The outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost caused a great commotion and much consternation in Jerusalem – Joel 2:4-13.
In Acts, the presence and activity of the Spirit are essential for the life and growth of the church, from its inception on the Day of Pentecost until the return of Jesus at the end of the age. The church began in Jerusalem with the initial outpouring of the Spirit, then quickly spread beyond Judea to Samaria, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and finally, to the city of Rome at the very heart of the empire.
Jesus commanded the disciples to “tarry in Jerusalem” until they received the gift of the Spirit, the “promise of the Father,” that would equip them to become effective witnesses to the nations, even to “the uttermost parts of the earth” – (Acts 1:4-8).
Assembled in Jerusalem, 120 disciples tarried in prayer until the Day of Pentecost had “fully come” and the Spirit arrived “like a rushing mighty wind,” an impressive event accompanied by visual and audible effects. And many Jewish pilgrims who were in the city for the feast “saw and heard” these things – (Acts 2:4-13).
When the Spirit arrived, all 120 disciples present that day were filled with the Spirit and began to “speak as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” In the passage, the stress is on “ALL” – “All” were assembled, “all” were filled, and “all” began to speak. The noise was such that the crowd of “about three thousand” Jewish pilgrims became confounded, “because every man heard them speaking in his own language.”
The second chapter of Acts lists fifteen nations from around the Near East and the Mediterranean, including “Judea,” represented by the crowd of pilgrims. The arrival of the long-awaited Spirit was observed by Jews and proselytes from many nations, not just the residents of Jerusalem. Judea was included in the list because it, too, needed to hear the gospel. More relevant, the list anticipated the implementation of the command by Jesus to preach the gospel “to the uttermost parts of the earth.”
The Jewish pilgrims were consternated because “each man heard them speaking in his own language.” Whether they also observed the “tongues of fire” or heard the wind-like sound when the Spirit fell is not stated. What impressed them was the sound of Galileans “speaking in our own languages.” Later, Peter described the event as the “promise of the Holy Spirit, which you see and hear.” This suggests they also saw and heard the other effects produced by the Spirit.
“We hear them speaking in our tongues the mighty works of God.” Clearly, the pilgrims present that day understood what the disciples were saying. There is no mention of “interpreters” or the “gift of interpretation.” That would defeat the whole purpose of the manifestation.
The crowd was struck by the fact that these men were “Galileans.” Galilee was considered a backwater territory, not only of the Roman Empire but also of Judea. To label someone a “Galilean” could imply that he or she was poorly educated, even illiterate, a “country bumpkin.”
This is the only instance in the New Testament where the exercise of the “gift of tongues” is described as a known language. Elsewhere, the Spirit inspires believers to speak in “unknown tongues,” even the “tongues of angels.” Likewise, although the gift of tongues occurs again in Acts, it is never portrayed again as a known language – (Acts 10:44-48, 19:1-6, 1 Corinthians 13:1, 14:1-9).
- (Acts 2:12-13) – “And they were all amazed, and were perplexed, saying one to another – What does this mean!? – But others, mocking, said: They are filled with new wine.”
The reaction of the crowd set the stage for Peter’s sermon, which began with the prophecy from the Book of Joel about the arrival of the Spirit “in the last days” – (“These are not drunken… But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel”).
The experiential aspect of the event must not be downplayed, both from the perspective of the disciples and of the crowd. What they experienced, and what the crowd “saw and heard,” made deep and lasting impressions upon both groups. For example, when Peter first preached the gospel to Gentiles, it was the same experience of the Spirit by the Gentiles that left no doubt in the minds of the Jews present with him that God had accepted uncircumscribed Gentiles as equal members of the covenant community – (Acts 10:45-46, 11:15-17).
The reality of what the 120 disciples AND the crowd experienced that day the theological propositions of the passage in Acts their real significance. And the description of the Jewish pilgrims’ reaction to what they “saw and heard” loses its point if the events were not very profound and life-changing experiences.