Vance Havner made that statement and he was right. The early church had none of the things that we think are so essential for success today—buildings, money, political influence, social status—and yet the church won multitudes to Christ and saw many churches established throughout the Roman world. Why? Because the church had the power of the Holy Spirit energizing its ministry. They were a people who “were ignited by the Spirit of God.”
That same Holy Spirit power is available to us today to make us more effective witnesses for Christ. The better we understand His working at Pentecost, the better we will be able to relate to Him and experience His power.
In Old Testament times, the Spirit of God came upon isolated individuals or smaller groups only on special occasions and only in a temporary way to help them accomplish God’s purposes (Exodus 31:3; Judges 14:6; 1 Samuel 16:13). As the apostles were gathered together in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, the time had come for the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to send his Spirit completely and permanently upon all believers (Luke 24:49; John 14:16-17, 16:5-15). This marvelous outpouring of God provided the supernatural power for believers to take the life-changing message of the gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). This is the day Christ made good on his promise to send the Helper, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit who would take up permanent residence in those who put their faith in Christ. And what a day it was! God’s individualized pouring out of his Spirit into the lives of 120 believers resulted in the effective pouring out of his story, changing the lives of three thousand people in one day!
2:1 Held 50 days after Passover, Pentecost was also called the Festival of First Harvest. It was one of three major annual festivals (Deuteronomy 16:16), a festival of thanksgiving for the harvested crops. Jesus was crucified at Passover time, and he ascended 40 days after his resurrection. The Holy Spirit came 50 days after the Resurrection, 10 days after the Ascension. Jews of many nations had gathered in Jerusalem for this festival. Peter’s speech (2:14ff) was given to an international audience, and it resulted in a worldwide harvest of new believers—the first converts to Christianity.
2:3, 4 This was a fulfillment of John the Baptist’s words about the Holy Spirit’s baptizing with fire (Luke 3:16) and of the prophet Joel’s words about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28, 29). Why tongues of fire? Tongues symbolize speech and the communication of the Good News. Fire symbolizes God’s purifying presence, which burns away the undesirable elements of our lives and sets our hearts aflame to ignite the lives of others. On Mount Sinai, God confirmed the validity of the Old Testament law with fire from heaven (Exodus 19:16-18). At Pentecost, God confirmed the validity of the Holy Spirit’s ministry by sending fire. At Mount Sinai, fire came down on one place; at Pentecost, fire came down on many believers, symbolizing that God’s presence is available to all who believe in him.
2:3, 4 God made his presence known to this group of believers in a spectacular way—roaring wind (2:2), fire, and his Holy Spirit. Would you like God to reveal himself to you in such recognizable ways? He may do so, but be wary of forcing your expectations on God. In 1 Kings 19:10-13, Elijah also needed a message from God. First came a great wind, then an earthquake, and finally a fire. But God’s message came in a “gentle whisper.” God may use dramatic methods to work in your life—or he may speak in gentle whispers. Wait patiently and always listen.
2:4-11 These people literally spoke in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability—a miraculous attention-getter for the international crowd gathered in town for the festival. All the nationalities represented recognized their own languages being spoken. More than miraculous speaking drew people’s attention, however; they saw the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The apostles continued to minister in the Holy Spirit’s power wherever they went.
2:7, 8 Christianity is not limited to any race or group of people. Christ offers salvation to all people without regard to nationality. Visitors in Jerusalem were surprised to hear the apostles and other believers speaking in languages other than their own, but they need not have been. God works all kinds of miracles to spread the Good News, using many languages as he calls all kinds of people to become his followers. No matter what your race, color, nationality, or language, God speaks to you. Are you listening?
2:9-11 Why are all these places mentioned? This is a list of many lands from which Jews had come to the festivals in Jerusalem. These Jews were not originally from Palestine because their ancestors had been dispersed to other parts of the world through captivities and persecutions. Very likely, some of the Jews who responded to Peter’s message returned to their homelands with God’s Good News of salvation. God prepared the way for the spread of the Good News. As you read Acts, you will see how the way was often prepared for Paul and other messengers by people who had become believers at Pentecost. The church at Rome, for example, was probably begun by such Jewish believers.
2:12 When the gathered crowd recognized that something supernatural was taking place, they naturally wanted an explanation. At this point, Peter stepped forward and explained the truth about God. This should be the pattern in our lives as well. Hopefully we are living in such a way that people will see Christ in us. If we do shine and sparkle (Matthew 5:14; Philippians 2:15) and if we are “salty” (Matthew 5:13), we will get the attention of others. They will surely want to know what is so attractive and different about us. Then we can explain our “Christian hope” (1 Peter 3:15). What is different about your life? What supernatural evidence would cause someone to stop you and say, “What can this mean?”
2:14 Peter had been an unstable leader during Jesus’ ministry, letting his bravado be his downfall, even denying that he knew Jesus (John 18:15-18, 25-27). But Christ had forgiven and restored him (John 21). This was a new Peter, humble but bold. His confidence came from the Holy Spirit, who made him a powerful and dynamic speaker. Have you ever felt as if you’ve made such bad mistakes that God could never forgive and use you? No matter what sins you have committed, God promises to forgive you and make you useful for his Kingdom. Allow him to forgive you and use you effectively to serve him.
2:14ff Peter tells the people that they should listen to the testimony of the believers because the Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus had been entirely fulfilled in him (2:14-21), because Jesus is the Messiah (2:25-36), and because the risen Christ could change their lives (2:37-40).
2:16-21 Not everything mentioned in Joel 2:28, 29 was happening that particular morning. The “last days” include all the days between Christ’s first and second comings and is another way of saying “from now on.” “That great and glorious day of the Lord” (2:20) denotes the whole Christian age. Even Moses yearned for the Lord to put his Spirit upon everyone (Numbers 11:29). At Pentecost the Holy Spirit was released throughout the entire world—to men, women, slaves, Jews, Gentiles. Now everyone can receive the Spirit. This was a revolutionary thought for first-century Jews.
2:23 Everything that happened to Jesus was under God’s control. His plans were never disrupted by the Roman government or the Jewish officials. This was especially comforting to those facing oppression during the time of the early Christian church.
2:24 Peter spoke forth rightly about the Resurrection. As Peter preached, the events of Christ’s death and resurrection were still hot news, less than two months old. Christ’s execution had been carried out in public before many witnesses. His empty tomb was available for inspection just a short distance away. If Christ had not truly died, Peter’s message would have been laughed at or ignored. If Christ had not been resurrected, authorities could have produced his body and put an end to this new faith. But Peter and the apostles had witnessed the risen Christ. Changed men, they announced the news with great passion and conviction. Our faith and our credibility also rest on the truth of the empty tomb. Why? For a number of important reasons. According to the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, the resurrection of Christ means that he is the Son of God and that his word can be trusted. It means that his sacrifice for sin was acceptable to God, so we can be completely forgiven. It means that our Savior is alive and active, able to help us in times of need. It also means that one day we, too, will conquer death. The Christian faith rests on the basic fact of the empty tomb. Don’t neglect this essential part of the gospel when you share your faith with others.
2:25-32 Peter quoted from Psalm 16:8-11—a psalm written by David. He explained that David was not writing about himself because David died and was buried (2:29). Instead, he was writing as a prophet (2:30) who spoke of the Messiah who would be resurrected. The emphasis here is that Jesus’ body was not left to rot in the grave but was, in fact, resurrected and glorified.
2:37 After Peter’s powerful, Spirit-filled message, the people were deeply moved and asked, “What should we do?” This is the basic question we must ask. It is not enough to be sorry for our sins. We must repent, ask God to forgive us, and then live like forgiven people. Has God spoken to you through his Word or through the words of another believer? Like Peter’s audience, ask God what you should do, and then obey.
2:38, 39 If you want to follow Christ, you must “repent of your sins, turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” To repent means to turn from sin, to change the direction of your life from selfishness and rebellion against God’s laws. At the same time, you must turn to Christ, depending on him for forgiveness, mercy, guidance, and purpose. We cannot save ourselves—only God can save us. Baptism identifies us with Christ and with the community of believers. It is a condition of discipleship and a sign of faith.
2:40-43 About 3,000 people became new believers when Peter preached the Good News about Christ. These new Christians were united with the other believers, taught by the apostles, and included in the prayer meetings and fellowship. New believers in Christ need to be in groups, where they can learn God’s Word, pray, and mature in the faith. If you have just begun a relationship with Christ, seek out other believers for fellowship, prayer, and teaching. This is the way to grow.
2:44 Recognizing the other believers as brothers and sisters in the family of God, the Christians in Jerusalem shared all they had so that all could benefit from God’s gifts. It is tempting—especially if we have material wealth—to cut ourselves off from one another, concerning ourselves with only our interests and enjoying only our own little piece of the world. But as part of God’s spiritual family, it is our responsibility to help one another in every way possible. God’s family works best when its members work together.
2:46 A common misconception about the first Christians (who were Jews) was that they rejected the Jewish religion. But these believers saw Jesus’ message and resurrection as the fulfillment of everything they knew and believed from the Old Testament. The Jewish believers at first did not separate themselves from the rest of the Jewish community. They still went to the Temple and synagogues for worship and instruction in the Scriptures. But their belief in Jesus created great friction with Jews who didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Believing Jews were forced to meet in private homes for Communion, prayer, and teaching about Christ. By the end of the first century, many of these Jewish believers were excommunicated from their synagogues.
2:47 A healthy Christian community attracts people to Christ. The Jerusalem church’s zeal for worship and brotherly love was contagious. A healthy, loving church will grow in numbers. What are you doing to make your church the kind of place that will attract others to Christ?
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Sources: Life Application Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 1816-1820.
Bruce B. Barton et al., Life Application Bible Commentary – Acts, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1999), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “ACTS 2”.
Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament, Volume 1, (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor, 2001), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 406.