Pentecost, in the 30s
The first day of the week in Jerusalem in the 30s of our era. A solemn day in May, Pentecost, the festival of the weeks or the harvest festival. In gratitude, God is offered the first grains of the grain harvest.
Recall of the covenant with God
According to Jewish tradition, the revelation of God to Moses on Mount Sinai is also recalled, with the establishment of the covenant between God and Israel and the gift of the Law.
50 days since the previous solemn feast, that of Passover.
A confusing Passover
That year Passover was particularly puzzling.
A certain Jesus put to death on the cross
On Friday, a certain Jesus, a carpenter from Nazareth in Galilee, was condemned by the Jewish Council. He said he was the son of God coming in glory on the clouds of heaven. The Romans crucified him under the pretext of political revolt.
But returned to life
But the most amazing thing is the following. This Jesus, it was said, came back to life, he came out of the tomb. He met his disciples many times to encourage them.
Gone back to heaven
About ten days ago, in front of his friends, he rose to the sky in a cloud.
Hundreds of witnesses
Not likely, you mean. But many people have met him many times after his resurrection. Not only the apostles, but at least 500 other people in town. (1 Corinthians 15.6) He even offered a huge picnic to his friends on the shores of Lake Tiberias.
False messiahs, false promises
Another remark. There were indeed some false Messiahs at the time, they made amazing promises and gullible people followed them. After their arrest and death, nothing more, no more miracles, no more followers.
Disciples of the risen Jesus
This Jesus, his disciples declare him alive, risen from the dead. A hundred of them, male and women, gather to talk about him in a small house not too far from the Temple.
In droves to the Temple for the celebration
Well, right now, in the streets, the alleyways, people are hurrying. They will gather in the courtyards around the Temple for the feast of Pentecost.
Not only the Jews of Israel, but also those from all countries around the Mediterranean and beyond.
Imagine two persons in this crowd
The text of the Acts makes known the attitudes and reactions caused by the events of the day. But no detail allows us to know one or the other of the people present. To make the narrative alive and current, let’s mix two fictional but plausible persons to the reality of the biblical text
Josaphat and Lucius
Among them, an already elderly Jew, Josaphat, the former rabbi of the Jewish community of Cyrene in Libya. With him is his grandson Lucius, a 14-year-old boy he is educating in the Jewish faith since the death of his parents. They are descendants of the Jews exiled in Egypt with Jeremiah after the destruction of the Temple in 586 BC. They did not follow the majority of their compatriots to Babylonia. They settled on the Libyan coast.
Now they are near the Temple
A strange noise
Lucius rolls his eyes. A sound of wind, of storm, worse than that of a desert tornado in Libya. (Acts 2.2)
And suddenly a hundred people, men and women, arrive together running. On each of their heads, “kinds of tongues like little flames” (Acts 2.3).
An imaginary but likely dialogue
– Grandpa, what does that mean?
– Let’s get closer to see what’s going on
Listen, Lucius, how amazing. These people are Galileans from the north of the country. They look like peasants or fishermen, not very educated, seemingly. They are giving glory to God in all kinds of languages which are foreign for them.
– Yes, I am understanding what they say. It’s Greek, like ours, at Cyrene. At the synagogue, the rabbis read the sacred Hebrew books translated into Greek by the 70 scholars.
But what language do people usually speak here in Jerusalem?
– Aramaic, since it is the current language in Israel since the return from exile
– Of course, you know Aramaic and also the Hebrew of the synagogue.
– and also the Latin, the Punic of Carthage and the Libyan of Cyrene …
Watch out for people’s reactions
Pay attention! Look how people react around us. Everyone understands them in his language. Yes, the disciples of Jesus praise God in Aramaic and Greek … but also in Latin, Punic, Libyan. They also glorify Him in all the languages of the countries where our Jewish people have been scattered all around the Mediterranean.
Fire and wind, is it a miracle?
– Grandfather, this violent wind, these tongues in the form of flames, is it a miracle of God?
Yes, a manifestation of God
– Yes, Lucius, this scene reminds me of the theophanies, the apparitions of God to men. When God manifests himself, there is always fire and wind. It represents glory and judgment. Remember the prophet Isaiah.
The LORD will reveal his power to his servants and his anger to his enemies.For look, the LORD comes with fire, his chariots come like a windstorm, to reveal his raging anger, his battle cry, and his flaming arrows. (Isaiah 66:14b-15)
The covenant promising to Abraham an offspring and a country was established in a whirlwind of smoke and a torch of fire (Genesis 15.17) … the appearance to Moses, the future leader of the people in a bush of the desert that burned without extinguishing (Exodus 3.2). The Law was given to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai on fire (Exodus 19:18).
And this is how our wise Philo of Alexandria described the revelation of God at Sinai “from the midst of the fire that streamed from heaven” as a “voice”. This voice was like a “flame” that has become a dialect.
– Yes, that’s exactly what’s happening right now, before our eyes. But why precisely today, with all this crowd coming from all countries?
Jews and Gentiles from all countries come to worship God
– It is still Isaiah that must be consulted. Listen well, Lucius :
So I am coming to gather all the nations and ethnic groups; they will come and witness my splendor. (Isaiah 66:18)
Among the people who come here to worship God, there are Jews born in Israel and also Jews born, like us, in the countries of the diaspora. And also “God fearing” pagans like those who joined our synagogue in Cyrene.
And I will choose some of them as priests and Levites,” says the LORD. (Isaiah 66:21)
God will allow non-Jews, Gentiles who turn to him, to glorify him, to love him and also to serve him.
Discussions and reactions
Well, now it’s getting a little quieter. People start talking to each other, asking questions
“What does that mean? Acts 2.12
– Did you see, some people there are laughing and crying, “They drank too much.” Acts 2.13
– Do not worry about that. They are miscreants and ignoramuses. A normal Jew knows how to behave, especially on a big holiday. We are at the 6th hour, 9 am and the fast stops only at 10 am.
Peter in front of the crowd
Look at the big bearded man over there. His name is Peter. He is the leader of Jesus’ group. He will talk to the crowd.
– How do you know him ?
– Not directly. Simon of Cyrene, my cousin, told me about this Peter.
Do you know that the Romans forced my cousin Simon to carry the cross of Jesus up to Golgotha before the crucifixion. Poor thing, it was a devastating blow to him. He did not sleep during nights. He has come closer to the group of Jesus’ friends, but he does not dare to openly commit himself to him yet. He is afraid…
– And Peter?
– He, to see him on this place is already a miracle in itself.
When Jesus was arrested, Peter lied three times. He told a servant that he did not know him.
And today, he will testify in his favor before all these people. This transformation can only come from God.
Let’s listen to him carefully
But this is what was spoken about through the prophet Joel:
‘And in the last days it will be,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
And I will perform wonders in the sky above and miraculous signs on the earth below, blood and fire and clouds of smoke.The sun will be changed to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and glorious day of the Lord comes.And then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’(Acts 2:16-21)
Joel’s prophecy updated
Did you hear that ? This Peter knows the prophet Joel by heart. Remember :
At the time of Joel, an invasion of locusts caused a severe famine. The prophet called the people to repentance. He announced prophetically the coming of the day of the Lord, where the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all Israel.
A small difference
Did you listen well? Now, I will tell you exactly Joel’s prophecy. Pay attention to a small difference at the beginning
After all of this I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your elderly will have revelatory dreams; your young men will see prophetic visions.
Even on male and female servants I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
I will produce portents both in the sky and on the earth– blood, fire, and columns of smoke. The sunlight will be turned to darkness and the moon to the color of blood, before the day of the LORD comes– that great and terrible day!
It will so happen that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be delivered.
(Joel 2:28-32a or 3.1-5a depending on the version)
So, can you tell me what was different?
– It’s almost the same. Peter has only slightly changed Joel’s text. Instead of after that Peter says in the days of the end times. It’s more precise
A memory of Isaiah
– The change comes from a memory of Isaiah 2.2
In the future the mountain of the LORD’s temple will endure as the most important of mountains, and will be the most prominent of hills. All the nations will stream to it.
All nations in God’s peace project
Peter takes again Isaiah to affirm the glory and the power of God. Jehovah will draw to Himself all the nations of the world. They will submit to his dominion. All, Jewish and non-Jewish, will be able to participate in his peace project.
For Peter the prophecy of Joel is accomplished today. That’s all you have seen and heard on this day of Pentecost. These tongues of fire, these various languages spoken, all this is the accomplishment of the announcement of Joel. God has just poured out His Holy Spirit on all. Men and women, young and old, servants and maids are prophesying …
The condition for Peter as for Joel: to invoke the name of the Lord to be saved
Why to prophesy?
– Why this promise of Joel and today of Peter, saying that all could receive the Holy Spirit? Why to prophesy? What is it used for ?
God with Moses at Sinai
Let us return to Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai. I will remind you what happened and you will try to understand.
The people of Israel do not stop complaining. Moses asks God to help him leading them.
I am not able to bear this entire people alone, because it is too heavy for me! (Numbers 11:14)
God then told him to gather 70 men at the tent of the meeting:
I will take part of the spirit that is on you, and will put it on them, and they will bear some of the burden of the people with you, so that you do not bear it all by yourself. (Numbers 11:17)
When the elders were together,
And the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to them, and he took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but did not do so again. (Numbers 11:25)
But two elders, in another place, continue to prophesy. Joshua asks Moses to have them stopped, but Moses refuses:
Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for me? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29)
– Did you understand ?
– Nearly. God also gave the Holy Spirit to the 70 elders so that they could help Moses lead the people.
Prophecy: direction of God by the Holy Spirit
Yes, because prophecy is the direction God gives by the Holy Spirit. When we prophesy, we announce by the Spirit what God wants us to know.
All this surprises you, Lucius? But it’s not so surprising. What if today was the repetition of what happened with Moses and what Joel completed?
The tongues of fire, the men and women filled with the Holy Spirit, the speaking in other languages, the prophecy, it is as with Moses and the 70 elders.
The Torah tells us: When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, (Numbers 11:25)
Formerly reserved for a few, today offered to all
But you can see the difference. Formerly the Holy Spirit was only granted to the rulers, priests and kings of Israel for a particular service.
Today, as Moses desired, the Holy Spirit is given to all. To all those who turn to God to love and serve him, and that happens in all peoples and in all countries.
Announcement of the judgment
– I do not understand why Peter also speaks of blood, fire, and smoke; from the sun changed into darkness, from the coming of the day of the Lord, as from a great and terrible day.
– Yes, Lucius, at the end of time there will be a day of judgment for those who have refused or neglected to turn to God. I was also told that at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, suddenly one could not see anything for several hours …
And also announcement of salvation
– But do not forget the most important thing
And then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Acts 2:21)
Peter spoke a lot about the Holy Spirit. That’s right and I reminded you: the Spirit has always acted powerfully in the history of our people.
Connection between the Holy Spirit, Jesus and God
Now, let’s hear more. How will Peter go on? How will he relate the Holy Spirit, God the Creator, and this Jesus who is called Son of God, that is to say, equal to God, of the same nature as He?
Peter’s concern is that his listeners identify Jesus Christ as Lord. He is relying on the Holy Spirit that they will turn to him
Jesus, manifestation of God
– Yes, but if this Jesus is Lord, he is equal to God. How to prove that? For us, Jews, there is only one God, the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. How can one explain then that God manifested himself as a man, in Jesus of Nazareth.
A prophecy of David
– Here, listen well. Peter is quoting from King David’s words
For David says about him, ‘I saw the Lord always in front of me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced; my body also will live in hope,
because you will not leave my soul in Hades, nor permit your Holy One to experience decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of joy with your presence.’ (Acts 2:25-28)
About someone who survived death – Psalm 16
This is word for word Psalm 16. It concerns someone who survived death
You will not abandon me to Sheol; you will not allow your faithful follower to see the Pit. (Psalm 16:10)
Since David is dead, his words necessarily apply to someone other than him, a person who has always remained alive.
A descendant of David
This person must also be a descendant of David.
As Pierre just reminded
So then, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, (Acts 2:30)
And he also proclaims before all the resurrection of Christ
God’s promise to David
– Yes, grandfather, this promise to David, it’s in the second book of the prophet Samuel
I will raise up your descendant, one of your own sons, to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom.
He will build a house for my name, and I will make his dynasty permanent. (2Samuel 7:12-13)
The first descendant of David is Solomon. He built the Temple, but later, there were no more kings in Israel who were faithful to God.
So, an eternal king on a royal throne that lasts forever makes you think of a Lord who would be equal to God.
– Well, Peter just quoted the beginning of another Psalm of David
A Lord at the right hand of God – Psalm 110
Here is the LORD’s proclamation to my lord: “Sit down at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool!” (Psalm 110:1)
God the LORD speaks to another person whom he names Lord. He calls him to sit on his right hand.
Jesus Christ at the right hand of God?
Who apart from Jesus Christ, who is at the same time man and God, would be worthy to settle at the right hand of God?
He was crucified!
– It would be great, but there is a huge obstacle: Jesus was crucified and in our Law, a hanged man is an object of divine curse (Dt 21.23). Someone cursed can not be the Messiah. What a pity !
– It’s far from lost. I’ll tell you what Peter said at the beginning. He has solved your question in a masterly way.
God raised him
“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know– this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles. But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power. (Acts 2:22-24)
First of all, God approved Jesus by the miracles and signs that he operated by him in the light of everyone’s knowledge.
Note well, Pierre insists: these are miracles that have benefited real people, who are perhaps present near us.
Conviction not valid
Then Peter drives the point: Your accusation is false. You’ve delivered an innocent man to godless people to kill him. So his death sentence is not valid before God. For him it is invalid. And the curse does not hold either.
But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power. (Acts 2:24)
Jesus is therefore the announced eternal king who has conquered death.
This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it. So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear. (Acts 2:32-33)
God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36)
Demonstration guided by the Holy Spirit
So, here I am stunned. This is high-flying reasoning, from a fisherman who is believed to be uneducated. All this demonstration is only possible after the three years spent with Jesus and especially thanks to the intervention of the Holy Spirit.
Convincing connecting between God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Peter demonstrated that Jesus is Lord, the equal of God. He is Messiah, the Anointed, sent from God. He came to die for the sins of men. God raised him by the Holy Spirit so that men would be righteous before God.
An invented end but possible to live
– Look, some people go away shaking their heads. But there are also many who go to Peter.
– Let’s go, too, to know a little more …
Lucius and his grandfather both converted to Jesus Christ, knowingly. They followed carefully the indications of Peter. They repented, were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ because of the forgiveness of sin, and received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The young man did a tailoring apprenticeship in a Christian family in Bethany, at Lazarus’ home, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. And at the same time he attended a theological training with Rabbi Gamaliel, who was also the teacher of the Apostle Paul.
As his grandfather explained to him, when one is firmly anchored in the Christian faith, one is not afraid to be confronted with different opinions, especially since the teachings of the sacred books of Judaism are in the background of the Christian faith.
Some years later, after the death of old Josaphat, Lucius left Jerusalem.
The real Lucius found!
We find the name of a Lucius of Cyrene quoted at the beginning of Acts 13 among the leaders of the Church of Antioch:
Now there were these prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen (a close friend of Herod the tetrarch from childhood) and Saul. (Acts 13:1)