As we study the events of Pentecost, it is important that we separate the accidentals from the essentials. The Spirit came and the people heard the sound of rushing wind and saw tongues of fire. The Spirit baptized and filled the believers, and then spoke as they praised God in various languages. The Spirit empowered Peter to preach, and then He convicted the listeners so that 3,000 of them trusted Christ and were saved.
The Spirit Came
And suddenly a sound came from heaven like a rushing violent wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. There appeared to them tongues resembling fire, which were being distributed [among them], and they rested on each one of them [as each person received the Holy Spirit].
Acts 2:2-3 (AMP)
The Holy Spirit had been active prior to Pentecost and had worked in Creation (Gen. 1:1-2), in Old Testament history (Judges 6:34; 1 Sam. 16:13), and in the life and ministry of Jesus (Luke 1:30-37; 4:1, 14; Acts 10:38).
However, now there would be two changes: the Spirit would dwell in people and not just come on them, and His presence would be permanent, not temporary (John 14:16-17).
Remember the Jewish calendar in Leviticus 23:
- Firstfruits, and then
There were three startling signs that accompanied the coming of the Spirit:
- The sound of a rushing wind,
- Tongues of fire, and
- The believers praising God in various languages.
The word Spirit is the same as “wind” in both the Hebrew and the Greek (John 3:8). The people did not feel the wind; they heard the sound of a mighty wind.
Wind is the symbol of invisible power. Remember that Jesus said to Nicodemus, he that is born of the Spirit is like the wind which blows wherever it desires and no man can tell where it comes from or where it will go.
It is sovereign, mighty, powerful, irresistible, and invincible. But, it is also invisible and you cannot see it. And this is to be a characteristic of the church. It is to be a band of men and women bound together by the life of Jesus Christ who, when they operate in the invisible power of the Spirit, will accomplish great things.
You cannot put your finger on their source of power. It is not spectacular power; it is quiet. It is resurrection power, which does not need props of any kind, and cannot be stopped in its operation. It is mighty and moves to change and transform.
The Spirit Filled
And they were all filled [that is, diffused throughout their being] with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (different languages), as the Spirit was giving them the ability to speak out [clearly and appropriately].
Acts 2:4 (AMP)
As a result each Believer began to speak in different languages as the Holy Spirit enabled them to. The Greek word that is translated in English as “tongues” and as “languages” is the same: glossa.
So the passage says that glossa of fire rested upon the Believers and then each Believer began to speak a different glossa. Glossa means language and it means the tongue organ as what we all have in our mouths. Since the tongue is a necessary part of the anatomy for intelligible speech, then we see why languages were called tongues.
But why did Luke call the separate branches of fire that landed on each Believer “tongues”?
Did they look like human tongues?
Possibly, but I doubt it. Instead I believe that the articulate Luke no doubt was thinking in terms of the ancient understanding of Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) that was common knowledge within 2nd Temple Judaism.
Let me recall for you the teaching of Rabbi Tanhuma that helped to form shape the standard mental picture that Jews had for what happened occurred at Mt. Sinai during Israel’s exodus from Egypt at Mt. Sinai.
“All the people saw the voices. Note that it does not say saw the voice but saw the voices. Wherefore Rabbi Johanan said: the voice went out and was divided into 7 voices and from 7 voices into 70 tongues, so that all the nations would hear. And every nation heard the voice in its own tongue and was amazed. But the people of Israel heard the voice and were not hurt.”
So Luke was employing the word “tongue” in the same sense as this midrash that was a cornerstone of Jewish understanding of the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai at Shavuot.
The voice divided into many tongues, and each person heard the voice in their own tongue (own language). So not only is Luke putting this Pentecost happening in the context of the long-ago Mt. Sinai event, he is using the same key words (such as tongue and fire) to make the connection.
But there is yet another connection that must not be overlooked. At Pentecost we have one Spirit (God’s Holy Spirit), being sent by the Mediator Yeshua (Jesus), now arisen, ascended and sitting at the Father’s right hand, that separates into many and rests upon each individual Believer.
In the Book of Numbers we read of the precursor to the Pentecost happening, and it happened to, and because of, the first Mediator, Moses.
So Moses went out and spoke to the people the words of the Lord, and he gathered seventy men from among the elders of the people and stationed them around the Tent (tabernacle). Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took some of the Spirit who was upon Moses and put Him upon the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied [praising God and declaring His will], but they did not do it again.
Numbers 11:24-25 (AMP)
So the same spirit that Moses the Mediator had (God’s spirit) was shared with the 70 elders. And when the 70 elders received this spirit, they began speaking ecstatic speech (ecstatic speech is usually that is what prophesying means).
Now 1300 years later at Pentecost the same spirit that Yeshua (Jesus) the Mediator had was shared with all the Jewish Believers; and when they received this spirit, what did they do?
They began speaking ecstatic speech, in different languages. God is a God of patterns and so everything we see happening in the New Testament was already established in the Old Testament. Only with the advent of Jesus and the Holy Spirit these God-patterns were brought to an even higher level and meaning.
Pentecost was no different. But this also means that in order to correctly understand everything that happens in the New Testament, we first have to know the Torah and the Old Testament so that we learn the patterns and the background context that the New is built upon.
Now another important question for us to ponder; who was it that received the Holy Spirit, and who was it that saw everything that happened on that amazing day?
The answer is in verse Acts 2:5:
Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout and God-fearing men from every nation under heaven.
And then we get a representative listing of just where these religious Jews hailed from.
But please note: ONLY Jews saw what happened, and ONLY Jews received the Holy Spirit. There is no gentile representation mentioned or implied.
Why were all these Jews present at Mt. Zion?
They were present because the pilgrimage festival of Shavuot (Pentecost) required it of them.
And note also the addition of the word adjective “religious” to describe the Jews that had come. It wasn’t that hard of a journey to come to Jerusalem for local Judean Jews, nor very hard for the Galilean Jews.
But for the Jews who came from distant places it disrupted their lives for weeks in a major way and was quite costly economically for them. So the many several millions of Jews who weren’t all that religious didn’t come, only the most devout.
Obviously they weren’t all standing at Mt. Zion when this incredible visual display and this loud rushing noise began erupting: there were too many Jews in town for them all to be at one place.
When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered; they were confused, because each one heard the believers speaking in his own language.
Acts 2:6 (CJB)
But verse 6 explains that because the noise was so loud, others around the city heard it and walked towards where it seemed to be coming from. Their reaction was bewilderment, or as our Complete Jewish Bible says, confusion.
And why were they bewildered?
Because they were hearing the words spoken each in their own distinct language. So these bewildered religious Jews weren’t in denial of what was happening; they just didn’t know what to make of it.
They were completely astonished, saying, “Look! Are not all of these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears in our own language or native dialect? [Among us there are] Parthians, Medes and Elamites, and people of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and [a]Asia [Minor], Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and the visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes (Gentile converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—we all hear them speaking in our [native] tongues about the mighty works of God!” And they were beside themselves with amazement and were greatly perplexed, saying one to another, “What could this mean?” But others were laughing and joking and ridiculing them, saying, “They are full of sweet wine and are drunk!”
Acts 2:7-13 (AMP)
This short list of nations that these Jews came from is meant to be representative of the many nations and provinces that formed the Roman Empire.
Certainly the Jews of the Diaspora were present in virtually every nation of the Empire, but there were greater concentrations of them in some nations than in others.
Notice how Egypt is mentioned for example. Philo (who lived at the same time as Jesus) reports that over 1 million Jews lived in the city of Alexandria, Egypt.
Almost none of these visiting Jews spoke Hebrew; rather they spoke their native tongue. It is no different today. It has taken a concerted effort in modern Israel to teach the many Jewish immigrants to the land to speak Hebrew; and a major portion of Israeli Jews still can’t speak Hebrew.
Instead they live in ghettos and continue speaking Russian, Ukrainian, Ethiopian, Polish, German, French, and so on.
Although some of the visiting Jews were awestruck at this incident of the languages, others mocked it. But to be sure, their mocking was as mocking usually is: sarcasm and not intelligent response.
The accusation that the Believers were drunk and that’s how they could speak all these languages is irrational and no doubt meant to be a little humorous.
Part of what made this event so difficult for this crowd of Jews to understand comprehend is that it was apparently quite well known just who these 12 disciples were, whom they represented, and where they were from.
They mostly were country-folk, from Galilee; they weren’t learned intellectuals. So many in the crowd were incredulous that Galileans could possibly be so multi-lingual.
Bible Exposition Commentary – Bible Exposition Commentary – Be Dynamic