A major festival season of the Church, the word “Pentecost” is a near transliteration of the Greek word meaning “fiftieth,” since this celebration comes fifty days after the Passover. In Judaism, it was the culmination of the Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22). Indeed, it is a culmination: The culmination of the work of Jesus the Christ. Good Friday and Easter yield Pentecost — a yielding of the firstfruits of the Garden in which Jesus was planted (buried) extending to the resurrection of thousands of human spirits on who the Holy Spirit was outpoured.

On this fiftieth day after His victory on Golgotha, from His throne on high, King Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to mark, claim, and indwell the people of God, that is, all those with allegiance to Jesus. Of all the things in Christianity, this is the one thing which underscores a demarcation from those who have not been baptized. In other words, Christians are precisely those people in whom the true and living God has given His Spirit. Keep this in mind throughout the preaching season of Pentecost.

What happens in this text is the historical record of gospel-fulfillment. It is not about a personal-Pentecost, spirit-gifts encounter. What takes place here in Acts 2 is so much grander.

Acts 2 recounts the epic unveiling of the mystery of Pentecost — the outpouring of the chief benefits Jesus of Nazareth won for humanity on His cross and through the empty tomb, for the Jew first but also the Gentile in fulfillment of the Scriptures. This is the life of God, resurrection life in sinners justified by divine grace on account of the Christ. It needs to be preached this way. It should be preached as an unrepeatable, one-off event signifying a monumental change in divine-human relations, even though the same Spirit and Christ-won benefits are conferred throughout the world from that day to this.

Pentecost, then, is a landmark in the history of redemption concerning an epoch-making mighty work of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jews and Gentiles—the nations of the earth represented here by a plethora of regional names, a listing of the nations, if you will—are from this point forward going to be included in God’s covenant family where once from the time of the Tower of Babel they had been excluded, exiled. Something new is taking place. Those who sat on the outside of God’s family welcome are now on the inside. What hallmarks them all as one in the Lord, is they shall all be indwelt by the Holy Spirit because they have been cleansed from unholiness by the blood of Christ.

What hallmarks them all as one in the Lord, is they shall all be indwelt by the Holy Spirit because they have been cleansed from unholiness by the blood of Christ.

What we have here is the debut showing of humanity “rehumanized” in the full likeness of God, possessing once again as in Eden the Holy Spirit within their persons. In other words, the day of Pentecost is the first day of paydirt for mankind in the new world order: Jew and Gentile, male and female, rich and poor ushered into the Kingdom of God from the kingdom’s of Pharaoh and Caesar. They are hallmarked by holy Baptism as the redeemed children of God, endowed with the Holy Spirit as proof they belong to the new and true Lord of Heaven and Earth, Jesus the Christ. So no, the disciples are not inebriated at 9am in the morning and Pentecost is not normative, at least, not normative in the same way. Instead, it is the event which jolts the world into taking note that something entirely new is taking place. God is coming to live in our midst through the indwelling Spirit of God gifted through the Word of Christ, because we have been reconciled by the blood of Christ. There is good news for all the world on Whit Sunday: The exile is over for Jews and Gentiles alike.

This is why Pentecost takes place during the climax of the Jewish Feast of Weeks, the time when the first fruits are offered to the Lord at the Temple. These first converts to God’s rightful king are the first fruits “devoted” to “the way” because they are presented within the Temple — the Body of Christ Himself.

Like all epoch-making mighty works of God, Pentecost was accompanied by a spectacular, miraculous occurrence to both authenticate the event as an act of the God of Israel and to serve as a meaningful symbol of the earth-shaking change taking place in world history. It is a symbol lifted straight from the prophetic word of the Old Testament prophets: Tongues of fire rested on each of the apostles. Moving on from the phenomenon of what seemed to be tongues of fire, we then find the stated effect in verses 5-12. People from the various parts of the Roman and Parthian empires heard “the wonders of God” in their “own tongues,” which apparently ought not to have been so. This explains why they were bewildered and amazed.

The most widely held interpretation of Acts 2 is it records a language miracle. This means it was necessary for God to miraculously intervene so all could recognizably hear the Pentecost message. The assumptions here have been:

  1. The crowd in Acts 2 spoke many different native languages.
  2. The disciples and apostles were unable to speak these native languages.
  3. Therefore, a language miracle was required either on the part of the disciples and apostles’ speaking or in their auditors’ hearing.

But considering the overarching story of Scripture, this so-called language miracle of tongues might be reconsidered. An examination of 2:1-13 reveals there is no reference to any specific language, let alone fifteen languages. The listing is of people-groups and geographical areas, not languages. The people groups are Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Cretans, and Arabs. The geographical areas mentioned are Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, “parts of Libya” near the city of Cyrene, and Rome (a city).

People from the various parts of the Roman and Parthian empires heard “the wonders of God” in their “own tongues,” which apparently ought not to have been so.

Keeping in mind, then, that the crowd assembled on Pentecost consisted of God-fearing Jews, and given the text delineates people-groups and geographical areas and that Peter addresses and interacts with them in one language without difficulty or translation, then we find two common languages that united these Jewish people-groups living in the Roman and Parthian empires: Greek and Aramaic.

Greek was the common language for the western provinces of the Roman Empire. Romans spoke Greek, not “Roman,” as their native tongue. Given this fact, it is no wonder Peter was able to address the crowd on the day of Pentecost without need for translation. Toward the East, the Jews who were “residents of Mesopotamia” spoke, not Mesopotamian, but Aramaic as their native tongue. Likewise, those Jews from Media, Arabia, Elam, and Palestine—where the disciples were from—would have spoken Aramaic as their first language, with Greek for many, if not all of them, as a second or third tongue.

What engendered bewilderment and (2:6-12) ridicule (2:13) was how the wonders of God were being declared in Aramaic and Greek, when these Galileans should have known that only Hebrew was permitted to be spoken when praying, singing, or speaking of God’s Word in the Temple. They were in violation of an established tradition.

Peter explains that what was taking place was the ministry of the Holy Spirit, not in giving the disciples “other tongues” to speak, but rather they spoke in other tongues, “...as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). This last word, “utterance,” is important because it refers to the kind of divinely authoritative speech characteristic of a prophet or similarly inspired person. Peter is not given a new language in 2:14. Instead, his speech is described as bold, authoritative, and inspired by the Spirit. The miraculous work of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost was about inspiring the Gospel message and empowering it with authority and efficacy, remarkably in Greek and Aramaic.

The real point of the tongues phenomenon lies not with spiritual endowments but in its redemptive historical significance (i.e., what it means concerning God’s promises to reclaim His global kingdom and its peoples, in this case, beyond the territorial borders of Israel, in the Gentile regions).

The real point of the tongues phenomenon lies not with spiritual endowments but in its redemptive historical significance.

Here, then, is the miracle of Pentecost. A sermon was given in the language of the Gentiles which even Gentiles could understand. God was now speaking and inviting those once-alienated Gentiles back into His family, back into covenant love with Him. The miracle of Pentecost was the Gospel being prophetically declared in the Courtyard of the Gentiles in a language understandable to the Gentiles themselves.

The mystery of Pentecost unveiled is that the Gentile nations, exiled from the covenant favor of God because of the audacity of the Tower of Babel and graphically scattered from His presence and confused in their languages so they could not understand His word, these people, the likes of you and me, are now welcomed in by the blood of Christ. We are welcomed in by way of an invitation spoken in our own language.

Pentecost is the reversal of the Babel exiling. It reverses the scattering and gathers in the Temple. It puts an end to the deafness and ignorance of non-Jews by preaching the Gospel of God’s grace, God’s welcome to all the world. If God was going to save the world, and reclaim His global kingdom, then the exiling, the confusion, the ignorance, and the scattering had to be ended. Pentecost signals this dramatic reversal in a spectacular way.

At the heart of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit launches the new Temple of the Lord — His holy Church.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Acts 2:1-21.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Acts 2:1-21.