(Reading time: 4-5 minutes)
Today we’ll use our wide-angle lens to focus on the strange events that took place on the Jewish Feast of Pentecost during the same year that Jesus was crucified and resurrected. The word Pentecost is a Greek word that means fiftieth. In the Bible it is used to refer to the Jewish Feast of Weeks, which was held exactly fifty days after the beginning of Passover. It was a harvest festival, a time when tens of thousands of people came to the capitol city to celebrate, spend time with family, and express thanksgiving.
Among Christians, Pentecost is not a harvest festival of thanksgiving, but a celebration of one of the principal events in the history of salvation: the giving of the Holy Spirit. God’s plan always – from the very beginning – included this. If you stop with the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus you stop too soon. The coming of the Holy Spirit is an integral part of salvation.
Now as we take this wide-angle view of things, it is important to remember that salvation refers to something bigger than the forgiveness of sins. Salvation is not just about getting into heaven when we die; it’s not even primarily about that. In fact, salvation is not merely “our salvation,” as if we were the main characters. It is “God’s salvation,” for he is the chief actor in all of this. As the multitudes in heaven say, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation7:10).
The death of Jesus is the high point in the revelation of God’s salvation, but it is not the end point. We must not separate Passover from Pentecost, the Son from the Spirit, or the death of the Savior from the birth of the church. What God has joined together, let man not put asunder.
We are tipped off to the importance of Pentecost by Luke’s wording in verse 1. The NIV translates, “When the day of Pentecost came . . .” but Luke is using a formula that he employs elsewhere to denote significance. The Greek is something like, “The Day of Pentecost being fulfilled…” It is Luke’s way of telling us to pay special attention (Luke 9:51).
On that date “they were all together in one place.” Jesus had told his followers to wait for the Father’s Promise, and we have already seen that while they waited, they prayed. There were 120 of them mentioned in chapter 1, verse 15, and in this verse Luke tells us they were all together.
“They were all together” renders a Greek construction that might be translated “they were all the same.” The implication is that they were not simply together in one place, but that they were in the same place with the same heart. And that is fitting, because the blessing of the Spirit of God is generally reserved for those who are in unity (cf. Romans 15:5-6; Ephesians 4:2-3; Galatians 5:25-26).
So here were the friends of Jesus, waiting obediently and expectantly for the promise of the Father. They were expectant, but they didn’t know what to expect. Jesus told them that they would be baptized – immersed – in or by the Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). Some of them probably remembered John the Baptist’s promise that the Messiah would baptize them in the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11). What would that be like? They were expectant, but no one knew just what to expect.
And then it happened. Verse 2: “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” That was the first evidence that something extraordinary was taking place.
The disciples no doubt recalled Ezekiel’s Old Testament vision. He saw a valley full of bones – of skeletons. Then God asked him if the bones could live again, to which he wisely replied, “You are the only one who knows, Lord.” Let me give you what happened next in the prophet’s own words: “Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army” (Ezekeil 37:9).
Now in both Hebrew and Greek there is only one word for breath, wind and spirit. So, the Ezekiel passage could conceivably be translated, “Come from the four spirits, O Spirit, and spirit into these slain, that they may live.” Here in Acts 2 the wind of the Spirit blows and breathes a new kind of life – God’s kind – into humans. They heard the noise of a strong wind. Then, verse 3, “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” In the Scriptures, fire is a recurring symbol of God’s presence, and the disciples knew this well.