Old Testament and Gospels Background
In studying the event of Pentecost it is important that we clearly understand the background to the narrative of Acts. Many people have not grasped anything remotely near the full significance that the NT gives to the event of Pentecost, largely through their failure to appreciate the deep OT background to the event.
The OT background to the events of Pentecost is not limited to one genre of OT literature, nor is it limited to one particular time period. The early followers of Christ would have understood Pentecost as an event that drew its significance from the OT narrative as a whole as well as from certain parts in particular. As we establish this background, many popular and academic myths that persist about the character of Pentecost will be dispelled.
The Tower of Babel
In Genesis 10 we find the great table of nations. Seventy nations are listed, all descended from Noah and his three sons. This leads us into an account of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11. At this time the whole world has one language and one ‘lip’ (Genesis 11:1). What might this word ‘lip’ mean? It occurs on other occasions in the OT, where it has a clearly ‘religious’ sense. In Isaiah 6:5 Isaiah laments the fact that he is a man of unclean lips, among a people of unclean lips. In Zephaniah 3:9 God promises that He will restore to the peoples a pure ‘lip’, so that they may all call upon the name of the Lord. The fact that the whole world had one language and one lip might suggest that, not only did the whole world possess one language, it also had some form of confessional unity, although it was unity in a false confession.
At Babel the nations join together to build a great tower as a powerful symbol of their autonomy and rebellion against God. The tower was to be built so that the nations would not be scattered, something that God clearly desired them to be (‘fill the earth’). In part, one may surmise, the tower was built as a false ark to protect against the judgment of God. There are a number of pointers within the text to this possibility. Particularly interesting are the references to tar/pitch/asphalt in the accounts of the building of the ark, the tower of Babel and the ‘ark’ for the infant Moses.
The nations being in one mind and having gathered together to ensure their survival against the possibility of judgment from God, God brings about an act of de-creation. Just as He did at the original creation, God takes counsel with Himself, and acts upon man. At Babel God confuses the languages and the ‘lip’ of the nations and brings the rebellious building project to an abrupt conclusion. No longer will the whole world be united by one idolatrous belief system or language. At Babel we see the birth of all the languages and pagan religions.
How might this shed light on Pentecost? At Pentecost we see Babel overturned. The nations had been scattered into many different ‘lips’ and many different languages. At Pentecost all the nations are brought together and restored in a pure ‘lip’. All of the tongues being spoken are speaking of the wonderful works of God (Acts 2:11). All of this takes place as part of the climax of another building project, this time initiated by God. The Church is being established as the true ark (cf. 1 Peter 3:20-21).
The temporary gift of tongues is a powerful sign that the nations are no longer being scattered, but are being gathered together by Christ in His Church. The gift of tongues is the gift of speaking the praise of God in every language under heaven. The gift of tongues brings every nation into the one new ‘lip’ (Zephaniah 3:9). No longer will God deal with one nation only; all languages in the world will become part of God’s new ‘lip’. There are anticipations of this in some parts of the OT, such as the parts of Daniel that are written in Aramaic.
The blessing of Pentecost comes in fulfilment of God’s promise to bless the nations in Abraham in Genesis 12. Throughout the New Testament, for this reason, we see that the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost is associated with the promise made to Abraham.
Against the background of Genesis 10-12 we see that Pentecost is God’s great reunification project. The various nations, who had all been walled off from each other by various languages and beliefs are all brought together as one new worshipping nation, sharing one ‘lip’. We are part of an international family. The building project of Babel, by which the nations sought to make a name for themselves, has been thwarted; God’s building project of one new Church, formed of both Jews and Gentiles as the heirs of Abraham, fulfils God’s promise that He would make Abraham’s name great (Genesis 12:2).
Language miracles and confusion of language are found in other places in the OT. Daniel 5 is a good example of another language miracle that leads to the scattering of an empire (Daniel 5:28). Belshazzar is establishing a rebellious kingdom, bringing together all the lords of the empire, decorating his house with the implements and furniture from God’s house and openly opposing the God of heaven. Here we see another Babel taking place, another anti-God building project.
Belshazzar and the other participants in his drunken feast are thrown into confusion by the hand writing on the wall. Daniel is the man of the Spirit who has the gift of the interpretation of tongues. If the writing on the wall is a sign of judgment itself, the interpretation of the writing makes the judgment even clearer and more definite. The parallels to both Babel and Pentecost should be clear.
The Feast of Pentecost
In Leviticus 23 we see the order of the Jewish feasts. Let me quickly give a description of how these work.
On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight, the people celebrated the Passover, the great sacrifice that lay at the foundation of the people’s existence as a nation. The Passover led into the feast of unleavened bread. In the Feast of Unleavened Bread, all of the old leaven was purged out.
On the day after the Sabbath that took place within the Feast of Unleavened Bread the Feast of Firstfruits occurred — on the first day of the new week. At this feast the first-fruits of the land’s increase was offered to God. As soon as the Lamb has been offered the land begins to be fruitful.
The day of Pentecost also falls on the first day of the new week, a sign of new creation. Seven weeks and one day after the Sabbath following the Feast of Firstfruits Pentecost takes place. The timing should strike us as significant. Fifty (which is [7 X 7]+1) is a very significant number in Scripture. We should recognize the close relationship in the text between the institution of the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost and the year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25:8ff. The first involves the counting of seven Sabbaths (Leviticus 23:15); the second involves the counting of seven Sabbaths of years (Leviticus 25:8).
As Tim Gallant has pointed out, there is a connection in the OT between Pentecost and social justice. Not only is Pentecost paralleled with the year of Jubilee, there is also an important reference to social justice within the context of the institution of the feast itself. When harvesting their fields, the Israelites are to make provision for the poor by not wholly reaping the corners of their fields. Pentecost is a mini-Jubilee.
At Firstfruits one sheaf had been offered. At Pentecost whole loaves are offered. These loaves are made with new leaven. The old leaven has been purged out in the feast of unleavened bread. The new leaven is then introduced. The Feast of Pentecost leads on to the Feast of Ingathering, where the full harvest is celebrated.
In the NT Christ died as the Passover sacrifice. In Christ we see the purging out of the old leaven of malice and wickedness. On the first day after the Sabbath in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Christ rises as the firstfruits from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20; Colossians 1:18), assuring us all of a future harvest. The ground that has been cold and hard over winter springs to new life.
At Pentecost we see that Christ the firstfruits is joined to His Body, the Church, by the leaven of the Spirit to form one new loaf to be offered to God. Pentecost is a further guarantee that one day we will experience the full harvest. Paul plays on the imagery of the loaf to argue that we need to purge out the old leaven (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). However, it is also clear that the new leaven of the Church is the Holy Spirit.
Against the background of Leviticus 23 we see that the Day of Pentecost is the fulfilment of OT expectations. These expectations were embedded in the festal calendar of Israel. The rhythms of redemption are fulfilled in the bringing of the totus Christus. The Day of Pentecost plays a crucial role in God’s plan of salvation.
We should also notice that the great focus on provision for the poor in Acts 2 is not accidental. Observe the chiasm in verses 40-47 of Acts 2: provision for the poor and needy is at the very heart. In many respects it is an outworking of the principles of the feast of Pentecost itself.
The Giving of the Law
In Exodus 20 God gave the Law to Israel. The day on which the Law was given was widely considered to be fifty days after the time of Passover. The giving of the Law was usually considered to have taken place at Pentecost. If you study the chronological details of the text of Exodus it is not hard to see how this figure was arrived at.
At Mount Sinai Israel was gathered together. God promised to make them into a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. At Mount Sinai the leader of the nation, Moses, ascended into God’s presence and received the Law, which he gave to the people of Israel. Fire and God’s presence came down upon the mountain. However, the people rebelled against God and Moses and three thousand of them were killed.
In Acts 1 and 2 we see that Christ, the head of a new nation, ascends into heaven, where He receives the Holy Spirit from the Father. On the Day of Pentecost — the day on which the Law was given to Israel by God through Moses — Christ gives the Spirit to the Church. At Pentecost God made His people into a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Fire and God’s presence came down, not upon a mountain, but upon a people. Whereas the people in Exodus were not fit to come into God’s presence, the Spirit comes to dwell in the body of the Church at Pentecost. Whereas three thousand rebellious Israelites were killed at Sinai, three thousand rebellious people are brought to bow the knee to Jesus Christ at Pentecost.
What accounts for the difference?
As Scott Hafemann writes: “Devoid of God’s Spirit, the law remains to those who encounter it merely a rejected declaration of God’s saving purposes and promises, including its corresponding calls for repentance and the obedience of faith. Although the law declares God’s will, it is powerless to enable people to keep it. Only the Spirit ‘gives life’ by changing the human heart.”
At Pentecost the gift of the Spirit of Jesus Christ leads to the formation of a new humanity, which is being conformed to His humanity. The Law was a means of death; the Spirit brings new life. This Law/Spirit distinction underlies much of Paul’s theology. The OT Law was unable to succeed in its goal, because human beings were still in Adam. Only as Christ establishes a new humanity by His Spirit can the goals be completed. Richard Hays has a helpful study on 2 Corinthians 3 that is pertinent to this issue in Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul.
Against the background of Exodus we see that the Day of Pentecost is the great turning point in the history of redemption. The Law, which had only resulted in bringing people into death, was fulfilled as God gave the Spirit, which establishes people in the new life of Christ. The Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made us free from the Law of sin and death (Romans 8:2-4).
By the clear comparison and contrast drawn between the giving of the Law at Sinai and the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost, Luke has given us the heart of Pauline theology in a narrative form.
‘Oh, that all the Lord’s People were Prophets!’
In Numbers 11 we read of an unusual event. Moses has been bearing the burden of the children of Israel largely by himself up to this point. God instructs Moses to gather seventy of the elders of Israel and bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, where God will take of the Spirit that is on Moses and give it to the elders, so that they can share the task of leading the people with him. The elders are gathered together and the Spirit rests on them. They then begin to prophesy, although they never do so again (Numbers 11:25). Two of the seventy elders (Eldad and Medad) were not present at the tabernacle of meeting at the time, but received the Holy Spirit all the same and began to prophesy in the middle of the camp. Joshua, Moses’ assistant, concerned by this, asks Moses to instruct them to stop. Moses, however, is unconcerned: ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!’ (verse 29).
This event would certainly have been in the mind of Luke as he wrote the account of Acts 2. There are a number of interesting parallels to be observed between this proto-Pentecost and the Day of Pentecost itself. First, it is worth noticing that Pentecost is the event in which we come to participate in Christ’s rule, just as the seventy elders came to participate in Moses rule over the children of Israel.
Second, it is important to remember the number of nations listed in Genesis 10. Symbolically, at least, there were seventy nations. If the number twelve is naturally symbolic for Israel, the number seventy plays the same role for the nations. The number seventy occurs at a number of interesting places in the first five books of the Bible. For example, there are seventy sacrifices of bulls during the Feast of Tabernacles (Numbers 29:12ff), seventy palm trees at Elim (Exodus 15:27 — notice that there are twelve springs; notice also that the Bible sees fit to repeat this seemingly minor detail in Numbers 33:9), seventy who go down into Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:22) and seventy elders of the people. Jewish commentators have long associated the seventy bull sacrifices at Tabernacles with the seventy nations, as have Christians. The number seventy continues to be significant in the NT as Jesus sends out twelve (Luke 9:1) and then seventy (Luke 10:1). By placing the Spirit on seventy elders there may well be a reference to Israel’s task to minister to the nations.
Third, as a point of minor interest, it is worth noticing that the prophetic gift given to the seventy elders was a temporary one. Its purpose was primarily that of marking them out as leaders anointed by the Spirit. Temporary initial prophecy was a mark of Spirit-anointed leaders (e.g. 1 Samuel 10:10). Those who spoke in tongues and prophesied on the Day of Pentecost wouldn’t necessarily have continued to do so for the whole of their lives. The point of the visible manifestations of the Spirit’s power was to mark them out as specially anointed persons. Certain gifts of the Spirit played a more temporary role in marking out the anointed community; certain other gifts were more normative for the ongoing life of the Church.
It is hard to resist seeing some sort of parallel between the place of Eldad and Medad and the Gentiles who were anointed by the Spirit in Acts 10. Eldad and Medad are outside of the group of elders at the tabernacle. Nonetheless, they still receive the anointing of the Spirit just as the others. In a similar manner, the Gentiles may have appeared to be outside of the gathering to which the Spirit was specially promised, but they receive the Spirit just the same way. By giving Cornelius and his household the Spirit before they had become members of a Jewish church, God demonstrated that Jews and Gentiles were accepted on an equal footing.
Finally, Moses’ desire that all of the Lord’s people were prophets looks forward to the events of Pentecost, as God pours out His Spirit on all flesh.
The Creation of Man
In Genesis 1 and 2 we see that God forms man out of the dust of the ground. He breathes into him the breath of life and man becomes a living soul. The creation of humanity is the great climax of God’s work of first creation.
In the New Testament we see that the day of Pentecost is the climax of God’s work of new creation. In Acts 2 we see that God breathes into the Church the Spirit of life. The Church becomes the New Man. Adam was created in the image of God. Adam fell. The New Man formed at Pentecost, Paul writes in Colossians 3, is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
The gift of the Spirit of life is God’s means of restoring the whole original creation. This gift comes in stages. In John 19:30, on the cross, Jesus delivers over the Spirit. In John 20:22, following the resurrection, Jesus breathes on His disciples and gives them the Holy Spirit. On the Day of Pentecost, this small breath becomes a rushing, mighty wind and the whole Church is formed into a new humanity.
In the NT we see that if anyone is in Christ there is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). We often read this statement as if it referred primarily to us as individuals. Whilst it certainly refers to us as individuals, it refers to far more besides. It teaches us that a whole new creation order has been established in Christ. A new world has been brought into existence and we have been made part of it. God’s Spirit is sweeping the whole creation, like healing rain after a great and terrible drought, bringing life where there was once death.
Against the background of Genesis 1 and 2 we can see that Pentecost is a climactic event in the establishment of the new creation. We have been given the firstfruits of the Spirit (cf. Romans 8:23) and, as the Church, we are the first signs of the coming new creation.
The Dedication of the Temple
In 1 Kings 8 we see Solomon’s dedication of the new temple. The ark containing the Law of God is brought into the inner sanctuary by the priests. When this happens the glory of the Lord fills the house of the Lord. It is in the coming of the glory of God upon the temple that we see the fulfilment of the temple. In the temple we see God dwelling in the midst of His people and blessing them with His presence. Solomon prays that all men in all nations might be able to pray towards the temple and that God would hear them.
In Acts 2 we see the presence of God by the Spirit coming down to form and dwell in the new temple. The fact that the Church is the new temple or tabernacle is taught in many places in Scripture (e.g. Acts 15:16-17; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-5). It is the coming of the Spirit into the Church that is the great event that corresponds to the lesser event of the bringing of the ark containing the Law of God into the inner sanctuary.
The new temple formed at Pentecost is undivided. We all have access into the Holy of Holies by the finished work of Jesus Christ. No longer do we have to pray towards a physical temple in Jerusalem. Rather, we are being formed into a temple ourselves.
Against the background of 1 Kings 8 we see that the Day of Pentecost is the greater temple dedication. We are all being formed into a temple in which God dwells by His Spirit. Tablets of stone are no longer at the heart of the people of God. The heart of the people of God is now flesh — Jesus Christ — the giver of the Spirit. The Spirit flows from Christ (the Church is formed from the blood and water that flow from the side of the last Adam) like streams of water. He is the new temple, the new Eden (cf. Genesis 2:10), with rivers to heal all of the nations (John 2:19-21). In Christ we become mini-temples ourselves (1 Corinthians 6:19). Out of our hearts flow rivers of living water (the Spirit —John 7:37-39).
[Incidentally, we should pay attention to the connection between the Holy Spirit and water that is drawn in many passages (Ezekiel 36:25-27; John 3:5). At Pentecost the people of God are baptized with the Holy Spirit. It is important to notice that the Baptism takes the form of pouring out the Spirit. The waters come from above. This fact is not incidental or unimportant. The waters above are the waters from the firmament; the firmament that separates the heavens from the earth (Genesis 1:6-8). If we are to be seated in the heavenly places with Christ it must be as we are brought through the waters of the firmament, corresponding to the laver of the tabernacle and the bronze sea of the temple. This is one of the reasons why pouring should be preferred over submersion as a form of Baptism.]
As part of God’s construction of a new temple, God prepares new lamps. In the original created order, the sun, moon and stars were the lamps prepared by God on the fourth day. In the tabernacle the lamp provided light. In the nation of Israel, the political and religious leaders were seen as the anointed lightbearers. The prophets, empowered by the Spirit, were the anointing ones (Samuel and Elijah are both prominent examples of anointing prophets — 1 Samuel 10:1; 16:13; 1 Kings 19:15-16). It is important to notice one of the more obvious parallels between the lamp and ruler: both were the recipients of sacramental oil, a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The association of the imagery of lamps and rulers is seen in such places as Zechariah 4. It is also seen in such places as 1 Kings 11:36 and 15:4, where God promises that David will always have a ‘lamp before Me’, i.e. an heir on the throne.
In the gospels the lamp imagery is seen on a number of occasions. In Mark 4:21 Jesus points out that the lamp — it has the definite article in the Greek — does not come in order to be put under a basket or bed. Rather, the lamp comes in order to be publicly displayed. We should never forget that it is a parable (or riddle) of the kingdom that is being given here, not merely a timeless piece of moral advice for the individual believer. The lamp and light that is coming should be read in terms of the broader framework of redemptive history (e.g. Isaiah 60:1-3, 19-21). Christ and the new Israel that He is forming around Himself are to be the light of the world. The Church is to be a city set on a hill (a new Jerusalem — Isaiah 2:1-4). The lampstand giving light to the house (the language of the Sermon on the Mount) is quite probably temple imagery. We also see the lampstand imagery taken up in Revelation 1, where the lampstands represent the churches, with Christ, the great High Priest, tending them. The lampstand is also a symbolic burning bush. The burning bush of the Church is where man now meets with God. Wherever the Lampstand Church is, there is holy ground.
[Perhaps we should also read the lighting of the lampstand imagery against the background of the liturgical patterns of Exodus 29-30. The ascension offerings of 29:38ff would presumably have been followed by the lighting of the lamps and burning of the incense, which took place at the same time of the day (Exodus 30:7-8). The connection of ascension and lamp-lighting might help us to some degree in our understanding of the relationship between Ascension and Pentecost.]
When we hear of tongues of flame resting on the heads of the disciples at Pentecost we should instantly connect it with such biblical imagery. The disciples are being set up as new lightbearers. Being baptized by the Holy Spirit they are being placed in the heavenly places with Christ (cf. Ephesians 2:6) to shine as stars. Although there is undoubtedly strong altar imagery in Acts 2, I believe that it is important that we do not allow this to obscure the lamp symbolism. The Pentecost as lighting of the lampstand connection is also drawn by Peter Leithart (it is very hard to say anything that original when you have people like James Jordan and Peter Leithart around!). As the Church we are those who have been anointed in the Anointed One (2 Corinthians 1:21). We are the light of the world with Him. Whether we have received the general anointing or a particular anointing of the fire of the Spirit, we are called to tend to the flame (2 Timothy 1:6). The flames are the Pentecost are the fire that Christ wished to see kindled. However, Christ knew that this could never take place before He had undergone His own terrible Baptism (Luke 12:49-50).
Preparing the Lips of the Prophet
In Isaiah 6 we see the prophet as a participant in God’s heavenly council. Isaiah laments the fact that he is a man of unclean lips. In order to cleanse Isaiah’s lips an angel takes a burning coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips with it (Isaiah 6:6-7). We have already observed the significance of the word ‘lip’.
At Pentecost, God took fire from the heavenly altar and purified our lips so that we might speak with one pure ‘lip’. This is similar to what the angel did when he purified the unclean lips of Isaiah with a coal from God’s altar in Isaiah 6. It is also similar to that which takes place in Revelation 8:1-5. The angel take fire from the altar and throws it to earth, so that the prayers of the saints may ascend into God’s presence like incense. We should also remember that the burning of the incense and the tending of the lamps belong together (Exodus 30:7).
Men’s lips will always be set on fire. The question is always whether their tongues will be set on fire by hell (James 3:6) or from heaven. The tongues of the righteous are set on fire from the altar of heaven. Their prayers ascend like incense. In having tongues of fire, the righteous are like God Himself, whose tongue is a consuming fire (Isaiah 30:27). The prophets in particular are people who have fiery tongues. The words of God are like fire in the heart of the prophet (Jeremiah 20:9). The words of the prophet consume the wicked like stubble (Revelation 11:3-5 — notice the presence of the imagery of the lampstand) and purify the righteous like gold.
At Pentecost God’s ignites the lips of His people, so that they can bear testimony with power. The Church is set alight by the fire of the Holy Spirit and so its words are potent and capable of destroying the strongholds of the enemies of God.
Elijah and Elisha
In 2 Kings 2 we see that Elijah is about to ascend into heaven. Elisha begs to follow him. As they reach the place where Elijah is about to ascend, Elijah takes his mantle and strikes the river Jordan. It is divided and they cross over. Elisha requests to be given a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. The double portion belonged to the firstborn. As Elijah ascends Elisha calls out to him as ‘father’ (v.12), perhaps intending to underline the motif of sonship and inheritance (interestingly, we find Joash using the same expression as Elisha himself nears death, in 2 Kings 13:14).
As Elijah ascends into heaven Elisha receives his mantle. Having received Elijah’s mantle, Elisha strikes the waters of the Jordan and they divide before Him so that He might cross over. Here we see that ascension and Pentecost are two sides of the one event. Elijah’s ascension is Elisha’s Pentecost. This event is similar to that which takes place with Moses and Joshua, where Joshua receives a double portion of the Spirit from Moses, who lays his hands on him in Deuteronomy 34:9.
In Acts 1, Christ ascends into heaven, promising the Church that they will receive the promise of the Holy Spirit. The promise of the Holy Spirit is the inheritance that Christ receives as the firstborn from the dead. As the Church we receive a double portion of the Spirit. As we belong to Christ, we are the Church of the firstborn whose names are registered in heaven (cf. Hebrews 12:23). As the Church we receive the inheritance of the Spirit as co-heirs with Christ and share in His authority. Christ gives the firstborn’s portion to his brothers.
Elijah had been given a task to perform that he never completed during his lifetime (1 Kings 19:15-16). The task given to Elijah would be completed through the ministry of Elisha and others of the company of the prophets (2 Kings 8-9). Against the background of 2 Kings 2 we see that the Day of Pentecost is the time when the Church is equipped to continue and complete the ministry of Christ by the power of His Spirit. In Acts 1:1 we see this very clearly.
At the beginning of the book of 1 Samuel we see a barren woman in anguished prayer to God. She is praying to become fruitful and to be vindicated against her rival, Peninah. Hannah’s situation is intended to serve as a picture of the situation of Israel as a whole at this time in history. While she prays she is confronted by Eli, the high priest, who presumes that her speech is drunken speech. The following observations owe much to Peter Leithart.
When Hannah finally receives the answer to her prayer she breaks forth into a song of praise. Her song is one of role reversals. The barren are made fruitful, the fruitful are made feeble; the hungry are filled, those who were full are seeking bread; the mighty have their bows broken, those who stumbled receive new strength. Her song is one of resurrection: God raising men from the grave, raising the poor from the dust and beggars from the ash heap.
In Hannah’s song we see a great celebration of God’s turning of the tables on His enemies. The resurrection of Hannah’s womb is an advance sign that God is beginning to raise Israel. All of this begins with a prayer that seems drunken to Eli, the judge of Israel.
The beginning of 1 Samuel is all about role reversal. Hophni and Phineas and Eli’s descendants, who once were the ‘full’ ones of Israel, will end up begging for bread (2:36). Eli, who sat on the seat by the door of the temple will be brought crashing down. The Philistines, who were once mighty, will be driven out by the formerly feeble Israel.
In Acts 2 the apostles are accused of being drunken, just as Hannah was. However, just as in the case of Hannah, the supposedly drunken speech is a sign that God is about to turn the tables. In Acts we see that the vineyard is taken from the wicked vinedressers and given to other faithful vinedressers. The drunken speech of tongues is a sign of judgment upon Israel. Israel has become intoxicated by error and God is beginning to speak to them in their own language — drunken speech (cf. Isaiah 28:7-13).
Against the background of 1 Samuel 1 we see that the Day of Pentecost is the herald of imminent role reversal. The formerly barren remnant of God’s people will bring forth new life and the oppressors of God’s people will be confounded.
In addition to the confusion of tongues at Pentecost and Eli’s presumption of Hannah’s drunkenness, there is further OT background for seeing significance in drunken speech. In Isaiah 28:7-11 God’s speaking to His people with drunken speech is presented as a curse upon a disobedient people. The people have become intoxicated (vv.7-8); God will now speak their own language to them (v.11).
Paul explicitly refers to this Isaianic text in 1 Corinthians 14:21-22. In that passage he makes it clear that tongues are a judgment sign to Jewish unbelievers. As we look through the NT occurrences of tongues-speaking, Jews were present on the various occasions. The gift of tongues was not designed for the service of personal piety, but as a sign of the new era that God was bringing in. The sign was primarily directed at unbelieving Jews. Following AD70 the gift of tongues is no longer necessary, just as the Spiritual gift of embroidery (Exodus 35:30-35) was no longer was necessary in the same way once the tabernacle had been completed.
The confusion of the Jews when they hear speech that sounds drunken to them leads to the claim that the apostles are ‘full of new wine’. The person who has read Luke’s gospel should recognize some sort of allusion to Luke 5:36f here. Unwittingly, the Jews proclaim the truth: the disciples are indeed filled with ‘new wine’. However, the ‘new wine’ with which they are filled is not to be confused with the ‘new wine’ that the Jews had in mind.
Wine is the eschatological drink. As James Jordan observes, bread is alpha food and wine is the omega drink. One drinks wine when one’s work is complete. Christ drinks wine when He enters into His kingdom. We sit down and drink wine around the table of the Lord because the work has been completed and we have entered into the promised Sabbath of the Spirit. The NT also connects the Spirit with the symbolism of wine by the way drunkenness and being filled with the Spirit are juxtaposed in Ephesians 5:18.
Tongues and their interpretation were the sign that the ‘writing was on the wall’ for unbelieving Israel. Their defiled temple — their false building project — would be destroyed now that the true temple had been established through the ascension offering, the coming of the glory presence, the lighting of the lamps, the burning of the incense, the setting apart of a new priesthood and all the other events that took place around the Day of Pentecost. They would be scattered.
In Ezekiel 36 and 37 God promises to restore Israel. At the time Israel will be dispersed throughout the nations, separated from God’s presence as a consequence of their persistent rebellion. God promises to remove the heart of stone from His people and replace it with a heart of flesh. God promises to place His Spirit within them and cause them to walk in His ways and keep His commandments, which they had rebelled against.
The problem is similar to that which we observed earlier. The Law calls for people with a particular heart orientation, whose Law-keeping actions are an expression of hearts that are in tune with God’s commandments. Unfortunately, while the Law could demand such hearts, it was incapable of providing such hearts. In Ezekiel 36 God promises to give such hearts to His people by the gift of His Holy Spirit.
In Ezekiel 37, Ezekiel is brought into a field of dead and whitened bones, which represent the whole house of Israel, following God’s judgment in Jeremiah 8:1-2. All seems lost. Ezekiel prophesies to the dry bones, the wind of the Spirit comes, and the dead, whitened bones become a mighty army. In Ezekiel 38-39 we see the nations coming together to engage in war against this restored people and being destroyed in the process.
In Acts 2 God places His Spirit in the heart of the Church, so that we will become people who obey the Law from the heart as we are conformed into the Man of the Spirit, Jesus Christ. The dead, whitened bones of Israel and the world begin to rattle and stir as the Spirit rushes into a small upper room in Jerusalem. The voice of Christ and the breath of the Spirit are emptying the graves of people who were formerly dead in trespasses and sins (cf. John 5:25). In the books of Acts we see the nations and rulers of the people gathering together against this new resurrected army and being defeated at every point.
Against the background of Ezekiel 36-37 we see that the Day of Pentecost is God’s restoration of His people. The Church is the new, restored Israel. The Church is then empowered to engage with all who would oppose her.
The Baptism of Christ
In Luke 3 we see Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan. As He comes out of the water, the heavens open and the Spirit descends upon Jesus. The Father testifies to Jesus as His Son. The baptism of Jesus marks the start of His public ministry. He is empowered for service and driven out into the wilderness to engage with the devil. Perhaps we are to see some sort of relationship to 1 Kings 18-19 where a pouring down of water, a serious persecution of prophets by the authorities, a forty day period in the wilderness, the setting apart of a new prophet and other common themes can be seen. Or maybe not.
Each of the gospels accents a different aspect of Christ’s ministry and each gospel accents a particular ministry of the Church that must arise out of Christ’s own ministry. Matthew’s gospel focuses upon Jesus as the new Moses and commissions the Church to teach people to obey Christ’s commandments. In Mark’s gospel Jesus is the new David. The mission of the Church from Mark’s gospel is to call people to allegiance to the new king. In John’s gospel Jesus is the divine Son and teacher, who has learned from His Father, and commissions the Church: ‘As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’
In Luke’s gospel Christ is the great prophet, forming a new nation around Himself. The attention given to the coming Spirit in the commission at the end of Luke stands in contrast to the commissions at the end of the other gospels. There is far more teaching on the subject of the Spirit in the last two gospels than there is in the first two. This is not a mere coincidence. The ministries envisaged for the Church in the last two gospels are far more ‘pnuematic’ in character.
We can rightly see the Baptism of Christ in Luke 3 at the age of thirty as an allusion to priestly baptism (cf. Exodus 40:12-14). As we see in Numbers 4, thirty was the age at which people usually entered priestly service. However, we might also see this as an allusion to a previous ‘son of man’ — Ezekiel — who received visions of God and entered into his prophetic ministry in his thirtieth year (Ezekiel 1:1).
A reference to the prophetic ministry of Jesus here might be given further weight by the portrayal of John the Baptist’s ministry at the beginning of Luke’s gospel. The prophetic power of John the Baptist’s ministry is stressed by Luke. It is Luke, rather than the other gospel writers, who presents John the Baptist as one filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb. It is Luke who lets us into the secret that John comes in the spirit and power of Elijah at the very beginning of his gospel (1:17). In addition to these considerations, the location of the statement concerning the incarceration of John just before the Spirit’s descending on Christ in His Baptism might suggest that Luke wants to accent prophetic succession.
In Acts 2 we see the Spirit descending upon Jesus’ disciples. The Day of Pentecost marks the start of the Church’s public ministry, just as the Baptism of John marked the beginning of Christ’s. The Church is empowered for service and is then sent out into all the world to preach the gospel, as we see in Acts. Just as Jesus’ Baptism was the beginning of His prophetic ministry, the Church begins its prophetic ministry
Against the background of Luke 3 we see that the Day of Pentecost is the public investiture of the people of God. The Church is set apart for and equipped for its new vocation, a vocation in which we all play a part.
Pentecost was not only typologically prefigured, it was also prophetically predicted. A number of passages in the OT speak of the coming gift of the Spirit. Isaiah 32:15 speaks of a coming pouring out of the Spirit, resulting in the establishment of justice and righteousness. Ezekiel 39:29 speaks of the same thing, as does Joel 2:28-29 and Zechariah 12:10. Teaching concerning the outpouring of the Spirit should have been familiar to all who read their OT carefully.
Joel 2:28-29 is directly applied to Pentecost by the apostle Peter in his sermon. Some argue that Joel 2 has the end of the world in view and end up downplaying the force of the reference to Pentecost somewhat as a result. Joel 2 certainly has the end of the world in view, but it is not the world that most have in mind. The world that is about to come to an end is the old covenant world. A new world order is established at Pentecost and the old world order is condemned to pass away.
The ‘apocalyptic’ language of Joel 2:30-31 (Acts 2:19-20) should not surprise us in the slightest. This language refers in particular to AD70 and the events leading up to it. This language ties in very well with the prophetic discourses of the gospels and with the book of Revelation, which all look forward to the final end of the old covenant order.
Zechariah 12-14 is another part of Scripture that is often alluded to within the NT. We see verses from this portion of Scripture cited or alluded to in such places as John 19:37 and Revelation 1:7 (Zechariah 12:10, 12), Matthew 26:31 and Mark 14:27 (Zechariah 13:7). The themes raised in these chapters seem to be very familiar to the NT writers. The bringing in of the nations in the final chapter and the opening of a fountain in Jerusalem in 13:1 tie in very well with the teaching of the NT.