What Does this Mean?
Today’s Text: Acts 2:1-8, 11-12
SEASONS: Pentecost (Shavuot)
That Jesus of Nazareth literally died and bodily rose from the dead makes the resurrection the central tenet of Christianity. Another equally supernatural event that occurred 50 days later, however, is also given focused attention in the book of Acts.
On that day known as Shavuot or Pentecost, the church was birthed and dramatically empowered by the Holy Spirit. Luke describes the circumstances surrounding Pentecost in the following passage:
ACTS 2:1-8, 11-12
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.
They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.
Utterly amazed, they asked:
Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language . . . we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’
Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’”
The biblical celebration of Shavuot that concluded the season of Bikkurim (Firstfruits) began with the waving of a representative first sheaf taken from the barley harvest on the first day of the week following Passover.
Fifty days later on the morning of Shavuot, another ceremonial offering of the harvest was required at the Temple. This time, wheat flour from the firstfruits of the wheat harvest was used to prepare two loaves of leavened bread approximately two feet long and a foot wide. These giant yeast bread loaves were then baked and given to the priests.
Filled with pageantry and spiritual significance, the priest would ascend the ramp of the altar holding a baked loaf in each hand. When he reached the platform of the altar, the priest was required to methodically wave the two loaves before the Lord from each of the four sides of the altar.
Following the exuberant Temple observance, everyone in Jerusalem gathered in private homes or public meeting places to celebrate the festive occasion, which explains why the disciples were gathered in an upper room.
Our Lord’s own words as recorded by the apostle John are key to grasping the transformation of the day Christians now observe as Pentecost. The night before our Lord and Saviour was crucified, He told the disciples,
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (Jn. 14:16).
Fifty days after His resurrection, Jesus fulfilled His promise. People of faith are well acquainted with the facts; but let’s look at a couple details.
Violent Wind – Tongues of Fire?
As the disciples celebrated Shavuot, a deafening roar like a violent wind filled the room. In conjunction with the mighty sound of rushing winds, supernatural “tongues of fire” appeared above each of the 120 guests in the room.
It is noteworthy that the text describes the sound as wind. The words “spirit” and “wind” derive from the same root pneo (Gr. πνέω) translated wind, breath, spirit. In an inaugural occurrence evidenced by the sound of what we might call gale force or hurricane-like wind, the Holy Spirit baptized the disciples gathered in the room by indwelling each person, thereby creating the new identity known as the church.
The fire—that separated to form what looked like individual flames resting over each person in the room—was the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise (Mt. 3:11; Lk. 3:16; Acts 1:5). (1)
Before His ascension to heaven ten days earlier, Jesus had told his disciples,
“John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5).
What Does This Mean?
If you’ve experienced the concussion of an explosion or the strength of deafening thunder, it’s not difficult to imagine the sound of violent rushing wind so intense that it drew the attention of the multitudes thronging the city of Jerusalem for the celebration of Shavuot.
When they left the room following the supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were met by a crowd gathering to investigate the source of the deafening roar. Explaining what had transpired, the disciples began spontaneously communicating in different languages that permitted devout pilgrims from at least 13 different nationalities to hear the Good News in their native tongues (Acts 2:9-11).
In response to their question, “What does this mean,” Peter explained the significance of the event to the gathered throng. More than 3,000 believed Peter’s message, placed their faith in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus the Christ and were added to the newly birthed church as a result (v. 41). Incidentally, you may have noticed that no one was required to attend a membership class or sign a doctrinal statement.
It was an astonishing outcome at the conclusion of the celebration of Shavuot. The spiritual harvest of 3,000 souls was the “firstfruits” of the redeemed body of believers (later Christians) who constituted the freshly consecrated church.
The practical implications for people of faith living in the 21st century are equally astonishing.
Is it coincidental that our Lord’s resurrection took place on the first day of the week—on the Feast of Bikkurim—following Passover? Paul described Jesus’ resurrection saying:
“Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20).
Later, the apostle James described the church as, “firstfruits of His creatures” (Jas. 1:18).
Is it coincidental that the two loaves were prepared and baked separately for the Feast of Shavuot—50 days after Firstfruits? Remember, the two loaves constituted a single offering as stipulated by the Mosaic Law. Many believe the offering typifies the church—a single new entity made up of two parts—Jewish and Gentile Believers (Eph. 2:13-16).
The church is truly unique. Not an organizational structure or a building on a piece of prime real estate; rather, the church is organic comprised of people who by the grace of God have not only been redeemed, but also baptized into the body of Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
On the day of Shavuot, God launched the church by sending His Holy Spirit to indwell every Believer! And, that is exactly the point of commemorating Pentecost some 2000 years later. My generation has spent significant time evaluating the subject of Pentecost focusing on the question: What was it?
In our obsession to determine what constituted the manifestation at Pentecost, we failed to discuss the more relevant question expressed by the God-fearing men of Jerusalem who ran to the disciples asking, “What does this mean?” (Act 2:12). Jesus anticipated that question as He prepared the disciples for the eventuality of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit:
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The Greek word translated “power” is dunamin (Gr. δύναμιν) describing raw explosive energy. The Lord’s words require little commentary.
Each Believer is energized by the Holy Spirit to accomplish the ministry of the corporate church. The church is not reliant upon the combined natural talents, abilities and expertise of members, but rather on the Holy Spirit working through individuals He indwells and empowers for service.
The church is a supernatural entity designed to visibly demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit in the everyday realities of life, but particularly in sharing the Good News.
It is my prayer that you’ll take time to consider what the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit means to you, to the success of your local church and your mandate to impact the world with the Good News. Begin now to make preparations to celebrate Pentecost Sunday—it’s the birthday of the church!
When more than a few of you emailed or phoned that your pastor dissed the celebration of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday this year, it likely comes as no surprise that Pentecost has waned in popularity in the faith community. Be assured of my prayers; and, be vigilant in rehearsing the deep and rich heritage of our faith as recorded in the Holy Bible.
Charles E. McCracken is an international Bible teacher, long-time friend of Israel and advocate for the Jewish people. Rev. McCracken is known for authenticity in communicating biblical truth that makes his presentations relevant for those seeking to understand the significance of Israel and the church in Bible prophecy. He staunchly supports the nation of Israel and the Jewish people’s right to exist and live in peace.
© Charles E. McCracken 2016, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author via Contact Form under ABOUT. Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society ®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. (Emphasis added.)
1) Scripture repeatedly uses fire to represent God’s presence. For further study, read: Gen. 15:17; Ex. 3:2–6; 13:21–22; 19:18; 40:38.
1) Pentecost preaching. By Gebhard Fugel (1863 – 1939), [PD-US, PD-Art], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios