Chances are that when you hear the word “Pentecost,” the things that come to your mind bear only the most passing resemblance to what is found in the second chapter of the book of Acts. You might think of the “sound like a mighty rushing wind” (v.2), or “tongues as of fire” (v.3), or the idea of “speaking in tongues” or other practices commonly associated with Pentecostal or Charismatic churches.
But those are not the things that are most emphasized in Acts chapter two, not by a long shot.
James Boice writes,
“If we read Acts 2 with our current interests in mind, the word that will probably jump out at us is “tongues.” But that is not the emphasis of the passage itself” (Acts: An Expositional Commentary, p.39).
Similarly, Michael Horton writes,
“Just as the Spirit’s presence in Christ’s ministry was identified with his proclamation of the gospel (Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-21), the consequence of the Spirit’s descent at Pentecost was not unrestrained pandemonium but the public proclamation of the gospel by Peter, with the other apostles standing at his side (Acts 2:14-36)” (The Gospel Commission, p.60).
As we will see, the thing that is most pronounced in Acts chapter two is not the miraculous speaking in some ecstatic, heavenly language, but rather the Spirit-empowered witness of the Cross and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ to men from all over the world.
What were the apostles doing when they were ‘speaking in other tongues’ (v.4)?
Acts 2:1-13 is very clear as to what was happening here. No less than three (3) times we are clearly told here what this ‘gift of tongues’ was. First v.5 tells us that “devout men from every nation under heaven” were dwelling in Jerusalem at the time. In other words, people who spoke many other languages were there. Then in v.6,8 & 11 we are told that the apostles were speaking in other languages – the languages of those devout men from every nation, not some mystical heavenly one. Verse six says that the crowd was bewildered “because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.”
Then in v.7-8 it says, “And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” Galileans, fairly or not, had the reputation of being uneducated, unsophisticated folks. And much like people with a Southern accent here in the U.S., their accent gave them away. So for them to suddenly be speaking in any number of foreign languages or dialects was remarkable.
Lastly, as if to really make the point, v.9-11 says,
“Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”
That is quite the list of nations (and languages), isn’t it? So the “tongues” mentioned here in Acts 2 were actual human languages that the disciples had never learned, but miraculously spoke.
If you are familiar with the book of Genesis, this list of nations and languages should remind you of something. Genesis 11 tells the story of the tower of Babel. Do you remember what the LORD did in order to disperse the people all over the face of the earth? He confused their languages (v.7, 9). Suddenly everyone was not speaking the same language, and so everyone separated from each other and different nations were formed. Pentecost marks the undoing or reversal of Babel! The gospel was now to go out to all the nations. Language, nationality, and race are no longer barriers to the gospel.
Pentecost has its roots in the Old Testament after the Exodus (the feast of weeks or firstfruits – Exodus 23:14-17; Deuteronomy 16:9-12). Just as Pentecost in the Old Testament was the feast marking the firstfruits of the harvest for the people of Israel, even so the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts marked the firstfruits of the ultimate harvest of the gospel of Jesus – the ingathering of converts from every nation under heaven (2:5).
Here in the book of Acts it also marks a monumental and enduring change in the church – a change which was promised and prophesied in the Old Testament – the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as prophesied in Joel 2:28-32. This change marked the beginning of the triumphant march of the gospel of Jesus through His church as it spread from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
And the gospel is still spreading that same way today – by the bold, Spirit-empowered witness of believers of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. That is how the Lord Jesus is building His church and continuing to make disciples even now in the 21st century!
So how do we know if we are Spirit-filled? How do we know if our church is marked by the power of Pentecost? Simple – we will be faithfully & boldly testifying to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
May we all be “Pentecostal” in the truest, most biblical sense of the word!