We now begin the first of several messages about the day we called Pentecost or Whitsunday on our church calendar. Careful exposition of the text is very important here, because to go wrong here is to go wrong for the rest of the Book of Acts. As the purpose of this extended study in Acts is to use the apostolic church as a blueprint of what the 21st century church should look like, we want to be sure to get this right. In the broad spectrum of Christianity today, there are those who claim that speaking tongues and the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit are for today, while others say that they ended with the death of the apostles. Rather than trying to start with an opinion on the manner, I am going to do my very best not to read my understanding into the text, but rather let Scripture speak for itself. I do know that this is a difficult if not impossible task and God will have to be the judge of how well I do this.
I do think at this point, I need to include a little of my theological background, so at least you the reader might have some means of evaluating where I am coming from. I have my bachelors from Lee University in Cleveland, which is a Church of God school. I received my M Div from the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, also in Cleveland in 1989 and am about to graduate from Knox Theological Seminary in Ft. Lauderdale with a Doctor of Ministry (May 2015). I do not like to include details about myself as the story is about God, but honesty requires that you might know what prejudices I might bring to the text. I can only pray that what is exposited here is true to God’s understanding of things.
Acts 2 begins with the words: “When the day of Pentecost was fully come.” The construction of the Greek with an imperfect with a infinitive supports that this Pentecost was the end of a process rather than simply noting that Pentecost had come which would have been done with a simple past tense. In the Old Testament, Pentecost was a yearly holiday in which the Jews celebrated the wheat harvest. The name Pentecost comes from the Greek word for fiftieth, as it was held on the 50th day after the feast of unleavened bread. The Jews has also come to celebrate this day as the giving at the law at Sinai, assuming that it occurred 50 days after Passover. It is interesting to note that Jesus rose on the day in which the barley sheath was waved as a firstfruit of the barley harvest and Pentecost comes on the day in which the better quality wheat was harvested.
In saying that the day had fully come, this can be seen as what is known as the Hebrew use of what is called the “divine passive.” The Hebrews tended to shy away from using the name of God or even the general term “God” out of reverence, so they would state the activity of God passively of else use the term “under heaven” to designate the work of God. What this means here then is that God sovereignly chose this particular day to be what all of the previous pentecosts. In other words, the event described here in Acts 2 was divinely ordained in the past to happen at this particular time and place. All of the Jewish celebrations of the holiday to this point pointed to this day, something which is known as typology. All of the Jewish celebration of the second harvest pointed to this day in which God appointed to be the second harvest. As we shall see, the harvest would include both Jew and Gentile. It would be the celebration of a worldwide harvest of souls and not just those in Palestine.
So this day of Pentecost should be seen as a day of new beginnings, a birthday of sorts. This is the day Jesus had commanded the disciples to wait for, the day in which they would be empowered by the Holy Spirit. In this, we see a parallel to Jesus’ own ministry. Jesus did not enter into ministry right away. Other than the extraordinary accounts of His birth, the persecution and flight under Herod, and the remarkable incident of Jesus at twelve remaining behind in Jerusalem to teach the Rabbi’s, Jesus’ life until the age of thirty seemed to be pretty ordinary. He grew up in knowledge just like any child and made a favorable impression among His townfolk and the Father. He was waiting for the timing of the Father’s plan to inaugurate His ministry. This would occur at His baptism. The time before this was a time of preparation for ministry in which He was under the Father’s direction. The disciples spent three years in preparation for the inauguration of their ministry learning and growing up at the feet of Jesus.
When the ordained time came and all of the necessary prerequisites were complete, Jesus came to John in the wilderness and submitted to baptism. Luke simply says He came to John and does not record John’s protest. When Jesus was baptized, the Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and the Father voiced His divine approval of the Son. Then it says that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.
Now let us look at the sequence of Pentecost. At the time and means of God’s choosing, the Spirit descended upon the early church, and this serves as the inauguration of the church’s public ministry. It was to be led by the Holy Spirit even as Jesus was. In many ways, the hostility the disciples would face was a sort of wilderness. And even as Jesus faced hostility and rejection by His own people and suffer death, the Apostles would follow the path that Jesus blazed. Only the fact that Jesus alone could atone for sin, the mission of the church follows a remarkably similar pattern to that of Jesus. This is to be expected by the church, the body of Christ which serves as the continuation of what Jesus began to do and teach. The earthly life of Jesus serves as a model for the church. Jesus modelled obedience to the will of the Father, His church obeys the direction of King Jesus through the agency of the Holy Spirit who drives the mission of the church.
It says that when Pentecost came, the 120 were all together. Although the Greek would allow the simple statement that the 120 were gathered there at that time, the implication is that they were coming together as one person. They already were united, something only the Holy Spirit could do. They were already in that sense filled with the Spirit, even as Jesus was before His baptism. The disciples were already Christians. Whatever the baptism of the Holy Spirit is, it does not seem to be a requirement for conversion as some have implied that until one is baptized in the Holy Spirit and speaks in other tongues, they are not a Christian. If the parallel to Jesus is made, then this would imply that Jesus Himself was not a Christian before the Spirit descended upon Him at Baptism. This is adoptionist Christology which was rightly condemned by the early church.
So to this point, we can see that Pentecost is a proof that God is sovereign and directs not just the church, but the entire universe as a whole. He ordains times, places, and means for His own glory. This is an essential Christian doctrine. God bows to no one. Nor is He subject to circumstance and chance. Pentecost was on His calendar before the beginning of time. God had brought all of the necessary circumstances for this event. He even advertised the event for over a thousand years in the Scripture.
We have seen the similarities between the life of Jesus and the early church. This has helped frame what Pentecost is, the end of the private preparation of the church and the beginning of its public work in obedience to God. It is the beginning of God’s second harvest which is worldwide in scope and will continue until the time of His return.
There is so much to learn from this first Christian Pentecost, so I do not want to try to teach too much in a lesson. We will pick up in the next lesson with the experience of that first Pentecost.