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Pentecost: Cloud and Fire

Pentecost Dove

God punctuates time with his presence. After Adam and Eve had sinned, the LORD God walked in the garden in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8), suggesting that prior to the Fall, the couple had a close relationship with God and enjoyed his presence with them.


Many centuries later, God appears to Moses in a burning bush. The bush was on fire, and yet it did not burn up (Exodus 3:2–5). Later, God’s divine presence would be manifested in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, leading Moses and the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery (Exodus 13:21). Here we have both cloud and fire. Once the Israelites had settled in the Wilderness, God instructed Moses to construct a tent, or a tabernacle, in which God’s presence would dwell. Once it was set up, God’s glorious presence came thundering down, and the cloud filled the tent, so dense was God’s Shekinah glory that Moses was unable to enter it (Exodus 40:34-35).


After some centuries, King Solomon built the temple to replace the Tabernacle, and here too, God fills the temple with a thick, dark cloud, such that the priests withdrew and were unable to carry out their service (1 Kings 8:10–11). As the centuries passed, God’s chosen people turned their backs on the Lord and began to follow false gods, and the temple system together with its priests became corrupt. God quietly made an exit and his glory no longer dwelt in the temple’s Holy of Holies. And yet, God’s desire has always been to dwell with his people.


Many years pass, and God takes on flesh and bone and incarnates himself by sending his beloved Son to dwell among his people. There is no doubt that Jesus embodies the very presence and glory of God, for he says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9b; NIV). Jesus also understood himself as a type of temple because he once proclaimed (talking about his death and resurrection), “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19; NIV). He understood himself to be greater than the temple, saying, “I tell you that something greater than the temple is here” (Matthew 12:6; NIV).


However, even though Jesus is the very presence of God, there was no cloud or fire. Or was there? During Jesus’s transfiguration on the mountaintop, “a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him’” (Luke 9:34–35; NIV). And in Acts 1:9b (NIV), as Jesus ascends into heaven, “a cloud hid him from their sight.” And if that isn’t enough, there is the promise that at the end of the age, we will “see the Son of Man coming on clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30; NIV). Revelation 1:7 also tells us that Jesus will come with the clouds.


The divine presence of God in Christ Jesus is never expressed as fire in the New Testament. However, John the Baptist explains to his disciples that while he baptizes with water for repentance, the one who comes after him, that is, Jesus, who is more powerful than he, and whose sandals he is not worthy to carry, would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11). As we read in the Gospel of John, Jesus promises his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit (John 14:16–17, 26). Before Jesus ascended to the Father, he instructed his followers to wait in Jerusalem, and wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit, for John baptized with water, but in a few days, they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4–5).


God’s Dwelling Place

There they were, all 120 of them (Acts 1:15) huddled together in the upper room in Jerusalem, not far from the temple itself, in prayerful devotion. Suddenly, the presence of God descended upon his people in the person of the Holy Spirit, like a powerful rushing wind from heaven, and filled the entire house. What seemed to be tongues of fire, separated and rested on each person sitting there in the upper room. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1–4). The languages were not learned, and yet people from all over understood what they were saying.


Here we have the fulfillment of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised. Yes, the Spirit comes upon the people of God in a new and powerful way like he had never done before. This marked the beginning of the church and the age of the new covenant.


In the Old Testament, fire often symbolized God’s holiness and purity. And that is also true here, but more than that it is God’s divine presence. Remember the burning bush and the pillar of fire. God’s presence comes and dwells in his people, and now his presence remains with you and I, this time he dwells not in a stone temple made with human hands, but in our bodies made of human flesh, bodies in which God himself has knitted together (Psalms 139:13). We are his temple (1 Corinthians 3:16–17; 6:19–20). It’s a sobering thought that the same God who dwelled in the temple’s Holy of Holies now dwells in you and me.


Tower of Babel

Now, you might think that the sound of the rushing wind was only heard by those in the upper room, but if you read the passage carefully, all those nearby heard and experienced the power of this wind. Many God-fearing Jews had come into the city to celebrate the day of Pentecost. This was initially a Jewish celebration called Shavuot. It is a harvest festival that is celebrated seven weeks and one day after the first day of Passover, so it’s also called the Festival of Weeks. As Luke records, these Jews were from every nation under heaven, they gathered where they had heard the sound of the rushing wind to see what on earth was going on. Of course, Luke means all known geographic territories where the Jews were dispersed. One would hardly expect to see bushmen from Southern Africa among their number. The long list of nations mentioned covered much of the 1st-century Roman world, noticeably those areas where there were Jewish communities. It’s one of the most comprehensive ancient catalogues of Jews living outside Palestine. This list is also confirmed by other ancient sources. Not only were they awestruck by the sound of the rushing wind, but they heard their native languages being spoken by these foreigners. Some had said that they had drunk too much wine, but if they listened carefully, as many of them did, they would have heard the wonders of God being proclaimed in their own language, thus starting the worldwide proclamation of the gospel! They were confounded and amazed, and so they began to ask one another what all of this might mean (Acts 2:5–13).


I’ve known one or two people in my life who have told me that they were on a mission trip in some foreign country where little to know English was spoken. And unbeknown to them, while they were praying or speaking alongside a translator their listeners heard their own language spoken by the individual. One of the translators told them they spoke in perfect Thai, or whatever the language was. And they have never been able to speak it since.


Genesis 11:1–9 tells us that the entire world had only one language. However, in their pride, they decided to build a tower that would reach to the heavens and make a name for themselves—not too dissimilar to Dubai and its skyscrapers. But God took displeasure in their pride and muddled their language so that they were unable to understand one another, and so construction came to a grinding halt and all the people were scattered over the earth. This is why it’s called the Tower of Babel. It’s possible that it still exists today as the massive ziggurat of Ur, now a ruin structure in ancient Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq, but it’s hard to know with any degree of certainty. In any case, the Holy Spirit reverses the confusion of languages, and the gospel is proclaimed in everyone’s tongue, bringing people from many nations together again. And so, God begins the wonderful work of reconciling people to himself through the power of the Holy Spirit.


The Denier’s Courage

There is a beautiful account of reconciliation between Jesus and the Apostle Peter. Peter denied Jesus three times (John 18:15–18; 25–27) and in a stunning exchange on the shores of Galilee after Jesus’s resurrection, he restored Peter and reconciled him to himself (John 21:15–17). Now at Pentecost, Peter stands up, raises his voice, and preaches with boldness and much courage. The question is, what was it that instilled such courage in Peter and the Apostles who otherwise were quite a nervous lot? The answer is twofold. Firstly, they had seen the resurrected Christ, and secondly, they had just received and experienced the indwelling fire of the Holy Spirit. This courage never diminished even until they were finally martyred for their faith.


The Spirit for All

Standing before the crowd, Peter drew upon the words of the prophet, Joel. He proclaimed that God had foretold the pouring out of his Spirit upon all people in the last days and declared that this very event was unfolding before them on the Day of Pentecost. Furthermore, Peter emphasized that God offered salvation to all who called upon His name. Inspired by Peter’s powerful message, around 3,000 people committed their lives to Jesus Christ that very day (Acts 2:14–31).


Pentecost’s Purpose: Becoming Jesus’s Hands and Feet

If you have ever wondered whether Jesus Christ is truly God, we have just learned how God, through the word of Joel’s prophecy, would pour out his Spirit. In John’s Gospel, Jesus explains that after he ascends to the Father he will send us the gift of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit whom Jesus promised, is not an “it,” he is a person. As Jesus explains, he will be our advocate, our comforter and our encourager. But he will also convict us of our sins and lead us into righteousness. He is the Spirit of truth and will guide you and I into all truth if we listen and obey him. He speaks only what he hears from the Father and the Son and will make it known to us. And of most importance, the Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus Christ in all that he says and does, pointing us to him (John 16:4–15). The Holy Spirit was sent to us to continue Jesus’s ministry on earth until he returns. The catch is that the Holy Spirit, while he convicts the world of their sin and works in the lives of believers making us more like Jesus, fills us in such a way that we become his hands and feet. The whole point of Pentecost is that Jesus gives us his Spirit, empowering us so that we might become like him and participate in the ministry he had started.


Concluding Thoughts

In the Old Testament, the presence of God manifested itself in the burning bush, and later at a distance in a cloud by day and fire by night when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. The very same presence filled Moses’s tabernacle and later King Solomon’s temple like a thick cloud.


The day of Pentecost changes everything! As Paul the Apostle proclaims in 1 Corinthians 3:16 (ESV), “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” In part, this is why if you go to Jerusalem today, you will not find the Jewish temple, because you and I are his temple! For those of us who truly believe in Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit has not only come upon us, but Jesus has infused us with his Holy Spirit. If you are unsure whether the Holy Spirit indwells you, you might want to ask:


  1. Am I allowing the Holy Spirit to transform my character to become kind, forgiving, and generous?

  2. Is the Holy Spirit helping me overcome anger or any addictions I might have with a sense of newfound peace and self-control?

  3. Is the Holy Spirit helping me understand the Christian faith, deepening my Christian devotion and love to Jesus, my understanding of the Scriptures, and deepening my sense of awe and wonder at God's creation?

  4. Am I open to experiencing the Holy Spirit working through me in spiritual gifts to serve the church community and others?

  5. Do I feel empowered by the Holy Spirit when he calls me to share my faith with others?

  6. Have I felt the Spirit’s drawing to serve others and become more actively involved in the church? This might mean becoming involved in various ministries, helping those in need, or taking on leadership roles within the church community.


If your answer is yes to most of these questions, then you can be assured that Jesus has infused you with his Holy Spirit. Some of you will no doubt say, “I can’t really relate to most of these questions, it’s not true of me.” For those of you who feel little to no empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, I want to pray for you. If that is you and you would love to receive the Holy Spirit, lift up your hearts to Jesus and pray with me.


Come, Holy Spirit, my soul inspire,

And lighten my heart with your celestial fire.

You are the anointing Spirit,

Impart to me your perfect gifts.


May the power of the Holy Spirit transform me,

May he comfort me, bring me new life,

and fill me with the fire of love.

May his eternal light overcome,

the dullness of my blind sight.


Anoint and bring joy to my sullen face,

With the abundance of your grace.

Keep my enemies far and give me peace unspeakable.

Lead and guide me, Holy Spirit.


Teach me all I need to know about the Father and his beloved Son,

And that together you are the blessed Trinity.

Guide me into all truth and purity.

May this be my continual prayer.




*Image of Dove by Gigastock, freely available from Vecteezy.

**Payer adapted and modified from Veni Creator.


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