Acts 2 details the events of the first Pentecost following the resurrection and ascension of Messiah. Too often this text is interpreted through the broken hermeneutic of popular Christian theological systems which, due to their inherently anti-Semitic prepositions, often emphasize the wrong aspects of the text. In doing so, they render a narrative of it in such a way as to leave the seeker with a disjointed perception of the Kingdom of God.
A proper Exegesis of Acts 2 begins with verses one through three. Usually the focus is erroneously on the rest of the chapter, but verses one through three contextualize both the purpose and the consequence of the rest of the chapter; to skip over them is to miss the real point of what was going on. Some have been known to justify this through the use of Acts 1:4-8 where Yeshua tells His Disciples to wait in Jerusalem till they receive the Holy Spirit which He had promised would be sent to them when He returned to Heaven (John 16:7). However verses one through three are anything thing but filler, in fact everything hinges on them. For the wording of Acts 1:4 is that the Jewish Disciples are to wait for the promise of the Father.
If you only go as far back as the Gospels then you will miss the fact that the Holy Spirit was promised to the Jews as an integral part of the Last Days (Joel 2:28) work of YHVH in this world. The signs which were to a company this outpouring of the Holy Spirit were merely the outgrowth of having the Divine presence so closely intertwined with this life, they were always meant to be proof that the promises of the Last Days were being fulfilled, they were not the promise itself. So when we make the events of the Day of Pentecost simply about gaining power we fall into the deception of the doctrine of demons (1 Timothy 4:1) by placing the pursuit of power over the pursuit of YHVH Himself (Genesis 3:5).
It is however this connection of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost to the Covenant Promises of YHVH before the advent of the Messiah that set the stage for understanding this text because this is what Acts 2:1-3 is dealing with.
Pentecost is the word chosen by the rabbinical translators of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture for the celebration of Shavuot. This celebration, literally the Feast of Weeks is one of the three main celebrations of the Jewish calendar (Exodus 34:22/ Deuteronomy 16:9-12). Other names for Shavuot are the Feast of Harvest (Exodus 23:16) and the Feast of First Fruits (Numbers 28:26). The reason the translators chose the word Pentecost, literally “50”, is because of the timing of the feast which according to Leviticus 23:16 was supposed to occur 50 days after the Celebration of Passover. Unfortunately this rather utilitarian approach to translation masks the profound prophetic implications of Acts 2.
First, Passover celebrates the Jewish experience of being liberated out of slavery (Exodus 12) and looks toward the act of Messiah in Liberating His People (Matthew 26:19-28). Counting 49 days from the Passover is the equivalent of seven weeks or seven sevens, a number which YHVH uses to communicate the concept of Jubilee or Freedom throughout the Torah (Leviticus 25). In this context the events which occurred for the Jews and their corresponding fulfillment in Messiah are also of supreme importance for framing in the events of Acts 2.
- YHVH broke the power of Israel’s overlords when He decimated the Egyptian Army in the Red Sea Exodus 14:4. Likewise, according to the Apostle Paul, Messiah broke the power of Sin and Death (Romans 6).
- YHVH transformed bitter water into sweet; taking what was essentially profane and sanctifying it, setting it aside for His Divine purpose (Exodus 15:22-26). Likewise, Messiah elevates the common and makes it sacred (Titus 1:15) purifying and sanctifying all those who trust in Him (Romans 7&8:1)
- YHVH daily provided manna out of Heaven for sustenance (Exodus 16). Likewise, Messiah – who is the true Bread of Heaven (John 6:30-35) – invites us to experience the Life that can only me found as we abide in Him (Romans 8:5-11).
- YHVH brought water from a rock to quench His peoples’ thirst (Exodus 17:1-7). Likewise, Messiah promised that those who trusted in Him would experience the Spirit of God flowing through and out of their Life (John 7:37-39), changing them in fundamental ways (Romans 8:12-14).
- YHVH gave the Jews victory over the Amalekites when they were attacked without provocation (Exodus 17:9-16). Likewise, Messiah has overcome the world for us (John 16:33), making us more than conquerors (Romans 8:31-39).
An important caveat should be made here. Notice that the above all occurred for the Jews after their salvation from Egypt but before YHVH had officially invited them to make Covenant with Him. In this we see that Holiness is the result of Covenant and not its basis. Additionally, in the fact that the whole of the Jews experienced this before the institution of their National status in Covenant with YHVH, we see that salvation had both corporate and individual aspects to it then just as it does now. Thirdly, we see that salvation as the scripture reveals it has a much more complex character to it than the popular Christian Theological systems seem willing to allow for.
Returning to Shavuot, the Jews celebrate two things: the giving of the Torah and the time of the Harvest. With regard to the former, the focus is on the fact that in giving the Torah YHVH was revealing Himself and inviting the Jews into Covenant. Without these two things the Nation of Israel and the whole Identity of the Jews is non-existent. According to Exodus 19 this event included fire and smoke descending onto Mt.Sinai, the sound of mighty rushing wind, and the very presence of YHVH in the Peoples’ midst. Interestingly, by the Talmudic period the Covenanting of YHVH with Israel at Sinai became known as the Marriage. With regard to the latter aspect of the Shavuot celebration, the focus is on the fact that the harvest is a gift from YHVH, it is the fruit of obedience and the fulfillment of His promise to prosper His people.
So when the Jews had left the temple at about the third hour (Acts 2), having reflected on the journey to Sinai and the giving of the commandments; having celebrated the first fruits by waving the two loaves of leavened bread before YHVH (Leviticus 23:17) and declaring the prayer of Deuteronomy 26:5-11 over them; they were amazed by the sound of a mighty rushing wind, the descending of fire over the Messianic disciples, and the wonders of the Gospel of the Kingdom proclaimed in each one’s own language. It was in that moment that the Messianic Covenant was inaugurated and the epoch of the Last Days began as YHVH fulfilled His promise to write His commandments on His Peoples’ hearts and not on tablets of stone (Jeremiah 31:33) as each one was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). For His desire from the beginning has always been to be with His people (Genesis 3:8).
In this we see that the supernatural Gift of Tongues which emerged at this moment had a singular purpose. That purpose was to begin the reversal of the damage done to Human Society by the Fall. For at the Tower of Babel YHVH pronounced a final world wide Judgment on that first generation or epoch of the Fallen (Genesis 11), fracturing society into its latent ethnicities by confusing their language so that they could no longer work together to devise evil and rebellion against Him. Yet that moment on the Day of Pentecost, with our Redemption purchased, YHVH enacts the first step towards world wide Restoration in this generation or epoch of the Last Days. In that moment, all the Jews in all nations had the chance to hear the Gospel of their Messiah and to be apart of the promised Last Days’ Harvest (Joel 2). For the Gospel of the Kingdom has always been for the Jew first and then for the Nations (Romans 1:16-17). Like Ruth who had no place in the Covenant Promises to Israel but who was accepted into the Beloved by her Kinsman Redeemer, so also were the Gentile Nations embraced by YHVH as they embraced His Messiah (Ephesians 1).
From this vantage it becomes clearer that Pentecost was not the birth of the Church, but rather the expansion of it to include the Gentiles. For the word Ekklesia is not a New Testament phenomenon. Rather it shows up all through the Septuagint, being used to describe the gathering together of the Covenant People whom YHVH has called out of the World and into His marvelous light. These Last Days, are a precursor to the Restorative Messianic reign of the Kingdom of Israel (Revelation 20:1-7), but this time of the Gentiles is not a separate work and a separate Covenant (Romans 11). For when the first resurrection comes to pass, then all of us – Jew and Gentile together – will join YHVH for the Marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-9 & 20:4-5) and we will tabernacle with Him forever more (Revelation 21:1-3).