The day of Pentecost signals one of the most important events in Christianity. While all together, the Spirit descends upon the apostles with signs and wonders. Tongues of fire appear, the sound of the Spirit comes, and the nations hear the apostles speak in their own language, a kind of miracle of hearing.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke spends an entire chapter narrating Pentecost and ties it closely to Acts 1. So what exactly is happening? What does Pentecost mean?
Peter Tells Us
Peter interprets the events of Pentecost in Acts 2 and answers the crowd’s question, “what does this mean?” (Acts 2:12) while defending against the skeptics’ assertion, “They are filled with new wine” (Acts 2:13).
Peter answers both groups. Luke records the words of both groups so that we as readers would understand how to read Peter’s interpretation of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues at Pentecost.
Peter first answers the skeptics’ assertion. He denies they are drunk since it is only 9:00am (Acts 2:15).
What Does This Mean?
Then he answers the most significant question: “what does this mean?”
Peter answers in ways we might not expect. He does not focus on the miraculous per se. He answers the question by citing three Scriptural passages: Joel 2, Psalm 16, and Psalm 110.
His argument is that the Spirit’s activity on Pentecost signals that Jesus reigns at the right of God, received the promised Spirit of the Father, and now bestows it upon his people.
In particular, Luke highlights the Pentecost Spirit working in the newly restored 12 apostles (2:14). They together witness to “all the house of Israel” and to people from every nation (Acts 2:1–13) that God has begun to restore his kingdom—that Jesus reigns and the Spirit of Jesus guides this new work on earth.
The 12 apostles receive the Spirit and the signs of Pentecost show the whole house of Israel that this is true. They need to join the apostles in their witness of Jesus to partake of Joel’s prophecy, to begin to restore the kingdom promised.
The citation of Psalm 16 and 110 show that David spoke of Jesus who would rise from the dead to sit at the Father’s right hand, where he would give the Spirit as Joel 2 indicated.
Tongues, people hearing in their own language, in the context of Acts 2 forms a microcosm of Jesus’s plan to spread the Gospel from Jerusalem to the nations (Acts 1:7–8).
Pentecost begins to show how the 12 apostles would reign over the kingdom as Jesus said: “I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:29–30).
The tongues of fire fulfill the promise of John who said Jesus would baptize with Spirit and fire (Luke 3:16). The event itself verifies that the 12 are the recipients of the Father’s promise, the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7), who would mediate his reign on earth through the Spirit and witnesses.
The Spirit’s presence by sign and wonder proves the 12 are the Lord’s witnesses (and anyone else who witnesses in the same way, but the 12 are highlighted at Pentecost). The gift of tongues shows the universal scope of the Gospel since it goes to all nations.