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Third Quarter 2018 • July, August, September
COMMENTARY—THE BOOK OF ACTS
Week 2: July 7–13
COMMENTARY ON "Pentecost"
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This week’s lesson teaches the Adventist understanding of Pentecost. The lesson subtly affirms Adventist heresies such as a trinity of three separate beings, a Holy Spirit who is an “it” and a power that the Father and Son dispense, the Holy Spirit’s purpose being for extra power for “the church” without identifying who comprises the church. This lesson affirms the Great Controversy and states on page 22 that Jesus death “was necessary, not only to redeem human beings but also to vindicate God and expose Satan as a fraud.”
Further, the lesson states (p. 22) “The Spirit was being poured out to prepare a people for the coming of Christ.” This sentence is not biblical fact. The Spirit was poured out on believers who, through faith in Jesus, were already prepared for the coming of Christ. The lesson also states (p. 23) that “the people of Pentecost were offered not only forgiveness of sins but also the fullness of the Spirit for personal growth for service in the church, and especially for mission.” While the author makes much of the need for repentance and baptism in order to receive the Holy Spirit, it makes no mention at all that this repentance was to be done in the name of Jesus. It was trust in Jesus, not simply turning away from sin, that preceded the indwelling of the Spirit.
Because of the subtle nature of these teachings as they are embedded in family benign language, we will not address the lesson day-by-day. Instead, this commentary will teach a biblical view of Pentecost.
Fulfillment of the Feast of Pentecost
The lesson states that the Day of Pentecost was the fulfillment of the Feast of Pentecost and was the day that the Spirit was suddenly poured out “more abundantly than ever before.” It further explains, using Exodus 34:22, that the Feast of Pentecost was celebrated “on the fiftieth day from the offering of the barley sheaf on the first day after the Passover.”
It is significant that the lesson omits the most detailed explanation of the Feast of Pentecost: Leviticus 23: 9–14. Most Adventists do not know that the Feast of Pentecost was ALWAYS celebrated on the day AFTER the Sabbath (Lev. 23:11). Always it was timed to fall 50 days after Passover, and the first fruits were to be waved before the Lord on the day after the Sabbath.
It is no accident that the Holy Spirit was given to the church on the first day of the week, the day after the Sabbath. This pattern was established when God gave Israel the law through Moses!
Moreover, the Holy Spirit was not sent to “legitimize” God’s “new community on earth”, as the lesson states (p. 18). Even more, the Holy Spirit was not given just “more abundantly” than previously; He was given permanently to all who believe in the Lord Jesus.
For the first time, after Jesus’ ascension, those who believe in Him are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, and He never leaves them (Eph. 1:13-14)! Pentecost wasn’t just a new power surge for God’s people; it marked the beginning of something COMPLETELY NEW: the Church!
Who is the church?
Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16:18:
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loos on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.”
The church was the new creation which was only a mystery, a shadow, in the Old Testament, but which God revealed as the miraculous fruit of His own death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. Israel were God’s people from the time of Sinai, the nation He created to live out His revelation in the world. They had the law and the oracles of God, and Israel carried the word of God that revealed the depravity of man and the mercy of God in His provision for substitutionary atonement for their sin.
The church, by contrast, is not a nation. The church is comprised if individuals from among ALL nations and peoples who trust in the finished work of Jesus and are thus born again and indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Israel was a nation among whom God placed His presence; the church is individuals in whom God personally dwells, and these individuals are scattered among the nations. The church is a completely new creation that is birthed in the new covenant of Jesus’ blood.
Moreover, Jesus commissioned Peter in the Matthew 16 text above. Adventists have no understanding of the significance of Jesus’ statement to Peter because Ellen White did not understand nor explain it.
Peter was the one who preached the famous Pentecost sermon in Acts 2 which was the means of 3,000 Jews believing in Jesus and thus receiving the Holy Spirit and being born again. But this was only the first of three events comprising the birth of the church.
Just before He ascended, Jesus told His disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit, and after He came, they would be His “witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Adventism never explains that the book of Acts is the account of the establishment of the church, that just as Jesus gave the disciples the promise that they would be His witnesses in an expanding range of influence, just so would the church be formed. Acts 2 describes the fulfillment of the Feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem when 3,000 Jews heard the gospel, believed, and were baptized. Acts 8 describes the addition of the Samaritans to the church. Philip evangelized, but Peter the apostle who had “presided” at Pentecost in Jerusalem, came to Samaria and baptized the new Samaritan believer, and they received the Holy Spirit. Acts 10 describes Peter’s preaching to the gentile household of Cornelius, and the first group of gentiles were ushered into the church, receiving the Holy Spirit when they believed Peter’s preaching, and then Peter baptized them.
The establishment of the church was a very BIG deal. It was not just a symbolic moment, and example for what we are to do. In fact, the book of Acts is a DESCRIPTION, not a PRESCRIPTION. The founding of the church is a one-time, unrepeatable event. It occurred in stages over time, but the church has only one beginning.
We understood that the Adventist organization came along nearly 900 years later and restored lost truth, bringing Sabbath and the Second Coming back into focus. The church, however, has ALWAYS believed in Jesus’ return. Moreover, the Sabbath was never lost. It was fulfilled in Jesus, and from the days of Acts onward, the church of God’s born-again, Spirit-indwelled believers have always known Sabbath rest every day of their lives in Christ.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 was not simply a gift of power for evangelism. On the contrary, that was the mark of the church. Believers all have the indwelling Holy Spirit, and they are scattered throughout the world, the “seed” of God in a world of spiritually dead people who need life.
Receiving the Holy Spirit is not something we can bring about. Rather, it is a miracle that occurs when we believe and trust Jesus. Not all believers will speak in tongues just as not all will be teachers or will have the gifts of helps or interpreting tongues. Each person will receive what the Lord has given him for His purposes and glory.
No great controversy
The lesson predictably ties the great controversy into the miracle of the Day of Pentecost. Peter’s sermon was an expository exposition of Jewish biblical history and of Jesus’ fulfillment of the prophecies the Jews all knew. Jesus, Peter explained, was the one they crucified, yet He was the holy One of God, and God raised Him from death. He was the One who died for the sin of the world, and at His ascension after His resurrection, the promised Holy Spirit was poured out on believers. This event was foretold in Joel 2!
Jesus’ ascension had nothing whatsoever to do with vindicating His own reputation or disproving Satan’s accusation. The lesson states (p. 22) that “Jesus death was necessary, to only to redeem human beings but also to vindicate God and expose Satan as a fraud…So, when Christ’s self-sacrifice was authenticated from heaven, Satan had received a decisive blow, and the Spirit was being poured out to prepare a people for the coming of Christ.”
These claims are blasphemous. First, the cross, not Christ’s “exaltation” was the blow to Satan’s power. He was disarmed and publicly humiliated by Jesus’ death (Col. 2:14). Adventism, however, does not “like” the cross. It does not acknowledge the reality of its power and purpose. It was not a demonstration or a piece of the salvation puzzle. Rather, the cross is where justification happens. Believers are completely, eternally justified when they bow before the cross and trust Jesus’ blood as payment for all their sins, past, present, and future.
Second, the Holy Spirit was not poured out to “prepare a people for the coming of Christ.” He was given to create the church. Believers in Jesus are a new creation. They are born again; they are no longer in Adam but in Christ. They have a completely new heritage…they are almost a different specie. They are spiritually alive, eternally reconciled and connected to the Triune God.
The Holy Spirit isn’t power or a tool. He Is God, and the church is powerful and mysterious because each believer literally takes the presence of the Lord into the world in him. Each believer is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3), and each believer is equipped by the Holy Spirit with wisdom, trust, faith, and all that he needs for every assignment the Lord gives.
Repentance and New Birth
One more glaring omission in this week’s lesson is the discussion of repentance in Thursday’s lesson. the author camps on Peter’s directive that they need to repent and be baptized for forgiveness. The problem is, the lesson takes Acts 2:38–39 out of context and completely misses the point of Paul’s sermon.
The lesson exhorts the reader to repent and be baptized for forgiveness and then states the repentant one will receive the Holy Spirit “for personal growth, for service in the church, and especially for mission.”
Peter’s call to repentance, however, came after a whole sermon on who Jesus IS, showing that He is the one for whom they had been looking, the Promised One whom the prophets foretold, and emphatically proclaimed to them,
For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified (Acts 2:35–36).
The context of Peter’s call to the Jews to repent was, having shown them that Jesus is the One God promised would come, he declared that they had crucified Him. They were responsible for His death!
Peter’s entire sermon cut them to the quick, and they asked what to do. They smitten with guilt, and they needed cleansing. They were convicted that Jesus was the Christ!
The lesson doesn’t even MENTION the message of the Lord Jesus and His identity. Instead, it takes repentance out of its context and makes the point that people are to repent for forgiveness, and then they’ll receive the Holy Spirit for power.
This teaching is wrong.
People repent, truly, when they are convicted of their sin—not just of a wrong doing but of their natural intrinsic sin. This conviction is the work of God, and it comes when people hear the gospel of their salvation: Jesus’ death for sin, His burial, and His resurrection.
The lesson camps on resurrection and repentance, but they do not focus on His shed blood or Jesus’ true identity. The Jews repented because they heard the true gospel of Jesus. They realized He died for their sin, and they repented and trusted in Him.
The Holy Spirit is given to make us new, to give us the new birth, a new heart that is alive and connected to God. He is not given as a power boost; He is God. He makes us new creatures, and repentance is the product of conviction of sin and belief in Jesus.
This lesson tries to teach Pentecost by picking and choosing the texts the author wishes to emphasize. Ellen White set the standard for understanding Pentecost, and she created a scenario which made the Adventist organization the ultimate fulfillment of the church. Pentecost was like a down payment, the “early rain”. It was about people repenting and receiving power.
Yet in the book of Acts, people who were baptized for repentance were said to have received the baptism of John, not the baptism into Christ. Trusting Christ is the essential even for born again believers. The Holy Spirit seals us when we have heard the gospel and believed (Eph.1:13-14).
The lesson skews this central event of the church and focusses on the components that fit Adventism, completely eclipsing the living reality that the church is the body of Christ, and all who have believed from the apostles onward are the unbroken, still-alive church, whether on earth now or saints in glory with the Lord Jesus.
Pentecost began something completely NEW. Unless a person hears the true gospel and trusts the real Jesus, Pentecost is meaningless to him.