Most of us hear the word "Pentecost" and think of "Pentecostal" because of what happened on this day. But in fact, Pentecost was a feast of Israel. Originally called the Feast of Weeks, it was seven weeks after the Feast of Firstfruits. Specifically, the instructions were to...
Lev. 23:16 ...count 50 days to the day after the 7th sabbath...
So, the day after the seventh Sabbath was 50 days after Firstfruits. Thus, the name "Pentecost," or "50th."
On this day, the 120 disciples were all sitting together in a house. They had been waiting in Jerusalem for the baptism of the Spirit, as Jesus had commanded them (Acts 1:4-5). Presumably, they were praying at the time, since...
Acts 1:14 These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer...
John the Baptist used to say,
Luke 3:16 ..."...I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I ... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
Maybe his listeners never thought to take him literally. But during this prayer meeting, a noise from heaven that sounded like a windstorm filled the house, and tongues of fire appeared. They divided themselves up and rested on each of the disciples.
Remember that the disciples had received the Holy Spirit after Jesus' resurrection (John 20:22). Now, they are filled with the Holy Spirit. As we discussed a couple weeks ago, this is a distinctly different work of the Spirit. First, He was next to them. Then, He was in them. But now we're seeing Him upon them, filling them.
When they were baptized with the Holy Spirit, the disciples began to speak with other tongues, and people from all over the world were hearing them speak in his own language.
This would be an interesting but uncontroversial passage, if not for the fact that later, in 1Corinthians 12:10, Paul calls speaking in tongues a gift of the Spirit.
I'm not going to talk about the gifts of the Spirit today, having the debate on whether the gifts are in operation today. I believe that it is easily biblically provable that they are, and I don't want to use up our time with that, because there's a lot to cover regarding tongues.
So, let's talk about this strange phenomena called "tongues." Tongues were first plainly foretold by Jesus before His ascension:
Mark 16:17-18 "These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So, speaking with new tongues was one of the miraculous things that would sometimes happen when someone began to follow Christ.
Paul also claimed in 1Corinthians 14 that there were some hints foretelling of tongues in the Law itself (1Cor 14:21). Tongues had been promised and hinted at, but here in Acts chapter two, we're seeing the beginning of their fulfillment.
What is tongues, exactly? Based on what Jesus said, it is a miraculous sign, speaking a language that you haven't learned previously. That's certainly what we see happening here. Verse four says that the disciples began to speak with "other" tongues. That is the word "HET-er-os," meaning another of a different kind.
The disciples were speaking in the languages of Arabia and Crete, Mesopotamia, Asia, Elam, Egypt, etc., even though they'd never learned those languages! (They were pretty much limited to Aramaic and maybe Hebrew.)
Paul the apostle said that tongues can also be in languages unknown to man. He wrote,
1Cor. 13:1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
So, it appears that the language spoken of tongues could be either Egyptian or Angelic!
So, we know that tongues is a language miraculously spoken without having been learned. What do people say when they're speaking in tongues? Though it might surprise you, quite often the speakers themselves don't know!
You see, tongues and the interpretation of tongues are two different spiritual gifts. Paul said,
1Cor. 14:13-14 ...let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.
Without the spiritual gift of the interpretation of tongues, a person has no idea what they're saying when they're speaking in tongues.
In many churches today, when tongues are spoken and an interpretation follows, it often begins like, "My people, hear My voice. You are my children, and I am Your God..."
But tongues are not God speaking to man. They never are. Notice what's happening here in Acts 2... Jews from all around the world are hearing a common thing in their own languages:
Acts 2:11 "...we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”
That was the content of the tongues - speaking the mighty deeds of God. This remains consistent as we look at the rest of the Scriptures that tell of occurrences of tongues.
In Acts chapter 10, when Peter was preaching the gospel to a group of Gentiles in Caesarea, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening.
Acts 10:45-46 All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God...
Again, the speech in tongues was exalting God, lifting Him up, praising Him.
And Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says,
1Cor. 14:2 For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God
Tongues are spoken to God, never to man.
Later in that same chapter, Paul said that tongues was prayer, giving thanks, and blessing God.
So, when a tongue is interpreted, a true tongue with an accurate interpretation will be in an unlearned language which is speaking the mighty deeds of God, prayer directed to God, exalting God, giving thanks to God, blessing God.
Obviously, this was not an organized church service. (Technically, it was the very birth of the church.) But when the church became an entity, having organized meetings, the Holy Spirit began to place boundaries and limits on what behaviors were acceptable when they met together.
The church in Corinth was a good example for why those limits had to be placed. They were a mess: Pretty much everybody was speaking in tongues at every service. It sounded like a nuthouse. Paul rebuked them for thid, saying,
1Cor. 14:23 Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?
So the Lord, through Paul, placed boundaries:
1Cor. 14:27-28 If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.
In the church gathering, only two - or at the most, three - can speak in tongues. And never at the same time, always in turn. And they must be interpreted.
And this is why tongues must be interpreted: because in public usage, they are a sign to unbelievers. Paul said,
1Cor. 14:22 ...Tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers...
Certainly, here in Acts 2, the multitudes were unbelievers in Christ. They heard and saw this amazing sign, which will give Peter the opportunity to preach the gospel and many will be saved.
As we continue through the book of Acts, we will have opportunity to learn more about tongues, and see how people received that gift.