Studies in Acts
Lesson 4: “Pentecostal Fire”
Most people tend to be very skeptical of things that are claimed to be supernatural. For example, what do you usually think of when you hear of the sighting of a UFO or the Loch Ness Monster? although it is not universally true, most people think that the people making such claims are in La-La land – or at best dismiss them without giving it serious thought. Unfortunately, however, many people bestow that same kind of skepticism upon events for which there is no other explanation than the supernatural.
I’m not talking things such as “illusionists” or “magicians” perform, (although most Christian magicians prefer the more honest term “illusionists”) but about healing of internal disorders for which there is no medical explanation, or the changed heart of an abusive husband or wife – and there are many such, even in this age in which we live.
The events to which we come here in chapter 2 of the book of Acts are in just that category. They are supernatural, miraculous events about which there has been more misunderstanding and misapplication than almost any other supernatural events recorded in the Bible. But we want to look carefully and analytically at the record of these events, and as we do so I think we will discover that they are not nearly so mysterious as they have the reputation for.
This chapter falls into three parts: first, the experience that took place is recorded in verses 1 through 12. Then the explanation is recorded in verses 13 through 36, And the effects are recorded in verses 37 through 47.
So let’s begin our study by looking at the well known experience that took place in verses 1 through 12. And the first thing to notice there is the day of the experience which is specified in verse 1:
When the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
The next verses go on to tell us that this was the day on which this historic event took place. And because of that the term, “Pentecost” has been used to identify whole denominations and movements down through the years. People speak of “Pentecostal fire” and of “the Pentecostal experience.” But although something very special did happen on that day, it had nothing to do with the day itself. “Pentecost” was one of the “holy days” of the Old Testament. It celebrated the harvest in the fall and it took place 50 days after the feasts of “Passover” and “Firstfruits.” And it was called “Pentecost” because that is the Latin word for “fifty”
So the point is that it was simply a day on the religious calendar in the worship system of Israel. Although it was the day of the coming of the Holy Spirit into the lives of believers, it was simply an historical event that took place on a specified day of the calendar. So people go around saying “Oh, I wish I could have a Pentecostal experience, or “what we need is a Pentecostal revival” are simply ignorant of the scripture. Pentecost was just the date of a one time historical experience that was never intended to be repeated. The word “pentecost” itself is only used two other times in the rest of the New Testament, and both times it is a reference to a date on the calendar: Paul saying that he wanted to be at a certain place by Pentecost.
Maybe this illustration will help set it in perspective: When a person immigrates to the United States and wants to become a citizen he has to go through a certain process and wait for a period. He knows that after that process of study and testing, on a certain day he will be sworn in as a citizen. However, let’s say that after he becomes a citizen he gets married and has a child. That child is automatically a citizen of the U. S. – he doesn’t have to go through that waiting period. And the same thing is true of the future generations that come into the family of that naturalized citizen – thereafter they immediately receive citizenship.
From a spiritual standpoint that is exactly what happened on the day of Pentecost. Those first believers had to wait for a period of time until God was ready to send the Holy Spirit on that day of Pentecost. But after that first coming of the Holy Spirit, all future “generations” of Christians have received Him at the time of their salvation. And how do we know that? Because Romans 8:9 says that “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ he is not His.” In other words, if you have not received the Holy Spirit you do not belong to Christ; you are not saved. And by the same token, if you have trusted Christ you do have the Holy Spirit. Because I Corinthians says 12:3 says that “no one can say that Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Spirit.” And verses 12 and 13 of that same passage says that “by one spirit are we all baptized into one body (the body of Christ) So thinking logically, the time of the baptism of the Holy Spirit has to be at the point of salvation.
So that is the day of the experience;” a specific day on the calendar, not the experience itself. But the next verses go on to talk about the details of the experience in verses 2 through 13. First of all the manifestations that accompanied the experience are described in verses 2 and 3
And Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting (3) Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.
Now again, we have to look carefully at these verses, because a lot of “tradition” has grown up around them. First of all, notice the two little words, repeated twice in these two verses, the words “as of.” Verse 2 says that there was a sound “as of” a mighty rushing wind. It doesn’t say that it was a mighty rushing wind. (people say that tornadoes sound like a freight train; here there was the sound without the force) And verse says that there were tongues “as of” fire, not that they were actual tongues of fire. And verse 3 says that there were tongues “as of” fire, not that they were actual tongues of fire. In other words, these were “signs” or “symbols,” not actual wind and fire. And that is important, because the Holy Spirit is invisible. All we see of Him are “manifestation” of various kinds. For example, when Jesus was baptized, Matthew 3 tells us that “the spirit of God descended “as a dove” (a sight) and the voice of God saying “this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased (a sound.) In our own day the manifestations are more along the lines of changed lives and the assurances we feel in our own hearts. Don’t think that you don’t have the Holy Spirit just because you haven’t seen or heard something like this.
The next “detail” of the experience there at Pentecost was the ministry of the Holy Spirit in a specific way. Look at verses 4 through 6
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (5) And there dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation (6) And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.
I have referred to this as a ministry because these people now had the Holy Spirit and they were ministering to others in the power of the Spirit. And it was a ministry that continued for a number of years to come, and perhaps continues today under certain very narrow conditions (more about that later)
The ministry is described in verses 5 and 6: Jews who had immigrated to Jerusalem from all over the world were hearing their own original language spoken. Verses 9 through 11a list the various languages that were being heard. And verse 11 says that they were hearing about the “the wonderful works of God.” Now notice carefully what is being described here: not “the language of angels” or a “prayer language” but known, recognizable languages. And that is underscored by verse 11, which specifically says that what these people from all over the world were hearing was “the wonderful works of God” in their own languages. The word “tongues” in verse 4 is a translation of the Greek word “glossa” which, everywhere else in the New Testament is used with reference to known languages, with the exception of I Corinthians 13 where it is used in a figurative sense for the purpose of illustration.) and it was a ministry that had been prophesied in advance. Look at Isaiah 28:11 and 12:
For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people (12) to whom He said , this is the rest with which you may cause the weary to rest, “And, this is the refreshing;” Yet they would not hear.”
In the verses before this God is telling Isaiah once again that the people are not going to respond to him, but to keep preaching. But here God is saying, “don’t worry, Isaiah, the time will come when they will hear, but from a source they would have never expected: people of other languages!
And of course, this is a reference to the fact that they would have been scattered all over the world because of their disobedience and be speaking other languages – which is exactly what happened at Pentecost! Not only that, but that is still the purpose of tongues to this day. Look at First Corinthians 14: In verse 21 Paul quotes the very verse we have been talking about in Isaiah:
In the law it is written:” with men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And for all that, they will not hear Me, says the Lord”
Then in verse 22 he makes the application:
Therefore, tongues are a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers, but prophesying is not for unbelievers, but for those who believe.
This is the only verse in the Bible that tells us what the purpose of tongues is. And notice carefully: this extremely limits the use of this gift in worship services. So much so that in the rest of the chapter he gives specific rules for the exercise of the gift in such services. No more than three in a service, one at a time and with an interpretation – verse 27. If there is not an interpretation, the tongues speaker is to be silent – verse 28 This is why I said earlier that the gift might still given today. But if it is it should be exercised in tightly controlled conditions.
This would eliminate a huge percentage of what is being called “tongues” today. It would seem that if God were going to give the gift today He would be giving it to Jewish missionaries – and that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Now someone might sincerely say, “well doesn’t the scripture also say that the purpose of tongues is edification? Yes, in I Corinthians 15:4. But the same can be said when a person exercises any spiritual gift. But that isn’t the purpose of the gift, it is the result. For example, when I exercise my gift of teaching I am edified (whether anybody else is or not). But that is not the purpose of my teaching, it is a sideline result. “Well, doesn’t the Bible say something about the gift being exercised between the speaker and God?” Yes, in I Corinthians 14. But that is all in the context of the hearers not being able to understand, not how the gift is to be used.
In any discussion like this someone nearly always says, “but I know so-and-so, a godly, sincere believer, who loves the Lord who has had an experience that doesn’t seem to fit what you have described here. How do you explain that? I want to say it lovingly and carefully, but I don’t have to explain it; he does. If they are experiencing something that doesn’t fit what the scripture describes, I don’t know how to explain it.