“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8). For some Christians, this text is all that defines Pentecost.
However, Pentecost was a fulfillment of numerous Old Testament prophecies. Hence, to properly understand the significance of Pentecost, one must begin with the Old Testament expectations of the future coming of the Spirit.
OLD TESTAMENT EXPECTATIONS OF PENTECOST
Beyond the prophet Joel’s expectation that the Spirit would be “poured out,” resulting in prophecy and dreams (quoted in Acts 2:16-21), other prophets also anticipated a day when the Spirit would be “poured out.”
- Isaiah expected that when “the Spirit is poured upon us from on high” there would be justice, righteousness, and peace (Isaiah 32:15-18, cf. 44:3-5).
- Through Ezekiel, God spoke of a future time of cleansing: “I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” This would be a time when people would have a new heart resulting in obedience to God (Ezek 36:25-27).
- Ezekiel anticipates a day when God will “pour out” the Spirit (39:29), the Spirit would enter people, and they would have new life (Ezek 37:1-14).
PENTECOST: FULFILLMENT OF EXPECTATIONS
On the day of Pentecost the Spirit is finally poured out and the Old Testament expectations of the Spirit begin to be fulfilled. As classical Pentecostal scholar Anthony Palma notes, “The events of the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) were the climax of God’s promises made centuries before about the institution of the new covenant and the inauguration of the Age of the Spirit.”
Even though Acts emphasizes the fulfillment of some Old Testament expectations regarding the outpouring of the Spirit, all of the Old Testament expectations began to be fulfilled at Pentecost. Hence, post-Pentecost, Paul affirms that now that “the promise of the Spirit” has come (Gal 3:14, similarly Acts 2:33), “the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6) as the Spirit writes “on tablets of human hearts” (v. 3). The new covenant through the Spirit fulfils Old Testament anticipations of the law being written on people’s hearts (Jer 31:31-34) and of the Spirit giving people a new heart, thereby enabling them to obey God (Ezek 36:26-27). Furthermore, as the Spirit enables people to love (1 Cor 13:1), they thereby fulfil the law (Rom 13:10).
READING ACTS IN LIGHT OF PAUL?
Is this understanding of Pentecost guilty of reading Acts in light of Paul’s letters? No. Rather, I understand the event of Pentecost as it is presented throughout the whole canon. Luke, the author of the book of Acts, contributes important pieces to our understanding of Pentecost, but Paul (and other New Testament authors) should also contribute to our understanding of Pentecost.
Explaining Pentecost only with an emphasis on Acts 1:8 inappropriately limits the outcome of Pentecost, since Pentecost was a fulfillment of numerous Old Testament expectations of the coming of the Spirit. The Old Testament prophets looked forward to an age when the Spirit would continue the (re)creative work of God, restore the covenant, and restore order, as the Spirit would give people a new heart and lead them to obedience to God. The New Testament affirms that as a result of Pentecost these expectations are now being fulfilled.
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 Anthony D. Palma, The Holy Spirit: A Pentecostal Perspective (Springfield, MO: Logion, 2001), 96.