What Does This Mean?

The outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost caused a great commotion and much consternation in Jerusalem

In the book of Acts, the activity of the Spirit is essential for the life of the church, from its inception on the Day of Pentecost until the return of Jesus at the end of the age. The church was inaugurated by the Spirit in Jerusalem, then spread quickly from Judea to Samaria, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and finally, to the city of Rome at the center of the empire.

Jesus commanded the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Spirit, the “promise of the Father” that would equip them to become effective witnesses for him to the nations, and even to “the uttermost parts of the earth” - (Acts 1:4-8).

Assembled in Jerusalem, the disciples tarried in prayer until the Day of Pentecost had “fully come.” At that time, 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 “saw and heard” those things - (Acts 2:4-13).

When the Spirit arrived, all 120 disciples present that day were filled with the Spirit and all began to “speak as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” In the passage, the stress is on the term “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 lists fifteen nations from around the Near East and the Mediterranean that were represented by the pilgrims. The arrival of the long-awaited Spirit was observed by Jews and proselytes from many nations, and not just by those from Judea. And this 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.” What impressed them was the sound of Galileans “speaking in our own languages.” Later, Peter described the event to the crowd 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 manifestations as evidence to the crowd of the arrival of the promised Spirit.

The Jewish pilgrims were struck by the fact that Peter and his compatriots were “Galileans.” In popular thought at the time, Galilee was a backwater territory, not only of the Roman Empire but also of Judea. To label anyone a “Galilean” was tantamount to implying that he was poorly educated and little more than 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 in scripture, believers were inspired by the Spirit to speak in “unknown tongues.” Likewise, though the gift of tongues occurs again in Acts, it is never again portrayed 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 crowd’s reaction set the stage for Peter’s sermon, which he began with the prophecy from Joel concerning the arrival of the Spirit “in the last days” (“these men are not drunk… But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” – Joel 2:28).

The experiential aspect of the event must not be downplayed, both from the perspective of the disciples and of the crowd. What they “saw and heard” made deep and lasting impressions. For example, when Peter first preached the gospel to Gentiles, it was the same experience of the Spirit received by the Gentiles that left no doubt in the minds of those Jews present that day that God had accepted uncircumscribed Gentiles as equal members of His people - (Acts 10:45-46, 11:15-17).

The reality of what the disciples AND the crowd of pilgrims experienced that day undergirds the theological propositions of the book of Acts. And the description of the pilgrims’ reaction to what they “saw and heard” loses its point if the events were not very profound and life-changing experiences.



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