Summary: What is the miracle of Pentecost all about?
Speaking in Tongues
When the topic of speaking in tongues is brought up in churches, a storm of questions are asked. Were these tongues at Pentecost known languages or unknown tongues? Is speaking in tongues the initial evidence and proof of Spirit baptism? Does one need to speak in tongues to be saved? Or one could ask whether these tongues belonged to the Apostolic Age and with miracles and prophecy are not for today. I will endeavor to answer these questions as best as I can from the scriptural text itself.
What we learned in the last lesson “When the Day of Pentecost was Fully Come,” we learned of the context of Pentecost. It was a regularly scheduled Jewish holiday celebrating the wheat harvest which was the cash crop for the Israelites. The other harvest festival for the barley harvest was celebrated several weeks earlier during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The wave offering for the barley was held on the first day of the week following Passover. This means that Jesus rose from the dead on the day of firstfruits, which Paul alludes to in 1 Corinthians 15. From a Christian perspective, then, Easter Sunday and Pentecost are related.
We also noticed the similarities between the Spirit Baptism of Jesus and the Holy Spirit Baptism of the church on Pentecost. There was a difference of sign though. For Jesus, the sign was the gentle descent of a dove. For the church, it was a violent wind. The first sign certified Jesus’ public ministry, the second the ministry of the church which was to continue to do what Jesus began to do and teach.
There is a question where this Pentecost miracle took place. Many think that they were in the same upper room that Jesus held the Last supper with the Apostles. However, there were few of these upper rooms which could accommodate 120 or more persons. Others think that this upper room was in the Temple facilities. There was a large upper room there in which Rabbi’s taught. As this was a public place, and a large crowd would be at the Temple at the time of the 9 AM morning prayer and sacrifice, it seems likely that the miracle of Pentecost took place there. This event would quickly catch the interest of the crowd more than some upper room on a side street in Jerusalem.
When we look at the Old Testament manifestations of the presence of God, something which is technically called a “theophany,” we are reminded particularly of two such events. The first is when the Tabernacle in the wilderness was dedicated in which the flaming presence of God came down upon it, and the glory was so great that the ministers could not minister. The same happened when Solomon dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem. But instead of the presence of God coming down upon the Holy Place in the Temple, the presence came down upon the believers. As we will see as we go along in the Book of Acts, there is a transition which occurs in the concept of Temple from being a building in Jerusalem to the body of believers united in Jesus Christ. Jesus in the Gospel of John, chapter 2, had already prepared the Apostles for this when He said “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” John comments that He was talking about the Temple of His body. Paul tells us that Jesus is the head of the body which is His church. The fact that the manifestation of the glory of God came down upon the believers, emphasizes that the Temple in Jerusalem was already obsolete.
Another difference in this manifestation is that instead of the priests being unable to minister, the movement of the Spirit enabled the believers to minister. As we have noted, the sign of the flames and tongues acted as the divine commission and approval of the church as well as the transition point from the private preparation of the Apostles to the public ministry.
We know from the text that there were people assembled from all over the Roman Empire as well as from the Parthian Empire. The Jewish people were scattered all over the inhabited world as it was known in their time. The two groups were native Jews and proselytes to the Jewish religion who had been circumcised and vowed to keep the Law of Moses. The vision of who was to be including will expand as Acts continues to Ethiopians, Samaritans, and Gentiles. Most of the Jews outside Jerusalem and Palestine had lost the ability to read Hebrew or to speak the local Aramaic dialect of the region which necessitated the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek language. The fact that there were Greek speaking synagogues in Jerusalem itself shows the effect of three hundred years of Greek cultural influence, even in the Holy Land. We don’t know if the disciples poke Greek, and the fact that it seems that Aramaic was Jesus’ native language, but it would seem that knowing some Greek would be helpful to those engaged in building trades like Jesus or fishermen would be advantageous.