This is Pentecost Sunday. What is it all about? The conception among non-Christians is that this day commemorates the day when the original disciples began making incoherent noises and blamed it on the Holy Spirit.
Before we get into what really happened on that day, let’s look at the historic background. It begins with that first Passover in Egypt, the exodus of the descendants of Jacob (the children of Israel), and the crossing of the Red Sea. Seven weeks later they gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai as God descended in fire on the mountain and called Moses to come up the mountain to speak with Him. Then God spoke the Ten Commandments in a voice that caused the mountain to shake. This day was ever after commemorated as the feast of weeks (a week of weeks), and later was called Pentecost (fifty days) in Greek.
The giving of the law transformed the descendants of Jacob into the people of God. God wrote the law on tablets of stone; those tablets were placed in the Ark of the Covenant which eventually was placed in the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s temple.
At the dawn of the New Testament era the tablets of stone had long ago disappeared and the worship and religion of the Children of Israel had become corrupted. God’s only Son, the long anticipated Messiah came into the world and gave His life on the cross as the true Lamb of God just before the Passover. Then He completed the victory over sin and Satan by rising from the dead.
On the day of Pentecost, God descended once more in a visible fire – tongues of fire that appeared on the heads of the disciples. The disciples then began to speak to the Israelites around them in intelligible languages, languages which they had never learned or spoken before but which were fully intelligible to the hearers.
This was a sensational happening and thousands of people gathered in amazement. But the real miracle, the real significance of Pentecost, was the giving of the Law – not on tablets of stone this time, but on the hearts of the believers. The prophets had long foretold such a happening and this is the true significance of Pentecost, not the outward signs and wonders but the transformed hearts. This event transformed the frightened, demoralized disciples into the people of God, bold and fearless men who scattered in every direction from Jerusalem and “turned the world upside down.”
It is clear from the account in the Book of Acts that the disciples were speaking real languages that were understood by others. The Apostle Paul also understood speaking in tongues to be real languages, since he gave instructions that no one should speak in tongues in church unless there was someone who would interpret.
The apostle gives three clear guidelines in 1 Corinthians chapter 14 concerning speaking in tongues in church. First, no more than two or three should speak in an unknown tongue, each in turn. Second, if there is no one to interpret, then those who would speak in another tongue should be silent. Third, women are not permitted to speak in church. This last rule may have a wider application, but the apostle most certainly meant it to apply to speaking in tongues.
The Apostle Paul did not condemn speaking in tongues, gave no commandment to cease and desist, he just gave three easily understood rules to govern the practice of speaking in tongues, and this seems to have been pretty much the end of speaking in tongues in the early church.
What we need today is not a revival of speaking in tongues. That would be to value the package more highly than the contents. What we truly need is a revival of Holy Spirit-filled Christians with the Law of God engraved on their hearts.