It is well worth noting, at this stage, the way in which God works when it comes to the people He chooses to do His will. He has always been and is still, consistent in His methods. We know that He chose people before the very foundation of the worlds* to be called His, and to carry His seed, His message on the winds to the four corners of the earth.
(* The Hebrews believe that when God created the heavens and the earth, He created two worlds – this world, and the world to come. They call this olam hazeh and olam haba.)
It started with Abraham. God called Abram (as he was back then) out of the land of the Chaldeans, that is Babylonia, to come to a new land, which we know as the Promised Land. Later, He called Jacob out of the land of Haran, to return to the land promised to Abraham. And after He had sent Jacob, who was by now called Isra’el, and his household down into the land of Egypt where, for 400 years, they became the slaves of the Egyptians. And, in the fullness of God’s timing, He called Moses out of the land of Midian where he was hiding, in order to call all of Isra’el out, once more of Egypt.
Once Isra’el were safely across the Jordan river and back in the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Yehovah, at various times, called out individuals, such as Gideon and Samson to be separated from everyone else in order to help Isra’el by defeating their oppressors. Then, when it came for the times of kings in the land of Isra’el, God called out David from his own family to become the one to lead Isra’el.
Despite all this help from God, Isra’el continued to be unfaithful to God – that is they failed to simply trust Him in all things. They were seduced by other gods who were not gods at all, but worthless idols made of wood and stone. In order to punish Isra’el for their unfaithfulness to God’s word, for allowing it to be mixed with Satan’s, He allowed the nations around them to carry them off into captivity in Assyria and Babylonia. Some never returned.
But, because God is faithful even when the people He chooses fail to respond, He called Isra’el out of Babylon and returned them to Jerusalem once more. Despite vowing before Yehovah that they would never be unfaithful again, Isra’el turned from what God had spoken to them and turned to religion for their salvation. That even knowing the truth written in the pages of their Holy Scriptures, they still failed to see what God wanted from them , and turned instead to the arms of the false god of false righteousness. Once more, Isra’el was caught in captivity and oppression – this time it was of their own making. They had mixed God’s seed with man-made rules and rituals which did nothing for a man’s salvation and only added to his condemnation.
But God always had a plan. And when He called His Son, Yeshua out of Egypt, what He set in motion was to be the salvation of not only Isra’el but of all mankind too.
Yeshua came calling. He called those whom God had granted the ears to hear and understand His message, out of the false religion of Judaism with its impossible burdens by which was promised righteousness and , in fact, only led to death. He called the people God had chosen before the foundation of the worlds, out from their prison of religious acts and rituals to a place of freedom. He came first to the lost sheep of Isra’el and those whom recognised His voice, heard Him calling them out to be set apart from the existing way to follow The Way, the one which had always been available to them but the entrance to which had been hidden by manmade traditions and rules.
So, these people, these Hebrews, He called out of their bondage, just as He did when they were in Egypt, and He showed them The Way. He set them apart to take the message – His seed, to the world, because the plan was always that His salvation would come through the Hebrews. And those whom He called out became what we know as the church. In the Greek, the word used for church is ekklesia.
Ekklesia is a compound word, that is to say that they have taken two words and joined them to give a new meaning, which is made up of ek (meaning out from) and kaleo (meaning to call). So, this shouldn’t suprise you, but the meaning of the word church, as in the body of people rather than a building where they meet, literally means to be called out from, just as God has consistently done with His people.
When it came to what we now call the church, God called first the Hebrews out of their false religion and set them apart from what they had created, and then He called the Gentiles out from their worship of pagan gods.
As we shall see, this started off well, but we know that, over time, the old habits of both legalism and the worship of worthless idols such as wealth and other fleshly pursuits, have led the church back into the world instead of being called out from it and set apart. So, in order to teach both the Hebrews, who are still largely blinded to His message, and the church who have led themselves astray, God has allowed them both to be held in the equivalent of a spiritual Babylonian captivity.
Those who have ears to hear will know that God is once more calling the people He chose to come out and be separate. This time, for the church, He is calling them out of the false religion which they have made, in order to return to The Way, that they might show the Hebrews what God had meant all along. He who is first, shall be last, and he who is last, shall be first.
It will be very difficult for anyone within the church to actually see this, but what we have built over the past two millennia is not what God wanted us to build. We have built exactly what the Hebrews built themselves in the run up to Yeshua’s first coming – an edifice of man-made religion. As I say, the church won’t recognise this, but neither did the Pharisees or the Sadducees or the Scribes of Yeshua’s day. They couldn’t accept that they had got it wrong and had wandered from the Way of Holiness. The traditions and rituals and unwritten laws which they added to what God had already said, meant that the seed was mixed and, therefore, defiled. Yeshua tried to tell them, but pride stopped them from listening. It is hard for such a big movement like that to admit it got it wrong and repent. The same should be said of today’s church. If you try telling the leadership team at your church that what they have been practising for years isn’t in line with the gospel, they will tell you that you have a problem with authority and ostracise you until you leave the church and worship somewhere else. I know this to be true because it has happened to us, twice.
What follows in this series from now is the account of what the church did right and how quickly they allowed themselves to fall into the pit of man-made religion. As we do with all things of God, we start off well but the moment we take our eyes from Yeshua and start looking around us, we sink, just as Peter did on the Sea of Galilee.
Let’s go through this one step at a time so we can see God’s plan and man’s response to that plan. We shall begin with Acts chapter two.
“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord and in one place.” [Acts 2:1 NKJV]
Here they are, the 120, called out to be separate from the existing man-made religion on the morning of the Feast of Shavuot. The Hebrew day begins at sun down the previous evening, in case you are wondering why the text says ‘fully come’. So, it is first thing in the morning and they are not only altogether in one place but of the same one accord which we examined in Part Seven. That means that they were filled with the same spirit – the Holy Spirit. Notice that this was before the outpouring, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament there are occasions when the Holy Spirit is described as being in people and on people. Although the disciples had all now received the Holy Spirit – the life-giving breath, they were now about to be totally drenched in His awesome power. I am suggesting that the pre-cursor to being drenched or dipped (as the word baptizo suggests) in the Holy Spirit, is to have first received the Holy Spirit. This, as we see later in the book of Acts, was achieved by the laying on of hands, but Yeshua showed that it could be achieved by breathing on people as well. The point I am trying to make is that those who have already received the Holy Spirit can impart that same Spirit to others. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit as is about to be described in the text is only given by God, and only when the conditions are right. I also believe that God pours out His Holy Spirit for the purpose of achieving His will. The idea that a modern church can hold a Holy Ghost meeting at a certain time and claim that He will come to ‘perform’ like a circus attraction is baseless in Scripture, and reveals only arrogance, the same arrogance we see in the attitudes of the Pharisees of Yeshua’s day.
The two conditions that were present was that those in the room were obedient to what God had already said and, therefore, accepted His plan, and they had emptied all of their own ambition to allow room for the Holy Spirit to come in power.
“And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” [Verse 2]
What does a sound from heaven sound like? Frequently, throughout the entire Bible, we see descriptions along the lines of the sound of wind, or breath, from the small, still voice to the sound of thunder. That the word for spirit also means wind or breath should be of no suprise. Yeshua, when speaking to Nicodemus, of the Holy Spirit said this:
“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” [John 3:8]
All I can say is that I have never experienced the Holy Spirit in this way…yet. That is not to say that I won’t. In fact I hope to one day, but it must have been quite an experience. There is no evidence on this occasion of the disciples experiencing the fear which they did when Yeshua appeared before them. The Spirit of God sets peace to rule in our hearts when we receive Him. Notice that the sound of the wind and the wind itself are said to have filled the whole house, not just the upper room in which the disciples were. I wonder who was downstairs and I wonder what they made of it?
“Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.” [Verse 3]
The physical manifestation of tongues of fire we can only speculate upon. People often refer to this as the baptism of fire but I’m not sure that is what John the Baptist was referring to when He said of Yeshua that He would baptise you with fire. Perhaps this is a good time to deal with the misunderstanding in that phrase, especially as nowadays it has become so fashionable to name certain types of events put on by the church with words like ‘burn’ or ‘flame’ or ‘fire’. As if they can recreate what happened on Pentecost by using adjectives!
Let’s turn quickly to the accounts of John the Baptist announcing the arrival of Yeshua. In the gospels of both John and Mark, the writers both refer to Yeshua as the one who will baptize the people with the Holy Spirit. But, in both Matthew and Luke there is a little more because they both say that John said that Yeshua will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Now, clearly John is differentiating between the Holy Spirit and fire, so it is right to understand that they are not the same kind of baptism. I suspect the confusion arises when the tongues of fire appeared in Acts 2 – it is then assumed that it is a baptism of fire.
Whilst both the gospels of Luke and Matthew give us the answer to what a baptism of fire actually is, Matthew has the best description.
John was on the banks of the Jordan river urging people to return to God’s ways and be baptised. This baptism in water symbolised the washing away of their sins and of the forgiveness of God. Up until John arrived, sins couldn’t be washed away. Sin could be atoned for through the sacrifice system but that didn’t remove the stain of the sin, just transferred the guilt onto the lamb or goat.
John’s baptism was so radical that it caused even the Pharisees and the Sadducees coming out together to hear what John had to say. Clearly they were worried that the Status Quo was being threatened and with it their livelihoods. The two sects really despised each other so to even be seen together in public must have been a rare occurrence. I suspect that they were hedging their bets – perhaps they figured they would get baptised by John just in case, whilst carrying on with their own religious traditions. Here’s from when John sees them approaching:
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.”
“And even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
“His winnowing fan is in His hand and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” ” [Matthew 3:7-12]
It is clear that John makes the association with fire as being about God’s judgement. I think it is also as equally clear that Yeshua has two baptisms to bring – one of the Holy Spirit which will be for His ‘wheat’ – those who produce a harvest from repentance; and one of fire, which is the judgement of God and will burn off those who do not produce a good harvest.
And so, the next time you are tempted to attend a meeting with a title which has the suggestion of a baptism of fire, tread cautiously. I suspect when you think about it, you really won’t want to face a baptism of fire.
We don’t know what the tongues of fire which appeared on that occasion represent. There is no record of them appearing again, so it may have been a sign or talisman that God chose to use on that occasion only. Because they are described in the original Greek text as resting upon each of them, I would suggest that it doesn’t describe a baptism, which is to dip or sink into. And, given that John the Baptist makes a clear definition between the baptisms of Yeshua, I think it is safe to say that on this occasion it was a baptism of the Holy Spirit.
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” [Verse 4]
Now, here lies the most disputed subject amongst the modern church – the subject of speaking ‘in tongues’. I’m not going to get too carried away with all the arguments about tongues, but I do want to make a couple of points about what it says in verse 4.
It is clear that it was the Holy Spirit which gave them utterance – they didn’t manifest the sound by themselves, as is often seen (or heard) in some charismatic meetings. The word for ‘tongues’ in the Greek is glossais, which is the plural of glossa which actually means language or nations defined by language. Perhaps the correct rendering in the text would be more helpful as ‘other languages’ rather than ‘other tongues’. You will see what I mean by that when we come onto verse 5.
In essence, what this verse has described is that each of the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. This was only possible because they had emptied themselves of all vain conceit and fleshy ambition. As a result of this filling, the Spirit of God spoke through them in other languages. This wasn’t just spiritual utterances to which Paul refers to in his letters to the church at Corinth. These were genuine languages which if you were fluent in one of the languages which was spoken you would have understood what was being said.
I have experienced this happening only once in my life, a long time ago in perhaps 1988. I was in a meeting where we were singing to God and praying and someone spoke out loud with a very clearly defined language that wasn’t his own. It was clear that it was a language which could be understood. There wasn’t lots of endless repetitive words. You could define vowel sounds and punctuation clearly. When he finished the guy who was leading the meeting said He believed that the Holy Spirit had enabled an interpretation of what was said. Sitting next to me was an Italian man who put his hand up. He wasn’t a true believer. He was in the meeting because he had to be, like many others there (it was a Christian Rehabilitation centre). From conversations with him I knew he was generally only paying lip-service to God for outward appearances. He explained that he understood what was said but found it strange because it was spoken in an ancient form of Italian which every few people spoke at all anymore. Fortunately, he was able to tell us what it said and it was quite clearly God speaking to another person in the room. I have no doubt whatsoever that the Holy Spirit gave the language to one guy, encouraged another to translate for us, in order to give another guy a message from God Himself. The guy who the message was for was clearly moved by it. In fact everyone in the room was astonished by all of it. I remember the event clearly even after all these years.
Please don’t let anyone convince you that what was said by the disciples via the Holy Spirit was anything other than genuine languages. It wasn’t the kind of self-promoting tongues claptrap you hear so often today in charismatic meetings. The only purpose they serve is to attempt to make the speaker appear more spiritual than they truly are.
“And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.” [Verse 5]
This was the reason for the other languages being spoken. What was happening was God was using the opportunity of Jerusalem being filled with pilgrims from all over the known world, there to observe the Feast of Shavuot and then return to their own lands. But God didn’t want them to return emptied handed – He was sowing seeds of His gospel into the air that they might be carried back with the pilgrims in their hearts.
“And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused (bewildered), because everyone heard them speak in their own language.” [Verse 6 (my brackets)]
God’s plan was always for it to happen this way – the first seeds of the gospel after Yeshua ascended were to be sown right there in Jerusalem so that all who heard them would go back to their homelands and tell others, thus spreading the gospel in God’s way and not men’s. Much more efficient.
In the next part of this series we shall continue looking at what happened on that day, the day when everything changed.