5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” – Acts 2:5-13 ESV
The Feast of Pentecost took place 50 days after Passover, and Jews from all over the known world of that day would have made their way to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. But they would have stayed in town to participate in the Feast of Pentecost, also known as the Festival of Harvest. This was one of the three times during the year that all male Jews were required by law to make the journey to Jerusalem.
22 “You must celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the first crop of the wheat harvest, and celebrate the Festival of the Final Harvest at the end of the harvest season. 23 Three times each year every man in Israel must appear before the Sovereign, the Lord, the God of Israel. – Exodus 34:22-23 NLT
As is evident from the text, there were Jews present in Jerusalem from all over the Roman empire.
9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians… – Acts 2:9-11 ESV
And many of these very same people had been drawn by the sound of the mighty wind that had filled the room where the disciples had been gathered. Evidently, that roaring sound had been loud enough to be heard in the streets, and at some point, the disciples had made their way down from the upper room and into the crowds that had gathered. And Luke tells us that those in the crowd were “bewildered” by what they heard. Each of the, regardless of their nation of origin, was hearing the disciples speak in his own language. Luke uses the Greek word, sygcheō, which can mean “to be in an uproar.” So, in essence, Luke is saying that at the sound of the uproar from the upper room, the Jews were in an uproar. They were confounded and confused. They had never seen or heard anything like this before. And Luke makes it clear that what they heard was the disciples “telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11 ESV). Luke gives us no indication of what it was the disciples were saying. But it is likely that they were telling of Jesus’ death, resurrection and His appearances to them over that 40-day period before He ascended back to heaven. Whatever it was that they were saying, we can safely assume that it was under the inspiration and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Jesus had told the disciples that the day would come when they have the Holy Spirit to help them speak. In fact, He would speak for them.
“…do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” – Mark 13:11 ESV
We can only imagine the excitement and enthusiasm of the disciples as they got caught up in the moment, realizing that they were able to speak in languages they didn’t know or understand. Whether they were speaking Aramaic and the words were coming out of their mouths in a different language, we don’t know. But the whole affair must have been amazing to watch and even more remarkable to be a part of. Two separate times in these verses Luke describes the audience as “amazed and astonished” and “amazed and perplexed”. The word “amazed” in the Greek is existēmi and it conveys the idea of slack-jawed wonder. They couldn’t believe their ears or eyes. What they were witnessing was extraordinary and bewildering. And it left them “astonished” or in a state of wonder as they marveled over what was taking place right in front of them. But in verse 11, Luke describes the crowd as “perplexed” or diaporeō, a Greek word that can be translated as “at a loss.” They were amazed, but also confused over what was going on. They couldn’t figure out the meaning behind what they were witnessing. It made no sense to them. And some asked, “What does this mean?” They were hearing the wonders of God spoken in their own languages. But why? What was the purpose? And why these Galilean disciples?
It’s important to remember that these people were in Jerusalem for Passover and the Feast of Harvest. They were there on a religious pilgrimage, but they most likely had not expected anything like this to happen. The normal aspects associated with their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the holy city, had been suddenly rocked by these unexpected and inexplicable events. What they had just witnessed was out of the ordinary and out of their comfort zone. While Passover was meant to commemorate and celebrate God’s miraculous deliverance of the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, the Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem that day were not expecting anything miraculous to happen in their midst. They had not come to town expecting to hear or see the wonders of God. But that’s exactly what had happened. And sadly, some simply concluded that the scene they had just witnessed was the result of drunkenness. Using human reason and logic in an attempt to explain the miraculous, they simply wrote off what they had seen as nothing more than the result of a handful of inebriated Galileans. “But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, ‘They’re just drunk, that’s all!’” (Acts 2:13 NLT). It reminds me of Paul’s warning to the Ephesian believers: “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18 NLT). The 120 disciples had been filled with the Spirit of God and, as a result, had been completely under His influence. They were speaking in languages they didn’t know. There were declaring the wonders of God to all those who could hear them. They had been transformed from timid followers sequestered in that upper room into bold witnesses for Christ, shouting the glories of God out in the streets of Jerusalem.
Any thoughts about the religious leadership looking for them, or fear that they could suffer the same fate as Jesus had, were gone. The Spirit had come and they were no longer the same, and everyone, including them, were bewildered, amazed and perplexed. Astonishment and wonder accompanied the Holy Spirit’s arrival. His coming was anything but pedestrian in nature. The “devout” Jews who had gathered in the holy city to celebrate the Passover and Pentecost suddenly found their regular religious rituals turned upside down by the Spirit of God. They had come to Jerusalem to celebrate God, but had not expected to encounter Him. They had arrived in town fully expecting to honor Him for all He had done in the past, but never dreamed He would show up in the present. For them, the power of God was past tense. Any deliverance by God was the stuff of ancient history, not current events. They were devout and willing to keep the rules established by their God, but they were doubtful that their God was ever going to keep the promises He had made to them. The practice of religious rituals had long ago replaced any expectation that their God was present and powerful. The centuries they had waited for the Messiah to show up had caused their faith to fade and their hope of deliverance to become little more than wishful thinking illustrated by a religion that had become little more than rote rituals and habitual practices devoid of heart.
But they were in for a surprise. God was not done yet. The Holy Spirit was not finished and the disciples had far more to say. For those who were wondering what it all meant, the answer was just minutes away.
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.