There are times when something in scripture happens and you see the whole arc of God’s movement, from Genesis to Revelation.
This chapter is one of those occasions.
Cast your mind back to Genesis 11 and the Tower of Babel. It’s the last ancient story before we get to Abraham’s account. The editors who curated all the material in what we call the Old Testament arranged these ancient stories to explain why the world is as it is, and what God is doing about it. This last story explains the dispersion of peoples, and the reason behind global diversity and conflict among nations.
There was a time when humanity was unified, but their end goal was self-aggrandizement over and above God. We are experiencing today some of the global effects of human self-glorification apart from the Spirit of Christ. Developing nations end up being taken advantage of in awful ways, developed nations take what they can get. The earth is truly groaning under the burden of human wrongdoing, and wrong-being.
God’s long-range plan to bring health, life, peace, and joy back to the planet itself as well as humankind began with Abraham and is still in the stages of development today, with the resurrected Jesus at work through His beloved ones.
So, back to the Tower of Babel.
In the Tower of Babel story, unified humankind spoke one language and had one purpose: to build a human monument that would reach into heaven, uniting heaven and earth, God and humanity, and bringing human beings to the same level as God.
In truth, this is God’s plan as well.
But, just as God had prohibited the first human beings from eating from the Tree of Life, once they had chosen their course away from God’s guidance, so now, God would prohibit the completion of the Tower. The reason was the same. Humankind, in our current iteration, is in no condition to occupy the realm of God with God. Our inner beings are not made of the stuff of pure love and pure light, for since God is light, then we bring some darkness with us, and light always overcomes darkness. Until we have been changed, the full presence of God is no place for us. We simply wouldn’t survive it.
This is, in fact, the very truth God explained to Moses when he longed to see God. God said to Moses, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
Yet, this is not where God has left it, with us. God’s plan, all along, has been to dwell with His people, and for the Lord’s beloved ones to dwell with Him. That’s how it was in the Garden of Eden, the first story of us with God. And that’s how it will be in the Beautiful Garden described in the last chapters of Revelation. In between the first and last book, the Alpha and Omega of the Bible, is God methodically working towards that goal. You might even say humanity spiritually intuited God’s plan from the first, with a deep, visceral longing for Paradise, hence the plan to bake bricks and build a tower.
So, God called Abraham, and brought forth a nation through him. God settled His glory among His people, that He might live among them, and they might have the experience of being with Him. Then, God telescoped Himself into the tiny form of a baby, inside His mother, and came forth into the world to literally live among people, and people to live with Him, side by side, on the same level. See where we’re going? After His resurrection and ascension, Jesus sent His Spirit to live inside the people who receive Him. That’s an amazingly intimate experience of closeness with God. But, it is not the endgame.
No, the endgame is that we be made of the same stuff as pure love and pure light that we can be with God in God’s realm, a miracle no less astounding than God making Himself to be of our substance that God could be in our realm with us. The final stages of this plan are still under production, but it is coming.
And now we are at that moment when the Upper Room thundered and shook with the sheer power of God’s Spirit.
- Wind: In Hebrew and Greek, the languages of the apostles’ day, the word for “spirit” and the word for “wind” or “breath” were the same. The wind was a symbol of invisible power, just as Jesus had described to Nicodemus.
- Fire: The wind was for everyone, but the flames were personal:
- God’s purity: God the refiner’s fire that purifies all that comes in contact with Him.
- God’s presence: God’s Shekinah, the pillar of fire and cloud.
- God’s passion: As we even say today, “That person is really on fire!”
And as the Holy Spirit came upon those in the Upper Room, the Spirit of Christ, Messiah Jesus,
- Baptized: When Jesus was baptized the Holy Spirit appeared above Him, descending from heaven in the form of dove, resting above His head. Now, in this moment when tongues of flame came to rest on each person’s head, all these believers were baptized into the body of Christ.
- Filled: For all believers, this was and is the bringing to new life that Jesus speaks of, rebirth. The baptism of the Spirit happens at the moment a person receives the Lord Jesus by faith in Him. The fullness of the Spirit means that my body belongs to Christ, and I have become a part of the Body of Christ.
The baptism is once and for all, but fullness is repeated as you and I trust God for new power to serve Him and to witness, The baptism involves all believers in the sense that in that one-time event each new believer is added to the body of Christ. The filling of the Spirit is personal and individual.
And, after that first electrifying surge of power, the Spirit spoke through each one of those 120 gathered there, women and men.
The word translated “tongues” and “language” is “dialektos” in Greek, meaning the language or dialect of a country or district. Everyone was speaking in actual languages, in the dialects and language groups of the nationalities gathered in Jerusalem for the feast.
This sign was a reversal of God’s judgment at the Tower of Babel.
|Tower of Babel||Baptism of the Spirit|
|The whole world had one language, so God confused the one language to become many languages.||The whole world had many languages, so God gave the believers the ability to speak in all those languages.|
|God sent the people confusion that they would no longer understand each other’s words or meaning.||Six times the text emphasizes how everyone marveled that they heard and understood in their own language.|
|God scattered the previously unified people over the whole earth, putting into disarray their construction of an earthly tower reaching into heaven.||Though they were 120 different people, women and men, speaking in every known language, they proclaimed a unified message of spiritual rebirth, that they might enter heaven.|
|The goal of humankind, “Let us make a name for ourselves.”||The message of the Spirit, “These are the wonders of God.”|
|The end result was an abandoned tower, and a confused people scattering from each other.||The end result was a massive conversion of thousands joining the one Body of Christ through the baptism and infilling of the one Holy Spirit.|
God’s judgment scattered and separated those people then, now He was uniting His people in the Spirit. At Babel no one could understand anyone else, but at Pentecost everyone could understand and hear God’s praises. Now, finally, humanity was ready to begin final preparations for entering the realm of God and seeing God face to face—as the apostle John later exultingly wrote,
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.1 John 3:1-3