The coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost is one of the great events in biblical history. Its greatness is not because the Spirit had not been in the world before. Instead its greatness is seen in that Pentecost was the beginning of a new chapter in the unfolding of God’s plan of redemption.
This new stage in God’s purpose is concerned with the reign of the Messiah. Luke has already described the ascension of Jesus to glory in heaven. There he has been exalted to the throne of God, and is in charge of the working out of God’s secret plan that was conceived before the universe was made. This plan required that, in addition to the active enthronement of Jesus as ruling Lord, the Holy Spirit would also be sent by him into the world. Pentecost tells us that the Spirit has arrived.
A great deal has been said about the description of events on the Day of Pentecost. Today we can think about the signs of the presence of the Spirit.
Luke mentions two external signs – a rushing mighty wind that filled the house and fiery tongues (tongue-shaped fire) that rested on each of them. He also mentions one internal sign – the filling of the Spirit, which was followed by his provision for the disciples to speak in other recognisable languages. It is very important that we understand what took place on this occasion because many Christians base their opinions of spiritual gifts on this passage.
Those signs that were like a wind and like a fire were symbolic of the presence of God. The wind indicates his pervasive power (it filled entirely the room in which the people were) and the fire indicates his purity. The coming of the Spirit would involve these two permanent features of his presence, although the signs themselves would speedily go away.
Luke is careful to point out from where the sound like a might rushing wind came – it came from heaven. It was not a north wind or a south wind, an east wind or a west wind. Instead it was like a wind, the effects of which cannot be estimated by earthly knowledge. In our climate, we can say that a north wind brings cold weather, a south wind brings warm weather. The wind of Pentecost brought its own atmosphere, and created its own effects. In that earthly location, those present received a sample of the world of glory.
By whom and in whom was this mighty Wind going to work on earth? The answer to this question is the ones who had been purified by him. This was displayed by the tongues of fire that remained on each of the Christians (they have already been described in Acts 1:12-14). Although they had been failures recently, they had been forgiven by Jesus, restored to his service and cleansed from their sins. This is of great encouragement to us if we have failed. While we may not expect to go through the experience of the people at Pentecost, we can still be used by the Spirit of fire.
We should observe the emphasis that Luke placed on unity. In verse 1, the disciples are ‘all together in one place’; in verse 3, tongues of fire rested on each of them; in verse 4, they ‘were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues’. Unity is very important.
The external sign which Luke mentions is the ability to speak in other human languages (the strangers visiting Jerusalem heard them speak in various languages). The miracle was not the appearance of a new language; rather the miracle was uneducated people speaking a wide variety of earthly languages simultaneously.
What was the significance of this gift of human languages? One likely answer is that Pentecost is a reversal of what took place at the tower of Babel. Human languages were the divine judgement that God imposed on the human race because it refused to obey his command and separate throughout the world. His judgement ensured that the separation occurred. Now he is going to use these instruments of judgement as the means by which his plan of salvation will be revealed to the peoples of the earth. The gospel will be declared in every human language. And a sample of this took place at Pentecost.