By Charles H. Welch
The relationship of Pentecost to the Acts as a whole, and the relationship of Pentecostal Gifts to dispensational teaching, are considered in articles entitled ACTS OF THE APOSTLES, ANOINTING, BODY, CONFIRMATION, CORNELIUS, HEALING and MIRACLES. In this article we deal with
With Peter's address (Acts 2:14) we commence a new section of the Acts, the structure of which is shown as follows:
C 2: 14-8: 1 Ministry of PETER and others to nation of Israel in Jerusalem and in the land
Let us now return to Peter's explanation of what the happenings on the day of Pentecost really meant. Here we are at a disadvantage, for most of us who know anything at all about Pentecost have received that knowledge through tradition. We were sure that it was a feast of the Church; we were convinced that on the day of Pentecost the Church was brought into being; we were positive that there were gathered together on that day a multitude of both Jews and Gentiles who, by having all things in common, gave expression to the truth of the One Body and its fellowship. Yet all these fondly held views vanish in the light of actual truth, for Acts two knows nothing of a feast of the Church; it knows nothing of the unity in which there is neither Greek nor Jew; it gives no countenance to the idea that a single Gentile, other than a proselyte, listened to Peter on that momentous day:
We draw attention to the peculiar word used here for "said" (apophtheggomai), which also occurs in Acts 2:4 in the phrase, "as the Spirit gave them utterance". We are to understand by this that Peter's explanation of the meaning of Pentecost was that it was an exercise of that recently conferred power from on high. We have elsewhere referred to the fact that nearly every important act and word both of Peter and of Paul is echoed later in the Acts. The word apophtheggomai occurs but once more, namely in Acts 26:25, this time in the record of Paul's defence before Agrippa. It is suggestive that Peter rebuts a charge of "drunkenness" in Acts 2:14,15, and Paul rebuts a charge of having become "mad" through much learning in Acts twenty-six.
Pentecost was a season of rejoicing:
The reader may remember that the first epistle to the Corinthians keeps count of several of Israel's feasts:
The passage in the Law that best sets out the feasts of the Lord and the place of Pentecost is Leviticus twenty-three. The passage is too long for quotation here, but the following outline will help to keep the whole festal year before the reader. While the length of Israel's year was the same as our own, there are only seven months noted in the calendar of their feasts. These feasts are prophetic, and set forth in type and shadow the whole course of Israe1's history from the day that they became a nation (Ex.12:2) until the great future day of ingathering at the time of the end. The fact that the Lord has used seven months only in which to show this typical unfolding is but further evidence that the number seven is intimately associated with the purpose of the ages. The fact that creation occupied six days, followed by a sabbath of rest, indicates that at the very beginning, God had this "rest" in view (Heb. 4:9).
To save space we will, without comment or detail, briefly indicate this close association of seven with Israel's typical history:
At once we realize that Pentecost cannot be understood if it be taken out of its place in this series of typical periods. To attempt to fit Pentecost into the "Church" of the Mystery destroys both the typical character of the feast, and the distinctive character of that "Church".
The feasts of the Lord, then, in Leviticus twenty-three are as follows:
The Lord knew that Israel would not repent and be gathered the first time, and that the purpose of the ages would reach out to the trumpets of the Apocalypse and the harvest at the end of the age. Nevertheless the feast of Pentecost was an anticipation of harvest, just as firstfruits was, and the gathering of Israel to Jerusalem at this period was an anticipation of that great gathering at the time of the end.
A peculiar feature of Pentecost is that a new meal offering was commanded:
It had already been commanded that "no meal offering, which ye shall bring unto the Lord, shall be made with leaven; for ye shall bum no leaven, nor any honey, in any offering of the Lord made by fire" (Lev. 2:11). The two leavened loaves of Pentecost cannot therefore typify Christ: they are a firstfruits, and typify His people. The reason why two loaves were specified appears to be that the Lord knew that the kingdom wou1d be divided, and that at the restoration the ten tribes and the two tribes (commonly spoken of as Israel and Judah) wou1d come together again as one before Him. Ezekiel 37:15-28 sets this forth under the figure of the two sticks: "I will make them one nation . . . they shall be no more two" (Ezek. 37:22).
The appointment of Matthias to complete the number of the twelve, and the gathering of Jews from twelve of the nations round about, are therefore features that are living and harmonious when Pentecost is seen in the light of God's purpose to gather Israel again and restore the kingdom. But their import is lost when Pentecost is misinterpreted as of the inception of the "Church", and, indeed, those who most strongly advocate the doctrine that the "Church" began at Pentecost have among them those who do not hesitate to call the appointment of Matthias an "apostolic mistake!"
What digressions have been necessary before reaching Peter's explanation of Pentecost! Had every reader as much knowledge of the teaching of the O.T. as Peter and the gathered mu1titudes, we could have gone straight on to his inspired explanation, but, as it is, we should not have appreciated his reference to Joel if we were not in possession of facts which to that assembled multitude were a matter of everyday knowledge. These we have now considered and have therefore done what we could to bring back the atmosphere of the original Pentecost. This accomplished we will proceed in our exposition.
PENTECOST EXPLAINED: "THIS IS THAT" (Acts 2:14-40)
Peter, when he stood up to explain the meaning of Pentecost to the assembled mu1titude, lifted up his voice and said:
"Men of Judaea", "the Jews who dwelt at Jerusalem" (Acts 2:5), "Israel", and then, together, "the whole house of Israel", are those to whom Peter addressed his words. Peter's own recorded act and word given in Acts 10:28, and the attitude of the Apostles and brethren that were in Judaea (Acts 11:18), together with the exclusiveness of Acts 11:19 are sufficient to prove that the presence of a Gentile at this feast of Israel would have been intolerable, while the attitude of the Jews as recorded in Acts 21:26-36 shows what is likely to have happened had Gentiles been present at this feast of Pentecost. The nations of the earth shall, one day, go up to Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Tabernacles as Zechariah 14:16-19 reveals, but that event awaits the time when the Lord descends and His feet once more touch the Mount of Olives.
If, as most will admit, the "Church" cannot be imported into Joel, then that alone should, if we still hold it, shake our faith in the tradition that the Church began at Pentecost. We trust the reader will honour the Holy Spirit at this point, and, leaving these comments of men, turn to the short prophecy of Joel and read it through. Seven minutes is all the time it will occupy. Upon reading the book through, two verses stand out, namely Joel 1:4 and 2:25:
"I will restore" are words that find their echo in the question of the Apostles: "Wilt thou restore?" (Acts 1:6), and in the testimony of Peter as to "the times of restoration" (Acts 3:21 R.V.). Repentance is essential. "Rend your heart and not your garments and turn unto the Lord your God" (Joel 2:13), and the resulting blessing is not only likened to the restoration of the land from plague and famine, but to the restoring of Israel's access and acceptable worship under the figure of new wine, and drink offering (Joel 1:13; 2:14; 3:18). Prominent also is the "great and terrible day of the Lord", a prophetic period of no uncertain value, the object of much Old Testament prophecy, and certainly having no connexion with the "Church". The following outline may help the reader:
The whole prophecy deals with the nation and the nations. It looks to the Day of the Lord, and has no room for, or reference to, a church in which there is neither Greek nor Jew.
The quotation from Joel made by Peter is divided into two parts. The first was actually fulfilled on the day of Pentecost; the second would have followed had Israel repented. They did not repent, and consequently the signs in heaven await the day of the Lord, with which the book of the Revelation is prophetically concerned. What should intervene between the two parts of Joel's prophecy it was not part of Peter's ministry to explain. He confessed later, when writing to the same dispersion, that they would find help regarding this interval in the writings of Paul (2 Pet. 3:15,16).
We must now indicate the relation of the two parts of Joel's prophecy, quoted by Peter, showing the present interval. This, of course, was not mentioned by Peter, for the times and the seasons which the Father had put in His own power had not been revealed to him. We, too, only know that a new dispensation fills the gap, because Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ, has made known the dispensation of the Mystery.
It is essential also to the theme that we notice the statement of verse 30:
Although to stay here breaks the statement of the Apostle, we pause to draw attention to the pertinent fact that Pentecost, instead of speaking of Christ as the Head of the Church, focuses attention upon His right to the throne of David. What possible meaning, other than a literal one, can be given to this passage or to the Psalm that is quoted? If Pentecost sets forth Christ as King in connexion with the throne of David, in what way can it be connected with the Church?
Continuing our quotation at verse 33 we read:
"He hath shed forth THIS": "THIS is that". Peter is still maintaining his theme. He is still explaining Pentecost; it is the evidence that Christ is King and that the kingdom will one day be restored. Further pro of is given by quoting from Psalm 110. David's son is David's Lord (Matt. 22:41-46). The Lord is now there at the right hand of God "from henceforth expecting" (Heb. 10: 13). The heaven must receive Him until the restoration (Acts 3:21). The first thing that Peter commanded his awakened hearers to do was to "repent". In this he was continuing the ministry of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2) and of the Lord (Matt. 4: 17). As shown above, the interval between the two prophecies of Joel is a consequence of Israel's non-repentance. (See also LAST DAYS.)
Baptism for the remission of sins is not "church" truth. Not a single passage in any one of Paul's epistles can be found to countenance such teaching. How can we therefore speak of "continuing stedfastly in the Apostles' doctrine" when the very first principles of that doctrine are set aside? The "untoward generation" (Acts 2:40) is but another description given to "that wicked and adulterous generation" (Matt. 16:4) to which no sign, but the sign of the prophet Jonah, was to be given. Here that sign is evident.
The Apostles were witnesses of His resurrection; the signs and wonders were witnesses of His resurrection; Pentecost was a witness that "Jesus of Nazareth, a Man approved of God", "This Jesus", "That same Jesus", This Son, yet Lord, of David, was "Lord and Christ". The day of the Lord was His day. The name of the Lord upon which they called, was His name, the miracle of the next chapter enforcing the fact that "there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
What were the immediate results of Peter's ministry on that day of Pentecost? Three thousand souls were added to the company of believers, and they that believed were together and had all things in common. Gladness and singleness of heart characterized this favoured company, who were not only pleasing to God, but in "favour with all the people". It will not do to pass over this section without examination, for in it, in germ, is the goal of Pentecost, and here we shall find a forecast of that future day when not 3,000 only, but all Israel shall be saved.
A 41 a Glad reception of Word, baptism
A 46,47 a Gladness, singleness, praise
What was the Apostles' doctrine in which the believers continued stedfastly? It could not have been that marvellous system of truth with which we associate the epistle to the Romans, written by the, as yet, unconverted Saul. Justification by faith is unrecorded in the testimony of Peter. The term, reconciliation, finds no place in the Ministry of the Circumcision. When we reflect that Peter and the other Apostles had only just received power from on high, it is foolish to imagine that there existed some great system of doctrine that could be subscribed to, as though it were ccreed. All that could be meant by the "Apostles' doctrine", or teaching, is the witness that had been given concerning the resurrection of Christ, His Lordship, His Kingship, His Coming and the need on the part of the believer to be ready. The breaking of bread has been interpreted as of the Lord's Supper, but this is pure assumption:
shows that the term simply meant taking a meal. The same expression is used in the following passage relating to the shipwreck, where Paul exhorts those on board to take food for their "health":
Without their contexts, we might believe that Acts 20:7 and Luke 24:35 related to the partaking of the Lord's Supper, yet the contexts prec1ude such a belief. The development known later as "the breaking of bread" is but one of the traditions of the elders.
In these few lines we have compressed that which is expanded in Acts three, four and five. In those chapters is recorded the prophetically significant mirac1e of healing, and the equally significant mirac1e of judgment that caused "great fear" to come upon all the Church. There is also a fuller statement concerning the having of things in common in Acts 4:32-37, which compels us to ask whether the selling of possessions and community of goods was not a real part of the meaning and purpose of Pentecost. There have been companies of believers, who, taking Pentecost as their basis, have sought consistently to follow out its practice, but the having of all things in common does not seem to have captured their minds in the same way as has the gift of tongues. Yet how can one speak of "continuing in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship", without realizing that this koinonia (fellowship ) refers to and is expressed by the having of all things in common (eichon hapanta koina)?
Turning to Acts 4:32-37, we observe that there is a re-statement of this "fellowship" and as in Acts 2:24-46, so here, the account of this new state of affairs is punctuated by reference to the witness of the Apostles to the resurrection of the Lord.
The reader will see that verse 33 of Acts four is, as it were, slipped in and breaks the flow of the narrative. This, however, is as intentional as the equally strange insertion found in Acts 1:15. The resurrection of the Lord, as testified by the Apostles, was intimately associated with the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, and to the time of the restoration of all things which had been spoken by the prophets. No Jew would need to be told, that just as the feast of Pentecost with its emphasis upon the word "fifty" was a recurring, annual reminder of the day of Jubilee, so the final prophetic fulfilment of all that Pentecost stood for would be the real, great Jubilee toward which all prophecy pointed. Believing, therefore, the "Apostles' doctrine", these believers put their faith into practice.
If the Jubilee was near, all would receive their own inheritance, all forfeitures would be cancelled, all buying and selling of land and possessions would come to nought; consequently, although no one could sell or buy his inheritance, he could sell whatever else he had purchased, and use the proceeds for the common good, while awaiting the Lord from heaven. The case of Barnabas is specially mentioned. He was a Levite, and "having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the Apostles' feet" (Acts 4:37). In Jeremiah 32:6-14 we have the case of Jeremiah (who, like Barnabas, was of the priestly tribe). He bought land to demonstrate his faith in the Lord's promised restoration (Jer.32:15), and Barnabas sold land to demonstrate the same conviction.
The law that governed the sale of land is found in Leviticus twenty-five. The voluntary act of Barnabas in selling his acquired land and placing the proceeds at the Apostles' feet is in direct contrast with the action of Ananias. He, too, sold a possession; he, too, laid the proceeds at the Apostles' feet, but with the difference that he kept back part of the price, while pretending that he had given all. The Apostle makes it quite c1ear that there was no compulsion about the selling of the land when he says, "while it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?" Ananias sinned in that he lied to the Holy Spirit. The sin of Ananias was the sin of Achan. The reader will find that the very words used of Achan in Joshua 7: 1 are used of Ananias. The LXX reads enosphisanto apo tou anathematos, "appropriated for themselves a part of that which was devoted". Acts 5:2,3, twice applies this particular expression to Ananias and Sapphira: kai enosphisato apo tes times", "and kept back part of the price".
This is no place to discuss the passage in Joshua, but the interested reader is urged to weigh over the arguments contained in the artic1e on "Achan, the troubler of Israel" The Berean Expositor, Vol. XXVI, pp. 37-41, which show that the word, "accursed thing", should be understood as "a devoted thing", i.e. devoted to the Lord. Peter and the Apostles stood somewhat in the same position as did Joshua, and wielded the same awful discipline.
Pentecost anticipates the Millennium; the gifts are called "the powers of the world to come" (Heb. 6:5), and so the summary judgment of the day of the Lord is seen to be in operation during the early days of the Acts:
Millennial characteristics are also seen in Acts 4:23-26, where the opposition of the rulers to the ministry of the Apostles is regarded as a partial fu1filment of the last times:
The language of the passage clearly shows the minds of the Apostles fully occupied with millennial expectation. Such is the setting and dispensational significance of Pentecost.