Pentecost and Leaven
It is the day of Pentecost, which is not only one of the seven Feasts of Israel, it is also one of the three feasts which requires that every able-bodied Jewish male was required to in in Jerusalem. This means that Jerusalem was crowded with people from all over to celebrate this feast. Now without going into an extensive study on the feast of Pentecost, it may be a good idea to give some background to get a better picture. The first three feasts are in the spring, which are Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Firstfruits. The last three feasts are in the fall, which are the Feast of Trumpets, The Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. In the middle there is the Feast of Pentecost (meaning the fiftieth day), which is 50 days after the Feast of Firstfruits. Each feast has a ceremonial role, a historic commemorative role, and also a prophetic role. Without going into much detail, the first three feasts were prophetic to Jesus’ First Coming (respectively, His death, His burial and His resurrection). The last three feasts are prophetic to Jesus’ Second Coming.
The Feast of Pentecost is prophetic for the birth of the Church (being the spiritual Body of Christ). It is described in Leviticus 23:15-17, which says: “You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord. You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the Lord.” Now you have to be aware of Jewish customs to notice something peculiar here, namely that the breads are baked with leaven. All the other Jewish feasts and offerings are dealing with unleavened bread. In Exodus 12:15; 12:19-20; 13:7 it is actually described that leaven should be removed from the house during these feasts, except for Pentecost. The idea of leaven is always used negatively for the reason that leaven corrupts the dough by puffing up and is therefore symbolic for sin. So, the symbol for the Church is leaven. Now it is said that this is because the Church is not perfect (yet who is!), but I think it also has something to do with the fact that the Church are Gentiles, which are considered unholy from a Jewish viewpoint.
The Holy Spirit is Coming
Now all the disciples (about 120) were all gathered in one place, which is mostly likely the upper room where they were regularly met, and is most likely close to the temple grounds (for we will see that they will be baptizing 3,000 new believers soon – which would be quite hard in the upper room). Now, in John 3:8 Jesus makes reference to the Holy Spirit as wind, but it seems that this wind is much wilder. So strong that it causes attention throughout the town. When they are filled with the Holy Spirit they are speaking in tongues, but this must not be seen as a gift of the Spirit (as in 1 Corinthians 14), but must be translated as speaking in other languages as they were understood by various people present in Jerusalem. Could the fact that they could all understand each other have something to do with lifting the curse of Babel? Who knows… Now there 16 countries listed here which are present in Jerusalem, but I assume more countries are actually represented for Pentecost is one of the mandatory festivals and it mentions men “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5)
Peter’s First Sermon
Peter’s sermon answers their question, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12), and it’s is a very intricate masterpiece. We also see here that the Holy Spirit is indwelling Peter. In the Gospels Peter is often speaking without thinking, but here he is being skillful and elegant. Although the sermon answers the question about what does this [the Holy Spirit] mean, it is in fact not a sermon about the Holy Spirit, but about Jesus, the Son of God. It is important to recognize that Peter is addressing the Jews here. The sermon is built on three sections of the Old Testament, namely Joel 2:28-32, Psalm 16:8-11 and Psalm 110:1.
The Foretelling of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-32)
Peter picks out a section of the Old Testament which is not the earliest nor the latest, but the most crisp passage on the promise of the Holy Spirit. Interesting detail maybe is that whilst in “our” Bible this section of Scripture is part of the second chapter, in the Hebrew Bible this section gets its own chapter and thus stands out quite a bit. This section of the promise of the Holy Spirit is followed by some end-time prophecy. Peter speaks of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as what was prophesied by Joel, but he also implies that not the complete prophecy has come to pass yet. The start of this section will probably shock every Jew as Peter says that God will pour His Spirit on all flesh (meaning also the Gentiles!). Furthermore, the idea of prophesying is no longer limited to the prophet (as they were used to having a prophet and a priest), but that it will be made available to everybody. Verse 19 and 20 obviously speaks about end-time prophesy as this clearly hasn’t happened yet. In Matthew 24:29-31 Jesus says that “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” It may be that one of the reasons that Peter includes this prophecy which is still to come because he wants to get to the closing line which says that “it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21), which give him the opportunity to say that “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.” (Acts 22-24)
Hope of Everlasting Joy (Psalm 16:8-11)
Peter then moves on by using a psalm by David to be used as a prophecy of Jesus, where it first talks about life (Psalm 16:8,9a), then death (Psalm 16:9b, 10) and then resurrection (Psalm 16:11). Peter’s point here is that this cannot apply to David for “he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.” (Acts 2:29), but that Jesus is “exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out” (Acts 2:33). Peter’s central theme is the study of the person of Jesus Christ: His role, mission, character, and nature of the Messiah.
Sit at My Right Hand (Psalm 110:1)
Peter’s final verse is to point out that David’s body did not ascend into heaven, but that it is Jesus who ascended back into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father until He makes His enemies His footstool. Jesus Himself refers to this same verse in the Psalms. Notice that it says “until.” Christ’s enemies will definitely be made His footstool. What a great promise!
What’s the Point?!
Peter has now quoted from three portions of the Old Testament, building his sermon on Jesus Christ. The result? The Jews were cut to the heart and ask Peter what to do. Peter’s answer? “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” (Acts 2:38). In the subsequent verse Peter says that this call is not only for Israel, but also “for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:39)