Upper Room

Acts 2:1

After Jesus ascended to the Father, His followers obeyed His instruction to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would give them power to preach the gospel. About 120 adults stayed in the upper room of a house, probably the same place that Jesus chose for the Last Supper. These 120 were Galileans without homes or friends in Jerusalem. Such close quarters did not pose any problem, for they were accustomed to Jewish inns, where travelers crowded together without privacy.1 Yet we should not imagine that they were cooped up in one room for the whole duration. Most of every day was spent in worship and fellowship at the Temple (Luke 24:52–53).

The company probably included the seventy appointed earlier (Luke 10:1), as well as a group of older women, including Jesus' mother, Zebedee's wife (mother of James and John), and several others who are named in the Gospels. Even Mary Magdalene was probably an older woman, contrary to how she is pictured by Hollywood and by the slanderous stories in The Da Vinci Code.2 The wives and children of the younger men, such as Peter (Mark 1:30; 1 Cor. 9:5), were probably back in Galilee. Jesus had taught His disciples that if they wished to follow Him, they must be willing to leave home and family (Luke 14:26–27; Matt. 19:28–29).

Yet although so many lived together for about ten days, there were no frictions or ruffled feelings. They continued "with one accord" (Acts 2:1). No strife distracted them from their purpose, which was to continue in earnest prayer. They sought to be close to God so that the Holy Spirit would find them ready for His use.

Getting Practical

Unity as our goal

It is remarkable that even before they were filled with the Spirit, the 120 could dwell under the same roof without conflict. The reason is that they had spent the last several years living in the very presence of Christ. Just days before, they had walked and talked with Christ after He rose from the dead. His words and character and love so filled their thoughts as to lift them up above pettiness in their dealings with each other.

We who are indwelt by the Spirit have a great advantage over the believers in the Upper Room. But do we reach the same high mark of unity among ourselves? Do we give the Spirit practical control of our hearts, so that He can prevent any outbreak of anger or self-will?

The disciples remained in the Upper Room until the Feast of Pentecost, which means "fiftieth."3 The feast was so named because it fell on the fiftieth day after the Feast of Firstfruits (Lev. 23:15–16), a celebration properly held the next day after the Sabbath in Passover week (Lev. 23:5–11), but always held in Jesus’ day on the second day of Passover week.4 In AD 33, both reckonings yielded the same result: 16 Nisan, which was a Sunday. This was the very Sunday when Jesus rose from the dead. When measuring a time span, the Jews have always counted the units at both ends. It follows that Pentecost in AD 33—the feast they set fifty days later—also fell on a Sunday, and its date was, as we have said earlier, 6 Sivan (24 May).

Getting Practical

Personal surrender

Like the other feasts that the Lord gave the nation Israel, Pentecost had a spiritual meaning. The nation offered the Lord two loaves of fine flour taken from the first harvest of the year, as well as young, unblemished animals from their flocks and herds (Lev. 23:15-21). These offerings picture what God requires of every believer. We too must be willing to give Him our very best without holding anything back.

It is therefore evident that God intended an important lesson in the timing of the Holy Spirit's descent to fill the disciples. He came on Pentecost, the day illustrating personal surrender to God. The lesson? Full surrender is the requirement we must meet to receive the same filling.

Delving Deeper

Contrasting inaugurations of law and grace

Scripture records that the law was given to Israel in the third month after the exodus from Egypt (Exod. 19:1). The exodus fell in the month Nisan, and the third month on a calendar reckoning Nisan as the first month is Sivan, the month of Pentecost. This coincidence was the basis of a Jewish tradition that Pentecost commemorated the giving of the law.5 Perhaps God chose Pentecost for the giving of the Spirit to emphasize that His descent upon believers was an equally pivotal event in sacred history. Both givings laid the groundwork for a new dispensation. The Age of Law started on Mt. Sinai. The Age of Grace started in the Upper Room. The places of origin—one public and intimidating, the other private and friendly—illustrated the difference between a dispensation centered on fear’s submission to God’s external authority and a dispensation centered on love’s cry for God’s internal presence.

Delving Still Deeper

Agreement between the two reckonings of Pentecost

As we said, the law of Moses set the Feast of Firstfruits on the next day after the sabbath, presumably the sabbath associated with Passover week (Lev. 23:5–11). The Sadducees understood the sabbath specified in verse 11 as the ordinary weekly Sabbath. But the Pharisees connected it with the first day of Unleavened Bread, when, as God said, "Ye shall have an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein" (v. 7). They reasoned that this directly antecedent reference to a day of worship and rest must show the sabbath intended in verse 11.6

Which interpretation, if either, was correct? The subsequent directions for celebration of Pentecost resolve any doubt (Lev. 23:15–16). Counting from the Feast of Firstfruits until the day after the seventh ordinary Sabbath produces, by inclusive reckoning numbering the days at both ends of the interval, a total of fifty days. Therefore, the Feast of Firstfruits must itself follow an ordinary Sabbath. The Sadducees were right.

But in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had enough popular support to command when the nation observed the feast.7 Therefore in every year, the celebration was held on Nisan the sixteenth, one day after the first day of Unleavened Bread on Nisan the fifteenth.

In AD 33, it so happened that the first day of Unleavened Bread fell on a Sabbath. Therefore, even by the misguided reckoning of the Pharisees, Pentecost in that year fell on the day God intended. It was Sunday, 6 Sivan (24 May). In this coincidence we see the hand of Providence, a hand so mighty that it is equal to any task in arranging details of human experience. God oversaw the Jewish calendar to assure that the descent of the Spirit would take place on the day that was Pentecost both in man’s view and in God’s view.

Spirit's Descent

Acts 2:2-4

On Pentecost, the great moment arrived. Suddenly the Spirit descended and took full control of every person in the Upper Room. He made His presence known through supernatural signs. First, a sound of wind came down from heaven and filled the house. Then a flaming tongue rested on each person. Neither of these phenomena embodied the Spirit. Rather, they pictured His presence.

Pondering a Question

Why were the wind and the fire appropriate signs of the Spirit's presence?

The disciples had heard Jesus compare the Holy Spirit to the wind that "bloweth where it listeth [that is, wherever it chooses to go]" (John 3:8). The analogy between wind and spirit was already familiar to them, because the languages they knew did not have words distinguishing these concepts. The word for both wind and spirit, as well as for breath, was ruach in Hebrew,8 pneuma in Greek.9 Also, Jesus doubtless expected His disciples to remember that Ezekiel used the wind to illustrate the Spirit of God (Ezek. 37:9–14).

The Spirit is like wind in His ability to do a great work with profound effects although He is invisible. His freedom to go where He pleases shows that He is no mere force or influence, but a person in His own right, with a will of His own. Although He does the will of the Father and of the Son, He is subject to them not by necessity but by choice. We conclude that He is sovereign God.

No doubt the disciples also knew the saying of John the Baptist that Christ would baptize them "with the Holy Ghost, and with fire" (Matt. 3:11). In many ways, fire affords a good picture of the Spirit.

  1. Fire speaks of purification, such as accomplished by a refining fire when it purges metals of dross. We read of the Spirit's power to purify from sin in many texts (1 Cor. 6:11; John 16:7-8).
  2. Fire speaks also of judgment, because it is destructive. Judgment is another function of the Spirit (Isa. 4:4; John 16:7-8). Just as He did the work of creation in the beginning (Gen. 1:2; Ps. 104:30), so He also does the work of destruction when God ordains it.
  3. The Spirit, like fire, is a giver of light. He is the One who enlightens, or illumines—that is, He gives understanding of spiritual truth (1 Cor. 2:11-16).
  4. The fire at Pentecost took the form of flaming tongues. These suggested that the Spirit would enable believers to witness with burning zeal and power.

Pondering a Question

How was the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost different from His visitations in the past?

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to establish a new relationship with believers. At the Last Supper, Jesus promised to send the Spirit as His replacement (John 14:16–17, 26; 15:26; 16:7–14). The promise was misleading if the Spirit was merely to continue the functions He had always performed.

In the past, He had come upon believers occasionally to empower them for specific tasks. For example, He filled Bezaleel so that he might have the wisdom necessary to build the tabernacle of the Lord and all its furniture (Exod. 31:1–5). He filled the seventy elders of the congregation of Israel so that they might assist Moses, and the outward sign was that they began to prophesy (Num. 11:24–29). He rested upon Gideon so that he would have the courage to lead Israel in war against a host of invaders (Judg. 6:33–36). Many other examples could be cited.

But at the Last Supper, Jesus clearly implied that the Spirit would now form a new relationship with believers. Three of His remarks are especially significant.

  1. He gave the Spirit a new name, Comforter (John 14:16). The Greek word is the source of the English word Paraclete, which means someone who comes alongside to help.10 Moreover, Jesus called the Spirit "another Comforter"; that is, another like Himself. The meaning is that the Spirit would be a helping companion like Jesus. Had the disciples ever been deprived of Jesus' presence and guidance? No, He was a constant companion. So also is the Holy Spirit.
  2. Jesus said that the Spirit would now indwell believers (John 14:17). In other words, He would not come and go from them as He did in the past. Instead, He would reside in each believer's heart.
  3. Moreover, He would "abide with" them forever (John 14:16). The home He established in each heart would not be temporary, but permanent.

Delving Still Deeper

Distortions of John 20:22

To retain the full significance of Pentecost, we must disallow two erroneous teachings based on the incident remembered at the end of John's Gospel, when Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost" (John 20:22).

The first alleges that this incident was when the Holy Spirit came to indwell the disciples. In reply, we can point to Acts 1:4-5. Jesus said that the disciples would not receive baptism of the Spirit until they had waited for it in Jerusalem. We can also point to John 16:7. Jesus said that the Comforter could not come and take Jesus’ place until Jesus departed. Clearly, He was talking about an event that would happen after the Ascension, not before.

The second erroneous teaching acknowledges that when Jesus breathed on the disciples, the Spirit did not descend to indwell them, yet it maintains that they did receive a special filling of the Spirit. In reply, we can present four arguments.

  1. The disciples in the Upper Room before Pentecost displayed no special power. Indeed, they were still casting lots to determine God’s will.
  2. They did not at that time need special power. On the contrary, they needed a special sense of weakness so that they might pray more effectively for the power to come.
  3. Just previously, Jesus had said, "Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you" (John 20:21). His sending of the disciples to preach the gospel would happen in the future. The context therefore suggests that His sending of the Spirit would also happen in the future.
  4. By breathing on His disciples, Jesus was merely teaching them what would soon come to pass. Like the wind, His breath symbolized the Spirit. The meaning was that the Spirit would come forth from Jesus.

Under the Spirit's influence, the disciples began to speak in languages they had never learned. They declared truth resting on divine revelation—a kind of speech that the Scripture calls "prophesying."

Curious Multitude

Acts 2:5-13

In their zeal to witness for Christ, the believers must have gone down from the Upper Room to the streets nearby. There they continued to prophesy in the other tongues that the Spirit was enabling them to speak. They did not go unnoticed, for a multitude quickly gathered to hear them. Luke says that spectators rushed to the scene "when this was noised abroad." A literal rendering is "having arisen this phones."11 The usual meaning of phones is "sound."12 Many readers have inferred that the multitude was attracted by the "sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind" (v. 2).13 But if a noise so powerful and unearthly was heard on the streets as well as in the Upper Room, it would have frightened people away. After it subsided, they might have returned to discover the cause. But the text clearly states that people came as soon as they heard the sound. What drew them must have been the strange but inviting sound of the many languages being spoken. For every foreign Jew in the vicinity, it was a delight to hear his own native language in a place so far from home.

The Jews who gathered around the 120 had come to Jerusalem from places throughout the known world: from as far east as Persia (country of the Medes and Elamites), as far west as Rome, as far north as Pontus in Asia Minor, and as far south as Arabia. They were "devout" in the sense that they revered the God of Israel and honored His law, but not in the sense that they accepted the claims of Christ. When they all heard their native tongues on the lips of Galileans, many marveled but felt uneasy. They said, "What meaneth this?"

Delving Deeper

The diaspora

Perhaps some of these foreigners from eastern countries were remnants of the first captivity, when the Assyrians overthrew the northern kingdom, the Kingdom of Israel, in the eighth century BC and resettled much of its population in other parts of their vast empire. But most of the Jewish diaspora (dispersion) in the days of Acts were remnants of the second captivity, when the Babylonians conquered the southern kingdom, the Kingdom of Judah, in the sixth century BC and led away its best citizens to Mesopotamia. Those who returned after the second captivity belonged mainly to the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi.

The old idea that the ten northern tribes disappeared, becoming lost tribes, is a myth, however. Some of the eastern settlements dating back to the first captivity may have eventually blended into the Jewish community at large. Also, representatives of all the tribes lived in the southern kingdom (2 Chron. 11:16-17; 17:2; 34:3-6, 9). After the first captivity, Judah absorbed many of those left behind.

Ancient Jews were tremendously prolific. After the second captivity, migrating Jews established colonies throughout the Roman world and in many places became a dominant presence.14 In Egypt, they numbered close to a million.15 The Jews living in the capital city, Rome, became so troublesome that the Emperor Claudius, in AD 49, expelled them.16

Pondering a Question

Was the crowd made up of foreigners living in Jerusalem or of pilgrims to the festival?

The answer depends on the Greek word translated "dwelling" (v. 5). It has been claimed that it refers to settled residence—to staying long-term and not just for a matter of days.17 Indeed, this is the sense we usually find (Acts 1:20; 7:2, 4, 48; 9:22; 11:29; 13:27; 17:24, 26; 22:12). But its meaning should not be construed too narrowly. Luke obviously did not intend us to view the word as excluding reference to Jews who were visiting the city only for a few days or weeks, for he described some of the gathered multitude as not only dwellers in Jerusalem (v. 5) but also as dwellers in Mesopotamia (v. 9). (The puzzling structure of the list opens the possibility that "dwellers" is linked also with places mentioned after Macedonia.) Joachim Jeremias has left us a fascinating discussion showing that Jerusalem in Jesus’ day was a magnet for Jews from places far and wide. Many took up permanent residence in the city, together forming a substantial portion of its population. But many also came at festival time to join in the celebration.18

Delving Still Deeper

Basis for Luke's selection of nations

Luke’s list of nations represented in the crowd of witnesses to the events at Pentecost has raised many difficult questions which commentators have long debated.

  1. Why does Luke omit reference to Syria, the current or original home of many Jews in the city? For that matter, why does he include Judea but leave out Galilee? Also, why does he omit Greece and Macedonia? And why is his list of provinces in Asia Minor not all-inclusive? He mentions Cappadocia, for instance, but not Galatia nearby. The reason for these anomalies is that he is enumerating all who said, "And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?"
         Some commentators have suggested that the tongues recognizable to hearers from different lands included dialects of Greek, the dominant language in the eastern Roman Empire.19 But in the first century, the ancient dialects that had once been scattered over the Greek mainland were now fused and supplanted by Greek in the form known as Koine.20 When the 120 spoke in tongues, one purpose was to overleap all barriers to communication. But between speakers of Koine, no real barriers existed. If there were any regional variants, the differences between them were slight. Nevertheless, some Greek dialects that preceded Koine were still alive in the first century, and, as we will show, one or two of these were probably among the tongues spoken at Pentecost.
         Exactly which tongues were spoken? Many of the common people in Galilee and even in Judea knew Aramaic but were ignorant of Greek (Acts 21:37–39). Yet it is probable that some or many of the 120 were bilingual, with functional command of Koine Greek as well as Aramaic.21
    1. In later years, many of the apostles served as evangelists and church leaders in the Greek-speaking world (1 Cor. 9:5).
    2. Several left us writings in Greek (the New Testament books by John, James, Mark, etc.).
    3. In Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, he quoted at length from the Old Testament (Acts 2:17–21, 25–28, 34–35). Although the Septuagint provided a Greek translation, there was no Aramaic translation—perhaps one reason the Pharisees viewed the Jewish masses as "this people who knoweth not the law" (John 7:49). It therefore seems probable that the language of his sermon was Koine.22 While he spoke, another member of the 120 might have translated his sermon into Aramaic.

         We infer that neither Aramaic nor Koine Greek was among the "other tongues" (v. 4) heard at Pentecost. Prophesying in either of these languages already known to all or many disciples would not have appeared supernatural, and the effect would not have been to draw amazed onlookers. Aramaic was the native tongue of both Galilean and Syrian Jews, and Koine was the native tongue of Jews from Greece and several other regions missing from Luke’s list. All these Jews receive no mention because in the welter of "other tongues," they did not hear anything they understood. The explanation for omission of any region that spoke neither Aramaic nor Koine must be that it did not furnish any portion of the crowd listening to the disciples at Pentecost.
         We conclude that every land appearing in the list had as its native tongue something other than Aramaic or Koine. Perhaps most prominent among the languages rising from the 120 were first-century forms of Persian, Latin, Arabic, and Egyptian (Demotic). Why does Luke mention Judea? Perhaps to underscore that another language was Hebrew, which was still alive in some Judean homes, but nearly dead in Galilee.23
  2. The last answer raises more questions. Although Luke overlooked many Greek-speaking nations and regions, he included others. Why? They appear evidently because a native tongue from a bygone era was still extant. It may not have been what a local Jew spoke at home, but he employed it so often in his daily rounds that he viewed it as his own language.
    1. Phrygia. The Phrygians, originally a Balkan nation, invaded Anatolia in about the eighth century BC24 and took possession of the large central region later known as Phrygia. Their language and culture remained uppermost in this region well beyond the first century AD.25 Phrygian was the language spoken in Antioch and Iconium, among the first cities evangelized by Paul and Barnabas.26 In each was a substantial Jewish community which could have furnished witnesses to the miraculous tongues-speaking at Pentecost (Acts 14:19).
    2. Asia. Among the early churches in the province of Asia, including the one at Colossae ("Colosse" in the KJV) and the seven addressed in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 2–3), were doubtless some with a Jewish base. The province was an amalgam of regions27 with indigenous languages, including Phrygian, Lydian, and Carian.28 But all these old tongues seem to have disappeared from Asia by the first century AD,29 although Phrygian was still predominant in Galatian Phrygia and, according to Strabo (died c. AD 24),30 Lydian survived in the Asian city of Cibyra. But the meager evidence for any of these languages even when in common use cautions us against viewing a lapse of evidence for any as proof it was now extinct or now unknown to Jews whose families had lived in Asia for generations.
    3. Cappadocia. Peter’s letter to Jewish believers including some in this region (1 Pet. 1:1) is consistent with Luke naming it as one homeland of Jews who heard their language spoken at Pentecost. An ancient non-Greek language peculiar to Cappadocia survived until the 6th century AD.31
    4. Pontus. A Jewish presence in Pontus is affirmed not only by Luke’s record of Pentecost, but also by his reference to the origin of Paul’s friend Aquila (Acts 18:2). Pontus was another site of an early church (1 Pet. 1:1). Any indigenous language of Pontus has been lost to history, but some Jews from Pontus were probably acquainted with another non-Greek language, Galatian. This Celtic dialect was brought into Asia Minor when the Celts, also called the Gauls, invaded it in 278 BC and took possession of the north central region that became known as Galatia.32 Galatian, which in the first century AD was still spoken in rural areas,33 lingered at least until the fifth century.34 In 3/2 BC, a southern portion of Pontus was attached to the province called Galatia and became known as Pontus Galaticus.35 It is possible that the presence of a Celtic population in that area was one consideration promoting the merger. If so, it is likely that any Jews living in Pontus Galaticus would be familiar with Galatian and at Pentecost would have been identified as residents of Pontus.
    5. Pamphylia. The chief evidence for a Jewish presence also in this region is that Paul preached at Pamphylian Perga at the close of his first missionary journey (Acts 14:25). It was his practice at that time to use a synagogue as his starting base for evangelism. The language that Pamphylian Jews heard at Pentecost is a bit of a mystery. The ancient tongue native to the region seems to have disappeared long before,36 and the dialect known as Pamphylian Greek was probably little used in the first century.37 This dialect was quite distinctive in many respects, especially in its omission of articles.38 Thus, it is quite possible that when Pamphylian Jews heard it spoken, they recognized it as belonging to their heritage, and because it was simply a form of Greek, they also understood it.
    6. Crete. Here we have a similar case. The ancient tongue called Eteocretan was probably extinct in the first century,39 and Koine was making inroads against the older Greek dialect, Doric, that once prevailed in the region.40 Yet it had not disappeared,41 so that Cretan Jews might well have identified it as their own and found it comprehensible.
  3. Luke says that the crowd included "strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes." From what land do these Jews and proselytes come? He is likely summarizing the composition of the whole crowd. Yet positioning them right after Rome probably had a purpose; namely, to put Paul in a better light. He wanted the Roman officials to know that the church was not a weird growth on the margins of the civilized world, but a movement that, from the beginning, was joyfully embraced by good citizens from every corner of the empire, even by both Jews and gentiles (albeit proselytes) from the imperial capital itself.
  4. What consideration dictated Luke’s ordering of the nations? Some have proposed that he places them roughly from east to west. But why then does he give Arabians last? The reason is that he organizes the regions by kingdom. First come all in the Parthian Empire, then all in the Roman Empire, and lastly the Arabians, who lived in the independent kingdom of the Nabataean Arabs.

Delving Still Deeper

Luke the poet

An even greater difficulty when we seek to understand Luke’s list of nations is the attributed source. He says that the words quoted in verses 7a through 11 were spoken one to another by all who were in the crowd. But it is impossible that a large group of onlookers all deprived of the Spirit’s filling could have uttered precisely the same long string of words. Indeed, the complex list of nations does not appear to be anyone’s spontaneous expression.

The difficulty is overcome when we recognize the poetic structure of the speech in verses 8 to 11 inclusive. Discovery of another poem in Luke’s writings should be no surprise, since it has been well established that in his Gospel, the parables of Jesus have poetic form.42

  1. The opening and closing words exhibit parallelism.

    And how hear we every man in our own tongue,
         wherein we were born?. . . .
    We do hear them speak in our tongues
         the wonderful works of God.

  2. The enclosed list of nations is highly rhythmic in its repeated use of kai ("and") and the article to (with its sound-alike variants).
  3. He organizes the names to juxtapose the same endings, thereby generating pleasing internal rhyme. First come Parthoi and Medoi. Later come two quasi-stanzas with an AAAB rhyme scheme: Mesopotamian, Ioudaian, Kappadokian, and Ponton, followed by Asian, Phrugian, Pamphulian, and Aigupton. Toward the end we find Romaioi, Ioudaioi, and proselutoi. Lastly come Kretes and Arabes.
         Although rhyme was not a regular feature of Greek poetry, it was not unknown to the Greeks. Aristotle recognized its use in a rhetorical device which he variously named paromoiosis or homeoteleuton. The technique he described was to give a similar sound to the endings of neighboring phrases or clauses.43 Matching words with the same finishing letters is exactly the technique we find in Luke’s poem. Generally, because of the nature of Greek inflections, the last syllables of words were weakly stressed.

We conclude that Luke only means to attribute verse 7b to the whole crowd. The rest of the speech, verses 8 to 11 inclusive, is intended as a poetic summary of everything else the crowd was saying. Perhaps it was an early Christian hymn.

Pondering a Question

Is tongues-speaking in churches today the same as what happened on Pentecost?

No, on Pentecost, the believers spoke in real languages. Each speaker could find someone in the crowd who understood exactly what he was saying. The tongues-speaking in churches today is mere babble. No example that has been recorded and analyzed is an identifiable language; nor does it have the properties of a language. It is a psychological phenomenon known as glossolalia. Almost anyone, believer and nonbeliever alike, can be taught to do it. Indeed, the priests and priestesses in pagan religions have, in their rituals, used ecstatic speech similar to what is heard in modern Pentecostal and charismatic churches.

Delving Deeper

The contrast between Babel and Pentecost

At ancient Babel, as judgment upon the nations striving to become godlike in their great achievements, God withdrew their common language and rebuilt their minds so that different groups would afterward think and communicate in different languages. This confusion of tongues forced them to abandon their unified civilization and to go separate ways.

At Pentecost, many different languages were heard again—not as a result of divine judgment seeking to drive peoples apart, but as a result of divine mercy seeking to bring men together in the body of Christ. Pentecost was to some degree a reversal of Babel. Ever afterward, the ministers of Christ would cross language barriers to reach the world with the gospel. They would go as missionaries to other lands, where provision of both verbal and written testimony to Christ would require them to master languages unknown in the world of their childhood.

Delving Deeper

Returning to the distant past

After fundamentally different tongues emerged at Babel, distinct varieties continued to proliferate throughout history, at least until recently. Now, the total number of extant languages and dialects in the world is, for the first time in history, not growing but shrinking. The reason is that as modern life forces people to join the global community, regional languages are replacing the traditional languages of cultural subgroups. Today, if someone wished to craft an oral message for two thirds of the world, he would need to frame it in perhaps no more than ten languages.44 One language, English, seems to be slowly emerging as the common speech of all mankind.

The original scattering of the peoples congregated at Babel was in part a pragmatic measure driving them to occupy the whole earth as God had commanded (Gen. 1:28; 11:8). It was vital that they disperse during the Ice Age, when land bridges between continents were still available for safer passage than afforded by sea travel.45 But the confusion of languages was also a stroke of judgment on corporate sin: on pride in what they could create by pooled effort and ingenuity (Gen. 11:5–6), on discontent with their appointed realm, the face of the earth, which they sought to escape by building a tower heavenward (Gen. 11:4), on willingness to concede supreme authority to a mere man (Gen. 10:8–10), and on invention of a new man-centered religion.46

The decline in language diversity today seems like a return in some respects to Babel.47 But it is not the only trend backward to the same point in history. Like the builders of the original tower, we too think that no challenge exceeds our prowess. We call it modern science and technology. (These are not inherently evil, of course, but are increasingly being exploited for evil purposes.) We too are trying to reach the heavens. We call it our space program. We too are coming together under a single government with totalitarian potential. We call it the United Nations. We too are seeking a common form of religion congenial to man’s sinful heart. We call it, when intended for the elite, humanism, or, when intended for the masses, ecumenism.

Is it possible for modern man to reverse God’s judgment on his ancient forbears? Can he through exercise of the united strength of many advanced nations build, as it were, a new Babel of far greater scope and sophistication? He will try, but he will fail (Rev. 16–18).

The many spectators perceived that the speakers of other tongues were Galileans.48 Some have suggested that their peculiar accent was the giveaway. But this accent belonged to their use of Aramaic. It should not have been evident in their Spirit-enabled use of other languages. Perhaps the giveaway was their dress, but clothing in the ancient world exhibited nothing like the variety we see in the world today. Most likely, the fact that the believers were Galileans, even followers of Christ, was probably known to people living near the Upper Room. From this source, the information spread throughout the assembled multitude. Everyone had the same question on their minds: how did these Galileans become fluent in the languages of faraway lands? All the spectators were amazed. They started debating the significance of what was happening. Although the majority was content to marvel, some began to mock, accusing the believers of being drunk.

Foolish Charge Refuted

Acts 2:14-15

We may surmise that as the 120 spoke, they did not remain in one place, but rather drifted toward the Temple, which was better suited for a large gathering. After a while, probably when they entered the Temple’s outer court, Peter stood forward with the other apostles to address the multitude. He denied that the believers were intoxicated with new wine.

"New wine" means sweet wine.49 During the fermentation of grape juice, yeast (a type of fungus) converts grape sugar to alcohol. Thus, sweet wine refers to wine that either has not fermented or has not fermented completely. How could sweet wine be available in Jerusalem in the month of May, several months before the grape harvest? The only wine available in May must have remained from the grape harvest of the previous year. The answer is that the ancients knew many methods for preventing or retarding fermentation. All these served to maintain the sweetness of the wine.

Delving Deeper

Keeping grape juice free of alcohol

At least four methods of preserving grape juice were in common use.50

  1. Fermentation proceeds only if the concentration of grape sugar falls within a certain range. Thus, boiling the fresh juice until the sugar concentration exceeds a certain amount prevents the formation of alcohol. The syrupy liquid so produced lasts unfermented for years. It is highly prized as a drink both in concentrated form and when mixed with water. Evidence from tradition and from many ancient writers indicates that this method of preserving grape juice has been widely practiced in the Middle East since time immemorial.
  2. On the same basis we know that another method was also widely practiced. After the grape harvest, jars containing the pressed juice were stored in caves or wells where the temperature was low enough to inhibit fermentation, which occurs only within a certain temperature range, the lower limit being about 45°F. While the cooled wine sat undisturbed, sediment drifted to the bottom. The clear juice then poured off from the sediment remained unfermented for about a year. The benefit of keeping the wine still was that the yeast bodies responsible for fermentation settled out with the lees.
  3. Grape juice with enough sweetness to remain unfermented can be made just by pressing dried grapes. The result, called raisin wine, was the staple drink of Roman women in the early days of the Republic.
  4. Salt retards fermentation. According to Columella, an ancient writer, "Some people—and indeed almost all the Greeks—preserve grape juice with salt or sea-water."51

The accusers referred to sweet wine only because it was the common drink. Peter pointed out that it would be hard to get drunk by the third hour of the day (nine o'clock in the morning). It would be especially hard to get drunk on sweet wine. Much of it was not alcohol-free because it had sat for a while at warm temperatures after reconstitution or after retrieval from storage, but still it had low alcoholic content. Devout Jews concerned to avoid intoxication could easily protect themselves by drinking sweet wine only if it was newly made or newly brought from a cool place.

Getting Practical

How to handle malice

The charge brought against the apostles was a foolish charge born of malice, but it was the kind of unreasonable opposition that Christians contend with every day. Notice that in answering the charge, Peter was patient and kind. He did not retaliate with anger or sarcasm. Thus, he set an example for us.

Joel's Prophecy Fulfilled

Acts 2:16-21

Peter then boldly presented the true explanation for the Galileans’ astonishing ability to speak in tongues. His hearers were not seeing drunkenness, but were witnessing the fulfillment of a prophecy in Joel that in the last days, God would pour out His Spirit upon His people (Joel 2:28-32a). As Peter quoted the prophecy at length, the Spirit inspired him to change the wording slightly, replacing "afterward" (v. 28) with "in the last days" to clarify the time intended. Joel was in fact pointing to the last dispensation of earth history before Christ would set up Himself as world ruler. The last days were the Church Age, then commencing at Pentecost.

Two Forerunners

Many prophecies in the Old Testament have two fulfillments, one at the first coming of Christ and another at His second coming. For example, speaking through Malachi, God said that before Christ came, Elijah would come and prepare the way. "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet . . . : And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse" (Mal. 4:5-6). At Christ's first coming, the prophecy was fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist (Matt. 17:11-12). At His second coming, the prophecy will be fulfilled when Elijah himself returns as one of the two witnesses who will call down plagues on the earth (Rev. 11:1-13).

Two Outpourings

Joel's prophecy also has two fulfillments. At Christ's second coming there will be wonders in the sky. Jesus said, "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken" (Matt. 24:29). All surviving Jews will be saved, and God will pour out His Spirit upon them. Ezekiel prophesied, "Then shall they know that I am the LORD their God, which caused them to be led into captivity among the heathen: but I have gathered them unto their own land, and have left none of them any more there. Neither will I hide my face any more from them: for I have poured out my spirit upon the house of Israel, saith the Lord GOD" (Ezek. 39:28-29).

But at Christ's first coming there were also celestial signs. Peter's hearers remembered very well the darkening of the sun when Jesus died (Luke 23:44-45). Scientists have shown that when the moon rose over Jerusalem on the evening of the Crucifixion, there was a partial lunar eclipse, making the moon look as if it were smeared with blood.52 A few days later, at Pentecost, the other part of Joel's prophecy was fulfilled. The assembled multitude could see that the servants and handmaidens of the Lord were prophesying under the influence of the Spirit. Since we may assume that Joel’s prophesy was fulfilled exactly, we need not doubt that the whole company who had been in the Upper Room, women as well as men, were on the streets declaring God’s Word. Besides, Luke states as a fact that "they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues" (v. 4).

Christ the King

Acts 2:22-24

Peter's hearers had not accepted the claims of Christ, but they were devout Jews who knew the Scriptures well. They understood that Joel's prophecy referred to the time when Christ would set up His kingdom. Peter therefore proceeded to show that indeed Christ had come and that indeed the Kingdom Age had begun.

He started by calling their attention to the "miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know." Not even His enemies had been able to deny Jesus' miraculous works. Instead, they had accused Him of being a sorcerer in league with "Beelzebub, the prince of the devils"—in other words, with the devil himself (Matt. 12:24).

Nevertheless, Peter's hearers must have felt that Jesus' death was proof that He was not Christ, for they believed that the real Christ would immediately conquer His enemies and set up an everlasting kingdom on the earth. Knowing their thoughts, Peter instructed them that God required Christ's death at the hands of wicked men. But he added, "It was not possible that he should be holden of it." Jesus did not stay dead, but rose again from the grave.

Psalm 16

Acts 2:25-31

To prove that Jesus' death did not invalidate His claim to be Christ, Peter quoted David’s words in Psalm 16:8-11, calling their attention especially to verse 10: "For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." The word for hell in the original Hebrew version is Sheol,53 but in the Greek translation that Peter used, it is Hades.54 In Jesus’ day, Sheol, also known as Hades, was the realm of both the righteous and the unrighteous dead. For the unrighteous it was a place of torment, but for the righteous it was a place of rest and comfort (Luke 16:19–31; "hell" in v. 23 is Hades55).

Notice that God would grant the Holy One a most unusual deliverance. The Holy One would share the ordinary human experience of death, and after death, His soul, like the souls of other men, would go to Sheol. Yet God would not leave His soul there. By implication, God would remove it by an act of direct intervention. But where would the soul of the Holy One be taken?

The psalmist goes on to say that although the Holy One would die, He would escape "corruption." The corresponding Hebrew word, shachath, is the noun form of a verb that, in its many occurrences, always carries the sense "corrupt" or "destroy."56 Unquestionably, the prophecy contains the thought that no corruption would touch the body of the Holy One after His death. What would happen to avert normal degenerative processes?

The most straightforward resolution of these two questions supposes that a single event would both terminate His soul’s stay in hell and spare His body from decay. The event that the prophecy foreshadows must be a resurrection, reuniting His soul and body in new, unending life. To forestall the corruption of His body, the resurrection would have to take place soon after His death, within a few days at most.

Peter presented an argument that is as unanswerable today as it was then. A casual reader of Psalm 16 might think that David was talking about himself. But Peter pointed out that more than a thousand years after David died, his body still lay in a tomb nearby. So, David was not talking about himself. Indeed, the Holy One’s attainment of immortality almost immediately after death marks Him out as no ordinary man. He must be Christ. The psalm must be a prophetic vision of Christ triumphing over death and the grave.

David used first-person pronouns—words like "my" and "me"—for two reasons: first, because Christ would be God in the flesh and, as a prophet, David was speaking from God’s point of view; second, because Christ would be "the fruit of his [David’s] loins." Therefore, Christ would in a sense be an extension of David himself.

The first point Peter was making was that the Jews were wrong in supposing that Christ would escape death. The second point was that prophecy gave a simple test of whether any man claiming to be Christ was speaking the truth. The test was whether he would rise from the dead before his body suffered any corruption.

Christ Risen

Acts 2:32

Peter was now ready for the capstone of his argument. He triumphantly proclaimed that in fulfillment of David's prophecy, Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. Referring to the 120 believers who stood nearby, he said, "We all are witnesses." They had all seen the risen Christ. In later years, when the church came under severe persecution, some of these 120 died a martyr's death rather than deny that Jesus had risen from the dead.57

The Resurrection was the crowning proof that God approved of Jesus and that His claims were true. He was, as He said, the rightful king of Israel—more than that, the rightful king of the whole world.

Getting Practical

Christian evidences

To prove that Jesus was the Christ, Peter used two kinds of evidence: His miracles and His fulfillments of prophecy. Besides these, we have a multitude of other evidences that Christianity is true, including design in nature, the impossibility of evolution, the accuracy of the Bible, the genius and sterling character of Christ, and the transforming power of the gospel.

As we will see in our study of Acts, evidences were prominent in the preaching of the apostles, although in the modern church they have fallen into neglect. But it is difficult to witness to an educated person today without discussing evidences. His mind has been so indoctrinated against Christianity that he automatically rejects any statement grounded on the Bible. In bringing such a person to Christ, the Holy Spirit often begins by using Christian evidences to open up his mind.

To use evidences effectively, however, we must observe the following guidelines:

  1. We must study them ourselves, so that what we say is correct and convincing.
  2. We should not use evidences in detail unless we detect that the hearer has rejected Christianity mainly because he has been taught that it is not true, yet in his own heart he is not sure. The reason for this guideline is that God reveals Himself only to those with a seeking heart (Deut. 4:29; Prov. 8:17; Jer. 29:13; Luke 11:9; Heb. 11:6).
  3. When we use evidences, we must be careful not to engage in mere argument, degenerating into rancor. Rather, we must keep a humble spirit and continue talking only so long as we sense an interest in what we are saying. We avoid casting our pearls before swine (Matt. 7:6).
  4. We do not discuss evidences as a substitute for giving the gospel. The gospel should be brought into the discussion as soon as the hearer appears willing to hear it.

Another important use of evidences is to strengthen the faith of Christian young people and new Christians. A good grounding in the reasons assuring us that the Bible is true affords them a strong shield against the unbelieving lies they hear in the world, and against the worldly influences luring them into moral corruption.

Christ Exalted

Acts 2:33-35

After showing that Jesus is the King, Peter showed next that He had already begun to reign. He informed the multitude that Jesus had ascended to the right hand of the Father. The 120 standing with Peter could testify that they had seen Him ascend just ten days ago. The Jews understood that the Father's right hand was a place of great privilege and authority, a place suitable only for One who was no less than the Father's coregent. As proof of the high dignity now belonging to Jesus, Peter told them that Jesus, with the Father's authorization, sent the Spirit who had this day descended upon them.

Pondering a Question

If Christ has already begun to reign, where is His kingdom?

Although Jesus sits on a throne with authority second only to the Father's, we do not see Him ruling this world. Yet He lives and rules in the hearts of those who believe in Him. Wherever the King is, there also is His kingdom. That is why Jesus taught His disciples, "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20-21).

To establish that Jesus' exaltation agreed with prophecy, Peter recalled David's words in verse 1 of another psalm, Psalm 110: "The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool." Again, as in his reference to Psalm 16, Peter insisted that David was not talking about himself. It was Jesus, not David, who had ascended to heaven.

Delving Deeper

Psalm 110

In His last confrontation with the Jewish leaders who bitterly opposed Him, Jesus rebuked them for ignoring Psalm 110. He asked, "How say the scribes that Christ is the son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, 'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.' David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son?" (Mark 12:35-37, quoting Ps. 110:1).

Jesus pointed out that David refers to the second Lord, the Lord who would overthrow many kings (Ps. 110:5) and countries (Ps. 110:6), as "my Lord." This future conqueror was known to the Jews by the name given Him elsewhere in prophecy. He was the Messiah (Dan. 9:25), which means "anointed One" (so translated in Ps. 2:2).58 Thus, from Psalm 110 the Jews understood that the Messiah would be David's Lord. Yet, other prophecies plainly teach that the Messiah would be David's descendant (Ps. 89:3–4; Isa. 11:1–5; Jer. 33:15–17). Why would a father call his own grandson "Lord"? As a rule, honor goes to the ancestor, not to the offspring. A father who knelt before his son, or even a grandson many generations removed, would be acting contrary to nature, unless, of course, the offspring were a uniquely exalted person. David's willingness to concede the title "Lord" to his son therefore implies that his son is not only his own lord, but even the Lord of all men. He must be very God.

Yet Psalm 110 carefully distinguishes between David's Lord and another Lord who is even higher in authority, for He is the One who invites David's Lord to sit at His right hand. His title rendered as "Lord" is actually the divine name Jehovah.59 Thus we learn from Psalm 110 that the Godhead consists of at least two distinct persons. The Lord who speaks must be God the Father, and David's Lord—the One appointed to reign over all—must be God the Son.

Critics dispute the traditional view that the psalm is David's vision of Christ. They maintain that a later poet wrote it as a celebration of David's military victories in the bygone days of Israel's glory. They say that the poet uses "Lord" in verse 1 only as a term of honor for David, the mighty king.

Admittedly, the word so translated is Adon,60 which in Scripture often denotes a human lord or master. Two simple considerations are enough, however, to show that the critical interpretation of the psalm lacks merit.

  1. The psalmist identifies the second Lord as a "priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek" (v. 4). David was not a priest. Nor did anyone imagine that he was a priest, much less a priest forever. The priesthood of the second Lord must refer to His divine role as perpetual mediator between God and man.
  2. Although verse 1 is vague concerning the identity of Adon, subsequent verses show clearly who He is. He appears in verse 5 as "the Lord," which in Hebrew is Adonai, a common name for God.61 Never does the Old Testament grant this title to a mere man. Yet, Adon in verse 1 and Adonai in verse 5 are the same person. Both sit at the right hand of God. Furthermore, what Adonai accomplishes (vv. 5-7) is what Adon was given to do (vv. 1-3).

Repent and Be Baptized

Acts 2:36-38

Peter concluded His sermon by accusing Israel of crucifying the man God sent to be their Lord and Christ. The accusation fell on the multitude like a sword. They were "pricked in their heart." For the first time, many realized that their failure to follow Christ was a great sin. Groaning under an overwhelming burden of guilt, they cried out for relief: "What shall we do?" But their sorrow had not yet brought them to salvation. The apostles were their "brethren" only in the sense that they were fellow Jews.

Peter answered with the simple gospel. From their response to his preaching, he knew that they were already close to saving faith. They saw themselves as sinners, and they recognized Jesus as Lord and Christ. Therefore, he merely asked them to repent. He meant that they should turn from their wickedness in rejecting Christ and receive Him as their personal Savior. Only by putting their faith in Jesus could they gain "remission of sins." This expression refers to deliverance from sin's penalty. The believer in Jesus will never face that penalty, because Jesus paid it on the cross. A person whose sins are forgiven is said to be saved.

Peter instructed his hearers that the next step after repentance is to be baptized in the name of Jesus.

Pondering a Question

Did Peter mean that baptism is necessary for salvation?

In commanding the new believers to be baptized, Peter was merely following the steps given in the Great Commission: first, to make disciples, then to baptize them (Matt. 28:19). He did not mean that baptism is necessary for salvation. As Peter himself observed years later, the dipping of a man's body in water has no effect on the condition or destiny of his soul (1 Pet. 3:21). Getting wet has no spiritual value. Baptism is mainly an opportunity for a new believer in Christ to show the world that he is now a Christian.

Peter's wording, "Repent, and be baptized" shows that he expected baptism to follow salvation immediately. He linked the two requirements because he wanted a convert to know that getting saved was not just a decision of the moment, but the entrance to a new life requiring concrete steps of obedience, the first being baptism. Others afterward include going to church, regular Bible reading and prayer, witnessing, and doing good works.

Gift of the Spirit

Acts 2:39-40

One immediate benefit of salvation is to receive the Holy Spirit. He enters the believer's heart and makes it His home. Christians say, based on Jesus’ promises, that He indwells the believer (John 14:17). Notice that upon entering a man’s heart, the Spirit indwells whereas a demon possesses (Mark 1:32; Luke 8:36; many other texts). The former, motivated by love, is seeking fellowship. The latter, motivated by envy, is seeking to master and destroy.

The Spirit wants to help the believer succeed in pleasing God. He supplies wisdom for hard decisions, strength for good works, endurance for times of testing, and comfort for times of loss. From Him also come love, joy, peace, and all the other virtues known as the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22-23). Anyone who uses all the help the Spirit is willing to provide is said to be filled with the Spirit. The only requirement to receive His filling is a desire to walk day-by-day in obedience to God.

The multitude could see that the disciples who had been waiting in the upper room had received the Spirit, but Peter assured them that the Spirit wished to enter them too. The promise of the Spirit was not reserved for a few at Pentecost, but intended for anyone who accepted salvation in Christ. Therefore, just as the gospel was for "all nations" (Matt. 28:19) "even unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8), so the promise of the Spirit was for "all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." It was also for the children of Peter’s hearers. Since "children" stands without qualification, the term must refer not only to children then alive, but also to future generations.

Getting Practical

Being filled with the Spirit today

On Pentecost and in the days afterward, the Spirit gave believers an amazing power to do God's work and live according to His will. In some respects their experience was unique. The 120 who left the upper room spoke in tongues, and the apostles performed many "wonders and signs" (Acts 2:43). The term "signs" shows their purpose. They gave visible proof that the church was a work of God.

Believers today do not speak in tongues or go about working miracles. God still performs miracles in answer to prayer, but no one is gifted to do them routinely just by speaking a command. Why? We have no need to display wonders and signs. We can offer a completed Bible as well as many other evidences, including our witness to God's work in our own lives, to verify that the gospel is true. But it is wrong to think that we cannot reach the high plane of spirituality that appeared in the church after Pentecost. Peter's assurance that the promise of the Spirit is for us proves that we should seek to be filled with the Spirit just as the early Christians were.

Delving Still Deeper

Peter's forward-looking sermon

Some scholars question the authenticity of Peter’s speech at Pentecost on the grounds that it reflects the thinking of a later time.62 He anticipates the gospel going to the whole world; by implication, even to gentiles everywhere. Further, he does not reckon the climax of history as imminent. In the view of these scholars, the disciples at the time of Pentecost saw the church as a Jewish movement that God intended to unite the whole Jewish world, but they excluded gentiles from their picture of church’s mission. Also, they were fervently looking for the Messiah’s kingdom to be inaugurated even during their lifetimes.

What Peter said at Pentecost was, however, just a simple rephrasing of what Christ said at His ascension a few days earlier.

He had directed the disciples to reach out to the uttermost parts of the earth. Surely Peter knew that there were no Jews so far away. It was a simple deduction that the gospel was for gentiles.

Also, Christ had discouraged any hope that He would soon set up His kingdom. He expressly refused to confirm that it was near, and He added that the church had a huge task to complete first. That Peter did not fail to comprehend is obvious in his second epistle, where he speaks of Christ’s return as an event far in the future (2 Pet. 3:3–13). At Pentecost he therefore knew he was on solid ground when he said that the gospel would be offered to future generations.

Huge Expansion of the Church in One Day

Acts 2:41

Peter's sermon was one of the most effective ever preached. His voice thundered out over the great throng and brought conviction to many hearts. Few who had come to see the strange happenings could resist his appeal to repent. All who "gladly received his word were baptized." No less than three thousand were added to the church. Within one day the church expanded by more than twentyfold.

As Peter had promised, the new believers immediately received the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit enters a man's heart, He transforms him into a new creature. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). Before salvation, a man is a slave to sin. Afterward, through the power of the Spirit, he can refuse sin and maintain a holy life. Paul said, "Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness" (Rom. 6:18). Thus, the test of whether a man has been saved is whether he has become a far better man.

Pondering a Question

Aside from the 120, when did other believers in Jesus before Pentecost receive the Spirit?

Notice that Peter’s sermon was addressed to unbelievers. After charging them with crucifying Jesus (v. 36), he called on them to "repent" (v. 38) in order to "save" themselves "from this untoward generation" (v. 40). They had to meet this condition before they received the Spirit. The strong implication is that all who met this condition in the past had received the Spirit already. He also descended on them, wherever they were, when He filled the 120 in the Upper Room.

Among those now enjoying the Comforter’s presence were many in Galilee—including some households of the 120, some of the five hundred believers who saw the risen Christ (Matt. 28:16–17; 1 Cor. 15:6), and others besides—as well as many elsewhere that Jesus during His ministry had commended for their faith. Believers were widespread. Some were in Galilee, some in Judea (Luke 19:1–9; John 9:35–37, etc.), some in Samaria (John 4:39–42), and even some outside the country (Matt. 15:21–28).

In our discussion of Acts 18:24–28, we will tackle the tough question as to how and when these earlier believers were baptized.

In many converts today, the change visible to others may seem gradual. But the change in the multitude who were saved at Pentecost was immediately dramatic. At the day's end, they did not simply walk home and resume their former way of life. Rather, they joined the community of Christians and adopted a new way of life. They exhibited both traits that especially distinguish a person transformed by the Spirit. 1) They had a strong love for God. 2) They had a strong love for God's people.

Christian Love

Acts 2:42-47

"They continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine." Because they wanted to understand God's Word, they took every chance to hear the apostles teach. They continued also in "breaking of bread." The writer is referring to the Lord's Supper, a ceremony that Christ had commanded the church to observe regularly as a remembrance of Christ's death. By sharing in it, the new converts expressed their gratitude for the salvation that God had provided. Finally, they continued in "prayers." Prayer is the most intimate fellowship with God that man is capable of. So, the new converts appreciated not only God's Word and God's work of salvation, but also the person of God Himself.

Getting Practical

Loving God

Do you love God? How do you show it? It would be hard to prove that you love Him if you hardly ever look at a Bible away from church, or if you never thank God for saving you, or if you never pray except when you are in trouble. If there is no evidence that you love Him, are you really saved?

Unlike modern churches, which meet only a few times during the week, the early Christians met every day. They went to the Temple for worship and then spread throughout the city to visit kindred believers in their homes. There, they shared meals and fellowship.

Getting Practical

Loving God's people

Here is another test of your salvation. Do you love God's people? It would be hard to prove that you love them if you seize every excuse to stay away from the one place where you find them—at church. If there is no evidence that you have a special love for believers in Christ, are you really saved?

The love that knit the early church together was so strong that they "had all things common."

Pondering a Question

Did the early church practice a form of communism?

The writer's meaning has often been misunderstood. They did not engage in communal living. Each family kept its own home. Nor did they practice communism. In communism, a ruler abolishes private property and dictates how the wealth should be distributed. But in the early church, the sharing of wealth was voluntary, not compulsory. The apostles did not force anyone to hand over his property to the church. The wealthy sold excess houses and lands, but retained whatever possessions they needed. Their possessions remained private property.

The church distributed proceeds according to need, so that the greatest portion went to the most deserving of help. As we learn later in Acts, the only regular dole went to poor widows.

Pondering a Question

Was it really God's will for the early church to share property?

Yes, the sharing of wealth in the early church was God's will. In passage after passage, God commands the wealthy to be generous to the poor. For example, John taught, "But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" (1 John 3:17). Paul agreed, saying to Timothy, "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life" (1 Tim. 6:17-18). The words "distribute" and "communicate" have much the same meaning.63 They refer to assisting the needy with money and material help.

Getting Practical

A heart for the poor

In a prosperous nation like the United States, believers should be more generous, but in fact they are stingier. In relation to believers in other nations or in the past, professing evangelical Christians in America today spend a greater percentage of personal income on church facilities, making them lavish retreats for the wealthy, but a lower percentage on charity and missions. Their priorities are clearly selfish. They justify their neglect of charity by pretending that there are no needy people around them or, if they see any, by assuming that the government will take care of them. They shortchange missions on the grounds that the whole world has already heard the gospel. But all their excuses will evaporate when they stand before God in judgment.

The Jews in Jesus’ day, especially their religious leaders, were also callous toward the poor. They viewed poverty as God’s punishment for sin. To excuse their heartlessness, they told themselves that the poor were getting what they deserved. But Jesus turned the social ladder upside down when He taught, "Blessed be ye poor" (Luke 6:20). Both by His words and His conduct He made it clear that far from ranking at the bottom in God’s estimation, the poor ranked at the top. The new standing that Jesus conferred on the poor led directly to the vigorous work of the early church to help them.

The Church

In the Book of Acts, the first use of the term "church" appears in Acts 2:47: "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." The term was first used by Christ when He told Peter, "Upon this rock I will build my church" (Matt. 16:18). The rock He meant was Himself. As Paul taught, "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:11). "Church" is an appropriate name for the fellowship of believers because it means "those called out."64 Believers have been called out of the world into the kingdom of God.

Delving Deeper

The church universal

Some Baptists deny the existence of a universal church, in the sense of a mystical entity that is more than the sum of all local churches. They take this position in defense of a Baptist distinctive—the belief in the autonomy of the local church. They say that the doctrine of the universal church compromises this distinctive by legitimizing ecclesiastical hierarchies and denominations. How? Supposedly because if there is a universal church, such structures can say in self-justification that they merely make the ties visible that already exist between churches and believers.

This rejection of a universal church illustrates how a party spirit in theology often leads to doctrinal extremes. The Bible teaches that the church is the same as the body of Christ (Col. 1:18). There is only one body (Eph. 4:4). Thus, the church equivalent to the body must be singular as well. Jesus did not say to Peter, "Upon this rock I will build my churches." It is entirely appropriate to consider this one church as a universal church, because it embraces all believers.

Yet it is not merely the sum of local churches, for two reasons. (1) There are believers who belong to no local church. Many deathbed conversions take place apart from the presence or knowledge of any local church or its members. Also, under severe persecution, local churches may break down, leaving believers scattered and isolated. (2) The singular church contains believers only, whereas most local churches include some members who are not truly born again. The point of Jesus’ Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matt. 13:24–30) is that the visible church, including all members of local churches, is a mixture of God’s children and the devil’s children, and that there is no practical way of rooting out the devil’s children without eliminating some of God’s children as well.

Equivalence between the universal church and the body of Christ is not just a metaphor, but a mysterious and mystical reality.


  1. Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ (repr. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), 49–50; Ralph Gower, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987), 234; William L. Coleman, Today’s Handbook of Bible Times and Customs (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers, 1984), 201.
  2. See the thoroughgoing critique provided by Josh McDowell, The Da Vinci Code: A Quest for Answers (Holiday, Fla.: Green Key Books, 2006).
  3. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, reprinted in An Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, by W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Jr. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984), 844.
  4. Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, trans. F. H. and C. H. Cave (German ed., 1962; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969), 264; Jos. Ant. 3.10.5–6.
  5. TB Pesachim 68b.
  6. Judah Benzion Segal, The Hebrew Passover (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963), 249–251.
  7. Ibid., 251.
  8. Merrill F. Unger and William White, Jr., Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1980), reprinted in An Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, by W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Jr. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984), 393.
  9. Vine, 1075.
  10. George Ricker Berry, Interlinear Greek-English New Testament (N.p., 1897; repr., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1981), 391; Vine, 200; William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 623–624.
  11. Berry, 424.
  12. Vine, 1068.
  13. Richard N. Longenecker, The Acts of the Apostles, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 272.
  14. Merrill F. Unger, "Dispersion of Israel," in Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), 269–270; T. Nicol, "The Dispersion," in The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, ed. James Orr (n.p., 1929; repr. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955), 855–859.
  15. Philo In Flaccum 6, 8.
  16. F. F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 20–21.
  17. Longenecker, 272.
  18. Jeremias, 58–73.
  19. Thomas Walker, Acts of the Apostles (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965; repr. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1984), 64.
  20. Walter Bauer, "An Introduction to the Lexicon of the Greek New Testament," in William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), ix–xx1.
  21. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (repr. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, n.d.), 1:129.
  22. Rudolf Stier, The Words of the Apostles, 2nd ed., trans. G. H. Venables (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1869; repr. Minneapolis, Minn.: Klock & Klock Christian Publishers, Inc., 1981), 19.
  23. Coleman, 107–108; Jeremias, 241.
  24. Claude Brixhe, "Phrygian," in Roger D. Woodard, ed., The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 71–72.
  25. Rainer Riesner, Paul’s Early Period: Chronology, Mission Strategy, Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 282–283.
  26. F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 319; William Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915), 42–3, 59, 65–78.
  27. Eckhard J. Schnabel, Paul & the Early Church, vol. 2 of Early Christian Mission (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 1204-1205.
  28. Woodard, 30-a; Brixhe, 69; H. Craig Melchert, "Lydian," in Woodard, 56; H. Craig Melchert, "Carian," in Woodard, 64.
  29. Brixhe, 71–72; Melchert, "Lydian," 56; "Lydian," Omniglot: the online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages, Web (omniglot.com/writing/lydian.php), July 17, 2017; Melchert, "Carian," 64.
  30. Strabo Geography 13.4.17; Arnold Hugh Martin Jones, The Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces, 2nd ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), 49, 74.
  31. Jones, 175–176; Strabo Geography 12.1.2; Basil of Caesarea de Spiritu Sancto 29 [74]; Mark Janse, "The Resurrection of Cappadocian (Asia Minor Greek)," AΩ International online magazine, issue 11 (January, 2009), Web (onassis.gr/enim_deltio/foreign/11/lecture_...), July 17, 2017.
  32. Schnabel, 1095.
  33. Riesner, 282–283.
  34. Ibid.; Jones, 121; Jerome, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, Preface to Book II.
  35. Schnabel, 1095; Jones, 169.
  36. Vit Bubenik, Hellenistic and Roman Greece as a Sociolinguistic Area (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1989), 279.
  37. Ibid., 280.
  38. "Pamphylian Greek," Wikipedia, Web (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pamphylian_Greek), July 19, 2017.
  39. "Eteocretan," Mnamon: Ancient Writing Systems in the Mediterranean, Web (http://lila.sns.it/mnamon/index.php?page=Lingua&id=10&lang=en), July 6, 2016.
  40. Roger D. Woodard, "Greek Dialects," in Roger D. Woodard, ed., The Ancient Languages of Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 49a, 51; "Doric Greek," Wikipedia, Web (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doric_Greek), July 27, 2016.
  41. Bubenik, 84.
  42. Kenneth E. Bailey, Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables of Luke, combined ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976).
  43. Aristotle Rhetoric 3.9.9; J. A. Cuddon, The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, rev. C. E. Preston (1976; repr., London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1999), 386.
  44. Jason Oxenham, "The 15 Most Spoken Languages of the World," Rocket Languages: 2017 Edition, Web (rocketlanguages.com/blog/the-15-most-spoken-languages-in-the-world/), May 2, 2017.
  45. Tim Clarey, "The Ice Age and the Scattering of Nations," Acts & Facts, August 2016, 9.
  46. Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, or, The Papal Worship Proved to Be the Worship of Nimrod and His Wife, 2nd American ed. (Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Bros. 1959).
  47. Kenton Rickard, personal communication, July 20, 2016.
  48. Bruce, Acts, 3rd ed., 116; Longenecker, 272.
  49. Berry, 424; Arndt and Gingrich, 161; Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, corrected ed. (n.p.: Harper & Bros., 1889; repr., New York: American Book Co., n.d), 118.
  50. Ed Rickard, "Bible Teaching on Alcoholic Drink. Lesson 2: Texts in Praise of Wine," Bible Studies at the Moorings, Web (themoorings.org/ Christian_separation/alcohol/texts_praising_wine.html), June 29, 2016.
  51. Columella On Agriculture 12.25.1.
  52. Colin J. Humphreys and W. G. Waddington, "Dating the Crucifixion,"Nature 306 (1983): 741–744; Colin J. Humphreys, The Mystery of the Last Supper (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 80–94.
  53. Jay P. Green, Sr., The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew/English, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1983), 2:1394.
  54. Berry, 426.
  55. Ibid., 282.
  56. Green, 2:1394; Unger and White, 96.
  57. Ed Rickard, Primer of the Christian Life (n.p.: The Moorings Press, 2016), 54.
  58. Unger and White, 246.
  59. Green, 3:1497; James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (repr., McLean, Va.: MacDonald Publishing Co., n.d.), 626; James Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible with Their Renderings in the Authorized English Version, in Strong’s Concordance, 8.
  60. Green, 3:1497; Strong’s Concordance, 626; Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary, 8.
  61. Green, 3:1498; Strong’s Concordance, 626; Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary, 8.
  62. Longenecker, 285–286.
  63. Vine, 206, 318.
  64. Ibid., 75–76.

Further Reading

This lesson appears in Ed Rickard's In Perils Abounding: Commentary on Acts 1-14. For further information, click here.