Thus what we read in Acts 2:17-21 is a description of what the Holy Spirit does in and through and on behalf of God’s people throughout the entire course of this present age.
So what is the meaning of Pentecost? I’ll give five brief answers to that question.
(1) This is not the first appearance of the Holy Spirit in human history. The Holy Spirit was extremely active throughout the time of the Old Testament. However, it is the first appearance of the fullness of the Spirit to empower and permanently indwell and encourage and enable all of God’s people individually.
(2) The events of Pentecost are the fulfillment of three prophetic words: first, the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32 (in accordance with the terms of the New Covenant); second, the prophecy of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11-12;
(3) On the one hand, Pentecost is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit by the risen and exalted Lord Jesus Christ. Listen to Peter’s words in Acts 2:33-33,
“This Jesus God raised up, and of
But Pentecost is not simply the Holy Spirit coming to the church but Christ himself coming to the church in the person of the Holy Spirit. See John 14:18; Rom. 8:9-10.
(4) Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, the universal body of Christ. People often ask the question: When did the Church begin? What was its birthday? The simplest answer is: Today, the Day of Pentecost, when the risen Lord Jesus Christ poured out the Spirit and formed his people into a living,
(5) Pentecost is the reversal of Babel. We read in Genesis 11 that, at Babel, God confused human languages and “dispersed” the nations “over the face of the earth” (Gen. 11:8). We see precisely the reverse taking place at Pentecost, where the language barrier was overcome as a sign that God would now gather the nations together in Christ. At Babel, as someone has said, “
Finally, I want to conduct a very quick overview of the book of Acts so that you may see what the Holy Spirit does. In other words, this is why the Holy Spirit was given.
First, the Holy Spirit fills and empowers God’s people to boldly proclaim the truth of the gospel. When Peter was asked by what power the man lame from birth had been healed, we read this:
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them . . .” (Acts 4:8).
This was in fulfillment of something Jesus himself had prophesied back in Matthew 10:20,
“When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matt. 10:20).
The Holy Spirit was already indwelling Peter, but on this occasion an extraordinary impartation of power was needed. We read of much the same thing later in Acts 4.
“And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
Don’t miss the causal connection between being filled with the Spirit and speaking or proclaiming the gospel of God fearlessly or boldly (cf. Acts 5:32; 6:10; 9:17-19; 13:9-11; 18:25).
This was especially the case when Stephen was testifying to the religious leaders about Jesus. In the face of certain death, Stephen found courage and power and boldness to unashamedly proclaim the truth of the gospel. How did he do it? Here is what we read in Acts 7.
“Now when they [the religious leaders] heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (Acts 7:54-56).
In other words, we may be filled with the Spirit in a spiritual emergency. This is an immediate and special endowment of power to fulfill an especially important and urgent task. Thus, someone who is already full of the Spirit may experience a further/additional filling. That is, no matter “how much” of the Holy Spirit one may have, there’s always room for “more” (see Acts 4:8,31; 13:9; Luke 1:41,67).
Second, the empowering indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit was essential for God’s people to carry out the wide varieties of ministry for which they were responsible. One example of this is seen in Acts 6 where one of the qualifications for serving as a deacon in the local church is that a person be “full of the Spirit” (Acts 6:3; 11:23-24; 13:52). Even Elders are identified, equipped, and appointed by the Holy Spirit. Paul said this to the Elders of the church in Ephesus:
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
Third, the ability to perform signs and wonders and miracles is explicitly said to be the work of the Holy Spirit in and through God’s people. For example,
“And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8; cf. Acts 4:30; 10:38).
In the writings of Luke, the word “power” is almost always a synonym for the Holy Spirit.
Fourth, it is the Holy Spirit who speaks to God’s people and provides guidance to them regarding where, when, and to whom ministry should be extended. The explanation for why Philip preached to the Ethiopian eunuch is explicitly stated:
“And the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over and join this chariot’” (Acts 8:29; see v. 39; see also Acts 10:19-20; 11:12).
The Spirit’s role in providing guidance for missionary and evangelistic outreach is clearly seen in Acts 13:2,
“While they worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’. . . So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit . . .” (Acts 13:2, 4).
Likewise, we read in Acts 16 of how Paul was re-directed into Macedonia.
“And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (Acts 16:6-7; cf. 15:28; 19:21; 21:22-23).
Fifth, it was by means of the power of the Holy Spirit that God’s people would prophesy and speak in tongues. We read in Acts 11:27-30 of prophets who traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch:
“And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius)” (Acts 11:28; see also 21:4, 10-11).
“And when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying” (Acts 19:6).
This is but a small sampling of what we find in Acts that is the work of the Holy Spirit who came at Pentecost. And there is no reason to think that the Spirit who indwelt and empowered and filled these early disciples will not do the same for us today. So I close with this exhortation and promise from Jesus himself:
“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13)
This article was written by Sam Storms and originally appeared at his blog. Find it here.
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