The book of Acts chronicles the establishment of the church, both as the new institution through which God works with humanity in the present age and as the inauguration of the promised eschatological kingdom, the first of three phases—organically and essentially unified with the future, increasingly better, phases of the Millennium and new earth. The church does not exhaust the kingdom, but is the first phase of it. Older dispensationalists tended to see a radical discontinuity between the church and the kingdom, insisting the church was completely set apart from what comes after it in the plan of God. Older covenantalists tended to see the church as the total fulfillment of the kingdom, erasing the need for a future millennial reign and the fulfillment of God’s promises to the nation of Israel. The teaching of Scripture, and particularly the New Testament, directly contradicts both of these ideas. The church bears an intimate relationship to the eschatological kingdom promised to David and ruled over by his Messiah-Seed. Indeed, the church is the first phase—the bronze age, as some have said—of the kingdom promised in the OT. As God’s program picks up speed and hurtles toward the ultimate fulfillment of His promises, the phases and institutions affiliated with the kingdom become increasingly richer, brighter, and more glorious. The church is not all the kingdom is or will be, but to deny it is the inauguration—and a significant one—of these very promises is to ignore the teaching of Scripture. Similarly, to assume that because the church graciously shares in kingdom blessing, authority, presence, and future hope there is no need for a future millennial reign nor a restoration of national, regenerate Israel is to overturn hundreds of clear prophetic passages in the OT, the witness of Peter in Acts 3, and many clear passages in the NT including in the book of Revelation.
Acts 2 presents clear, simple teaching about the privilege of the church as the initial fulfillment of kingdom promises, highlighting the Spirit’s outpouring (with all that entails) as the key sign of Messianic presence and authority. The first four verses display the church’s profile, Paraclete, and priority
A. Profile (v. 1)
What is the church? It is the multi-national, multi-ethnic spiritual institution, ruled by Christ and empowered by His Holy Spirit, that is the means by which God works in the world in the present dispensation to the praise of His glory. It is the initial fulfillment of Gentiles coming to know the one True God through His appointed Messiah. It is the physical presence of Christ on earth (His Body), the instrument and presence of Heaven. It is, as on writer said, the outpost of the kingdom of God in a fallen world. It is God’s kingdom in the midst of the fallen kingdoms of this world, alongside them and drawing out their subjects to be made citizens of Heaven.
The Old Testament made it clear that the Messiah would bring the Holy Spirit to regenerate His people and cause them to live lives which reflected His rule, personal presence among them, and character (Isaiah 11:1-6, 32:14-16). John the Baptist said the way you knew the Messiah was present and acting as Messiah was that He baptized with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16). The OT promised the Spirit’s outpouring was a sign of the “last days” (Joel 2:28-32; cf. Acts 2:17-21). Jesus said if He cast out demons by the Spirit, then the kingdom of God was present (Matt 12:28). So if the kingdom is here, then where is national Israel’s restoration? Where are the glorious earthly and national changes, the entire nations worshiping Yahweh, the lifting of the Curse? The answer is Matthew 13. There, in seven parables Jesus declares the church the be the inauguration of the promised kingdom the Jews expected. Jesus says here that the promised kingdom will not come all at once, but is established progressively, in stages. Yet, these stages are not separate kingdoms or programs, but one kingdom and one program. The Messiah is here. The kingdom has come. Men and women are to run to God’s ruling Messiah, the Judge of all to whom the whole world is accountable (John 5:22, Acts 17:31), the One who rules over all things even now in victory and power (Eph. 1:20-230.
This brings us to the profile of the church. Verse 1 says “they were all together in one place.” Who is “they”? The 120 of 1:15. Men and women, possibly some children, all from different backgrounds and levels of spirituality but united by their faith in the promised Messiah who even now ruled over them. Simon was a former zealot; Matthew was viewed as betraying Israel to Rome through tax collecting. Mary Magdalene had been freed from severe demonic possession. Peter had denied Christ with curses. Jesus’ half-brothers had mocked and dismissed Him. Yet they were here on the Day of Pentecost, the firstfruits of God’s people offered in surrender to God, the seed of the New Humanity the Lord would build.
B. Paraclete (vv. 2-3)
Jesus uses the word parakletos to refer to the Holy Spirit in John 14. This is a very broad word, which is perhaps best translated Helper. It displays and glorifies the Holy Spirit as our Provider, Intercessor, Enabler, and the divine Means to everything we could need on any and every level. What is most interesting is the Lord’s description of Him throughout the Upper Room Discourse. First, the Greek for “another” in 14:16 means “another of exactly the same kind.” This means the Holy Spirit and Jesus bear the exact same nature and have the same ministries in the lives of believers. Further, Jesus says multiple times that He will not leave the apostles, they will not be orphans, He will come to them and they will see Him. While this might have initial reference to the post-resurrection bodily appearances, it likely finds its broader meaning in the personal ministry of both the Spirit and Christ Himself indwelling them at Pentecost. The Spirit brings to us all the blessings of the ruling Christ. He energizes our praying to see Christ’s will done on earth (Luke 115-13; Rom. 8:26-27). He empowers our fruit-bearing and guides us in the way of comprehensive righteousness (Gal 5:22-23; Rom. 8:12-15). He illuminates and quickens the Word for our understanding, communion, and obedience (1 Cor. 2). Though it is the Spirit’s delight to shine the spotlight on the Lord Jesus and His work and Word, the Spirit Himself is the One whom Christ uses to empower and accomplish His perfect will. While Christ Himself is in us, distinct from the Spirit, the Spirit is emphasized in the Scripture as the spirit or soul to the body of Christ, the church.
C. Priority (v. 4)
No one was baptized in the Spirit prior to Pentecost. Those who are born again are immediately baptized by Christ with the Spirit into His Body (1 Cor. 12:13). If the Church as a distinct institution began at Pentecost, and the baptism of the Spirit is His ministry to at least unite church saints with Christ’s Body (it is unclear if Tribulation or Millennial saints will be baptized with the Spirit, given that in both periods the church will have been either removed or glorified and other institutions will take the church’s role), then no one was baptized in the Spirit before Pentecost because the church did not exist yet. (The distinctiveness of the baptism to the church is another indication of the church’s close relationship to kingdom promises, as the promise of Spirit baptism by John the Baptist is made in the context of eschatological and messianic promise, not some utterly different kingdom or program.)
This point is important because it helps to refute mistaken understandings of the Spirit’s ministry to present-day believers, particularly about the relationship between baptism and tongues. The believers on the day of Pentecost were immediately baptized and filled (v. 4). The emphasis is on filling because that is how the Spirit manifests His power and presence—often associated in Acts, as here, with proclamation (e.g., 4:8, 31). Baptism, however, was a one-time event and there is no uniform pattern of reception in Acts (Acts 10-11, 19:1-7). This is also why the believers immediately begin speaking in other languages. The Spirit’s filling empowers them for the accomplishment of Christ’s will and plans, which are to mercifully reach a vast swath of Jewish people who had rejected their Messiah and from there to reach the nations of Gentiles. The multiplicity of nations represented in Acts 2 is a clear allusion to the Tower of Babel. Indeed, the nations listed there are all equivalents of the nations listed in Genesis 11! The Pentateuch reveals Babel was God handing over the non-Jewish nations to demonic influence (Deut. 4:19-20, 32:8-9, 17; Psa. 96:5 [“idols” is “demons” in LXX]; 1 Cor. 10:19-21), but now the ruling Messiah, who arises to rule over the nations (Rom. 15:12) for He is a light to them, the ones in the darkness of paganism and self-indulgence (Isa 9:2, 42:6-7. 49:6) begins to claim His elect among the nations. Just as God will use Israel to reach the world in the Tribulation and the Millennium, so now He uses Jews to reach first other Jews and then Gentiles.
Like those filled on Pentecost, present-day believers are to be filled with the Spirit to joyfully serve the Lord (Eph. 5:18, Rom. 12:11). Spirit-filled people have the priority of proclaiming the present and coming kingdom (Acts 8:6, 12; 17:7 [implied]; 19:8; 20:25; 26:18 [implied]; 28:30). They have renewed minds (Rom. 12:1-2) to live kingdom truths (Rom. 14:17). The Spirit is the down payment of…what? The kingdom of Christ and of God (Eph. 1:13-14; 5:5—the Spirit’s presence brings aspects of the kingdom to our present experience and enjoyment). Those filled by Him are a picture of what life is like when God’s appointed king is actively and dynamically ruling in, over, and among them; they are to be a preview of the fullness that is surely to come. The Spirit empowers them to live by the “law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21), the “royal law” (James 2:8)—this is the New Testament revelation, which is a rule of grace (Rom. 5:17, 21, 6:14).
Christ has come. Christ has inaugurated His kingdom, and the church is its present manifestation and vehicle for its rule. Once cast-off Gentiles have the privilege of full intimacy and union with the One appointed by God to rule over everything and rescue the world. Our hearts should melt at the mercy and privilege of this. May the promised and poured-out Holy Spirit enable us to live worthily of the kingdom purchased with precious blood!