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.
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).
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.
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."
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?"
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
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.
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.
Joel's Prophecy Fulfilled
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Repent and Be Baptized
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.
Gift of the Spirit
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.
Huge Expansion of the Church in One Day
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.
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.
"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.
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.
The love that knit the early church together was so strong that they "had all things common."
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.
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.