“Filled With Holy Spirit”
The effects of the outpouring of holy spirit at Pentecost
Based on Acts 2:1-47
THE streets of Jerusalem are bustling with excitement.* Smoke ascends from the temple altar as the Levites sing the Hallel (Psalms 113 to 118), likely in antiphonal, or call-and-response, style. Visitors crowd the streets. They have come from such far-flung places as Elam, Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Pontus, Egypt, and Rome.* What is the occasion? Pentecost, also called “the day of the first ripe fruits.” (Num. 28:26) This annual festival marks the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest. It is a joyous day.
2 At about nine o’clock on this mild spring morning in 33 C.E., something happens that will be marveled at for centuries to come. Suddenly, there occurs from heaven “a noise just like that of a rushing stiff breeze,” or “like the roaring of a mighty windstorm.” (Acts 2:2; International Standard Version) The loud sound fills the house where about 120 disciples of Jesus are gathered. Next, something amazing takes place. Tongues as if of fire become visible, and one sits upon each of the disciples.* Then, the disciples become “filled with holy spirit” and begin speaking in foreign languages! When the disciples leave the house, those visitors they encounter on the streets of Jerusalem are astonished, for the disciples are able to speak to them! Indeed, each one hears them “speaking in his own language.”—Acts 2:1-6.
3 This stirring account describes a milestone in true worship—the founding of the nation of spiritual Israel, the anointed Christian congregation. (Gal. 6:16) But there is more. When Peter addressed the crowd that day, he used the first of three “keys of the kingdom,” each of which would open up special privileges to a different group of people. (Matt. 16:18, 19) This first key made it possible for Jews and Jewish proselytes to accept the good news and to be anointed with God’s holy spirit.* They would thus become part of spiritual Israel, and as such, they would have the hope of ruling as kings and priests in the Messianic Kingdom. (Rev. 5:9, 10) In time, that privilege would be extended to Samaritans and then to Gentiles. What can Christians today learn from the momentous events of Pentecost 33 C.E.?
“All Together at the Same Place” (Acts 2:1-4)
4 The Christian congregation began with about 120 disciples who were “all together at the same place”—an upper room—and who were anointed with holy spirit. (Acts 2:1) By the end of that day, baptized members of that congregation numbered into the thousands. And that was just the beginning of the growth of an organization that continues to expand today! Yes, a community of God-fearing men and women—the modern-day Christian congregation—is the means by which the “good news of the kingdom” is being “preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations” before the end of this system of things.—Matt. 24:14.
5 The Christian congregation would also be a source of spiritual strength to its members, both those of the anointed and, later on, those of the “other sheep.” (John 10:16) Paul showed his appreciation for the mutual support that members of the congregation provide when he wrote to the Christians in Rome: “I am longing to see you, that I may impart some spiritual gift to you in order for you to be made firm; or, rather, that there may be an interchange of encouragement among you, by each one through the other’s faith, both yours and mine.”—Rom. 1:11, 12.
6 Today, the Christian congregation has the same objectives that it had in the first century. Jesus gave his disciples a challenging yet thrilling work to perform. He told them: “Make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”—Matt. 28:19, 20.
7 The Christian congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses is the agency through which that work is accomplished today. Of course, it is a challenge to reach people of different languages. Yet, Jehovah’s Witnesses have produced Bible literature in more than 400 languages. If you are actively associated with the Christian congregation and are sharing in the Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work, you have reason to rejoice. You are counted among the comparatively few on earth today who have the privilege of bearing thorough witness to Jehovah’s name!
8 To help you endure with joy during these critical times, Jehovah God has provided a worldwide association of brothers. Paul wrote to the Hebrew Christians: “Let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you behold the day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:24, 25) The Christian congregation is a provision from Jehovah so that you can encourage others and also be encouraged yourself. Stay close to your spiritual brothers and sisters. Never forsake gathering together at Christian meetings!
“Each One Heard . . . in His Own Language” (Acts 2:5-13)
9 Imagine the excitement that must have surged through the mixed company of Jews and proselytes at Pentecost 33 C.E. Most of those present likely spoke a common language, perhaps Greek or Hebrew. But now “each one heard [the disciples] speaking in his own language.” (Acts 2:6) Surely those listeners must have been touched to hear the good news in their mother tongue. Of course, Christians today are not gifted with a miraculous ability to speak foreign tongues. Many, however, have made themselves available to spread the Kingdom message to people of all national groups. How? Some have learned a new language so that they can serve with a nearby foreign-language congregation or even move to a foreign land. Often, they have found that their listeners are quite impressed by their efforts.
10 Consider Christine, who took a Gujarati course along with seven other Witnesses. When she encountered a Gujarati-speaking workmate, she greeted the young woman in her native tongue. The woman was impressed and wanted to know why Christine was making the effort to learn Gujarati. Christine was able to give a fine witness. The young woman remarked to Christine: “No other religion would encourage its members to learn such a difficult language. You must really have something important to say.”
11 Of course, not all of us can learn another language. Nevertheless, we can be prepared to preach the Kingdom message to people of other language groups. How? One way is by using the publication Good News for People of All Nations. This booklet contains a brief message in many different languages. Consider one experience in which this publication was put to good use. A Witness family visited three national parks shortly after the booklet was released. There they met people from India, the Netherlands, Pakistan, and the Philippines. The husband noted: “Though all these people spoke some English, they were impressed when we showed them the message in their own language, since they were thousands of miles from home. The worldwide nature of our work as well as our unity became clear to them.”
“Peter Stood Up” (Acts 2:14-37)
12 “Peter stood up” to speak to the multinational crowd. (Acts 2:14) He explained to all who would listen that the miraculous ability to speak in different languages had been granted by God in fulfillment of the prophecy uttered by Joel: “I shall pour out my spirit on every sort of flesh.” (Joel 2:28) Prior to his ascension to heaven, Jesus told his disciples: “I will request the Father and he will give you another helper,” which Jesus identified as “the spirit.”—John 14:16, 17.
13 Peter’s concluding words to the crowd were firm: “Let all the house of Israel know for a certainty that God made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you impaled.” (Acts 2:36) Of course, most of Peter’s listeners were not personally present when Jesus was put to death on the torture stake. Yet, as a nation they bore community responsibility for this act. Note, though, that Peter addressed his fellow Jews respectfully and appealed to their hearts. Peter’s goal was to move his listeners to repentance, not to condemn them. Did the crowd listening take offense at Peter’s words? By no means. Instead, the people were “stabbed to the heart.” They asked: “What shall we do?” Peter’s positive approach likely played a role in his reaching the hearts of many, so that they were moved to repent.—Acts 2:37.
14 We can imitate Peter’s manner of appealing to hearts. When witnessing to others, we need not take issue with every unscriptural view that the householder may express. Rather, we would do well to build on points on which we can agree. If we establish common ground with our listener, we can then tactfully reason from God’s Word. Often, when Bible truths are presented in such a positive fashion, righthearted ones are more likely to respond favorably.
“Let Each One of You Be Baptized” (Acts 2:38-47)
15 On the thrilling day of Pentecost 33 C.E., Peter said to responsive Jews and proselytes: “Repent, and let each one of you be baptized.” (Acts 2:38) As a result, about 3,000 were baptized, likely in pools in or near Jerusalem.* Was this an impulsive act? Does this account serve as a precedent for Bible students and for children of Christian parents to rush into baptism before they are ready? Not at all. Remember, those Jews and Jewish proselytes who were baptized on the day of Pentecost 33 C.E. were keen students of God’s Word, and they were part of a nation that had been dedicated to Jehovah. Moreover, they were already demonstrating their zeal—in some cases, by traveling great distances to be present at this annual festival. After accepting the vital truths concerning Jesus Christ’s role in the outworking of God’s purpose, they were ready to continue serving God—but now as baptized followers of Christ.
16 Jehovah’s blessing was certainly on that group. The account relates: “All those who became believers were together in having all things in common, and they went selling their possessions and properties and distributing the proceeds to all, just as anyone would have the need.”* (Acts 2:44, 45) Surely all true Christians want to imitate that loving, self-sacrificing spirit.
17 Christian dedication and baptism involve several necessary Scriptural steps. A person must take in knowledge of God’s Word. (John 17:3) He needs to exercise faith and must repent over his past course, demonstrating true sorrow over it. (Acts 3:19) Then he must convert, or turn around, and start engaging in right works that are in harmony with God’s will. (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23, 24) These steps are followed by his making a dedication to God in prayer and then getting baptized.—Matt. 16:24; 1 Pet. 3:21.
18 Are you a dedicated, baptized disciple of Jesus Christ? If so, be grateful for the privilege that has been extended to you. Like the first-century disciples who were filled with holy spirit, you can be used in a powerful way to bear thorough witness and do the will of Jehovah!
See the box “Jerusalem—The Center of Judaism,” on page 23.
The “tongues” were, not of literal fire, but “as if of fire,” evidently indicating that the observable manifestation upon each disciple had the appearance and radiance of fire.
See the box “Who Were the Proselytes?” on page 27.
By comparison, on August 7, 1993, at an international convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kiev, Ukraine, 7,402 persons were baptized in six pools. The entire baptism took two hours and fifteen minutes to complete.
This temporary arrangement filled the need that arose because visitors remained in Jerusalem to take in further spiritual enlightenment. This was a voluntary sharing and is not to be confused with some form of communism.—Acts 5:1-4.
1. Describe the atmosphere of the Festival of Pentecost.
2. What amazing events occur at Pentecost 33 C.E.?
3. (a) Why can Pentecost 33 C.E. be called a milestone in the history of true worship? (b) How did Peter’s speech tie in with the use of “the keys of the kingdom”?
4. How is the modern-day Christian congregation an extension of the congregation that was formed in 33 C.E.?
5. What blessing would come from associating with the Christian congregation, both in the first century and today?
6, 7. How is the Christian congregation today fulfilling Jesus’ commission to preach to all nations?
8. In what way are congregation members individually blessed?
9, 10. How have some made themselves available to reach out to those who speak a different language?
11. How can the booklet Good News for People of All Nations be put to good use?
12. (a) How had the prophet Joel alluded to the miraculous event that took place at Pentecost 33 C.E.? (b) Why had a first-century fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy been expected?
13, 14. How did Peter strive to reach the hearts of his listeners, and how can we imitate his approach?
15. (a) What statement did Peter make, and what was the response? (b) Why could thousands who heard the good news at Pentecost qualify to be baptized on the same day?
16. How did first-century Christians show a self-sacrificing spirit?
17. What steps are necessary for a person to qualify for baptism?
18. What privilege is open to baptized disciples of Christ?
[Box on page 23]
JERUSALEM—THE CENTER OF JUDAISM
Much of the action of the first chapters of Acts takes place in Jerusalem. This city stands among the hills of Judea’s central mountain range, about 34 miles [55 km] east of the Mediterranean Sea. In 1070 B.C.E., King David conquered the hilltop fortress of Mount Zion, located here, and the city that grew up around it became the capital of the ancient nation of Israel.
Close by Mount Zion stands Mount Moriah, where, according to ancient Jewish tradition, Abraham attempted to sacrifice Isaac, some 1,900 years before the events described in Acts. Mount Moriah became part of the city when Solomon built the first temple of Jehovah atop it. This edifice came to be the focal point of Jewish public life and worship.
It was to Jehovah’s temple that all devout Jews regularly gathered from all over the inhabited earth to sacrifice, worship, and observe seasonal festivals. They did so in obedience to God’s command: “Three times in the year every male of yours should appear before Jehovah your God in the place that he will choose.” (Deut. 16:16) Jerusalem was also the seat of the Great Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court and national administrative council.
[Box on page 24]
ROME—CAPITAL OF AN EMPIRE
During the period of time covered by the book of Acts, Rome was the largest and politically the most important city in the then-known world. It was the capital of an empire that at its peak dominated lands stretching from Britain to North Africa and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf.
Rome was a melting pot of cultures, races, languages, and superstitions. A network of well-maintained roads brought travelers and merchandise from every corner of the empire. At the nearby port of Ostia, ships that plied busy trade routes unloaded foodstuffs and luxury goods destined for the city.
By the first century C.E., well over a million people lived in Rome. Perhaps half of the population were slaves—condemned criminals, children sold or abandoned by their parents, and prisoners captured during campaigns by the Roman legions. Among those brought to Rome as slaves were Jews from Jerusalem, following the conquest of that city by Roman General Pompey in 63 B.C.E.
Most of the free population were paupers, who lived in crowded multistory housing and depended on government subsidies. The emperors, however, adorned their capital with some of the most magnificent public buildings ever seen. Among them were theaters and great stadiums that offered such spectacles as stage performances, gladiatorial contests, and chariot racing—all free for the entertainment of the masses.
[Box on page 25]
JEWS IN MESOPOTAMIA AND EGYPT
The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.–A.D. 135) states: “In Mesopotamia, Media and Babylonia lived the descendants of members of the kingdom of the ten tribes [of Israel], and of the kingdom of Judah, once deported there by the Assyrians and the Babylonians.” According to Ezra 2:64, only 42,360 Israelite men, along with their wives and children, returned to Jerusalem from their Babylonian exile. This took place in 537 B.C.E. Flavius Josephus remarks that in the first century C.E., the Jews who “dwelt about Babylonia” numbered into the tens of thousands. In the third to the fifth centuries C.E., these communities produced the work known as the Babylonian Talmud.
Documentary evidence exists of a Jewish presence in Egypt at least as early as the sixth century B.C.E. During that period, Jeremiah directed a message to Jews living in various localities of Egypt, including Memphis. (Jer. 44:1, ftn.) It is likely that large numbers immigrated to Egypt during the Hellenistic period. Josephus says that Jews were among the first settlers of Alexandria. In time, an entire section of this city was allotted to them. In the first century C.E., Jewish writer Philo asserted that a million of his fellow countrymen lived throughout Egypt, from “the side of Libya to the boundaries of Ethiopia.”
[Box on page 26]
CHRISTIANITY IN PONTUS
Among those who heard Peter’s speech at Pentecost 33 C.E. were Jews from Pontus, a district of northern Asia Minor. (Acts 2:9) Evidently, some of them took the good news back to their homeland, for those to whom Peter addressed his first letter included believers who were “scattered about” in such places as Pontus.* (1 Pet. 1:1) His writing reveals that these Christians had been “grieved by various trials” because of their faith. (1 Pet. 1:6) Likely, this included opposition and persecution.
Further tests faced by Christians in Pontus are alluded to in correspondence between Pliny the Younger, governor of the Roman province of Bithynia and Pontus, and Emperor Trajan. Writing from Pontus in about 112 C.E., Pliny reported that the “contagion” of Christianity threatened everyone, regardless of gender, age, or rank. Pliny gave those accused of being Christians opportunity to deny it, and those who would not, he executed. Any who cursed Christ or recited a prayer to the gods or to Trajan’s statue were released. Pliny acknowledged that these were things that “those who are really Christians cannot be made to do.”
The phrase rendered “scattered about” comes from a Greek word that means “of the Diaspora.” The term has Jewish overtones, indicating that many of the first converts were from Jewish communities.
[Box on page 27]
WHO WERE THE PROSELYTES?
“Both Jews and proselytes” heard Peter’s preaching at Pentecost 33 C.E.—Acts 2:10.
Among the qualified men appointed to care for the “necessary business” of the daily distribution of food was Nicolaus, who is identified as “a proselyte of Antioch.” (Acts 6:3-5) Proselytes were Gentiles, that is, non-Jews, who had converted to Judaism. They were considered Jews in all respects, since they accepted the God and the Law of Israel, rejected all other gods, underwent circumcision (if male), and joined themselves to the nation of Israel.
After the Jews were released from exile in Babylon in 537 B.C.E., many settled far from the land of Israel but continued to practice Judaism. By this means, people throughout the ancient Near East and beyond became acquainted with the Jewish religion. Ancient writers, such as Horace and Seneca, testify that multitudes in different lands who were attracted to the Jews and their beliefs joined their communities and became proselytes.
[Map on page 22]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Antioch (of Syria)
[Bodies of water]
[Picture on page 20]
“We hear them speaking in our tongues about the magnificent things of God.”—Acts 2:11