A. The Event vv. 1-13
When did this event occur? "Pentecost" = lit., 50th, because it fell on the 50th day after the Sabbath of Passover.
Where did this event occur? According to v. 2, they were in a "house" (cf. Acts 1:12-26).
What exactly happened? There were 3 signs or sensory phenomena that pointed to the Spirit's arrival: sound, sight, speech (they heard something, saw something, and said something):
1. Sound (v. 2) - "Wind" is a recurring sign of or reference to the Spirit (cf. John 3:8; Ezek. 37:9-14).
2. Sight (v. 3) - "Fire" is a common biblical symbol of God's presence (see esp. Mt. 3:11).
Luke makes a special point of the fact that these tongues of fire were "divided" and "rested on each one of them" (v. 3). Under the old covenant the Spirit ministered corporately and only came on selected individuals personally (kings, priests, prophets, etc.). In the new covenant the Spirit now comes upon and resides within each believer individually. This is the "democratization" of the Spirit!
3. Speech (v. 4) - The significance of this unusual phenomenon of speech is unpacked in vv. 5-13. Several observations:
First, were the "tongues" they spoke real human languages? (a) The variety of nations represented would lead us to say yes. (b) The word "tongue" = glossa = either the literal organ in our mouths or real human language. (c) The word "language" (vv. 6,8) = dialekto = dialect (cf. Acts 1:19; 21:40; 22:2; 26:14).
Second, is all tongues speech always a real human language? No. See my book, The Beginner's Guide to Spiritual Gifts (pp. 141-44).
Third, was this a miracle of speaking or a miracle of hearing? J. Rodman Williams contends for the latter. He explains:
"What is said in these passages . . . is not the hearing of one's own language but the hearing in one's own language. Such being the case, at the same moment that 'other tongues' were spoken through the Holy Spirit, they were immediately translated by the same Holy Spirit into the many languages of the multitude (Renewal Theology: Salvation, the Holy Spirit, and Christian Living [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990], vol. 2, p. 215. Others who find in Acts 2 a miracle of 'hearing' include Luke T. Johnson, 'Tongues, Gift of,' in The Anchor Bible Dictionary [New York: Doubleday, 1992], VI:597, and more recently Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000], 977)."
Thus, Williams argues that there is both a miracle of "speech"'other, different, spiritual tongues'and a miracle of "understanding," each facilitated by the Holy Spirit.
If this view is correct, a miraculous charisma of the Holy Spirit (namely, the gift of interpretation) was given to every one of the unbelievers present on the day of Pentecost. But as D.A. Carson points out, it is Luke's purpose "to associate the descent of the Spirit with the Spirit's activity among the believers, not to postulate a miracle of the Spirit among those who were still unbelievers" (Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987], p. 138). Or, as Max Turner puts it, surely Luke "would not wish to suggest that the apostolic band merely prattled incomprehensibly, while God worked the yet greater miracle of interpretation of tongues in the unbelievers" (The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts: Then and Now [Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press, 1996], p. 223).
Fourth, why did the onlookers accuse them of being intoxicated (v. 13)? Some have argued that the charge of "drunkenness" in verse 13 indicates that the apostles were speaking 'gibberish.' But verses 6-8 clearly indicate otherwise. Also, it seems reasonable that some never heard their own language, but only what they could not understand; hence, they conclude that the apostles were 'drunk.' It may also be that the 'others' of verse 13 were resident, Aramaic-speaking Jews who would not have understood any of the languages being spoken. No doubt some mistook the joy, freedom, exuberance, lack of inhibition, and possible physical incapacitation as a sign of inebriation. Finally, they may have spoken in this way in order to mock and ridicule, though not serious in the accusation of physical drunkenness.
Fifth, is the gift of tongues evangelistic? No. Contrary to a popular view, there is no evidence that the tongues-speech in Acts 2 (or elsewhere) served an evangelistic purpose. According to Acts 2:11, the content of the tongues-speech was 'the mighty deeds of God' (observe the same phrase in Acts 10:46 and 19:17). The people don't hear an evangelistic message but doxology. It is only Peter's preaching that brings salvation. Thus, here as elsewhere, we see that the primary purpose of tongues-speech is address to God (whether it be in praise or prayer; cf. 1 Cor. 14:2, 14).
Some argue that tongues-speech was present in Acts 8 because Simon was able to "see" (8:18) their reception of the Holy Spirit. But it could just as easily have been their boldness or their joy or their praise or any number of other manifestations of the Spirit's presence. We are better off not trying to prove anything from what Luke does not explicitly record.
Tongues-speech in Acts 10 (see also 11:15-17 and Acts 19) serves not to communicate God's wonderful works to unbelievers [indeed, only believers were present], but primarily to attest to the Jerusalem church (and thus to Jewish believers) that Gentiles may be admitted to the messianic community without first coming under pledged commitment to the law of Moses (see Carson, Showing the Spirit, 148).
We also should note again that speaking in tongues here is a form of praise (v. 46), exalting and magnifying God. Far from questioning the sanity or stability of these believing Gentiles, Peter concludes from what happened that they are saved and thus eligible to be baptized in water no less than had it been a Jew who accepted Jesus (v. 47).
Sixth, is tongues the invariable sign of Spirit-baptism or Spirit-filling? No. See 1 Cor. 12:30. Incidents in Acts of true conversion where no tongues are mentioned (2:37-42; 8:26-40; 9:1-19; 13:44-52; 16:11-15; 16:25-34; 17:1-10a; 17:10b-15; 17:16-33; 18:1-11; 18:24-28).
B. The Explanation vv. 14-40
1. What it is vv. 14-21
Pentecost is the historical fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32. Note several things:
First, the "last days" (v. 17) = the days that began with the resurrection of Jesus and extend to his second coming, i.e., the present, inter-advent age. See 1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 1:2; 9:26; 1 Pt. 1:20; 1 John 2:18.
Second, note the words "pour out" (v. 17).
Third, observe the extent of the Spirit's presence: "all flesh" (v. 17), i.e., irrespective of age ("old men" and "young men"), gender ("sons" and "daughters" and "male servants" and "female servants"), social rank ("servants"), or race ("all flesh"; cf. v. 39; i.e., both Jew and Gentile).
Fourth, "dreams" and "visions" are not only prophetic but also characteristic of the life of the church in the present age.
2. Where it came from: Jesus - vv. 22-36
a. the life of Jesus (v. 22)
b. the death of Jesus (v. 23)
c. the resurrection of Jesus (vv. 24-32)
d. the exaltation of Jesus (vv. 33-36)
C. The Effects vv. 41-47
Conclusion: what is the meaning of Pentecost?
(1) This is not the first appearance of the Holy Spirit in human history. However, it is the first appearance of the fullness of the Spirit to empower and encourage and enable God's people, the church.
(2) This is the fulfillment of three prophetic words: first, the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32 (in accordance with the terms of the New Covenant); second, the prophecy of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11-12; third, the prophecy of Jesus in John 14-16 (concerning the "other Comforter").
(3) Pentecost is not simply the HS coming to the church but Christ himself coming to the church in the person of the HS. See John 14:18; Rom. 8:9-10.
(4) Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, the universal body of Christ.
(5) Pentecost is the reversal of Babel. At Babel human languages were confused and the nations were scattered. At Pentecost the language barrier was overcome as a sign that the nations would now be gathered in Christ. At Babel, earth proudly tried to ascend to heaven. At Pentecost, heaven humbly descended to earth.