When Jesus spoke with the disciples after His resurrection, He told them that they would take His gospel to the ends of the earth. But He also told them that prior to the gospel spreading, they should sit and wait for the Holy Spirit.
Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Acts 1: 4 – 8
While waiting, the Feast of Weeks came – a celebration ordained by God through Moses that occurred on the fiftieth day after the Sabbath of Passover week. This feast was also known by the name of Pentecost, a Greek word meaning fifty (representing the fifty day interval between Passover and the Feast). It was on the day of Pentecost when the words of Jesus were fulfilled and the power of the Holy Spirit came to the disciples.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs – we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.” Acts 2: 1 – 13
Those who witnessed the disciples speaking in foreign tongues were amazed, and some blamed the phenomenon on drunkenness. Peter responded to the mockers by quoting the prophet Joel and explaining his prophecy as pointing to Jesus Christ and the New Covenant He established.
But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘that I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy. And I will grant wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come. And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know – this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” Acts 2: 14 – 24
Peter explained to the mockers and those standing in amazement how this outpouring of the Spirit fulfilled the words of the prophet Joel. And Jesus, before His death, provided insight into why the Spirit spoken of by Joel was to be given to the disciples:
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. John 14: 26
The Spirit was given, in part, so that the disciples could remember what Jesus taught and did and accurately pass on His gospel (in words spoken and words written). This is why the New Testament scriptures could be penned with precision and accuracy. Understanding this ministry of the Holy Spirit, to recall Christ and His work, helps us to understand what happened on Pentecost. The ability of the disciples to speak in different languages was a sign and wonder illustrating the future advance of the gospel to the nations of the earth; it was a testimony to those in Jerusalem that God had ended the Mosaic Covenant, established the New Covenant, and opened up salvation to the Gentiles.
It is a mistake to look at the day of Pentecost and to think that the sign and wonder of speaking in foreign tongues was the most important lesson to learn, and that we ought to try and replicate it with our own signs and wonders. Many in the church today try to do this – holy laughter, getting drunk in the spirit, babbling in unintelligible languages – these are things in charismatic and Pentecostal circles that attempt to replicate what happened on the day of Pentecost and to demonstrate that the Spirit has been poured out in their own lives. But those are false signs. Evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in someone’s life is not when one laughs uncontrollably or babbles nonsense in strange tongues (although there is a legitimate gift of the Spirit of speaking in tongues), but when one demonstrates an understanding of Scripture (which the Holy Spirit inspired to be written), believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, and lives a peaceful and temperate life in obedience to God’s commands (which the Holy Spirit enables us to do).
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and wordly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” Titus 2: 11 – 14