A Strange Tale of Suspected Intoxication

A group of drunks would certainly attract a crowd.

There is a pretty famous story, actually, of some suspected drunks talking in different languages. The suspected drunks did speak other languages, but they weren’t drunk at all.

It’s no surprise that intoxication was the original reason for the anomalous activity. The larger crowd just couldn’t tolerate the idea that anything supernatural could occur.

And humanity still seems to want to explain phenomenon that can’t, or won’t, be explained. I mean, what would you think if you saw a crowd of people inexplicably begin speaking in languages you had never heard before?

See.

We just don’t like the idea of seeing or hearing something we can’t explain.

Which makes Acts 2 seem more like fantasy than reality, more like inebriation than sobriety. That intolerance still keeps many believers stale and sterile, because there is something “more,” but it doesn’t look anything like our idea of “normal.”

This is the third post in Acts: The Aftermath of Redemption discipleship group conversations, by the way. You can read the previous posts here.


Acts 2:1-47

It was Pentecost, the feast at the end of harvest, and the first great Jewish feast day after the Passover (Acts 2:1).

The Passover, by the way, was the celebration, fifty days earlier, when unleavened loaves of bread were eaten during their Aftermath of Redemptioncommemoration meal. Unleavened bread was the meal of the Passover because the Hebrews were required to eat unleavened bread, or bread without yeast, during their exodus from Egypt. They were told to make their bread without yeast because their exodus would happen suddenly, and they would have no time to wait for the bread to rise (Exodus 12:7-13).

But Pentecost, fifty days after the Passover, was the celebration when the Hebrews offered the wheat of their first harvest to God (Exodus 34:18-24). The haste of the Exodus, remembered with the bread of haste (the bread without yeast) during Passover, gave way to the feast of the promise, in Pentecost, which featured bread with yeast — because there was no need to escape anymore.

Pentecost, then, was the celebration of peace. Practically, they could wait for their bread to rise, because they weren’t going anywhere — ever again.

So, realize something as you keep reading. Pentecost was a celebration with lots of food, full bellies, laughter, joy, and celebration, because God had rescued his people and given them a bountiful harvest. There was no more need to escape, nor to eat in a hurry, because they were in the promised land, and God had rescued them. This small bit of information frames what happens in the coming verses.

So, let’s begin again.

It was Pentecost, the feast at the end of harvest, and the first great Jewish feast day after the Passover (Acts 2:1).

There were 120 disciples (Acts 1:15), celebrating Pentecost, but also waiting, in essence, for the promise of the Holy Spirit. They had no way to know, though, that Pentecost would be the day they would also receive the only gift that would ever matter.

So, in the midst of their own celebrations, something spectacular happened.

A sound, like a violent wind, filled the house where they were — but it wasn’t wind. And what looked like tongues of fire filled the house and rested on each of them — but it wasn’t fire (Acts 2:2, 3). And all 120 people experienced this (Acts 2:17ff). They were aware that this was the moment the Holy Spirit filled each of them.¹

Outside, in the city of Jerusalem, perhaps 180,000 Jewish pilgrims from some 15 different nations — from the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) — celebrated Pentecost in the streets. Thousands of these pilgrims knew something spectacular happened to the small group of people, though, but these street-walking pilgrims couldn’t understand it. The only explanation they could offer was that Peter and his friends were intoxicated (Acts 2:5-12).

The first public response toward those filled with the Holy Spirit, then, was doubt and confusion. Perhaps it’s enough to wonder if people, filled with the Holy Spirit, still elicit this kind of response from others.

So Peter addressed the crowd, and the rumors of his intoxication (again, Luke 12:11, 12). And he did so with the Twelve Apostles, not Eleven. He spoke to the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Luke 22:28-30; Acts 2:36), as they celebrated the peace of God during Pentecost, in spite of their own Roman occupation, and he told them that a new age had dawned (Acts 2:17ff).

And that this new age began with a countdown toward its own demise.

He quoted to this crowd a prophecy from one of their own prophets, Joel, who wrote at least 400 years prior to this moment in Acts 2 (Joel 2:28-32). I encourage you to click the link to Joel and read it. You should immediately notice that the introductory words are different from what Peter quoted.

Joel wrote “In those days,” while Peter said “In the last days.” And that, dear reader, is a pretty significant detail.

Luke, Peter, and the first-generation believers actually believed that the last days had begun, and had begun with cosmic events (events, by the way, not reserved for the “end of time,” but rather when the Spirit was given). The Holy Spirit — the very Presence of God — was given to the world, and everyone could receive this gift, from the least to the greatest, both women and men.

These were not the last days of their Roman occupation, though. Peter had no way to know that. Jesus had already said that specific times and dates were reserved for God alone (Acts 1:7). So these weren’t “the last days” of being occupied.

Instead, they were “last days” filled with the very Presence of God. The pilgrims weren’t losing anything, but were instead gaining everything.

So, obviously, Peter told these Jewish pilgrims that he and his friends weren’t intoxicated, but were filled with the very Presence of God, and this Presence would obviously produce things in their lives not necessarily described as “normal,” could even possibly be confused with intoxication, and would give anyone access to the dreams and visions of God.

But Peter wasn’t finished.

Having dealt with the rumors of his inebriation, he turned his attention, and his words, to Jesus. There are four notable themes to his speech.

  • First, Peter did not hide Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. He squarely dealt with any doubt that God would allow the Messiah of Israel to come from a dirt-poor, out-of-touch town like Nazareth (see John 1:46). Yes, Nazareth was an unlikely, even scandalous place, from which the Messiah could emerge, but Nazareth was also completely acceptable in God’s plan.
  • Two, Peter did not defend the resurrection of Jesus. He simply proclaimed it.
  • Three, Peter said that Jesus was, at that very moment, exalted at the right hand of the Father, where Jesus had received the Holy Spirit – only to give it to his disciples (Acts 2:32, 33). Jesus, then, was alive, even though he had been killed!
  • Four, God had made Jesus to be both Lord and Christ (v 36). He was both the Master and the Messiah of the world.

Peter’s message stunned and convicted the crowd (Acts 2:37), and three thousand of these Jewish pilgrims were baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38) for the forgiveness of sins. But be careful here. Baptism for the forgiveness of sins has been traditionally interpreted as meaning that forgiveness can’t be given until baptism occurs. But it’s equally possible to see Peter’s statement as asking the crowd to be baptized because their sins had already been forgiven. The Greek word translated as for in English translations can also be translated because of, and, if done so in this particular verse, would change the way many of us have learned to understand Peter’s appeal.²

As Acts 2 closes, then, we find these believers sharing life together in a distinct form of fellowship. Most English translations list the word “fellowship” in v 42 as what this group enjoyed. In fact, the word could be better translated as “communal form of life,” and, once translated such, becomes Luke’s first description and title of the church. In fact, this is probably what early believers actually called themselves, before they called themselves “the church.”

This group also had an expectation of the supernatural (Acts 2:43).

And finally, we find the second of Luke’s accounting of the number of believers. The group had grown from 120 to 3,000, and continued to grow because of daily addition (Acts 2:47). Soon, though, mere addition would not be enough, and the Lord would begin to multiply the number of believers (Acts 6:7).


A Few Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Acts 2:1-4.
    1. Why do you think this happened on the day of Pentecost? What do you know about Pentecost, anyway?
    2. Imagine being in that room. How would you have described what happened?
    3. Why, exactly, did God choose to give the gift of the Spirit this way?
    4. Why do you think Luke had trouble reporting exactly what happened?
  2. Read Acts 2:5-6, 12-13.
    1. Does the gift of the Holy Spirit provide a physical change? All the time? Explain.
  3. Read Acts 2:14-21.
    1. Peter described this event as the beginning of “the last days.” Why? How did he know?
    2. What were the things that would happen in “the last days”?
    3. Are we still in “the last days”? If we are, do these things still happen? Should they? What happens if they do occur, but we don’t see them? 5.
  4. Read Acts 2:22-24.
    1. How did Peter describe Jesus?
    2. Did Peter defend Jesus’ resurrection? Why not? Should we need to defend the resurrection? Explain.
  5. Read Acts 2:42-47.
    1. How did the first group of believers live? Is this just a utopian society, or should believers still live this way?
    2. The early believers had a sense of awe. What does that mean?
    3. They called themselves “the fellowship.” That was an early title for “the church.” What does that kind of title imply?

A Prayer:

Father, it is no wonder that these people accepted, as fact, that the supernatural workings of your Spirit were accepted and expected. We pray for that same sense of awe. We pray for a renewed sense of wonder, that you are alive and are working in unbelievable ways.


¹It’s worth mentioning that no other New Testament writer mentioned this moment. Paul wrote of the gift of the Spirit (Gal 3:2; Rom 8:4-11; Eph 1:13), but said nothing about Pentecost. And John wrote that the apostles received the Spirit the day of Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:22), fifty days before Pentecost.

²For a much, much more detailed explanation, click here. Read, too, Acts 10:43; 13:38-39, 48; 15:11; 16:30-31; 26:18.

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