Read the Passage (NRSV)    Find more resources related to this passage  Print

Acts 2:1-21 – Pentecost


As promised by Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the "power from on high," comes upon his followers as they are all gathered together in one place. This power appearing as "divided tongues, as of fire" and sounding "like the rush of a violent wind" is interpreted by Peter as God's gift in accord with the words of the prophet Joel.


The story of Pentecost is crucial in Acts for several reasons. First, it is a fulfillment of Jesus' promise that the "power from on high" would come upon his followers to empower their witness (Luke 24:49). Second, the coming of the Holy Spirit happens to all the believers who are gathered together in Jerusalem. It is not a gift just for the Twelve, nor for men only, but it comes upon the whole gathering (described in Acts 1:13-14 as including women). Finally, in this story the power of speaking other languages intelligibly is the gift given by the Spirit to enable believers to testify to God's work in Jesus the Messiah. This great gift is like the "deeds of power, wonders, and signs" (2:22) that God did through Jesus and will continue to do throughout the book of Acts. It is important that the power of the Spirit is a gift and works for good, even if that good includes warnings against attempted misuses (8:18-24; 13:6-12; 19:11-20). This work of the Spirit is consonant with the work of Jesus, who pours the Spirit from on high (2:33).

Much of Acts details the ways in which the Spirit works with the leaders of the Christian community or even a step ahead of them. That Peter and Paul are able to raise persons from the dead, heal the sick, and overcome the powers of other deities is an important witness to the incomparable power of God, once at work in Jesus, now at work through the Spirit that empowers Jesus' followers. Elsewhere, the Spirit whisks Philip from one place or another (8:26, 39-40). The Spirit falls upon Cornelius and his household even before Peter finishes speaking to them (10:44; 11:15). Many activities of believers in Acts are directed immediately by the Spirit or through dreams and visions.

All this energy and power for witness in deed and word comes to believers on the day of Pentecost. The Jewish festival of Pentecost, coming seven weeks after Passover, was a great celebration of God's giving of the law. The giving of the Spirit parallels the giving of the law, God's gift to a new people who experience a foretaste of full salvation in the community of repentant believers. Because many Jewish pilgrims came to Jerusalem for Pentecost, the good news of this salvation is immediately extended internationally in Acts 2.

Acts 2:1-21

The Coming of the Holy Spirit

2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

Peter Addresses the Crowd

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 “In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
   and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
   and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
   in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
     and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
   and signs on the earth below,
     blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
   and the moon to blood,
     before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Related Passages