The day of Pentecost: Part III - The meaning

The meaning of Pentecost

The signs of the times are all around us. The events of the gospel recorded in the pages of Scripture are similarly riddled with signs that indicate the changing time in which these saving events occurred. A pilgrim through Jerusalem in the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry may have heard testimony about the miracles he’d performed; they may have heard accounts of his resurrection from the dead; they may even have been present on the day of Pentecost and heard the sound like the blowing of a violent wind and seen the tongues of fire that came to rest on people who began declaring the great acts of God in any one of fifteen languages.

But the signs given by Jesus in this amazing time were not understood. On the day of Pentecost the crowd who saw and heard evidence of the Spirit’s outpouring asked one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12) And so the Apostle Peter addressed the crowd, “let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.” (Acts 2:14) In light of the modern confusion over the events of Pentecost, we cannot do better than to give all of our attention to a careful reading of the apostolic explanation of the true meaning of Pentecost.

The miracles

Peter’s Pentecost explanation began with the last days, before which God had said, “I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below… before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” (Acts 2:17-21) To the surprise of his listeners Peter declared “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him...” (Acts 2:22) God had already signaled the arrival of the day of the Lord with the miracles, wonders and signs performed by Jesus.

The resurrection

The miracles of Jesus were just the prelude. To the already amazed crowd Peter then dropped a bomb with his announcement of the Resurrection. The news would have come as a great shock: one whom they had crucified was the one whom God had raised from the dead (Acts 2:22-24), about which their hero King David had said in Psalm 16, “God will not let his Holy One see decay” (Acts 2:27). Peter’s point was clear: God’s Christ is this Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 2:30-32).

The outpouring of the Spirit

But the resurrection of Jesus was only the beginning: Peter claimed that what they had witnessed only moments earlier was evidence of Jesus’ activity from heaven: “Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:33) The tongues of fire they saw and the tongues-speaking they heard were not only evidence of the reception of God's Spirit but also a demonstration that Jesus is the Lord God himself. God had said through Joel, “I will pour out my Spirit.” (Acts 2:17) The fact that Jesus is he who gives God’s Spirit is therefore a demonstration of his divinity. David also spoke prophetically in Psalm 110 about the ascension of one of his descendents, whom he thus referred to as ‘Lord’ (Acts 2:34): “'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand...” The Lord God had made a promise to place one of King David’s sons at his own right hand and bring all of his enemies under his judgment (Acts 2:35). The Spirit’s outpouring at the hands of Jesus is therefore a demonstration of his position as this son of David in heaven under whom God’s judgment will fall.

The time to repent

The crowd understood Peter’s point perfectly: Jesus’ resurrection showed him to the Christ and his giving of the Spirit showed him to the Lord God himself. (Acts 2:36) And this is the very one whom not many days ago they had hung upon a cross. “They were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"” (Acts 2:37) What possibly could those who had crucified the Lord Christ himself do?

The good news that began on the day of Pentecost is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “...everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved' (Acts 2:21). Still, it took the Apostle Peter to reveal the true application of these words that had for so long been a mystery. Now, in these final days, everyone who calls on Jesus Christ as Lord will be saved. It is on his name that people must call; it is in his name that everyone may be saved. (Acts 2:38)

Peter’s statement in Acts 2:38-39 is complete: Salvation is forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit and is promised for all whom Jesus the Lord God will call; that is, baptism in the Spirit is related to the forgiveness of sins: it is Christ’s new covenant work of washing with the Spirit all who turn to him as Lord. And this gift is promised for all of God’s people; just as Christ’s death was for our sins and his resurrection for our justification, his ascension was so that he might pour out God’s Spirit on all who seek forgiveness in his name.

The Apostle Paul’s words about the gift of the Holy Spirit similarly shows that salvation in the new covenant marries together cleansing from sin and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.” (Titus 3:5-6)

The only right response to the events of Pentecost is repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name because the revelation of Jesus as Lord and Christ is the true meaning of the day of Pentecost. Whatever one might think about the events of the day of Pentecost and the meaning of Joel’s famous prophecy, a true reading of Acts 2 falls into line behind the Apostle Peter’s own explanation in terms of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

More on this topic

Baptism in the Spirit: The Apostles' experience

Baptism in the Spirit: What the Scriptures say

Baptism in the Spirit: The examples in Acts - Part II | joe towns: christian discussion on Pentecost Sunday, charisma, pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.