Acts 2 records not only the fulfilment of a divine promise, as was noted in the previous article, but was also
The commencement of a new era
It is a period which is characterised by the residence of the Spirit of God in the Church on earth, as well as being characterised by the presence of Christ sitting at the right hand of God in heaven (see Acts 2.30,34). The Church is now a habitation of God by His Spirit (Eph 2.22). The whole era is peculiar in this respect, that it is characterised by the presence of the Holy Spirit on earth. This did not obtain in Old Testament times. Then the Spirit wrought from heaven upon men on earth: then His visits were temporary. Now the Spirit of God has changed His headquarters and He works on earth, in the Church, and His stay will be as long as the Church is on earth. The Lord Jesus, in the upper room discourse recorded in John 14-16, foreshadows these times. His mission is, in principle, the same as that of Abrahams servant recorded in Genesis 24, namely, to call out a bride for His Son. That bride was "called out" from her erstwhile surroundings, and was led through a wilderness to her future place of residence - the Fathers house (see Gen 24). Moreover, forms and ceremonies, times and seasons, are now effete and out of date. The intelligent Christian does not observe these. "We worship by the Spirit of God" (Phil 3.3, RV).
But it must be borne in mind that the operation of the Spirit in the believer and in the saints when gathered together should not be associated with mere mental "excitement". Many times the believer is exhorted to "be sober" and a careful perusal of 1 Corinthians 14 will reveal that, while the apostle has much to say about the "understanding", he has nothing whatever to say in that chapter about being "led by the Spirit". Not that in Church exercises the leading of the Spirit should be absent, but it should merely be the action in the Church of what is the normal characteristic of the believers life. The presence of the Spirit of God in the Church does not give liberty to act just as one will under the pressure of mental excitement. It will observe the injunctions and prohibitions of the Scripture, such as that of 1 Corinthians 14.34 which in modern times has been notably spurned and disobeyed. 2 Corinthians 3.17 does not imply that where the Spirit of God is there is liberty of unrestrained action. The context forbids such an interpretation. It has to do with freedom from the Mosaic Law. And while it is freely admitted that we are not to "quench the Spirit" we must not forget that we are to "prove (test) all things", which is written in the same context (1 Thess 5.19-21), and should anything take place in the Church which has the appearance of disconformity with what is written we must "abstain" from it (1 Thess 5.22). The writer of this article supposes that he is crystal clear as to the rights of the Holy Spirit in the gathered Church, nor would he wish in the slightest to underestimate their importance. But he fears that in some quarters where these "rights" have been ignored or things have been superimposed upon them the result has been that very thing envisaged by Paul and people have said, "Ye are mad" (1 Cor 14.23), thus bringing dishonour on the name of the Lord and contempt for His people.
But, thirdly, the events of the day of Pentecost were
The confirmation of a fresh message
Thoughtful people might have said in the very early days of Christianity, "Judaism was given by God through Moses and was confirmed by miracles: it is alleged that Christianity has been given by God through Jesus and by His apostles: where are the signs or miracles?". The answer is given in the events of the day of Pentecost when in the grace of God the judgment of the days of Babel of old when tongues were confused was reversed and God in mercy caused the message of mercy to go out to people in many tongues. That they were known languages is indisputably clear from Acts 2.8, and it is the writers firm belief that the "tongues" of 1 Corinthians 14 were of a like kind. For whatever may be said as to what is implied, it is certain that the word "unknown", which is italicised in our version, is not in the Greek.
Four things may be said of these early sign gifts. Two of these are below and the other two will appear in the next article.
They were confirmatory of a new message
This is the meaning of Mark 16.20, for the "signs following" there are not converts as the result of gospel preaching, but the signs of the preceding verses, 17 and 18. We know from the book of Acts that they did follow. Witness Acts 3 and Acts 12, et al. But do they exist now? Let anyone give indisputable evidence that the gift of tongues has been used to such an extent that the church has been edified, which in 1 Corinthians 14 is five times emphasised as a necessary criterion for their recognition. Even Paul did not take up a serpent. One leapt on to his hand without hurt. Go to a third world country and drink its brackish waters, and see what will happen. However spiritual the person may be, however zealous in the Lords work, he will run the grave risk of typhoid and worse. Hence common sense tells them there that they must boil the water for ten minutes and even so thereafter filter it. Go to any alleged healing campaign, or go to Lourdes if you will, and see for yourself what transpires and compare the alleged temporary cures under the stress of mental excitement and hope with the permanent and instantaneous cures soberly recorded in the Scripture. The writer is well aware as to the uncertainty of the closing verses of Mark 16 but they "ring true" and are accepted by many authorities. But even without these we may not yield our point, for Hebrews 2.3-4 teaches the same thing. It is not necessary repeatedly to confirm the validity of a message. Once done it may be presumed finally and for ever to have been established. If the validity of a patent is called in question, it has but to be proven to be valid in a court of law for the patent to be operative for the rest of its life without challenge. Once it has been proven to be valid that is the end of all dispute. So, too, with the Christian message. The early signs foreshadowed in Mark 16, affirmed in Hebrews 2, and recorded in Acts and 1 Corinthians 14 have served their confirmatory purpose. Their need to continue does not exist.
They were condemnatory of an unbelieving people
Read 1 Corinthians 14.21 and compare it with Isaiah 28.11-12, and Deuteronomy 28.49. A perusal of these verses will show that when Israel was in captivity they were spoken to by men of a foreign tongue, and it was a forceful reminder that their nation was under divine judgment. So in the early Christian days, Israel had rejected and murdered their Messiah, and since they had rejected Him and later the Holy Spirit (in the person of Stephen) God allowed these signs to remind them that they now were under a divine judgment far greater and of longer duration than that of Babylon. The parallel was too clear to be overlooked. In both instances the nation was guilty, one of rejecting His word and messengers, the other of rejecting and murdering their Messiah. Then in Isaiahs day the nation was disowned of God, and now at Pentecost and thereafter the nation was disowned and set aside by God. "Save yourselves from this untoward generation", was the message to them (Acts 2.40). Away in Babylon their oppressors addressed them in foreign tongues: now at Pentecost and after God, in grace firstly, and then in judgment, addressed them likewise, in tongues that they understood not. (Though in Acts 2 before the final setting aside of the people, they understood that which was spoken.)
To be continued.