Read­ing Time: 14 minutes

What Happened in Acts Chapter 2?

Just like the mis­take in the name of the incid­ent of Acts 2, there is also much con­fu­sion as regards what exactly happened on that day. Major­ity of Chris­ti­ans have con­tin­ued to dis­tort and cor­rupt the mes­sage of the Scrip­ture. What happened in Acts 2 is not a form of abracadabra or hocus-pocus. It was a ful­fil­ment of Jesus’ prom­ise to the apostles as recor­ded in Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:8. The mir­acle in Acts 2 does not con­sist in the fact that the apostles mes­mer­ized their audi­ence by speak­ing in for­eign lan­guages or that they uttered inde­cipher­able expres­sions. On the con­trary, the mir­acle con­sists in the fact that as they spoke, people of vari­ous tongues (lan­guages) and from vari­ous nations who gathered there under­stood them clearly in their own nat­ive lan­guages (dia­lect). That is, they received the word of God in their own lan­guages. This was the mir­acle. The mir­acle of the pro­clam­a­tion and spread­ing of the gos­pel mes­sage, the mes­sage of sal­va­tion boldly, without fear and with devo­tion. Def­in­itely, the spir­it of God is not respons­ible for any oth­er thing any­body is doing as far as this par­tic­u­lar incid­ent is con­cerned. The apostles did not speak in order to dis­play their capa­city to impress the people, or to make them­selves cen­ter of atten­tion and attrac­tion. What was at the cen­ter was not their capa­city to speak lan­guages they nev­er stud­ied, but the fear­less pro­clam­a­tion of the Word of God to all, and the Holy Spir­it made it pos­sible that they do that in lan­guages they nev­er stud­ied, but which were under­stood by those who spoke those lan­guages and dia­lects. This is where the accent should be not on our per­son­al com­port­ment and the­at­ric­al exhibitions.

The book of Acts does not recount primar­ily the suc­cess of the “enthu­si­ast­ic” mani­fest­a­tions but the suc­cess of the mes­sage of the Gos­pel stim­u­lated and accom­pan­ied by the Holy Spir­it. What happened in Acts 2 is not glos­so­lalia but speak­ing in oth­er tongues, where by tongues is meant lan­guages. Briefly, while glos­so­lalia is speak­ing in tongues in the sense of an ecstat­ic or incom­pre­hens­ible speech, the incid­ent of Acts 2 is quite dif­fer­ent. We can also say that the apostles spoke in tongues but by tongues, we must under­stand lan­guages, the lan­guages of those present. As the text says, those present were under­stand­ing the lan­guages the apostles were speak­ing. This is quite dif­fer­ent from the present day emo­tion­al hys­teria of the Cha­ris­mat­ics and the Pente­cost­als. The des­cent of the Power from on high dis­pelled the fear of the apostles, and instilled in them the spir­it of cour­age and the zeal to announce the deeds of God. Let us not for­get that the only reas­on for the gift of the Holy Spir­it on these apostles was to pro­claim without fear or favour the great deeds God has done in and through Jesus, the Christ (Acts 2:11).

The same mes­sage is also com­mu­nic­ated in this Sunday Gos­pel and in John 20:19–23. Accord­ing to John, the apostles locked them­selves inside for fear of the Jews and Jesus presen­ted him­self to them, greeted them, breathed unto them and asked them to receive the Holy Spir­it. After this, they went out pro­claim­ing the mes­sage of the Gos­pel with an infec­tious enthu­si­asm. They can do this because the Paraclete, the Holy Spir­it from the Fath­er, has des­cen­ded on them as prom­ised by Jesus. They can now pro­claim the Gos­pel without fear because they have been clothed with the Power from on high.

The tongues of fire signum

As already men­tioned, in Luke 24:49, Jesus said to the dis­ciples, that is, the elev­en apostles and oth­ers, “…look, I am send­ing you what my Fath­er prom­ised. But stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:49 is a ref­er­ence to Joel 2:28–32. What we have in Luke 24:33 and Acts 1:12–15 indic­ate there were oth­ers who assembled togeth­er with the Elev­en in Jer­u­s­alem. Hence, the prom­ise of the Power from on high was for all of them. But in Acts 1:8, it was spe­cific­ally for the Elev­en and Mat­thi­as who was later elec­ted in Acts 1:20–26 to take the place of Judas Iscari­ot. On the day the Holy Spir­it des­cen­ded on the apostles, oth­ers were still with them in the place they gathered. Ordin­ar­ily, it appears the ‘tongues as of fire’ or ‘tongues that looked like fire’ (Igbo: ire ọkụ) is the Holy Spir­it itself. This is not quite appro­pri­ate. Since there were oth­er believ­ers with the apostles, the tongues as of fire dis­trib­uted on them was a signum (sign). It was a sign that dis­tin­guished the apostles to whom this prom­ise was spe­cific­ally made. Suc­cess­ively, by the lay­ing on of their hands, the oth­er believ­ers who were with them will also receive the gift of the Holy Spir­it. There­fore, as there were many people in that place with the apostles, the tongues as of fire was a way of know­ing who the apostle were. The event of Acts 2 is unre­peat­able. We only share in its fruits by listen­ing, obey­ing and put­ting into prac­tice the words of the Gospel.

Fur­ther­more, we can also look at the image of the tongues as of fire from anoth­er per­spect­ive. We remem­ber vividly that in the Hebrew (Old) Test­a­ment, fire rep­res­ents and indic­ates the shek­i­nah (pres­ence) of God, par­tic­u­larly in the burn­ing holi­ness and pur­ity of God. Such burn­ing holi­ness and pur­ity guzzles all unclean­ness (cf. Exod 3:2; Isa 4:5). Besides the holy pres­ence of God, the tongues as of fire dis­trib­uted on the apostles, cleaned and con­sumed their fear and clothed them with the over-power­ing power of the Most High. What a mar­velous occur­rence! There­fore, ‘the tongues as of fire’ is not the Holy Spir­it itself. It is only a sign of it. It is a sign of the ‘Power from high’ with which the apostles were clothed.

Fearlessness and Boldness

After Jesus was cru­ci­fied and bur­ied, John says “the doors of the house where the dis­ciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, Peace be with you” (John 20:19). For fear of the Jews, the dis­ciples locked them­selves up in a room. A fun­da­ment­al char­ac­ter­ist­ic of the Holy Spir­it is fear­less­ness and bold­ness. That is, it takes away fear and makes the per­son bold in speak­ing the truth and in bear­ing wit­ness to the mes­sage of sal­va­tion. Imme­di­ately the Holy Spir­it des­cen­ded on the apostles, they jumped out and star­ted announ­cing the Good News. This is deliv­er­ance. Yes! The apostles were delivered from fear. The fear of meet­ing the same fate like Jesus. The fear of god­less men and women. The fear of the con­sequence of speak­ing the truth and bear­ing wit­ness to the Gos­pel. The fear of per­se­cu­tion. Any­body in whom the Holy Spir­it abides does not fear in speak­ing and stand­ing for the truth, in prac­ti­cing justice and in doing good. Unfor­tu­nately, today, many Chris­ti­ans waste their time and energy impress­ing oth­ers by exhib­it­ing their capa­city to enter­tain people all in the name of speak­ing in tongue without even know­ing what they are doing or say­ing. It is also sur­pris­ing that the same people, who do this will often, obstruct truth and justice. Hypo­crites! We must be care­ful. Like the apostles, we also need to be delivered. The apostles were delivered of fear of the Jews. We must be delivered of lack of truth, hypo­crisy, injustice, hatred, greed for wealth and power, arrog­ance and dis­obedi­ence. If you know that God’s spir­it abides in you, then show it by stand­ing by the truth always, and by say­ing no to injustice. By so doing, you will be pro­claim­ing the word of God, con­trib­ut­ing in its dis­sem­in­a­tion without fear.

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