As we begin the second chapter of the book of Acts, we come upon the first of the places where some dispensationalists will place the start of the current dispensation and the beginning of God’s work today. In fact, this is the premier passage where most of those who call themselves dispensationalists will do this. Nor are they alone, for many even in the covenant theology and replacement theology camps will likewise point to this same location as the birthplace of the “church,” differing with the dispensationalists only in the significance of this, and not as regarding the time when this took place. So since it is one of our main objects in examining this book of Acts to determine when God’s great work with the people of Israel was brought to a stop, and when His work with all nations began, we must consider this passage in the light of this proposal.
Now if we are to believe that this chapter marks the “birth of the church,” if Pentecost was indeed its birthday, and if all that God has been doing since that time saw its start and looks for its origin to this event, then we would expect that the events recorded here in the second chapter of Acts would be in agreement and would correspond with what we see taking place around us on every hand today. If the religion of Christianity got its start in this passage, if God’s work with Israel was set aside at this point, if the way God is dealing with men today had its origin in this event, then we would expect that the things that we read of in this passage would match very well with what we see around us on every hand today. Yet I believe a real examination of the passage will reveal to us that none of this is actually the case. This passage no more resembles what we see around us on every hand today than the man in the moon.
To illustrate this, suppose that I had never seen the beginning of the classic movie, “The Wizard of Oz.” Perhaps I had happened to turn on the television when the movie was playing, and so had seen parts of it, but never how it started. Suppose now that I met a big fan of this movie, and he could not stand the thought that I had never seen the beginning of this film. He bugged me about it, and insisted that I see the whole thing, until finally I agreed to sit down with him and watch the movie together with him from start to finish.
Now suppose when my friend and I sat down to watch the movie, he started to play it, and a film came up on the screen. No title showed, and yet it quickly became obvious that this movie was starting in the middle of a war scene. Guns were firing, grenades were going off, tanks were exploding, and general mayhem was happening everywhere. As the scene went on, I began to squirm in my seat, and finally turned to my friend to say, “Wait a minute. This isn’t ‘The Wizard of Oz’.”
“Yes, it is,” my friend replied.
“No, it can’t be,” I insisted. “‘The Wizard of Oz’ can’t start like this!”
“How do you know?” my friend asked me. “You told me you never have seen the beginning of it. How can you tell then that “The Wizard of Oz” doesn’t begin with a big war scene?”
“Well,” I replied, “while it’s true I’ve never seen the beginning of ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ I’ve seen enough of it to know one thing. I know that, however it starts, it doesn’t start like this!”
Now of course my reasoning in this case would be very good. Anyone who has seen, even in part, the movie “The Wizard of Oz” will know that a big, violent war scene would just not fit with that movie. And in reality I have seen the beginning of the movie, and I know that that is not how it starts.
But there is one thing that I haven’t seen, and that is the beginning of the dispensation of grace. I was not there when God began His current work. Nor have I seen the greater part of this time period in which we live. All I have seen of it is the few brief years that I have been alive to experience it. Yet I know one thing. And that is, that as I look at the second chapter of the book of Acts and all that happened within it, I can say one thing, and say it with confidence. As I look at the events that took place on the day of Pentecost, I can say, “It is true that I was not there when God began His current work. Therefore, I may not know everything about how that work began, or how exactly the events transpired that made it all take place. But as I look at the second chapter of Acts, I can say one thing for certain. However God’s work today started, it didn’t start like this!”
When the events that took place on that day of Pentecost are honestly examined and thoughtfully considered, it will become clear to any logical observer that the things that took place at that time just do not match up with the way things happen today. Even if we don’t dig deeply into the passage, just the events on their surface appear totally incongruous with what is happening among God’s people in our world today. These events begin with a great sound from heaven. Yet we are surrounded by a perfect silence from heaven that has not been broken in our lifetimes. These events include a great and wondrous sight, a miraculous sign from God. And yet we who believe today have seen neither sign nor wonder. On this day, men were clearly marked out by God as His spokesmen and His representatives. Yet our leaders, such as they are, are always marked out and chosen, not by God, but by men. On this day, men heard a God-inspired message given by divine power and communicated to them in a way that bypassed all barriers of speech and understanding. Yet when we try to share the truth, we are left to fumble with our own, human words and thoughts, and every communication barrier remains in place as we try to do so, unless we will use our own efforts to attempt to take them down. Ultimately, apart from the fact that the truth was proclaimed for men to believe, there is no similarity at all between what happened here and what happens today. So we can conclude, as we go through this passage, that whenever God’s current work began, this was not the time. However it started, it didn’t start like this!
Now, let us examine this passage, and see what we can learn from it.
1. When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
Those who try to make this to be the birthday of the church attempt to divorce the Day of Pentecost from its origins, and act like this was the first Pentecost ever. Indeed, for many, the word Pentecost refers to this event. Yet this is no truer than saying that the word Passover refers to the death of Christ. This was neither the beginning nor the origin of Pentecost. Rather, this day was a feast of the LORD, ordained by Him since the giving of the law in the Old Testament.
If we would turn to the book of Leviticus chapter 23, we would learn of this feast that here is called Pentecost. First, in verses 9-14, is set forth the Feast of Firstfruits. This feast was proclaimed once the first of their harvest came in. We would expect this to happen in the fall in the climate we have in the United States, but we need to remember that Israel is much closer to the equator. For them, winter is merely the rainy season, and thus it is a good time for growing crops, rather than otherwise. Therefore, the first of their plants would actually start coming in in the spring, around the time that we would just be thinking of planting.
Now the Feast of Firstfruits was to take place when the first of the harvest came in around Jerusalem. The priests would determine when that was, and then the day after the very next Sabbath would be the feast. There was a wave sheaf offering to God on that day, and other sacrifices made, as is set forth in Leviticus 23:9-14. But then, we have the law regarding the feast of weeks in verses 15-21.
15. “And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. 16. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD. 17. You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the LORD. 18. And you shall offer with the bread seven lambs of the first year, without blemish, one young bull, and two rams. They shall be as a burnt offering to the LORD, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, an offering made by fire for a sweet aroma to the LORD. 19. Then you shall sacrifice one kid of the goats as a sin offering, and two male lambs of the first year as a sacrifice of a peace offering. 20. The priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the LORD for the priest. 21. And you shall proclaim on the same day that it is a holy convocation to you. You shall do no customary work on it. It shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.”
So from these verses we learn that the Israelites were to start counting from that day of the Feast of Firstfruits. That day, the day after the Sabbath, was day one. Then, they were to count seven Sabbaths, or forty-nine days. Then the next day, which, of course, would also be a Sunday, the day after the Sabbath, they were to have a second firstfruits offering. This would be a celebration of the later crops, and would take place around the start of summer, which for them would be the beginning of the dry season. On that day, the fiftieth day after Firstfruits, was the feast of weeks, when all these offerings were made.
Now the Feast of Weeks was fifty days after Firstfruits, and so it seems natural that that feast began to be called “the fiftieth.” And that is exactly what Pentecost means. In Greek, this word means “The Fiftieth.” In other words, the day of Pentecost was nothing more nor less than the day of the LORD’s Feast of Weeks. This was not some new event, called “Pentecost” for some mysterious reason, that God brought about at this time. This was the repetition of a celebration that had taken place hundreds of times before this time it was celebrated in Acts 2. This was the Feast of Weeks set forth in the law, and not some new holiday created to inaugurate the “birthday of the church,” as many have fancifully supposed it to be.
What was meant by the fact that Pentecost had now “fully come”? To understand this, I believe we need to remember that every day, and particularly every Sabbath day, after the Feast of Firstfruits was to be counted until the fiftieth day or Pentecost had come. Thus, I believe this phrase marks the end of the period of waiting fifty days since the wave sheaf offering of Firstfruits, when those days were completed and the day of the Feast of Weeks had fully come.
Now we read that they were all with one accord in one place. They were in harmony together, all of one mind, patiently waiting for what the Lord had promised would come upon them.
Many suppose the “one place” mentioned here to be the “upper room” in which they were living, as we saw back in chapter 1 verse 13. Yet those who reckon this have not checked it against the testimony of Scripture. Though the upper room was certainly where they were lodging, it was not where they were spending their days. Luke 24:52-53 assures us that, after the Lord’s ascension, “they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen.” This locates them as spending their time “continually” in the temple. Moreover later in this second chapter of Acts, in verse 46, we read of them, that “continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.” Thus if they were before this time “continually” in the temple, and if after this they continued there as well, then where could they have been during this incident but in the temple? Remember, the Lord was with them forty days before His ascension (Acts 1:3,) and Pentecost was fifty days after His resurrection on the Feast of Firstfruits. Thus, there were only ten days in between for them to have been “continually in the temple.” Are we to believe that they left this aside on this most significant of days, and were caught by the Spirit in the upper room, where they should not have been, rather than in the temple, where they should have been? We cannot believe that it was so!
No, this “one place” where they all were gathered must have been a place within the temple. Remember, the temple was not a single building, as we often like to think of it, perhaps having in mind our churches, but rather was a whole complex of buildings, a campus, we might call it. One of these places on this campus, then, the believers had made their own, and it was here they were on the day of Pentecost when this great event took place.
Here, then, we have our second dissimilarity between what happened here and what we are living today. This event took place in the temple, the house of the LORD that He shared with His people of Israel. We have no connection to Israel’s temple, and it has nothing to do with us, our lives, and our standing before God. Would the work of God today, then, that has nothing to do with temples on the earth, have begun in an earthly temple? Certainly our calling could not have started like this!
2. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
The next great manifestation on that day was a sound. Again, this is entirely foreign to our experience today. When we come to the Lord, we hear no audible sound. No voice speaks to us. No heavenly manifestation makes itself known to our ears. We live in a time when God is silent, and we experience the secret dispensation of God. Could this time of God’s silence have begun with a great sound from the heavens? No, indeed. However this time in which we live began, it did not begin like this.
This sound, in its beginning, was heard to originate in heaven. Here the word is singular, literally “the heaven,” and tells us that this sound started in the sky. This was the most positive proof that this sound was coming from God. The sound is described as being “as of a rushing mighty wind.” The word here is pnoe, which means a blast of air. Yet most certainly there was no wind, just the sound of it. This reminds me of the frequent Biblical comparison of the work of God to a flow. In Jeremiah 2:13, the Lord says, “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, And hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water.” The Lord is indeed the fountain of living waters. His work is a flow, and that flow goes down and out to all His people.
The Hebrew word olam and the Greek word aion, which we express by the English word “eon,” mean in their most basic sense a “flow.” And it is by this word, “the flow,” that God often refers to His coming kingdom. That is the time when God will flow down and flow out to the world through His great power to bring light, truth, understanding, and judgment to the world. That flow will reach to every corner of this earth, and that flow will be all-encompassing and triumphant.
So the first miraculous manifestation that takes place here is the sound of a flow. For that, as we know, is exactly what a wind is: a great flow of air. Those gathered in the temple hear this great sound of a wind, and it is as if they are hearing the very flow of God as it is beginning to rush out of heaven and down to the earth. This was the very beginning, the very start of that kingdom flow, and these people heard a physical manifestation of this great truth expressed by this sound of a mighty, flowing wind.
The sound originates in heaven, as it must do. And yet it does not stay there. The sound moves down from heaven to earth, and rests upon the very house where the faithful disciples were sitting. Thus, though God always must be the source of the flow, the flow does not stay with and end with Him. He flows out to His representatives, and then flows through them to others. Therefore, this sound moves to the very house where the leaders whom He had chosen to flow through were gathered.
Many have used the fact that the place where the disciples were gathered was called a “house” here to contradict all that I said in the first verse regarding the truth that they were gathered in the temple. They could not have been in the temple, these insist, since the place where they were gathered is called a house. Yet those who insist this are ignorant of the Biblical use of the word “house.” This same word, oikos, is used of the temple of God in Matthew 12:4, 21:13, and 23:38; in Mark 2:26 and 11:17; in Luke 6:4, 11:51, 13:35, and 19:46; in John 2:16-17; and in Acts 7:47 and 7:49. The disciples used the word oikodome to describe the “buildings” of the temple in Matthew 24:1, but this word comes from the word oikos or house, as can be clearly seen. According to Otis Q. Sellers, there were thirty halls in the temple that were called oikoi or houses. It was in one of these that the disciples had chosen to gather at this time. Those who claim, therefore, that this must have been a house and not the temple prove themselves to be poor students of the words that God has used. Yet for those to whom the Bible is only there to prove what they already believe, this is decisive. There is little we can teach those who are like this anyway.
Notice that this verse declares that the disciples were sitting. It is the common view that this event took place while the disciples were fervently praying, begging God to send the Holy Spirit as He had promised. Yet the custom among Hebrew men was to stand when they prayed. Consider Mark 11:25, ““And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”” So standing was the usual position for a man then to take in prayer. Yet these men were sitting, probably cross-legged on the floor, as is the oriental custom. Thus we have no evidence that this great event was sent because of fervent prayer on their part. The Lord had promised them the outpouring of the Spirit, and it would have come whether they prayed for it or not. That is not to say that they did not pray for it. Yet when it came, it was not because they were pleading in prayer for it, as many like to teach, but because the time had come that God chose to send it.
3. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.
The next great manifestation here was a visible sight they saw. There appeared divided tongues, as of fire. Notice that again this does not say that they were fire, but only that they were like as of fire. These tongues apparently were all clustered together when they first appeared, but then they split apart, and one sat on each of the disciples who were there present.
Now when this occurred, the word of John the Baptizer in Luke 3:16 came to pass. John had declared, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” That is exactly what the Lord had now done. These men were baptized with fire. That was accomplished by a tongue that looked like fire sitting upon each of them. This identified them with fire in a manifest and obvious way. Notice, however, that they were neither dipped nor immersed in fire. There are those who insist that baptism means “to dip” or “to immerse,” but this is simply not the truth. Baptism means identification, and these men were identified with fire here.
Now fire is connected with judgment, and thus it was as judges that these men were marked out. Remember what the Lord Jesus Himself had said to the twelve in Matthew 19:28, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” So these men were to be judges, and they were now identified with a symbol of judgment. We must not get the wrong idea about what this means, however. We have a modern conception that “judgment” has only to do with punishing criminals. Yet this is just an incidental thing. Judgment does result in criminals being punished, but that is not the main purpose of it. Judgment means determining what is right, and then setting things right. That is what these men were to do in relationship to the kingdom of God. In I Corinthians 6:2-3, the Lord through Paul asks the people during the Acts period, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?” So the saints of the Acts period are destined to be judges. Now, these 120 men were marked out as such. They were baptized as judges in the sight of all Israel at Jerusalem.
Again, notice that the things that went on here are not going on today. We have no visible signs to witness. There are no fiery manifestations to let us know when God is working. There are no God-chosen leaders rising up and being identified publicly with God. These things simply do not happen today, nor have they happened in the recorded centuries of our recent history. So how then could the things that happened here have been the beginning of God’s work today? How could God’s work have started totally differently than how it would ever afterwards continue? No, however God’s current work today began, it could not have been like this!
4. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Many make much of the use of this word “tongues.” They wish to justify the tongues of religious ecstasy that are spoken by many in the charismatic and Pentecostal Christian movements of today. The Greek word here is glossais, and means “tongues,” beyond any doubt. Yet this word “tongue” here, in Greek and in English, means a language. This is one of the definitions of the word “tongue.” Dictionary.com gives this as its eighth definition of a tongue, “the language of a particular people, region, or nation: the Hebrew tongue.” (tongue. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved April 23, 2007, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/tongue) This is what I believe a tongue means here.
The word for “other” here is heterais, and means tongues that were new to the speaker, but not new as a tongue. If a completely new tongue, crafted especially for the speaker, was meant, as is claimed by many who support speaking in tongues today, then the Greek word neos, for “new,” should have been used. These tongues were not new inventions for the situation, but were tongues that had long been spoken by men. They just had not been spoken by these men.
There is a very interesting significance in this miracle as it relates to the coming kingdom of God. We know that at one time all men spoke the same language. Yet when this led to wickedness and rebellion against the LORD, He disrupted their languages and made them all speak in different tongues. This happened at the tower of Babel, as we read in Genesis 11:1-9. Yet this miracle shows us that when God’s great government comes in the future, the curse that God once laid upon men will be lifted. There will be no language barrier obstructing communication between men in those days. The confusion that God brought upon men will be reversed, and all will once again be able to communicate without difficulty. In this miracle, God shows us just how easily He is able to do this. This miracle is a definite foreshadowing of the kingdom of God.
Now, as these men in the previous verse were baptized with fire, now they are baptized with the Holy Spirit. This was accomplished by them being filled with the Holy Spirit, and then speaking in other tongues. Yet in Greek, this phrase “the Holy Spirit” is pneumati hagio, or “spirit holy,” without the article “the.” Thus, this is referring to the power of the Holy Spirit, and not the Person of the Spirit. Now how was it that these men were identified with that power? It was through the fact that they began to speak with other tongues. Moreover, this was not a random thing, and they were not just speaking whatever came to their minds. This was “as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The word “Spirit” here has the definite article in front of it, and so it is speaking of the Person of the Spirit. Thus once again the Giver is connected with the gift. It was the Spirit as a Person, not some impersonal power, that was giving them the words they were to speak and the things they were to say. The Spirit was giving them the words, and He was speaking through them.
When these men displayed the power of the Spirit by speaking in tongues, they were publicly identified with that power. This was no mere passing sign, like a sound from heaven or a vision of fire resting upon them. This was an empowerment, and it gave these men the ability to speak a language that they could not have spoken were it not for the Spirit of God. Just as a donkey, which cannot speak, was able to talk by God’s power in Numbers 22:28-30, so these men, who no doubt previously had been unable to speak any language but Aramaic and maybe a little Greek, now were able to speak in all these exotic languages to declare the glory of God. Since they could not have done this except with divine power, this act publicly identified them with divine power. This is how they were baptized, that is, identified, with holy spirit. Yet many today claim to be baptized with the Spirit, and yet show forth no power. Anyone can claim anything they like. It is easy to claim this. Yet if they really are thus identified, then where is the power? These men were identified, and none could deny it. Men might well deny the claims of those who claim for themselves this baptism, and yet show forth no power.
In receiving this baptism, these men displayed their relationship as the apostles of Jesus Christ. As He was the One Who had given the many languages spoken on the earth in the first place, so now they too became masters of language, even as He is. This showed their authority from Him, and meant that they were partaking of the very essence of the One Who sent them. As seventy elders of the sons of Israel received of the Spirit that was upon Moses in Numbers 11:16-30, so now these received of the Spirit that was upon Jesus Christ. Thus, they were identified with Him as well.
Once again, this occurrence is entirely different from what we see on every hand today. We do not see men receive the gift of languages they never learned. We do not experience a public identification of men as the representatives of Jesus Christ. This event is much different from anything we have experienced in our lives as believers today. So how then could this event be the beginning of what is happening today? Certainly, it could not be. However God’s present work began, it did not begin like this.