Sunday Morning Greek Blog

June 20, 2022

From Resurrection to Pentecost: Acts 2

Filed under: Acts,Biblical Studies,Tongues — Scott Stocking @ 10:00 pm

I preached this message Sunday, June 5, 2022 (Pentecost), at Mt. View Presbyterian Church. Lightly edited for publication.

Happy Birthday to the Church! Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day many Christians around the world celebrate the anniversary of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the 12 apostles, at least, and perhaps on another 100 or more believers.

My messages have been building up to this point in the past two months. We’ve taken a look at the last week of Jesus’s ministry on earth, culminating in his crucifixion and resurrection. This was the first step of a new beginning for God’s kingdom. Through the resurrected Jesus, God would begin building his church and dealing with his followers in a completely different way. We also looked at Jesus as the good shepherd. Of course, a good shepherd is needed to lead God’s flock, and the NT adopted the imagery of shepherding for elders and overseers in the Church. And we also looked at Jesus as the coming King in Revelation, when he and his church would finally win the ultimate battle over Satan and usher in his eternal kingdom, where there would be no more death or sorrow, tears or pain.

We also looked at the life of Peter, who seemed to be the leader of the Apostles and, after the resurrection, the leader in the early church. We saw Peter make the great confession, that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, and how Jesus changed his name from Simon to Peter at that moment, and how Jesus told Peter he would build the church on the “rock” of the truth of Peter’s confession.

As we come to Acts 2, then, this morning, we see Peter, restored by the risen Jesus just a few weeks earlier after denying him three times, take up that mantle of leadership by proclaiming the first recorded Gospel message to an international crowd. Let’s listen in to the first four verses of Acts 2 as Luke sets up the context.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

In order to get a sense of the timing here, we can look at some statements in the Gospels and the first few verses of Acts chapter 1. From John 20, we know that Jesus appeared to the disciples both on the day of his resurrection and then one week later when Thomas had rejoined them. In John 21, Jesus appeared yet again to a few of his disciples who were fishing at the sea of Galilee. It’s not clear when or why they had left Jerusalem; perhaps they thought they should “go back to the beginning” and await further instructions there.

However, at some point before Pentecost, they had returned to Jerusalem, because Luke tells us in Acts 1 that Jesus continued to appear to his disciples “over a period of 40 days” and continued teaching about God’s kingdom. It’s interesting to note there that Jesus was also eating with them, even in his resurrected, incorruptible form. Sometime during that 40 days (and 40 days is significant), Jesus told them to stay in Jerusalem and “wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” He was referring, of course, to the Holy Spirit, that he had taught his disciples about in the John 14 passage we read earlier.

Now in case you didn’t know, the day of Pentecost comes 50 days after the Passover. It’s a time of harvest for the Jews. It seems odd to us that they would be harvesting in May or early June, but keep in mind they lived in a Mediterranean climate. On Jesus’s 40th day of appearances, he told his disciples that the gift of the Holy Spirit would come “not after many days”; in other words, it wouldn’t be long. It’s not clear whether Jesus had told them privately it would happen on Pentecost. More likely, I think, they put two and two together and figured Pentecost would be the time since Jesus had been crucified at Passover. It’s in that last week before Pentecost, then, that the disciples made sure they replaced Judas as an apostle by choosing Matthias. They evidently guessed correctly, because they were all together in one place when Holy Spirit came in power.

It’s not clear from the context if the “they” refers only to the 12 apostles, as they are technically the last group mentioned, or if it includes the rest of the 120 believers. There are at least 15 nationalities mentioned in the next few verses, so my educated guess is that was all the believers.

The wind often symbolizes the presence of God’s Spirit in both the Old and New Testaments, and in fact the words for wind in Hebrew and Greek, רוּחַ (a) and πνεῦμα (pneuma) or πνοή (pnoē), respectively, are typically used for Spirit. The mention of the tongues of fire is a detail that signifies God pouring out his Spirit on all men and women, which is in strict contrast to what we see in the OT. In the OT, Moses is the only one who can stand in the presence of God, and his face glows radiantly every time that happens, including when he receives the Ten Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai. God’s presence or glory fills the Tabernacle while Israel is wandering in the desert.

As with Moses, then, this filling with the Spirit was not just some miraculous event, but it was intended to grant special kind of ex cathedra authority to the Apostles, at least, and perhaps others in the crowd, so that the doctrine and practice of the early church could be founded on consistent teaching and a united understanding of how God wanted the church to organize and evangelize. If they were going to go out into all the world, it would certainly take more than 12 Apostles to accomplish that. Now I don’t have any solid proof that the Apostles had such authority to speak God’s truth without error, but it certainly makes a lot of sense to me that they would for the reasons I stated. At the very least, I do not think such authority survived to successive church leaders. It was a limited authority and special dispensation to ensure the integrity and survival of the fledgling church.

Before we talk about the disciples speaking in other tongues, let us look at Acts 2:5–13

5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, d 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”[1]

These verses give us a clear understanding of just what the “speaking in other tongues” entailed on this day. First off, it is clear from the text that the miracle was in the disciples and Apostles speaking, not in the crowd’s hearing. Second, they’re not just speaking one of the more common languages that most people would have known at the time. It was not unusual for even the average person to speak two or three languages. Again, the text is clear hear about what the crowd is hearing: the Greek literally says “our own dialect into which we were born.” As such, in this instance, they were not speaking a hidden spiritual language that no one else knew. God wanted to get the word out and get it out quickly. No time to wait for some special interpreter.

My final point involves using some math and geography skills to make an educated guess here. The 15 nations or empires mentioned here are from all around the eastern half of the Mediterranean Sea and inland into modern-day Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Since Pentecost is only 50 days after Passover, many Jews who came for Passover stuck around for Pentecost as well. That’s perhaps the main reason why so many nations are represented here, and this hints at divine appointment.

Now, if you have 120 people speaking 15 different languages, that averages out to 8 people per language speaking. Of course, we don’t know the details of how that played out. But could it be that the disciples or Apostles who were speaking these known languages went on to help those in the audience who spoke the languages they were miraculously speaking? Is it possible some of those went on to be missionaries and evangelists in those distant nations? We know from verse 41 later on in chapter 2 that over 3,000 became disciples that day. How many of those were from the distant nations? How many of those new believers would have needed some training from the “experienced” disciples?

This is how you “go and make disciples of all nations”! You take advantage of having all the nations come to you first! The fact that 120 men and women were proclaiming God’s word miraculously in the languages of the hearers. This was fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel, so Peter cites that at the beginning of his sermon:

17 “ ‘In the last days, God says,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy,

your young men will see visions,

your old men will dream dreams.

18 Even on my servants, both men and women,

I will pour out my Spirit in those days,

and they will prophesy.

19 I will show wonders in the heavens above

and signs on the earth below,

blood and fire and billows of smoke.

20 The sun will be turned to darkness

and the moon to blood

before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

21 And everyone who calls

on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Peter is confirming that God is beginning a new era with his kingdom. As I mentioned earlier, only certain people—prophets, patriarchs, and some political rulers—would receive the Spirit. But now, as God was demonstrating, all people—men and women, sons and daughters, old and young—could receive the Holy Spirit if they repented and got baptized for the forgiveness of sins, as Peter would go on to say in his message.

Peter goes on to cite more prophecy and Jesus’s resurrection as evidence that Jesus fulfilled that prophecy and was in fact the Messiah. Many who were there that day believed and were baptized. I don’t know that any of those 120 disciples could have imagined such a response! I’m sure they were ecstatic but also scrambling a bit to figure out how they would care for all these new believers.

One of the ways they did this was to meet both in the temple courts and in their own homes. Listen to how the early church managed to keep on top of its early success and growth:

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship of the breaking of bread and to the prayers. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.[2]

This passage confirms my “educated guess” that the Apostles at least had a special dispensation for ensuring correct, infallible doctrine was taught. The signs and wonders they performed confirmed that dispensation and authority. Since they were meeting in the temple courts as well as in the homes, the “prayers” (the Greek text is plural) they devoted themselves to were probably the daily prayers in the Temple. They still considered themselves Jews, after all, at this point.

This was an exciting time for the early church. Growth was seemingly exponential, and God’s blessing upon the early Christians was obvious. In times of revival, the church has probably had some taste of this kind of excitement, and even in today’s world, we shouldn’t give up on praying and working for such revival. God is still doing mighty things in us through our own ministry efforts, and he’s still pouring out his Spirit on us and through us to take the good news to a lost and hurting world.

[1] Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® unless otherwise indicated. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Mostly The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; vs. 42 is my own translation.

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