Pentecost is remembered as the day the church was born. Yet Pentecost is more.
The events that transpired that day reveal much about what the church was, is still to be, and will continue to be until all the redeemed are gathered in eternal praise around the throne of God.
In the events of that day, we see how the church is to proclaim the gospel. Focusing on the proclamation of the gospel, this passage reveals that it is by the power of the Spirit, for the sake of the nations, and, finally, in the languages of the nations.
What was Pentecost?
The second chapter of Acts opens with the disciples gathered on the day of Pentecost. Pentecost was a major festival in the Jewish religious calendar.
The festival is called Pentecost in Greek based on the Greek word for fiftieth, referring to the fiftieth day after the second day of Passover. In Hebrew, however, the festival is call Shavuot.
At Pentecost, pilgrims traveled to Jerusalem to present a free-will offering. This offering was to commemorate the completion of the grain harvest.In the narrative in Acts, Jesus Christ told his disciples to wait for the promised Holy Spirit in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4). He also said that when the Spirit came, they were to be his witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8). After telling his disciples these things, he ascended into heaven.
On the day of Pentecost, early in the morning, the disciples were gathered in a house, possibly the same house they had been in since the Passover. It is likely that they were all present, upwards of one hundred and twenty, to worship and observe the festival.
A New Pentecost
While they were sitting together, a sound like rushing wind came down and filled the whole house. Tongues of fire appeared, resting above each of their heads. The Holy Spirit had descended and was among them. The Spirit moved them to speak in languages they didn’t know!
At this moment, it appears that they moved from their house into the street and toward the Temple, with a new kind of offering. An offering of praise and testimony about Jesus Christ. As they moved through the streets proclaiming the “mighty deeds of God”, pilgrims from various nations recognized that these Jews were speaking their own languages.
By the time they reached the Temple, there was a great stir and amazement. The pilgrims realized that the disciples were speaking the languages of the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, referring to the languages of the Parthian Empire such as Aramaic and Parthian.
Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia are also mentioned. Pilgrims from these regions of modern-day Turkey may have spoken Greek, Galatian, and Armenian.
Rome, Cyrene, Egypt, and Arabia are also mentioned. Jews and converts alike come from these regions, probably speaking Latin, Greek, Coptic, and Arabic.While the pilgrims were amazed to see such praise in their own languages from the lips of Jews who didn’t belong to their groups, others were mocking them.
A New Message at Pentecost
At this moment, Peter stepped forward to address the mockers, who were comprised mainly of Jews from Judea and Jerusalem. It’s not surprising that these Jews would be the most offended by the event, since they were used to the pilgrims coming to celebrate in the language of Jerusalem, not the languages of the nations.
Peter first dismissed the charge that his fellow disciples were drunk by referring to the early time of the day. He noted it was only 9:00 am in the morning. He then announced that the events of that morning were nothing less than the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Peter then launched into a message about Jesus Christ, calling the audience to repent and be baptized in his name. No doubt, the other disciples also exhorted the crowds to put their faith in Jesus.
By the end of the day, approximately three thousand have been baptized. On that day, the church was born.
Reflecting on the events recorded in Acts 2, there are three key observations to make about the church and the proclamation of the gospel.
1. The church proclaimed the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit
Before ascending to heaven, Jesus told his disciples to wait for the Spirit, and with the power of the Spirit, they would be his witnesses (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8). The disciples are instructed not to attempt this task in their own strength, but to wait for the power of the Spirit.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter proclaimed in Acts 2:33 that he and his fellow disciples had “received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit” and that it was the Spirit that “poured forth this that you both see and hear.”Note that Peter understood that the Spirit brought about the events of that day. It was not their strength or planning, but the Spirit’s work as a fulfillment of Christ’s promise. And it was, ultimately, a fulfillment of God’s prophetic message from Joel.
With the promised Spirit comes power, but not just any power. It was the power to prophesy. In this context, we see it was the power to preach boldly the message of God.
Peter also noted that the Spirit was giving all of the disciples, both men and women, the power to prophesy. To that end, he quoted the prophet Joel in Acts 2:17, saying, “even upon my bond slaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of my spirit and they shall prophesy.”
2. The church proclaimed the gospel to the nations
Before returning to the Father, Jesus reminded the disciples that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and in the remotest parts of the earth (Acts 1:4). In so doing, he was reiterating his directive for them to make all nations his disciples (Matt 28:18).
A few weeks earlier, when Jesus appears to his disciples on a mountain in Galilee, he declared that he had all authority in heaven and on earth. And with that authority, he commissioned his disciples to go to the nations and make disciples from among all of them, both baptizing them and teaching them all that they had received from him (Matt 28:18-20).
It is striking that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, a festival when thousands of pilgrims would be in Jerusalem. In so doing, the disciples would be able to proclaim the gospel to pilgrims who would, in turn, take the gospel message home to their respective corners of the Jewish diaspora. Moreover, Gentile converts to Judaism were among the pilgrims, especially from Rome (Acts 2:11). So, on that day, the gospel went to those who were outside ethnic Israel.
Thus, from the very beginning of the church, the disciples proclaimed the gospel to a diverse group of Jewish and Gentile pilgrims who, in turn, would assist in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ beyond Jerusalem and Judea to the remotest corners of the earth.
3. The church proclaimed the gospel in the languages of the nations
Among the miraculous events of Pentecost, the most misunderstood is the speaking in the languages of the nations. In Acts 2:4, the disciples spoke in “other languages,” meaning human languages that they didn’t know. In addition, it says that the Holy Spirit enabled them to do this, underscoring the miraculous nature of their speaking.
Furthermore, in the record of the response of the pilgrims, we learn that they heard the disciples speaking their own languages (Acts 2:6). To further establish that they were speaking the languages of the visitors to Jerusalem, a pilgrim’s eyewitness testimony is given in which he recounts twice that the disciples spoke in languages associated with various parts of the world, but not Galilee (Acts 2:7-11).
To bring even more specificity to his account of the events, the eyewitness mentions the various regions that the pilgrims traveled from. Based on the list, it’s possible that fifteen distinct languages may have been spoken by the disciples.
Regardless of the number, the various groups of pilgrims were all hearing the mighty deeds of God proclaimed in their languages.
What were these “mighty deeds of God”? There were probably two key topics: the promised Spirit and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In fact, these are the two central topics of Peter’s sermon. He defended everything that was happening as the work of the Spirit and as evidence that Christ was resurrected from the dead. Then Peter made his main point: because of the work of the Spirit and the resurrection of Christ, the crowds needed to repent, because they had nailed Christ to the cross and were utterly guilty.
One fascinating thing is that this sermon–one of the greatest sermons of all time–was apparently delivered in Greek. Peter could have preached in Aramaic or even in Hebrew, as this was Jerusalem. But instead, Peter preached in Greek.
Why? Greek was the language of the Jewish diaspora and much of the world as they knew it at that time.
Ultimately, the Holy Spirit worked through Peter and the disciples in such a way that all those who were assembled heard the gospel in their own languages.
It was good news for the nations, for them to hear and comprehend as well as for them to take with them to their own communities in turn.
On Pentecost, the church was born. It was a work of the Holy Spirit, accomplished through the disciples as they proclaimed the gospel to the crowds in their own languages.
The gospel was proclaimed in the language of the nations so that they might understand and put their faith in Christ, as they did, with three thousand being baptized as a result.
And the implications of the events of that day reverberate to the present, and the last echoes will still be heard around the throne of God in the eternal praise of the nations.
In the second post in this two-part series, we’ll continue with the implications of Pentecost for us today.