How Pentecost Reversed the Tower of Babel: The True Point of Acts 2:1-13
Jesus’ last words outlined his strategy for the generations of churches that would follow. In the Great Commission, He establishes authority over all things—and by that authority He says to ‘Go and make disciples.’ He called the apostles to be witnesses from their neighbors to the nations! And with all this, how would they accomplish this? Empowered and fueled by the Holy Spirit of Christ.
Those of you who have driven and suddenly run out of gas understand how important fuel is to any vehicle. It doesn’t matter if you have a moped or a $150,000 Lambourghini, if you run out of fuel, little matters how sweet the design of the car or the engine is—you’re not going anywhere. That car turns into an overweight, beautifully designed paperweight.
Fuel makes the engine go. The Father sent the Holy Spirit as a promise to the church to make it ‘go’ and make disciples. As we will see, the Holy Spirit fuels by the power of the gospel and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
[2:1] 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.” (Acts 2:1-13 ESV)
See how the Holy Spirit fuels by fulfilling God’s plans from of old
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 (Acts 2:1-4).
For ten days, the disciples and followers of Jesus (120 in total) sat in the upper room in Jerusalem in one accord, staying continuously in prayer. While they were not sure of what this “promise of the Father” would look like, they did know that they needed to fulfill Christ’s demand and desire for there to be 12 apostles, not eleven. Jesus chose one to take Judas Iscariot’s place by the name of Matthias.
Now Pentecost had arrived! Luke is always thorough in giving the reader milemarkers to help them track the timeline. Jesus stayed with the disciples for 40 days. When is Pentecost in relation to this? And is there any importance to why God chose Pentecost to send His Spirit down?
Turn with me to Leviticus 23:15-22.
You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present your grain offering of new grain to the LORD. You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made to two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leven, as firstfruits to the LORD. And you shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, and one bull from the herd and two rams. They shall be a burnt offering to the LORD, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. And you shall offer one male goal for a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of peace offerings. And the priests shall wave them with the bread of the first fruits as a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the LORD for the priest. And you shall make proclamation on the same day. You shall hold a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work. It is a statute forever in all your dwelling places throughout your generations. And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.
In the Old Testament Feast of Weeks would soon be known in NT times as Pentecost, a derivative of the word ‘fifty.’ So God instructed the people of Israel to could seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath—seven weeks from the beginning of their year, which marked the Passover when God delivered His people from Egypt, and spared them from the sentencing of the angel of death that destroyed the firstborn of all Egypt—not even sparing Pharaoh’s son. God’s people were spared by the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their dwellings.
This second harvest festival was set aside to recognize and remember the LORD as the provider of all the harvest that God brought in by His power—and as such to bring back to him the firstfruits of that crop. How does God make this happen? Just go back to Genesis 1 and the pattern of “And God said … and it was so… and it was good.” He created all things by the word of his mouth.
How does this connect? As God would use His people to bring in the harvest of crops, He would use His people here in Acts to bring in a grand harvest—not of crops, but of souls—by the Word of His mouth. More on this later.
How Would the Harvest Be Brought In?
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Luke tells of an event that happened “suddenly”: “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” (Acts 2:2-4).
Rushing wind? Tongues of fire? Speaking in other tongues? In some ways, it sounds like a trailer for a scary movie. And to be honest, it may have been scary a bit—this was certainly outside the norm of usual activity.
Yet we are seeing that God would operate like this in order to bring about a revelation from him—using these times to reveal something extraordinary about His nature. Consider in Ezekiel 1 when the prophet Ezekiel was approached by the living God, who was getting ready to show him in the wonders of heaven. In verse 4, Ezekiel says, “As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal.”
More recognizable to some of you in Job 38 when, after Job and his three friends spent a considerable amount of time pontificating about God and why Job was suffering such calamity, verse 1 says, “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind.”
What about these tongues of fire? Great confusion exists. Churches have split and been created over this issue. Friendships have formed and been broken over this issue. What are these tongues? Do they still exist, or are they truly still in place? Is it un-Baptistic to believe it? Are they simply a heavenly language, or is it something more?
The issues I’ve raised are not new. Even the apostle Paul dealt with them in 1 Corinthians 14, which we will deal with more tonight. But for now, let’s take a look at 1 Corinthians 14:1-6:
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up (1 Cor 14:1-6).
Verses 4 and 6 make it clear what the purpose of speaking is in the church: to build up the church—that is, to build up Christians! He says this again in verse 12, 17, and 26.
So as we return to Acts 2, what’s the significance of tongues here? Fire in the OT was meant to purify, but also signified the presence of God—as did the fire by night when God led His people in the wilderness. But remember in Isaiah 6 this passage:
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:5-7).
Isaiah had seen the thrice-holy God whose glory filled the earth and whose hem of the robe filled the entire Temple. Isaiah recognized his sin and his shortcomings, and expressed it. He could tell he was doomed because he recognized the condition of his heart (“lost”) but also that his condition came out in his actions (“I am a man of unclean lips”). The seraphim took the coal from the altar of sacrifices and touched his mouth.
Fire purifies, but also shows the presence of God. Isaiah began to preach. And soon, the disciples would begin to preach. For, dear friends, in preaching the Word of God is bringing in the presence of God. The tongues as of fire landed on them, which represented the presence and purity of God and the message He would have them to preach.
So these tongues show that God is present and ready to bring in the harvest of Pentecost to build up the church with tongues of languages already established and existing on earth.
It must be asked, how did all of these languages come about? To answer this question, we must return all the way back to Genesis 11. In this chapter, we see a monumental turn in history.
[11:1] Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.  And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.  And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.  Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”  And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.  And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”  So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.  Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:1-9 ESV)
Do you see what is happening? Look again at Acts 2:5-13:
 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.”
The parallels are striking:
First, all the world came into one place for a specific reason;
God came down in both instances (Acts 2:2-3).
The reversals are just as striking: The peoples of the earth came to Babel with one language; the peoples in Israel during Pentecost heard the gospel with one language.
Everyone left the Tower of Babel not being able to “understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:7); but they left the Temple understanding the disciple’s speech;
The Lord dispersed those in Shinar in confusion, but dispersed those at Babel with a unified message to their own peoples.
They sought to build their own building, but only Jesus can built a true building, “not built with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).
Dear friends, please understand the role of not only the tongues mentioned in Acts 2, but also of the feasts, the Tower of Babel and everything else God revealed in the Old Testament: God aims to present Christ clearly, and thus this should be our aim as well. Sure, there may be the hard work of seeing why God decided to include the feasts, dietary laws, and many of the other civil rituals and laws in the OT. But they all foreshadowed one who would ultimately fulfill the purpose of these things. God through Christ is moving things back to the way He began it all.