One of the most important New Testament events that reminds us of the fact that the Spirit of God is with us, upon us and in us is the Pentecost event. As an important event in the Christian calendar, it reminds us of how the Holy Spirit came upon the early disciples of Christ in a dramatic sense. Thus, the Pentecost event gives us the picture of how the Holy Spirit began to use the Apostles of Jesus and thus how the Church began. This study thus purposes to reflect on the significance of the Pentecost event as recorded in Acts 2:1-13. To do that, a brief historical background of the passage would be given. Thereafter, attempt is made to describe the text of Acts 2:1-13 and finally give the significance of the event to our Christian faith and practice.
The historical background of the Pentecost event
The notion of Pentecost has its root in the Old Testament. The Feast of Pentecost took place fifty days after the Feast of Firstfruits. The word “Pentecost” means “fiftieth.” This feast is described in Leviticus 23:15 – 21. Just as Passover is a picture of the death of the Messiah (1 Corinthians 5:7), and Firstfruits a picture of the resurrection of the Messiah (1 Corinthians 15:20 – 23), so Pentecost pictures the coming of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). The loaves of bread with leaven that were presented that day to some extent serves as a picture of the Church which is composed of Jews and Gentiles. The priest presented two loaves as a wave offering to the Lord. In 1 Corinthians 10:17, the church is pictured as a loaf of bread. The leaven in the bread speaks of sin yet in the church. There are two occurrences of the Spirit’s baptism in Acts: upon the Jews in Acts 2, and upon the Gentiles in Acts 10. The two loaves presented at Pentecost foreshadow these events.
The believers were waiting and praying as Jesus had commanded (Luke 24:49), and at the proper time, the Spirit descended. When the Spirit descended, the Spirit baptized them into one spiritual body in the Messiah (see Acts 1:4 – 5 and 1 Corinthians 12:13), and the Spirit filled them with power for witnessing (2:4). The sound of rushing wind reminds us of John 3:8 and of Ezekiel’s prophecy about the dry bones (Ezekiel 37). The tongues of fire symbolize the divine power that would speak for God. These tongues of fire are not to be confused with the baptism of fire mentioned in Matthew 3:11. For the baptism of fire mentioned there refers to the time of Israel’s tribulation. Since every believer is baptized by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13), it is more appropriate to pray for the infilling of the Holy Spirit.
Worth emphasizing here is that the believers spoke in tongues. They did not preach in tongues. Instead, they praised God in languages they did not naturally know (2:11). Apparently, they were in the Upper Room when the Spirit descended (Acts 2:2) but must have moved out to the temple courts where a great crowd gathered. The purpose of the gift of tongues was to impress the Jews with the fact that a miracle was taking place. In Acts 10:46, the Gentiles spoke with tongues as proof to the apostles that they had received the Spirit. In Acts 19:6, the Ephesian followers of John the Baptist spoke in tongues for the same reason.
Significance of the Pentecost event
Three main significance of the Pentecost event can be identified in this study. These are theological, ecclesiastical and practical importance. In other words, the Pentecost event gives us a picture of the nature of God and the church as well as how Christians are to live their lives. These three purposes are explained below.
Theological significance – It teaches us about the nature of God
The Pentecost event reminds us of the fact that God’s Spirit came upon all who had gathered to wait upon the promised Spirit. In the sovereignty of God, God sought to reach all by this outpouring of the Spirit. That is to both Jews and Gentiles alike. In this light, and in the first place the Pentecost event reminds us of the nature of God that God is the God of all flesh. God is the God of the rich and poor, the literate and the illiterate and the God of all races. Thus, in God exclusivist attitudes are to be avoided. In the second place, the Pentecost event reminds us that God fulfills promises. Jesus had instructed the disciples to wait for the promise. And in the faithfulness of God the Spirit came upon the believers. Relatedly, being faithful in fulfilling promises, Jesus’ promise of his second return will also come to pass.
Ecclesiological significance – It teaches us about the nature of the Church
The Pentecost event teaches us about the diverse nature of the Church as both spiritual and human organization. That in God’s wisdom the Church is a mystery. For the Spirit of God lives in the followers of Christ. This reminds us of our need to depend on the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that builds God’s Church. As human organization, we ought to plan and organize the Church as we do for any other human organization if we desire to see growth. Since the coming of the Spirit brought about diversity as reflected in the speaking in tongues or glossolalia, it reminds us again that the Church out to be diverse. The Pentecost event thus reminds us that we are to be open minded in terms of doing cross-cultural ministry in the Church.
Practically, the Pentecost event reminds us of what the church ought to be. For a meaningful Christian life, we ought to rely on the Spirit. The spirit helps us in our weakness, teaches us, guides us, helps us and intercede on our behalf. Again, the Spirit helps us to be confident and thus fills us with unction to function (Acts 1:8). Practically, it is worth noting that the coming of the Spirit upon the disciples was for a purpose. God blesses us for us to be a blessing. God anoints us to do something for God’s Kingdom. Last but not the least, as a practical implication, the Pentecost event reminds us to come out of our comfort zone. The pre-requisite to receiving the Spirit is waiting upon God. Walking with the Spirit requires a disciplined lifestyle. For the Spirit of God can be grieved.
This study on Acts 2:1-13 has sought to give important reflections on the Pentecost event. Reminding us of the coming of the Spirit on the early followers of Christ, the Pentecost event among others teaches us about the nature of God, the Church and practically how we are to live our lives as Christians. It is important to remind ourselves that we are to daily rely on the Spirit for meaningful Christian life. We are also to come out of our comfort zone in our desire to be filled by the Spirit and thus to do cross-cultural ministry.
- When was the feast of Pentecost celebrated?
- What Old Testament prophecy did the sound of the rushing wind (Acts 2:2) remind us?
- The Pentecost event reminds us of the nature of the Church. Explain.
- State and explain three main purposes of the Pentecost event.