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What Meaneth This? A Question for 21st Century Pentecostalism


Third, fifty days later the natural world again accompanied a divine purpose as the Holy Spirit arrived “with the sound of a mighty rushing wind” and “tongues of fire” were visible upon one hundred and twenty heads (Acts 2:2, 3).

When asked, “What meaneth this?” the apostle Peter turned to a text bearing witness to both the Holy Spirit and a natural calamity: the prophecy in Joel 2:28-32.

It seems to me that we need to return to Peter’s use of the Joel prophecy to seek afresh an answer to the “meaning” question of Pentecostalism for our generation.

First, Peter knew the context of Joel’s prophecy: a 9th century agricultural crisis brought on by a massive invasion of locusts. In our technology driven world we struggle to comprehend the calamity of this invasion. Joel understood it as “the day of the Lord,” Yahweh’s judgment upon a covenant-breaking people. It meant a future without grain and wine, essential not only to everyday life but to Israel’s worship.

Second, the calamity was seen as the divine initial to restore covenant faithfulness on the part of the covenant breakers. This restoration began with repentance which led to the promise that Peter cites in his Pentecost sermon.

Peter’s use of Joel 2 is sandwiched between two questions. The sermon begins in reply to the query, “What meaneth this?’ It concludes with the hearers cut to the heart and asking, “What shall we do?”

These two questions frame our need as Pentecostal Christians to live in such a demonstrable way that people ask, “What does this mean?” It means living in such a fashion that people recognize the legitimacy of our claims and by Holy Spirit conviction cry out, “What shall we do?”

But it means our answer to the original question must have meaningful content. Peter defined Pentecost by appealing to the four major theological themes expressed in the Joel passage.

First, in Acts 2:17 Peter introduced the “last days.” He understood an eschatological urgency, rooted in Joel’s “day of the Lord,” and mentioned further in Acts 2:20 in reference to “the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.”

Second, Peter emphasized the freshly heard languages and experienced power of the Holy Spirit by recognizing the “pouring out” of the Spirit “on all flesh.” The Hebrew word “shaphak” (pour out; שפך) is also used in the sense of the wrath of God being poured out (e.g., Psalm 79:6; Ezekiel 7:8). While it took Peter time to process the implications of επί πάσαν σάρκα (“upon all flesh,” על־כל־בשר, and two-thousand years later we are still processing the implications), he recognized that something had occurred that morning that meant significant paradigm shifts. The wind-swept-river-of-God took them into a world larger than they had ever dreamed: A kingdom greater than historical Israel and the rise and fall of nations. Young and old are equal recipients of revelation. Men and women are both mouthpieces of God. Servants, low on the economic and social ladder, are swept upward in this Holy Spirit tsunami.

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Category: Living the Faith, Summer 2008

About the Author: A. Doug Beacham, Jr., D.Min. (Union Presbyterian Seminary), is the General Superintendent of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC Ministries). Twitter: @DougBeacham. LinkedIn. Facebook.

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