Great Perplexity

Acts 2:5-16 — “What does this mean?” (v12)

Please read the entire passage now to refresh your memory of the details.  Remember, try to observe what the passage says, and refrain from jumping to interpretations you may have been taught by others.

2:5 (please re-read the verse now) – This verse describes the kind of people who witnessed what had just happened to the 120 followers of Jesus when the Holy Spirit came upon them.  Luke, always concise and factual, describes them in four ways:

  • Luke is describing Jews, and by implication, possibly proselytes who had adopted the Jewish religion and God.  It will serve you well to remember he is limiting his narrative to Jews in the coming verses.
  • They were “living in Jerusalem.”  The word for “living” is katoikeow, literally “down-housed” in Jerusalem.  As we learned in an earlier post, this describes people who had retained long-term residential quarters in Jerusalem so that they could remain there for two of the Jewish high holidays, the Feast of Unleavened Bread (starting with Passover), and the Feast of First Fruits fifty days later (starting with Pentecost).  These residential quarters today would be described as “rooms by the month” to “summer homes” and anything in between.  Please notice that Luke does not describe them as “visiting” Jerusalem.  They were on pilgrimage, and would make every effort to be present for the entire eight weeks.
  • They were “devout men.”  The Greek word translated as “devout” here is eulabes, a contraction of eu (“with care”) and lambano (to “take” or “receive”).  This word is used only three times in the Bible, and it always refers to Jewish piety.  The inference is that those who were thus described received with great care the things of God.  It is the basis for the idea of the “fear of God,” a great respect for the person and nature of God.  The first use describes Simeon, the old man who had been promised by God that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:25).  The second use is here in the verse we are now studying.  The third use describes the men who carried the body of Stephen to his burial in Acts 8:2, in stark contrast to the persecutions begun at that time by a young man named Saul of Tarsus.  Spiros Zodhiates notes that the word describes such a person as a “scrupulous worshipper who is careful about” varying in any way from what God has prescribed for His worship, lest he offend God.  Please remember that Luke is describing Jews  here, not gentiles.
  • They were “from every nation under heaven.”  Doesn’t this indicate that they were a mixture of Jews and gentiles?  Not if you have learned your history lessons about the dispersion of the northern kingdom when they were conquered by the Assyrians!  Jews had indeed been scattered all over the known world over the course of several centuries, and the only reason they were in Jerusalem at this time was that God commanded the men of Israel to appear before Him three times a year, and they were devout about it!  Here, dear reader, I must comment on the mistaken notion that the church of today, described by the Apostle Paul as having “no difference” between Jew and Gentile, is demonstrated in this verse.  Those who teach this interpretation do so to attempt to justify their view that the church of today began at this point in Luke’s narrative — but careful study of the facts recorded by Luke does not support such an interpretation.  They assert that since the church began here, it demands that this verse describe an assembly of Jews and gentiles, followers and non-followers of Jehovah.  This assumes that which they are trying to prove, and twists the evidence to make it fit the assumption!  We would reply that since Luke describes only people devout toward Jehovah (Jews and proselytes), this verse demands that we understand this assembly to not represent the character of the church of today, but to perfectly represent what Israel was expecting.  Luke, in the historical and social context of Jerusalem in the days of these events, was crystal clear in what he wrote — and he had no choice to write otherwise since the Holy Spirit moved his heart and hand to write what he did.

The spectators who witnessed the coming of the Holy Spirit were, in brief, Jewish, present in Jerusalem as God required, scrupulous in His worship, and from many lands, languages and cultures.  This verse has exactly zero information concerning the church of today, and is 100% concerned with Israel and the promise of the coming Millennial Kingdom.

2:6-8 (please re-read these verses now) — There is no need to launch into a word-by-word analysis of the Greek language in these verses, for they state plainly what happened.

  • The sound of the rushing wind had been heard far outside the upper room, and the “multitude” headed for its source.  Does this multitude represent a broader cross-section of Jews and gentiles?  It’s highly unlikely since the Israelitish strength of Luke’s description in the previous verse would require a change in context which Luke would surely have explained.  There is an even better reason found in v10, which we will explain shortly.
  • Those who gathered to investigate the sound of the wind were “bewildered”, and not just because of the confusion of the moment as often happens with natural disasters.  Luke carefully explains the source of their confusion…
  • Those who received the Holy Spirit (the 120 in the upper room) were speaking in the Galilean dialect of Hebrew, but the crowd, who was from “every nation under heaven”, perceived them to be speaking in their native languages (the languages “to which [they] were born”)!  Remember, these men and their families had been enculturated in the lands to which they were scattered for generations, and Hebrew was not their native language.  Again, this does not mean that they were gentiles, but that they were of the diaspora.
  • Luke says they were “amazed” and they “marvelled”, and this apparently went on long enough that these “foreign Jews” had time to compare notes.  No one heard them speaking in the gibberish of a language unknown to them, and they were not speaking in the universal language of commerce, Greek.  In fact, they all could have spoken in Greek, and the foreigners would have understood them.  But God had a very special reason to infuse this event with the miraculous — He was fulfilling a specific prophecy that Peter would point out as he explained to the crowd what was happening.

2:9-11 (please re-read these verses now) — As before, we do not need to investigate each country and region described here if we understand the diaspora.  Suffice it to say that the areas identified ring the Mediterannean Sea, the known world of Luke’s day.

However, toward the end of this list is an interesting phrase.  In v10 Luke writes “and visitors from Rome.”  Perhaps here is the flaw in my argument that these events were all about Jews and the Millennial Kingdom, and finally gives proof that the church of today where there is “neither Jew nor gentile” is what this passage is about!  Surely Roman visitors would be gentiles, wouldn’t they?  Unfortunately, Luke qualifies this expression in the next phrase by saying that they were “Jews and proselytes.”  Remember what we learned before about this term “proselyte” — it is a gentile (someone who is not genetically descended from Abraham) who has adopted the religion of Israel as his own, and by his practice of the Law and love for the God of Israel is considered by God to be included in the commonwealth of Israel.  Ruth in the Old Testament is a perfect example of this, and because of it she is included in the earthly lineage of both David and Christ! 

Some claim that the qualifying expression “both Jews and proselytes” does not refer to the “visitors from Rome”, but rather to all of the other nations in the entire list.  If that were the case, grammatically the expression would come at the beginning or the end of the list, not in the middle.  What’s more, even if it does apply to all of the nations listed, all the better — it leaves no room for any gentile from any nation to be included unless he is a Jewish proselyte!

This expression “visitors from Rome” does not describe the church age, but to the contrary, proves unquestionably that we are still in the context of the coming Millennial Kingdom, Israel’s hope and expectation.  The church, the mystery hidden in God in ages past has still not been revealed at this point in Luke’s narrative.

2:12-13 (please re-read these verses now) — For the third time in these eight verses Luke describes the effect on the crowd as amazement and perplexity.  They were bewildered (v6), amazed (v7), they marveled (v7), they continued to be amazed (v12), and they were perplexed (v12).  Note that this last descriptive word implies that they were trying to think it through and put two and two together — unsuccessfully.  Perplexity infers the formulation of a question in their minds that the previous four terms do not.  I believe God was stirring their hearts and minds with these events by planting a question that Peter would answer perfectly.  God even provided an incorrect explanation in the minds of some (that they were drunk) so that Peter’s explanation would stand in stark contrast to this worldly supposition.

2:14-16 (please re-read these verses now) — Peter, who has been given at least in part the keys to the Kingdom, now addresses the crowd.  His speech will continue through the next 21 verses.  Its content is amazing coming from an unlearned fisherman from Galilee, if that’s all he is.  But you already know that Jesus had promised that they would be given exactly the right words to say, and to not prepare remarks for the occasion, and that is what happens here.

  • Peter “takes his stand” with the eleven.  Luke means here that he identified himself with the other original disciples, including Matthias who was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot.
  • The first thing Peter says indicates who he was speaking to, and he was very specific — “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem…”  Luke once again is very precise in his choice of words, as the word for “live in” is exactly the same katoikeow that he used in v5 to describe those who were in Jerusalem that day to witness the coming of the Holy Spirit.  By using this term, Luke demonstrates that the people to who Peter addressed his remarks were the same ones gathered as a result of the sound of the rushing wind, and who had heard the 120 speaking in their native languages.  It is a message for Israelites who are expecting the hope of Israel, about which we will have much more to say in the next post.
  • Peter corrects the mistaken notion that the 120 were drunk, noting that it was only 9:00 AM
  • Peter then contrasts (“but”) that notion with an explanation of what is really happening, and he says it was prophesied by Joel long ago. 

Joel was a prophet that was sent to the regions around Jerusalem (no mention is made of the division of the kingdom into northern and southern segments), and bears study in itself.  Peter quotes only four and a half verses from Joel in his message, but a broader reading of Joel reveals many details about the nature of Israel’s hope and the events surrounding the restoration of Israel as a world power.  So the next post will take a detour into the book of Joel the Prophet!

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