These are two monumental promises that Jesus made – to build His church and to send His Holy Spirit. Both of those promises came true at the same moment.
So on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit comes. The Spirit is placed inside the believers, which then becomes the norm throughout the rest of church history.
The birth of the church is inseparable from the baptizing with the Holy Spirit. The record of this great event is here in Acts chapter 2.
…the evidence of the Spirit’s coming, the effect of the Spirit’s coming, and the explanation of the Spirit’s coming
The filling is then the Spirit moving through us to produce the right attitudes and the right actions, the right attitudes…
The idea is control, total control, yielding to the Holy Spirit. It’s further defined in Colossians 3:16 as letting the word of Christ dwell in you richly, being dominated by the scripture, dominated by the revelation of God, dominated by the will of God, walking in obedience.
Proper understanding of languages
…Verse 4, “They began to speak with other languages as the spirit was giving them utterances.” You see the word – probably the word tongues occurs in your Bible, and that really is an unfortunate translation, and it just keeps surviving and surviving and surviving. It wouldn’t necessarily be unfortunate, because it’s a synonym for languages, except that has – it has been culturally loaded with some very confusing preconceptions.
And I want to help you to get out of those preconceptions and those misconceptions and properly understand this.
…and they (the charasmatics) came up with the idea that it is some kind of ecstatic speech. This had never been a part of orthodox Christianity. It had never been a part of the true church. It had never been a part of sound doctrine. It had never been connected to the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the history of the church, going all the way back to the apostles.
Connected to Cults and false religion
Ecstatic speech, bizarre language had been, through the ages, connected to cults, false religions, like the Oracle at Delphi, even in a more modern time, Mormonism. There has been ecstatic speech associated with demons, demonic behavior, some forms of paganism, but never in Christianity. But, now, starting early on in the 1900s, there was the booming Pentecostal church, which eventually became the Charismatic church. And they were advocates of the fact that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a repeatable event, and if it really happens, you’ll speak in this non-language.
A repeatable event?
And they were advocates of the fact that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a repeatable event, and if it really happens, you’ll speak in this non-language.
That has forced us to come back to this passage and to have to explain something that is patently not here. It’s not here, and you can’t really import it.
Speaking in languages
They began to speak languages – with other languages. Were they real languages? Go down to verse 8. The people are amazed in verse 7, because the believers, many of whom came from Galilee, are speaking these languages. “And how is it” – verse 8 – “that we each hear in our own language to which we were born. Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judaea, and Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans, and Arabs, we hear them in our own languages, speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”
And they all continue with amazement. This is shocking.
Now, the Jews have learned to speak those languages because they live in those places, but this is what’s so shocking about it. Never have they heard praise to God in a Gentile language, never, because when they went to the synagogue, all their services were conducted in what? In Hebrew or in Aramaic, which is a variant of Hebrew.
This would be some kind of bizarre experience because they believed that Hebrew was God’s language, and now they are, for the first time, hearing the wonderful works of God. What does that mean? Everything from creation right through the Old Testament. They’re hearing God’s attributes and God’s works rehearsed to them by these Galileans, by these Jewish believers in Gentile languages. Never have they expressed praise to God. Never have they recited the Old Testament in any other language than its own language. This is shocking, absolutely shocking.
This is a sign, and a very important sign. The question is: what is it a sign of? Clearly, something is happening that is very, very significant.
This is a phenomenon that had its moment, and it went on for a little while.
Pentecost comes early in the ‘30s after Christ’s death, just a few weeks after that. So maybe it’s 30 AD if you calculate the calendar. 55 Ad, 25 years later, it’s still around. This gift is still being exercised by some believers, because it’s mentioned in the book of 1 Corinthians, and 1 Corinthians is written about 55 AD.
But after that, never hear about it, never hear about it in any other book of the New Testament – never, all the way into the ‘90s when John writes the final New Testament books.
Corrupted by the Corinthians
It had a short life. We could say it had a life of about 25 years. It was corrupted by the Corinthians, and if you read 1 Corinthians 12:13-14, you see Paul trying to regulate this thing. The people who had this ability to speak in languages they didn’t know were perhaps using it in a proud way, perhaps flaunting it, because, after all, it was miraculous.
There were other people in Corinth counterfeiting it and standing up and purporting to speak in another language – are you ready for this – and cursing Jesus Christ unwittingly, perhaps under a demonic influence. So Paul has to write to the Corinthians to regulate this, and he does that in those chapters, because it’s still in operation in those early years.
But 1 Corinthians 13:8 says, “Whether there be languages or the gift of languages, they will cease.”
Why are they talking in all these languages?
Why are they talking in all these languages? What’s the point of this? And to answer that, a very compelling question. I want you to turn to 1 Corinthians 14 – 1 Corinthians 14.
…the apostle Paul says, “You need to grow up in thinking.” There’s a good principle. You need to be mature. You need to think carefully. And look at Verse 21 (1 Cor 14:21), “In the law, it is written” – “the law” referring to the Old Testament.
Here’s what’s written in the law, “By men of strange languages, and by the lips of strangers, I will speak to this people, and even so, they will not listen to me,” says the Lord.
So then languages are for a sign, not to those who believe – it’s pretty clear, isn’t it – but to unbelievers.
Speaking to them in a language they cannot understand
The purpose of this sign is to say something to unbelievers. We know exactly what it’s intended to say, because in verse 21, there’s a quote from Isaiah 28.
…Isaiah is preaching judgment in the first half of his great prophecy – judgment on Israel for its apostasy and defection and unfaithfulness to God. And in chapter 28 (verse 1), there’s a very, very dramatic and vivid prophecy of judgment.
Now, let me give you the context. This is set in the latter years of King Hezekiah – King Hezekiah of Judah, southern kingdom. This is set in a period around 705 to 701 BC. Remember, in 722 BC, the Assyrians had invaded the northern kingdom of Israel and wiped it out and taken all the people captive. That’s 722.
…They sneer at him (Isaiah). They call his teachings simple and childish.
And then Isaiah responds in Verse 11.“Indeed, referring to God, He will speak to this people through stammering lips and a foreign language.”
784 years before Paul
It happened. This prophecy – let’s put it in 705 – was fulfilled finally in 586, about 20 years later, when the Assyrians came or Babylonians.
They came in with a foreign language.
This is 784 years before Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Because of their unbelief, because of their apostasy, God, who spoke to them through the prophets, who spoke to them through the faithful prophets, like Jeremiah and Isaiah and others, and warned them and warned them and warned them and warned them, and spoke to them always in language they understood, God when His mercy and His patience is exhausted, will then begin speaking to them in a language they cannot understand. And that signaled the arrival of the Babylonians.
Moses warned. Isaiah warned. Jeremiah warned
Moses, in Deuteronomy 28, verse 49 said that when that invasion comes, they will come upon you speaking a foreign language.
Jeremiah also warning Israel says in chapter 5, verse 15, “Behold, this is the word of the Lord. Behold, oh house of Israel,” – says God – “I am bringing a nation against you from afar. It is an enduring nation. It is an ancient nation, a nation whose language you do not know, nor can you understand what they say.”
Again, Moses warned of this, looking way ahead. Isaiah said it would come. Jeremiah says it would come.
And it came in the form of the Babylonian hoards who came in and massacred the people of the southern kingdom of Judah, destroyed the temple, destroyed Jerusalem and hauled people off captive.
What did Israel learn, then, about a language they don’t understand? That this is a sign of judgment.
…a judicial sign from God that judgment is coming because of unrighteousness, because of sin, because of unbelief, because of apostasy.
Israel is at this point set aside
What did it mean on the day of Pentecost when all of a sudden all these believers were taking the place of a prophet and starting to speak in Gentile languages?
…Israel is at this point set aside, and the church is born to take her place…It is a judgment on this people – verse 21 – this people, meaning God’s people, the same people to whom Isaiah spoke.
That’s why Paul, in Romans 11, says, “The fall of them, the fall of Israel is the riches of the world.”
The apostles warned
The apostles warned, and the apostles warned, and the Holy Spirit gave some the gift that would continue to be a warning, and in 70 AD, the judgment came. Jesus predicted it. Luke 13:35, “Your house will be desolate.” In the Olivet discourse, this city, this nation will be destroyed.
When you talk about the languages on the day of Pentecost, to somehow convert that into some kind of self-edifying gibberish is alien to everything here – everything.
And whatever this gift was, in the book of Acts, it is the same in 1 Corinthians.
Sadly, the prophecy, and back to 1 Corinthians 14, “I will speak in strange tongues to this people” – and it all started on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem – “even so, they will not listen to me. That sounds like an echo of Isaiah. That sounds like an echo of Jeremiah. That sounds like an echo of Moses.
The principle, then, is clear. Languages were used in the Old Testament for a sign of judgment. And they’re used in the New Testament for a sign of judgment. In each case, judgment on Israel for their apostasy which reached its apex when they cried for the blood of their Messiah. Can’t get more apostatized than that.