of a blowing blast of wind, like the sound of a tornado.
    • Wind phenomena often accompanied the appearance of God in the Old Testament.
      • 1 Kings 19:11b At that moment, the LORD passed by. A great and mighty wind that was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind.
      • Isaiah 66:15a Look, the LORD will come with fire – His chariots are like the whirlwind.
    • The Greek word used here, pneuma, has the double meaning of wind and Spirit. 
    • Just as in Ezekiel 37:9-14, Yahweh’s breath, the Spirit, brings life.
  • Tongues of flame.
    • The Greek word for tongue, glossa, can refer to the physical tongue, or it can refer to what is spoken by the tongue.
    • The flames described here were in appearance like physical tongues.
    • Throughout the Old Testament, flames were used to signify the presence of God.
      • Exodus 3:2a – Then the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire within a bush.
      • 1 Kings 18:38 – Then Yahweh’s fire fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench.
    • The illustration is of one great flame, representing the Spirit, which then separated into many tongues resting on each person.
      • Under the old covenant, the divine presence rested on Israel as a corporate body and many of its leaders for special purposes.
      • Under the new covenant, the Spirit rests on each individual believer. This doesn’t remove the importance of the corporate relationship with God (the church), but the corporate rises from the individual. This fulfills the prophecy in Jeremiah 31:33 that stated the law would be written on their hearts.
    • Luke is clearly using metaphorical language with the phrases “like that of a violent rushing wind” and “like flames of fire.”
  • Wind and fire together are symbols of judgment – wind blows away the chaff, and fire burns up the chaff.
  • The coming of the Holy Spirit means life for some and judgment for others. 
  • Speaking in other languages.
    • From the context of the passage, this is not talking about a heavenly language as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians.
    • The people from each of the nations listed in this passage heard the disciples in their own language.
    • The conclusion must be drawn that these were all “earthly” languages that were spoken by the various nations represented in the passage.
  • God intends the Gospel to be heard by the whole world, not just a select few. The imagery of everyone present hearing it in their own language reinforces the idea that the Gospel message is for everyone.
  • In addition, there is a reversal of the Tower of Babel scattering of the human race. Now, all people will be brought back together. 
  • People would no longer need to come to one central location using one language to worship God. Instead, people are now able to worship God in their own language and country.

Verse 5

The point behind this seemingly simple verse is that “Jews…from every nation” would be able to understand the sermon that Peter would give starting in verse 14 in, most likely, Aramaic that they would be able to understand.

Verse 6-8

A logical question to ask is, “what was the sound that the Jews heard that caused them to gather?” Luke doesn’t give us much explicitly in this passage, but we can deduce from the context what occurred.

  • The followers of Jesus likely left the upper room and moved into the area close to the temple.
  • Because of the fact that over 3,000 became believers that day, it would require a location of sufficient space for that many to gather.
  • The “sound” they heard was the believers speaking in the various earthly languages.
  • Considering what the believers had just experienced, they were probably acting in an energetic and excited manner, praising God and speaking in various languages as they moved from the upper room to the temple area.
  • Their actions would naturally draw a crowd.
  • The pilgrims who came to Jerusalem for Pentecost would initially be confused by what they saw and heard. Some estimates placed their number at 200,000 people.
  • What they witnessed would naturally amaze them. It is safe to say that they’d never seen anything like what was now happening.
  • What made it even more amazing is that a sizable portion of Jesus’ followers likely came from Galilee, not an area known for higher education.
  • Verse 8 is basically a repeat of verse 6, with the addition of the word “native.” This adds further support to understand that the term “tongues” is referring to an earthly language.

Verses 9-11a

These verses list the locations of the pilgrims. There is much that could be said about this list, and scholars have debated various meanings or interpretations over the years. The following is a simple listing of the predominant interpretations.

  • It starts in Parthia (modern-day Iran) to the east and works its way all the way to Rome in the west.
  • It progresses in a relatively steady curve from southeast to north to southwest.
  • Judea likely referred to the Davidic kingdom, which stretched from the Euphrates to Egypt. This would follow the geographic flow of coming after Mesopotamia. It would also include Syria, which is omitted from Luke’s list.
  • Each territory listed has extensive Jewish communities.
  • The “visitors” from Rome is probably a reference to the occupying forces.
  • The inclusion of the Cretans and Arabs would complete the picture by adding those who lived on islands as well as those who lived a nomadic life in the desert.
  • The list paints a picture of the Jewish Diaspora and its presence at Pentecost.

Verses 11b-13

We now read again that the pilgrims were amazed that they heard Jesus’ followers speaking in their native tongue. We also know that what they were proclaiming were the magnificent acts of God. Jesus’ followers were praising God, maybe even singing songs of praise. However, what they were witnessing provoked two divergent trains of thought.

Verse 12

The group identified here was “astounded and perplexed,” yet they also expressed curiosity in finding out what they were witnessing. 

Verse 13

The second group was not receptive to what they were witnessing. They believed that they were observing a group of people who had consumed too much alcohol.

As we share the Gospel with the lost around us, we often face the same divergent attitude. Those who are curious and/or accept the message and those who reject it for various reasons. The basic response to the Gospel hasn’t changed over the centuries, and we shouldn’t be surprised or discouraged when our message is rejected by an unbelieving generation.

Let’s summarize what Luke is trying to get across with this passage and his treatment of Pentecost.

  • The new church has been empowered for its mission. Everything so far in Acts has led to the moment of the pouring out of the Spirit. Without this event, the rest of the book would be blank.
  • This initial pouring out of the Spirit led to an immediate harvest of 3,000 believers, which we’ll see in the next lesson.
  • Pentecost, also known as the festival of firstfruits, was the firstfruits of the harvest of the Spirit.
  • The spiritual harvest didn’t conclude at Pentecost. It continues in an ever-widening arc as the Gospel is spread to the ends of the earth.
  • It contains eschatological significance, beginning the final period of God’s plan of salvation to the world. The Spirit is the sign of these last times.

Applications

  • Ask yourself whether you believe all people groups are equal to you as brothers and sisters in Christ. Scripture clearly says this is true. It is not difficult for us to slip into the mentality that we are “better” than nation “A.” The Gospel was meant for all of us. As you interact with the lost of the world, don’t pick who gets to hear the message. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you each day in sharing the message.
  • Some of us may not be comfortable with the “sign gifts.” Some are cessationists, who believe that the sign gifts ceased during the Apostolic Age, while others are continuists, who believe that the sign gifts continue. This debate has gone on through the centuries. Whichever side of the debate we fall on, what is essential is that we extend grace to the countering view. Personally, I am a continuist. However, the sign gifts, especially tongues, must be exercised in keeping with what Scripture says.
  • Do we proclaim the magnificent acts of God in our lives? Many of us would think nothing of cheering or jumping as we support our favorite sports team. But how many of us would act in the same manner when praising God? I’m not suggesting out of control behavior, but I am suggesting acting freely in our praise of God. 

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