The Event of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13)

The Event of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13)

The Event of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13)Pentecost is an important period of transition in which Jesus Christ, who had been present in the flesh would now be present by His Spirit. This is a once-for-all transition, and that should give anyone pause who wants to make what occurred at Pentecost the normative experience for the Church. Pentecost marks a transition from redemption accomplished by the Son to redemption applied by the Spirit.

In Acts 1, Jesus told the disciples to wait for the promise of the Father (1:4). They spent the days between His resurrection and Pentecost in continual praise (Luke 24:53) and prayer (1:14). Last week we looked at their replacing Judas (1:15-26).

Acts 2 breaks down into three units. First, Luke describes the event of Pentecost (1-13), followed by an explanation of Pentecost (14-41), and finally we see the effects of Pentecost upon the church (42-47). This morning we will focus on the first unit.

At Pentecost the disciples of Christ received the necessary empowering and enabling to carry out their commission. Although it was not the establishing of the Church as the covenant people of God, it was the inauguration of a new era in which the Holy Spirit would take on a more extensive and intensive role.

Before we read this passage let us look to the Lord in prayer for his help in understanding it.

Acts 2:1-13

This is the Word of the LORD.

As a reformed presbyterian, passages like this can be challenging. The miraculous activities in Scripture cause some to ask why we don’t see those same things happening today. Sure, there are plenty of claims about miraculous activity, but all of them pale in comparison to the events described in Scripture. We don’t see anything like seas parting, blind people receiving sight, or hundreds of people with miniature pillars of fire on top of their heads!

That Pentecost occurrs on an Old Testament feast day points us backwards and forwards in redemptive history. Pentecost is the final act of the saving ministry of Jesus before his return. It is the result of Christ’s atoning work as well as the enabling of the work that his church has been commissioned for.

Pentecost is an important period of transition in which Jesus Christ, who had been present in the flesh would now be present by His Spirit. This is a once-for-all transition, and that should give anyone pause who wants to make what occurred at Pentecost the normative experience for the Church. Pentecost marks a transition from redemption accomplished by the Son to redemption applied by the Spirit.

We begin to run into confusion when we place the emphasis upon the phenomena that accompanied this transition. We will talk about those signs and wonders this morning, but let us not lose sight of the big picture as we zoom in on some of its particulars. The primary purpose of Pentecost is to show how the disciples were enabled by the Spirit to carry out the mission of God.

We can break this scene down into two parts: First, we will look at The Event of Pentecost (1-4). Second, we’ll see The Response to Pentecost (5-13).

The Event of Pentecost (1-4)

In the opening verse we are told that it is the Day of Pentecost. This day is known as the “Feast of Weeks” in the Old Testament (Lev. 23:16-21; Deut. 16:9-12). It was characterized by a joyful remembrance of the Lord’s provision of that year’s harvest. This festival accounts for the presence of “devout” Jews from the surrounding nations (v.5). Pentecost is identified as the firstfruits anticipating the full harvest of the Spirit to come at Christ’s return. In other words, the coming of the Holy Spirit which will lead to the conversion of 3,000 people is a taste of the greater harvest to come.

Luke provides a description of three observable phenomena:

First, there was a sound like a mighty rushing wind. The same word is used for “spirit”, “wind”, and “breath” in Hebrew (ruach) and Greek (pneuma). Old Testament parallels: You might think of the storm that Moses entered to receive the law on Mt. Sinai (Exod. 19:16), or the whirlwind that passed by Elijah (1 Kgs. 19:11). But, from the very beginning (Gen. 1:2) we see the Spirit hovering over the waters before creation. We also see the breath that is breathed upon the dry bones (Ezek. 37).

In each case we see a sign of the Lord’s presence, but there is also an idea that something new is being formed. The wind symbolizes that a new creation is occurring. The wind’s activity ultimately leads to the mass conversion of 3,000 Jews. The spiritual lungs of the church has been filled up in order to proclaim God’s mighty work. Thomas notes, “Something of the end, the new order of existence, has thus broken through into this present space-time continuum. The breath of God has been felt.”⁠1

Second, there were tongues of fire resting on each believer. Old Testament parallel: Moses was called by God from a burning bush (Exod. 3). The pillar of fire that led the Israelites in the wilderness (Exod. 14:24). Again, as Moses was receiving the tables of the law on Mt. Sinai, we are told that the top of the mountain was “wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire (Exod. 19:18). But even more significant is how the pillar of cloud/fire rested on the tabernacle (Exod. 40:38).

Under the old covenant, God’s presence was localized in the temple, or temporarily filling God-fearing prophets, judges, and kings. But under the new covenant, the fire that once rested upon the tabernacle now rests upon the heads of everyone present. This was a visible sign of God’s presence, but it symbolized the inauguration of a new era when every believer would become a temple in which the Holy Spirit is known and experienced.

In addition, fire is representative of judgment. John the Baptist foretold of Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire. When he didn’t see the fire, he questioned Jesus (Luke 7:18-23). But what we discover is that the fire Jesus brought in his first coming was the wrath of God’s judgment that he himself would absorb on the cross.

The fire that rests upon these disciples does not consume them because Jesus “at the cross, endured on their behalf the judgment due to them (Luke 12:49-50).”⁠2 Instead of a curse, it now brought them blessing.

On the other hand, the fire of future judgment will come upon all who do not receive the Spirit. In fact, as we will see in the next point, through the speaking of tongues the nations are blessed. But that in itself points to the curse that has fallen upon the unbelieving Jews.

Pentecost is part of Christ’s ongoing ministry. As we see redemptive history carried out, we must be careful not to divorce the event of Pentecost from its Redemptive Historical purpose. Derek Thomas says, “This places a considerable criticism upon those who highlight the Holy Spirit apart from the Spirit’s role in drawing attention to Jesus Christ. Some aspects of Pentecostalism have erred precisely at this point.”⁠3

Pentecostalism is guilty of divorcing the Spirit from the work and purpose of the Lord who sent him. It is abundantly obvious that what took place on Pentecost was significantly different than the contemporary Pentecostal movement. For instance, if the sign of tongues were normative—as some suggest—shouldn’t we expect the sound of a rushing wind and the tongues of fire to be normative as well?

The third phenomenon, tongues of other languages, is elaborated in verses 5-13.

The Response to Pentecost (5-13)

The tongues at Pentecost were the ability to speak a foreign language. They are not speaking gibberish, but languages different than their own. Old Testament parallel: Table of Nations resulting from the confusion of the Tower of Babel. In Acts, the whole world is represented through descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

The Holy Spirit brings unity. So Pentecost is in some ways a temporary reversal of the curse of Babel. At Babel the earth proudly tried to reach for heaven. At Pentecost Heaven graciously reached down to earth. The result was a new humanity from alienated humans. John Stott observes, “Nothing could have demonstrated more clearly than this the multi-racial, multi-national, multi-lingual nature of the kingdom of Christ.”⁠4

Waters, “What catches the attention of these onlookers is not ecstatic, nonsensical babble, but supposedly uneducated ‘Galileans’ (2:7) speaking in the known tongues of peoples from around the Roman world.”⁠5 Tongues-speaking in Acts allows for the declaration of what God has done through Jesus in the native language of each hearer.

This raises the question: Is the tongue-speaking at Pentecost the same as the tongue-speaking in Corinth? In Acts the tongues-speaking is directed to the public, whereas in Corinth it is directed to God. In Acts the tongues-speaking is referred to as languages, whereas in Corinth it is considered to be unintelligible. In Acts tongues serve as a sign of the Spirit’s presence, whereas in Corinth they serve the purpose of edification.

However, I believe all of these can be reconciled. None of the differences necessarily exclude the other. It is compelling that while the language is the same in both passages, it is only defined in Acts. It would seem to be more reasonable to interpret the unexplained in Corinth in light of the explained in Acts.

Ultimately, I agree with Derek Thomas who writes:

“Is the gift of tongues given to the church today? Is it meant to be the indispensable sign of Spirit baptism? No matter how such Pentecost-like phenomena are interpreted today, the fact remains: what occurred at Pentecost was the ability to speak in known foreign languages, rather than some angelic, ecstatic utterance. Moreover, the phenomenon of tongues was one of those ‘signs’ or ‘marks’ of apostleship (2 Cor. 12:12). The apostolic commission was an unrepeatable and foundational ministry that served to establish the New Testament covenant community (Eph. 2:20). The supernatural signs performed by the apostles served to testify to this unique and divine commission. Thus the signs that accompanied the apostles in their unrepeatable foundational ministry were also themselves unrepeatable, temporary, and time-specific to the apostolic age.”⁠6

What’s the response to the miracle of Pentecost? The first group responds to the miracle of Pentecost with amazement and awe (v.12). They don’t quite understand, but they admit it and remain respectful and in awe. The second group responds to Pentecost with mocking and accusations of drunkenness (v.13). At the very least we can say that tongues are not self-authenticating. Onlookers needed Peter’s explanation (2:14-36). The reaction of the people does affirm the miracle and Peter will supply the explanation shortly.

We have barriers and inhibitions which serve to preserve our personal agendas. Are we willing to endure the mockery of a culture that has rejected God? Are we willing to speak the gospel truth to a culture that has grown numb to its own wickedness? If we want to take part in the fulfillment of the Great Commission, our hearts must be filled with the glory and power of God, and our vision must involve extending His glory and power beyond ourselves. In a culture where offending people is the greatest evil, and offense is taken over the slightest rebuke, speaking the truth is becoming more and more courageous.

We have to remove the barriers and inhibitions which serve to preserve our personal agendas. We don’t simply decide what we will and won’t do. Sin is much stronger than our will power. An excellent sermon on this is “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” by Thomas Chalmers. In the summary Chalmers writes, “A moralist will be unsuccessful in trying to displace his love of the world by reviewing the ills of the world. Misplaced affections need to be replaced by the far greater power of the affection of the Gospel.”

Pentecost provides us with the greater value of magnifying the glory and power of our God. When that becomes our single passion, we can be sure that the Holy Spirit is active in our lives.

What difference would it make in your life if you acknowledged your ongoing need of the Holy Spirit? Would you be more cognizant of your temptation and the Spirit’s role in helping you obey? Would you become a bold witness for the truth in the face of a culture that laughs and mocks your faith?


Pentecost represents an important stage in the new covenant era. We witness the presence of God—which is always accompanied by a display of His glory and power. The glory of God is heard, seen, and spoken in this passage. It is not just understood, but experienced. In the wind, the disciples literally feel the breath of God. The visible pillars of fire represent the immanent presence of God, no longer localized and temporary—but everywhere and always available. The tongues of foreign languages reveals the heart of God that reaches out to the nations, and represents the enabling of his disciples to carry out His mission.

By describing the event of Pentecost and the response of the onlookers, Luke is not expecting his readers to think they can experience the same thing. He isn’t trying to stir up the church into another Pentecost revival. He is well aware of the once-for-all nature of Pentecost. Rather, Luke is calling his readers to be confident in the power of God to enable his disciples, and to expect responses ranging from radical transformation to stubborn opposition.

We should trust that the Spirit will supply us with everything we need to do His will. We should not shrink back from real or perceived opposition. And let’s be honest, oftentimes we aren’t experiencing the slightest hint of persecution, but it is our fear that we will face it that prevents us from speaking the truth.

Pentecost teaches us that the Spirit is not timid, nor does He produce bashful disciples. So let us ask Him to increase our confidence in Him, that we might carry out His mission for His glory.


1 Derek Thomas, Acts, 29.

2 Guy Waters, Acts.

3 Derek Thomas, Acts, 28.

4 John Stott, Acts.

5 Waters, Acts, 73.

6 Thomas, Acts.