The Promised Holy Spirit


The Promised Holy Spirit

Acts 2:1-41

Main Idea: Luke describes the events that occurred on the day of Pentecost and includes Peter’s clarifying, Christ-exalting, and converting sermon that followed.

  1. The Event of Pentecost (2:1-13)
  2. The Explanation of Pentecost (2:14-36)
    1. Pentecost means prophecy has been fulfilled (2:16).
    2. Pentecost means the last days have dawned (2:17a).
    3. Pentecost means everyone can know God intimately and should make him known faithfully (2:17b-21).
    4. Pentecost means Christ has ascended to the throne (2:22-36).
  3. The Evangelistic Harvest at Pentecost (2:37-41)

When I was a kid, we used to play a mean little game called Psych. (It was really just a way to be a jerk to your friends.) The goal was to make up a story, and then when a friend got really excited about what was being promised, the storyteller would dash all of his hope in that idea by saying, “Psych!” That word meant, “No, not really. I’m just lying to you in a playful way.” So, for example, I might set up a pal by saying, “Hey, this soda is really good. You can have the rest of it.” But then, when he thanks me and reaches for the can, I grin wickedly and announce, “Psych!”

Of course this misdirection or lying hurts so badly because no one likes to be disappointed. No one likes to have someone overpromise yet underdeliver. But life is filled with such disappointments. Think about that time you made dinner reservations only to arrive at the restaurant to hear the greeter say, “I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t have your name on the list.” Or maybe your parent made a promise to you years ago and then failed to deliver. Or perhaps you had a girlfriend or boyfriend, or even a fiancé, whom you thought would be your spouse, but it didn’t happen. Any such instance raises hopes only to dash expectations. Life sometimes yells, “Psych!”

But here’s the good news: God never plays Psych! God always keeps his promises. He has never overpromised and underdelivered. His Word always proves true.

In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, a massive promise was fulfilled. God promised in the Old Testament to pour out his Spirit on all flesh (e.g., Joel 2:28-32). During his ministry Jesus taught about the coming Holy Spirit (e.g., John 14–16) and made the same promise in Acts 1:4-5,8. Later, Paul referred to “the promised Holy Spirit,” a reminder that he was long anticipated (Gal 3:14; Eph 1:13). Acts 2 is a wonderful reminder of God’s promise-keeping nature.

The Holy Spirit was present even in the Old Testament days, but his work took a wonderful turn under the new covenant. Paul tells us that after Jesus’s ascension Christ “gave gifts to people” (Eph 4:8). Jesus has blessed his church by putting his Spirit in us—that is, by giving us gifts.

This means we currently live in the age of the Spirit, and we shouldn’t see these events in Acts as something that came and went. Rather, what happened on the day of Pentecost has abiding significance. The Spirit came and stayed. The day of Pentecost was like a mayor installing a great water system in a city. From that point forward, every time a new home is built, households can connect to the water system. In other words, the day of Pentecost was the installation of God’s new source of blessing and power for the benefit of his people. Now every person who turns to Christ in repentance and faith has access to this great source of power. The installation happens only one time, at the point of salvation, but the significance is ongoing.

This passage can be studied in three parts: (1) the events of Pentecost (2:1-13), the explanation of Pentecost (2:14-21), and (3) the evangelistic harvest at Pentecost (2:22-41).

The Events of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-13

The day of Pentecost marked one of the three major feasts on Israel’s annual calendar. The name comes from its occurrence on the fiftieth (pentekoste) day after Passover. Jesus positioned the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for this day (1:4-5). Thus, we see an important connection between the cross and the Spirit in this event. We should not separate the Spirit from the atoning work of the Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ.

Pentecost was a feast of harvest; in fact, that’s another name for it. At the end of Peter’s sermon, three thousand people converted to faith in Jesus; thus, this particular Pentecost marks a harvest of souls. As a result, the regenerate group of believers gathers and ministers in a beautiful way as the local church (vv. 42-47).

Throughout this Pentecost event, God gives the church some miraculous signs (vv. 2-4). Sounds like the wind were present (cf. John 3:6-8). Both the Hebrew and Greek words for Spirit can also mean “wind” or “breath,” and the power of the Spirit is likened to breathing life into corpses (Ezek 37:9-10). Just as the Spirit consecrated the temple in the Old Testament, so here the Spirit is consecrating a new temple, God’s new-covenant people. And he is doing so with the force of “a violent rushing wind.”

The signs here of sight were also magnificent. The presence of fire in this passage should not surprise us. God’s presence, in fact, is often associated with fire: at the burning bush, in the wilderness wandering, and in the tabernacle/temple (e.g., Exod 3:1-6; 13:17-22,25-27; 1 Kgs 6–8). Indeed, God is a “consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). Fire resting on each believer, therefore, may be a sign that believers are new temples. The Lord is residing in each believer like he resided in the sanctuary (cf. 1 Cor 6:19). That the fires look like tongues is significant, as the next sign indicates and as Peter later explains (Acts 2:14-21).

So, what about this gift of speech? Each believer was “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and he is the source of their speaking. The quoted phrase has a range of meanings, leading to the debates associated with this passage. Usually in Luke-Acts this phrase is associated with some form of speaking. In this case it involves speaking in different languages. A person filled with the Spirit may do a variety of activities, but all of them will magnify Jesus.

While some argue that Acts 2 contains an example of speaking in a heavenly tongue (cf. 1 Cor 14), these empowered individuals were speaking in known dialects. In Jerusalem that day there were people from “every nation under heaven” (v. 5). And each of these travelers clearly heard the disciples speaking “in his own language” (v. 6). As a result, these pilgrims were “astounded and amazed” for many reasons, including the fact that those speaking were “Galileans” (v. 7)! The Galilean disciples had not been trained in foreign languages. They weren’t known for having sophisticated educations. Imagine Uncle Si from Duck Dynasty standing up in front of a group of ambassadors from around the world—including China—and offering them the gospel in perfect Mandarin. That would leave people astonished! Yet that is just the sort of thing happening at Pentecost!

The crowd is puzzled (v. 8) by this unusual event. Indeed, the diversity of languages heard is amazing. People from the north, south, east, and west (vv. 9-11) were hearing the disciples telling about “the magnificent acts of God” in their own languages. Out of options for natural explanations for this strange phenomenon, some accused the gathered believers of being drunk.

So, what was God teaching the church with this marvelous sign? The obvious point is that the gospel is for the nations. Thus, the church must spread the gospel to every people, tribe, and to those of every language, for that is God’s redemptive plan (Rev 5:9-10). God’s ultimate community—the citizenry of heaven—consists of a transnational, transtribal, transracial, and translinguistic people.

We read of God’s passion for the nations in the Old Testament, but the Israelites struggled to grasp the Gentile mission. Even in Acts 1, the Jews who had placed faith in Christ were still thinking about Jerusalem. Later, in 10:45, the people were amazed “because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (emphasis added). Pentecost stands as a mighty demonstration of God’s pursuit of worshipers from every tongue.

A missionary friend was trying to translate the Bible into the Kurdish tongue. His unbelieving Kurdish friend, who was helping him translate the book of Acts, marveled that the nations were present on the day in which God formed this new community, the church. The Kurdish man dropped his pencil after reading about the “Medes” and asked, “Do you mean that my people were there?” And then, because the Kurds trace their history back to the Medes, this man reconsidered his idea of Christianity. For him Acts 2 was proof that the gospel is for the world. What happened that day serves as hard evidence that we don’t worship a tribal deity. Instead, we as followers of Jesus offer salvation to all the nations since our Savior died to win a people from all nations. Pentecost is a little foretaste of the global “multitude” (v. 6; Rev 7:9) that will one day unite in praise to the Lamb.

Some have called Pentecost a reversal of what happened at Babel. In Genesis 11, at the tower of Babel, God introduced diverse human languages that resulted in the dispersion of humanity; at Pentecost he united everyone in Jerusalem by allowing the gospel to cross language barriers. Pentecost, however, is not a total reversal of the Babel event. God didn’t give everyone the same language at Pentecost. Instead, unique languages were preserved as everyone heard the same message. This is important. It tells us that God is glorified in Christ-exalting unity amid blessed diversity. Missionaries around the world today try to make the gospel known to people in their native tongues; each dialect has value. That’s why Bible translators have been doing the laborious work of translating Bibles into diverse languages for centuries.

This topic brings up a good question: What language will we speak in heaven? When most Americans imagine heaven, they imagine everyone there speaking modern English! And Christians in France no doubt imagine heaven populated by people speaking perfect French! Some, however, assume the citizens of heaven will speak a common heavenly language—perhaps Hebrew. But I side with D. A. Carson, who envisions those present there as speaking all the languages—even those languages that have died out. After all, we will have all eternity to learn them (Carson, “Pentecost”). Likely Pentecost gives us a foretaste of heaven’s culture of God-given unity amid beautiful diversity.

Luke’s account of Pentecost is spotlighting the coming kingdom of God, and the church is an outpost of the kingdom. The church, much like an embassy providing a flavor of its represented country while existing in a foreign land, should give the world a picture of what the kingdom of God is like. And as we do, people are given the chance to marvel at the church’s ministries of mercy, its message of hope, and the diversity within local pews. The people God gathered on the day of Pentecost showed the world what the King of the kingdom was like, and they showed the world what it meant to be a citizen of heaven while living on earth (Phil 3:20). Soon in the book of Acts we will read of other newly established kingdom outposts in places like Corinth, Ephesus, and Philippi, too.

May we also aspire to show the world what the coming kingdom is like as we submit to King Jesus and continue the mission of the church as presented in Acts and empowered by the promised Holy Spirit.

The Explanation of Pentecost

Acts 2:14-36

In verse 12 Peter responds to the question, “What does this mean?” His answer is the first of many sermons in the book of Acts. We shouldn’t imagine, however, that what follows is everything Peter said since Luke goes on to write, “With many other words he testified” (v. 40; emphasis added). We probably have the shorthand account of his reply, but what we possess is nevertheless glorious and sufficient.

Peter begins by offering a word of clarification. He assures the audience that the disciples haven’t been drinking; after all, it was only 9:00 a.m. (vv. 14-15). He then says that, according to the prophet Joel, these Pentecostal signs teach four truths.

Pentecost Means Prophecy Has Been Fulfilled (2:16)

Peter tells the audience they are witnessing what Joel prophesied would happen. Importantly, the listening crowd would have been reading the prophet Joel during Pentecost. With this in mind Peter essentially says, “This(what you are witnessing) is that (what Joel predicted).” Joel foretold this mighty downpour of the Spirit on the Israelites and how the blessings would flow to people from every nation and tribe.

Pentecost Means the Last Days Have Dawned (2:17a)

Instead of quoting Joel exactly, Peter begins by saying, “In the last days.” Joel 2:28 opens by saying, “After this . . .” So now that Christ has ascended and Pentecost has come, we are awaiting the final act of the redemptive drama—the return of the King of the nations. We are living in the last days (cf. 1 Cor 10:11; 2 Tim 3:1).

Pentecost Means Everyone Can Know God Intimately and Should Make Him Known Faithfully (2:17b-21)

Joel foretold the day in which every believer, from every tribe and tongue, would be a prophet. Peter quotes Joel as saying that all of God’s servants will prophesy. While God appoints some servants to the office of a pastor, every believer is called to teach in some capacity.

In the book of Numbers, Moses was exhausted from leading, so elders were appointed, filled with the Spirit, and they prophesied. When some were disturbed by this change and complained to Moses, he responded, “If only all the Lord’s people were prophets and the Lord would place his Spirit on them” (Num 11:29)! Amazingly, the very thing for which Moses longed and about which Joel prophesied has arrived with the pouring out of the Spirit. God has equipped his people for the work they are to do.

In pointing this out, Peter is not saying every believer has the gift of prophecy (1 Cor 12:10). Rather, he means that every believer shares the general privilege and responsibility of Old Testament prophets. Such people were able to know God intimately and were commissioned to speak God’s Word faithfully. They came to know him mainly through “dreams and visions.” Now we know him through Jesus Christ, and we can grow in our knowledge through the revealed Word of God. But still like the prophets, we must declare God’s Word to the world. It’s our mission.

Luke recounts the story of the Word of God increasing and multiplying across geographical and cultural barriers by the power of the Holy Spirit (2:42; 6:7; 11:24; 12:24; 13:49; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30-31). In many cases it was proclaimed by Christians who were nonprofessionals. Acts 8:4 says that “those who were scattered [the nonapostles, v. 1] went on their way preaching the word.”

Later Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another” (Col 3:16; emphasis added). To the Romans he said, “You also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another” (Rom 15:14; emphasis added). Peter urged believers to be ready to teach unbelievers: “[Be] ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15; cf. Col 4:5). Pentecost means that every believer can know God truly and must make him known faithfully.

We have to love that everyone is included in God’s worldwide, unstoppable mission—young and old, rich and poor get to participate. No one is stuck being an observer. If you are a believer in Christ, you are a participant in the King’s mission. He has empowered you by his Spirit to tell of his glory for the world’s benefit.

In verses 19-21 we see both humanity’s universal need to know Christ and the inclusive offer he makes so that everyone can know him. Peter mentions some future cataclysmic events destined to unfold before the day of the Lord comes. While it seems to me that he is referring to Christ’s return, some view his words in this passage as a reference to the cross and resurrection; others see in them a link to the events that would take place around AD 70 when the Roman general Titus destroyed Jerusalem. Whatever the prophet envisioned, his words show us the holiness of the Lord and remind us of the need for everyone to call on the Lord and be saved (v. 21). This Lord is Jesus (v. 36), whom Peter now exalts in his Christ-centered sermon.

Pentecost Means Christ Has Ascended to the Throne (2:22-36)

Moving away from Joel, Peter now describes the life and ministry of Jesus, and in verse 33 he ties Pentecost to Jesus’s ascension. Notice the chronology. Jesus ascends, and then the Father gives Jesus the promised Holy Spirit to pour out on his people. This reminds us of John 14:16: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.” The risen King poured out gifts on his people as a sign that he has truly ascended to the throne, is reigning over all, and is ruling in the midst of his enemies.

Before Peter gets to this point, he articulates some glorious truths about Jesus. As in the other recorded sermons in Acts, Peter centers on the focal message of the Bible: the death and resurrection of the King.

The Man (2:22). Peter begins with the humanity of Christ. He says, “You guys saw him. You know what I’m talking about.” Signs and wonders validated the claims of Jesus. These miracles weren’t violations of the laws of nature as much as they were restorations of the laws of nature. At his first coming Jesus showed everyone what his second coming and his kingdom would be like: there will be no leprosy, no illness at all, no demon possession, no fear of storms, no death. King Jesus will reverse the curse—all things will be restored.

The person of Christ depicted in the Gospels is gloriously attractive. Don’t underestimate the power of encouraging a nonbelieving friend to read through the Gospels. A clear understanding of Christ’s love and power can draw a person to him.

The Plan (2:23). Next Peter describes the death of Christ from both a human and a divine perspective. (This wasn’t the most politically correct sermon!) Peter emphasizes both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. The death of Christ was part of God’s foreordained plan. This reality is emphasized even more strongly in 4:24-28. So, why did Peter open with this theological truth? The Jewish people couldn’t fathom a crucified Messiah. Messiahs win! Jesus, however, was crucified in shame and agony. How could he possibly be the Messiah? Peter shows his audience that Jesus didn’t die as a pathetic victim. He laid down his life in fulfillment of the sovereign plan of God, who purposed to sum all things up in Christ (Eph 1:10).

At the same time, the Bible doesn’t teach fatalism. Every man and woman is accountable for his or her actions. Peter reminds his audience that they were responsible for Christ’s crucifixion. And so are we. Fallen people scheme to dethrone God. They plot to kill their Maker. When Peter reminds this group of their guilt, many are “pierced to the heart” (v. 37).

The Resurrection (2:24-32). Peter tells the audience about the amazing thingGod did: he raised Jesus up (v. 24). Jesus was raised because death couldn’t hold him!

Then Peter tells them what Scripture predicted: the Holy One would not see decay (vv. 25-31). Christ was the promised one of Psalm 16. You can visit David’s tomb and find his remains, but Christ’s tomb is empty. Who, then, was David speaking about in Psalm 16? We must remember that David is a prototype. The things that happened to David became models anticipating another King to come. As you read through Psalms, you’ll find that some things are applicable to David; often other things are inadequately expounded or unfulfilled in David. This transcendent language in the Psalms continues to build until you have an entire messianic expectation. The mystery leads people to wonder, Just who is this King? Peter says, “Compare the tombs of David and Christ. Then you tell me!”

His resurrection exposition is then followed withwhat the disciples saw: the risen Christ (v. 32). Much of the Christian gospel turns on eyewitness accounts. Richard Bauckham has written Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, which explains that the Gospel writers used eyewitnesses as their sources of choice for maintaining historical integrity. Multiple witnesses appear in the Gospels for the resurrection accounts. Seeing Jesus transformed the disciples.

The Messiah (2:33-36). Peter ties the events of Pentecost to Jesus’s ascension in verse 33, and then he quotes Psalm 110. The early church loved to quote Psalm 110. Like the other Davidic typology, this messianic psalm also awaited fulfillment. David foresaw the ascended Lord in some way. He looked forward to one greater than himself. Jesus also quoted this psalm in Luke 20:41-44, silencing his opponents as he pointed to himself as the One who would sit on the throne forever.

Peter concludes his sermon with the confession of the early church (v. 36). Peter didn’t try to domesticate Jesus. He didn’t soft-pedal the gospel. He says that Jesus is King; therefore, people should submit to him. He preached in the spirit of Psalm 2: “Pay homage to the Son or he will be angry and you will perish in your rebellion, for his anger may ignite at any moment. All those who take refuge in him are happy” (Ps 2:12).

We need to recover awe of the ascended Lord of glory, as Revelation 6:15-17 describes Jesus. His love has been spurned; his purity has been trampled; his truth has been buried. But one day this merciful Jesus will rule with a rod of iron, and the most powerful of men will hide in fear of him.

Perhaps no one has illustrated the meekness and majesty of Jesus better in recent history than C. S. Lewis. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy is posing questions to Mr. and Mrs. Beaver about Aslan, a character representative of Christ:

“Is—is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you” (Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, 75–76).

Yes. Christ is good. But he isn’t safe. Jesus really is the true King. So stand in awe of him. Don’t be silly. Confess him as Lord. That’s Peter’s message. He says, “Know with certainty!” Be assured of this. Jesus is the ascended King.

The Evangelistic Harvest at Pentecost

Acts 2:37-41

Finally, we read of the amazing results of Peter’s preaching (v. 37). The audience felt convicted because they were guilty. They were pierced because they realized they were objects of God’s wrath. They longed to be free from condemnation. Notice that they don’t wait for Peter to offer an invitation. They ask him how they should respond to his message.

Once again, Jesus’s words about the work of the Spirit are on display. In John 16:8-11 Jesus said,

When he comes, he will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment: About sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; and about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

Peter’s sermon shows us how the Spirit of God takes the gospel and works in people’s hearts. As you exalt Jesus through your witness, pray for the Spirit to bring conviction and repentance to your hearers.

In verses 38-41 we see God’s glorious work of conversion. Peter describes the human and divine sides of conversion. Humanly speaking, one must repent and believe in order to be saved. This faith is expressed through baptism, a public declaration of one’s faith in Christ. All who turn from sin and trust in Jesus will be indwelt with the Holy Spirit.

Some have suggested that this passage teaches “baptismal regeneration,” that is, that one is saved by baptism. While Peter is emphasizing baptism, we must not ignore the context. Baptism follows belief in the Word. And when one reads the rest of the conversion texts in Acts, it is clear that baptismal regeneration is not being taught. Salvation through repentance and faith is in view (see 2:21; 3:19; 10:43; 13:38-39; 15:9; 16:31; 20:20-21).

The divine side of conversion involves God’s sovereign activity. Peter says that the Lord is calling people to himself (2:39). This same idea is conveyed in various places in Acts, like in 13:48: “All who had been appointed to eternal life believed.” The Lord’s active work in the hearts of rebellious people gives us hope in evangelism. Keep lifting up Christ and pray for the Spirit to convict people and lead them to repentance.

Don’t miss that on one day, at one event, the Lord brought three thousand to himself! Peter urged the crowd to turn from their personal sins as well as from the sins of their generation, and many of them did. This great harvest on the day of Pentecost established a new community, which is described in Acts 2:42-47.

What a promise-keeping God we have! Peter says, “The promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off.” God doesn’t play Psych! He really does promise and deliver salvation to repentant rebels. So let us offer the promise of eternal life, the promise of forgiveness, and the promise of the indwelling Spirit to guilty people. May the Lord bless our faithfulness to proclaim his truth, giving us a harvest of souls as we lift up the person and work of the crucified, risen, and exalted Lord Jesus.

In our walk through Acts, we have already seen how the Spirit works to accomplish his primary purpose: exalting Jesus (John 16:14). We have also found much to encourage us. We have the necessary equipment to be faithful witnesses because we have the Word and the Spirit. Thus, we can speak with confidence, knowing that the Spirit convicts people of sin and leads them to repentance. We see how the Spirit is transforming individuals to create a living church.

The church is a new community of new creations in Christ, who live on mission as citizens of his kingdom. We can now turn our attention to this community of faith and see the importance of belonging to a biblical community.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. In what ways have people disappointed you? How are the promises of God encouraging to you?
  2. What signs at Pentecost most resonate with you? Explain why.
  3. In what specific ways are you seeking to make disciples of all nations?
  4. What is unique about the day of Pentecost?
  5. What are the ongoing effects of the day of Pentecost?
  6. Have you ever thought of yourself as a prophet? Why or why not? What impact should the notion that you are meant to share God’s Word have on your Christian experience?
  7. Describe your reaction to Peter’s sermon (2:14-36).
  8. How does Peter use the Old Testament in this chapter? What might this tell us about how we should read the Old Testament?
  9. Why should this story of multiple conversions encourage us?
  10. If you’re a Christian, pause and thank God for his forgiveness of sins and the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. If you aren’t a Christian, explain what’s holding you back. Consider talking to a pastor or a mature Christian about what it means to follow Jesus.