June 10, 2013
Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles
By: Tom Lowe
Topic #II: The Church in Jerusalem, Acts 2.1-8.3
Subtopic A: The Church is Born (Acts 2.1-2.41)
Secondary Topic 1: Pentecost (Acts 2.1-2.13)
Lesson II.A.1.a: The Coming of the Holy Spirit
Scripture: Acts 2.1-2.4a
Acts 2.1-2.4a (KJV)
1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
4a And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost,
The Holy Spirit did not come because the believers prayed but because the day of Pentecost had come, the day appointed for the “birthday of the church.” He baptized the believers into one body—“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13; KJV)—so that they had a living connection with their sovereign Head who had been exalted in heaven. Luke 2 describes the birth of the Lord’s physical body and Acts 2 the birth of His spiritual body.
The Spirit also filled the believers and empowered them to become His witness. He gave Peter insight into the Word and the ability to show men Christ in the Word. The Spirit used the witness of the church to convict the lost, just as Jesus said He would do— “After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them” (Acts 16:7-10; KJV).
But the same Holy Spirit assisted the believers in their church fellowship—“And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:40-47; KJV).
The original group was outnumbered by the new believers, but there was still harmony in the church family. They worshiped daily and witnessed daily, and “the Lord added to the church daily” (Acts 2.47; KJV). Is your experience with the Lord a daily one?
1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come,
Thus far our author has been engaged in preliminary statements, which were necessary to properly introduce his main theme. He has furnished us with a list of the eleven apostles, and the appointment of the twelfth; rehearsed briefly their qualifications as witnesses of the resurrection; informed us that they were in Jerusalem, dwelling in an upper room, but spending most of their time in the temple, and waiting for the promised power to inaugurate on earth the kingdom of Christ. He now proceeds to give an account of the descent of the Holy Spirit, and he begins with the main theme of the narrative—“When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.”
The words “fully come” could be translated “fulfilled.” When the Day of Pentecost was being fulfilled, they were all together in one place. Why Luke uses the expression, “When the day of Pentecost was fully come,” is best explained in this way. The day began with sunset, and the first part of it was night, which was not suitable for the purpose of these events. The day was not fully come until daylight.
“Pentecost” took place fifty days after the Feast of Firstfruits. The Feast of Firstfruits pictures the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ is the firstfruits—“But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:23; KJV).
FIRSTFRUITS ARE THE FIRSTBORN OF THE FLOCKS AND THE FIRST VEGETABLES AND GRAINS TO BE GATHERED AT HARVEST TIME. THE HEBREW PEOPLE THOUGHT OF THESE AS BELONGING TO GOD IN A SPECIAL SENSE. THEY WERE DEDICATED OR PRESENTED TO GOD ON THE DAY OF THE FIRSTFRUITS, A PART OF THE CELEBRATION OF PENTECOST (SEE NUM. 28:26; 2 CHR. 31:5).
The Passover pictures of the death of Jesus Christ; we learn from 1 Corinthians 5:7: “… For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” Since the Passover has been fulfilled in the death of Christ, and the Feast of Firstfruits has been fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ, we believe that the Feast of Pentecost represents something—that is, it is the fulfillment of something. Its fulfillment is the birth of the church, the day the church came into existence.
When the Day of Pentecost “was being fulfilled,” or “was fully come,” means that this was the fulfillment of the meaning and the purpose for which it was given originally. On Pentecost there was to be a meal offering to the Lord, which was to be presented in two loaves of fine flour baked with leaven (see Lev. 23). This was to depict the beginning and origin of the church. It spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit in the very particular ministry of calling a people out of this world to form the body of Christ, which is the church. Five minutes before the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost there was no church. Five minutes after the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost there was a church. In other words, what Bethlehem was to the birth of Christ, Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost was to the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit became a visible presence. He began to baptize believers, which means that the Holy Spirit identified them with Christ as His body here on this earth. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13).
The Holy Spirit began to perform a ministry on the Day of Pentecost. The Day of Pentecost was fulfilled on that day. When the Day of Pentecost “was fully come” does not mean it was 12:00 noon or 7:00 in the morning or 2:00 in the afternoon. It means that Pentecost, which Israel had been celebrating for many generations, was fulfilled.
PEN´TECOST, THAT IS, THE FIFTIETH DAY (FROM A GREEK WORD MEANING FIFTIETH), OR HARVEST FEAST, OR FEAST OF WEEKS, MAY BE REGARDED AS A SUPPLEMENT TO THE PASSOVER. IT LASTED FOR ONLY ONE DAY. FROM THE SIXTEENTH OF NISAN SEVEN WEEKS WERE COUNTED, AND THE NEXT OR FIFTIETH DAY WAS THE DAY OF PENTECOST, WHICH FELL ON THE SIXTH OF SIVAN (ABOUT THE END OF MAY) (SEE EX. 23:16; 34:22; LEV. 23:15-22; NUM. 28). THE PENTECOST WAS THE JEWISH HARVEST-HOME, AND THE PEOPLE WERE URGED TO REJOICE BEFORE JEHOVAH WITH THEIR FAMILIES, THEIR SERVANTS, THE LEVITE WITHIN THEIR GATES, THE STRANGER, THE FATHERLESS AND THE WIDOW, IN THE PLACE CHOSEN BY GOD FOR HIS NAME, AS THEY BROUGHT A FREE-WILL OFFERING OF THEIR HAND TO JEHOVAH THEIR GOD (SEE DEUT. 16:10, 11). THE GREAT FEATURE OF THE CELEBRATION WAS THE PRESENTATION OF THE TWO LOAVES, MADE FROM THE FIRST-FRUITS OF THE WHEAT HARVEST. WITH THE LOAVES TWO LAMBS WERE OFFERED AS A PEACE OFFERING, AND ALL WERE WAVED BEFORE JEHOVAH, AND GIVEN TO THE PRIESTS; THE LOAVES, BEING LEAVENED, COULD NOT BE OFFERED ON THE ALTAR. THE OTHER SACRIFICES WERE A BURNT OFFERING OF A YOUNG BULLOCK, TWO RAMS AND SEVEN LAMBS, WITH A MEAT AND DRINK OFFERING, AND A KID FOR A SIN OFFERING (SEE LEV. 23:18, 19). UNTIL THE PENTECOSTAL LOAVES WERE OFFERED, THE PRODUCE OF THE HARVEST COULD NOT BE EATEN, NOR COULD ANY OTHER FIRST-FRUITS BE OFFERED. THE WHOLE CEREMONY WAS THE COMPLETION OF THAT DEDICATION OF THE HARVEST TO GOD AS ITS GIVER, AND TO WHOM BOTH THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE WERE HOLY, WHICH WAS BEGUN BY THE OFFERING OF THE WAVE-SHEAF AT THE PASSOVER. THE INTERVAL IS STILL REGARDED AS A RELIGIOUS SEASON. THE PENTECOST IS THE ONLY ONE OF THE THREE GREAT FEASTS WHICH IS NOT MENTIONED AS THE MEMORIAL OF EVENTS IN THE HISTORY OF THE JEWS; BUT SUCH SIGNIFICANCE HAS BEEN FOUND IN THE FACT THAT THE LAW WAS GIVEN FROM SINAI ON THE FIFTIETH DAY AFTER THE DELIVERANCE FROM EGYPT (SEE EX. 12 AND 19). IN THE EXODUS THE PEOPLE WERE OFFERED TO GOD AS LIVING FIRST-FRUITS; AT SINAI THEIR CONSECRATION TO HIM AS A NATION WAS COMPLETED. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PENTECOST FOR CHRISTIANS IS MADE CLEAR FROM THE EVENTS OF THE DAY RECORDED IN THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES, CHAPTER 2. JUST AS THE APPEARANCE OF GOD ON SINAI WAS THE BIRTHDAY OF THE JEWISH NATION, SO WAS THE PENTECOST THE BIRTHDAY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
The Savior, crucified on Friday, was in the tomb on the Passover Sabbath, and rose on Sunday, the day from where the count began. The Sunday following would be the eighth day and the fiftieth day would fall on Sunday, the first day of the eighth week. Hence, the ancient church observed Pentecost on the first day of the week. Almost all Bible scholars agree that Pentecost came on Sunday. Pentecost was the feast of the grain harvest (see Exod 23:16; 34:22, 23), and was also agreed on by the Jews to be the anniversary of the giving of the law.
were all with one accord in one place.
By “all” is probably meant not only the apostles, but also the one hundred and twenty mentioned in Acts 1:15—“And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,).”
The word translated “with one accord” is the Greek word homothymadon, meaning like-mindedness; this shows the unity of purpose among these early disciples. This phrase signifies that all their minds, love, desires, and wishes were concentrated in one object; every man having the same purpose in view; and, having but one desire, they had but one prayer to God and every heart expressed it. There was no one who was not interested—no one unconcerned—no one lukewarm; all were sincere; and the Spirit of God came down to meet their united faith and prayer. It is probable they had continued together until this time, and given themselves entirely to the business of devotion. When any assembly of God's people meet in the same spirit they may expect every blessing they need.
When we read here that they were “with one accord,” we might remember, that while their Master was with them, there was often strife among them over which of them should be the greatest; but now all the strife has ended, and we hear nothing else about it. They had received enough of the Holy Ghost already, when Christ breathed on them, to rectify the past mistakes upon which those contests were based, and now their association was rooted in holy love. Lately, they had prayed more together than usual—“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Acts 1:14; KJV)—and this made them love one another more. He prepared them for the gift of the Holy Ghost by his grace, since that blessed person does not come where there is noise and commotion, but moves upon the face of the still waters of love, not the raging waves of emotion out-of-control. Would we have the Spirit poured out upon us from on high? Then let us all be of one accord, and, though there is a variety of opinions and interests, as no doubt there was among those disciples, let us agree to love one another; because, where brethren dwell together in unity, that is where the Lord bestows his blessing.
They were at this time “In one place.” Where this was is not known, and commentators have been divided in their speculation about it. Some have supposed it was in the upper room mentioned in Acts 1:13—“And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James.” Others say that it was a room in the temple, which is what seems to be intimated in Acts 2.46—“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.” Still others say that it was in a synagogue; and some others that it was in the courts of the temple. Finally, in Acts 2.2 it simply calls the place “the house.” There is no way to tell where in Jerusalem this happened, but it was at Jerusalem, because it was the place which God chose, to put his name, and the prophecy was that the word of the Lord would go from Jerusalem to all nations (see Isa. 2:3). It was now the place of the general rendezvous of all devout Jews, and where God had promised to meet them and bless them. Although Jerusalem had done the greatest dishonor imaginable to Christ, God did this honor to Jerusalem, to teach His remnant everywhere that He still loved them.
As for when this took place, many been alleged that it took place on the first day of the week, that is, on the Christian Sabbath. But there is a difficulty in making this assumption. There was probably a difference of opinion among the Jews themselves on this subject. The law said that they should count seven Sabbaths, that is, seven weeks, "from the morrow after the Sabbath” (see Leviticus 23:15). The Pharisees believed this Sabbath to be the second day of the Passover, on whatever day of the week it occurred, which was kept as a holy assembly, and might be called a Sabbath. But the Caraite Jews, or those who insisted on a literal interpretation of the Scriptures, maintained that by the Sabbath here was meant the usual Sabbath, the seventh day of the week. Consequently with them the day of Pentecost always occurred on the first day of the week; and if the apostles held the same view, the day was fully come on what is now the Christian Sabbath. But if the views of the Pharisees were followed, and the Lord Jesus had kept the Passover with them on Thursday, as many have supposed, then the day of Pentecost would have occurred on the Jewish Sabbath, that is, on Saturday. It is impossible to determine the day of the event with absolute certainty; but, it is really not that important, after all.
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind,
The Book of Acts has been called “the book of the Holy Spirit.” Luke placed more emphasis on the Holy Spirit than the other three gospel writers. The manner in which the Holy Ghost came upon them is worthy of mention, since it was unique. We often read in the Old Testament of God coming down in a cloud; like He did when he took possession of the tabernacle for the first time, and afterwards of the temple, which suggests the darkness of that dispensation. And Christ went up to heaven in a cloud, which brings to mind how much we are kept in the dark concerning the heavenly world. But the Holy Ghost did not descend in a cloud; because he had come to dispel and scatter the clouds that overspread men’s minds, and to bring light into the world.
The coming of the Holy Spirit of God with power was accompanied by two manifestations. The first was the sound of a “rushing mighty wind,” and the second was “cloven tongues like as of fire” (v. 3). The wind is symbolic of the Spirit of God. In Ezekiel 37, Ezekiel prophesies that the wind would blow upon the dead bones in the valley of his vision. He was actually prophesying the coming of the Spirit of God upon Israel. Here that same wind is used to symbolize the Spirit’s presence.
The “wind” and “fire” are both familiar signs of the presence of God, and they provided a visual depiction of the Holy Spirit’s ministry of filling and equipping each believer for a special role in Christ’s ministry.
“And suddenly.” It burst upon them unexpectedly and all of a sudden. Though they were waiting for the descent of the Spirit, nevertheless it is not likely that they expected it in this manner. It came sooner than they expected, and probably startled even those that were now together waiting.
Since this was an important event, and one on which the welfare of the church depended, it was appropriate that the gift of the Holy Spirit would come to pass in some striking and observable manner, in order to convince them that the promise was fulfilled, and to impress others with the greatness and importance of the event.
“There came a sound.” The word translated “sound” is applied to any loud noise or explosion. For example, in Hebrews 12:19, it is "The sound of a trumpet.” The day of the founding of the church, was to be a day of signs and wonders, and since the shedding forth of the Spirit was essential to the church it was fitting that it was made perceptible to all.
“From heaven.” The sound seemed to rush down from the sky. It would, therefore, attract their attention because of the direction from which it came, as much as its suddenness and violence. The wind commonly blows horizontally, but this one appeared to come from above; and this is all that is meant by the expression, "from heaven."
John, in his vision of heaven, said he heard thunder, “And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder” (Rev 6:1; KJV). God is said to “bring the winds out of his treasuries” (Ps. 135:7), and “to gather them in his hands” (Prov. 30:4). From him this sound came; some claim it was a clap of thunder and others that it was like the voice of one crying, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”
“As of a rushing mighty wind.” Literally, "as of a violent wind or gale or tempest.” Such a wind sometimes blows so violently, and with such a noise, that it makes it difficult even to hear the thunder in the gale. This seems to have been the kind of sound that accompanied this remarkable phenomenon. It does not appear that there was any wind; in fact it might have been still; but the sudden sound was like the noise a sweeping tempest would make. It should be noted, however, that the wind mentioned in the Holy Scriptures is often used as a symbol of Divine influence. It is invisible, yet mighty; and in view of that it represents the activity of the Holy Spirit. The same word in Hebrew and in Greek, is used to stand for both the wind and Holy Spirit. The mighty power of God may also be represented by the violence of a mighty tempest (see 1 Kings 19:11, Psalms 29, 104:3, 18:10). And along these lines, Jesus by his breath indicated to the apostles the conferring of the Holy Ghost—“And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22; KJV). In this verse the sound “As of a rushing mighty wind” was emblematic of the mighty power of the Spirit, and of the great things which His coming would accomplish among men.
Now I wish to call your attention to something that is very important. When the Holy Spirit came, He was not visible. However, He made His presence known in two ways. There was an appeal to two of the gates through which all mankind gets his information: the ear–gate and the eye–gate. We hear and we see. The Holy Spirit used both these gates. Through the ear–gate they heard a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind.
This sound filled the whole house where they were sitting.
Notice that it was not a wind; it was the sound as of a wind. It wasn’t like the sound of the wind blowing through the treetops. It sounded like a tornado (which I have heard sounds like a train), and I believe that all of Jerusalem could hear it. I used to live in Kansas and I saw firsthand the destruction done by tornadoes. I knew several families who were close enough to hear the approach of a tornado. They all said, “The first thing we noticed was a sound like a thousand freight trains coming into town.” Friend that was a rushing, mighty wind and that was the sound. It was that kind of sound that they heard on the Day of Pentecost.
and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
The sound “filled” not only the room, but “all the house where they were sitting.” It probably startled the whole city, but, in order to show that it was supernatural, it seemed to be concentrated upon that particular house. This would tend to direct the people who heard it to go to that particular house to ask the meaning of it. This wind filling the house would serve to strike the disciples with wonder, and help to put them into a very serious, reverent, and composed attitude, for the receiving of the Holy Ghost.
“And it filled.” The house was filled with the sound that the wind makes, but not with wind. This is evident:
1. Because there is no statement that there was any wind.
2. The verse is clear enough—and suddenly there was a sound as of a wind, and (the sound) filled the house. It should be observed here; that this miracle was really far more striking than the common assumptions make it out to have been. A tempest might have been remarkable. A mighty wind might have startled them. But there would have been nothing unusual or remarkable about it. Such things often occurred; and they may have been troubled by thoughts of a storm, even an ordinary one. But when all was still—when there was no storm, no wind, no rain, no thunder, such a loud rushing sound must have grabbed their attention; and caused them all to wonder what was meant by something so unusual and baffling an occurrence as this was.
“All the house.” Some have assumed that this was a room in or near the temple. But since the temple is not expressly mentioned, this is improbable. Others believe that it was one of the thirty spacious rooms around the temple court, described by Josephus. But it may have been the private dwelling mentioned in Acts 1:12—“For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and ‘His office let another take.’” If the objection to this is that such a dwelling could not hold so large a multitude as would soon be assembled, it may be replied that their houses had large central courts, and that it is not stated that the incident recorded in this chapter occurred in the room which they occupied.
Wherever it was, the crowd gathered there required more space than any private house would provide, especially the upper room where the apostles had been lodging; for that reason, it is probable that it took place in the court and around the house.
3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire,
I would like to call your attention to this—the “tongues” were “like as of fire.” It was not fire, but it looked like fire. Perhaps a better translation would be, “There appeared unto them tongues which divided into separate parts.” That is, the tongues were like a fire and it rested upon each of them. This was the appeal to the eye. So on that Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came to the church, baptizing them into the body of Christ, there was an appeal to the ear and an appeal to the eye.
This is not to be confused with the baptism of fire. The baptism of fire is judgment which is yet to come. In the Book of Revelation we see the wrath of God revealed from heaven; fire from heaven. That is a baptism of fire. If men will not have the baptism of the Holy Spirit, then they must have the baptism of fire—judgment. The baptism of fire is for those who have rejected Jesus Christ. When the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost, they saw something that in appearance looked like fire. Matthew and Luke both report that John the Baptist foretold of One who would baptize “with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Mt 3:11; Lk 3:16).
Together the fire and wind make a graphic picture of the coming of the Spirit of God.
God gave them a visible sign of the gift they were to receive. They saw cloven tongues, like as of fire and it sat—It was not those cloven tongues that did the setting, but He, that is the Spirit, rested upon each of them, as He is said to have rested upon the prophets of the Old Testament. Or there was something that looked like flaming fire that divided into parts, which resembled tongues, coming to rest on every one of them. Observe,
1. Here was an outward sign, given to confirm the faith of the disciples, and to convince others of the power of faith. The prophets of old had frequently used signs so that all Israel might know them to be established prophets.
2. The sign given was fire, so that John the Baptist’s saying concerning Christ might be fulfilled, He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire; with the Holy Ghost whose appearance was like fire. The Spirit, like fire, melts the heart, separates and burns up the dross, and kindles pious and devout love in the soul, in which, as in the fire upon the altar, the spiritual sacrifices are offered up. This is that fire which Christ came to send upon the earth—“I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?” (Lu. 12:49; KJV).
3. The appearance of this fire was like “cloven tongues.” The functions of the Spirit were many; speaking in foreign languages (tongues) was one, and it was singled out to be the principal indication of the gift of the Holy Ghost, and this sign pointed to that gift.
“And there appeared unto them.” They saw them, and experienced everything that happened. They were seen by them before they rested on the heads of the disciples. Perhaps the fire appeared at first as a bright and glistening display, until it became fixed on their heads.
“Cloven tongues like as of fire”—the tongues were the symbol of the languages they were to speak. The cloven tongues pointed out the diversity of those languages; and the fire seemed to imply that tongues would be a spiritual gift, and be the means of bringing light and life to the souls who would hear them preach the everlasting Gospel in those languages.
In this verse the name “tongue” is used because of the resemblance of a pointed flame to the human tongue. Anything long, narrow, and tending to end in a point, is for that reason called a tongue, in the Hebrew language. Then the word is used here to indicate a slender and pointed appearance of flame; perhaps at first moving irregularly around the room.
“Cloven” means divided, separated, from the verb to divide, or distribute into parts. "They crucified Him and parted his garments" (Matthew 27:35); and, "Take this, (the cup,) and divide it among yourselves" (Luke 22:17). The most commonly held opinion is that these tongues or flames were, each one of them, split, or forked, or cloven. But this is not the sense of the expression. It means that they were separated or divided one from another; not one great flame, but broken up, or cloven into many parts; and probably moving without order in the room. In the Syriac it is, "And there appeared unto them tongues which divided themselves, like fire, and sat upon each of them." The old Ethiopic version reads it, "And fire, as it were, appeared to them, and sat on them." This is a beautiful visible symbol of the burning energy of the Spirit now descending in all His bountifulness upon the Church, and about to pour itself through every tongue, and over every tribe of men under heaven!
and it sat upon each of them.
The meaning of this line is that “cloven tongues like as of fire” rested (set, stayed put, remained) in the form of a radiant but gentle flame, upon the head of each one. This indicated that the phenomenon was intended for them, and was a very significant sign of the promised descent of the Holy Spirit. After the rushing sound, and the appearance of the flames, they could not doubt that they were observing some remarkable intervention of God. The appearance of fire, or flame, has always been regarded as a very striking symbol of Divinity. Take for instance, God manifesting himself to Moses in a bush which was burning, but not consumed (Exodus 3:2, 3). And God descending on Mount Sinai in the midst of thunder, and lightning, and smoke, and fire—striking emblems of His presence and power. God is said to be "a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29). The miracle that was unfolding before their eyes, probably reminded them of miraculous events they had witnessed in the past.
1. The prediction of John the Baptist, "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire" (Matthew 3:11) would probably be recalled at once to their memory.
2. The strange appearance of tongues of fire, was a sign of the diversity of languages which they were about to be able to speak. Any form of fire would have conveyed the presence and power of God; but the form of this case was emblematic of the Holy Spirit. The appearance of anything spectacular at the baptism of Jesus might have indicated the presence and approval of God; but the form chosen was that of a dove descending from the heavens; expressive of the mild and gentle qualities with which He was to be filled. In Ezekiel 1:4, it says, “And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.” Any form of flame might have expressed the presence of God; but the appearance God chose was actually symbolic of His Providence. In the same way the appearance described here expressed their distinctive endowments for entering into their great work—the ability to speak powerfully with new tongues.
3. This fire sat upon them for some time, to represent the constant presence of the Holy Ghost with them. The prophetic gifts of the past were conferred sparingly and only at certain times, but the disciples of Christ always had the gifts of the Spirit with them, though the sign gifts (those of a miraculous nature), soon disappeared. Whether these flames of fire passed from one to another, or whether there were as many flames as there were persons, is not certain. But they must be strong and bright flames that would be visible in the day-light, since it was now day-time.
“It sat upon each”—That is, one of those tongues, like flames, sat upon the head of each disciple; and the word “sat” indicated that it became stationary, which shows that this was no illusion. Brilliant flashes of fire were probably seen frequently at first through every part of the room where they were sitting. Eventually, these flashes became defined, and a bright flame, in the form of a cloven tongue, became stationary on the head of each disciple, which is a proof that the Spirit of God had made each his temple or residence. That unusual appearance of fire is considered an indication of the presence and influence of God; both the Scriptures and the Jewish writings support this opinion.
4a And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost,
The sound was heard, the tongues of fire were seen, and its presence filled the house. And what was the immediate effect of this? At the same time the disciples were “filled with the Holy Ghost,” and their spirits were baptized in the Spirit.
“They were all filled with the Holy Ghost,” more abundantly and powerfully than they were before. They were filled with the graces of the Spirit, and more than ever, they were under His sanctifying influences. And as a result, they were now holy, and heavenly, and spiritual, and more weaned from this world and more familiar with the other world. They were full of the soothing effects of the Spirit, and they rejoiced more than ever before in the love of Christ and the hope of heaven, and almost immediately all their grief and fears vanished. They were also filled with the gifts of the Holy Ghost, which means they were endowed with miraculous powers which they used to advance the gospel and as proof that they were filled with the Holy Ghost. It seems evident to me that not only the twelve apostles, but all the hundred and twenty disciples were filled with the Holy Ghost at the same time—all the seventy disciples, who were employed in the same work as the apostles, and all the rest that were also preachers of the gospel. We read in Ephesians 4.8, 11: “Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, and gave gifts unto men… And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” When Christ ascended on high refers to 1 Corinthians 2.33, which says: “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.” He is describing Pentecost, when he gave gifts unto men, not only making some apostles (this was the twelve), but some prophets and some evangelists (many of the seventy disciples became itinerant preachers), and some pastors and teachers (others of them established and served in particular churches). The here “all” must refer to the all that were gathered together (see Acts 1.14, 15; 2.1).
This verse says they were “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Someone may object to me saying they were baptized with the Holy Spirit. Were they? Yes. The Lord Jesus told them they would be. “And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:4–5). The very fact that they were filled with the Holy Spirit indicates that all the other ministries of the Holy Spirit to believers in this age had already been performed. They occurred in this order: First, they were regenerated. A man must be born again. “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Secondly, they were indwelt by the Spirit of God. “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8:9). Thirdly, they were sealed by the Holy Spirit into an eternal relationship with God. “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13–14). And again, “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). It is possible to grieve the Spirit of God, but it is not possible to grieve Him away. He seals the believer unto the day of redemption. We are never told to ask for the sealing of the Holy Spirit. It is something which God does “after that ye believed,” which is better translated “having believed.” Faith in Jesus Christ gives us the sealing of the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption.
Fourthly, they were baptized of the Holy Spirit. This was foretold by John the Baptist (Luke 3:16) and repeated by the Lord Jesus: “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:5). The baptism took place, and it placed them in the body of believers. It marked the beginning of the church. Ever since that day every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is placed into the body of Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13).
Now when the filling of the Holy Spirit took place on the Day of Pentecost, it indicated that the other four ministries of the Holy Spirit had been accomplished. “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” The filling of the Spirit was for service. The experience of the Day of Pentecost came from the filling of the Holy Spirit (not the baptism of the Holy Spirit). It is still the same today. The filling of the Holy Spirit is for service. This is the only work of the Holy Spirit that we are to do anything about—we are commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit: “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Notice that before Pentecost the believers wanted this filling of the Spirit. “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication …” (Acts 1:14). What would their supplication (entreaty, prayer, request, plea) be about? About the promise of the Lord Jesus that He would send His Holy Spirit to them.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is not a command given to us. It is not an experience. It is an act of God whereby the believer in Jesus Christ is indwelt by the Spirit of God, sealed unto the day of redemption, and placed into the church, the body of Christ, by the baptism of the Spirit. To be filled implies that the human spirit within was overwhelmed by, or immersed in, the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Spirit was not a sprinkling, but an outpouring that overwhelmed the human spirit. The filling of the Spirit of God is the enablement for service. We are commanded to be filled with the Spirit.
Now, brothers and sisters, can the Day of Pentecost be duplicated. No, it cannot! It occurred at a precise point in history. We cannot duplicate it any more than we can duplicate Bethlehem and the birth of Christ at Christmas.
The Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost. You don’t have to beg Him to come or urge Him to come. He is here. The Spirit of God is in the world today. Jesus told us what He would do after He came: “He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you” (John 16:14). We know He is here when He takes the things of Christ and shows them to us. And when we are talking about the things of Christ, the Spirit of God has something that He can work with.
HOLY SPIRIT — THE THIRD PERSON OF THE TRINITY, WHO EXERCISES THE POWER OF THE FATHER AND THE SON IN CREATION AND REDEMPTION. BECAUSE THE HOLY SPIRIT IS THE POWER BY WHICH BELIEVERS COME TO CHRIST AND SEE WITH NEW EYES OF FAITH, HE IS CLOSER TO US THAN WE ARE TO OURSELVES. LIKE THE EYES OF THE BODY THROUGH WHICH WE SEE PHYSICAL THINGS, HE IS SELDOM IN FOCUS TO BE SEEN DIRECTLY BECAUSE HE IS THE ONE THROUGH WHOM ALL ELSE IS SEEN IN A NEW LIGHT. THIS EXPLAINS WHY THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE FATHER AND THE SON IS MORE PROMINENT IN THE GOSPELS, BECAUSE IT IS THROUGH THE EYES OF THE HOLY SPIRIT THAT THE FATHER–SON RELATIONSHIP IS VIEWED.
THE HOLY SPIRIT APPEARS IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN AS THE POWER BY WHICH CHRISTIANS ARE BROUGHT TO FAITH AND HELPED TO UNDERSTAND THEIR WALK WITH GOD. HE BRINGS A PERSON TO NEW BIRTH: “THAT WHICH IS BORN OF THE FLESH IS FLESH, AND THAT WHICH IS BORN OF THE SPIRIT IS SPIRIT” (JOHN 3:6); “IT IS THE SPIRIT WHO GIVES LIFE” (JOHN 6:63). THE HOLY SPIRIT IS THE PARACLETE, OR HELPER, WHOM JESUS PROMISED TO THE DISCIPLES AFTER HIS ASCENSION. THE TRINITY OF FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT ARE UNIFIED IN MINISTERING TO BELIEVERS (JOHN 14:16, 26). IT IS THROUGH THE HELPER THAT FATHER AND SON ABIDE WITH THE DISCIPLES (JOHN 15:26).
THIS UNIFIED MINISTRY OF THE TRINITY IS ALSO SEEN AS THE SPIRIT BRINGS THE WORLD UNDER CONVICTION OF SIN, RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND JUDGMENT. HE GUIDES BELIEVERS INTO ALL TRUTH WITH WHAT HE HEARS FROM THE FATHER AND THE SON (JOHN 15:26). IT IS A REMARKABLE FACT THAT EACH OF THE PERSONS OF THE TRINITY SERVES THE OTHERS AS ALL DEFER TO ONE ANOTHER: THE SON SAYS WHAT HE HEARS FROM THE FATHER (JOHN 12:49–50); THE FATHER WITNESSES TO AND GLORIFIES THE SON (JOHN 8:16–18, 50, 54); THE FATHER AND SON HONOR THE HOLY SPIRIT BY COMMISSIONING HIM TO SPEAK IN THEIR NAME (JOHN 14:16, 26); THE HOLY SPIRIT HONORS THE FATHER AND SON BY HELPING THE COMMUNITY OF BELIEVERS.
LIKE FATHER AND SON, THE HOLY SPIRIT IS AT THE DISPOSAL OF THE OTHER PERSONS OF THE TRINITY, AND ALL THREE ARE ONE IN GRACIOUSLY BEING AT THE DISPOSAL OF THE REDEEMED FAMILY OF BELIEVERS. THE HOLY SPIRIT’S ATTITUDE AND MINISTRY ARE MARKED BY GENEROSITY; HIS CHIEF FUNCTION IS TO ILLUMINE JESUS’ TEACHING, TO GLORIFY HIS PERSON, AND TO WORK IN THE LIFE OF THE INDIVIDUAL BELIEVER AND THE CHURCH.
THIS QUALITY OF GENEROSITY IS PROMINENT IN THE GOSPELS OF MATTHEW, MARK, AND LUKE, WHERE THE HOLY SPIRIT PREPARES THE WAY FOR THE BIRTHS OF JOHN THE BAPTIST AND JESUS THE SON (MATT. 1:20; LUKE 1:15, 35, 41). AT THE BAPTISM OF JESUS, THE SPIRIT OF GOD IS PRESENT IN THE FORM OF A DOVE. THIS COMPLETES THE PRESENCE OF THE TRINITY AT THE INAUGURATION OF THE SON’S MINISTRY (MATT. 3:16–17; MARK 1:9–11; LUKE 3:21–22; JOHN 1:33). JESUS IS ALSO FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT AS HE IS LED INTO THE WILDERNESS TO BE TEMPTED (LUKE 4:1). HE CLAIMS TO BE ANOINTED BY THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IN FULFILLMENT OF OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECY (IS. 61:1; LUKE 4:18–19).
DURING HIS MINISTRY, JESUS REFERS TO THE SPIRIT OF GOD (MATT. 12:28–29; LUKE 11:20) AS THE POWER BY WHICH HE IS CASTING OUT DEMONS, THEREBY INVADING THE STRONGHOLD OF BEELZEBUB AND FREEING THOSE HELD CAPTIVE. ACCORDINGLY, THE SPIRIT WORKS WITH THE FATHER AND SON IN REALIZING THE REDEEMING POWER OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. GOD’S KINGDOM IS NOT ONLY THE REIGN OF THE SON BUT ALSO THE REIGN OF THE SPIRIT, AS ALL SHARE IN THE REIGN OF THE FATHER.
THE PERSON AND MINISTRY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE GOSPELS IS CONFIRMED BY HIS WORK IN THE EARLY CHURCH. THE BAPTISM WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT (ACTS 1:5) IS THE POURING OUT OF THE SPIRIT’S POWER IN MISSIONS AND EVANGELISM (ACTS 1:8). THIS PROPHECY OF JESUS (AND OF JOEL 2:28–32) BEGINS ON PENTECOST (ACTS 2:1–18). MANY OF THOSE WHO HEAR OF THE FINISHED WORK OF GOD IN JESUS’ DEATH AND RESURRECTION (ACTS 2:32–38) REPENT OF THEIR SINS. IN THIS ACT OF REPENTANCE, THEY RECEIVE THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (ACTS 2:38), BECOMING WITNESSES OF GOD’S GRACE THROUGH THE SPIRIT.
PAUL’S TEACHING ABOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT HARMONIZES WITH THE ACCOUNTS OF THE SPIRIT’S ACTIVITY IN THE GOSPELS AND ACTS. ACCORDING TO PAUL, IT IS BY THE HOLY SPIRIT THAT ONE CONFESSES THAT JESUS IS LORD (1 COR. 12:3). THROUGH THE SAME SPIRIT VARIETIES OF GIFTS ARE GIVEN TO THE BODY OF CHRIST TO ENSURE ITS RICHNESS AND UNITY (1 COR. 12:4–27). THE HOLY SPIRIT IS THE WAY TO JESUS CHRIST THE SON (ROM. 8:11) AND TO THE FATHER (ROM. 8:14–15). HE IS THE PERSON WHO BEARS WITNESS TO US THAT WE ARE CHILDREN OF GOD (8:16–17). HE “MAKES INTERCESSION FOR US WITH GROANINGS WHICH CANNOT BE UTTERED” (ROM. 8:26–27).
THE HOLY SPIRIT ALSO REVEALS TO CHRISTIANS THE DEEP THINGS OF GOD (1 COR. 2:10–12) AND THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST (EPH. 3:3–5). THE HOLY SPIRIT ACTS WITH GOD AND CHRIST AS THE PLEDGE OR GUARANTEE BY WHICH BELIEVERS ARE SEALED FOR THE DAY OF SALVATION (2 COR. 1:21–22), BY WHICH THEY WALK AND LIVE (ROM. 8:3–6) AND ABOUND IN HOPE WITH POWER (ROM. 15:13). AGAINST THE LUST AND ENMITY OF THE FLESH PAUL CONTRASTS THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: “LOVE, JOY, PEACE, LONGSUFFERING, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS, SELF-CONTROL” (GAL. 5:22–23).
SINCE THE HOLY SPIRIT IS THE EXPRESSED POWER OF THE TRINITY, IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT ONE NOT GRIEVE THE SPIRIT, SINCE NO FURTHER APPEAL TO THE FATHER AND THE SON ON THE DAY OF REDEMPTION IS AVAILABLE (EPH. 4:30). JESUS MADE THIS CLEAR IN HIS DISPUTE WITH THE RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES, WHO ATTRIBUTED HIS MINISTRY TO SATAN RATHER THAN THE SPIRIT AND THEREBY COMMITTED THE UNFORGIVABLE SIN (MATT. 12:22–32; JOHN 8:37–59).
IN PAUL’S LETTERS CHRISTIAN LIBERTY STEMS FROM THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT: “WHERE THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS, THERE IS LIBERTY” (2 COR. 3:17). THIS IS A PROCESS OF “BEHOLDING AS IN A MIRROR THE GLORY OF THE LORD,” AND “BEING TRANSFORMED INTO THE SAME IMAGE FROM GLORY TO GLORY, JUST AS BY THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD” (2 COR. 3:18). THE PERSONAL WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IS ACCORDINGLY ONE WITH THAT OF THE FATHER AND THE SON, SO PAUL CAN RELATE THE GRACE, LOVE, AND COMMUNION OF THE TRINITY IN A TRINITARIAN BENEDICTION: “THE GRACE OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, AND THE LOVE OF GOD, AND THE COMMUNION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT BE WITH YOU ALL. AMEN” (2 COR. 13:14).
AMONG THE OTHER NEW TESTAMENT WRITINGS THE SPIRIT’S MINISTRY IS EVIDENT IN THE PROFOUND TEACHING OF HEBREWS 9:14, WHICH SHOWS THE RELATIONSHIP OF GOD, CHRIST, AND THE ETERNAL SPIRIT. THE HOLY SPIRIT’S WORK IN THE OLD TESTAMENT IN PREPARATION FOR THE COMING OF CHRIST IS EXPLAINED IN THIS AND OTHER PASSAGES IN HEBREWS (3:7; 9:8; 10:15–17).
THIS LEADS US TO CONSIDER THE WORKING OF THE SPIRIT IN THE OLD TESTAMENT IN LIGHT OF HIS MINISTRY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. ALTHOUGH THE PHRASE “HOLY SPIRIT” OCCURS ONLY THREE TIMES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT (PS. 51:11; IS. 63:10–11), THE SPIRIT’S WORK IS EVERYWHERE EVIDENT. THE SPIRIT IS THE ENERGY OF GOD IN CREATION (GEN. 1:2; JOB 26:13; IS. 32:15). GOD ENDOWS HUMAN BEINGS WITH PERSONAL LIFE BY BREATHING INTO THEIR NOSTRILS THE BREATH OF LIFE (GEN. 2:7). THE SPIRIT STRIVES WITH FALLEN HUMANKIND (GEN. 6:3) AND COMES UPON CERTAIN JUDGES AND WARRIORS WITH CHARISMATIC POWER (JOSHUA, NUM. 27:18; OTHNIEL, JUDG. 3:10; GIDEON, JUDG. 6:34; SAMSON, JUDG. 13:25; 14:6). HOWEVER, THE SPIRIT DEPARTS FROM SAUL BECAUSE OF HIS DISOBEDIENCE (1 SAM. 16:14).
IN THE LONG SPAN OF OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECY THE SPIRIT PLAYS A PROMINENT ROLE. DAVID DECLARED, “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD SPOKE BY ME, AND HIS WORD WAS ON MY TONGUE” (2 SAM. 23:2). EZEKIEL CLAIMED THAT “THE SPIRIT ENTERED ME WHEN HE SPOKE TO ME” (EZEK. 2:2). THE SPIRIT ALSO INSPIRED HOLINESS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT BELIEVER (PS. 143:10). IT ALSO PROMISED TO GIVE A NEW HEART TO GOD’S PEOPLE: “I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT WITHIN YOU, AND CAUSE YOU TO WALK IN MY STATUTES” (EZEK. 36:27).
THIS ANTICIPATES THE CRUCIAL WORK OF THE SPIRIT IN THE MINISTRY OF THE MESSIAH. THE PROPHECY OF ISAIAH 11:1–5 IS A TRINITARIAN PREVIEW OF THE WORKING OF THE FATHER, THE SPIRIT, AND THE SON, WHO IS THE BRANCH OF JESSE. LOOKING FORWARD TO THE MINISTRY OF JESUS CHRIST, THE HOLY SPIRIT INSPIRED ISAIAH TO PROPHESY: “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD SHALL REST UPON HIM” (IS. 11:2). THE HOLY SPIRIT INSPIRED JESUS WITH WISDOM, UNDERSTANDING, COUNSEL, MIGHT, KNOWLEDGE, FEAR OF THE LORD, RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND FAITHFULNESS. THUS WE COME FULL CYCLE TO THE NEW TESTAMENT WHERE JESUS CLAIMS THE FULFILLMENT OF THIS PROPHECY IN HIMSELF (IS. 61:1–2; LUKE 4:18–19).
ISAIAH 42:1–9 SUMMARIZED THE REDEEMING WORK OF THE FATHER, SON, AND SPIRIT IN THE SALVATION OF THE LOST, AS GOD SPOKE THROUGH THE PROPHET: “BEHOLD! MY SERVANT WHOM I UPHOLD, MY ELECT ONE IN WHOM MY SOUL DELIGHTS! I HAVE PUT MY SPIRIT UPON HIM; HE WILL BRING FORTH JUSTICE TO THE GENTILES” (IS. 42:1). NO CLEARER REFLECTION OF THE INTIMATE INTERWORKING OF THE PERSONS OF THE TRINITY CAN BE FOUND IN THE OLD TESTAMENT THAN IN THIS PROPHECY. IT TIES GOD’S GRACE IN OLD AND NEW TOGETHER IN REMARKABLE HARMONY.