By Sam E. Stone
Jesus had told his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit to them (John 14:15-17). Today’s lesson tells when that occurred. It happened on the Day of Pentecost, immediately following his resurrection. Pente means 50th. Pentecost was observed on the 50th day after the Sabbath of Passover week. At Passover, Jesus had been crucified; at Pentecost, the inauguration of his earthly kingdom took place.
Passover provided a time to remember when the Lord “passed over” those Jewish households in Egypt which had been marked with the blood of a Passover lamb. It signaled their release from bondage in that foreign land. Pentecost was known as the “Festival of Weeks.” At this annual celebration Jewish pilgrims came to Jerusalem to thank God for a good harvest.
They were all together in one place. W. R. Walker suggests that they “doubtless refers to the apostles only, not to the entire 120 of their company. This is the natural conclusion from the fact that Acts 1:26 mentions the ‘eleven apostles,’ the nearest antecedent of ‘they.’”
The exact location of their meeting is not mentioned. It could have been at the home of one of Christ’s followers. Many think they were gathered in a room in the temple area, since the disciples had been staying there continually (Luke 24:53). Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the house. It sounded like wind, but it was not wind. In similar fashion, the Spirit of God energized the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 37:9, 10; John 3:8). A divine flame came to rest above each apostle. Fire often symbolizes God’s presence in Scripture (see Exodus 3:2).
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. In the verses that follow, the apostles preached the message of salvation. Jesus had promised that he would baptize them in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5, 8; Luke 24:49). Now the apostles were able to speak in various languages, languages they could not use in normal circumstances (Acts 2:6-12).
Many Jews were present in Jerusalem. A large number of them had traveled a great distance from home to attend the two feasts. Others lived there year-round. Some of the nations represented are listed in verses 9-11. The sound like a mighty wind had attracted a crowd; hearing many foreign languages spoken at once was even more compelling. Each one heard their own language being spoken. The miracle was in the speaking of the apostles rather than in the hearing of the people.
The crowd was utterly amazed! Luke heaps up descriptive words to explain the tremendous impression this miracle made. The people asked each other, “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?” People could recognize the apostles by their dialect (Matthew 26:73). God chose the perfect miracle. The apostles could not only convince people from many countries of the divine message, but also communicate the gospel itself to them clearly, each in his own language. An interesting way to see the great distance from which the people had come is to look up on a map all the places that are listed.
The people’s response was mixed. Many asked, “What does this mean?” Some have described the experience that day as “Babel reversed.” The people had never seen or heard anything like this. Some made fun of the apostles saying, “They have had too much wine.” Years later the apostle Paul warned that a stranger entering a Christian meeting in which all were speaking in tongues might conclude that they were mad (1 Corinthians 14:23).
What followed was the first Christian sermon ever preached. The Savior had instructed his followers to wait until they received power from on high before taking the message of salvation to a lost world. They did just that. Now that the Holy Spirit had obviously and miraculously come on them, they were ready. Simon Peter stepped forward to speak out. Although he had denied his master on the night when Judas betrayed him, Peter had repented completely and Jesus had reinstated him (John 21:15-19).
First, Peter refuted the accusation that they were drunk. “It’s only 9:00 a.m.,” he told them. No one gets drunk so early in the morning! Instead, Peter explained, this is what the prophet Joel predicted years before. He then began to tell them who Jesus is and what he had done. This basic presentation of Jesus as “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36, NIV 1984) was used by all the apostles in the years that followed.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.