There were three annual feasts at which Mosaic Law required every male to be present – Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Weeks was also known as the firstfruits of wheat Harvest, the Feat of Ingathering (Exodus 34:22-23, Numbers 28:26-31), and Pentecost. Pentecost also commemorated the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. The day of Pentecost was the fiftieth day after Passover. The name comes from a Greek adjective meaning “fiftieth.” In this instance, counting up from Passover fifty days, the day fell on Sunday. Jesus was crucified on Friday. Appropriately, both His resurrection and the Holy Spirit immersion for the Apostles both occurred on Sunday.
The first four verses describe one of the most momentous occasions in the entire Bible. The description of the sound and of the visual display – “rested on each one of them” – is of an awesome event, but what happened was much more magnificent than just this spectacular sensory description. Some commentators ascribe what took place in these verses to have happened to about 120 people. But in doing so, one has to take the context of verse 1 (“they were all together in one place”) all the way back to the 15th verse of chapter one. But the actual context of verse 1 is more properly associated with the verses just prior to it, particularly verse 26 – the last verse of chapter one (“And they” – the apostles – “cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”) It is helpful to remember that the chapter divisions are not inspired, but made later by ordinary men (and sometimes in unfortunate placement of location in the text).
This Holy Spirit baptism was for the twelve apostles, and it was expected and foretold for them alone by Jesus in several verses (Luke 24:49, John 14:26, and Acts 1:4-5, to name a few). The power (to which Jesus referred) that it gave to them was the ability to recall all that He had taught them and finally understand the whole true meaning of His words. It was the power to understand the full meaning of His death and resurrection, and to know with certainty the whole truth about the will of God and what is expected of us. It provided the very basis of the authority for the teaching of the Apostles from that point forward. From this moment forward, that authority is evident in even the way they speak, for they speak for the Lord.
The significance of the Apostles speaking in other tongues on this occasion was two-fold. First, Luke tells us in verses 5 and 9-11 that there were people from a list of nations that named most of the Roman world of the first century. The “sound like a mighty rushing wind” and that of the twelve Apostles speaking in other languages quickly attracted a “multitude” of people, a great many of whom were amazed, as each heard them speaking in his own language. Getting the attention of such a large number of people was undoubtedly one of the goals. But just as importantly, what they witnessed proved that “the mighty works of God” (verse 11) being spoken of were voiced by authority not coming from ordinary men.
Peter begins his sermon by telling them that what they were witnesses to was prophesied by Joel (Joel 2:28-32). Then he begins telling them about Jesus, how David prophesied of his death and his resurrection without his flesh seeing corruption. He quotes David from Psalm 110 and Psalm 16:8-11. Then in verse 36, he tells them that they crucified the Messiah – the one that God had made “Lord and Christ.” Verse 37 says they were cut to the heart, and wanted to know what they should do. Verses 38-39 were the most important answer to any question ever asked:
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
The church was begun that very day with “about three thousand souls” being added!
Read or listen to audio of ESV version of this selection from this link.
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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just a little concerned that you keep saying that only the 12 apostles received the baptism of the Holy Spirit when all 120 in the room did – just not sure if I am reading that right.
Thank you for your comment! Yes, this is a passage over which there is some disagreement. The examples are plentiful of other disciples receiving the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands of the apostles. But the arguments for the conclusion that it was only the twelve that received this baptism of the Holy Spirit is (to me) overwhelming. I refer you to the links below for better explanation than I can give; and I’m taking the liberty of quoting McGarvey’s commentary on the subject (the full text of which you can read at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/mcgarvey/acts.ch2.html.
The only thing I would add to these capable commentaries is that a careful study of the text around the mention of the 120 that is referred to in Acts 1:15 reveals that verse 13 names the twelve as staying in the “upper room” that is referred to. We certainly wouldn’t expect 120 people to be staying in that upper room. Verse 15 begins a different setting (“In those days Peter stood up among the brothers…”).
“It is important to determine who are the parties declared by Luke to be “all with one accord in one place;” for upon this depends the question whether the whole hundred and twenty disciples, or only the twelve apostles, were filled with the Holy Spirit. The words are almost uniformly referred, by commentators, to the hundred and twenty. Any who will read the first four verses of this chapter, noticing the connection of the pronoun “they,” which occurs in each of them, will see, at a glance, that it has, throughout, the same antecedent, and, therefore, all the parties said in the first verse to be together in one place, are said in the fourth to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and to speak in other tongues. The question, then, Who were filled with the Holy Spirit? depends upon the reference of the pronoun in the statement, “They were all together in one place.” Those who suppose that the whole hundred and twenty are referred to, have to go back to the fifteenth verse of the preceding chapter to find the antecedent. But, if we obliterate the unfortunate separation between the first and second chapters, and take the last verse of the former into its connection with the latter, we will find the true and obvious antecedent much nearer at hand. It would read thus: “The lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered together with the eleven apostles. And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” It is indisputable that the antecedent to they is the term apostles; and it is merely the division of the text into chapters, severing the close grammatical connection of the words, which has hid this most obvious fact from commentators and readers. The apostles alone, therefore, are said to have been filled with the Holy Spirit. This conclusion is not only evident from the context, but it is required by the very terms of the promise concerning the Holy Spirit. It 25was to the apostles alone, on the night of the betrayal, that Jesus had promised the miraculous aid of the Spirit, and to them alone he had said, on the day of ascension, “You shall be immersed in the Holy Spirit.” It involves both a perversion of the text, and a misconception of the design of the event,65 to suppose that the immersion in the Holy Spirit was shared by the whole hundred and twenty.
2. It was the apostles, then, and they alone, who were assembled together: (2) “And suddenly there came a sound out of heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.” What house this was has been variously conjectured; but the supposition of Olshausen, that it was one of the thirty spacious rooms around the temple court, described by Josephus and called oikoi, houses, is most agreeable to all the facts. Wherever it was, the crowd described below gathered about them, and this required more space than any private house would afford, especially the upper room where the apostles had been lodging…”
Thanks for this – appreciate you responding so quickly
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