LCN Article
The Promise of Acts 2:39

May / June 2015

Gary F. Ehman

True Christians have embarked on an annual journey that starts with the Christian Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. This experience keeps them in remembrance of the great sacrifice that both God the Father and Jesus the Christ expended for all of mankind.

This journey leads to the day of Pentecost, the third in the series of seven annual Holy Days central to the fact of their special calling—a calling that sets Christians apart from all other human beings on planet Earth. For ancient Israel, Pentecost—also called the Feast of Weeks—was their date with the Law of God. It was their induction at Mount Sinai into a nation, the physical kingdom of God. God’s laws were going to set them apart as a new people—living examples of what righteous obedience to God could accomplish in a very evil world. They were to become a city on a hill exemplifying God’s commandments, demonstrating His righteousness to all the rest of the world.

The Christians’ journey today, beginning with the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, will take them to a singularly more important result. This third commemorative Holy Day service is in regard to their receiving, individually, the Spirit of God—becoming the literally begotten children of God. The Christian becomes the demonstration of God’s plan for mankind’s future redemption: “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

An examination of the history of Pentecost helps us understand more fully what was in God’s mind when He first began to develop the concept of presenting a special people to the world. Moses, preparatory to the Day of Pentecost, presenting himself before God on Mount Sinai, was told: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel” (Exodus 19:5–6).

Let’s look at the words “special treasure” in v. 5, because it is an important concept. The Hebrew phrase is segûllâh (seg-ool-law’) meaning “shut up,” referring to a valued possession or wealth one protects, that one shuts up in a special place of protection. God was telling them that if they would hear His voice, and keep His covenant that He was going to establish with them, they should become a costly possession to Him out of all nations (Deuteronomy 7:6).

God was planning to create a nation of people who would represent Him on earth to a totally pagan world, as a nation wholly governed by righteousness through His law:

“Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?” (Deuteronomy 4:5–8).

But the Israelites failed to measure up to the task put to them. They repeatedly turned their backs on God, defying His commands and polluting His worship. Therefore their cities were destroyed, and the great temples they erected to God were plundered and leveled. The individual tribes, who had once stated in a covenant with God—“All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8)—became a conquered people disappearing into the mists of history, to wait in captivity of sin for a future deliverance.

With this brief history in mind, notice that in 31AD, before the Day of Pentecost, Jesus spent some concentrated time with the disciples, as shown in Acts 1:3. He explains why He did so in vv. 4–5: “And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’”

Jesus, raised from the dead after His crucifixion, walked with His disciples and taught them, “to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). He was hearkening back to His last Passover with them when, facing death, He encouraged them in great concern to remember Him and what He taught that night: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always,  the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you” (John 14:15–17, NABRE).

It must be made perfectly clear what it was Jesus was saying. The word “with” in the Greek is para (par-ah’) meaning near, from beside, or in the vicinity of. The word “in” is en (en) literally in, within, a position that is fixed. Why is this important to know? Jesus was revealing a complete change in God’s association with mankind, beginning with a new creation that we call a Christian. It would start on the Day of Pentecost, as the Jews and other Israelites gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks, commemorating the establishment of the Old Covenant, the giving of the laws of God.

Then, on that Day of Pentecost, 31AD, the incredible happened:

“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1–4).

The scene was astounding to those nearby: “And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, ‘Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?’” (vv. 6–8).

Peter, taking charge of this chaotic scene, had to explain it to them, quoting from the Prophet Joel:

“And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above and signs in the earth beneath: blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:16–21).

As the Apostle Peter explained, Jesus connects His New Testament Church to the mission He originally gave to ancient Israel: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9–10; cf. Deuteronomy 7:6).

 This directly relates back to John 14:16–17, when Jesus said He would send the Comforter. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This would be the fulfillment of a promise given to them earlier: “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

The disciples tarried in Jerusalem, as commanded, awaiting that “Promise of my Father.” The Greek word “promise” is epaggelia (ep-ang-el-ee’-ah), a pledge of good or blessing; in this case, God’s Holy Spirit. It had been a prophesied promise, as was noted in Joel 2:28–32.

But Pentecost 31AD was not the complete fulfillment of this prophecy. On that particular Day of Pentecost, an event unique in all history took place—a one-time only, supernatural occurrence. What happened on that day was a partial fulfillment—not the entirety—of Joel’s prophecy. The Bible does show the complete fulfillment in Isaiah 32:14–15: “Because the palaces will be forsaken, the bustling city will be deserted. The forts and towers will become lairs forever, a joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks—until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is counted as a forest” (cf. Isaiah 44:3; John 7:37–39, Jesus’ reference to the Last Great Day following the Feast of Tabernacles). The term “pour out” in Hebrew is shâphak (shaw-fak’); spill forth, let fall like drops.

Back in Luke 24:49, Jesus used the word “endued” in regard to God’s power through His Holy Spirit. The Greek word is enduō (en-do’-o), literally to settle in, as a new garment, to be invested or, in this context, to be clothed with power. The Apostle Paul makes the concept clearer in his epistle to the Romans: “The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12).

The word “put on,” again, is enduō (en-do’-o). But, notice that it is used as a counterpoint to the word “cast off” apotithēmi (ap-ot-eeth’-ay-mee), not only to put something off of oneself, but to separate yourself from it. Christians are given power to cast off the dark past of sin through the Spirit of God that is now in them. Light armors us when we reject darkness. But again what are we to put on? “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (v. 14). Jesus is centered in that promise: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

Paul maintains this theme in his epistle to the Colossian Christians, who were struggling against the pulls of their former lifestyles: “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds” (Colossians 3:8–9). The phrase “put off” is apotithēmi (ap-ot-eeth’-ay-mee), putting off sin and stepping away from it.

The process of conversion—and its deepening, through the indwelling of the promised Spirit—creates something entirely new in those receiving it. Paul explained that Christians, who have the Holy Spirit, “have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all” (vv. 10–11).

What is the result of “Christ is all and in all”? “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (vv. 12–13). This is the practicing Christian walking in light. Paul understood what Jesus told the disciples the night of the Passover; “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). The process cannot be facilitated without Jesus. We are Jesus-centered as Christians. We have put Him on, He lives in us (Galatians 2:20), just as He promised.

Jesus told the disciples to wait for the promise that would come on the Day of Pentecost: “you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). He was speaking directly to the disciples, those who had responded to His teachings. Peter explained: “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear” (Act 2:32–33). It was the advent of the other Comforter—the Holy Spirit—from heaven that Jesus promised them at Passover. This was the foundation of the Church.

The Spirit was not poured out over “all flesh”—it only touched those who had been in the upper room of the house (vv. 1–4). The rest, whom God had called to the disciples’ gathering place, asked Peter: “‘what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (vv. 37–38). These individuals, attending the Feast of Weeks in Jerusalem, were attracted to this fledgling Church of God. They heard what Peter preached, and what the true Church of God has been preaching ever since: the Gospel, the Good News of the coming Kingdom of God.

Only those God calls and draws to Him may come to Christ during this Church age. To those of us who have responded—as to those who responded at the first New Testament Pentecost—a promise was made and fulfilled, “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (v. 39). As Paul sums it up: “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13).

While the promise clearly is the Holy Spirit, the Day of Pentecost goes far beyond that for Christians. The Holy Spirit is the key that opens the door to a future that defies imagination. Paul opens that understanding to the Hebrew Church: “And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9:15).

Two more definitions are needed to understand “eternal inheritance.” “Eternal” aiōnios (ahee-o’-nee-os) meaning everlasting, never ending, and it describes an “inheritance” klēronomia (klay-ron-om-ee’-ah), something given as a personal possession—a never-ending possession.

What is that all about—this inheritance in and through Jesus Christ? Paul shows that this inheritance comes after receiving the Holy Spirit, which Jesus promised back at Passover:

“For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more’” (Hebrews 10:14–17).

This is not the same promise made to the nation of Israel (cf. Hebrews 8:8–12). Paul’s words are directed to the Church Jesus raised up on the Day of Pentecost.

The Apostle John, present the night the promise was made, makes it clear to Christians: “Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father” (1 John 2:24). John knew the promised result of such Christian obedience: “And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life” (v. 25).