SYNOPSIS – The outpouring of the Spirit fulfilled what Pentecost symbolized and began the proclamation of the Gospel to all nations – Acts 2:1-4.
In the book of Acts, the story of the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost stresses the theme of fulfillment – The things foreshadowed in the ancient feast began to receive their substance that very day. The bestowal of the gift of the Spirit by the risen Christ was an epochal event – It marked the start of the messianic age, the age of the Spirit, at least for the people of God. The gift of the Spirit fulfilled what the Levitical feast only symbolized.
The receipt of the Spirit that day by the assembled disciples was the seminal event that marked the inauguration of the Church and set the stage for the spread of the new faith, a process documented in the book of Acts. Unfortunately, the full force of Luke’s language is often obscured in translations of the original Greek.
(Acts 2:1-4) – “And when the day of Pentecost was being filled full, they were all assembled together with one intent — When there came suddenly out of heaven a sound, like of a mighty rushing wind — and it filled all the house where they were sitting; And there appeared to them tongues like as of fire parting asunder, and it sat on each of them; And they were all filled with Holy Spirit and began to be speaking with other kinds of tongues, just as the Spirit was giving unto them to be uttering.
Prior to his ascent, Jesus had commanded the disciples to “tarry in Jerusalem” until they received the “promise of the Father,” which they needed to make them effective witnesses for the kingdom of God:
(Luke 24:44-49) – “And he said to them – All things must needs be fulfilled, which are written in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their mind, that they might understand the scriptures; and he said to them – Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send forth the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
“Until you receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, even as far as the uttermost part of the earth” – (Acts 1:7-9).
The proclamation of the gospel began in Jerusalem, the heart of the Jewish nation, but it will not end there. At the conclusion of Acts, Paul is found preaching the kingdom in Rome, the center of the world empire, to both Jews and Gentiles. What occurred on the Day of Pentecost was a beginning, not an end. In Jesus, all things promised in the Hebrew Scriptures “must be fulfilled.”
Pentecost was originally an agricultural feast that celebrated the completion of the barley harvest. It occurred fifty days after Passover. It was also known as the “feast of weeks,” described in scripture as the “feast of harvest, the firstfruits of your labors” – (Leviticus 23:11-16, Deuteronomy 16:9-10).
The highlight at the festival was the offering to Yahweh of the first sheaf – The “firstfruits” of the grain harvest. Every able male in Israel was required to appear at the Temple during the feast – (Exodus 34:22-23).
The outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost was not coincidental. The theological significance is indicated by the Greek term sumpléroō in verse 1 for “being filled up.” The force of the verb is to “filled up completely” – To fill something to the very brim. In the passage, a present tense infinitive is used, which signifies action in progress. In other words, the feast – What it symbolized – was in the process of being fulfilled fully as the Spirit was filling the 120 disciples. What it symbolized was coming to fruition – The “first-fruits” of the end-time harvest, the gift of the Holy Spirit – (Compare – Romans 8:23, Luke 24:49).
Under the Law, all male Israelites able to do so were required to attend the feast. Likewise, all the disciples were assembled in one place – At the Temple in Jerusalem. The “all” is repeated in verse 4 to emphasize the point – “ALL were filled with the Holy Spirit and ALL began to speak in tongues.” The entire company of the new people of God was gathered in prayer in the Temple.
Similarly, the passage stresses that they all “BEGAN (archomai) to be speaking in tongues as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” “Began” translates a Greek verb in the aorist tense, an action that occurred in the past. The term provides a verbal echo from the command of Jesus to “tarry in Jerusalem” until the disciples received the Spirit:
(Luke 24:47) – “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
(Acts 1:8) – “But ye shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you: and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
In the passage, Luke applies the Day of Pentecost with its background from the books of Exodus and Leviticus in mind. By the first century, Pentecost had become associated with the giving of the Torah at Sinai. However, this was a much later development in some Jewish traditions.
Pentecost originally celebrated the firstfruits of the grain harvest, and that is the reality behind its usage in the book of Acts.
Jesus commanded his disciples to preach “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning (archomai) from Jerusalem.” Likewise, when the gift of the Spirit had filled all the disciples in Jerusalem, they “began (archomai) to be speaking in tongues as the Spirit was giving them utterance.”
The 120 disciples were the “firstfruits” of the end-time harvest. Almost immediately, the greater harvest began with the influx of “about three thousand” converts that very day. And “beginning from Jerusalem,” the proclamation of “repentance and remission of sins” began to move across the face of the earth.