by Craig Keener, originally posted on his blog.
Pentecost (Acts 2:1) was a significant festival in the Jewish calendar, offering the first fruits of grain to the Lord (Lev. 23:16). Its significance in this narrative, however, may be especially that it was one of the major pilgrimage festivals, when Jewish people who lived all over the world came back to visit Jerusalem. This sets the stage for the experience of the Spirit that will drive the church in Acts across all cultural barriers.
The narrative opens with God’s people in unity (Acts 2:1). They have been praying together (1:14), and prayer often precedes the coming of the Spirit in Luke-Acts (Luke 3:21-22; 11:13; Acts 4:31; 8:15).
Suddenly, they experience signs of the Spirit. The first two signs touch key senses, hearing and sight. They evoke biblical theophanies, perhaps also as foretastes of the future age. First, they hear a wind, perhaps prefiguring the promised wind of God’s Spirit that would bring new life to God’s people in Ezekiel 37:9-14. Second, they witness the appearance of fire, which was often associated with future judgment (cf. Luke 3:9, 16-17).
The third sign, however—speaking in tongues—is the most important of the three. This is clear because it occurs again at two other outpourings of the Spirit in Acts, although no one present on those occasions recognizes the languages spoken (Acts 10:46; 19:6). On this first occasion, though, their experience is also important because some people do recognize the languages and it therefore forms the bridge to Peter’s sermon. The crowds hear this sound (2:6) and ask what this phenomenon means (2:12). Peter goes on to explain that this tongues-speaking means that the promised time of the Spirit has dawned (2:16-18). Continue reading The Point of Speaking in Tongues in Acts 2