A Study In Acts: The Promised Arrival
Throughout the Gospels, the term Disciples is used heavily to refer to the 12 men who were the primary followers of Jesus and sat under His teaching. However, this is not the only term used for them, and as the New Testament writings and history progressed a different title often was used. The term Apostle we have today is translated from the Greek word ἀπόστολος (apostolos), which is derived from another Greek word ἀποστέλλω (apŏstĕllō) which means to be set apart, or sent out. In other words, an easy definition of an Apostle is someone who is sent as a delegate or ambassador of Christ Jesus and His message. Among the 12, Paul and James were also given the title and recognition.
Chapter 2 of Acts kicks off with the Apostles and other believers gathered together for the day of Pentecost. This was the 50th day after the Passover, our word coming from the Greek πεντηκοστή (pĕntēkŏstē) which means fifty. For the Jews, this was a day of celebration going back to the times of the Old Testament. Certain feasts and celebrations prescribed and recorded in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy were culminated on the 50th day after Passover. This was a time in Jerusalem when the city was filled with Jews from all over the Roman Empire, as Pentecost became one of the great pilgrimage feasts after the time of Exile. For the Christian Church, Pentecost signifies the arrival of the promised Holy Spirit to the Apostles and Believers gathered together.
And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.– Acts 2:2-4
The coming of the Holy Spirit was no small thing. The Greek word for wind used here is πνοή (pnŏē). The Greek used here for Spirit is πνεῦμα (pnĕuma). I know it’s a lot of Greek, but there is significance in both of these words. Do you notice how similar they are? That’s because they are both derived from the same Greek word, πνέω (pnĕō) which means to breathe hard. It denotes power and force, which is exactly what the gathered Believers experienced at that moment.
Luke gives us such a descriptive account of what took place in that home. The power and force of the moment was not the only amazing detail of the experience. In verse 3 the appearance of the Spirit is described as “divided tongues of fire” that “rested on each one of them”. What an amazingly descriptive display of God’s power! I find the use of fire significant here, as fire was often a mode of display God used throughout history. In Genesis 15:17 we see this when God interacts with Abraham, making His covenant concerning the land for Israel. In Exodus 3:2-6 we see God’s power and presence before Moses in the burning bush in the desert, and after their escape from Egypt God guided His people by night as a pillar of fire. Other examples exist as well throughout the Old and New Testament.
There is one more word in this passage that a lot of people get hung up on. The subject of “tongues” is one heavily debated within many Christian circles, specifically what Paul meant by the term used in his letters. That topic of discussion is for another time, but just as in those cases, context in our passage is critical to help us properly understand what Luke is communicating to us. The Greek word he uses here is γλῶσσα (glōssa), which literally means tongue as an organ of speech. This can also be translated as language, as the tongue is used as an organ in the communication of language. With respect to the context following our passage, the situation here was that the Believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and equipped to speak in languages they previously had not spoken in, but were already in use by other people. Not only was this occurrence amazing, the timing was as well.
Remember the significance of the timing? The event of Pentecost was a celebration that brought Jews from all over the Roman Empire to Jerusalem. The streets were filled with people who had been a part of Jesus’ trial, conviction and death. Filled with people who had heard the news of what took place. People who needed to hear the message of Jesus. Check this out.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”– Acts 2:5-12
The city of Jerusalem was full of Jews who held tightly to the tradition of Judaism. Men who were unwavering in their faithful practice of the Law. They came from every land surrounding Jerusalem and had their own languages from their region. This is the scene we find verses 5-12 taking place in. The languages the Believers spoke were real languages, understood by the multitude of Jews in their own languages. God not only displayed His power by the coming of the Holy Spirit, but by the work of the Holy Spirit through His people.
I love how in this small section of Scripture we see such a basic yet profound truth: God’s timing is perfect! When Jesus told the Disciples and Believers with them to wait in Jerusalem, there was purpose behind His instruction. Could they have gone out into the city and began spreading the message of Jesus right away? Yes, but the reach and effectiveness would not have been as great. They would have been acting on their own power, not that of the Holy Spirit. God knew the perfect time to reach the most people was at that moment, not before.
Trusting God’s timing is a hard thing. It’s so natural to jump the gun, rush into something thinking we have it all figured out and know the best approach. God shows us time and time again in Scripture, as He does here, that He clearly knows best. If we believe He is all knowing, as He says He is, doesn’t it make sense that He would know the best timing and course of action in everything we do? As Believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to trust Him in everything. From the big to the small, God can handle it. If He was capable of enabling the Apostles through the Holy Spirit to speak multiple languages instantly to share the message of Jesus Christ, I promise He is capable of directing you in perfect timing.
The question for us will always be, do we trust Him? Are we willing to let go of our perceived control and really trust Him with our life? Maybe that promotion you want isn’t passed to you because God has something better. Have you considered that? Maybe you were not offered that job you really wanted because God has a better employer for you. Maybe you find yourself wondering what God has in store for you. I get it. Being patient is hard, trusting can be difficult.
Can I encourage you to act in faith? The Apostles and Believers with them waited faithfully as they were instructed, and God delivered. He delivered exactly as He planned, in His perfect timing. What does God have in store for you? What is God preparing you for? How is He going to use you to further His kingdom? I don’t know the answers to those questions, and you might not either. But I do know that it will be in His timing, and it will be perfect to impact His kingdom the most. Will you trust Him in that?