early church did not have long to wait for the impending
events that Jesus, in His final commission, had prepared
them to expect. He had told them to anticipate the
outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which would be
characterized by their being baptized in the Spirit. As
a result of that Spirit baptism, they would then receive
power to proclaim their witness. In this next chapter,
Jesus’ promises were fulfilled. Ten days following
Jesus’ ascension, while in the Temple courts at the
festival of Pentecost, the apostles were baptized with
the Holy Spirit and boldly proclaimed before the
assembled nation of Israel that Jesus is both Lord and
On Sunday, May 24, 33 AD, ten days following the
ascension of Jesus, the festival of Pentecost had arrived. Luke
begins this chapter with a bold proclamation that during this year’s
celebration of Pentecost, the festival had been fulfilled. In Acts
2:1, he purposely chose the term sumpleroo, which means to
“completely fulfill,” indicating that what he is about to relate is
the prophetic consummation of this Biblical feast.
Pentecost. The Feast of Pentecost, or the Hebrew Shavuot,
marks the anniversary of the giving of the Law to the Jewish nation
and celebrates the theophany, or God’s appearance, at Mount Sinai.
Following the events of this chapter, Pentecost will also forever
mark the granting of the Spirit to Jewish believers and celebrate
their indwelling on Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount.
Pentecost is one of the “big three” pilgrimage festivals when, as
during Passover and Tabernacles, every Jewish male is commanded to
worship at the Temple in Jerusalem (Deut 16:16). In Deut. 16:9-10,
the holiday is designated as Hag Hashavuot – “The Festival of
Weeks.” This name, Shavuot, was so designated because seven
weeks, or fifty days, are counted down from the week of Passover
until the arrival of this holiday. Pentekoste, Greek for the
number fifty, was used interchangeably with the Hebrew Shavuot
Pentecost is also called Hag Hakatzir, the Feast of Harvest
(Ex. 23:16). This day marks the end of the barley harvest, which
began at Passover, and the initial ripening of the wheat harvest.
During the week of Passover, a sheaf of barley was selected from the
firstfruits of that year’s crop. This sheaf is called the “omer” and
is offered at the Temple. From the point of that offering, a
countdown period of fifty days begins, called “counting the omer.”
At the conclusion of this fifty-day countdown, each family brought
an offering of two loaves of wheat bread to the Temple, baked from
the firstfruits of the wheat harvest. These leavened loaves were to
be waved before the altar of the Lord (Lev. 23:15-22). It is
important to note that these loaves, being leavened, were neither
burnt nor offered on the altar; this would have violated the staunch
prohibition against the offering of leaven, which represents sin. In
fact, some hold that these leavened loaves were representative of
the worshippers’ sinfulness.
This particular Jewish festival is unique, as it is the only one
without a precisely fixed date. The date must be re-determined each
year (Lev. 23:15-16). The Jewish sages have always hated ambiguity
and so, not surprisingly, the issue of this holiday’s date generated
quite a controversy. This was particularly true in the century prior
to the birth of Jesus, although the controversy was still alive at
the time of Acts. It is not surprising that the Pharisees and the
Sadducees, so frequently at odds, bitterly disagreed over the method
determining this date.
The controversy arose over the interpretation of one disputed
phrase, “the day after the Sabbath” (Lev. 23:15). The Sadducees
celebrated Pentecost on the fiftieth day from the first Sunday of
Passover week, interpreting the word ‘Sabbath’ in its normal sense,
“Saturday.” According to this method, Pentecost would always fall on
a Sunday. Therefore, although the specific day of the week, Sunday,
was always fixed, the calendar date would shift from year to year.
Alternatively, the Pharisees interpreted the term
‘Sabbath’ in a specialized sense, understanding it as a reference to
the Festival of Unleavened Bread, which occurred on the Jewish
calendar date Nisan 15. Obviously, the day that followed
Nisan 15 was always Nisan 16. Therefore, Pentecost, coming fifty
days later, would always fall on the fixed date of Sivan 6.
Utilizing their preferred method, the Pharisees removed all the
ambiguity as to the specific annual date on the Hebrew calendar,
although the day of the week would shift from year to year.
During the events of the gospels and Acts, the Sadducees were in
control of Temple worship. Therefore, their system of determining
Pentecost’s date was in place, making the events described by Luke
fall on a Sunday. Later, following the destruction of the Temple in
70 AD, the Pharisees’ religious judgments became determinative in
Judaism, and their methodology was employed.
Although not specified in Scripture, Pentecost also came to be
commemorated as zman mattan toratainu, “the season of the
giving of our Torah,” the day on which the Torah was given to
Israel. In fact, the central Scripture reading for this holiday is
the passage that records God’s giving the Torah to Israel and
entering into the Mosaic Covenant with them at Mount Sinai (Ex.
19–20). The events described within this passage of Exodus, and
those events that immediately follow, provide the foundation for
what will be fulfilled in Luke’s narrative.
This Scripture describes the dramatic and awesome manifestation of
God’s presence on Sinai as He thundered the Ten Commandments to His
people, with accompanying lightning, smoke, fire-flashes,
supernatural shofar blowing, and earth quaking. It goes on to
describe Israel’s reaction, as they tell Moses that they had
experienced all of God’s manifest presence they could stand! Hearing
from God had proven to be too intense an experience; they feared
sensory and emotional overload. They instead asked Moses to be God’s
spokesman, to be a “middleman” between God and Israel (Ex.
20:18-19). Moses, ascending the mountain to commune with God,
disappeared for forty days into the midst of the thick, dark cloud
which was God’s manifest presence (Ex. 24:18). In their fear at
Moses’ prolonged absence, the people built themselves a more
tangible, far less traumatic representation to worship -- a golden
calf (Ex. 32:1).
When Moses returned, he condemned the nation for their grievous sin.
In holy indignation, he destroyed the two stone tablets containing
the Ten Commandments (Ex. 32:19). He instructed his own tribe, the
Levites, to kill the idolaters. The Levites struck down three
thousand Israelites before God mercifully restrained them from
decimating the nascent nation (Ex. 32:26-28).
The events of Pentecost described by Luke in this chapter, some
fifteen hundred years after the Sinai experience, are the
God-directed sequel to the foundational events related by Moses.
Coming of the Spirit
Luke records that at about nine o’clock on the
morning of Pentecost, the twelve apostles were gathered together in
one place. There is some disagreement, however, regarding exactly
where the “one place” was in which they were gathered and in which
the awesome manifestations of the Spirit’s visitation are
The traditional interpretation has presumed that they are still in
the same house that contained the upper room, in which the dealings
described in the previous chapter took place. This is the
immediately previous referent of location and would seem a logical
assumption. Indeed, Acts 2:2 uses the term “the house” to describe
their location. However, if this is the case, and the “one place” of
Acts 2:1 is the upper room, it is difficult to explain why Luke
provides no transitional description which maneuvers the apostles
out of the house, through the city streets and into the Temple
complex, where they are positioned by Luke in Acts 2:5.
A more likely interpretation of the “one place”
where they are assembled is the Temple courts. The term “the house”
was customarily used in reference to the Temple (Acts 7:47).
Furthermore, where else would every Jew in Jerusalem be on this
festive day of pilgrimage and celebration, but gathered in the
Temple courts awaiting a wonderful communal festival meal, an
international Jewish picnic. Most likely, the apostles, together
with the other one hundred and eight believers, were in the area of
the Temple known as Solomon’s Portico, or Colonnade, a favorite spot
of Jesus’ (John 10:23) and, later in Acts, of the apostles (Acts
Placing the events of Acts 2:1-4 in the Temple courts also answers
the difficulties mentioned above of physically positioning the
apostles from the upper room to the Temple. Furthermore, Acts 2:15
specifies that these events occurred at around 9:00 AM., which was
the designated time of prayer. One cannot imagine that the apostles
would have been anywhere else but the Temple on a festival day at
the hour of prayer!
Another interpretive disagreement stemming from these opening verses
is the identity of the recipients of the supernatural manifestation
of tongues in Acts 2:1-4. To which group does the “all” of Acts 2:1
refer? As with the location, there are two choices here as well.
The traditional understanding has been that the recipients of the
gift of tongues were the full company of the one hundred twenty
believers. While this is possible, it is difficult to reconcile with
the internal evidence of the passage. Luke seems to indicate that
supernatural empowerment that morning was only granted to the twelve
First of all, the antecedent group, or previous referent, were the
Twelve (Acts 1:26). It must be remembered that what Luke originally
wrote had no chapter divisions or headings, and what he mostly
likely meant by “all” was the newly reconstituted group of the
Twelve, his previous subject.
Second, the tongues-speakers were identified in the text as
Galileans (Acts 2:7). This clearly referred to the apostles, who
were all Galileans, and not the larger group, who probably hailed
from a variety of locations in Israel. Furthermore, Peter, with the
eleven other apostles, responded to their being singled out by the
crowd as drunkards (Acts 2:14). In the next verse, Peter specified
that “these men” were not drunk. Since the group of the one hundred
and twenty contained both men and women (Acts 1:14), and Peter
assuredly did not mean to say that “the men were not drunk but the
women were,” then only the apostles could have received the gift of
tongues in Acts 2:1-4.
Third, Luke indicates throughout the Acts narrative that the gift of
tongues was given for the purpose of authenticating the apostolic
calling, office and witness. Each of the four recorded instances of
tongues speaking in Acts served this authenticating purpose, either
through the apostles’ exercise of the gift at Pentecost (as in
2:1-4) or through “echoes” of the initial Pentecost experience as
each new group category believed the apostolic message and received
the Spirit (8:14-17; 10:44-47; 19:1-7).
Acts 2:2-4 describes strange, supernatural manifestations that
suddenly and rapidly envelop the disciples. As the apostles were
gathered among the relaxed and joyous crowds in the Temple complex,
a noise resembling a violent wind, one that was heard but not felt,
suddenly filled the Temple. In the Hebrew Scripture, wind, ruach,
the same Hebrew word used for “spirit,” is a common symbol of the
Holy Spirit. One prominent example is the reassembling and
resuscitation of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37, where the
wind represents the Spirit of God, the prophesied instrument of
Israel’s national restoration.
This was followed by a supernatural pyrotechnic display. A sizable
mass of something resembling fire appeared, clearly visible yet not
physically felt, which then began swiftly dividing and cutting
itself up in pieces, distributing one “tongue” of fire to rest upon
each of the apostles. The Holy Spirit, the Ruach Hakodesh, had
Luke’s description of this manifestation resembles
the description of God’s Shekinah glory manifest on Mount Sinai (Ex.
19:18) and filling the Temple upon its dedication (2 Chron. 5:14).
The Holy Spirit was once again gloriously manifesting Himself in the
midst of Israel.
Philo, the first century Jewish historian, in describing the giving
of Torah at Mount Sinai, emphasized both the fire of God and the
language of God in communicating His will to His people.
|“And a voice sounded forth from out of the midst of
the fire which had flowed
from heaven, a most marvelous and awful voice, the flame
being endowed with
articulate speech in a language familiar to the hearers,
which expressed its words
with such clearness and distinctness that the people
seemed rather to be seeing
than hearing it.” (14)
This was a direct fulfillment of John the Baptist’s
prophecy that the Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit as well
as with fire (Matt 3:11). This also fulfilled Jesus’ promise, given
some seven weeks earlier on Passover at the Last Supper, that He
would send the Comforter, the Teacher (John 14:26; 16:7-15).
Additionally, this was the empowering event that Jesus had told His
apostles to anticipate (Acts 1:4-8).
The pouring out of God’s Holy Spirit on Pentecost would have been
profoundly appreciated by Jewish recipients. The anniversary of the
divine gift of Torah was the most eloquent of moments for the
revelation of the divine Spirit. This was indeed the logical sequel
to the Sinai experience. The God who came near on Sinai had now come
ultimately near as He indwelled believers with His Spirit.
The Spirit’s presence at Pentecost was marked by three similar signs
also experienced at Sinai: violent wind, fire, and supernatural
sounds. In Acts 2:1-3, Luke described the wind and the fire. In 2:4,
Luke will begin his description of the “supernatural sounds” of this
The result of this outpouring of the Spirit was the apostles’ newly
acquired supernatural ability to communicate “with other tongues;”
in known, intelligible spoken languages. What Luke means when he
relates that “the Spirit gave them utterance,” is not that the
Spirit Himself is speaking, but that He is providing their ability
to speak. From this point on, the apostles would be empowered to be
the witnesses whom Christ had commissioned.
On this Pentecost, it can be said that there was indeed something
new under the sun! Those Pentecost worshippers were witness to the
birth of the church, the beginning of a new era. From this point on,
all believers would be permanently indwelt by the Spirit, forever
united with Christ and each other.
Filling and baptism. The “filling” of the Spirit is not
synonymous with the “baptism” of the Spirit. Although Luke combined
them in Acts 2:4, these are actually two distinct ministries of the
Holy Spirit. Although only the “filling” of the Spirit is
specifically mentioned here, the “baptism” of the Spirit was also
simultaneously taking place. Luke does not use the specific
technical term, “baptism of the Spirit” in Acts 2:4 to describe
these events, substituting instead a description of the apostles
being “filled” with the Spirit, which emphasizes the controlling
aspect of the Spirit’s ministry.
However, this event would subsequently be recognized by the apostles
as the fulfillment of what Jesus had promised would take place
within a few days’ time (Acts 1:5) as well as the inauguration of
the Spirit’s ministry of baptism, indwelling and filling (Acts
The filling of the Spirit refers to being under the
control of the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), resulting in a holy lifestyle of
mature spirituality as well as empowerment for ministry (Acts 2:4;
4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9). In Acts, the primary ministry the Spirit is
shown empowering is that of evangelism, witnessing of the Messiah.
It is a repeatable event (Acts 4:8, 31; 6:3-5; 7:55; 9:17; 13:9, 52)
that both Old and New Testament believers experienced, although it
was much rarer in the Old Testament (Ex. 31:3; 35:30-34; Num
11:26-29; 1 Sam. 10:6-10). Believers cannot generate the filling of
the Spirit, but they can and should purposely yield themselves to
the filling of the Spirit (Eph. 5:8). The primary result of the
Spirit’s filling in Acts is empowerment for effective ministry.
In contrast, the primary result of the baptism of the Spirit in Acts
is organic union with Christ and His Church (1 Cor. 12:13). It is a
onetime, non-repeatable event in which each new believer is
supernaturally united with Jesus and joined together with every
other fellow believer. This organic union occurs at the moment of
trusting Christ as Messiah (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 12:13). This is not an
experience one can either yield to or resist. One cannot actively
trigger spirit baptism; one may only be the recipient of the
sovereign work of God. The ongoing consequence of Spirit baptism is
that believers subsequently experience the unending, continual
indwelling of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16; 1 Cor. 6:19).
Scripture records three atypical examples of Spirit baptism
occurring at a significantly later time than initial belief. All
fall within the Acts narrative (Acts 2:1-4; 8:17; 19:6). These
instances, however, serve respectively to authenticate the ministry
of the apostles (2:1-4), authenticate Samaritan salvation (Acts
8:17), and authenticate the ministry of Paul (Acts 19:6).
Tongues. The word that is translated as “tongues” in Acts 2:4
and 2:11 is glossa, the common Greek word for the physical
organ of speech. It is also used metaphorically for speech, or
language, itself. That glossa is used in the sense of
“language” in Acts 2 is confirmed by Luke’s alternate use of the
Greek term dialekto, “known language” or “dialect,” in Acts
2:6 and 2:2:8. Further confirmation that known languages are being
described is Luke’s description of the tongues to be heterais,
“of a different and distinguishable kind.”
Therefore, as described in Acts, tongues has long been understood to
be recognizable languages supernaturally granted to serve as
authenticating confirmation of the apostolic message. (15) Without
exception within Acts, this authenticating confirmation provided by
the four recorded episodes of tongues speaking is before a Jewish
audience (Acts 2:4-11; 8:17; 10:46; 19:6). Later, Paul elaborates
that the gift of tongues was the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s
depiction of an authenticating sign for the Jews (Is. 28:11; 1 Cor
Since every person in the Temple crowd, including the apostles,
could normally converse in Aramaic, Hebrew or Greek (and most were
conversant in two out of the three languages), then the purpose of
speaking in tongues at Pentecost could not have been to facilitate
communication between the apostles and the crowd. The apostles’
speaking in a multiplicity of languages would neither have added to
their efficiency nor the crowd’s edification. The gift of tongues at
Pentecost had the sole purpose of serving as a colossal beacon to
the gathered multitude that God Himself wanted their attention.
There was something vital of which He wanted them to be aware.
In the entire narrative of Acts, it is only in the
apostles’ initial ministry to the Jews (Acts 2:1-4), Samaritans
(Acts 8:17), Gentiles (Acts 10:44), and transitional believers (Acts
19:6) that the phenomenon of tongues is experienced. This is strong
indication that, at least within Acts, tongues was a sign given by
God to authenticate a new work of salvation (Heb. 2:4). It was,
therefore, limited to the initial outpouring at Pentecost plus the
three separate “echoes” of Pentecost that follow, as old boundaries
were newly broken through by the Spirit. It is of note that in none
of these four special instances was the gift of tongues an
indication of a “second” or “additional” Spirit baptism,” or a
“second work of grace” (see Table 8).
Table 8. Echoes of Pentecost: Tongues in Acts
of the Coming of the Spirit (2:5-13)
As Pentecost was a pilgrimage festival, the Temple
was filled to overflowing with huge crowds of pilgrims from all over
Israel and the Jewish diaspora as well as the cosmopolitan residents
of Jerusalem. Due to the difficulties and expense of travel to
Jerusalem, particularly for those who lived outside the land of
Israel, vast numbers of Jews stayed in Jerusalem for the fifty-day
period between Passover through Pentecost. This was the only
two-month period in the year when the holy city would be packed with
so many people. Therefore, this period was particularly strategic
for facilitating the news of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection as
well as for the apostolic witness.
Luke described the wind and fire as occurring with such rapidity
that by the time anyone other than the apostles or their comrades
noticed them and turned their heads to look, they were already gone.
Yet if most of the Temple crowd missed the initial rush of the
Spirit’s coming, the result of His visitation, the empowered
apostolic utterance, was inescapable.
Luke specified that the crowd was composed of particularly “devout”
Jews. These were part of Israel’s faithful believing remnant,
written about later by Paul (Rom. 11:5). Since they were faithful to
the revelation that they had heretofore received from the Hebrew
Scriptures, they would naturally prove responsive to this new
revelation. They came rushing over to hear Peter and the apostles
speaking in a multiplicity of dialects. Luke reports the crowd’s
response. At first the crowd was bewildered (Acts 2:6). Their
bewilderment grew to amazement and astonishment (Acts 2:7). The
apostles were speaking in the “mother-tongues” of many diaspora
Jews. One can only speculate as to what the actual content was that
the apostles were proclaiming in these various languages! All Luke
records is that the apostles were extolling God’s greatness and
speaking of His “mighty deeds” (Acts 2:11).
Whatever it was that they were so animatedly and enthusiastically
proclaiming, the crowd recognized them as being Galileans. In first
century Israel, Galilee was considered to be the boondocks of
Israel, and Galileans were considered to be uneducated, country
bumpkins, with strong, guttural accents (Matt. 26:73; Mark 14:70;
Luke 22:59). Apparently, whether speaking in tongues or not, the
apostles retained their accents! The crowd would naturally have
wondered how they were able to speak so many foreign languages with
There is an ancient rabbinic legend in the Midrash, which states
that as God gave the Torah to Israel at Mount Sinai, all nations
throughout the world simultaneously heard God's voice in their own
languages. Similarly, on Mount Moriah that morning, as Peter and the
apostles preached, Jews from all the nations heard the word of the
Lord in their own languages. This, however, was no legend.
The crowd contained representative Jews from a variety of diaspora
nations and regions. Luke’s selected representative list of visitors
sweeps like a compass around Jerusalem, the geographic center of the
Jewish diaspora as well as the Roman Empire, (16) from east to north
to west to south, and includes visitors from the regions of Persia
(Acts 2:9), Asia Minor (Acts 2:9-10), North Africa (Acts 2:10),
Europe (2:10-11) Arabia (Acts 2:11), and, of course, Israel (Acts
2:9). When Luke mentions the Roman contingent, however, he pauses to
particularly specify that this group contained both Jews and
proselytes, Gentiles who had converted to Judaism (Acts 2:10).
Perhaps Luke is foreshadowing the eventual climax of the Acts
narrative in Rome, or it is possible that members of this Roman
contingent, subsequent to Pentecost, were the founders of the Roman
Having listened for some time now to the apostles’ dazzling display
of linguistic fluency, the crowd was, by now, thoroughly confused
and simply did not know what to think. Luke writes that they were
“amazed and greatly perplexed.” In other words, they were flummoxed,
and the crowd’s response was mixed. One group responded with intense
curiosity. They seem to have recognized that there was a miracle
occurring right before their eyes, or ears in this instance, and
they pondered its meaning and significance (Acts 2:12).
A second group exhibited an opposite response. They
scoffed and mocked the apostles, accusing them of being too
enthusiastic in their consumption of new, or sweet, wine. In other
words, they accused the apostles of being drunk (Acts 2:13). “Sweet”
or “new” wine was the very sweet and highly intoxicating batch of
wine that had not yet completed the fermentation process.
Drunkenness was frowned upon in ancient Jewish culture, so an
accusation of drunkenness, particularly so early in the morning and
in the Temple on the festival day, would have been a particularly
Based on this accusation, there must have been something about the
apostles’ manner and body language which suggested drunkenness. The
allegation of “drunkenness” cannot be derived from their speech. As
Luke has manifestly described, they were
speaking articulately in languages that were understood by the
crowd, so simultaneous ecstatic utterances cannot be in view.
Rather, it perhaps should be assumed that the intensity of this
inaugural Spirit baptism proved to be slightly overwhelming to the
apostles. Just as experiencing God had been overwhelming for the
Israelites at Mount Sinai (Ex. 20:19), the outpouring of His Spirit
may have been a bit shocking to the apostles’ frail and limited
human nervous systems.