Start today by reading Acts chapter 2 here. Don’t forget to leave your answers to the questions below in the comments at the bottom of this page.
After a brief introduction to bring us up to speed, Luke begins chapter two with the exciting stuff of Acts. The day of Pentecost was a celebration that was exactly fifty days (pente=50) after Passover. What this means is that because Jesus spent three days in the grave and forty days alive again before His ascension, the disciples had been waiting and praying in Jerusalem for seven days (50-40-3=7).
Their seven day prayer meeting in that upper room concluded violently with what we find here in the beginning of chapter two. We often think that God only speaks in a “still, small voice” like He did with Elijah, but we see here that God breaks in with a “violent, rushing wind.”
We don’t know what a “tongue of fire” is that rested over each person, but we do know that something physical happened that they could each see. They immediately knew this was what Jesus was talking about when He told them to wait for the Holy Spirit. This was no gentle stirring, this was an assault on their lives by the Holy Spirit. God had come in their midst in power and it sent them out into the streets.
Because people in the ancient world could not just hop on a plane and fly to Jerusalem, it seems many had made an extended pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover and had stayed for Pentecost. Expatriated Jews from all over the Greco-Roman world have returned to Jerusalem for the season of feasts and were milling around the city. When the disciples hit the streets, each person heard them in their own native tongue.
Understanding Their World
Now is a good time to mention a piece of background information that is critical in understanding Acts. All the people from foreign nations mentioned in Acts 2 were Jews, not Gentiles. In Jewish culture expressed in Acts, there were five distinct types of people. Without understanding who each of these are, it will be easy to misinterpret who we are talking about in a given situation. Let’s define them here:
these are people who are by blood and religion Jewish born and living in the Holy Land.
2) Hellenistic Jews
These are also by blood and religion Jewish, but have expatriated throughout the Greco-Roman world(hence “hellenistic”). Many of them were descendants of Jews who did not return from Persia when the temple was rebuilt, but stayed around and later migrated around the world after the conquest of Alexander the Great. However they got there, they are Jews who did not live in Israel and their first language was not Hebrew.
3) Jewish converts
Gentiles who become “Jewish” by religion. In the temple, there was a separate court for them to worship in. For a Gentile to become a Jewish convert, they must have been circumcised as an adult and begin following Jewish law. This was no small task, and it is a subject that will be of the greatest importance later in Acts.
4) God-fearing Gentiles
These are people who fear the God of the Jews, but have not become converts, meaning they have not been circumcised. They are not allowed to worship in Synagogue as a Jew or in the court of the Gentiles at the temple.
“Pagans” from any other nationality besides Jewish. They do not worship the God of the Jews.
Acts will make a lot more sense when we understand these distinctions.
Converging On Jerusalem
Thousands of these Hellenistic Jews from out of country were hearing the disciples speaking in their native tongues and they were amazed. At least on heckler said that they were drunk. This raises an interesting question. Why would someone say they were drunk because they were speaking a language they shouldn’t know? It might just be that the disciples were overcome by what they were experiencing in such a way that they acted slightly drunk. Whatever the reason, Peter uses the opportunity to explain what is going on.
Peter’s sermon is very interesting. He quotes a passage from Joel 2 where he says that they are seeing its fulfillment, that all should prophesy. It is also worth noting that Rick Larson, founder of the Bethlehem Star project, says that the astronomical events Peter quotes from Joel 2 happened on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, something most or all of these people were in town to witness. What this means is that Peter is in effect saying, “You all saw what happened that was prophesied about in Joel, so the other part of Joel’s prophecy is also coming true. God is going to pour our His Spirit on all flesh now.”
Peter went on to conclude his sermon with the accusation that everyone there was responsible for crucifying Jesus. His “altar call” at the end is quite effective, “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 Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) It is important for us to always remember that repentance of sin is a foundational event in process of salvation.
Three thousand Jews accepted Peter’s call that day and then began devoting themselves daily to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship with the other disciples, to eating together and to prayer. We would do well to emulate those same activities today.
They began living communally, selling what they had to supply for others who were in need. This was not a form of communism. There was no compulsion in what they did, everything they gave they did so freely as an outflow of their newfound joy. Without that joy, this kind of communal living will not work, but oh what a joy to be so free to love one another like this!
Questions for Chapter 2
1. What do you think it felt like to receive the gift of tongues as on the day of Pentecost?
2. What do you think it was like for all these foreigners to descend on Jerusalem together? When have you been a pilgrim before?
3. Do you think Peter was scared of accusing the crowd of murder? Would you have been intimidated to say what Peter said?
4. Do you believe this same power and boldness is available to us today? If no, why not? If yes, do you regularly ask God for it?