Acts 2:1-21

Flames and tongues of fire descending on five disciples.
 "Flames and tongues of fire descending on five disciples." 
Reprinted from Icon: Visual Images for Every Sunday, copywrite© 2000 Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission.


In His final discourse to His disciples (John. 13-17) Jesus spoke repeatedly of the Holy Spirit. In 14:16 He promised to give them another Comforter. In 14:26 Jesus said that the Spirit would teach them everything. In 15:26 He promised that the Comforter would testify concerning Christ. And in 16:13 He said that the Spirit of truth would guide them in all truth. In Acts 1:8 Jesus promised that they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit Who would come to them to equip them to be witnesses both locally and to the ends of the earth. In Acts 1:4 He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem until they would receive the promise of the Father:  "John baptized with water but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." 

Our text is the fulfillment and climax of all these passages and Pentecost is still going on, both locally and to the ends of the earth. The coming of the Holy Spirit is the last great act of God before the last and final day of the world.

Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.

 "When the day came" is found only here and at Luke 9:51. Both denote an important event, the one in Luke, Jesus' ascension and here in Acts 2, Pentecost.

 "They" evidently points back to those mentioned in Acts 1:12-15, 120 people, men and women, including the twelve.

 "Together" is rendered  "together in one place"  by six of our translations. Bengel sees more than that here.

Bengel: There was unity of fellowship, mind, and place.

The KJV and NKJV translate thus:  "with one accord in one place." 

The word  "Pentecost"  is the Greek word for  "fiftieth." 
Marshall: Pentecost is the New Testament name for the Feast of Weeks, when the wheat harvest was celebrated by a one-day festival during which special sacrifices were offered (Exodus 23:16; Leviticus 23:15-21; Deuteronomy 16:9-12).
Stoeckhardt: According to Leviticus 23:15ff this was their harvest in which the first fruits of the field were brought to the Lord. On this special Pentecost the Lord was preparing a great harvest of souls for his people.
Bruce: The day of Pentecost was so called because it was celebrated on the fiftieth day after the presentation of the first harvested sheaf of the barley harvest, i.e. the fiftieth day from the first Sunday after Passover (Leviticus 23: 15f). It was known among Hebrew speaking people as the 'feast of weeks' (cf. Exodus 34:22a; Deuteronomy 16:10) and also as 'the day of the first fruits' (Numbers 28:26; cf. Exodus 23:16a) because it was the day when 'the first-fruits of wheat harvest' (Exodus 34:22a) were presented to God.

Gradually the old Jewish feast was forgotten and only what we know as Pentecost was remembered. Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles were the great Jewish festivals which were attended by Jews from everywhere. Deuteronomy 16:16. But Pentecost lasted only one day.

Acts 2:2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.

Before we mention any thing else we note that it is remarkable that what is recorded in verses 2 and 3 caused no fear in this large group.  "Sound"  clearly indicates that it was not an actual wind but the sound, was real. BAG has "rushing wind."  What happened had only the  "sound" in common with a strong, rushing wind. That  "sound" filled the entire house.

Where was this house? The one mentioned in 1:13 or the temple? Commentators argue about this. If it was that of 1:13, of necessity they went down into the street when the Jews came. Note that they were sitting, waiting. To be doing this at 9 a.m. (Compare verse 15) is remarkable.

Acts 2:3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

The word  "tongues" has received a variety of explanations and translations. Consider these translations:  "cloven, divided, distributed, spreading out, separated, dispersed among."  In any case it was not actual fire but  "as of fire."  Likely the sound indicated God's presence and the tongues His power. By the way, these "tongues"  have nothing in common with the tongues mentioned later. In fact, they seem to have disappeared by the time the crowd gathered. Note that the tongues rested on each of them.

Acts 2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

 "With the result that . . . To be filled with the Holy Spirit" occurs frequently in Luke. For instance 1:41.67. It does not mean that the person or persons did not have the Spirit before. It always denotes a special gift of the Spirit, for a temporary action.

Likely the second "and" is also resultative. The text says "they began" because they had never done this before. This does not necessarily mean that they spoke the Gospel. That came later.  "Other tongues" or "other languages" , other than their own. It was a total gift of the Spirit.  "Speak"  means  "to speak plainly."  They were not speaking gibberish.

Acts 2:5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.

Marshall: 'In' need not necessarily imply permanent residence, although many Jews did return to Jerusalem from the Dispersion to end their days there.
Bruce: Verses 5-8: From the far-flung lands where the Jews of the dispersion lived, great numbers had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks.
Lenski: Luke is concerned only with this class of Jews who were born or reared in the Holy City in order to end their days there.

They are called "God fearing" which literally means "handling well" but took on the meaning of "devout, pious."  TEV translates the last part of verse 5:  "from every country in the world."  Throughout history Jews have never lost their identity even though they live in other lands.

Acts 2:6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.

The first five words are a genitive absolute of time. The verse refers back to verse 2. This was quite a phenomenon which was heard at quite a distance. It resulted in a crowd of people coming together but perplexed. Note the number of words denoting perplexity and amazement in this text. "Each one (of the crowd) was hearing them speaking in his own language." 

Lenski: Each foreign-born Jew heard his own foreign language uttered, not once or twice, but for a considerable time.

It is remarkable that there was no perplexity among those who were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Stoeckhardt: Now they received the fuller measure of the Spirit, which removed their misunderstanding concerning the meaning of the Savior's words, and removed their fear which was so evident during the crucifixion and even after the resurrection, filling them with knowledge, wisdom, courage, joy .

Acts 2:7 Utterly amazed, they asked:  "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?

Note that a sentence begins here which does not end until the end of verse 11. Who wouldn't be bewildered to hear a group of people suddenly speaking in a variety of languages? The question expects an affirmative answer.  "Are not" denotes something exceptional. Something like "Now look, aren't all these . . . " 

They were not yet preaching but speaking as ordinary people speak. Sometimes it's the ordinary which is so amazing. How did they recognize them as Galileans? Very likely by their accent, just as people in the South and in the North of our country can be identified by their accent.

Acts 2:8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?

Note the similarity between verse 6 (in the third person) and verse 8 (in the first person).

 "Native language"  is the language in which a person is born, the mother tongue.

Acts 2:9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Acts 2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome Acts 2:11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs--we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" 

This is not Luke giving a catalogue of their nations, but they themselves are saying these things. Some interesting things have been written about this catalogue.

Marshall: It (the list) begins with three countries to the east of the Roman Empire in the area known as Persia or Iran, and then (with a change of construction) moves westward to Mesopotamia, modern Iraq, and Judea. Next come various provinces and areas in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), and then Egypt and the area immediately westwards, followed by Rome. Then we have a general statement applicable to all the people in mind: there was a considerable Jewish population in each of these areas, and the presence of Jews often led to the conversion of Gentiles to become proselytes. Finally, and somewhat surprisingly, the list includes people from Crete and Arabia. It is an odd list, and nobody has been able to explain satisfactorily why it includes the particular selection of countries that it does, and why they come in this strange order.
Stoeckhardt: At the time there dwelt in Jerusalem also God-fearing Jews out of every nation, who had been scattered throughout the then-known world and now a number of them had settled in Jerusalem to be close to the temple.
Bruce: The first four mentioned in verse 9 were remnants of the ten northern tribes of Israel. . . . They did not lose their identity so completely as is commonly supposed.

Maybe so.

Lenski: This list is neatly arranged in three groups: 3 plus 8 plus 3, the group of 8 in 4 pairs.

Maybe so.

Bengel: First are placed the posterity of Shem, next those of Japhet, also those of Ham.

Maybe so. In any case this catalogue is symbolic of the universal preaching of the Gospel which was to come. In verse 9 the word  "Judea" has caused some commentators trouble but all our versions translate  "Judea"  also, "Romans living there temporarily," the only Europeans in the list. The speaking which they did was orderly speech. And it was about "the great deeds of God," which surely means what God had done for them in Christ Jesus

Acts 2:12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another,  "What does this mean?" 

 "And all were perplexed and at a loss."  Note the liveliness of the expression:  "one saying to another."  They were utterly dumbfounded at the sudden ability of these people to speak fluently in their own languages. The real miracle was the giving of the Holy Spirit. These people saw the result of this giving.

By the way, no one needed to interpret for them. Nothing was secret. They were being baptized with the Holy Spirit (cf. 1:5) but not in the sense which modern charismatics take it. The charismatics will never recapture this gift of the Holy Spirit.

Lenski: The tongues were just what Paul states in 1 Corinthians 14:22, a sign to those who did not believe.

Look also at Hebrews 4:2. The signs corroborated the message. Thereafter the signs ceased.

Acts 2:13 Some, however, made fun of them and said,  "They have had too much wine." 

Bengel: Mocking begins with ridicule, then it proceeds to questioning, 4:7, then to threats 4:17, then to imprisonment, 5:18, then to stripes, 5:40, and then to murder, 7:58.

Acts 2:14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:  "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.

The first part of this verse indicates that the twelve stood up together but that Peter was their spokesman. His courage and forthrightness is amazing, compared to his fears, rashness and denial before. The Holy Spirit gave Peter this sermon. TEV, NIV, and NEB translate "Fellow Jews."  It is a term of respect. He says: "Let this be known to you and pay careful attention to my words."  When a preacher preaches the Word he must be forthright and need not apologize.

Acts 2:15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning!

Evidently the mockers of verse 13 had spoken loudly enough for Peter speaks up for his fellow Christians. But by the same token he was standing up for his Lord. This is explanatory "you see."  The third hour is 9 AM. It is axiomatic to say that people don't get drunk at 9 AM. (That's the rule, not the exception).

Acts 2:16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

 "No" means "quite to the contrary."  What greater contrast could there be than drunkenness and the fulfillment of a prophecy? It reminds one of Isaiah 5:20: "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil." (NASB) Jesus' enemies often called good evil. They said He cast out demons with Satan's power. They implied sinful motives when He ate with publicans and sinners.

Acts 2:17 'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.

This prophecy is found at Joel 2:28-32 in our English Bibles and at 3:1-5 in Hebrew and the LXX.

Marshall: The quotation follows the LXX, but with a number of small alterations to adapt the prophecy to its context. One of the more important of these changes is the way in which Joel's 'And it shall come to pass afterward' has been altered to 'And in the last days it shall be.
Lenski: Peter's wording, however, is interpretative, explaining what the Hebrew , 'afterward' really means, namely the last period of the world which is ushered in by the first coming of Christ and continues until his second coming for judgment.
Bengel: All the days of the New Testament are last days; and these last days are now far advanced.

Well said. By the way, Peter must have addressed this crowd in a language which all understood. Very likely that was Hebrew. The Trinity is implicit in verse 17. The expression  "upon all flesh" which means "upon all people" is the universal preaching of the universal atonement.

Luther: Thus now, as concerning this passage of the prophet, prophesying, visions, dreams are all one thing, namely the knowledge of God through Christ, which the Holy Spirit kindles and makes to burn through the Word of the Gospel. This causes believers to teach the Word, undertake great things for Jesus and to have the Gospel as the center of all they do, think or say.

Note that in verse 17 the Gospel affects male and female, young and old.

Acts 2:18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

Note the Hebrew parallelism between verses 17 and 18. The thoughts are chiastically arranged. In verse 17 God's action is placed first and in verse 18 it is placed last. Lenski thinks that verse 17 speaks only of Jews and that verse 18 speaks of both Jews and Gentiles. We do not agree with that. Both verses speak about the universal preaching of the Gospel. There is a difference however.

 "Even" alerts us to the difference. RSV translates "yea."  TEV and NEB have "yes."  NIV and NASB read "even."  Lenski suggests "yea and" in the sense of "on top of all that has been said." 

The people in verse 18, are the same people as the four groups mentioned in verse 17. But what they are called in verse 18 shows what they are, owned by God Himself.

One cannot be God's witness or preacher unless God pours out His Holy Spirit. One cannot preach and teach God's Word unless God pours out His Spirit.

Acts 2:19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. Acts 2:20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

The commentators point out that the word "Lord" 20 and 21, denotes Yahweh in Hebrew. We carry the thought one step further. From what is said in Peter's sermon in the remainder of the chapter we should identify "Lord" with Jesus Christ. He is the speaker in verses 19-21.

Verses 19-20 speak of all the wonders and signs in nature, society, economics, the church etc., which constantly remind all men that the last day is approaching and that therefore they should repent just as did many in Peter's audience. See verse 41.

 "Wonders" used frequently in pagan literature, means "wonder, portent." It is never used by itself in the New Testament.

 "Signs" are the clear warnings of God which dare not be disregarded. Some commentators think that "signs" in this context, denotes the gift of tongues and gifts of healing. But it would seem that the majority understand it in a broader sense, noting that  "In the heaven above" and "on earth below" simply denote the fact that no part of God's creation is exempt from these wonders and signs. We cannot escape them by moving to a different climate, to an island or to a culture which is simpler than ours.

Note the last line of verse 20. When we read of "blood, fire and vapor of smoke" we think of war, volcanoes erupting, great conflagrations, etc. The various translations are interesting. KJV, NKJV, RSV and NASB have "vapor of smoke."  TEV has "thick smoke."  NIV reads "billows of smoke." 

Why call it "the Day of the Lord"? Don't all days belong to Him? Surely. But not everyone believes this. But the last day will be the Lord's Day. No one will escape the evidence. Furthermore it will be the Lord's Day because it will be the last day and a day of annihilation, ushering in the new heaven and the new earth.

Our text calls it "great and glorious."  The last word is variously rendered "notable, manifest, glorious, resplendent and splendid."  Does it denote Law or Gospel? For the unbeliever it will be an awful, terrible day. For the believer it will be a glorious, splendid day.

Acts 2:21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'" 

Note the same expression as the one found at the beginning of verse 17. It means "And it will happen."  The salvation of the believer is just as certain as is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, which has gone on for nearly 2,000 years. Once God speaks, He will not take the word back. To call on the name of the Lord is the Old Testament way of saying "believing in the Lord Jesus." 

What is His name? All that He is and stands for. Simply put, the Gospel.

Stoeckhardt: The Spirit fills the hearts of people in whom He dwells with the knowledge of the Lord, and prompts them to call on the name of the Lord and to speak of Him in whom they believe.

We failed to mention, with reference to verse 20, that the same phenomenon is mentioned at Matthew 24:29. No one really knows what it is like to have the sun turned into darkness and moon into blood. Eclipses are, of course, a taste of this. The believer will know when it happens.

In this prophecy of Joel the day of Pentecost and the Day of the Lord, the last day, are viewed together. There is an interval, of course, between the two. But, as Stoeckhardt says, the out-pouring of the Holy Ghost is the final great act of God before the Great Day of the Lord. Note again that, as we are told in verse 17, we are living in the last days.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Sundays After Pentecost - Epistle Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1980, pp. 1-5. Used with permission.

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