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The Great Outpouring: Acts 2 and its Relation to Mount Sinai

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(Ruach HaKodesh, Session 6)

 

This session of the Ruach HaKodesh series offers an in-depth look at Acts 2 from a Messianic perspective. We will see how the giving of the Spirit parallels the giving of the Torah, and how this was meant to empower Yeshua’s disciples for a very specific task. The session concludes with a challenge to prioritize our spiritual lives around this task.

The following is a condensed version of the audio teaching, including all the references and sources cited. You can also subscribe to this podcast here.

 

Introduction

In Exodus 4:10, Moses objects to God’s mission for him by complaining that he is “slow of speech and of tongue.” Yet later in the Torah, Moses is the one doing all the talking! What made the difference? I suggest that it was Mount Sinai. Moses had a Shavuot experience that changed his life.

Compare this with Peter in Matthew 26. We see him cowering in fear and unable to bear witness of Yeshua to even a slave girl. Yet in Acts 2 he delivers a dynamic sermon that causes thousands to accept Yeshua. What changed? Again, I would suggest that the difference was a Shavuot experience.

In our discussion up to now on the Holy Spirit in the Tanakh and in the Gospels, we have been building up to a sort of climax. The expectation has been mounting. Luke 24:46-49 and Acts 1:4-8 set the stage for what takes place next.

 

The Outpouring

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel…” (Acts 2:1–16)

The outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2 took place on the day of Pentecost. “Pentecost” is the Greek name for the Biblical festival of Shavuot (Weeks). Notice that the disciples are keeping the Biblical feasts.

The story in Acts 2 depicts the early disciples of Yeshua still engaged in the biblical calendar, keeping the LORD’s appointed times as prescribed by the Torah of Moses. Unlike later Christian tradition which discarded the biblical calendar with its weekly Sabbaths and holy days, the early disciples remained steadfastly Torah observant, even after the resurrection of our Master.[1]D. T. Lancaster, Torah Club Vol 6, p. 30.

Christian tradition holds that the outpouring of the Spirit took place in the upper room, since that is where the disciples were located in Acts 1:13. I would like to suggest, however, that Acts 2 took place in the Temple. The following are some reasons why:

  1. The Greek word for “house” in Acts 2:2 (οἶκος, oikos) can also mean “Temple.”
  2. This was Shavuot, a day when everyone went up to the Temple. If the disciples were keeping Shavuot, they would be in the Temple.
  3. Luke 24:52 states that the disciples “were continually in the Temple blessing God.” If they were in the Temple on regular days, how much more so on a festival.
  4. It was the third hour, a time of prayer. According to Acts 3:1, the disciples went to the Temple for the daily times of prayer.
  5. Multitudes of Jewish people from all over the world heard Peter’s sermon. I don’t think the upper room was that big.
  6. 3,000 people received the message and were immersed; the Temple is the only place in Jerusalem that could have accommodated so many immersions.
  7. After Acts 2, the believers continued to meet daily in the Temple (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:42; cf. 6:7).

We learn that one of the favourite places for the early believers to meet was in Solomon’s portico, the eastern portion of the Temple mount next to the Kidron valley. We might connect this to the prophecy of God’s glory returning through the eastern gate (Ezekiel 43:1ff.). The disciples knew Yeshua would come back on the Mount of Olives, and that gate is the one closest to that. While we cannot be dogmatic about the issue, it would make sense if this is where the outpouring took place.

 

The Mount Sinai Connection

There was something else, according to tradition, that took place on the day of the year almost 1500 years earlier: The giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Exodus 19 describes the event:

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. (Exodus 19:16–20)

This would have been quite an awesome and fearful experience. In fact, we read about the reaction of the people in chapter 20:

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off. (Exodus 20:18)

Note the Hebrew words used in this verse: וְכָל־הָעָם רֹאִים אֶת־הַקּוֹלֹת וְאֶת־הַלַּפִּידִם. Literally, “The people saw the voices (thunders) and the torches (lightning).” While this is obviously a hyper-literal reading, it nonetheless spawned several amazing legends in later rabbinic literature. For example, the Midrash Rabbah says:

The Torah says, “And all the people saw the voices.” [Exodus 20:18] Note that it does not say “the voice,” but “the voices;” wherefore Rabbi Yochanan said that God’s voice, as it was uttered, split up into seventy voices, in seventy languages, so that all the nations should understand. (Shemot Rabbah 5:9)

According to the Babylonian Talmud:

Rabbi Yochanan said: “What is meant by the verse, ‘The LORD announced the word, and great was the company of those who proclaimed it’? [Psalm 68:12] – Every single word that went forth from the Omnipotent was split up into seventy languages.” The School of Rabbi Ishmael taught the meaning of the verse: “And like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.” [Jeremiah 23:29] Just as a hammer is divided into many sparks, so too every single word that went forth from the Holy One, blessed be He, split up into seventy languages. (b.Shabbat 88b)

Further in Song of Songs Rabbah:

The word went forth from the Holy One, blessed be He, to the right hand of Israel, and went around the camp of Israel, eighteen mil by eighteen mil … and the sound of it went from one end of the world to the other, as it says [in Psalm 29:7], “The voice of the LORD hews out flames of fire.” … the commandment itself went in turn to each of the Israelites and said to him, “Do you agree to observe me?” (Song of Songs Rabbah 1:13)

And in Midrash Chazit:

On the occasion of the giving of the Torah, the Children of Israel not only heard the LORD’s voice, but actually saw the sound waves as they emerged from the LORD’s mouth. They visualized them as a fiery substance. Each commandment that left the LORD’s mouth traveled around the entire camp and then came back to every Jew individually.[2]Moshe Weismann: The Midrash Says. 1995. Shemos 182 citing Midrash Chazit. Other descriptions in rabbinic literature include Midrash Tanchuma 25, ...continue

These legends sound remarkably similar to what took place in Acts 2. There are, however, two disclaimers that we need to make about the above rabbinic quotations.

  1. First of all, these rabbinic writings are from centuries after the time of Yeshua and the apostles. While we might suggest that the apostles knew some primitive form of these legends, the above quotations are much later and must be taken with a grain of salt.
  2. Secondly, I am not suggesting that these rabbinic descriptions are literally true in their entirety. These are fanciful (and even mystical) musings on the Mount Sinai experience. Did it actually happen that way at Mt. Sinai? Probably not.

But the point is that there is a correlation here that I think is too amazing to dismiss. I think the experience in Acts 2 reminded all present of what happened on Mount Sinai. The giving of the Spirit and the giving of the Torah are two events that are intrinsically linked. What took place in Acts 2 was a very “Shavuotish” experience.

 

Torah and Spirit

Recall how Mount Sinai was an unparalleled event in human history. God spoke the ten commandments in the hearing of all the people. Never before nor since has an entire nation heard the audible voice of God at once. It was not a dream, a vision, an “inner vibe”, or an impression. It was a real experience. They literally heard and saw and felt God’s voice.

Recall also that this event could be viewed as an instance of national prophecy. Hearing God’s audible voice is a form of prophecy.[3]See notes on the giving of the Torah in session 4b. If we are to take the above legends as having any popular currency, then in the popular Jewish conception, not only was every Israelite experiencing prophecy, but they were experiencing prophecy in the 70 languages of the world!

For the disciples in Acts 2, it is as though they are receiving the Torah again. Only this time, instead of the Torah going forth from Mount Sinai, it is going forth from Zion. This is what was prophesied by Isaiah: “For out of Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:3)

This connects God’s Torah with His Spirit. Much of Christianity, especially in Dispensationalism, sees a sharp contrast between Law and Spirit. But on the contrary, Acts 2 demonstrates a continuity between the Torah and God’s Spirit.

God’s Word and God’s Spirit go hand in hand.[4]Compare Ephesians 5:26 with Colossians 3:16: the Holy Spirit dwelling in us is paralleled with His Word dwelling in us. According to Jeremiah 31:33, the New Covenant will consist of God putting His Torah within his people, writing it on their hearts. Ezekiel 36:27 states, “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

According to these prophets [Jeremiah and Ezekiel], God gives the Holy Spirit in order to place his Torah within the believer’s heart. It follows that the Spirit within the disciple of Yeshua and the Torah of God must be in agreement. Both are from the same God, and God is one. The Spirit and the Torah cannot be separated from each other.

…the work of the Spirit is fundamental to Messianic Judaism. If the Torah is important to Messianic Judaism, so is the Holy Spirit. We should not try to separate the two. They are married together.[5]Boaz Michael, “Let’s Get Pentecostal,” in Gifts of the Spirit (FFOZ, 2013), p. 13.

 

Speaking of Tongues…

Acts 2:3 says that “tongues as of fire” rested on them. This symbolizes the empowerment of the disciples’ tongues. Immediately they began to speak in “other tongues,” that is, other languages. Not that there is a play on words here: A “tongue of fire” simply means a flame. But “tongue” can also refer to one’s ability to speak, as well as foreign languages. So here we have tongues of fire empowering the disciples’ tongues to speak in other tongues.

While most believers know this phenomenon in English as the gift of tongues, we could just as easily translate it as the “gift of languages”. The word “tongue” in both Hebrew (lashon) and Greek (glossa) is a common word for “language”. In Acts 2 the gift clearly functioned as a supernatural ability to speak foreign languages. We will discuss the gift of tongues/languages in a future session in detail, but for now I want to focus on the significance this gift played in our passage.

What was the significance of the disciples suddenly supernaturally speaking foreign languages fluently? It was a sign of the ingathering of all nations. It was a sign of the message of repentance and the impending return of Israel’s King going out to the ends of the earth. Note, however, that we have no record of the gift of tongues ever being used (by the apostles or any of the early believers) in actual missionary activity. The gift seems to have been symbolic rather than functional. It was a sign of the assurance of God’s empowerment in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. The central purpose of the outpouring in Acts 2 was to take the Gospel to every tongue and tribe and nation.

Keep in mind that the Holy Spirit falls upon someone to empower them to do something, for a specific task. We saw this throughout the Tanakh in session 4. We often see a phrase similar to, “The Spirit fell upon so-and-so, and he did such-and-such.” In that line of thinking, what is the reason for the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts and upon us as believers? What is our task?

The main purpose is the ingathering of the nations. That is the primary purpose for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Yes, He also empowers us to live a life of holiness, to walk in discipleship to Yeshua, to follow Torah, etc. But the primary purpose of the great outpouring of Acts 2 and following was to empower the followers of Yeshua in the Great Commission (cf. Acts 1:8). Just as Moses was a new man after Mt. Sinai (suddenly supernaturally empowered to do the task God had given him), so the disciples were new men after the outpouring in Acts 2.

 

The Final Ingathering

As we have already studied, throughout the Scriptures we have this expectation of a monumental outpouring of God’s Spirit in the end times. There is also an expectation of the nations being converted to serve the God of Israel. Isaiah 2 is one example:

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:2–4)

Another example of that expectation is Psalm 117:

Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD! (Psalms 117:1–2)

Perhaps we tend to miss the impact of these passage in our modern multicultural world. To us the idea of all nations praising God seems like old hat, but understand what it was like for the Psalmist who wrote this. This was a time when the all the nations out there were pagan and idolatry was the norm. The true God of the universe was considered just an obscure Hebrew national deity. The notion that one day all nations would serve and worship the God of Israel was huge!

Psalm 117 teaches us two things:

  1. The God of Israel is the only true God, and worthy of being worshipped by all nations.
  2. God fulfills His promises to Israel with the end result that all nations will serve and worship Him (not so that the other nations languish watching Israel be blessed).

This demonstrates the unthinkable, incredible plan of God that one day all nations will serve and worship and Israel’s God. This end time turning of the nations to acknowledge the God of Israel happens, it turns out, through the agency of a specialized unit of men and women who have been empowered for that task of ingathering. All disciples of Yeshua are given a mandate to go and make disciples of Yeshua. Of course, we all have different roles in this mandate, but we are all involved somehow.

 

The Great Commission

Yeshua says in Matthew 28:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20)

This text, and its parallels in the other Gospels, is what is known as the Great Commission. Notice that,

  • We are not to make disciples of ourselves, but of Yeshua
  • We are also to teach them His commandments. That’s Torah.
  • We in the Messianic Torah movement are uniquely positioned to fulfill this task. It’s our duty.

It is important to see the intrinsic connection between the Great Commission and the Great Outpouring. One is the answer to the other. The disciples were not to go out and start making disciples until they had received this empowerment. They could not do this in their own strength or on their own behalf. That is why Yeshua begins with the words, “All authority has been given to me… Therefore, go!” It is His authority and empowerment that are the basis of the Great Commission.

The Spirit was the mantle of Messiah. It is the Spirit that rested on Yeshua that was subsequently placed on His disciples in Acts 2. They were to carry on the work of Messiah and allow Messiah to work through them. That is why Yeshua said it is better for Him to go so that the Holy Spirit can come (John 16:7). This unleashed the dynamic power of multiplication.

 

Conclusion

God poured out His Spirit upon the Body of Messiah in Acts 2 for a reason. He was empowering them to fulfill a specific task, the task of making disciples. All subsequent outpourings up to this day fall under that task. This is the mandate given to the disciples until His return: to be witnesses, to make disciples, and to share the message of His Kingship and His immanent return. He both gives us the mandate and empowers us to fulfill it.

The more that we as a Body distance ourselves from that mandate, the less practical need we have for the Spirit, and the less we should expect Him to be evident in our midst. It doesn’t make any sense when people want to have an experience with the Holy Spirit but they have no interest in missions, evangelism, or discipleship. The Spirit doesn’t show up for no reason. He empowers us to further God’s Kingdom. Why should we expect the Spirit when we aren’t interested in that task?

Similarly, our personal connection with the Holy Spirit is always for a purpose. We should not expect to have a dynamic experience with the Spirit if we are not willing to give our lives over to God’s service. God doesn’t waste His Spirit. Every encounter we have with Him is for a purpose: to equip us for a divine task. Asking to be filled with the Holy Spirit is essentially asking for a task, and willing to be at God’s disposal for that task. We need to surrender ourselves completely to Him and desire that He spend us for His glory.

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References   [ + ]

1. D. T. Lancaster, Torah Club Vol 6, p. 30.
2. Moshe Weismann: The Midrash Says. 1995. Shemos 182 citing Midrash Chazit. Other descriptions in rabbinic literature include Midrash Tanchuma 25, which describes the confusion of the people upon hearing God’s voice come from every direction. There is also a tradition that Moses spoke his farewell sermon, the book of Deuteronomy, in seventy tongues (Midrash Tanchuma, Devarim 2). The Mishnah (m.Sotah 7:5) also mentions the Torah being written in seventy languages.
3. See notes on the giving of the Torah in session 4b.
4. Compare Ephesians 5:26 with Colossians 3:16: the Holy Spirit dwelling in us is paralleled with His Word dwelling in us.
5. Boaz Michael, “Let’s Get Pentecostal,” in Gifts of the Spirit (FFOZ, 2013), p. 13.


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