“Power from on high.”
That’s what Christ promised His disciples after His resurrection. “Tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49), He told them.
So they waited. They remained in Jerusalem and “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication” (Acts 1:14), worshipping God alongside roughly 120 fellow brethren (verse 15), waiting for Christ to fulfill His promise.
And on the Feast of Pentecost, A.D. 31, that’s exactly what He did.
Here’s what the biblical account tells us:
“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).
As you can imagine, the sound of a rushing mighty wind and a host of voices speaking in foreign languages attracted attention:
“And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, ‘Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?’ … So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘Whatever could this mean?’” (verses 5-8, 12).
Peter was quick to explain: prophecy was being fulfilled before their very eyes (verse 16). God was pouring out His Holy Spirit, His “power from on high,” on His people. The sound of wind, the tongues of fire, the gift of languages—all these things were happening to prove to those watching that Jesus Christ was truly the Son of God and the promised Messiah:
“This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. … Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (verses 32-33, 36).
The effect was immediate. Thousands of those who heard Peter’s message were “cut to the heart” (verse 37), wondering what to do with the knowledge they’d been given. Peter explained that too: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (verses 38-39).
In response, roughly 3,000 people did just that (verse 41). They repented, they were baptized, and they received the gift of the Holy Spirit—the power and essence of Almighty God. What began with a mere 120 disciples waiting in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4, 15) had exploded into an astonishing 3,000-plus on Pentecost (Acts 2:41). “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (verse 47).
But God was just getting started.
The book of Acts is a front row seat that allows us to watch the early days of the Church of God unfold. As the story continues, the focus is on the mission Christ entrusted to His disciples: preach the gospel; care for the believers.
And that’s exactly what we see happen. It doesn’t always go smoothly—in fact, it rarely goes smoothly. As the Church grows, it gains enemies—opponents who either refuse to believe the gospel message or feel threatened by it. The early Jewish disciples face persecution from the local government and from their fellow countrymen. The book of Acts shows faithful believers being thrown into prison, beaten with rods and whips, chased out of cities and, yes, even killed.
In spite of it all, the gospel continues to spread. And spread. And spread. And as it spreads, we begin to see a pattern emerge. Everywhere the gospel goes, there are those who believe it—who repent of their sins, who are baptized in the name of Christ and who receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In many ways, the Holy Spirit becomes the central fixture of the book of Acts. Key players like Peter and Paul come and go, new believers show up in new locations, some lose their lives because of their dedication to their faith—but the Holy Spirit remains a constant.
Why is that?
The Spirit is there after the Samaritans are baptized (Acts 8:14-17). It’s there when the disciples stand on trial before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8). It’s there when they pray for boldness (verses 29-31), when Stephen faces an angry mob (Acts 7:55), when Philip outruns a chariot (Acts 8:29), when the early Church realizes salvation is available to the whole world and not just the Jews (Acts 11:15-18), when Paul opposes a sorcerer (Acts 13:8-11) and when he baptizes disciples in Ephesus (Acts 19:6).
Throughout the pages of Acts, it becomes clear that the early Church members were guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It also becomes clear that the Spirit is not another member of the God family, but the power of the God family. Again and again in the New Testament, we see the Holy Spirit giving early Church members the strength and the wisdom and the ability to do amazing things and to hold fast to the truth even under intense persecution.
But Acts isn’t just about those early Church members. It’s about the incredible Spirit that enabled them to do what they did—the same Spirit that’s available to us today. The very Spirit that did all those incredible things in the book of Acts—in fact, the same Spirit that God used to shape the earth at the beginning of the creation week (Genesis 1:2)—that Spirit is the one God gives us after our own repentance and baptism.
The takeaway? The Church of God is not just a collection of random strangers who happen to believe the same things. The Church is a body composed of God’s called and chosen disciples, connected through the ages by the Spirit that was poured out on Pentecost of A.D. 31.
And God wants you to be part of it.