“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?”
Acts 2:1-8 ESV
I choose to entitle this post; A Biblical Pentecostal Experience because much of what is experienced today and labelled as a Pentecostal experience is not the same as what was experienced in the second chapter of Acts! Let me show you what I’m talking about! When we hear of a Pentecostal experience today in church circles, it is labelled as such because usually people are speaking in tongues. And, most of the time, the tongues they are speaking is a language that is unknown to the speaker and the hearers! The speaking in tongues that is equated to Pentecost today is NOT the speaking in tongues that occurred on the Day of Pentecost in Acts! It IS more like the speaking in tongues discussed in 1 Corinthians 12-14.
These were and are two different phenomena. In Acts Chapter Two, the speaking in tongues was the speaking of a language that was unknown to the speaker, but known to the hearer! They didn’t speak in a completely “unknown” tongue; they spoke in “other” tongues! On the day of Pentecost, there were Jews and other people in Jerusalem from many different countries that did not speak or understand Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, or Latin. Greek was the international language of commerce and trade. Aramaic was the language of the contemporary Jew. Hebrew was the “mother tongue” of the Jews, and Latin was the language of Rome. As a side note, Jesus was most likely trilingual; speaking Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek. But whatever the case, there were many in Jerusalem on that day that only knew and understood their native tongue. So, for sake of communicating the Gospel, The Spirit empowered the believers to speak in the native tongues of the various people who were present although the believers did not naturally know or had not learned that language. It’s like me being given the ability to communicate the Gospel in Italian even though that is a language I have never learned! The only Italian I know is the word; “pizza!”
The speaking in tongues discussed in 1 Corinthians, Chapters 12-14 was the speaking of an ecstatic language that one could speak only as they were gifted by the Spirit to speak. Note the difference: In Acts, they spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance, or as the Spirit “empowered” them! In 1 Corinthians 12-14, they spoke in tongues only as the Spirit “gifted” them! In Acts, on the Day of Pentecost, they all (The Apostles and the 120 people who were gathered together in the upper room) spoke in tongues as the Spirit empowered them to communicate the Gospel to foreigners who were in Jerusalem. However, everyone was not gifted by the Spirit to speak in tongues the tongues of 1 Corinthians 12-14. When Paul asked the question: “Do all speak in tongues?” in 1 Corinthians 12:30, the context and the Greek syntax of the text suggest the expectation of a negative answer! Paul’s point was: Everybody is not gifted by the Spirit to be an apostle, a prophet, or a teacher. Everyone is not gifted with the gift of miracles, healing, or tongues! But the Holy Spirit gives the spiritual gifts as He wills for the benefit of the Body or the Church.
When people talk about a Pentecostal experience, they cite as the main evidence speaking in tongues, but the speaking in tongues they cite is, more often than not, more akin to what happened in Corinth than of what happened on the Day of Pentecost! So, what would a biblical Pentecostal experience look like today? I don’t think it would be a situation where a lot of people speak in tongues that no one understands, but rather I think it would be a situation where people speak and understand the Gospel in a language that can be understood! As strange as it may seem, often in our modern culture, many people are talking, but few people are actually communicating! We often say the same words, while not realizing the words we say may not mean what they mean to us to the people we are speaking them to! If you don’t understand what I’m talking about and you’re over thirty, just spend some time listening to some teen-agers! They use the same words (sometimes), but they are talking a whole different language! A Pentecostal experience is communicating the Gospel to that age-group in their language! I don’t understand it because I can’t make out much of what they are saying, but I don’t condemn “Christian rap” or Christian rappers just because I don’t understand what they are saying! I praise God because that medium is reaching a segment that may not be otherwise reached! In many ways, that phenomenon could be described as a biblical Pentecostal experience.
You see, the main goal of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was not to make the disciples “feel good” or even to lift them to another level of spiritual ecstasy! No! The main goal, the reason the Spirit descended as tongues of fire on the disciples in the upper room, was to endow and empower them with the ability to communicate the Gospel in a language that those foreigners could understand! So, the Holy Spirit gave those disciples the ability to speak a language that was unknown to the speaker, but known to the hearer! That was His agenda then, and that is still His agenda today! The true biblical Pentecostal experience was and is about communicating the Gospel in a language that men and women, boys and girls of all languages, ethnic groups, nationalities, and backgrounds can understand!