What is the meaning of Acts 2? What is Pentecost? What is the role of the Holy Spirit?

This passage helps us think through these important questions.

The Meaning of Pentecost

Pentecost was a very important Jewish feast that gave thanks to God for the early wheat harvest. It was held 50 (pente) days after Passover Sunday.

Pentecost is the Greek name meaning “fiftieth.” In the Old Testament, it is referred to as “Shavuot.” It is a festival of thanksgiving and is later associated with the giving of the Law to Moses fifty days after the deliverance of Egypt, which occurred at Passover.

Exodus 24:14 – 19 tells us of the three appointed feasts, “Celebrate the Festival of the Harvest with the first fruits of the crops you sow in your field.” Before this Festival is Passover and after this is the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year when the crops are gathered in. See also Numbers 28 and Deuteronomy 16.

This excitement and appreciation for this festival explain why so many devout Jewish people have come from all around the region. Over time they have migrated through the region. The worshippers who have come to Jerusalem are from Egypt, Libya, and modern-day Turkey, and live throughout the Mediterranean, all the way to Rome and other parts of Europe.

What is the meaning of speaking in tongues?

It is likely that the devout worshippers spoke the common trade language, Koine Greek. It was as commonplace in the Roman Empire as English is today. It was the trade language. The worshippers were at least bi-lingual, speaking Koine and their home language, which ranged from Latin to Arabic, to Cretan, et al. They may also speak Aramaic (common people) or Hebrew, which was the language of their religion.

The sound “like the sound of rushing wind” catches everyone’s attention and leads them to the house of the disciples. Then the attendees hear the preaching of Jesus in their heart language. It is one thing to hear the gospel in a trade language; it is another thing to hear it in your momma’s dialect. It hits the heart.

This vision of a fiery tongue rests upon each of the 120 disciples and empowers them to preach and speak “about God’s deeds of power.” They are likely retelling the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Peter explains the situation to the befuddled listeners in verses 14 – 36, saying that they are preaching about Jesus, whom God attested as the Messiah through signs and wonders.

What is the Role of the Holy Spirit

This is a special giving of the Holy Spirit by God to convince the worshippers that Jesus is the Messiah. One could read this and get the impression that this is the giving of the Holy Spirit as if the Spirit has not been working on earth and in people for many, many years. Let’s take a look through Scripture to see what role the Holy Spirit plays.

  • The Spirit hovered over the waters of the deep in Genesis 1:1-2. “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
  • The Spirit worked in judges, warriors, prophets, and other leaders like Joshua (Numbers 27:18), Othniel (Judges 3:10), Gideon (Judges 6:34), Joseph (Genesis 41:38)
  • The Spirit of God empowered David to prophesy (2 Samuel 23:2)
  • The Holy Spirit strives against sin (Genesis 6:3) and inspires us to follow righteousness, to do good (Psalm 143:10)
  • The Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism (Matthew 3:16)
  • It is the Spirit who teaches us the truth (John 14:26)

The Spirit helps us turn away from sin and empowers us to embody virtues like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5).

One can read this passage and think, “I didn’t have a conversion experience like that, so am I really a Christian? Is the Spirit of God within me?”

The Spirit is Christ’s own presence (John 14) in our lives, helping us embrace the gospel of Christ. “It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age.” (Titus 2:12). Therefore, when we say yes to the good and turn away from the bad, we give thanks to God.

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