Acts 2:1-36
 Empowered for God's Mission

Copyright 2008, American Journal of Biblical Theology   Scripture quotes from KJV

Have you ever felt a great desire to serve God, but were hesitant to do so because you felt unprepared, unqualified, or unempowered?   Actually, one can probably come up with many reasons for feeling inadequate for the task of ministry, and if we waited until we felt we were ready, we would never step out into the Kingdom work to which we are called.  Certainly, in order to complete any task of consequence, one must be prepared. 

When we take on a secular task we focus our preparation on gathering together the resources needed to complete the task.  Such resources include training, planning, tools, time, opportunity, etc.  When engaged in a secular task we will gather those resources and then commence the work, yet only after finding the empowerment to do so.  When we take on that secular task we find our empowerment to complete that task in the network of authorities in this secular and pagan world.  One may be empowered for the task simply because the work is an expected part of one's employment.  One might find empowerment in their own confidence and desire to complete the task.  We find these sources of empowerment within ourselves and within the network of relationships and authorities we are immersed in.

All of these sources of empowerment are also valuable as one prepares for a spiritual task.  However, there is a significant difference between becoming prepared to take on a secular task and taking on a spiritual task.  When an individual has placed his/her faith in God, the Holy Spirit comes to live in their heart, becoming the primary source of empowerment for any task.  One could probably argue that any task that a faithful believer takes on is a spiritual task, since the Spirit of God is such a great part of a believer's strength, guidance, and inspiration.  When one comes to faith in God, one is given the same power of God that created the universe: the Holy Spirit.  Consequently, when a Christian takes on any task from the mundane to the marvelous, it is appropriate that the work is led by the Holy Spirit, providing the worker with the blessing, guidance, and resource of God's power.

If there was any time that the church needed the resource of the Holy Spirit's power, it was in the period of its infancy when the gospel was first spread among the communities of the ancient near-east.  In the first chapter of the book of Acts, the Lord had commanded the Apostles to take the gospel to the entire world.  However, as we observe the character of the Apostles, it may be surprising to think that this group could do such a thing.  As we study the gospels we find the Apostles to be confused, doubting, and lacking in any real evangelistic skills.  The source of their inability was simple:  though they had spent three years learning under Jesus' teaching, they were not yet given the power of the Holy Spirit that was necessary to complete the spiritual task.  Though the Apostles received the Holy Spirit in the upper room shortly after Jesus' resurrection (John 20:22), Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come and empower them and the remaining disciples for the task.  Jesus instructed them to stay together in Jerusalem and wait.  Wait, they did.

Acts 2:1.

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

The celebration of the harvest feast of Pentecost was approaching. Also called the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of Firstfruits, the celebration had origination in Lev. 23:15-21. The purpose of the feast was to acknowledge and thank God for the harvest.

Lev. 23:16,21. Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD. … 21And ye shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be an holy convocation unto you: ye shall do no servile work therein: it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.

Why did Jesus command the disciples to wait? Why did He not call down the Holy Spirit immediately and empower the disciples before He was ascended? God had a better plan. The feast of Pentecost was about to take place, and this would be an opportune time for this event. The disciples were obedient in waiting, as the first chapter reveals. They prayed and fellowshipped with one another. However, with Pentecost came the mandate that nobody would work.

Numbered 50 days after the Sabbath of the Passover, it would be a Sunday when the disciples and others would be drawn to be working. Instead, because of the celebration, it was natural that they would again be together, and this time at the beginning of the day. Why would they gather together at the beginning of the day? After the sun rose, they would get together to start making preparations for the feast, and all-day event. Furthermore, people would be gathering in Jerusalem from all around the region for this feast, one of three held throughout the year; one of these is the Passover. The commission to spread the gospel to the whole world would be jump started by the presence of so many visitors into Jerusalem. God had set up the circumstances for His plan.

Acts 2:2-3.

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

The details pertaining to what exactly happened at this Pentecost preparation are unclear, but it is certainly interesting to investigate and speculate. There were initially two events that were witnessed by each of the people who were in attendance. First there was a sound that filled the room, a sound is described as like the roar of a might wind. Note that it is not a wind that is described, but a sound like a wind.  We find references to similar sounds in the Revelation of John (e.g. 1:15).  The sound the disciples heard could have been that of the praises of thousands of angels, or the praises of the New Jerusalem, the redeemed church praising through eternity.

The second event was the presence of God’s Holy fire, the Shekinah glory of God. The words "cloven tongues" describe a fire that came and then split off from a central point and came to rest on all of those who were there. Who was gathered here? The context provided in the first chapter would tell us that the group included the 11 Apostles, Matthias (the 12th chosen apostle, Acts 1:26), The mother of Jesus and her sons, and the others who had been with them for the past three years, numbering about 120. Herein we see the tongues of fire resting on all of them. Each received the same presence of the Holy Spirit. Peter received the same Spirit as Matthias, as Mary, as each person there. We have further evidence of the nature of the group prophesied in Joel 2:28-32 when God’s Spirit is poured out upon "all flesh." God’s Spirit is not reserved for the pious. It is not just priests, bishops, or pastors who are filled with the Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit is given to all people to receive by faith in Him.

A great deal of importance has been placed on the presence of the sound and the fire at Pentecost. However, it is hard to ignore the experience of Elijah that is recorded in 1 Kings 19. God called Elijah to go to Mount Horeb and fast for 40 days. At the end of the fast, Elijah came to the entrance of the cave he was in and…

1 Kings 19:11b-12. Behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: 12And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

The wind and fire would serve to announce God’s presence, but it was not God. The wind and the fire were marvelous manifestations of God's glory, but it lacked God’s power. The true power was to come to Elijah through the still-small voice of the Holy Spirit that would speak through Elijah's heart.  The true power of God was still to come at Pentecost, so let’s not put too much emphasis on the sound and fire.

Acts 2:4a.

And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost,

The real power of God is demonstrated in the first part of verse 4. What happened? They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. God has created man with a need for Himself. Throughout history, there is no example of a civilization of mankind, without regard to its remoteness from others, that has not in some way sought God. A knowledge that God exists is somehow an instinctive part of our knowledge base, a knowledge that God gave us when we were created. With that knowledge comes a need to know God, a need that is paired by God’s plan that we do come to know Him personally if we will acknowledge Him and place our trust in Him. The absence of that knowledge leaves what has been referred to by some (e.g. Jonathan Edwards) as a "God-shaped" hole in our lives. It is a hole that people search throughout their world to fill, but it is a hole that can only be filled by God’s Holy Spirit.

What happens when God’s Spirit enters and fills that place in a person’s soul that has been reserved for that purpose? With the Spirit comes God’s power to do His work. Some of that includes knowledge. Things of God are foolishness to those who lack the Spirit to bring context and understanding of God that comes from no other source to those who have been filled.

1 Cor. 2:14. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

1 Cor. 1:18,23. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. … 23But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

These who were gathered together for the Pentecost celebration had spent three years under Jesus’ teaching, and the testimony of their lives to this point makes it very clear that they did not understand Jesus' instruction. Whether their memories of their experience was preserved by God or by their own innate ability, the experience of the infilling of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost gave them immediate and complete understanding. Not only were they now able to understand what Jesus had taught them, they were able to teach and instruct others in a powerful way, in a way that is empowered only through the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:4b.

and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

What happened immediately upon their being filled with the Spirit? The Holy Spirit gave them the miraculous ability to speak in other tongues.  This one event of the Pentecost event probably gets the most attention than any other, a reasonable response because of its miraculous appearance, but possibly unfortunate if attention on the speaking in tongues overshadows the far more important event of the filling of the Holy Spirit.  The wording used to describe this event is very clear. The disciples are described as speaking other languages. Again, we should not get too sidetracked by this issue, since their speaking in other tongues is not the focal event of Pentecost by any means. Their speaking in other languages was used by God to take God’s plan for the event to the next step.

Some argue that they were speaking in a form referred to in the Greek as glossalalia. An ecstatic utterance, a wordless gibberish, that is as common today as it was in their day. Even the prophets of Baal uttered in this way prior to their dual with Elijah. It is this word, glossalalia, that Paul uses in 1 Cor. 12 and 14 when he scolds the church for using the speaking in tongues as a badge of proud piety, a mistake made by many Christians today. This is not the issue in this verse, because the disciples were clearly speaking in languages that people could understand. This position is made quite clear in the next verses, and the purpose for the miraculous speech is clearly shown.

Acts 2:5-13.

And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. 6Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. 7And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? 8And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? 9Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, 10Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, 11Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. 12And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? 13Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.

There are at least three primary camps of thought concerning what happened at this event:

(1). The disciples were actually speaking Aramaic, and the miracle was one of hearing, since each person heard in the language of their birth home (Verse 8).  Some disagree on the argument that there are more languages mentioned than there are Apostles. This argument is in error, because the number of speakers could have been well over 120, including the Apostles and all of the disciples.

(2). The disciples were speaking in glossalalia, that was then reinterpreted in the ears of the faithful hearers by the miraculous hearing in the language of their birth home. This position is further defended by the inability of the unfaithful mockers to understand. (Verse 12)

(3). The disciples were, indeed, given a period of miraculous knowledge of the language and were speaking in a target language. For each to have heard (Verse 5), they would have been gathered together in groups according to their birth, not likely since they all spoke a mixture of their own language, Aramaic, and Greek.

It is neither important or necessary to take a position on this event. It is useful to witness the power of the Holy Spirit demonstrated for a purpose. Was the purpose of the speech to fill the disciples with pride?  Was the purpose of the speech to prove to one another that they were filled with the Spirit?  Such purposes are self-centered and pride-filled. Again, this is a mistake made by Christians today, and because of the presence of such misuse of glossalalia, many Christians avoid it, this writer included. I do not need the temptation of pride that such an event could engender.

What was God’s purpose for this event? We see its simple purpose in verse 12. The people were all amazed, they expressed doubt, and were asking what this means. Apparently, upon being filled with the Spirit the group spilled out into the streets from the house within which they were sitting. They wanted to tell everyone they met of the wonderful message of Christ that they now fully understood, and that now filled them with excitement. The people did not necessarily respond to the message they were communicating. The people, however, did respond in amazement that these Galileans were communicating this in their own languages. Their attention was focused, and they were interested in finding out just what was going on. By this point the disciples were fully engaged in the event, and the people were ready to listen.

Usually when it was time for an apostle to step in, who would be the first?  Peter. Peter’s personality often got him in trouble when his impetuosity would lead him to willingly jump in to save the day. The situation was primed for Peter’s usual entry. However, this time something was very different. Peter grieved greatly over his own lack of ability when he left Jesus during His passion. No doubt he remembered the forgiveness that Jesus demonstrated upon His resurrection. Now, Peter again steps in, but this time he is not led by his own ability. His strong and confident personality is now empowered by the Holy Spirit, and something quite wonderful happens.

Acts 2:14-21.

But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: 15For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. 16But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; 17And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: 18And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: 19And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: 20The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: 21And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

What did Peter do? Rather than make an immediate fool of himself, He started to preach a powerful sermon. The book of Acts contains several complete sermons given by both Peter and Paul. This sermon is an example of what scholars refer to as "apostolic preaching." It is a style that includes four distinct parts to the message:

This apostolic form of preaching was effective in the early church, as it is still effective today. It is most effective when used to preach to people who believe that the Biblical scriptures are true. Many people today believe the truth of scripture but deny its application in their lives, or deny that Jesus is the Messiah. Those to whom Peter was speaking believed the truth of the Old Testament scriptures and only needed to be convinced that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah. That was the intent of Peter’s sermon. He sought to explain what was happening, and the Holy Spirit revealed to him that this event was rrophesied in Joel, so he calls upon those who are there to listen. He brings attention to the miraculous speech that is taking place and points out that these people are not drunk. It is only 9:00AM. The drinking part of the feast will not take place until much later in the day.

Peter then recites the passage from Joel 2:28-32. He states that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on the people, and these people are prophesying, both men and women. They are telling of the great goodness and riches of God. They are revealing God’s great truth to people. Their prophecy is leading to one, important, truth:  that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

What does it mean to call upon the name of the Lord? Does this mean that if a lost man falls off the top of a building and just before impact screams "Oh Christ" he will be saved? After all, one of the names of Jesus is The Christ, the Messiah. To understand the act of salvation, we must understand that this word "name" is always used in connection to Jesus’ part in salvation. Nowhere in scripture are people instructed to "call on Jesus." It is always stated in the form, "call on the name of Jesus." What is the name of Jesus? In their vocabulary this word, name, means much more than it typically does to us. A name was given that described the one who is named. Consequently, to believe on the name of Jesus is to believe on all that Jesus is. That includes all that God has ordained in Him, including His position as Lord. It is not until we trust in His lordship over us, are we saved. Even Satan believes every truth about Jesus, and as a result he trembles. (James 2:19). The difference is Lordship. Shouting Jesus’ name will not save the falling lost man, but trusting in Jesus as his Lord and Savior will.

Acts 2:22 - 28.

Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: 23Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: 24Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. 25For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: 26Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: 27Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. 28Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance.

Peter had completed the first section of his apostolic sermon, announcing that the day of the Lord had come. Then, again using the scriptures, Peter refers to King David’s prophesy concerning the coming Messiah. The people had misunderstood who the coming Messiah would be, and none were more misguided than the Apostles themselves. Even immediately prior to Jesus ascension, the disciples wanted to know when Jesus would take over the government and rid Israel of its enemies (Acts, Chapter 1.) With the coming of the Holy Spirit, they now understood what the Kingdom was that Jesus was teaching, and now Peter is about to communicate this to the crowd. First he must establish that Jesus is the Messiah that David was prophesying about. He described Jesus who was taken by the religious leaders and crucified, yet raised to life again (verse 24). Peter shows how David’s Psalm 16:8-10 points to Jesus’ resurrection.

Acts 2: 29-36.

Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. 30Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; 31He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. 32This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. 34For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, 35Until I make thy foes thy footstool. 36Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.

Peter continues to defend the fact that Jesus is resurrected, and his resurrection was the indication, the sign, that He is, indeed, the Messiah. Think back to the events that took place 50 days prior. Jesus was placed on the cross, and at this same hour the people were asking Jesus for a sign. They said "come down from the cross, and we will believe." What did Jesus do? He had predicted that he would be crucified, and then rise again on the third day. Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled the sign that was prophesied by David and requested by the people at Golgotha. Peter is using this argument to convince the people that Jesus is the Messiah.  Jesus is the Lord and the Christ.

What was it that changed the disciples from a disorganized band of confused, self-centered, and worldly people into an organized fellowship of empowered believers, from speaking in ignorance to speaking with the authority of the word, the logos, of God? It was the filling of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, what is necessary for a person to make the same change? It is the filling of the Holy Spirit. As the book of Acts continues, we see how the Holy Spirit fills the life of every believer at the point of their salvation. Before anyone can speak and act with the authority of God’s word, they must be saved. The salvation experience is empowered only by the Holy Spirit, and at the point of salvation, God’s Spirit comes in and fills that "God-shaped hole." Only then can the person fully understand God’s inspired Word. God’s word is no longer foolishness to one who is filled with the Holy Spirit. It now has the power of salvation to all people. The Holy Spirit then inspires us to desire a closer relationship to God and a better understanding of His word so that we can be of more use to God in His plan for mankind.

What was it that opened the door for Peter to preach Christ? The lost people saw something in the lives of the disciples that they did not understand. This should remind us to be ready to bear witness to the purpose for our joy. When people respond to God’s love in us, we should be ready to tell them where this love comes from. When people see the fruits of the spirit demonstrated in our lives, and they comment on it, we have an opportunity to tell them the source of that fruit. Always be ready to give a testimony as Peter did at the event of Pentecost.

We also remember how Peter acted before Pentecost, and how he acted afterward. We should be reminded that, without the power of the Holy Spirit in our own lives, we will act like the pre-Pentecost Peter who relied on his own power to do God’s work. What was the inevitable result of such an act? Paul always fell far short of what God could have done with him. It is only when we rely on the Holy Spirit that we can be used of God, and then, because of God’s mighty power, He can use us in a mighty way, in a way that is worthy of our calling as minister’s of Christ’s gospel in this world.

Finally, never cease to thank and praise God for the gift of the Holy Spirit that was received at the Pentecost event, and is received by every believer at the point of salvation. Unlike those under Old Testament grace, who saw the Holy Spirit come and then leave, we have the assurance that the Spirit will never leave us. Since Pentecost, the Holy Spirit has never left the life of a single believer, though believers have often fallen away from their zeal and stifled the Spirit in our lives. Let us remain sensitive to the call of the Holy Spirit in our lives so that we can continue to grow in Him. As we do, we will realize more and more the joy and the abundant life that God has prepared for us.