(Transcribed from the Words of Life Radio Program)

  Thank you for listening to these Words of Life radio broadcasts. The title for the lesson is “Tongues of Fire.”  Our primary text is taken from Acts chapter 2 verse 1 through 4. Please listen to the Word of God.

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”

     What is to us the second chapter of the book of Acts (in the original we should understand, there were, no chapter nor verse designations) it is revealed a turning point in the history of the kingdom of God. A new phase of God’s redemptive plan begins as the church is born.

     In chapter one the Son of God ascended; in chapter two the Spirit of God descended. The wonderful promise of God the Father finally is fulfilled. The promise was to send the Holy Spirit to indwell believers.

     Through the calling of God’s redeemed as partakers in God’s Kingdom had gone on since the fall of mankind into sin, (the Old Testament saints), the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell believers marks the    beginning of the unique church age.

     The church age, and the unity of Jew and Gentile into that one body was not revealed in the Old Testament. The word ‘church’ means ‘called-out ones’.  That is called out of the Satan’s kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of Light. Colossians chapter 1 verses 13 through 14.

     In the New Testament the church has many prominent descriptions. Such as: the ‘bride of Christ,’ the ‘branches of the vine,’ the ‘flock of the Good Shepherd,’ the ‘kingdom of the Son’, ‘God’s household’, God’s ‘adopted children’, a ‘spiritual temple’ of which Christ is the cornerstone; but the church is uniquely referred to as the ‘body of Christ.’

     Within the body of Christ, the true church has unity in that all are indwelt by the Son, and all possess the same Spirit of God.

Note Romans chapter 8 verses 9 through 11 which says in part “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”

Therefore, all genuine Christians have the empowering of the indwelling Holy Spirit, yet the early disciples of Jesus Christ received the Holy Spirit in a unique way for their enabling to their special duties.

     Let’s look closer at our study text Acts chapter 2 verse 1 “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.”

There were three great Jewish festivals to which every Jewish male living within twenty miles of Jerusalem was legally bound to attend:  Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. Pious Jewish males, farther from Jerusalem, had it as their desire to celebrate these three festivals at least once in their lifetimes in Jerusalem.

‘Pentecost’ means ‘The fiftieth.’  Pentecost is the New Testament name (originally written in the Greek language), for the Old Testament ‘Feast of Weeks’ Exodus chapter 34 verses 22 through 23 which was celebrated fifty days after the Passover Festival.

     The Pentecost Festival had two main significances. First it commemorated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Second it had an agricultural significance. On this day two loaves were offered as first fruits in thanksgiving for the ingathering harvest.

    Our typological significance regarding the church. The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost as the first fruits (or the deposit) to believers. Second Corinthians chapter 5 verse 5. And the ingathering of believers into the church, who also were the first fruits of the full harvest of believers to come in the church age.  God’s sovereign timetable is always significant, never arbitrary. The day the church ingathering began was not to be in an ordinary manner but instead in a supernatural manner in the very heart of Jerusalem.

     Acts chapter 2 verse 2 “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were setting.”  Imagine the sound of a violent tornado hitting the house yet supernaturally the house was not destroyed. The emphasis is on the sound not the wind. Those believers, all together, could not have expected the dramatic signs that would accompany the Spirit’s coming. It was a ‘sound from heaven,’ therefore, the writer Luke emphasized it was supernatural from God not a weather event.

It’s not a coincidence that both in the Hebrew and Greek language the words for wind and spirit are the same.  In fact, wind is frequently used as an illustration of the Spirit of God. Consider John chapter 3 verse 8 “The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So, it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

     After the auditory manifestation of the Spirit’s coming came the supernaturally visual manifestation of the Spirit’s coming one. Acts chapter 2 verse 3 “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.”  A commentator writes that these flames (shaped like tongues of fire) were not literal fire in that it states, “seemed to be” just as in Acts chapter 2 verse 2 it was not a literal violent wind as it states, “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind.” Literal or not these auditory and visual manifestations were supernaturally initiated by God. So that the recipients knew this was the promised Spirit being given to them.

     That the ‘tongues of fire’ came to rest on each of them indicates that all who were present received the Spirit in that moment. At this point, by the receiving of the Spirit, they were all ingathered into one spiritual body – the Lord’s church.

     A commentator writes “The place in which they were gathered may have been the ‘upper room’.” They went upstairs to the room “Acts chapter 1 verse 13, which many scholars believe was the house of John Mark’s mother, as according to Acts chapter 12 verse 12 but the location is uncertain.  Also, the group from Acts chapter 2 verse 1 is not easy to decide whether it referred to only the twelve apostles or also the other believers referred to in Acts chapter 1 verse 14 or even the group of believers about 120 referred to in Acts chapter 1 verse 15.

     Grammatically speaking, the nearest antecedent is “the apostles” in Acts chapter 1 verse 26. This reference also seems likely in light of the promise Jesus made to the apostles that they would receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit to become His witnesses, in Acts chapter 1 verses 5 and 8. Some scholars, however, point to the prophecy of Joel recorded in Acts chapter 2 verse 18 that states “Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophecy.”  As an indication that women Acts chapter 1 verse 14 were included in the group that received this special outpouring of the Spirit.

     Then something even more spectacular occurred. Acts chapter 2 verse 4 “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (or languages) as the Spirit enabled them.”  We should understand that ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ must be distinguished from being ‘baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

     All Christians are commanded to “be filled with the Spirit” Ephesians chapter 5 verse 18. At conversion, the believer is ‘baptized with the Spirit’ and ‘so indwelt’ by the Holy Spirit, however, after conversion the Spirit desires to have an active ministry in believers. Therefore, filled means controlled by the Holy Spirit as believers submit to His will. ‘Baptized with the Spirit’ is a once-for-all experience; ‘filled with the Spirit’ is a maturing, submissive way of life for the Christian which involves continuous fillings, many fillings.

     On this ‘unique’ Pentecost as the church was born evidently the ‘baptism with the Spirit’ and ‘filling with the Spirit’ happened at the same time, simultaneously  – all supernaturally.  The ‘baptism with the Spirit’ gives the power. The ‘filling with the Spirit’ unleashes the power.

     There has been much debate over what “speak in other tongues” means. The scripture however is clear, far from being ecstatic or heavenly speech, the tongues spoken on Pentecost were known human languages as the further context indicates.

     A commentator writes “In contrast to much teaching today, being given the ability to speak in languages is associated not with the ‘baptism with the Spirit’ but here with the ‘filling with the Spirit.’  Nor is speaking in languages the normal response to being ‘filled with the Spirit.’  Consider Acts chapter 4 verse 8, Acts chapter 6 verse 5, Acts chapter 7 verse 55, Acts chapter 9 verse 17, for example, which all record instances where speaking in tongues did not accompany the ‘filling with the Spirit.’

     Paul states the purpose of speaking in languages in First Corinthians chapter 14 verses 21 through 22 were to be a sign to unbelievers, not to believers.

     Speaking in languages was also given to show that Jews, Gentiles and Samaritans were all proven to have been given the Holy Spirit and thereby to be accepted as equal in the church. However, these cases describe a unique, historical transition only.

     The unique gift of supernaturally speaking in languages, human languages, shows that the church would encompass people from all nations and languages. The gift of languages was therefore a sign of the transition between the Old and New Covenants – a transition completed some two thousand years ago.”

     Those who spoke the languages at Pentecost did not have to be taught how to do so. Rather they spoke as ‘the Spirit enabled them’.  Acts chapter 2 verse 4.

     The evidence of the Spirit’s coming was unmistakable. The Spirit demonstrated His presence and power to their ears, to their eyes and to their minds, and to their mouths. But it did not stop there. The coming of the Holy Spirit had a profound effect on the people in Jerusalem also, as we will continue in our series in the second chapter of the book of Acts.

      But finally, what does this unique Pentecost mean for us Christians today to which we can be eternally thankful? Here are a few major truths:

  • Our relationship to the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ – His church has become much more intimate and personal. We are actually indwelt, the Holy Spirit living within us, our hearts, our minds, our wills who empowers us for ministry and service. Does not force us but give us the help, the power as we submit, as we surrender to his guidance
  • Pentecost has broken down barriers that have separated the human race since the Tower of Babel with the formation of a new community in Christ – His church. For example, no longer do believers in the one true God need to go to Jerusalem, no longer do they need to speak the Hebrew language or the Aramaic language. Instead, Christians can go to the far corners of the earth and worship in our own languages. Lastly,
  • That’s all now possible as we are redeemed under a new covenant by the blood of Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

That is indeed very Good News.


       David Johnson is minister of the Sellersburg Church of Christ in Sellersburg, IN.