1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. – Acts 2:1-4 ESV
The disciples had been waiting in that upper room, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had commanded them to return to Jerusalem and to await the Spirit’s coming.
4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”– Acts 1:4-5 ESV
This reference by Jesus to John’s baptism ties the coming of the Holy Spirit back to those days when John was baptizing in the Judean wilderness. His had been a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3). He had been a precursor and herald of the coming Messiah, announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand. And his offer to the Jews in his audience to submit to baptism had been a call to turn from their sins and prepare for the coming of the Kingdom. John the Baptist called on them to change their ways. He demanded that their behavior be different than before.
10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”– Luke 3:10-14 ESV
The people didn’t know what to make of John the Baptist, Some even wondered whether he was the long-awaited Messiah. But he told the people, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16 ESV). A direct reference to what was about to happen in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. Jesus was going to usher in a new era, and provide a new means by which men and women could live radically different lives. John had told the people to change their behavior, but Jesus was going to provide the means to make it possible.
Luke records in his gospel the baptism of Jesus.
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”– Luke 3:21-22 ESV
The very same Spirit who would appear to and rest upon the disciples at Pentecost, had descended upon Jesus, empowering Him for His earthly ministry. While Jesus was the Son of God and had all the power of deity available to Him, He conducted His earthly ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. He lived as a man, submitting Himself to the direction and empowerment of the Spirit of God. He was led by the Spirit. He was ministered to by the Spirit. He was given power by the Spirit to perform miracles. And, after His death, He was raised back to life by the Spirit. And that very same Spirit that had descended upon Him at His baptism, was about to fall on those who were obediently waiting in that upper room.
Luke describes what happened:
2 Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. – Acts 2:2-3 NLT
This time, the Spirit didn’t descend as a dove, He was accompanied by sounds and signs that were unmistakable and impossible to miss. There was the sound of a rushing wind. It was a roar, not a gentle breeze. There was something powerfully significant about to happen. And it recalls the conversation Jesus had with Nichodemus, the Pharisee, regarding being born again. Jesus told him:
5 “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” – John 3:5-8 NLT
The wind, the Spirit, is uncontrollable and unpredictable. He does as He wishes. He is inexplicably powerful, unseen to the human eye, and able to accomplish the impossible. It’s interesting to note a conversation Jesus had with the disciples right after His resurrection. He appeared to them quite suddenly and unexpectedly as they were gathered together behind locked doors in the upper room.
19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” – John 20:19-23 NLT
He breathed on them. He literally blew on them with His breath. What a radically different image than the one that took place in that same upper room on the day of Pentecost. I believe Jesus was giving the disciples a subtle foretaste of what was to come. His breath, limited by the restraints of His human body, would turn into a mighty wind when He returned to His rightful place at the Father’s side. He glorification would allow Him to blow the wind of the Spirit in unlimited power and accompanied by unmistakable signs of God’s presence.
The sound of the rushing wind was accompanied by the visual manifestation of flames of fire – just as John the Baptist had said would happen. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16 NLT). The disciples were being baptized with the Spirit and with fire. All throughout the Old Testament, fire represented the presence of God. He led them through the wilderness in the form of a pillar of fire. He appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush. Every time He spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, His presence was illustrated by smoke. The author of Hebrews describes God in terms of fire.
28 Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. 29 For our God is a devouring fire. – Hebrews 12:28-29 NLT
What appeared as a single flame separated and “settled on each of them” (Acts 2:4 NLT). Every single individual in the room received the filling of the Holy Spirit. They each had a tongue of flame hovering over their heads, and each one was able to see this visible manifestation. So, it was not just the original 11 disciples who received the Spirit, but every single individual who was gathered in the room that day. The Spirit was non-discriminatory. And what these people received was power from on high. They were indwelt with the very power of God, the same power that had raised Jesus from the dead. And what is significant about this is that the 120 disciples gathered in the upper room received the divine power that would allow them to live out what John the Baptist had said to the Jews whom he had baptized.
“Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones.” – Luke 3:8 NLT
The Jews who experienced the water baptism of John were incapable of pulling off what he told them to do. They lacked the power. They were limited by their sinful dispositions. But when the Holy Spirit came, it was a game-changer. Suddenly, those 120 disciples were equipped with a power they had never known before. And it was going to become immediately evident that their lives had been radically transformed and their capacity to live godly live had been dramatically improved. What happened next was a visible and audible demonstration of the Spirit’s power and their newfound potential as God’s instruments of reconciliation.
And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. – Acts 2:4 NLT
Again, notice that Luke says, “everyone”, not some. There was no mistake that every single individual had been filled with the Spirit. If the tongues of flame hadn’t proved it, the audible tongues did. They were suddenly able to speak in languages they didn’t know. Each one was speaking a different language. Can you imagine what this scene must have looked and felt like to all those present. There is no indication the sound of the rushing wind had stopped. The tongues of flame were probably still floating above each person’s head. There was a cacophony of noise as the various languages mingled with one another and the 120 disciples experienced the awe and wonder of what has happening to them and around them.
None of this would have made sense. Not one of the disciples would have understood what the others in the room were saying. They would not have understood the words coming out of their own mouths. The sound in the room would have been deafening. The flames of fire would have been frightening. And the whole experience would have been a bit confusing. None of it would have been what they had expected. But it was exactly what Jesus had promised. And it’s significance was about to spill out of the room and into the streets of Jerusalem and the lives of the lost. The Spirit had come and the world would never be the same again.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.