Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Day of Pentecost

The day of Pentecost is a subject that often befuddles the naïve reader. Acts 2 has been interpreted in a variety of ways from the Jew to the Protestant Christian. The popular Pentecostal church, today, claims its founding on it. The great spiritual manifestations found in Acts 2, in a way, coincide with Pentecostal services which usually contain emotional music and “speaking in tongues.”

However, the day of Pentecost as recorded by Luke requires a bit of foundational knowledge in order to extrapolate the meanings of the events that occurred. This knowledge also helps to define the early church and project its growth.

The online Jewish encyclopedia refers to the Pentecost as a Greek term applied to the 50th day of the “Feast of Harvest.” It was also thought as the anniversary of the day that the law was received from Sinai (Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 50). One item of certainty, is that those in attendance were not Gentiles, for the vision to preach to the Gentiles has not yet occurred until Acts 10. However, these were “Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). The day of Pentecost was a perfect occasion to bring many people of different tongues together to witness a miracle of tongues.

F. Bruce describes the experience: “The Galilean accent was easily recognized, as Peter knew to his cost on an earlier occasion; but these Galileans appeared for the moment to share among them a command of most of the tongues spoken throughout the known world” (Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 54).

As the people gathered together many tongues were spoken and understood. The event was truly regarded as a miracle for the attendants were saying to themselves, “how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?” (Acts 2:8). This incredible miracle was a unifying factor for the people and a faith builder that would lead to their eventual baptism and membership in the church.

This miracle of the tongues is also a manifestation of the spirit. Just before the people began to understand the words in their own languages, there was a great sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind” and it “appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire” (Acts 2:2-3). Luke then goes on to explain that everyone was filled with the Holy Ghost.

The presence of the spirit at this occasion presents a few major points about the early church. The first point is that all major functions of the church were attended by the Holy Spirit. This can also be seen in the preceding chapter when the disciples prayed for the inspiration to choose the next apostle. Second, the attendance of the Holy Spirit more solidifies the idea that it is the Spirit that initiates or causes miracles to fruition. Another third point is that the Spirit starts and progresses the process of conversion. The audience members were astonished by the miracle and were later “pricked in their heart” after hearing the words of Peter. After inquiring what they should do after receiving such inspiration, Peter replied, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). Note also that the gift of the Holy Ghost is necessary for their complete conversion. Fourth, the spirit in attendance at this meeting proves Christ’s words when he said that the “promise of the father” (Acts 1:4) would come following his departure. It further establishes Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. “This is crucial for the remainder of Acts, since it gives the basis of Luke's view that salvation for humanity is rooted primarily, and deeply, in Jesus' resurrection and ascension. In this way, what Joel promised regarding ‘the Lord’ --that ‘all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved’ -- can be transferred to Jesus” (Achtemeier, Green, Thompson, Introducing the New Testament, 253).

The very fact that all these languages and foreigners were coming together being baptized under one church embodies the growth and mission of the church set out by Christ when he said that the apostles would be His witnesses to “the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Many of the people in attendance would return to the lands of their birth and carry the faith and knowledge they had received of the resurrected Christ. This day of Pentecost, being at the beginning of Acts makes it a key point in the order of the books of the New Testament and the chronological order of events. The four gospels tell of Christ’s life and teachings, laying the groundwork of doctrine. With the day of Pentecost told immediately after the Gospels, we gather the intent and importance of the remaining text in the New Testament. It is deduced that the events succeeding Christ’s mortal life tell the story of missionary work and church organization. It also makes a blatant point that, even though Christ was not physically present, he continued to work among his apostles.

Peter’s eventual sermon following the miracles, centers on the resurrection of Christ. Because the listeners were Galileans, they understood the Old Testament writings. Peter referred to Joel, as was mentioned earlier, and then to David from Psalms. Peter quotes David as saying, “thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (Acts 2:27). David’s sepulcher was known among the people to be in the city. They knew that David was still buried and his body had seen “corruption.” According to Bruce, Peter explains that Christ, being the Son of David, is the one being referred to as He whose soul was not left in hell. “In asserting that Jesus of Nazareth had been so delivered and raised up by God, Peter and his colleagues were making a claim which they could confirm by their personal ocular testimony: 'of this we are all witnesses’" (Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 66).

Indeed, the Day of Pentecost set a foundation of doctrine and procedure in the early church. It established a followed leadership and a quick growth in membership.

Frederick Fyvie Bruce, The Book of the Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1988)

Paul J. Achtemeier, Joel B. Green, Marianne Meye Thompson; Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001)

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