Acts 2:1-21 – Pentecost


Acts 2:1-21


As promised by Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the “power from on high,” comes upon his followers as they are all gathered together in one place. This power appearing as “divided tongues, as of fire” and sounding “like the rush of a violent wind” is interpreted by Peter as God’s gift in accord with the words of the prophet Joel.


The story of Pentecost is crucial in Acts for several reasons. First, it is a fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that the “power from on high” would come upon his followers to empower their witness (Luke 24:49). Second, the coming of the Holy Spirit happens to all the believers who are gathered together in Jerusalem. It is not a gift just for the Twelve, nor for men only, but it comes upon the whole gathering (described in Acts 1:13-14 as including women). Finally, in this story the power of speaking other languages intelligibly is the gift given by the Spirit to enable believers to testify to God’s work in Jesus the Messiah. This great gift is like the “deeds of power, wonders, and signs” (2:22) that God did through Jesus and will continue to do throughout the book of Acts. It is important that the power of the Spirit is a gift and works for good, even if that good includes warnings against attempted misuses (8:18-24; 13:6-12; 19:11-20). This work of the Spirit is consonant with the work of Jesus, who pours the Spirit from on high (2:33).

Much of Acts details the ways in which the Spirit works with the leaders of the Christian community or even a step ahead of them. That Peter and Paul are able to raise persons from the dead, heal the sick, and overcome the powers of other deities is an important witness to the incomparable power of God, once at work in Jesus, now at work through the Spirit that empowers Jesus’ followers. Elsewhere, the Spirit whisks Philip from one place or another (8:26, 39-40). The Spirit falls upon Cornelius and his household even before Peter finishes speaking to them (10:44; 11:15). Many activities of believers in Acts are directed immediately by the Spirit or through dreams and visions.

All this energy and power for witness in deed and word comes to believers on the day of Pentecost. The Jewish festival of Pentecost, coming seven weeks after Passover, was a great celebration of God’s giving of the law. The giving of the Spirit parallels the giving of the law, God’s gift to a new people who experience a foretaste of full salvation in the community of repentant believers. Because many Jewish pilgrims came to Jerusalem for Pentecost, the good news of this salvation is immediately extended internationally in Acts 2.