Lecture Three.
The Meaning of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21

WE are to consider now the next great event following the marvelous things recorded for us in the Gospels. First, there was the incarnation of our Lord Jesus. God became Man for our redemption; the coming to this earth of God the Son to unite man with Deity. Then Calvary, the sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus Christ, when He gave Himself a ransom for all, to put away our sins. Next, the physical resurrection of the Saviour. Now we have Pentecost, the coming of another Person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, to dwell in the Church on the earth and to empower believers to carry the message of grace everywhere.

Notice the opening words, "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place." At that time the believers in Jerusalem numbered about 120 and they could all be together, and— more important — they were all of one accord. But do not make a mistake. Pentecost did not come because they were of single unity and in one place; they were there expecting Pentecost, in obedience to the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. Pentecost was a predetermined epoch in the mind of God and the Word of God. It had been settled from all past ages just when the Holy Spirit was to descend and take up His abode with the people of God on earth. The Lord Jesus had said that the Father would send the Comforter and "He shall take of Mine, and shall show it unto you" (John 16:15). He also said, "Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49).

The Holy Spirit was to introduce a new dispensation and God had definitely settled the time when that dispensation would begin— the day of Pentecost. If you turn back to Leviticus 23 you learn there of Israel's ecclesiastical or sacred year, with the great festivals that belonged to it, among them the Passover in the spring (on the 14th day of the month Nisan), answering to the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now when Passover came He died; that is, the appointed Passover. He observed Passover on the evening before His death. The Jewish day began with the evening of one day, as we would count, and went on to the evening of the following day; so on the first evening Jesus ate Passover with His disciples, and before the next evening He died, the spotless Lamb on Calvary. "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor. 5:7, 8).

Then if you follow on in Leviticus 23 you will see that on the morrow after the sabbath they were to bring a sheaf of the firstfruits. Now we are told Christ has been raised from the dead and "become the firstfruits of them that slept" (1 Cor. 15:20). So just as Passover typified the death of Christ, the firstfruits typified His glorious resurrection, the firstborn from the dead.

Again referring to Leviticus 23, we read in vers. 15 and 16, "Ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave-offering (that is, the firstfruits); seven sabbaths shall be complete: even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat-offering unto the Lord." Now, fifty days had to elapse from the offering of the firstfruits until the feast of Pentecost. Pentecost really means the fiftieth day, so God had ordained that this feast should be observed in Israel as the type of the beginning of a new dispensation when a new meal-offering would be offered to the Lord: "Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave-loaves ... baken with leaven." These could not typify our Lord because they had leaven in them, and leaven is a type of sin and He was the sinless One; but they do typify those who through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ are presented to God a new creation, Jew and Gentile, sinners in themselves but their sins judged in the light of the Cross of Christ. Therefore Pentecost was the beginning of a new age, that of the Church, the Body of Christ.

When the day of Pentecost came, the apostles, in response to the command of the Lord Jesus, were with one accord in one place. Just where was that one place? It is not as easy to decide as one might think. A good many take it for granted it was in the upper room where the 120 gathered for prayer, but when we turn back to Luke (which is the first part, if I may remind you, of which Acts is the second part) we read, "And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God" (Luke 24:52, 53). They abode in an upper room, but day after day they went to the temple and in the temple courts, where there was a great deal of liberty, they gathered together to praise and bless the Lord. Different groups met among themselves; there a group of Sadducees with their teacher, and here a group of Pharisees with their instructor. The disciples came there to praise and bless God. It may very well have been there that the Holy Spirit came. That may also account for others assembling there and hearing all that was going on. On the other hand, the upper room may have been in a public place and the sound as of a rushing mighty wind may have commanded the attention of the people and caused them to flock to that upper room. Personally, I feel the likelihood that it was in the courts of the temple that they were gathered when the Holy Spirit came.

"They were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind." The Lord Jesus had used wind as a type of the Holy Spirit in speaking of the new birth: "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). So to these believers came the sound as of a rushing mighty wind. The Holy Spirit could not be seen, but His presence could be felt and heard. "And it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them." The people looked on in amazement. What looked like fire, however, was not fire; it was the visible manifestation of the descent of the Holy Spirit. Just as when the Lord Jesus Christ came up from His baptism in the Jordan the Holy Spirit was seen descending like a dove and lighting upon Him, so now tongues like as of fire were seen resting upon the heads of the disciples. Doubtless these tongues had special meaning. The hour had come when God was to lift from men the curse of Babel. At Babel God so confounded and divided the one language that men spoke that they found themselves speaking in many languages. Now the Holy Ghost had come with power to enable His messengers to witness in many tongues to the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

"And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." Immediately were they all filled. The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost for two purposes. He came to usher in the new dispensation, to baptize into one Body all believers. Were they not the children of God? Yes, but they were just so many units; but now when the Spirit of God came they were all baptized into one Spirit, one Body. More than that, they were empowered for testimony. The Spirit had come to take of the things of Christ and reveal to believers the things of God and to unctionize them as they went forth to proclaim the gospel to others. This is for all nations. There is not a hint here that this is to be confined just to Israel. God gave these Jewish disciples power to present the Word in the languages of all the people who had come to Jerusalem to keep the feast of the Lord.

We read, "There were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language." The question has been raised whether the miracle was in the disciples' speaking different languages, or in the ears of the hearers, so that the apostles all spoke in their native Galilean tongue but the people heard in their own languages. Verse 4 makes this very plain. "They ... began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." These Galileans who may never have learned any other language than their own now suddenly found themselves so laid hold of by the Holy Spirit that their tongues were loosed and they began to speak and preach intelligently in the languages of the people gathered there to listen. These people, amazed, murmured to one another, saying, "Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?" Then you have a long list of the different people represented there; most of them were Jews, many were proselytes, and there were others not listed among either. The last to be mentioned are Cretes and Arabians. These were probably Gentiles and yet as they listened they said, "We hear them speak in our own tongue the wonderful works of God." No wonder they marveled.

But still others there listening to the apostles couldn't understand; they heard what seemed gibberish to them. They said, "These men are full of new wine; they are drunk, uttering nonsensical sounds that mean nothing." This situation was illustrated very clearly to me some years ago in San Francisco when a group of us were in the habit of going down to the worst part of the city every Saturday night where hundreds of sailors from the ships in the harbor would pass. We held a street meeting from eight o'clock until midnight, speaking to all classes of men. One speaker, now a missionary in Argentine Republic, was a Spaniard by birth, yet spoke fluently French, Italian, Portuguese and other languages. When he would see a group of French seamen passing (the name of their ship upon their caps), he would suddenly call out to them in their own language and speak to them for perhaps twenty minutes; and then, as he sighted a group of Portuguese sailors (easily distinguished by their uniforms) he would swing over and talk to them in Portuguese and they would gather in close. Later he might speak to a group of Spaniards or Mexicans and then perhaps to some Italians. There was rarely a Saturday night when he did not speak in all of these different languages. More than once I have seen persons come up and say, "What is the use of listening? He is drunk. You can't understand a word he says!" They did not know the language, and that is the way it was on Pentecost. Peter and his companions were not acting strangely— that wasn't the point; but as they spoke in different languages, those who couldn't comprehend came at once to the conclusion that they were drunk.

"But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words; for these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day" (that is, just nine o'clock in the morning, and ordinarily folks did not get drunk so early). But this which is taking place today, this power, this manifestation, this Spirit that is working, "this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel,' and he quotes most accurately from the Old Testament prophecy which, you will see, if you will turn over to the book of Joel and read carefully, refers to the beginning of the millennium. It has reference to the time when God will pour out His judgment on the nations and when the Lord Jesus will come the second time and establish His kingdom here on earth and the Holy Spirit is to be poured out on all flesh. But Peter quotes that part referring to setting up the kingdom in power and glory, and he says to those finding fault and objecting, "This is the same thing that will take place then. This is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel."

There is a great deal in the prophecy which yet remains to be fulfilled, but Peter is saying that that same Spirit which was working on Pentecost that day is the Spirit which by and by will be poured out upon all flesh. Joel says, "It shall come to pass in the last days I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh." Notice the universality of this. This is something for the whole world in that glorious millennial day, and today this coming of the Holy Ghost, this Pentecostal blessing, is for the whole world. I wonder sometimes at those who tell us that God endued only Israel with such power. He was contemplating the untold millions of Gentiles— those already born and those to be born down through the centuries— when the Spirit of God had come with the message for all of them. "I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams." The coming of the Spirit of God takes hold of a man or woman and gives them an illumination they would not ordinarily have; He opens up to them the Old Testament and reveals the things to come and gives them an understanding of the work of our Lord Jesus Christ and its effects upon human sin and human needs.

"And on My servants and on My handmaidens I will pour out in those days of My Spirit; and they shall prophesy." To prophesy is to proclaim the truth of God, but you will see how the prophecy from Joel has not all been fulfilled. "Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come." Joel's prophecy carries us on to the coming of the Lord, when He will establish His kingdom and put down all iniquity. But the same Spirit who will work then is the One who came on Pentecost and has been working in power the last 1900 years, and it is He who enables servants of God to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, for we read, "It shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Do not try to limit that "whosoever." It is the same "whosoever" that is in John 3:16. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Here the message is stated in a different way but the meaning is the same.

"Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." And so the Spirit of God has come, the Comforter is here and the saints of God have received the Spirit and have thus been baptized into one Body and in the power of the Spirit are called upon to go forth and proclaim the gospel message to the ends of the earth. Have you called on the name of the Lord? Have you trusted Christ as your own Saviour? Then doubt not, but accept the words of the Holy Ghost Himself, "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

—H.A. Ironside Expository Commentary