Acts 2 narrates the paradigmatic revival of the Christian church. It has three dimensions: experiential (verses 1-13), evangelical (verses 14-41), and ecclesial (verses 42-47). Over the next few days, I will examine each dimension, pointing out its relevance for today’s church.
First, however, let me explain my use of the term revival to describe the events of Acts 2. The dictionary offers two meanings of revival in a religious context: (1) “an awakening, in a church or community, of interest in and care for matters relating to personal religion”; and (2) “an evangelistic service or a series of services for the purpose of effecting a religious awakening: to hold a revival.” When I use revival, I intend the first meaning, not the second.
With that in mind, look at Acts 2:1-4:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Pentecost was one of Judaism’s three annual festivals, which included pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Ex. 23:14-17). It occurred fifty days (Gr., pentekostos) after Passover, and it celebrated the firstfruits of the harvest (Lev. 23:15-21, Deut. 16:9-12). In intertestamental Jewish tradition, it also celebrated the giving of the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
Luke himself does not draw out the symbolic value of Pentecost, but the conversion of 3000 people (Acts 2:41) can be seen as the spiritual firstfruits of the gospel. Moreover, the charismatic phenomena experienced that day (wind, fire, and tongues) parallel what Jews believed happened at Sinai (e.g., Heb. 12:18-19, Ex. 19:16-19). On Pentecost, as at Sinai, God showed up, and people were changed by the encounter.
Luke emphasizes the supernatural source of these charismatic phenomena by noting that they came “from heaven” as a result of being “filled with the Holy Spirit” and “enabled” by him. This spiritual infilling is the same thing as the promise of the Father (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4) and the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16, Acts 1:5).
The experiential dimension of revival is thus a filling with or baptism in the Holy Spirit. This experience can include charismatic manifestations. I say can rather than must because while tongues reappear throughout Acts as evidence of Spirit-baptism (e.g., 8:14-19, 10:44-48, 19:1-7), wind and fire do not.
Unfortunately, in the history of the Christian church, some have become so desirous of the experiential dimension of revival that they neglect its evangelical foundation (salvation through Jesus Christ) and its ecclesial outcomes (moral formation in a believing community). We must therefore remember that revival is like a three-legged stool: without one of its legs, the stool topples over.
The Spirit yes, but not without Christ and the church!