Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, . . . All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
The apostles and the disciples were gathered in the upper room of a building, and no doubt they were experiencing a mixture of joy, apprehension, expectation, and perplexity. The Lord had risen from the dead, he had communed with them for 40 days, and they had witnessed his ascension with their very eyes.
What now? Joyful that our Lord is risen, and he has ascended to the Father; and yet apprehensive because the Jewish and Roman authorities who crucified Christ would likely persecute the disciples – Jesus himself said so, for no servant is greater than his master.
They were also in a state of expectation, for the Lord had told them to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father. They were perplexed as to what that meant, and what they were to do now.
But of one thing they were sure: Christ had established his community on earth, headed by the apostles, and now that he had ascended, their communion with him would not diminish in the least: it would be simply of a different kind. Christ would be present with them in the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist; and also he would be in their midst as they were gathering for continuous prayer.
The Fulfillment of the 12 Tribes
In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”
There was the need to replace Judas because the apostles, along with the community of faith, had already been taught by Jesus that he was the New Israel, and the New Temple, and therefore by being united to him mystically, through faith, they too were the New Israel that stood in the New Covenant founded on the very blood of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
As such, as the Old Israel had been constituted by the 12 tribes in covenant with YHWH, there was a symbolic significance that the New Israel stood in covenant with the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, as constituted by the 12 apostles, the new tribes of Israel, established in the New Covenant blood of the Lamb.
The Coming of the Spirit at Pentecost
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
The day of Pentecost had arrived. Pentecost was named after the 50th day after Passover; it was the feast of the Firstfruits, “the feast of harvest, of the first fruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field” (Ex 23:16).
The “Feast of Weeks” (7 weeks after Passover) was an agricultural festival, an occasion on which the community was expected to show gratitude to God for the first fruits, i.e., the early harvest. In Old Testament law, the feast was proclaimed as a “holy convocation” – this is why Jerusalem at this time was filled with people visiting from everywhere.
It is very important to note that during the intertestamental period and later, Pentecost was also regarded as the anniversary of the law-giving at Sinai.
So there are many connections here with the Old Testament redemptive history being fulfillment. Pentecost is
- The beginning of the gathering of the firstfruits of the Church
- The giving of the New Law of the New Covenant
- The consecration of the New Temple in the New Jerusalem and New Covenant.
The Cloud, the Fire, and the New Covenant
The disciples are gathered together, and the promised Holy Spirit comes upon them. This is the fulfillment of many elements present in the history of the people of God in the Old Testament – the qahal (assembly) of Israel, translated in the Septuagint as the ekklesia.
The Law had been given on Mount Sinai, when the LORD manifested himself in the cloud and in the fire. According to the Jewish tradition prevalent at the time when the apostles lived and Luke wrote, the Law was given on the fiftieth day after Passover, i.e., on Pentecost. The Law had been given 50 days after they had been delivered from bondage in Egypt.
Now, 50 days after the Resurrection – our deliverance from the bondage of death – the New Law is given on the mountain of God, in the New Jerusalem, in the “upper room” when tongues as of fire and the sound as of a mighty rushing wind become the manifestations of the presence of God who comes to inscribe that New Law no longer in tablets of stone, but in tablets of the heart.
The Prophet Jeremiah had alluded to this fulfillment when he said that “ the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, . . . I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jer. 31)
The author of Hebrews makes the connection between Mount Sinai and the Holy Mountain in which the Church stands, the New Jerusalem, in this way:
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them . . . But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12: 18-24)
The New Covenant established in the blood of Jesus was now also being ratified in the hearts of those who called upon his name, no longer in the terror of Mount Sinai, but with the fire that comes upon his people – not to destroy, but to purify and fill with his presence.
This is the uncreated fire of God which Moses saw on the burning bush – the fire that did not consume it, but sanctified all space around it as sacred ground, as the presence and dwelling of the Lord. That fire that burned on top of Mount Sinai now burns on the Upper Room.
The Consecration of the New Temple
Luke makes another connection here between Pentecost and the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament, when he had mentioned in that there were about 120 persons gathered in the upper room. To those believers familiar with the Old Testament, this was a direct reference to the consecration of the great temple of Solomon:
And King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the Most Holy Place. . . [there were] 120 priests who were trumpeters . . . the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God. (2 Chronicles 5:6–14)
As there were 120 priests consecrating the Temple when the ark of the covenant was brought there, with the tablets of stone engraved with the Law, so now no longer Solomon, but the promised great King, Jesus Christ, consecrates his own Temple by filling it with the glory of God upon his 120 priests, who are also overwhelmed by the presence of the Spirit and the establishment of the Law in the tablets of the heart inside the Temple.
Notice also that our Most Holy Theotokos, Mary the Mother of God, is also the Ark of the New Covenant, who bore in her womb the true Manna from heaven, the true Word, and the true Staff of Aaron that budded.
Now, Jesus Christ, by the will of the Father, and according to his promise, sends the Holy Spirit –who is the glory cloud – to fill the true and ultimate Temple, not made with stones but with people, with his own glory.
Pentecost is thus the giving of the New Covenant and New Law, and the consecration of the New Temple. As Solomon and Moses said, the Lord dwells in the thick cloud, in the sound of the trumpets, in the fire that consecrates and purifies.
That glory cloud that filled Sinai, the Tabernacle, the temple of Solomon, was already seen in the New Testament when Jesus was transfigured before his disciples:
And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light . . . He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:1-5)
That same cloud had also received Jesus in his Ascension 10 days earlier; now it consecrates the new Temple, circumcises hearts, and purifies the firstfruits of the harvest of God.
The Reversal of the Curse of the Tower of Babel
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? [In verses 9-11 Luke gives the equivalent of a table of nations and languages]—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.
As they spoke with other tongues (which were known tongues to those who were visiting Jerusalem) the language barrier was being removed: now every tribe, tongue and nation could praise God and his Anointed in the Holy Spirit, in their own language.
The different languages were coming together to glorify God: this was a reversal of the curse of the tower of Babel, when God scattered the proud peoples who wanted to ascend to heaven on their own. Now God himself comes down from heaven to earth not to judge, but to bless and to gather the people as he dwells in their midst.
As the prophet Isaiah had said,
It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2)
At Pentecost, the consecration of the new Temple was now complete. The glory of God once again filled his house, now a house made not of gold, marble and stones but of people – the people who are the body of Christ.
The Church is the temple of God because we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2, Exodus 2). Imperfect as we are, we are precious in the sight of God. The Church, the temple of God, is not alwyas outwardly glorious – as Christ did not show his glory until the resurrection. Nonetheless, even in the midst of imperfection, struggle, and disappointment, we know that we are God’s precious possession, and he will not fail to continue to build us up.
The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and who dwells in us individually and corporately will also raise us up as he continues to fill the house of God with glory. We are united to Christ by the Spirit who fills us as his temple, and we are bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh.