Keyword:

Pentecost!

Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high." (Luke 24:49)

Before his ascension into heaven the Lord promised his disciples dynamis, the Greek word from which we derive our words “dynamite” and “dynamo”. In order to stress the power of the Spirit that was bestowed at Pentecost it is often said that Pentecost is “dynamite”. Ken Hutcherson, the former American Football linebacker and now the pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Washington, places a more accurate spin on the Greek word: “When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, it wasn't dynamite, it was a dynamo! Dynamite makes a loud noise, kicks up a lot of dust, and it's over. A dynamo is a continual source of power. It builds and builds and builds, and the power never stops flowing.”

The outpouring of the Spirit of God on that momentous day generated a movement that spread like wildfire through the ancient world toppling an empire and transforming countless lives for the better. Though Pentecost is about divine power it is also about much more than that. The events recorded in the second chapter of Acts reveal that Pentecost was the fulfilment of five distinct things: a promise, a psalm, a pattern, a plan and Pentecost itself.

The Fulfilment of a Promise

From the very first page of the Bible, we see God’s Ruach – his “Spirit” or “Breath” or “Wind” – at work at pivotal points in history such as creation, the exodus, the establishing of the Hebrew monarchy and Israel’s return from exile. The work of God is never accomplished by human might or power but by the Ruach of God.

In the New Testament he is seen at work in the virgin conception of Messiah (Luke 1:35), whom he anoints at the Jordan (Matthew 3:16) empowers for his ministry (Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20; Acts 10:38), sustains in his death (Hebrew 9:14) and raises from the dead (Romans 8:11).

It is hardly surprising then to see the Holy Spirit present at the beginning of the church’s mission to the nations. The pouring out of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was the fulfilment of at least two biblical promises made to Israel, the first being the promise of Joel 2:28-32:

And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days…

We must not imagine that Pentecost fulfilled only one prophetic scripture. As the Word of the Lord was proclaimed to the house of Israel and as the Spirit breathed life into 3,000 souls, it was a fulfilment of the prophecy found in Ezekiel 37:1-14, in which God promised he would recall his people from exile and, when they were back in their own land, would breathe life into them and cause them to stand up an exceedingly great army?

The Fulfilment of a Psalm

“And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind... And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire… And they …began to speak …”

Commentators on Acts recognise symbolic significance in the wind and the tongues of fire, and various suggestions are offered as to why God sent wind and tongues of fire but few, if any, link the phenomena to Psalm 104:4: “Who makes His angels spirits [winds], His ministers a flame of fire”. The Book of Common Prayer includes verses 25-37 of Psalm 104 in its readings for Pentecost but, interestingly, not verse 4!

The Hebrew word for angel in verse 4 is malak and “spirit” is ruach. God is able to use breath, wind or spirit as his messenger and flames of fire as his ministers. How fitting then that the apostles who were God’s messengers and servants should be initiated into their roles by the very elements God uses as his servants and messengers. God spoke to Elijah 800 years earlier through a “still, small voice” rather than the fire and a howling tornado, but at Pentecost he spoke with the unrestrained might and power of a spiritual hurricane that uprooted three thousand Jews and gentile proselytes from the kingdom of darkness and transferred them into the kingdom of his Son.

The Fulfilment of a Pattern

The notion that Pentecost was the “birthday of the Church” has become deeply ingrained in our thought patterns. But did the church come into existence on that day? It is interesting to note that when Jesus informed his disciples that he was going to build his “church” none of them expressed surprise or asked him what a “church” was. The “church” was, in fact, a concept with which they were very familiar. According to Stephen, in Acts 7:38, for example, God had a “church” or assembly in the wilderness”.

“Church” in our English versions comes from a Greek word (ekklesia) that means “to call out”. Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, was called out of Ur of the Chaldees. The nation that sprang from his loins was to be separate from the other nations but was destined to be a blessing to them. Israel was God’s qahal, his congregation, and when the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek in the third century BC, the translators generally used ekklesia to translate qahal wherever it appeared in the Hebrew text.

In Romans 11:16-22, Paul speaks of Israel as an “olive tree” with Jewish individuals as its branches. Because of their absence of faith in the Messiah, some of the branches have been broken off but gentiles who believe have been grafted on to Israel’s olive tree like branches from an uncultivated olive tree. Whether cultivated or uncultivated, both varieties are joined to the same tree and are nourished by the same sap that comes up from the roots. On the day of Pentecost God did not cut down one olive tree and plant a new one, “the church”. Instead “the church” entered a new phase, when the Lord began to call out a people from all nations.

Something new did come into existence at Pentecost, however: a spiritual temple. In the Old Testament, a developing pattern becomes apparent in the way God meets with his people. In Eden, God met with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the day. The peripatetic patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob pitched their tents, built their altars and called on the name of the Lord (Genesis 12:8; 13:12; 26:17,25; 33:18-20).

At the exodus from Egypt, the family altar was replaced by a national shrine at the tabernacle. The people lived in tents and under the direction of the Lord a tent was constructed so that he might dwell among his people. When the people settled in the land and began to live in permanent dwellings, a beautiful temple of stone was erected to serve as the new house of God.

Following the destruction of the temple in 586 BC, God foretold in Ezekiel 40-48 a better, bigger and perfect temple, out of which would flow a river of healing water (47:1-12) In John 2:19 Jesus spoke of his body as the temple and in 7:38 he announced that “the Scripture” says living water will flow out of those who believe in him. The only Scripture that speaks of living water flowing out of anything, however, is Ezekiel 47:1-12. The Body of Messiah, comprised of living stones, is a spiritual “habitation of God in the Spirit”, out of which flows living water for the healing of the nations (c.f. Matthew 24:1-2; 26:61; Acts 6:14; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-8; Revelation 22:1-5).

In Exodus 40 when the tabernacle was erected, a cloud of glory authenticated it as the dwelling of God. When Solomon dedicated the temple in 2 Chronicles 7, it was fire fell from heaven and the glory of God filled it. In Acts 2, God authenticated his new, living dwelling place with a glory even greater than that of the previous temples.

The Fulfilment of a Plan

Immediately after the fall of man, God took the initiative to redeem his fallen creation (Genesis 3:15) and the call of Abraham was part of that redemptive plan, the end of which was that all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). Israel’s calling was a missionary calling and the nation is described in Jeremiah 2:3 as “the firstfruits of [the Lord’s] increase” that is, the firstfruits of God’s harvest of all nations.

In Jeremiah 4:1-4, the Lord declares that Israel’s relationship to him will have a beneficial effect on the gentiles:

“If you will return, O Israel," says the LORD, "return to Me; and if you will put away your abominations out of My sight, Then you shall not be moved. And you shall swear, ‘The LORD lives,’ in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; the nations shall bless themselves in Him, and in Him they shall glory." For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: "Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings."

Although tongues were in one respect the prominent phenomenon on the day of Pentecost, they were not most important feature; the preaching of the gospel was the crucial factor on that day. The gospel was preached to the Jews first but by the time the book of Acts closes the nations are blessing themselves in the Lord and glorying in him (Romans 1:16; Acts 13:46a). Pentecost was the launch pad for the final stage of God’s plan for world redemption.

The Fulfilment of Pentecost

Pentecost was originally a harvest festival but as the Jewish people became scattered among the nations the festival lost its harvest significance and became “the season of the giving of the law” at Sinai. In other words, it celebrated the birthday of Israel.

Pentecost is the Jewish festival of Shavuot (Weeks) and is observed on the fiftieth day after the Passover Sabbath (Leviticus 23:15-22). The festival falls exactly seven weeks (49 or 7x7 days – seven being the number of completion – after Christ rose from the dead as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep”
(1 Corinthians 15:20).

At Shavuot, the Book of Ruth – which celebrates the coming of a gentile into the commonwealth of Israel at harvest time – is read in synagogues. Ruth was blessed by becoming a member of Israel and Israel, in turn, was blessed by her becoming the ancestor of King David and the Messiah (Ruth 4:13ff). In the light of Romans 11:11-15 and 25-26, there is a spiritual lesson here for gentile believers. Gentiles have been blessed by Israel and are called to be a blessing to them, not least by provoking them to jealousy.

The 3,000 Jews and proselytes who believed Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost were the firstfruits of a harvest that would culminate in a world-wide ingathering from all lands. Revelation 7 refers to the gentile converts as a “great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues” (note the many “tongues” of Acts 2). In Revelation 14:4 the 144,000 are identified as “firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” and it is to them, the first generation of Jewish believers, that James addresses his epistle. They were from “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (1:1), “a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (verse18). While Peter, James, John and the other apostles continued to reap the firstfruits of God’s harvest within the house of Israel, Paul and his companions began to reap a harvest among the nations (Galatians 2:9).

At Passover, on the day after the Sabbath (the day on which Christ rose from the dead), a sheaf of the firstfruits was presented to God and was “accepted on … behalf” of the offerer (Leviticus 23:9-12 c.f. 1 Corinthians 15:20). At Shavuot two loaves (which could not have been made without the firstfruits of the harvest) were offered to God. In Acts 2, on the day the two loaves were offered to God, Peter preached the resurrection of “Christ the firstfruits” (Acts 2:24-33) and as a result 3,000 Jewish “firstfruits of God’s harvest” along with some Gentile proselytes (v10) were presented to God. In time, a harvest from all nations will be gathered, as reflected in Revelation 7 and 14. The firstfruits guarantee the full harvest and God will yet have a full harvest from all nations.

The teaching of Pentecost truly is “dynamite”. It encourages us to trust that God’s purposes for creation will continue to unfold until at last all Israel is saved, the people of God from all nations are gathered into the kingdom and “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea

A shorter version of this article first appeared in the June-August 2009 edition of the

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