More Things ....27
The day of Pentecost is an event remembered by millions of Christians each year. Although Acts 2 is one of the more familiar passages in the New Testament outside the gospels, what the passage describes as happening that day definitely sounds strange.
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and 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 Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
This description of the events of Pentecost is sprinkled with divine council imagery and has a secure connection with the supernatural Deuteronomy 32 worldview we’ve talked about at length. Revealing those features is central to understanding what is happening in Acts 2 and the role it plays in God’s plan to reclaim the nations and restore Eden.
The first two points of the description that deserve attention are the “violent rushing wind” and the “divided tongues like fire.” Both are images in the Old Testament associated with God’s presence - the disciples are being commissioned by God in his council like the prophets of old.
Think about it — the whirlwind is familiar from divine encounters of Elijah and Job. Ezekiel’s divine commissioning likewise has the enthroned God coming with great wind. The wind motif is often accompanied by storm imagery, which can also include fire. Having “wind” as an element in describing God’s presence makes sense given that the Hebrew word translated “wind” can also be rendered “spirit/Spirit” (ruach).
Ezekiel’s commissioning is particularly instructive since not only does God come to him with a wind, but with the wind there is “fire-flashing.” Burning fire is a familiar element of divine -council throne-room scenes. It is especially prominent in the appearance at Sinai. Fire in the Old Testament was an identifier of the presence of God, a visible manifestation of God’s glory and essence. It was also a way of describing divine beings in God’s service.
The wind and fire in Acts 2 signified to readers and those present, who were informed by divine council scenes that the gathered followers of Jesus were being commissioned by divine encounter. They were being chosen to preach the good news of Jesus’ work. The fire connects them to the throne room. The tongues are emblematic of their speaking ministry.
Back to Babel
Back to Babel
At first glance there doesn’t seem to be much in the Pentecost description that relates to the incident at Babel which had such cosmic-geographical and theological importance in the Old Testament. That first glance would be mistaken.
There are two key terms in the passage that connect back to Babel in an unmistakable way. The flaming tongues are described as “divided” and the crowd, composed of Jews from all nations, is said to have been “confused” suncheo in the Greek.
The second term, suncheo, is the same word used in the Septuagint version of the Babel story in Genesis 11:7
Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
The multiplicity of nations represented at Pentecost is another link to Babel. Each nation had a national language. More importantly, all of those nations referred to had been disinherited by God when they were divided.
Another word of importance is also used in the Septuagint. But not in Genesis, it is found exactly where one would expect it is one were thinking in cosmic-geographical terms -Deut 32:8
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God.
Divided term is the same one Luke uses in Acts 2. This is a strong indication that 1) he is using the Septuagint and 2) he is drawing on Gen. and Deut. to describe these events at Pentecost. What happened there has some relationship to what happened at Babel — but what is it?
At Pentecost the tongues are divided or perhaps, more coherently, distributed among the disciples as they are commissioned to preach the good news to the throngs at Pentecost. As Jews gathered for the celebration heard and embraced the news of Jesus and his resurrection, Jews who embraced Jesus as messiah would carry that message back to their home countries — the nations. Babel’s disinheritance was going to be rectified by the message of Jesus, the incarnate God and his Spirit. The nations would once again be his.
Go into all the Earth
Go into all the Earth
The really amazing thing about Acts 2 is the part people skip: the list of nations. To understand what Luke’s list telegraphs, we have to go back to Gen 11 again. If you have a map, sorry, and look at the list of nations listed in Gen 10 that were divided in Gen 11 you see that the key idea of the list of nations is that it represents the known world at the time it was written. No US or China listed.
What this means is that the OT description of the disinheriting of the nations in Gen 11 and Deut 32 is based on the nations known at the time. The table goes from east to west, from eastern Mesopotamia to Tarshish, the most western point. What lay beyond, through what we now call the Straits of Gibraltar was a complete mystery. northern Spain end of the world.
So Acts 2....not just a rehash
First, the book of Acts is about the spread of the Gospel to the known world at the time. Notice how it begins
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
That was the extent of the Roman empire in the days of Luke and Paul.
Secondly, looking at a map it follows the same pattern as from East to West.
Parthians and Medes and 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 Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”
One of largest Jewish population as in Parthia — Persia. The Medes are were some of the 10 tribes were taken to. The list in Acts goes from the furthest known population of Jews to East and then goes Westward.
It splits to northern and southern routes and forks at the Mediterranean sea. Goes in Arabia, Northern Africa (Hippo)… Crete is mentioned. Paul goes both places but mostly to the northern route. The gospel was carried from Pentecost down the Nile to Ethiopia … and bears fruit.
The list keeps going to Rome. The Jew first and then the Gentile is reflected in the list. Three thousand men came to believe and went back and preached the gospel. The Book of Acts ends with Rome, where Paul is imprisoned. But the Gospel had to go further.
I Must Get to Spain
I Must Get to Spain
Paul went further west before being imprisoned a second time and final time. Paul expected to go to Spain...
This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you.
Spain was were Tarshish and the Ends of the Earth were. Spread the gospel to the known world. the disinheritance of the nations reversed.
The Fullness of the Gentiles
The Fullness of the Gentiles
Look at what Paul is concerned about here
Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
So some texts
“For behold, the Lord will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire will the Lord enter into judgment, and by his sword, with all flesh; and those slain by the Lord shall be many. “Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one in the midst, eating pig’s flesh and the abomination and mice, shall come to an end together, declares the Lord. “For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord. “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain. From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the Lord.
And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.
Why did Paul want to go to Spain?
The fulfillment of the prophecy of Isa 66, where God takes people from all nations to be his children. Paul understood he was the instrument to bring in the full number of the Gentiles that would result in tall true Israelites - the believers with loyal to Jesus being saved . Tarshish is listed in Isa 66 but not Acts 2. Paul knew that he had to go there to complete his commission.
So, a gathering of Jews, commissioned by the Spirit, went out a began the process by which the disinherited nations would be brought back. Pentecost marked the beginning of unstoppable march across the known world — and our world, a world they did not know - -that would culminate in a global Eden.