It is the commonly held belief of most Bible expositors that the events recorded in Scripture in the book of Acts chapter 2 mark the beginning of the work of God today. They call Pentecost the “birthday of the church,” and claim that this is how the Christian church of today got its start. Those who know me very well, or who have read my exposition of Acts 2, know that I do not believe that this was the case. When I look at the events that took place on that day of Pentecost, I find that they do not match up with what is going on today.
1. When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 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. 3. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
First of all, we find that the disciples are gathered together in one place. I believe that an honest examination of the evidence would point to the truth that this “one place” was not the upper room in which they were dwelling, but instead was a place in the temple. They were there on the Day of Pentecost, which is nothing less than the name at that time for the Feast of Weeks that God commanded in Leviticus 23:15-21. While they were there, a miraculous event took place. First, there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind. There was no rushing mighty wind, you will note, but only the sound of it. It began in heaven, but then descended and filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then, there appeared to them tongues as of fire, dividing up into many tongues, one of which came and rested upon each of them. Again, these tongues were not fire, but were like fire. Once these tongues were resting upon them, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak with other languages than those they had formerly known, as the Spirit Himself gave them the ability to do so.
These then were the events that took place on this pivotal day. Now having examined these things, the question then arises that since I do not believe that this event marked the beginning of God’s work today, since I do not believe that this was the birth of the church, and since I do not believe that what we call “Christendom” began here, then what do I believe took place on this important day? If the church was not beginning here, then what was? If this was not about the start of God’s work today, then what work was He beginning by these events? These questions I will seek to answer in this study.
The Kingdom of God
All throughout the Old Testament as well as the new, God constantly announces and confirms that He has great plans for the future, not just for mankind and for the people living upon the earth, but for this earth itself. In the very first promise God gave to mankind after the fall, He started to reveal this purpose. This revelation actually is in the form of a rebuke to Satan, but in Genesis 3:15 He declares,
“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
The head is both the control center, and the out-flowing source of all to the body. It is from the head that the rest of the body receives its orders, from the head that it is nourished, and from the head that all perception and interaction with the world around the body begins and ends. Satan’s “head” here symbolizes the very source of his power and influence. This will be crushed by the Seed of the woman someday, and I believe that that Seed is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He will crush Satan’s power at its very source. When He does this, this will usher in the time period that is called in the New Testament the “kingdom of God.” I believe that this kingdom is nothing less than the government of God upon the earth.
The Old Testament speaks many times and in many different ways about that coming kingdom.
Isaiah 26:9 declares: “For when Your judgments are in the earth, The inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.”
Psalm 86:9 promises: “All nations whom You have made Shall come and worship before You, O Lord, And shall glorify Your name.”
Psalm 47:7-8 speaks of this glorious time: “For God is the King of all the earth; Sing praises with understanding. God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne.”
Psalm 22:28 triumphantly declares: “For the kingdom is the LORD’s, And He rules over the nations.”
Psalm 9:8 promises: “He shall judge the world in righteousness, And He shall administer judgment for the peoples in uprightness.”
Psalm 96:10 commands: “Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns; The world also is firmly established, It shall not be moved; He shall judge the peoples righteously.’”
This is the concept that John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus Christ were setting forth when they came declaring the kingdom of God. Paul taught the same thing, as we can see in Acts 17:31, “because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
This promise is set forth throughout the Scriptures, and the people in Bible times were all looking forward to it. And I believe that what we see happening during the events at Pentecost in Acts 2 is the very beginning of that kingdom. These events at Acts 2 mark nothing less than the start of the government of God upon earth.
The Kingdom in Part
Now some will immediately object that what began at Pentecost could not be the kingdom of God, since God did not take control of the world and begin to rule it all through His government at that time. Of course, this is true, and He clearly did not. However, those who would argue this ignore the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself revealed that this kingdom would come in gradually. In Mark 4:26-29, this is declared in the form of a parable.
26. And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, 27. and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. 28. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. 29. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
In this passage, the Lord compares the arrival of the coming kingdom of God to the stages of growing grain. The growth of grain starts with the sowing of a seed. Over time, this seed sprouts and starts to grow. Yet it does not grow all at once. First the blade appears. During this stage, the grain is very small, and it is not even distinguishable to one who does not know what kind of seed was planted as to what kind of grain it is. Yet then follows the head, and the head reveals what sort of grain it is that is growing in the field, and what kind of fruit can ultimately be expected. After a time comes the full grain in the head. Now the grain is all there, though it is not yet ripe. Finally, the grain ripens, and then the man who sowed the seed will put in the sickle, because the harvest has come. All this is a parable for the kingdom of God. I believe therefore that the kingdom of God will come this way. That is, it will not come all at once, taking over the world in an instant. Rather, it grows and spreads, becoming more and more distinct, until finally the entire world is under its control.
Now in the Acts period, what we see is the first stages of the kingdom of God coming to pass, just like the first stages of growing grain. The seed was planted by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. At Pentecost, that seed sprouted, and throughout the Acts period it was growing. The kingdom was not yet fully there. There was no full grain in the head. Yet it was in the earth and growing all the same.
Another way to look at the Acts period is as the kingdom “in part.” Paul talks about this in I Corinthians 13:9-10. “For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” The Acts period displayed all the major qualities of the kingdom, yet they were there only in part. There was the healing and health that will be experienced in the kingdom, but only in part. There was the judgment that will be experienced in the kingdom, but only in part. There was the God-given direction that will be there in the kingdom, but only in part. All these things were in the earth, but only in a partial form. When the kingdom comes in in full, everything that was in part in the Acts period will at last be here in full. Then, we will have the full government of God upon the earth.
Another way to look at the Acts period is as the “night” period of the kingdom of God. Paul calls it this when he speaks of it in Romans 13:12, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” During its night period, the kingdom was shrouded in darkness. Except to those who believed the gospel being preached by the apostles, it was veiled to men as to what exactly was going on. Yet during the Acts period, the night ran its course. If God had continued His kingdom work, the day would have come, and the full kingdom, though yet unripe, would have taken control of the earth. Yet this did not happen. Instead, the kingdom program was interrupted, and Paul declared in Acts 28:28:
“Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!”
From this point on, the government of God was postponed. The day period of the kingdom, the full manifestation of God’s government, and the conditions on earth that these things will bring about, were all postponed while God began a new work. That is His present work in grace. This work began at the end of the Acts period, not at the beginning. It began with Paul’s pronouncement at Acts 28:28, not with the sensational events that took place in Acts 2. What was beginning in Acts 2 was not God’s current work in grace. What was beginning in Acts 2 was the kingdom of God in its early, night, in part form.
Acts 2 and the Beginning of the Kingdom
If we would examine the beginning of the Acts period in Acts 2, the first significant factor we notice is a sound. “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:2) Notice again that it does not say that they heard a rushing, mighty wind, but only that they heard the sound of one. This sound, I believe, was an audible representation of the beginning of God’s great flow to mankind. When the kingdom comes to earth, God will flow out and He will flow down to the world in power, in authority, in health and healing, in guidance, in revelation, and in a host of other ways that will work to change this very world we live in to conform it to the way God would want it to be. In Acts 2, this was only just beginning, in the manner of the first stage of growing grain, yet beginning it was.
In the kingdom to come, I believe that again one of the first things that will arrest men’s attention will be a sound. I Corinthians 15:51-52 sets this forth.
51. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52. in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
Here, the sound of a trumpet announces the long-promised resurrection. I believe that this is setting forth one of the great events that takes place immediately upon the ending of this current dispensation of grace, and when the kingdom comes once again. Here, a trumpet sounds, and the dead are raised. The kingdom in the future, just like the kingdom in the Acts period, will begin with a great and symbolic sound.
Secondly, there was a visible sign of fire. We read of this in Acts 2:3. “Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire.” I believe in the same way there will be miraculous signs when that kingdom comes again, some of them having to do with fire. Peter lists some of these signs later in Acts 2:19-20.
I will show wonders in heaven above
And signs in the earth beneath:
Blood and fire and vapor of smoke.
The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.
There will be great signs both in heaven and upon earth when the kingdom comes in the future. And notice too what is the result of this sign. “Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.” These tongues of fire rested on each of the disciples. This marked them out as God’s chosen instruments at that time, and showed all the people that these were God’s rulers that He had chosen. In the same way, I believe that men will be marked out by God when the kingdom comes in the future, even as they were marked out in the past. One of the ways this marking out will occur is with fire, as we see in Isaiah 4:4-5.
4. When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purged the blood of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning, 5. then the LORD will create above every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and above her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night. For over all the glory there will be a covering.
This speaks of a time when the sins of Israel are washed away. At that time, we are told, the LORD will create above every dwelling place in Mount Zion a cloud and smoke by day and a shining of a flaming fire by night. The word here for “dwelling place” is the word for a settled foundation. I believe that these are not all the homes in Israel, but rather the homes of those who are part of the leadership, the kingdom of God that will be set up on the earth at that time. It will be easy to identify the homes of the God-appointed governors in that day, for they will be marked out by smoke and by fire. This is related to the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night by which the LORD signified His presence with Israel in the wilderness, as we read in Exodus 13:21.
And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night.
This pillar of fire was the sign of the LORD’s presence at that time. The tongues of fire were a sign of the LORD’s identification with the one hundred and twenty in Acts 2. Similarly, I believe a sign of fire will mark out the leaders chosen in the kingdom of God to come. Whom God has chosen to lead in His kingdom will be clearly known and understood.
The parallels between what happened at Pentecost and what will happen on a grander scale when the kingdom of God comes continue in verse 4. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” First of all, we see here that they were filled with the Holy Spirit. I believe that this too will be paralleled in a very real and very miraculous way when the kingdom of God comes at last. Peter reminds them of this in verse 17, when he quotes from the book of Joel the following passage:
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;”
Thus in that day to come, all flesh, in other words, people living upon the earth as a whole will experience what these men in particular experienced at that time. That is, the Spirit will be poured out upon them. In Isaiah 32:13-15, the prophet promises that at that time, the land of Israel will be restored and the desolations that have come upon it will be removed.
13. On the land of my people will come up thorns and briers,
Yes, on all the happy homes in the joyous city;
14. Because the palaces will be forsaken,
The bustling city will be deserted.
The forts and towers will become lairs forever,
A joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks—
15. Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
And the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
And the fruitful field is counted as a forest.
Notice that the sad state of the land is reversed when “the Spirit is poured upon us from on high.” Clearly, this did not take place at Pentecost, though that event foreshadowed it. This can only take place in a time that is yet future.
What will be the purpose for the Spirit being poured out? What will this outpouring result in? We can find a hint to the answers to these questions in Psalm 22:27.
All the ends of the world
Shall remember and turn to the LORD,
And all the families of the nations
Shall worship before You.
The word for “remember” here does not mean what we usually think of the word meaning, that is, you remember something you had forgotten. Rather, it has to do with having something imprinted on your mind that was not there before. We can learn more about what kinds of things will be imprinted on men’s minds that will cause them to turn to the LORD in John 16:7-11.
7. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9. of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10. of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; 11. of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
When the Spirit is poured out on all flesh in the future, he will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. This will have a great and lasting effect on the world, and will be instrumental in bringing God’s kingdom to earth.
After the Spirit was poured out in Acts 2, we read that they “began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The language barrier is one that has stood since the time right after the flood, and is a barrier most difficult to break down. Yet God broke it down here, and He will likewise break it down for the whole earth when His kingdom comes in the future. Moreover, the Spirit directed this whole thing, giving His gifts to them freely. Again, Peter’s own message later in the chapter, quoting again from Joel, revealed that this would be repeated on a much larger scale when the day period of the kingdom comes in full.
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy.
So we see that in many ways, the miraculous events that occurred on the day of Pentecost parallel the miraculous events that will take place at the beginning of the kingdom of God. Thus, I cannot believe that these events ushered in the “church” of today, had anything to do with Christianity, or even had anything to do with God’s present calling of believers. Instead, I believe that this period was actually an early, “night” stage of the kingdom of God. That kingdom has been postponed, however, now that God has revealed His great purpose to administer His rule over the earth through grace. Once that postponement is ended and the kingdom comes again, however, all these things that foreshadowed the kingdom will be revealed in their fullness as the kingdom comes to earth. What a glorious day that will be!
To conclude, I believe that nothing could be further from the truth than the idea that Acts 2 is the birthplace of the church. No, I believe that what started on that day of Pentecost was nothing short of the kingdom of God, giving us a foretaste of what that full kingdom will be once it comes at last.