The Coming of the Holy Spirit
1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him,
“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand,
35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus told His disciples that in a few days they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). Then, He said, “You will receive power… and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (1:8). They did not have to wait long. Just ten days later, when Jerusalem was crammed with visitors from many countries, the promise of Jesus was fulfilled.
The chairman reported that the church roll now stood at 120 members. They had not been able to obtain a building, and so they were still meeting in a second-floor room that they were renting in the city.
There had been a good spirit at the prayer meeting and a lot of discussion about how they should fill a leadership position that had become vacant. But besides that, not a lot had happened.
The task of reaching their community seemed beyond them. There was very little money, very few people, and outside of their meeting place, a culture that had very little room for their message. That’s how the church was at the beginning of the book of Acts.
But on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the first believers. And after that, the church was completely different.
A Sound Like the Wind
“Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting” (2:2). Think about an Olympic sprinter. Great gulps of air pulsate through his chest as breath fills his lungs and energizes his body. That’s what happened at Pentecost.
In the ancient world, many languages used the same word for “wind,” “breath,” and “spirit.” The sound of the wind is similar to the sound of breath, only it is much louder and it lasts longer.
When you find something unusual in the Bible, it is helpful to ask, “Where have we come across something like this before?” And if we ask “Where have we come across the sound of wind or breath before?” there are two obvious answers.
At the beginning of the Bible story, we read about God breathing life into Adam. God shaped a lifeless corpse from the dust of the ground. Then God breathed into this skeletal frame. God gave Adam the kiss of life, and the first man became a living being.
Then, before Jesus ascended into heaven, He breathed on the disciples, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). In doing this, Jesus was anticipating what would happen on the day of Pentecost. So when the disciples heard a sound like the rushing wind just a few days later, they would immediately associate it with the sound of Jesus breathing on them, and they would recognize that this was the fulfillment of what Jesus had promised.
Great Balls of Fire
Having heard the sound of the rushing wind, “divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them” (Acts 2:3).
A great ball or pillar of fire appeared above the gathered believers. As the fire came nearer, it divided into individual flames or “tongues as of fire,” so that a flame rested on every person in the room. The astonishing thing was that none of them were burned.
Again, the best way to understand this is to ask where in the Bible we have seen something like it before. In the Old Testament, God appeared to Moses in flames of fire that rested on a bush that did not burn and commissioned him to lead God’s people out of their slavery in Egypt. Now God was coming in the fire to give a new commission to His church.
Try to imagine yourself among the 120 people when the fire fell. You look up and see the fire above you slowly descending over the middle of the room. You realize what is happening: God’s presence is coming among His people. You are filled with a sense of awe. The God who appeared to Moses is making His presence known again, and you are there in the room.
You remember that when the fire came to Moses, he was commissioned to advance God’s purpose. So you wonder, Who will the flames rest on now? Will it be Peter, James, John, or perhaps all three? Or maybe even all twelve of the apostles.
But as you look up, you realize that one of the flames is coming toward you. You look around the room, and a flame rests on every person! God is commissioning every believer to advance His purpose in the world.
In the Old Testament, prophets, priests, and kings were anointed by God for ministry. But in the New Testament, God’s fire falls not only on Peter, James, and John, but also on unnamed believers who never aspired to leadership positions. God’s Spirit rests on all who love and follow Jesus, and each one has a part to play in advancing God’s purpose for the world.
They Spoke in Other Tongues
Suddenly and spontaneously, each of the believers found that they were able to speak in languages they had never learned: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4).
This was a reversal of what had happened long before at the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9). Early in the Bible story, as man’s rebellion against God was gaining momentum, men built a city with a tower that would proclaim their greatness and provide their security.
God came down and broke the momentum of man’s godless kingdom by introducing the confusion of multiple languages into the human race.
Imagine that as you arrive on the building site one morning, a colleague talks to you, and you can’t understand him. When you take your break for lunch, you find that the whole workforce is in confusion as people babble incomprehensible sounds.
Eventually, to your great relief, you find someone else who talks your language. “I am so glad to find somebody else who talks sense,” you say. “Everyone else is talking gibberish!”
All over the building site, little groups of people are gathering, bound together by the identity of a common language. They are all coming to the same conclusion: it’s time to leave this madhouse and make a new life with people whose language they can understand. So they scatter to the north, south, east, and west—divided and carrying the seeds of future conflict within them.
At Babel, the tongues were a sign of God’s judgment on man’s rebellion. The languages brought confusion. People could no longer communicate, and so they were divided. But the Day of Pentecost was exactly the opposite. People from every nation under heaven had gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 2:5). And when the Spirit of God came, the believers found themselves spontaneously speaking in languages they had never learned, so that people from all over the world could hear and understand the good news of Jesus Christ.
At Babel, the tongues were a judgment from God leading to confusion and people being scattered. At Pentecost, the tongues were a blessing from God leading to understanding and people being gathered. At Babel, God used the curse of language to slow the advance of man’s city. At Pentecost, God used the gift of language to speed the advance of Christ’s kingdom.
God’s purpose was to communicate the good news of Jesus to people from every language group on the face of the earth. Language would be no barrier to the gospel.
A mission-oriented church was born on the Day of Pentecost. God breathed His life into His people. His presence came and rested on them, as He equipped them to advance His purpose in the world.
The crowd was amazed to hear people declaring the mighty works of God in their own languages (2:11). They couldn’t work out what was going on, so Peter called the crowd to order. He told them that Jesus, who had been crucified, had risen from the dead, was exalted at the right hand of the Father, and now had poured out the Holy Spirit on His people. This was the explanation of what the crowd was seeing and hearing.
The people clearly believed what Peter had said about Jesus, so he told them the next step: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (2:38–39).
Three thousand people responded to Peter’s invitation. And in the days that followed, they returned to their homes and took the good news of Jesus to people whose language they already knew.
God’s Purpose Today
At key moments in the Bible story, God made His presence known in a visible way. We call these occasions theophanies, and they are of great importance because in them we see that God does for some people in a visible way what He does for all His people in an invisible way.
On the day of Pentecost, God was teaching us through the wind, fire, and languages what He always wants to do among His people. God gives us His power and presence and sends us out to bring the gospel to all people.
God gives His Spirit, not only to leaders, but to all His people. The presence and the power of Almighty God rests upon every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Every Christian, and every church, has a part to play in God’s great purpose of blessing people from every nation on earth. For some people, that will mean going to another culture and learning another language so that the good news of Jesus may be known. For others, God’s call will be to find our voice in the language God has already given us.
God wonderfully puts groups of people around every believer so that we can communicate the good news of Jesus in their language. Maybe you can speak the language of high schoolers or of children. God has wired you in a way that makes it possible for you to communicate with a certain group of people. Find out who they are, get among them, and tell them about Jesus.
- What transformed the first believers? What is the Bible’s explanation of how so few people could have such a great impact on the world around them?
- Why is the Holy Spirit given to every believer?
- Why were believers given the ability to speak in other tongues when the Spirit was poured out on them on the Day of Pentecost?
- What difference has the presence of the Holy Spirit made in your life? Or what difference would the presence of the Holy Spirit make in your life?
- What two things did Peter tell the people to do as a response to hearing the gospel message? What two things did he promise would happen to them as a result?