Acts 2:1-21 – The Feast of Fifty Days

Updated: Apr 22

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.


Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs– in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”


But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:


`In the last days it will be, God declares,

that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ ”


——————————————————————————–


This is the fairly fixed reading that can be chosen as either the Old Testament selection or the Epistle selection for Pentecost Sunday, Year B 2018. The full reading is optional in Year A and Year C, making it a fixture reading for Pentecost Sunday.  Either way it may be selected, it would next be read aloud in church by a reader on Sunday, May 20, 2018. It is important as it tells of the disciples’ transformation into Apostles and Saints, when the Holy Spirit flowed strongly through each of them on the first day of the week that was Pentecost (the Fiftieth Day), marking the Festival of Weeks (Shavuot). It is important because it tells how the Saints of Christ do not speak of their own accord, but by the Will of God. The truth spoken by an Apostle is then fulfilled by the prophecy made by Joel, where that prophecy needs closer examination.


I was raised (from nursery cradle to fifteen) in an Assemblies of God church. That denomination is under the general umbrella of Christianity that is called “Pentecostal.” I was into my fifties when I learned that “Pentecost” is Greek, meaning “Fiftieth Day.” My assumption prior to that (as I do not recall ever having “Pentecostal” defined to me) was that “Pentecost” meant “speaking in tongues,” as that was a tenet of the Pentecostal branches of Christianity.


Now, I see my assumption (from being told “Pentecostal” means the belief in “speaking in tongues”) was somewhat of an oxymoron.  It must be, since one of the tongues not spoken appears, quite obviously, to be Greek. Otherwise, that branch of Christianity would be better named if there was no inference to being “Fiftieth Day related,” from “Pentecost-al.”  A more suitable name would be “Glossaipyros-al” (from the Greek “glōssai and “pyros“), meaning “Tongues of fire related.”


The very first verse in this reading states, “When the day of Pentecost had come.” That demands one understand what the “day of Pentecost” is, as its mere mention states it was a significant day. It demands that one know the Israelites were commanded to forever observe three holy days with feasts (festivals). The three are: Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Weeks [a.k.a. Pentecost]), and Sukkot (Booths). Each festival attaches a number of days of recognition to each of those specified days.


The Hebrew word “Shavuot” means “Weeks,” such that there were seven full weeks that took place after the Israelites escaped Pharaoh, until Moses came down with the sacred tablets. Forty of those days were spent encamped at the base of Mount Horeb, while Moses was on the mount with God.  The Covenant was then made on the fiftieth day (7X7=49, 49+1=50), after Moses came down with the sacred Tablets.


The festival that denoted the end of that counting of weeks was probably named Pentecost because of Greek rule over Jerusalem (following the Persians, prior to the Romans), as a translation of the statement of “fifty days” in Leviticus 23:16. If not, the Greek came after the Apostles spread into Greece and began writing Gospels and Epistles, where that became the translation for the Aramaic that spoke of the Feast of Fifty Days. Regardless of the etymology of “Pentecost,” there was nothing at all that would have predicted to Peter or the other eleven, “Pentecost is tomorrow, so get ready to start speaking in tongues guys.”


Realizing that, when we next read, “the disciples were all together in one place,” the only certainty of where that “place” was located was in Jerusalem, as stated in verse five (“eis Ierousalēm katoikountes” – “in Jerusalem dwelling”). We can assume that the specific place where they were all together was the same “upper room,” where they had shared the Passover Seder meal with Jesus.


This assumption comes from Acts 1:13, where the disciples had returned after the ascension of Jesus Christ. We read there, (“eisēlthon eis to hyperōon”) “they had entered into the upper room,” which is a statement of the same “upper room” prior.   Due to the influx of pilgrims seeking rooms in and around Jerusalem, for Jesus (after his resurrection) to remain in the Essenes Quarter with his disciples for forty days (most likely in unrecognizable form), the room could be retained and he could teach his disciples the meaning of the future that was coming.  As his Ascension was on a Sabbath, on the hill with olive trees (Mount Olivet) just outside the Essenes Gate, the disciples were within the limits on their walking distance (a Sabbath’s day walk – which is roughly a half-mile outside the city walls).  That evidence implies the disciples went back in the same “house” (from Greek “oikon” in verse two) they had remained in for forty-nine days, then preparing for the Temple ceremony for Shavuot.


When we read, “Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem” (literally translated as, “in Jerusalem dwelling”), this is a statement of the importance of Shavuot. As a commanded event that was fifty days later than the Passover events (an eight day festival), those pilgrims in Jerusalem were not coming from the airport, having just flown into town. The distances stated by the naming of places the pilgrims had come from says they all came for the Passover and stayed some place near Jerusalem for about two months. After that stay, they could return home.


Fourteen places are named, but with twelve Apostles it is probable that a couple of nations shared a common language.


That distance means a traveler would have secured a place to stay (a “dwelling”) while near Jerusalem for two months. This could be “living” with relatives who still lived there, or it could mean staying in inns, or it could mean staying in “travel parks,” where groups of travelers all pitched tents and roped off donkeys and camels, within a reasonable distance from Jerusalem.


Keep in mind that Jesus fed a multitude of five thousand adult males (meaning perhaps a total of as many as eleven thousand, including men, women, and children).  Those were largely pilgrims who were preparing for the Passover Festival (John 6:4 – “The Jewish Passover Festival was near.”). Matthew wrote of Jesus feeding the same five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21), but then wrote of Jesus later feeding four thousand (Matthew 15:29-39).  The implication is the timing of the second miracle was prior to the Pentecost Festival.  That means those “living in Jerusalem” were many, all of whom had been there since prior to the Passover; and this swell of people there took place every year (maybe not with the exact same people), because it was a commanded observance.


It is worthwhile to note that the ritual observances demanded by God, through Moses, as stated in the Torah (Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers), were not maintained over the centuries. Once the Kingdom of Israel divided, the people were not led to understand the reasoning behind their Covenant, such that the fall of Israel and Judah was seen as rooted in this noncompliance. There was not always a Temple with priests to offer sacrifices, and some see the efforts begun while in captivity in Babylon was an attempt by the captive Jews to relearning what rituals had been forgotten.  Because the Law had been forgotten, the exilic Jews (the Levitical priestly descendants) saw adherence to the Law as all important; and that included observing the commanded festivals.


In the reverse view, after the destruction of the Second Temple and the scattering of the Israelite people around the world (mirroring the spread of Christianity), there has again come a disconnect by Jews and Christians, relative to understanding the reasoning behind the Covenant and the new Covenant with Jesus Christ. Jews go through the motions of rituals without realizing the Messiah has come; and Christians have no grasp of the rituals that bring them into a Covenant with God. Everyone has changed the rules to fit their personal needs, rather than feeling the purpose of God demanding ritual feasts forever be maintained by ALL His chosen priests (thus a “New Covenant” that has been added to THE Covenant).


This lost sense of knowing why God wanted His people to observe the Passover and then fifty days later a festival of farmers taking their marked (with reeds) first fruits (grains) of harvest to the Temple for blessing, amid throngs of cheering Jews was the background setting to the story of Acts 2:1-21 (and 22-41). The people from all the nations listed were milling about during the morning of Pentecost, waiting for someone to finish a prayer and a rite, announcing the close of festivities so everyone could go home … finally.


Their devotion had led them there, seeking more; but so many Jews were looking for some greater reward, more than simply being God’s chosen people.  They prayed for something to happen that would make their devotion be more than routine obligation.  The scene of Acts 2 opens with that ripeness for receiving the Spirit.  Rather than grains and fruits (and cheese blintzes) being the reward of the First Fruits, the pilgrims themselves were about to be blessed as a good harvest.


Knowing this setting, all of the streets in Jerusalem would have been packed. All the pilgrims would have flowed in through every gate, as their customary way of ceremoniously renewing their vows to serve Yahweh.  Then, suddenly, “Came a sound like the rush of a violent wind.”


Imagine how people interviewed on the news after a trailer park has been destroyed by a tornado say, “It sounded like a freight train coming.” If they had freight trains back in ancient days, then maybe we would read here, “Came the sound like a freight train.” Not only did the ancients not have freight trains, but they had no machines that made loud noises that would be similar to any man-made noise. It must have sounded like a tornado, but those weather events are rare in the Middle East, including Israel.  Such a loud noise was totally unexpected, because even rain is scarce in the area during May and June each year (the time between Passover and Pentecost).


Still, this was so loud it filled the entire house and the noise spread outside.  It was so noticeable that it made the people in the streets stop and take notice. They all looked at the house where the disciples of Jesus were staying.


“What in the name of God could that loud noise be?” the pilgrims all asked.


Then, once they had stopped in their path, they looked hard and listened intently. They heard many men speaking loudly in many foreign languages (the real meaning of “speaking in tongues”); and everyone in the street heard some strange man speaking his own native language.


Then the men inside the house came outside.  Some might have gone into the street, while some might have gone out on a rooftop-terrace.  Once the men were seen – still speaking fluently in many different languages – they looked like Galileans.  That means they looked somewhat foreign to the big city, as they probably were not in refined dress, not looking dapper.  They might have had on funny hats or had their hair wild and un-braided.  Whatever the case, they certainly were seen as not being men of the world and high culture.


Still, that source of sound coming from the least of Jews was not reason for the pilgrims to return to the din of street movement.  We read that the pilgrims were all “Amazed and astonished.”


It is most important to realize that these foreign visitors to Jerusalem were not “amazed and astonished” because they heard rubes from Galilee saying things like, “Hello. Can you tell me where the hotel is? This is beautiful weather we are having, do you not agree?” as if they were automatically filled with the ability to speak a conversational language learned from Babble, Rosetta Stone, or The Idiot’s Guide to Mastering Foreign Languages.


The new Apostles were not babbling incoherently, using distinguishable languages recognized by the pilgrim Jews. They were preaching the meaning of Scripture (Torah, Psalms, and Prophets), which were lessons heard for the first time, leading the pilgrims to be “amazed and astonished.”  The fact that each pilgrim heard those lessons in his native tongue means there was no language barrier to overcome – no struggles with Hebrew, no need for translation, no idioms, sayings, or slang terms to overcome – as the multinational visitors heard clearly what no rabbi or high priest had ever told them before.


And that was coming from Galileans!


When we read how some said, “In our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power,” that speaks of the power of God flowing from the mouths of His servants, explaining the hidden meaning that had never been exposed. That is why they “all were amazed.”  Still, they were also “perplexed.”


That state of wonder (amazement), followed by confusion and doubt (perplexity) means their hearts and minds had opened a crack, towards belief in the Apostles; but then their natural brain-driven reaction was to slam shut a protective shell of disbelief over the chance of human vulnerability.  Something wasn’t right!  They had to slam a harness around those hearts and minds.


We read how they began “saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’”


Their brains began whirring, thinking about how Galilean fishermen, small town lawyers, former tax collectors, and general riff-raff Jews could be bedazzling and filling those international globetrotters with sudden wonder, speaking the truth so clearly … in foreign languages?


Then we read, “But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’”

This has to be seen as an explanation offered from the crowd, about how simple Jews could be speaking such deep levels of interpretation of Scripture. Being “filled with new wine” meant there were known past examples of how a drunken state could remove inhibitions in the brain, allowing people to utter thoughts freely, with surprising insight. The intent of such an explanation would be akin to thinking they might be speaking good ideas now, but wait until the influence of alcohol wears off and they return to being bumpkins, not remembering what they said while drunk.


Still, to have someone shout out, “They are filled with new wine” is the Holy Spirit already circulating around the crowd, influencing them to receive the messages spoken by Apostles.

Just fifty days earlier, Jesus had offered a prayer of thanks over the third ceremonious cup of Seder wine (the Redemption Cup), saying, “Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28) When Jesus then added, “I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom,” Jesus spoke prophecy that was then coming true.  It was that day. Jesus Christ had been reborn within his disciples, so they spoke as if “drunk with the new wine” of the Holy Spirit and Jesus was there with them … in the kingdom of Sainthood.


In this regard, Peter did not deny that he and his eleven brothers in Christ were drunk. Instead, he said, “Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose.” They were drunk, but in a way that was not imagined by the pilgrims.  They were drunk with the holy blood of Jesus Christ, through HOLY SPIRITS.


New wine (Greek “Gleukous”) is also called sweet wine, which is unfermented grape juice. It is a non-alcoholic beverage in that case, which might have been consumed by the disciples for breakfast. It would be a drink for the whole family to consume, and for adults to drink at any other time, when drinking spirits would be inappropriate. However, new wine can ferment unexpectedly and become alcoholic, causing one to drink it and unexpectedly get drunk. This is why Peter explained, “not … these are drunkards” (“methyousin”), where the denial was they were “not … intoxicated by wine.”


This was then spoken to the crowd by Peter, with the translation reading: “Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them.” The better translation says, “Peter with the eleven  , lifted up the voice of him and spoke forth to them.”  This says more than Peter just began speaking in a loud voice, as the loud sound that attracted the crowd had come from the wind-like roar of the Apostles speaking loudly in foreign languages.


The Greek word “epēren,” which is translated as “raised” or “lifted up,” should be seen on a deeper level.  Peter and all the other Apostles were speaking loud enough to be clearly heard at some distance, but more importantly their voices were “exalted,” having been “raised” spiritually, as their words were “lifted up” divinely. This means that they all spoke from the Holy Spirit.  With “raised voice” Peter and the other eleven were having the Spirit of the LORD poured out through them. Thus Peter used the example of prophecy, coming from Joel 2:28-32.


It is so important to see how Peter was not simply explaining intellectually, using words that explained what he and the other Apostles were doing. Peter was not speaking from his brain when he implied that he and the gang were fulfilling the prophecy of Joel. That would not be “with raised voice,” but human words of reason.


Instead, Peter quoted Joel because the Father spoke those words for him to recite. It was not rote memorization being accessed within his country-bumpkin brain that Peter (et al) was speaking. Everything Peter and the eleven spoke came from the Mind of Christ, brought upon them by the Holy Spirit, which included the quote from the Prophet Joel.


When Joel was led by the Holy Spirit to write, “In the last days it will be, God declares,” it must be realized that the Greek word “eschatais” (from the root word “eschatos”) means “last, at the last, till the end, and finally.” This is the root word for the theological word “eschatology,” which places focus on “the end of the world or of humankind.” As such, some can read Joel and project what he prophesied is still to come, at that fearsome, grizzly end of the world that always seems just around the corner of present time.


However, as Peter was quoting then, well into the future of Joel’s prophecy, as Peter spoke it was the last days, and God was declaring through ordinary folk.


God then spoke the words of Joel, through Peter: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”


Peter and the other eleven Apostles were sons prophesying. They were seeing the truth of Scripture – the visions of Joseph, Solomon, and Daniel, the dreams of Ezekiel and Isaiah, and the slaves that were Ruth and Ester and Amos and Joel. The prophecies of old stories had been fulfilled in the man known as Jesus of Nazareth. The Old Testament’s prophecies were at last revealed. They were exposed as clearly as the light of the day time hours makes seeing possible.


When God then proclaimed through Peter, “And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day,” had not all that just recently been witnessed by those pilgrim who had been in and around Jerusalem, since the Passover Festival that began seven Sabbaths prior?


Had not Jesus produced “portends,” which means “miracles” and “wonders” for the Jews (and others) to witness?


Had the people not questioned if he had been sent from heaven as the Messiah?


Had Jesus not made clear that he had been sent only to the “blood” that was the remnant of the Israelites known as the Jews?


Had Jesus not set a fire under the Jews that both followed him and saw him as a threat?


Did Jesus not appear to be the human equivalent to the daytime pillar of smoke that guided the Israelites through the wilderness of the Sinai?


Was not Jesus the proclaimed Son of Man, as the representation of the sun – the light of truth; and had that light not been darkened by his crucifixion? Did the sky not go dark in the middle of the day for three hours, as Jesus of Nazareth hung on a cross dying? Did the ever waxing and waning moon – symbolic of emotions overrunning one’s personality – not stand before Pilate, screaming, “Crucify him” to bloodcurdling levels?


Peter reciting Joel’s line, “Before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day,” was God’s way of announcing, “Today is the Lord’s great and glorious day!” God was announcing the return of His Son, Jesus Christ, returned the day after his ascension in all of his followers.

For all who look for the End of the World, as far as Christian theology is concerned, it was delayed coming by the presence of Saints in the name of Jesus Christ on that day of Pentecost. It continues to be averted as long as Jesus Christ exists in the world, via Saints filled with God’s Holy Spirit.


As far as this reading selection goes, Peter ended the prophecy of Joel by God pouring out of his mouth, “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” On a city of Jerusalem street that was filled mostly with Jews, but Roman converts (proselytes) and Arabs as well, the use of the word “everyone” (Greek “pas”) must be seen as the first sign that Saints were called to serve “all,” as messengers of Salvation.


Peter himself did not know he should welcome Gentiles until later; but in the reading that continues (but not read aloud today), we learn that three thousand souls were baptized by the Holy Spirit that Pentecost.  Three thousand souls were then added to the number of Saints in the name of Jesus Christ. Those three thousand would return to their nations and begin a worldwide spread of Christianity.  While not stated, all of the fourteen named nations of peoples had converts that day, all filled with the Holy Spirit, each calling upon the name Yahweh, as Jesus Christ reborn.


As the one reading in the Christian liturgy that is consistently read on Pentecost Sunday, it is vital to have one’s eyes opened to the realization that none of the twelve men speaking in foreign languages that day had any lessons or experiences in learning those languages prior.  Likewise, Ezekiel had no prior experience prophesying to dried bones; but he did as God commanded.  Thus, speaking in tongues, as a miracle of foreign languages, is not the lesson presented in Acts 2.  Neither is the end of the world the lesson to be taken from Joel 2, as if babbling fools can point to some future date as when Jesus will return with vengeance.  The lesson is God speaking universally so all can hear and understand.


There is absolutely no one who is going to have his or her soul baptized by the Holy Spirit and be saved, given eternal life, because they hear someone speaking nonsense, uttering noises that no one can understand. Salvation does not come by learning to fake speaking in foreign tongues or pretending to know what gibberish means.  The brain plays no role in salvation, as it can only hinder that goal.


The miracle of Pentecost was speaking from the Spirit of truth, which Jesus prophesied in the Gospel reading from John 15-16.


The lesson of Pentecost is twofold. One, it is to hear the truth of the texts of the Holy Bible and understand them. Understanding comes from the Holy Spirit, not a book read, a course taken, or someone else’s interpretation that one is incapable of personally owning and defending. Two, it is the beginning of the end times of the old you. The selfish days of ignorance are over – ended forever.


Pentecost represents the end times of the release from bondage, when the Covenant with God is agreed on. It is when time spent learning has reached the point of teaching, such that one can only sit in a pew for so long, before realizing the Lord’s great and glorious day has dawned within oneself. Then it is time to go preach – prophesy to the breath – so that other can have the same chance for a personal experience with Salvation.


The lesson of Joel’s prophecy is not limited to the fulfillment that occurred the day after Jesus ascended into heaven.  The experiences of Peter and brothers in Christ was the beginning of this prophecy’s fulfillment.  It is fulfilled every time a disciple makes this transition.  All of the trials and tribulations from one’s own denial of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit within oneself points to a new last days, as the end of a sinner’s ways and the beginning of a Saint’s service to God, as Jesus Christ reborn.


In this way Peter was speaking to the readers who would eternally be called to God’s Word.  Just as Joel wrote of all the coming sons and daughters of God, the spirit will always be poured out upon desiring flesh.  Just as Peter passed along the flow of the Spirit of truth, so do all God’s Saints.


#FestivalofWeeks #Matthew141321 #Shavuot #Lordsgreatandgloriousday #tonguesoffire #newwine #pillarofsmoke #Acts2121 #fiftiethday #speakingintongues #Acts113 #Acts22241 #Joel22832 #Matthew152939 #John64