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Pentecost—that wonderful day recorded in the second chapter of Acts—is associated with various ideas in the minds of different people. Some will say it is about a personal experience with the Holy Spirit, some will identify it with joy and spiritual elation, others will describe it as an infilling of God’s presence. Yet others will talk about empowerment, and others will be mindful of the “speaking in tongues” that took place on that day. Every one of these is a valid association, but there is a profound purpose, a primary purpose I believe, that is not really captured in any of those words or phrases.

If a Spirit-filled believer can only quote one verse from that wonderful chapter, it is probably verse four, which reads: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” As wonderful as that passage is, is what is described in that verse really the main purpose of Pentecost? We could also ask, “Was their speaking in tongues—in this particular situation—an end in itself, or was it a means to an end? I believe we have strong scriptural indication that their speaking in tongues was a means to an end, and not an end in itself. If we continue reading, I think we begin to see the “end,” or what we might call the purpose of Pentecost.

At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers. They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” (Acts 2:5-11, NLT).

Certainly something very supernatural occurred and those who had been filled with the Holy Spirit spoke in other tongues. What I think we’ve sometimes missed, however, is that this was not something being done for the benefit or the “spiritual exhilaration” of those doing the speaking, but for the benefit of those who were hearing! Three times we read, and this is certainly Luke’s emphasis, that these unreached people were being reached because the gospel message was being presented in their own language.

There is another dimension of tongues that Paul referred to in 1 Corinthians 14—an expression that is for the benefit of the private individual. Consider these thoughts about the private or personal dimension of tongues:

  • For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries (14:2).
  • He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself (14:4).
  • For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding (14:14-15).
  • I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue (14:18-19).

What happened on the day of Pentecost was from the same Holy Spirit, but it was different than what Paul referred to in those verses in 1 Corinthians 14. What happened on Pentecost was a supernatural, spontaneous, instantaneous, hyper-condensed, industrial strength version—a microcosm, if you will—of God’s master plan that was to be carried out all throughout the church age.

What is that master plan? Jesus had just laid it out to the disciples before His ascension: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8, NKJV).

Copyright © Tony Cooke Ministries
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Author Biography

Tony Cooke
Web site: Tony Cooke Ministries
Since 2002, Tony and Lisa have traveled full-time with an assignment of “Strengthening Churches and Leaders.” Tony’s passion for teaching the Bible has taken him to forty-six states and twenty-six nations. Tony, and Lisa reside in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and are the parents of two adult children, Laura and Andrew.

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