Acts 2:1-13

A Bible Study led by Dr. Larry Reynolds

Denton, TX

January 29, 2009


(Acts 2:1-13)


Acts 1 closes with the disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem waiting for the fulfillment of a promise from God (Acts 1:4).  In chapter 1 they received their final instructions from Jesus (Acts 1:8) and witnessed His ascension back into heaven (Acts 1:9-11).  After His ascension they returned to Jerusalem to their meeting place known as “the upper room” (Acts 1:13) and devoted themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14).  Since the Lord’s post-resurrection appearances ended forty (40) days after Passover and since the Feast of Pentecost began fifty (50) days after Passover, we can conclude the disciples were together praying in the upper room for about a week.  Those days were marked by a deep unity of fellowship and by a keen sense of anticipation of what was to come.


The first verse of Acts 2 tells us the events in this chapter occurred on “the day of Pentecost.”  It is not an accident that God chose this time as the beginning of the witness of the apostles.  The date was chosen strategically to have the most impact on the largest number of people and the widest geographic area.   

·         There were three pilgrimage festivals in 1st century Judaism during which many Jews crowded into Jerusalem.

o   Feast of Passover which commemorated the night that the death angel swept across Egypt taking the firstborn of every Egyptian family but sparing the Israelites who had spread the blood of a sacrificial lamb on the doorposts of their homes.

o   Feast of Tabernacles or Booths which commemorated the time the Israelites lived in tents during the exodus from Egypt and the journey to the Promised Land. (Leviticus 23:39-44)

o   Feast of Pentecost which was basically an agricultural feast, commemorating the completion of the grain harvest.  It is also referred to as the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of Harvest.  The feast took place fifty (50) days after the Passover.  The Hellenistic (Greek speaking) Jews of the 1st century referred to it as “Pentecost” which is simply the word for fiftieth in Greek.  It was a time of thanksgiving to God for the harvest.  (Later Jewish traditions tied the Feast of Pentecost with the time Moses received the law on Mt. Sinai.  However, it is unlikely the Jews in the 1st century viewed Pentecost that way.  More than likely that tradition began in the 5th century A.D.)

·         While many pilgrims came to Jerusalem for these three feasts, it has been suggested Pentecost drew people from a wider geographic range than the other two feasts.  That’s because it usually fell during the last two weeks of May, and weather conditions for traveling were more favorable then than during the other feasts.  Thus, Pentecost was an appropriate time to begin the apostle’s witness for several reasons:

o   Thousands of Jews who had dispersed across the Roman Empire were in Jerusalem for the feast.

o   Many of these people, who were there to celebrate the first fruits of the grain harvest, would become the first fruits of God’s great spiritual harvest!


In telling the story of what happened on the Day of Pentecost, Luke divides the account into three main movements:

1.      The coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-13)

2.      The preaching of Peter (Acts 2:14-36)

3.      The response to Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:37-42)


The Coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-13)

Obviously the event described in these verses is of great importance.  That is evident by the prominence it is given in the book of Acts and by the fact that it was promised by the prophet Joel in the Old Testament (Joel 2:28-32 which is quoted later in this chapter), by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:11-12) and by Jesus (John 16:7; Luke 24:49; and Acts 1:5, 8).  The events in this are so dramatic, it would be easy to conclude that this is the very beginning of the work of the Holy Spirit in the world.  But that is not what Luke is seeking to convey.  He was well aware of the working of the Holy Spirit in the world before the Day of Pentecost.  For example:

·         Luke 1:35 reports the angel Gabriel telling Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…”

·         Acts 1:16 reports Peter speaking about the Holy Spirit working through David.

So, the Holy Spirit did not begin His work in the world at Pentecost and He certainly did not come into being at Pentecost.  He is part of the Eternal Godhead and has always been at work in this world.  But what changed at Pentecost is that in the past the Holy Spirit was seen as working through prophets, priests, kings, and other special people.  However, at Pentecost, the Spirit falls on all believers.


Verse 1 sets the stage for the event. 

      “And when the day of Pentecost had come…” - The wording indicates this was a special moment.  “Had come” is literally “…was being fulfilled…”  This indicates the significance of the moment in God’s timetable.  What was about to occur was not a matter of chance or circumstance; it was in the plan of God.


      “…they were all together…”This probably refers to the 120 mentioned in Acts 1:15.  As in 1:15, the phrase probably speaks of more than mere physical togetherness.  They were together in a spiritual unity.  This spirit of togetherness better positioned them to be the recipients of God’s Spirit.


      “…in one place…” – Luke does not tell us the place.  Since we last saw them in the upper room somewhere in Jerusalem, it is easy to assume that is where they were.  However, since we see the disciples coming into immediate contact with a large crowd of people (Acts 2:6), it is possible they had gathered somewhere in the area of the Temple.  This event occurred around 9:00 a.m. (Acts 2:15) which was one of the prescribed times of prayer.  Perhaps they had gone to the Temple to pray.


Verses 2 and 3 describe the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples with two familiar biblical symbols.  They heard something (“…a noise like a violent, rushing wind…”) and they saw something (“…tongues as of fire…”).  With both the sense of sight and of sound impacted by the experience, it had to be obvious to the disciples that something supernatural was occurring.  Curtis Vaughn writes:

The sound and sight were designed to produce a feeling of awe and an awareness of the importance of what was about to happen. [Quoted in Acts: A Study Guide Commentary, Curtis Vaughn]


      “…a noise like a violent, rushing wind…” – Wind is often used in the Scripture to symbolize the presence of God. 

·         Psalm 104:3 says “…He walks upon the wings of the wind; He makes the winds His messengers…” 

·         In the book of Job, God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind.  Job 38:1 says “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind…”

      In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for wind is also the same word for spirit, ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek.  So, the sound of a rushing wind was certainly an appropriate symbol for the coming of God’s Spirit.  And the sound was heard not only by the disciples, but by others as well.  Acts 2:6 says it was the sound that caused the great multitude which Peter addresses later in this chapter to come together.


      “…tongues as of fire…” – Fire is also a common biblical symbol for the presence of God.

·         In Exodus 3 God appeared to Moses as a blazing fire in the midst of a bush which it did not consume.

·         In Exodus 13 the Lord went before the Israelites as a “pillar of fire” as they moved from Egypt toward the Promised Land.

      Notice that the “tongues as of fire…rested on each one of them…”  This was not an experience for a special few; it was for all the disciples.  Some see this act as being symbolic of God equipping the disciples to speak with power about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  As one writer put it:

…the Holy Spirit was a distributive force moving out upon them like tongues of fire emanating from a single flame. [T.C. Smith, Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 10]


Verse 4 tells of the effect of all this on the disciples.  There was a twofold effect:

1.      “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…” - Notice this filling was not confined to the apostles; it was for “all” the disciples.  The word translated “filled” is one of Luke’s favorite words.  He uses it no less than sixteen (16) times in the Gospel of Luke and Acts.  While being “filled with the Holy Spirit” is not precisely defined in the New Testament, the idea seems to be permeated by or controlled by the Holy Spirit.  It is absolutely necessary for effective service and for Christ-like living.


      This would be a good time in our study to distinguish between two biblical concepts:  baptism of the Holy Spirit and filling of the Holy Spirit.  In my understanding, they are not one and the same thing.


      The Baptism of (or with/in/by) by the Holy Spirit is a once and for all experience.  Since the day of Pentecost, with rare exceptions (see Acts 19:1-7), this occurs at conversion.  It is the norm for all Christians.  1 Corinthians 12:13 puts it this way:

      For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.


      The only times I could find the phrase “…baptized with the Holy Spirit…” in the book of Acts, it was actually used in the context of repeating the words of Jesus when He said, “John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus repeats that phrase in Acts 1:5 and Peter quotes it in Acts 11:16.  The concept of baptism with the Holy Spirit is alluded to in Acts 19 where Paul encounters some disciples in Ephesus who had not heard of the Holy Spirit.  I know of no place in Scripture where Christians are commanded to be baptized with or by the Holy Spirit.  Instead, this baptism is presented as an integral part of the salvation process


      Filled with the Holy Spirit This phrase is used at least five times in the book of Acts (Acts 2:4; 4:8; 4:31; 9:17; 13:9).  In contrast to the baptism of the Holy Spirit which is a once and for all experience, being filled with the Holy Spirit may be a repeated experience.  The Scripture commands us in Ephesians 5:18 to be filled with the Spirit and the verb tense in that command indicates an on-going process.  We are to keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit.  Being filled does not mean we get more of the Holy Spirit.  When you became a Christian the Holy Spirit took up residence in your heart.  The Spirit is either there or not there.  He can’t be partially there.  But being filled means the Spirit gets more of us.  We are more submissive to His direction, more obedient to His urgings, and more trusting of His leadership.


2.      “…and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance…” This is the second effect the coming of the Holy Spirit had on the disciples.  There are only four places in the New Testament in which speaking in tongues is mentioned.

·         Acts 2:4 on the Day of Pentecost

·         Acts 10:46 when the Holy Spirit came upon those who gathered in the home of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion

·         Acts 19:6 when the Holy Spirit came upon some believers in Ephesus who had not heard of the Holy Spirit

·         1 Corinthians 12-14 where Paul addresses the abuses of the Corinthian church in exercising this spiritual gift

The occurrence in Acts 2 seems to be different from the other occurrences.  While in the other passages tongues seems to be some kind of ecstatic utterance or Spirit language, in Acts 2 the “other tongues” was clearly the disciples speaking in the various native languages of the people gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost.  Or more accurately, the people were hearing the disciples in their own language.  This was more a miracle of hearing than of speaking!  Luke seems to go out of his way to make that clear, mentioning it in verses 6, 8, and 11.


That being true, another question must be addressed.  Since all the people gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost were Jews, it is safe to assume they all would have understood Aramaic, the native tongue of the disciples.  So why did God cause this them to hear in their native tongues?  Perhaps it was because they could better understand the Gospel in their native language or perhaps it was because God wanted to impress upon these early disciples that the Gospel really is for all people equally.


One more thing needs to be mentioned about verse 4.  The word translated “utterance” at the end of the verse is used in Acts in Scripture.  It means impassioned, elevated speech.


Verses 5-12 describe the effect of all this on the people in Jerusalem.  The sound mentioned in verse 2 obviously was heard not only by the disciples but by the larger multitude in Jerusalem.  People were there from all across the Roman Empire to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost.  The word “multitude” in verse 6 is one of Luke’s favorites.  He uses that precise word or a similar word nearly fifty (50) times in Luke and Acts, more than any other New Testament writer.  Verse 7 tells us that all of the multitude was “amazed and marveled” that they were hearing the disciples in their native tongues.  The word translated “bewildered” in verse 6 means to be perplexed or to wonder.  They could not figure out how the disciples were able to communicate to them in that way.  While they all reacted in amazement, they expressed their amazement in two distinct ways.

·         Some genuinely desired to understand the meaning of this event.  Verses 12 – “And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’”  The response of some was honest questioning, and the Lord honors such a response to Him.

·         However, others expressed their amazement by mocking the disciples.  Verse 13 – “But others were mocking and saying, ‘They are full of sweet wine.’”  There is some unintended irony in that statement.  The phrase “sweet wine” can be translated “new wine.”  And there is a sense in which the disciples were filled with a new wine, the new wine of the Spirit.

Those two responses are indicative of how people have always responded to the good news of Jesus.


Practical Application of Acts 2:1-13

1.        God calls every believer to a Spirit filled life.  Anything less falls short of God’s ideal for us.  Billy Graham wrote:  “Anything short of a Spirit-filled life is less that God’s plan for each believer…”  [Billy Graham quoted in The Book of Acts, the Smart Guide to the Bible series]

2.      When the Holy Spirit controls our lives, things happen that cannot be explained in human terms alone.  There is a supernatural dimension to the Christian life which should not be minimized.

3.      When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we care about spiritual things.

4.      When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we care about people.  The early disciples were possessed by God and obsessed with meeting the needs of people.