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Acts 2:1-21 Biblical Commentary:
THREE PILGRIMAGE FESTIVALS:
Jewish law required Jewish people to observe three pilgrimage festivals—annual festivals in Jerusalem that Jewish men were expected to attend:
• Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, observed in March-April (Leviticus 23:4-8; Numbers 28:16-25; Deuteronomy 16:1-8). These were originally two festivals, but by New Testament times the Jewish people had combined them. They celebrated the Exodus.
• The Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), observed toward the end of May or the beginning of June (Leviticus 23:10-21; Deuteronomy 16:9-12)—also known as “the feast of harvest” (Exodus 23:16) or “the day of the first fruits” (Numbers 28:26).
• The Feast of Booths (or Feast of Tabernacles), observed in late September or early October (Leviticus 23:33-36, 39-43; Deuteronomy 16:13-15). This was a harvest festival, celebrating the ingathering of the crops.
THE FEAST OF WEEKS (PENTECOST):
Jewish law required the Jewish people to observe a harvest festival called “the feast of harvest” (Exodus 23:16) or “the feast of weeks” (Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:9) or “the day of the first fruits” (Numbers 28:26).
The word Pentecost is found only in the New Testament (Acts 2:1; 20:16; 1 Corinthians 16:8) and the Apocrypha (Tobit 2:1; 2 Maccabees 12:32). Pente is the Greek word for five or fifty.
Pentecost is commonly thought to follow Passover by fifty days. However, Leviticus 23, which appoints Jewish festivals, specifies that Passover and Unleavened Bread are to be celebrated on a fixed date each year (Leviticus 23:4-8). First Fruits is next, celebrated after the harvest starts (Leviticus 23:9-14). First Fruits does not have a fixed date, because the harvest must wait for the ripening of the grain.
Leviticus ties the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) to First Fruits rather than Passover, saying, “You shall count from the next day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven Sabbaths shall be completed” (Leviticus 23:15). The seven weeks plus one day (the day after the Sabbath) constitute the fifty days associated with Pentecost. So Pentecost is fifty days after First Fruits rather than fifty days after Passover. The instructions in Deuteronomy are essentially the same, specifying that the Feast of Weeks is “from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain you shall begin to number seven weeks” (Deuteronomy 16:9).
PENTECOST IN ITS LUKE-ACTS CONTEXT:
Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles—the Gospel being the story of Jesus and Acts being the story of the early church. It is unfortunate that the two books are separated in the New Testament by the Gospel of John, because placing Acts directly after Luke would help us to see how the Acts of the Apostles picks up where the Gospel of Luke leaves off. This is significant to the story of Pentecost, because the first Christian Pentecost is deeply rooted in the Gospel of Luke:
• We might think of the first Christian Pentecost as beginning, not with the words, “Now when the day of Pentecost had come” (Acts 1:1), but with the words of the angel to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). The Spirit responsible for the birth of Jesus is also responsible for the birth of the church. The birth of the church in Acts 1-2 parallels the birth of Jesus in Luke 1-2.
• The gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 fulfills the prophecy of John the Baptist in Luke’s Gospel, “He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16).
• Jesus alluded to the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost when he told his disciples to “wait in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). It also fulfills his promise that“you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5).
• The Spirit that fills the disciples (Acts 2:4) is the same Spirit that descended upon Jesus at his baptism (Luke 3:22).
• Jesus began his ministry Spirit-filled (Luke 4:1), and so does the church (Acts 2:4, 38).
• Jesus told the disciples not to worry about what they would say when brought before the authorities, because the Spirit would teach them (Luke 10: 11-12)—a prophecy that we see fulfilled in Acts (4:8; 5:29-32; 6:10; 7:1-55; 13:46-47; 16:35-39; 21:37 – 22:39; 23:6-10; 24:10-21; 25:1-12; 26:1-32; 28:23-30).
BAPTISM IN THE GREAT COMMISSION AND THE BOOK OF ACTS:
As we examine baptism in the Great Commission and the Book of Acts, we find a great deal of complexity. Are we to be baptized in the name of Jesus or in the names of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?
How are repentance, the laying on of hands, baptism, forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and speaking in tongues related? The following verses tell us that they are not related in some sort of rigid formulaic way:
• In the Great Commission, Jesus charged his apostles:
“Go, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you.
Behold, I am with you always,
even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
As a consequence, most churches today baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. However, in the Book of Acts, the disciples baptized only in the name of Jesus (2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5).
The Great Commission makes no mention of repentance, forgiveness of sins, or speaking in tongues. While it speaks of baptizing in the name of the Holy Spirit, it doesn’t mention the gift of the Holy Spirit.
• In the locked room on Easter evening, Jesus told his disciples, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” (John 20:23)—but there was no mention of baptism, repentance, forgiveness of sins, or speaking in tongues.
• On the Day of Pentecost, the disciples “were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak” (2:4). No mention is made of repentance, baptism, or the laying on of hands prior to their receiving the Holy Spirit.
• Philip baptized Samaritans “in the name of Jesus Christ” (8:12), but that baptism failed to convey the gift of the Holy Spirit (8:16). Peter and John laid hands on them and they then received the Holy Spirit (8:17). No mention is made of repentance or speaking in tongues.
• In the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch (8:26-39), no mention is made of repentance, forgiveness of sins, the laying on of hands, or the gift of the Spirit.
• Saul “was filled with the Holy Spirit” when Ananias laid hands on him (Acts 9:17-18a). Soon thereafter, he was baptized (9:18b). The sequence seems backwards, because the Spirit came after the laying on of hands but prior to baptism. No mention is made of repentance, forgiveness of sins, or speaking in tongues—although Saul’s behavior—fasting for three days (9:9)—implies repentance.
• This backwards sequence (the gift of the Spirit preceding baptism) is repeated in the story of Peter and Cornelius and his friends. In that story, Peter concluded a brief sermon by saying, “All the prophets testify about (Jesus), that through his name everyone who believes in him will receive remission of sins” (10:43). Then Luke says, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word” (10:44). This was apparent to “the circumcised believers who had come with Peter” (10:45), because Cornelius and his friends were “speaking in other languages and magnifying God” (10:46). Peter, responding to this obvious work of God, said, “Can any man forbid the water, that these who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we should not be baptized?” (10:47). So Peter “commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (10:48). No mention is made of repentance or the laying on of hands—but it does tell of speaking in tongues and the forgiveness of sins (10:43).
• Luke then tells us of people who were baptized into John’s baptism, but who failed to receive the Holy Spirit (19:2-3). Paul re-baptized them “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (19:5)—the only rebaptism in the Book of Acts—but they did not receive the gift of the Holy Spirit upon being re-baptized. It wasn’t until Paul laid his hands on them that they received the Spirit and spoke in tongues (19:6). In this story, while Paul said, “John indeed baptized with the baptism of repentance” (19:4), Paul made no appeal for repentance or promise of forgiveness.
What can we conclude from these various texts?
• First, Jesus told the apostles to baptize in the names of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the early church (at least insofar as Luke recorded their actions in the Book of Acts) baptized only in the name of Jesus. As noted above, most churches today practice baptism according to the formula commanded by Jesus in the Great Commission—baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
• Second, the apostles treated baptism in Jesus’ name and the gift of the Spirit as essential elements of the Christian experience.
• Third, faith, repentance, baptism, forgiveness of sins, the laying on of hands, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the gift of tongues, are all related to the baptismal experience, but not in any standard, formulaic way. Each story has its own mixture and sequence of elements.
• Fourth, the gift of the Spirit is God’s to give, and God gives the Spirit as God chooses. Our repentance and baptism are important, but not in the sense that they obligate God to any particular response according to any particular timetable. In the words of Jesus, “The wind (Greek: pneuma—wind or Spirit) blows where it wants to” (John 3:8).
ACTS 2. ALL WITH ONE ACCORD IN ONE PLACE
Pentecost is the day that the church celebrates its birth and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The reading for this week (vv. 1-21) is the first part of Peter’s sermon. Subsequent verses (vv. 22-36) give the rest of the sermon, concluding with the indictment, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know certainly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
• The people respond, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
• Peter answers, “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are far off, even as many as the Lord our God will call to himself” (vv. 38-39).
• Three thousand people respond to this invitation and are baptized (v. 41). Presumably, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, as promised in verse 38, but there is no mention of them speaking in tongues.
At the time of this sermon, Peter is not yet open to bringing Gentiles into the church except as proselytes (see Acts 10). However, in verses 17 and 39, Peter says more than he knows. The church will soon be open to “all flesh” (v. 17)—to “you, and to your children, and to all who are far off, even as many as the Lord our God will call to himself” (v. 39)—to Jews and Gentiles, women and men, blacks and whites, slaves and free. At the moment, Peter intends his sermon only for Jews—Jews from all over the world, including proselytes—but only Jews.
ACTS 2:1-4. WIND & FIRE
1Now when the day of Pentecost had come (Greek: sumplerousthai—was fulfilled), they were all with one accord in one place. 2Suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind (Greek: pnoes—wind, breath), and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3Tongues (Greek: glossai) like fire appeared and were distributed to them, and one sat on each of them. 4They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages (Greek: glossais—tongues), as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak (Greek: edidou apophthengesthai autos—was giving them to speak).
Luke began his Gospel with the story of Jesus’ birth. He begins the book of Acts with the story of the church’s birth. First came the Messiah; now comes the Holy Spirit.
“Now when the day of Pentecost had come“ (sumplerousthai—was fulfilled) (v. 1a). The “fulfillment” language is important here. Jesus had promised, “you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). Now his promise is fulfilled.
Pentecost is also known as the Feast of Harvest. This harvest of souls takes place, appropriately enough, at a harvest festival (Cousar, 329).
Pentecost is also known as the Feast of Weeks. Leviticus 23:15-21 requires Jews to observe the Feast of Weeks fifty days after the offering of the barley sheaf at the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It says, “even to the next day after the seventh Sabbath you shall number fifty days; and you shall offer a new meal offering to Yahweh” (Leviticus 23:16). Thus the feast became known as the Feast of Weeks, because the countdown was seven sabbaths—seven weeks—a week of weeks. Numbers 28:26-31 and Deuteronomy 16:9-12 provide details about offerings to be offered and persons to be included.
The word “Pentecost” is Greek, meaning fifty, reflecting the fifty-day countdown. It is one of three great pilgrimage festivals (the others being Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles) which Jews living near Jerusalem are required to attend and to which Jews from other nations make pilgrimage as they are able. As many as 180,000 people attend—two-thirds from foreign lands.
Parallels between Moses’ experience and the first Christian Pentecost include:
• Pentecost wind and fire parallel Sinai thunder and lightning (Acts 2:2-3; Exodus 19:16).
• Peter parallels Moses as God’s spokesman (Acts 2:14-40; Exodus 31:12).
• The Spirit-inspired speaking in languages by 120 disciples at Pentecost parallels God’s gift of the Spirit at Sinai to the Seventy, who prophesied (Acts 2:1-4; Numbers 11:16-30).
“they were all with one accord in one place“ (v. 1b). These events take place in Jerusalem, the place where Jesus was tempted (Luke 4:9-13) and where he died.
The people who are gathered together in 2:1 are presumably the 120 disciples mentioned in 1:15—although they could be only the apostles (see v. 14). The mention of a house in 2:2 suggests the possibility that they have returned to the upper room. In any event, they move outdoors to preach to the crowd.
“Suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind…. Tongues (glossai) like fire appeared…. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages (glossais—tongues), as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak“ (vv. 2-4). Christians retreated into hiding after the crucifixion and waited quietly for God to act. Now the time has come! The heavens roar! Fire burns! The Spirit of God fills! Disciples preach! Crowds wonder!
This gift comes “from the sky” (v. 2a)—from God.
Note the wordplay in verses 3-4 between tongues (glossai) of fire and speaking in other tongues (glossais)—a subtlety sometimes obscured in translation.
“a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind…Tongues like fire” (2-3). Wind and fire, two great symbols of Pentecost, testify to God’s presence among these disciples:
• At the creation of the world, “Yahweh God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). Then God breathed breath into Israel, the first people of God, and their dead bones came to life (Ezekiel 37:7-10). Now at Pentecost God’s great wind/breath breathes life into the new people of God—the church.
But it isn’t the wind that fills the house, but “a sound like the rush of a violent wind.” The purpose of these signs (sound/fire) is to announce the presence of the Spirit. No tornado or hurricane is required—just the sound will do.
• “Tongues like fire” (v. 3). In the Old Testament, God showed his presence as “a smoking furnace, and a flaming torch” (Genesis 15:17)—and “a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush” (Exodus 3:2-6)—and “a pillar of fire” (Exodus 13:21)—and smoke and fire at Sinai (Exodus 19:18)—and “devouring fire” (Exodus 24:17).
• God used fire to demonstrate his power and the powerlessness of the prophets of Baal—and to execute judgment on the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:17-40). God used fire to execute his judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24)—and Egypt (Exodus 9:23-24)—and the Israelites who made the golden calf (Exodus 32:20). God also instructed Israel to make offerings burned with fire to atone for their sins (Exodus 29:18).
• Now, at Pentecost, tongues of fire draw the crowds to the disciples and the message that they proclaim. Tongues of fire and speaking in tongues are miracles that proclaim God’s presence and validate the disciples’ status as God’s people—serving at God’s pleasure and by God’s power.
“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 4a). This is a theme that recurs throughout the Acts of the Apostles (2:38; 4:8, 31; 6:5; 7:55; 9:17; 11:24; 13:10).
Peter is the great preacher this day, but note the emphasis on the wider community of faith:
• “They were all with one accord” (v. 1).
• “Tongues like fire…were distributed to them, and one sat on each of them” (v. 3).
• “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 4).
In the past, God has set his Spirit on a chosen few, but in the era that begins with this first Christian Pentecost, God gives the Spirit to all who belong to the believing community.
The example of those first disciples at Pentecost offers lessons for us today:
• Their first order of business was proclamation. That remains the church’s first order of business today.
• Peter and the other disciples were taught the scriptures from early childhood, which gives their proclamation authority and depth. The church today has a responsibility to teach the scriptures to children and adults. In recent years, we have often acted as if it is important to teach the principles derived from Biblical stories rather than the stories themselves, but we need to recover a deep respect for the stories themselves and to insure that our children know them. Also in recent years, we have used the phrase “Bible study” to mean any kind of quasi-religious study—the study of a book by a Christian author—the study of self-help books such as Believe and Grow Thin. Too seldom do our Bible studies have anything to do with the Bible.
• The Spirit who brought life to the first Christian Pentecost continues to bring life to the church today.
• The early church’s response to their baptism was to devote “steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer” (2:42). That serves as an excellent four-point model for the church’s program today.
• The disciples came from behind closed doors to meet people where they were. So must the church today come out from its sanctuaries to confront people where they live.
“and began to speak with other languages” (glossais—tongues) (v. 4). Speaking in “other languages” at Pentecost is different from the speaking in tongues that Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians 12-14—and is probably different from the two occasions in Acts where people are said to speak in tongues (Acts 10:46; 19:6):
• At Pentecost, speaking in other languages is for the purpose of communication—making it possible for each person to understand in his or her own language. No interpretation is required. There is no record of apostles using this gift elsewhere in their missionary work, probably because it was unnecessary. Most Jews understood Aramaic and/or Greek.
• At Pentecost, the disciples were said “to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability to speak” (2:4). They are NOT said to be speaking in tongues. The word “tongues” appears in 2:3, but those are “tongues like fire”—symbols of the power that the Spirit has conferred on the disciples. To confuse those tongues of fire with speaking in tongues would constitute a distortion of the text.
• The speaking of tongues of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 12-14 is ecstatic speech that hinders communication unless an interpreter is provided. Paul regards it as a legitimate gift, but neither as the greatest gift nor as essential (1 Corinthians 13:1).
• There are numerous references in the book of Acts to Christians who have the Holy Spirit (2:4; 4:8, 31; 6:5, 10; 7:55; 8:17; 9:17; 10:19, 44-47; 11:15-17, 24, 28; 13:2, 4, 9, 52; 19:6; 20:23, 28; 21:4)—but on only three of those occasions is there any mention speaking in other languages (Acts 2:4) or speaking in tongues (Acts 10:46; 19:6). It is not clear whether the last two of those occasions (10:46; 19:6) constitute intelligible speech, such as that in Acts 2—or speech that requires an interpreter, such as that mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12-14. The fact that the speech in Acts 2 is not labeled as speaking in tongues leads me to believe that the speech in Acts 10 and 19 is a different phenomenon—more like the ecstatic speech of 1 Corinthians 1 12-14 than the intelligible speech of Acts 2.
The question is whether Pentecost involved a miracle of speaking, hearing, or both. Luke tells us that“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability (edidou apophthengesthai autos—was giving them to speak) to speak“ (v. 4), so it seems clear that it involved a speaking miracle. “because everyone heard them speaking in his own language“ (v. 6) suggests that there might have been a hearing-miracle as well—although this is not certain.
The church still proclaims the Gospel in many languages, but that usually requires the preacher to learn the language of those to whom he/she would preach.
ACTS 2:5-13. EVERYONE HEARD IN HIS OWN LANGUAGE
5Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under the sky. 6When this sound was heard, the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because everyone heard them speaking in his own language. 7They were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Behold, aren’t all these who speak Galileans? 8How do we hear, everyone in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, 10Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the parts of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabians: we hear them speaking in our languages the mighty works of God!” 12They were all amazed, and were perplexed, saying one to another, “What does this mean?” 13Others, mocking, said, “They are filled with new wine.”
This first call to discipleship takes place to “Jews, devout men, from every nation under the sky“ (v. 5). “Devout men” would be Jews who observe the law. It is natural that it would be devout Jews who would come to Jerusalem for this Pentecost observance “from every nation under the sky”. Only a devout Jew would go to the trouble and expense of a trip to Jerusalem for this festival. But their devoutness will not insure their salvation. Peter will later call them to repent and be baptized “for the forgiveness of sins” (2:38).
“When this sound was heard, the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because everyone heard them speaking in his own language“ (v. 6). Some scholars have noted that Pentecost reverses the curse of the Babel story, in which “Yahweh confused the language of all the earth…scattered them abroad on the surface of all the earth” (Genesis 11:9). But the confusion that took place at Babel was permanent. The miracle that took place at Pentecost was limited and temporary—designed to communicate in a special way for this crowd only.
Amazed and astonished, the people asked, “Behold, aren’t all these who speak Galileans?“ (v. 7). Judea, home of Jerusalem, is urbane, but Galilee is the “sticks.” The people of Jerusalem regard Galileans as country cousins—likeable enough, but unsophisticated—people whose dialect and manners mark them as different. They don’t expect much from Galileans—certainly not mastery of foreign languages. That’s why they are astonished when these Galileans start preaching in a dozen different languages.
Like the sound of wind and tongues of fire, these languages attract people’s attention. There is something compelling about hearing one’s own language while traveling far from home. Their ears perk up as they hear the Gospel proclaimed in their hometown vernacular.
“Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the parts of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians“ (vv. 9-11a). Luke not only tells us that the crowd has gathered “from every nation under the sky” (v. 5), but also lists the nations (shown below with present-day equivalents):
• Parthia = Northern Iran, southwest of the Caspian Sea
• Media = Northern Iran, southeast of the Caspian Sea
• Elam = Southwest Iran, near Kuwait, north of the Persian Gulf
• Mesopotamia = Iraq and eastern Syria
• Judea = The West Bank of Israel and west to the Mediterranean
• Cappadocia = Eastern Turkey
• Pontus = Northern Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) on the Black Sea
• Asia = Western Asia Minor (Turkey)
• Phrygia = West-central Asia Minor (Turkey)
• Pamphylia = Southern Asia Minor (Turkey)
• Egypt = Northeast Africa on the Mediterranean
• Libya = West of Egypt on the Mediterranean
• Cyrene = A small part of Libya on the Mediterranean
• Rome = Rome, Italy
• Crete = A large Greek island located southeast of mainland Greece
• Arabs = Saudi Arabia
To see the scope of the nations involved, look at a modern map of the area. Start with Rome, and move east to Turkey and Iran—then move west and south through Iraq and Saudi Arabia—then move west through Egypt and Libya—and then move north across the Mediterranean to Rome. You will find that you have traced a rough circle with Judea and Jerusalem at the center.
As we will see later in this chapter (2:41), three thousand members of this crowd will be baptized at the conclusion of Peter’s sermon. We can be sure that they carried the word of their Pentecost experience—and their testimony to Jesus—to all of the places listed above—and more.
In a day when Roman rule imposed its rule on all these peoples, this list of nations points to a day in the future when Christ will reign in the hearts of men and women throughout the world.
“we hear them speaking in our languages the mighty works of God“ (v. 11b). All are amazed to hear in their own languages. It is clear that they understand, because they speak of a message of “the mighty works of God” (v. 11). However, while they understand the language, they are not sure of its meaning (v. 12).
Some of the bystanders mock the disciples, saying, “They are filled with new wine” (v. 13). “New wine” could mean unfermented grape juice (Richards, 628), in which case the mockers would be saying, “They got drunk on grape juice”—or it could mean wine that has only recently been fermented (Myers, 1058; Bromiley, 1069), in which case the mockers are accusing the disciples of being drunk. In either case, they intend their mockery to discount the testimony of the disciples.
ACTS 2:14-15. LISTEN TO MY WORDS
14But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spoke out to them, “You men of Judea, and all you who dwell at Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to my words.15For these aren’t drunken, as you suppose, seeing it is only the third hour of the day.”
Peter’s speech is divided into three parts. Verses 14-21 interpret the speaking in tongues of Pentecost in the light of a quotation from the prophet Joel. Verses 22-32 present the kerygma (a Greek word meaning the proclamation of the Good News of Christ). Verses 33-36 establish the relationship between the coming of the Spirit with the Good News of Jesus Christ (Chance, 51).
“But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spoke out to them“ (v. 14a). After the death of Judas Iscariot, we heard of “the eleven” (Luke 24:33), but with the addition of Matthias, the eleven became the twelve once more (1:26). “Peter, standing up with the eleven” means Peter plus the other eleven apostles.
It is interesting that Peter should be the preacher on this great occasion. Only seven weeks earlier, he denied Christ three times (Luke 22:56-62). During those seven weeks, Peter and the other disciples were transformed by their encounters with the risen Christ. Now, in Jerusalem, Peter and the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the power behind this sermon. The Spirit is responsible for the crowd’s overwhelming response.
“For these aren’t drunken, as you suppose, seeing it is only the third hour of the day“ (v. 15). Peter deflects humor with humor, saying that it is much too early in the day to be drunk. This is “the hour of morning prayer, before which a Jew would not eat”—much less get drunk (Macgregor, 43).
ACTS 2:16-21. SPOKEN THROUGH THE PROPHET
16But this is what has been spoken through the prophet Joel:
17‘It will be in the last days, says God,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.
Your sons and your daughters will prophesy.
Your young men will see visions.
Your old men will dream dreams.
18Yes, and on my servants (Greek: doulos—servants or slaves) and on my handmaidens in those days,
I will pour out my Spirit, and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders
(Greek: terata—from teras) in the sky above,
and signs on the earth beneath;
blood, and fire, and billows of smoke.
20The sun will be turned into darkness,
and the moon into blood,
before the great and glorious day of the Lord comes.
21It will be, that whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
Peter quotes Joel 2:28-32, where Joel prophesied that God would pour out his Spirit “on all flesh” (v. 17b). Peter alters and reinterprets Joel’s words to point to the salvation that comes to “whoever will call on the name of the Lord“ (v. 21). For the time being, that included Jews and proselytes only. Beginning with Acts 10, God will open the door to include Gentiles as well.
“It will be in the last days“ (v. 17a). The phrase “last days” is eschatological (having to do with the end of time). It is similar to the phrase “the Day of the Lord”—a day that will bring judgment to the guilty and deliverance to the faithful.
“that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (v. 17b). Until now, God bestowed his Spirit on a few favored individuals, but this first Christian Pentecost is the beginning of a new era in which God “will pour out (his) Spirit on all flesh”. If the bestowal of the Spirit was an occasional sprinkling in the era just past, it will be a deluge in the era just begun.
These words of Joel embrace a wide spectrum of people—all flesh—your sons and your daughters—your young men and your old men—my slaves, both men and women (vv. 17-18). Note the subtle shift that occurs in the last grouping. It was YOUR sons and daughters and YOUR young men and old men, but it is MY slaves, both men and women. The Lord has a special place in his heart for those who render him faithful service.
“Yes, and on my servants (Greek: doulos––servants or slaves) and on my handmaidens in those days“ (v. 18a). The Greek doulos can be translated servants or slaves. Since it refers to those who serve the Lord, it might best be translated servants.
“I will pour out my Spirit, and they will prophesy” (v. 18b). The connection with Pentecost is clear in this verse, because this is what happened at Pentecost. God poured out his Holy Spirit on Peter and the other disciples, and they began to prophesy (began to proclaim a message from God).
“I will show wonders (terata) in the sky above, and signs on the earth beneath” (v. 19a). Verse 19 parallels what Jesus said earlier:“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines, and plagues in various places. There will be terrors and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:10-11).
The word “tereta” (wonders) is parallel to the word “signs,” and has much the same meaning. Tereta are omens or wonders intended to signal that something significant is about to happen. We will see these portents and signs in the heaven above and on the earth below—another way of saying that we will see them everywhere—in all creation. These portents and signs will be a heavenly drum-roll designed to get our attention.
Some of these signs, announced by the prophet Joel as future events, have already taken place. As Jesus died, ” darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.”—a portent in the heaven above (Luke 23:44-45). An earthquake signaled his death (Matthew 27:51-54) and another earthquake signaled his resurrection (Matthew 28:2)—signs on the earth below. The sound of a violent wind and tongues, as of fire, appeared at Pentecost (2:1-4). But the church will experience further signs in the future. An earthquake will free Paul and Silas from a Philippian prison cell (16:26).
But this verse looks more to the future than to the past. These signs will announce the coming of the Day of the Lord, an eschatological (end of time) event that will bring judgment to the guilty and deliverance to the faithful. There are numerous references in the prophets to the Day of the Lord (Isaiah 13:6, 9; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Amos 5:18, 20; Obadiah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:7, 14; Malachi 4:5). Most of these references emphasize God’s wrath, but some also include a note of vindication.
“blood, and fire, and billows of smoke” (v. 19b). These signs have an ominous character, and warn of impending judgment.
“The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord comes” (v. 20). The ominous character of these signs confirms the judgmental intent of verse 19. The “great and glorious day of the Lord” is another way of saying “the Day of the Lord.” These ominous signs will announce the coming of that “great and glorious day.”
When he speaks these words, Peter is still a Jew addressing Jews, and his vision is not as broad as his words suggest. At Pentecost, Peter understands “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” (v. 21) to mean only those who embrace the Jewish faith. The Holy Spirit inspires him in chapter 2 to say words that open the door farther than he understands. As time passes, the Spirit will reach out to “all flesh,” including Gentiles. Peter will not understand that until his rooftop experience in Acts 10. It will literally take an act of God to broaden his vision.
“whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved“ (v. 21). The fulfillment of this prophecy will begin within the hour when three thousand people will call upon the name of the Lord and will be saved (v. 41). That mass baptism will be just the beginning. These three thousand are from “every nation under the sky” (v. 5). The majority, probably two thousand, are pilgrims from other lands. They will return to their homes, forever changed by their Pentecost baptism. The spark that they carry in their hearts will spread Pentecost fire far and wide.
The fire continues to spread. Churches in the United States and other western nations have sent missionaries to Asia and Africa. Now Koreans are sending missionaries to the United States. Old denominations wane, but new denominations rise to take their place. New converts revitalize old denominations. Christians sometimes face great obstacles, but persevere in the faith that “whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v. 21).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2015, Richard Niell Donovan