Accompanying the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost were three outstanding signs. There was first the sound as of a rushing mighty wind that filled all the house where the 120 believers were gathered at the time that the Spirit was poured out (Acts 2:2). There was secondly the appearance of cloven tongues as of fire that sat upon each of them (Acts 2:3). And, finally, there was the speaking with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4).
These signs were signs of the Spirit Who was being poured out. Each of them pointed in a distinct way to the power and work of the Spirit of Pentecost.
The sound as of a rushing mighty wind was a sign of the Spirit. This was a sign of the invisible operation of the Spirit. Just as the wind cannot be seen, but only its effects and influence, so the work of the Spirit is an invisible work. The wind was also a sign of the truth that the operation of the Spirit is an irresistible, sovereign operation. Just as the wind blowing at gale force, a rushing mighty wind, cannot be resisted, so the work of the Spirit is an irresistible work. Jesus Himself compares the Holy Spirit to the wind in John 3:8: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
The cloven tongues as of fire were also a sign of the Spirit. They pointed to the purifying and sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. Fire was used in Bible times, not just for cooking and burning, but also for purposes of purification. The Bible speaks of gold ore being purified in the fire. Just as the fire purified the gold, so the Holy Spirit cleanses and purifies the child of God, washing away his sins and breaking in him the power and dominion of the filth of sin. John the Baptist already had compared the work of the Holy Spirit to fire: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire” (Matt. 3:11).
The third sign of the Spirit was the speaking by the disciples in other tongues. This was a sign of the result and outcome of the work of the Spirit of Pentecost. The result of the Spirit’s work would be the universal gathering of the church, the gathering of believers out of every nation, tongue, and tribe under heaven. Of this the speaking by the disciples in the many different languages was a clear sign.
It was the speaking with other tongues that was chief among these three signs of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. That the speaking with other tongues was chief among the signs of Pentecost is plain from the very nature of the sign itself. For not only was the tongue-speaking a sign that pointed to the Holy Spirit, but it was something worked by the Holy Spirit Himself within the disciples. In that respect the sign of tongue-speaking differed from the other two signs. The sound as of a mighty rushing wind and the cloven tongues as of fire were signs that accompanied and that indicated the coming of the Holy Spirit. But the speaking with other tongues was itself a work which the Holy Spirit performed within the believers. That emphasizes that this sign was the outstanding sign of Pentecost.
That the speaking with other tongues was chief among the signs of Pentecost is also indicated by the fact that in a somewhat altered form this sign continued in the apostolic church. It was something that, in distinction from the other signs, recurred. We read of tongue-speaking, for example, at the time of the conversion of Cornelius and his household (Acts 10), and in the case of the group of believers to whom Paul preached in Ephesus (Acts 19). Tongue-speaking was also one of the “gifts” that was found in the church at Corinth, as we learn from I Corinthians 12-14.
There are different explanations of the nature of the tongue-speaking that occurred on the day of Pentecost. There are some who take the position that this miracle was not in the speaking, but in the hearing. They say that the disciples spoke one, common language, but that the Holy Spirit caused the audience to hear them speak in many different languages. There is the view, similar to this, that teaches that the Holy Spirit caused the 120 believers to speak one, heavenly language, a language never before spoken on this earth; but that the Holy Spirit then caused the audience to hear that one, new, heavenly language in their own individual dialects and languages.
These explanations of the tongue-speaking sign are mistaken. A careful look at Acts 2 shows that the miracle consisted of the Holy Spirit’s causing the 120 to speak many different foreign languages, existing languages, all of the languages spoken by the people in the audience gathered about them. When the Spirit was poured out on the 120 believers, they began to speak with other tongues. They spoke these other languages as the Spirit worked in them to utter these languages. And that’s what the audience said, too, inActs 2:11: “. . . we do here them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.” And that only stands to reason, after all. The Holy Spirit was not poured out upon the audience, but upon the 120.
The gift of tongues was a sign of the work of the Holy Spirit in the new dispensation, the work of saving all of the nations of the world. The speaking in tongues was a sign. That’s presupposed by the question which the people asked, “And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?” (Acts 2:12). It was a sign of a great aspect of God’s salvation that now begins to be realized in the world with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. An important aspect of God’s sovereign counsel now begins to be worked out, and is signified in the Pentecost miracle of tongue-speaking. That counsel of God is His eternal will to save all the nations of the world, not just one nation, but all the nations.
This was something new on the day of Pentecost, something not dreamed of before. In the Old Testament, though there were a few exceptions here and there,, God saved one nation, the nation of Israel, the Jews. All of the other nations, the Gentiles, He caused to go on in their own way and perish in their ungodliness, ignorance, and idolatry. Oh, the inclusion of the Gentiles was prophesied in the Old Testament. And looking back at the Old Testament in the light of Pentecost we can see that it was clearly prophesied. The apostle Peter quotes some of those Old Testament prophecies in his Pentecost sermon. Nevertheless, so faint was that revealed in the Old Testament, so apparently contrary was what God began to do on Pentecost with what He had done before this, that the apostle Paul could speak in Ephesians 3:5, 6 of a “mystery,” a mystery that was not made known unto the sons of men, but is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. What is that mystery hidden from all the ages? That the Gentiles, the heathen, the nations to the ends of the earth, should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel. The mystery was that God’s salvation was to be a salvation that included all of the nations of the world.
This is of the greatest practical significance for us. We are Gentiles. We are not Jews. Historically, we stand outside of the covenant and kingdom of God. We are heathens. But now we and our children are become fellow-heirs of the people of God. What happened there on the day of Pentecost is of the greatest significance for us! That’s why we’re members of God’s church; that’s why we believe on that only name given under heaven whereby we must be saved, the name of Jesus; that’s why we are saved.
This was what was signified by the speaking in tongues. If only Jews were to be saved, God would never have caused the 120 to speak in many different foreign languages. But when the Holy Spirit causes them to speak in many foreign languages, God shows that He (causes His great works in Jesus Christ to be preached to all the nations of the world, so that the nations may hear the gospel, and as many as are ordained to eternal life in the nations may by faith embrace Jesus Christ preached in the gospel and be saved.
This is so because of Jesus Christ. “What meaneth this?” asked the multitude when they heard the disciples talking in all these different languages. And what was the disciples’ answer? “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth . . . .” What meaneth this? What explains this? What accounts for it that now the word of salvation goes out in all languages to all people? There is only one answer: Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen. He is not the Savior of one nation alone; He is the Savior of all peoples of the world. He didn’t die for one nation only; He died for all the nations. He doesn’t cause His Spirit to work in one race only; but He causes that Spirit to work in all races. God wills to save by His grace a world, the human race, in Jesus Christ. In that human race, made up of His elect out of all the nations, the fullness of Christ’s body is manifest, a body made up of many and diverse members, a body made up of members out of all the nations of the world.
In this sign of the Spirit that was worked on Pentecost is clearly implied our calling. That calling is, first of all, as individuals to make a testimony with our mouths to the wonderful works of God. Here is the test by which you can determine where the Holy Spirit is present and working. Here is the test by which you can determine where the true church of Jesus Christ is. Where do you hear the preaching and teaching and confession of the wonderful works of God? Not the wonderful works of man, what man has done and man can do. But the wonderful works of GOD. There the Spirit of Pentecost is dwelling and operating with saving power.
The calling, in the second place, is the church’s calling to go out into all the world, in the language of every nation, tongue, and tribe, and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. In that way the elect of God will be brought to faith and to repentance, and gathered into the church of Jesus Christ. In that way the nations of the world will be saved. Such preaching by the church will NOT bring all men in all nations to faith. That preaching itself will work to harden many in the nations of the world. There will always be many who react as those of whom we ready in Acts 2, that they mocked the disciples and rejected their testimony. But there will be those, pricked in their hearts by the Spirit, who cry out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” There will be those in whom the Spirit will work faith. There will be those whom He will save.
May God give us grace as churches to be faithful to our Pentecost calling, to declare in all the world, to all the nations, the wonderful works of God.