We are all generally familiar with what happened on the day of Pentecost. But we also need to take note of where it happened . . . and where it did not.
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language” (Acts 2:1-6)
Summary of the Text
Jesus, crucified and risen, ascended into Heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father. From that exalted place, He had promised to give gifts to men, a promise that was fulfilled in the Church on the day of Pentecost. We of course rejoice that it has happened, but let’s look a bit more closely at how it happened. The followers of Jesus were gathered together, it says, “in one place” (v. 1). In the next verse, when it describes the sound of the Spirit coming, it says that it filled “all the house” where they had been sitting. Cloven tongues like fire came down and rested on each of them (v. 3), and as the Spirit filled them they began to speak in many different languages (v. 4). There were devout men in Jerusalem at that time, as it says, “out of every nation under heaven” (v. 5). They were there in Jerusalem because of the Temple, about which more in a minute. When word of this great miracle got around, the multitude gathered at this house, moving away from the Temple, and heard the disciples speaking the wonderful works of God (v. 11) in their own languages.
The Temple Complex
The Temple complex was huge. Picture a rectangle running north/south, covering about 35 acres. The east side was Solomon’s Colonnade (John 10:23; Acts 3:11; 5:12). Part of the retaining wall for the western side still remains today—the famous Wailing Wall. There was a large Pool of Israel outside the north wall, and at the northwest corner was the Antonia Fortress, where 600 soldiers were garrisoned. This was named for Mark Anthony, and Paul gave his impromptu sermon from the stairway up from the inside Temple court (Acts 21:40). The south wall was the Royal Stoa, the most ornate part of the complex—where Jesus as a boy had discussed the things of God with the rabbis of Israel (Luke 2:46). The Temple sanctuary and restricted courts butted out from the west wall, and did not quite reach the east wall. Everything inside the walls and outside the central Temple area was the Court of the Gentiles.
A sign was posted in the Court of the Gentiles that said, “No foreigner is allowed within the balustrades and embankment about the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will be personally responsible for his ensuing death.”The accusation that Paul had violated this law was not a trifling accusation (Acts 21:28). Paul is probably referring to this when he says that in Christ the wall of partition has been torn down (Eph. 2:14). As you entered the central Temple area from the east, you went through the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:2), and came into the Court of the Women. There were also four gates on the north and four on the south side of this court. This is the court where the treasury was (Mark 12:41-44). Proceeding west, you then entered the Court of the Priests. Then came the Holy Place, and after that the Holy of Holies. The internal Temple was plated with gold, and when the sun was shining on it, you could not look directly at it. It was glorious. The disciples were not rubber-necking for no reason (Matt. 24: 1).
A Strange Inversion
Now if the Shekinah glory were to reappear in Jerusalem, where would you expect it to appear? You would expect it to appear the same way it had for Moses at the Tabernacle (Dt. 31:15), or for Solomon at the first Temple (2 Chron. 7:1). But that is not what happened. In order to get to the nondescript, no-name place where it had happened, the multitude had to leave the Temple in order to get there.
Not only so, but when the multitude gathered at the new center, the place where the Spirit now was, the new Holy of Holies, what did they hear when they got there? They heard the babble of languages from all over—they heard at the center what they had been hearing only at the periphery before. God had reached down inside Israel, inside the Temple, and pulled everything inside out. The Spirit “got loose” from the Temple, and away from His official handlers and representatives. God had now placed Gentile chatter at the new center. Fire rested on each of the disciples, as though each of them were an altar. And the power of the Lord was there.
Your House Is Left Desolate
But this was not done arbitrarily or capriously. The Court of the Gentiles was the place where Jesus had dealt with the moneychangers twice, and where He drove the clean animals (representing Jews) out of the area reserved for the Gentiles (Acts 10: 11-17). What did Jesus say when He did this? He said, “My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer” (Mark 11:15-19). Jesus had visited the House of God twice, the same way a priest in the Old Testament was to visit a house with leprosy (Lev. 14: 33-48). But if the lesser measures did not suffice, then it was necessary to dismantle the house entirely, which the Romans came and did. Now when Jesus described the streaks of this particular leprosy, what were the characteristics that He mentioned? There were two—refusal to let the Gentiles approach God in order to pray to Him (for all nations), and secondly, there was grasping avarice and theft (den of thieves). This is why their house was left to them desolate (Matt. 23:38). And what did God accomplish in the new Temple, assembled out of living stones? How did the new Temple answer the dual indictment of the old Temple? The praises of God in every tongue were now at the center, and the people of God were characterized by overflowing generositry (Acts 2:44-45 ). Of course the Temple was still in the picture (Acts 2:46), but it was one of the places where believers would go with the Word, and not the anointed place from which they would come.
We, living as we do in the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8) might think that the application is obvious— build churches that are as diverse as a random sampling taken from the Court of the Gentiles. But that is not quite it. This is certainly true of the Church, but all those people were in one place because of the old system. When the first missionaries got to Hawaii, they were not welcomed by a committee of Swedes, Jews, and Eskimos. The message of Pentecost does not reduce to a spiritual quota system. But at the same time, we need to recognize that the Holy of Holies is now everywhere (1 Cor. 3:16). The sanctuary has not been decentralized, but rather pancentralized.