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The Day of Pentecost: Tongues Like Fire

Forty-nine days had passed since Passover. Men from every nation under heaven had come to Jerusalem to celebrate this Feast of Weeks. Tucked away in an upper room a few people, insignificant by the world’s standards yet chosen by God to witness the advent of a new world movement, waited.

Their Teacher and Master, Jesus Christ, had been crucified at Passover. With His crucifixion, their hopes that He would set up His kingdom had been shattered. Their love for Him had not faltered, but when their Shepherd was taken, the sheep had scattered. Then came the astounding wonder of the resurrection, and that was what had gathered them together again. They now realized that, in truth, Jesus was the Son of God!

photo credit to Dayne LoRe

After his resurrection, Jesus had been with them for forty days. They were strange days, mystical days marked by His appearances and disappearances. Through His appearances, they were reassured that He was alive. Through His disappearances they were being trained to do without His physical presence. Then He vanished and for ten days they had been waiting in the upper room for they knew not what.

In that same room Jesus Himself had said to them: “It is best for you that I go away, for if I do not go away the Comforter will not come to you; but if I go I will send Him to you. When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). Well, what did that mean? They had no idea. Now that promise was about to be fulfilled. The era of the Spirit of God in human history was about to begin!

Art work by Lynn Talley

Acts 2:1-8 tells us, “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?”

Let us consider the symbolism of the tongue. The strength of the tongue is one of the greatest tools we have. God has used that power in a mighty way in the spreading of the Gospel. Consider the power of our personal speech. Through speech we express our thoughts, argue our positions, and declare our beliefs. There is no other force like it!

As for the symbolism of the fire, it is that which cleanses the tongue. ( See James 3:1-12.) The tongue speaks out of the fire of heaven or out of the fire of hell. The fire behind our words will always be a force of pollution or a force of purification.

The tongue of Holy fire, this fire of the Holy spirit, cleanses and purifies, inspires and energizes, and is an influence for all that is holy. God now is sending the Helper Jesus promised.

Those Christ followers who were there that day became the body of Christ and the Church of God. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, they saw tongues parting asunder, as of fire. They became a holy company of men and women who were brought into Oneness and into a living relationship with Jesus Christ. They became part of the body of Christ. This marked the birth of the Christian church.

The outpouring of the Spirit brought joy and fullness of life. This was expressed when men praised God in different languages. The Holy Spirit was given first and foremost in order for men to offer praise to God. It was a gift that enabled praise. The disciples were declaring the wonders of God. We discover here that praise is our primary function as Christians. The church's mission in the world is being carried out through the tongue. It is three-fold: to praise God, to intercede through prayer, and to proclaim God’s message and reveal His will.

The coming of the Spirit of Life opened the eyes of the disciples, and they were able to understand things they had never understood before – things concerning Jesus and things concerning the Father. The Holy Spirit brought to the disciples’ fullness of Life, fullness of joy, and words that honored and glorified the name of God, sounding His praises abroad. The multitudes heard and understood them in their own languages, bearing witness to the mighty works of God.

What was the result? Jerusalem was brought to a stop. The crowd had no explanation for what was happening. It was not a preacher that brought the city to a halt. It was the Spirit-filled church. Their joy, their praise, and their ecstasy demonstrated the fullness of life that they were experiencing. Thus, God set the stage for Peter to declare the good news of the gospel.

Peter seized the crowd’s attention when he said, “Fellow Israelites, listen to this.” Then, in an orderly sequence he told the story of Jesus of Nazareth. Peter declared that Jesus’ miracles bore witness to His flawless nature. The distinction was carefully made that the miracles and the wonderous things that Jesus did were all works of GOD that were accomplished through the perfection of humanity.

Listen to the words of Peter in Acts 2:22-24: "Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know - this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it."

Peter explained to them the fullness of life that had expressed itself in the praises that had amazed the city and, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them. ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (Acts 2:37-41.)

Now notice carefully the conflict between grace and sin. Here we will see the Love of God revealed through Divine activity. Jesus’ life revealed God and His will concerning mankind. Yet what of the cross? Did sin win victory there? Was Grace defeated? Was God’s purpose frustrated? No! No one saw the cross in that light after Pentecost. Truth became clear to the disciples as they understood the cross in light of the resurrection. It was through the Holy Spirit that Peter and the others saw God at work at the cross. They understood the decisiveness of His love. They witnessed the mystery of His authority and power over sin. They realized He had dealt with sin and emerged victorious over it. Thus, we see the activity of grace.

The Spirit of God understands our pain individually and collectively. The agony of humanity grieves Him. The Holy Spirit who indwells those of us who are God’s own people interprets to us the grief and suffering of others. We are brought into an experience of compassionate sympathy with them, and in the very midst of it, we make up an institute of prayer.

It was not for praise alone that the church was created. nor for prayer alone, but also for proclamation. The church strands today as God’s institution of proclamation. Our words and our lives should not only be filled with praise and prayer but also with proclaiming the good news, the GOSPEL of Jesus Christ.

When we place belief in our living Lord, the Holy Spirit comes to take up residence within us. Then, He continues with us. He responds to the degree and attitude of faith that we maintain, flowing in and out, filling us at times to overflowing! Let us understand that union with Jesus in life and service can only be ours through the presence and power of the Holy Spirt, and it is a gift of God the Father that comes to us through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.


1. Are the words I speak a force of pollution or of Holy purification?

2. How, when, and with whom do I proclaim my love for God?

3. In my everyday life, when and how can I make more time for God?


"It is best for you that I go away, for if I do not go away the Comforter will not come to you; but if I go I will send Him to you. When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13).

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