The day of Pentecost in the book of Acts has been described as a day that was full of fireworks, much like our Fourth of July celebrations.2 It was a day that had always been full of historical significance and anticipation of the promises of God being fulfilled.
1When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians – we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
THE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF PENTECOST
Historically speaking, the day of Pentecost was the most attended holiday celebration on the Jewish calendar, it was celebrated exactly fifty days after the Passover (Pentecost literally means “fifty”), and it was celebrated at a time when the harvest in the grain fields was just beginning in anticipation of the full harvest that was yet to come (Exod. 23:16, 34:22; Deut. 16:10, 16; 2 Chron. 8:13; Lev. 23:17).3
Do not miss the historical significance here. The day of Pentecost drew the largest attendance of all the Jewish holidays as people from all over the known world would attend this annual celebration after the Passover as they looked forward to a massive harvest in the fields. In Acts chapter two, the anticipated harvest is going to be the harvest of souls as the disciples witness in the power of the Spirit to the person and work of Jesus and new believers are added to the church.
THE FULFILLMENT OF CENTURIES OLD PROMISES
This episode in Acts chapter two leads us to the think about the fulfillment of centuries of promises from God to his people. God’s promises to his people are summed up in the promise of his very own redemptive presence. All throughout the Old Testament, God had promised to be with his people in a redemptive and empowering way and he always makes good on his promises.
God promised his redemptive presence to his people as they left the Garden of Eden, he was with them in the Exodus out of Egypt, he was with them in the Wilderness, he was with them in Exile, he was with them in the person and work of Jesus, and now in Acts chapter two, he is with them in the indwelling presence of his very own Spirit, just as Jesus had promised (Gen. 3:14 – 24; Exod. 3:7 – 12; Num. 9:15 – 23; Deut. 1 – 2; Jer. 29:10 – 14; Luk. 1 – 2, 24:49; Jn. 15:26 – 27; Acts 1:8).
#1: THE SPIRIT COMES JUST AS JESUS HAD PROMISED (ACTS 2:1 – 4)
In verse 1 – 4 of our text the disciples have been prayerfully waiting for the Spirit for ten days following Jesus’ ascension in a cloud of smoke to heaven. Luke tells us that when the Spirit came, he showed up in a powerful display of “mighty rushing wind” with individual “tongues of fire” that rested on every believer and that each of them “began to speak in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance”.
On this spectacular day, when the Spirit came just as Jesus had promised, he shows up with wind, fire, and the ability to proclaim the gospel in unknown languages. All throughout the history of Israel, the Spirit’s presence was always referred to as the Holy Wind or the Holy Breathe of God that brought light into the darkness at Creation, that gave new life to the dead, and put words into the mouths of his servants (Gen. 1 – 2; Ezek. 37; 2 Cor. 5:17).4 Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit is literally being fulfilled in a way that would have been historically obvious to his followers.
#2: THE GOSPEL IS PROCLAIMED TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH (VSS. 5 – 11)
In verses 5 – 11 we see that the unknown languages that the disciples were speaking were nothing less than the various foreign languages that were present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. People from all over the known world “from every nation under heaven” had gathered to celebrate the beginning of the harvest (v. 5). Luke tells us that all of these people who had gathered were hearing the mighty acts of God “in his own native language” (v. 6).
This manifestation of the baptism in the Holy Spirit was not some unintelligible babbling as often happens in some Pentecostal circles today. People from every nation were hearing the disciples “telling in [their] own tongues the mighty works of God” (v. 11). The Word of God is literally being proclaimed for the very first time to the ends of the earth in fulfillment of Jesus’ promises.
#3: THE MIXED RESPONSE TO THE MESSAGE OF THE GOSPEL (VV. 6 – 7; 12 – 13)
In verses 6 – 7 and 12 – 13 we catch a glimpse of how the crowds of people respond to hearing the gospel in their own languages. Verse 6 tells us that “they were bewildered”. Verse 7 tells us that “they were amazed and astonished”. Verse 12 tells us that they “were amazed and perplexed”. Verse 13 tells us that some of them mocked the disciples, saying that they were “filled with new wine” or drunk in the middle of the day.
The bottom line here is that there was a mixed response to the message of the gospel and the responses ranged from bewilderment to amazement, to astonishment, to perplexity, to outright mocking and unfounded accusations. There has always been and always will be a mixed response to the proclamation of the gospel regardless of how miraculous the proclamation is.
Some people will be amazed and astonished by the power of the gospel and will be saved. Others will be confused (or bewildered) and worried (or perplexed) and will try to explain things away with wild accusations as they continue in their darkened journeys. As the apostle says, “To those who are perishing we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume” (2 Cor. 2:16 NLT).
In conclusion, the day of Pentecost was a day like none other. It was a day that was full of historical significance that attracted people from every corner of the earth in anticipation of the coming harvest. It was also a day where the promise of God’s redemptive, indwelling, and empowering presence was fulfilled among his people so that the entire world could hear the gospel in their own language in a powerful and miraculous way.
The main point of application for us today is not to wait for the Spirit to manifest himself in us through some spiritual gift such as speaking in tongues. The main point of application for us today is to ask the Spirit to fill us with his very own presence so that we too might share the message of the gospel with everyone we meet and to trust, that whenever we do share the gospel, that God has prepared some people to receive what we share with glad and joyful hearts that lead to salvation.
Think about the family member or the gas station clerk or the grocery store checkout lady or the friend or the spouse or the child who does not yet understand the gospel. These and many more need to hear the gospel from average people just like you and I and just like the disciples who were largely uneducated and came from the lower class in the community.
You see, it is true that God uses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise and to bring many to salvation through the message of our crucified, risen, and returning Savior. You and I, my friends, are the continuation of the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter two. Ask for the Spirit to fill you. Wait for him to fill you. When he fills you, you will not be able to keep your mouth shut about Jesus! Amen!
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).
2 R. Kent Hughes, Acts: The Church Afire, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1996), 29.
3 Derek W. H. Thomas, Acts, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2011), 28.
4 Ibid., 29.