Acts 2 is a typologist's dream, or nightmare. It's overstuffed with Scripture.
Pentecost arrives. Of course, Pentecost was an Old Testament feast, 50 days after Passover. It was the beginning of the harvest, a firstfruits festival, which fits Acts 2, since it’s the firstfruits of the harvest of the nations. Pentecost also marked Israel’s arrival at Sinai, and was a feast of the giving of the law. Here at the fulfilled Pentecost, the Spirit is poured out, the Spirit who writes not on stone but on the tablets of human hearts.
On this day of Pentecost, there’s a noise like a rushing wind, which fills the house. We know this is the noise of the Spirit. It’s the Spirit who first rushed like a wind over the formed void of the deep at the beginning of creation. The Spirit is being poured out to form a new creation out of the chaotic disorder of the nations. The wind of God rushed over the flood waters too, re-molding the fallen creation into a new creation. He’s back.
When the Lord came to Adam and Eve in the garden, He came in what the Scriptures call the “Spirit of the day.” The Lord is coming again to visit His people, not to curse but to bless.
The noise and the wind “fill the whole house where they were sitting.” We’re reminded of the Spirit-glory of Yahweh that filled the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle and then the temple. The house where the disciples are gathered becomes the new Holy Place. The Spirit doesn’t fall on the temple in Jerusalem, a short ways away. It falls on the disciples. Not so much the place, but the people themselves become the new temple. The Holy Spirit consecrates a human house. He fills the people, who are living stones of a new temple.
Notice the difference, though. When the glory-Spirit fell on the tabernacle and temple, everyone had to vacate. Not even Moses could stay in the tent when it was filled with the glory of the Spirit. Not so the apostles. Something has happened to them, or happened to the Spirit. Now they can stand unveiled before the presence of the Lord, who is the Spirit, and so be transformed into His image from glory to glory.
There’s another novelty. To see this, we have to note the connection between Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost. The Spirit is the coronation gift of Jesus to His church. Once enthroned, He distributes gifts, and He distributes gifts by giving the one Gift of all gifts, the Spirit. But the ascension is also Jesus’ entry into the heavenly sanctuary. He goes as a priest through the veil, and then enters the heavenly holy place, where He takes the throne on the ark. That’s the scene at the end of Exodus and at the completion of the temple: Yahweh takes His throne in the Most Holy Place. His next act is to light His altar fire. Fire comes out from before the Lord and consumes the sacrificial portions on the altar.
Jesus does the same. He takes His throne, and then fire comes out before Him to light His altar, to stoke up the sacrifice. Only, again, with a difference. There isn’t a bronze altar or an altar of stone. There are no sacrificial pieces. Instead, Jesus takes His throne and lights His people on fire. The disciples are made the altars. The disciples are made the living sacrifices.
When they are filled with the Spirit and begin to speak in other tongues, we shift to a different register. Now the background isn’t creation, flood, and temple. Now the background is Babel.
Remember Genesis 10-11. Genesis 10 is the “table of nations,” a list of the individuals and peoples who descended from the three sons of Noah. That’s followed by Genesis 11, which begins with the account of Babel. The nations are first assembled (on the page and on the plains of Shinar) and then scattered because of a confusion of language.
Pentecost reverses that. It reverses it textually. In Genesis the order was: table of nations --> judgment on language. In Acts 2, the reverse happens: First we hear about the Spirit giving the disciples a capacity to speak with other tongues, then we have a small list of nations assembled in Jerusalem for the feast.
Pentecost also reverses the curse of Babel. Babel divided the nations because their languages were confused. Pentecost reassembles the nations, and joins them together, because the gospel is preached in all the different languages. The languages aren’t eliminated. Each hears the good news in His own language. But this diversity is brought into harmony. Three thousand are baptized. They share a common table and share goods. They are devoted to common prayers and common teaching.
This fulfills the promise given to Abraham. Abraham was called in the immediate aftermath of Babel. Yahweh promised that his seed would bless the nations. Paul says that this was a promise of the Spirit (Gal 3). At Pentecost, Abraham’s seed, Jesus, begins to bless the nations, by joining them into the olive tree that is Israel, by uniting all nations into one body.
This gives a sense of the kind of entity the church is. Not a private organization. Much more like an alternative empire within the Roman empire. This is the birth of the Abrahamic empire.
The events in the passage are typological. The teaching of the passage is typological too. After His resurrection, Jesus taught His disciples how to read the Old Testament. He taught them everything concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. He taught them that the entire Scriptures were about the suffering and glory of the Christ, and the subsequent preaching of repentance and forgiveness to the Gentiles.
Throughout Acts, we see that the apostles learned the lesson. They learned to see Jesus everywhere in the Scriptures. At Pentecost, Peter quotes from Psalm 16. This is a Psalm of David, but David can’t be talking about himself. He’s talking about someone who was rescued from the grave, but David is still in his grave. So, he must be talking about another king, another David. It’s talking about Jesus’ resurrection. He quotes Psalm 132, a promise that God would seat one of David’s descendants on his throne, and applies it to Jesus. He quotes from Psalm 110, and applies it to Jesus; it can’t be David, because David never ascended to heaven. Peter learned his lesson well.
But I want to highlight something else about Peter’s use of Scripture here. He doesn’t just apply the Scriptures to Jesus. He applies the Scriptures to the events of that particular day, to Pentecost. Joel wasn’t talking about Jesus directly. He was talking about the apostles. “This is that,” Peter says (2:16). The Old Testament Scriptures apply not only to Jesus, but to His body. The apostles do this all the time. They don’t just see Jesus in the Scriptures. Because they see Jesus, and they are with and in Jesus, they see themselves. Their ministry is as much a fulfillment of Scripture as Jesus’ ministry.
This gives them a sense of destiny. Their sufferings and successes, their persecutions and escapes, their signs and wonders, are all as “necessary” as what Jesus did.
Let me end with what may be a controversial point. Peter says the Spirit of Pentecost is a Spirit of dreams and visions. That’s the Spirit that fills the disciples of the first century and still fills us.
And the Spirit doesn’t just initiate the mission. The Spirit who gives dreams and visions directs the mission of the apostles. By the Spirit, Peter is able uncover the deception of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:3, 9). The Spirit tells Philip to run up to the Ethiopian eunuch’s chariot (Acts 8:29), then snatches him away to another place (Acts 8:39).
After Peter sees the vision of the sheet, the Spirit tells him that Cornelius’s servants are coming to see him (Acts 10:19) and later tells Peter to go with them to Caesarea (Acts 11:12). Agabus prophesies by the Spirit of a famine (Acts 11:28), which Paul uses as an opportunity to forge a unity of gift exchange between Gentiles and Jews. The Spirit tells the saints at Antioch to set apart Barnabas and Saul (Acts 13:2) and the Spirit sends them out (Acts 13:4). The decision of the Council of Jerusalem comes from the Holy Spirit and the elders and apostles (Acts 15:28). The Spirit keeps Paul from going to Asia and Bithynia (Acts 16:16), but prompts him to go to Jerusalem (Acts 19:21).
The Spirit’s direction sometimes comes through intermediaries. An angel opens the prison to let Peter and John go free (Acts 5:19), and later does the same for Peter (Acts 12:7-11). An angel sends Philp south to intersect with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26), and an angel tells Cornelius to seek out Peter (Acts 10:3). An angel informs Paul that no one will be killed in the shipwreck (Acts 27:23-24).
The Spirit is a Spirit of prophecy, and also of dreams and visions (Acts 2:17). Ananias receives a vision telling him to receive Saul the persecutor (Acts 9:10, 12), and Peter receives a vision telling him to receive Cornelius (Acts 10:17-18). After his plan to revisit the churches of Asia is frustrated, Paul receives a vision of a man from Macedonia calling him to cross the Dardanelles to help (Acts 16:9-10). Paul receives a night vision at Corinth, assuring him that Jesus has “many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-11).
The apostles carry out their mission by keeping in step with the Spirit and obeying the instructions of angels and visions. So what do we - that is, we non-charismatics - do with that? I suggest this: We at least recognize that during her entire history the church has tried to keep pace with her dreamers and wild visionaries - her Constantines, her Gregories and Patricks and Benedicts and Francises, her Thomases and Luthers and Wesleys and Hudson Taylors. The Spirit never left the church, and He is the Spirit of prophecy.
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