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Pentecost

May 27, 2007

Today is Pentecost Sunday. Praise Jesus Christ, who died for sinners, conquered death through resurrection, ascended into heaven, and sent His Spirit to His church. Hopefully we are all familiar with the story of Pentecost, but if not you can find it in Acts 2. Doug Wilson has a good post on his blog in regards to Pentecost – here it is.

One thing that fascinates me about Pentecost is the speaking in tongues. Clearly the context shows that tongues refers to a different language – a foreign language, not a “spiritual language.” Most of you probably agree with me, but this is not what fascinates me most about this. What I find interesting is the Old Testament event that corresponds to this New Testament event. At Pentecost, God used foreign language to make a point – His chosen people – His church – would consist of every tribe, tongue, and nation. But this is not the only time God used language to make a point. At Babel, God used language to the opposite effect – He confused those who rebelled against Him, which resulted in the establishment of many nations. God used language to judge sinners, but then used language to draw sinners to Himself. The people of Babel were trying to be their own saviours – they were building a city, a center of worship, opposed to God, and they paid a price for it. But through His Son, Jesus Christ, God established a new place of worship, the Church, and used language to add 3000 to His church that day.

There is something interesting about the connection between Babel and Pentecost that I want to point out. In both instances, Babel and Pentecost, there was a judgment and a blessing. At Babel, the world was judged for its sin and confused by God, resulting in the establishment of many nations. Most of these nations continued in their rebellion. But God chose to establish one nation and bless it – Israel. In fact, God promised to use Israel to bless the nations. Israel became God’s chosen people, but they didn’t always act like it. In fact, they sometimes rebelled worse than the pagan nations. Which leads us to Pentecost – a judgment and a blessing. On that day, Israel was judged and the nations were blessed – the opposite of Babel. God showed Israel that they were no longer His chosen people, but that His chosen people would come from every nation. His favor no longer rested on one specific nation, but on His church – a diverse church made up of all ages and all nationalities (Acts 2:39).

Praise the Lord this day, for He no longer resides in a tent, a tabernacle, or a temple, but in His Church!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Glenn permalink
    June 1, 2007 1:03 am

    Brian,

    I certainly can see the reversal effect when comparing Babel with Pentecost. One divided the nations and one brought them back together. It is a great comparison.

    I’m not so sure I see the dual judgment blessing parallel that you paint. Especially, your point about Pentecost being a judgment on the Jews. In fact, I don’t think that is the point at all. Rather, it is the fulfillment of God’s promises to the Jews. God’s faithfulness and forgiveness for his people is the point, not his rejection.

    The strongest parallel with regard to the Old Testament is with the Sinai event. Of course, Pentecost was the day in which the Jews commemorated the giving of the Ten Commandments. In this event, God’s law was written on tablets of stone. At Pentecost, it was written on hearts of flesh.

    Pentecost represents the New Covenant fulfillment promised to the Jews in Jeremiah 31:31-34, and God’s gracious inclusion of all nations to those promises in Christ.

    To the Jew first,
    Glenn

  2. June 2, 2007 9:43 am

    Glenn,

    I certainly see where you’re coming from, and I do agree with what you’re saying, for the most part. The point of my post was to draw attention to the Babel/Pentecost parallel that is not usually talked about. It certainly isn’t the only parallel – or even the best – but one that intrigued me. I’ve heard the parallel you referred to (Mt. Sinai/Pentecost) before, and it is certainly powerful.

    As far as the blessing/judgment dualism, i have to disagree with you. I think its clearly there. I do agree that it is a display of God’s faithfulness that He would bless the nations – but that promise was to Abraham and his seed – not to the Jews as a nation. Certainly God’s judgment of the Jews does not boil down to this one event – but this is an integral part of it. I believe you can trace the beginning of this judgment to the Babylonian exile – which dispersed the Jewish nation to begin with – and it finally ends with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. At Pentecost, though, prophecies are fulfilled before the Jew’s eyes – and not quite like they thought it would. I think the context of Peter’s sermon backs this up – especially the O.T. (Joel) references. Peter accuses them of rejecting the true Messiah and killing Him – but they still have hope if they stop clinging to their “jewishness/law” and repent and follow the Christ.

    I agree that God’s faithfulness needs to be emphasized here, but faithfulness does not only refer to God’s blessings – it also refers to His curses.

  3. Glenn LaRue permalink
    June 4, 2007 12:11 pm

    Brian,

    Well, this could keep going back and forth. So I’ll just follow up on your comments and give you the last word if you want it after this post.

    I just read and re-read Acts 2 very carefully, and I have to tell you. I don’t think that God’s judgment of Israel is in there. There are a few confusing details that I think should be clarified.

    First, we have to remember that Peter’s primary audience for his sermon was the Jews. There were men from all-over dwelling in Jerusalem, but according to verse 5, these were mainly Jews. They were there celebrating the Jewish holiday. The various nationalities listed in verses 9-11 represent hellenized Jews and some proselytes (v. 10). Peter was not preaching with the intention of evangelizing those outside of Judaism.

    The fact that Peter is targeting Jews is also seen in his direct address (v. 14, 22, 29), his placing of blame for the crucifixion of Jesus (v. 23), his discussion of David, and his pronouncement: “let all the house of Israel know” (v. 36).

    Peter’s second sermon in chapter 3 also illustrates this first point. He is clearly addressing the Jewish people.

    Second, at Pentecost, Peter did not have a full understanding of the intention of the gospel to be for all Gentiles outside of Judaism. He does not have this revelation untill his experience with Cornelius in chapters 10-11. Because the Jewish representation was so broad at Pentecost, Peter could very well have thought the Spirit’s pooring out “upon all mankind” (v. 17) refered to the scattered presence of Jews in all of these nations.

    Third, given the above point, when Peter says in verse 39, “the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off,” Peter was primarily applying this promise to Jews. We know now that this also includes Gentiles of every background, but for Peter at that time, he was emphasizing that, “the promise is for Jews and their children.”

    Fourth, the response at Pentecost from Jews was amazingly positive, 3,000 converts.

    Fifth, I agree that God made the promise to Abraham that through him all nations would be blessed, but his later promises were spoken to Israel. When Joel and the other prophets spoke, they addressed their promises to national Israel. This means that there must be significant fulfillment for Israel or the prophecies gave false promises.

    In Acts 3:22-25, Peter shows that you can’t just separate the promises made to Abraham from the promises made to Israel like they were not intertwined. Above, you say, “I do agree that it is a display of God’s faithfulness that He would bless the nations – but that promise was to Abraham and his seed – not to the Jews as a nation.” Well, Peter lumps the promises made to “Moses,” “from Samuel onward,” “the prophets,” and “Abraham” all under the discussion of the present fulfillment taking place in Jerusalem among the Jews. He further emphasizes this point in verse 26 when he says to the Jews, “For you first, God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one from your wicked ways.”

    With these observations in view, allow me to question something you said in your initial blog: “God showed Israel that they were no longer His chosen people, but that His chosen people would come from every nation.” You seem to understand the people “from every nation” as having been Gentile converts in Acts 2, but there weren’t any. They were hellenized Jews and circumcized proselytes who observed Judaism.

    It also sounds like you throw in some new perspective at the end of your second blog when you state, “but they still have hope if they stop clinging to their ‘jewishness/law’ and repent and follow the Christ.” Such a notion is simply not in Acts 2. Peter understood Christ to be the full extension of Judaism. He was not asking anybody in Acts 2 to throw away their Jewishness. In fact, he was actually emphasizing that their status as Jews especially prepared them to receive and apply the promises given through Joel and David.

    Peter gives clear instructions as to what they were to do in verse 38: “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Being baptized into Jesus Christ did not equal letting go of your Jewishness to Peter. It equalel “forgiveness.”

    I guess my big concern is that you are reading a system or systems into a passage of Scripture that does not support your conclusions.

    I love you, bro,
    Glenn

  4. June 5, 2007 8:49 am

    Glenn,

    Although there are some some instances where I still disagree with you, I think I see the big problem here: We’re not on the same wave length regarding the subject matter – and most of the blame is mine for not being clearer in my original post. In fact, on my initial reply, I never went back to reread my post – knowing the concept in my head already – which made things more unclear. Now that I’ve gone back and reread the original post, I see where I used some confusing terminology.

    My point in the original post was to point out some interesting parallels and symbolism contained in the big picture of Christ and His church. In doing so, and trying not to be longwinded, I didn’t really take the time to flesh out certain terms – like “Jews” – which caused confusion.

    First of all, let me say that I did not mean to suggest that Pentecost consisted mostly of Gentiles – I am well aware that mostly Jews were present. In fact, that was part of my point when I referred to their dispersal in the exile. God was already blessing the nations by planting worshippers of God throughout the world.

    Second, I did not mean that the promise was only intended for Abraham – that’s what I meant by including “his seed.” It is clear that God’s promises are fulfilled through various covenants made with faithful followers of God, and there is a sense in which the Jewish nation was the vehicle of God’s promises, but in reality, not all Israel was truly Israel.

    Third, when I used the word Jew, Israel, Jewishness, etc… I was referring to those Jews who were clinging to their good works or their ethnicity rather than to the Messiah. This is clearly a big problem – from the Gospels and into Paul’s letters – and is most likely what Peter is referring to in his sermon as “this wicked generation” – as you have mentioned, his references are to the Jewish audience. I hope I didn’t come across as a anti-semite (or an anti-dentite), but I can see where I should have defined my terms better.

    Fourth, I think you make a good point about Peter not comprehending that ALL the nations would be blessed, but I don’t necessarily think that is contingent upon the fact that God was judging Israel (see above) and blessing the nations. Yes: to the Jew first, but their identity was not primarily as Jews – it was as Christians, and it infuriated those Jews who continued to reject Christ.

    I think we are more similar in our views than what the previous posts allude to, but I do think that we take two different approaches in how we read the Scriptures. I have really been trying over the past year to get away from verse by verse exposition. Don’t get me wrong – there is an important place for it – but I have been trying to read the Bible symbolically – whereas, because of your language classes, you are probably doing more detailed verse by verse exposition – so where as I was alluding to Acts 2 as part of a bigger story, you were breaking down Acts 2…. Or not.

    Well, so much for not being longwinded. Please, if you have more to add, do so… I don’t need the last word – especially if its profitable – and I think we can both realize when it becomes otherwise. And feel free to post on your blog too 

    I love you too brother

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