Pentecost: What is the Promise of the Father?
This past Sunday was Pentecost Sunday (June 5, 2022). On the first Christian Pentecost (which was certainly not the first Pentecost for those attending), the disciples received the fulfillment of a promise from the Father for which Jesus had told them to wait (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4). In order to understand the fulfillment, we should explore what the promise was all about.
Two immediate things come to mind as we explore the promise of the Father. First, most obviously, it was about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, or the coming of the Holy Spirit in power upon God’s people (the above-mentioned texts plus Acts 2:33). To speak of the Holy Spirit is a summary of what the Father promised.
The second thing that begs our attention is the answer to this: “Where and when did the Father make such a promise?” The short answer is that it was made in the Old Testament. In fact, it was made repeatedly in different ways throughout the Old Testament, especially in the prophets who looked forward and saw the exile and the kingdom of Israel’s coming restoration.
Before reading those Old Testament promises, let me point out that they will reveal a third, likely less obvious, aspect of the promise of the Father: The Father’s promise is about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now to those Old Testament texts.
The Father’s promise is about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Promise of the Father in the Old Testament
Peter tells us that one place we can find the promise is in Joel 2:28-32.
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people [lit. flesh]. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. 30 I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. 32 And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, even among the survivors.”
The ”survivors” who would experience this salvation were those who were restored; the remnant. This was a promise of restoration. We see it in the other places in which this promise is referenced.
“I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again…. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. 20Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:17, 19-20 emphasis added)
I included verse 17 because it makes clear that this is a promise about restoring Israel by means of the Spirit, not just a promise about the Spirit. The next verses from Ezekiel which I offer also make this clear when, in verse 22 the address begins with “Therefore say to the Israelites…” That is who is being addressed. It goes on to say,
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
Likewise, Jeremiah states the promise with some different elements.
“…I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
On Mount Sinai, when Israel was born out of slavery in Egypt through salvation, God came down in wind and fire and wrote the Law on stone tablets. However, that did not solve the problem of their hearts, their internal desire. So He promised that in a new day He would write in on their hearts. On Pentecost (Acts 2), the Spirit came down in wind and fire, separating to each one that He might write the Law in their hearts.
On Pentecost, the Spirit came down in wind and fire, separating to each one that He might write the Law in their hearts.
The Promise Is About the Restoration of the Kingdom
The new covenant spoken of by Jeremiah is with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. The New Covenant is a covenant through Jesus Christ in which Jews and Gentiles are all made part of the same olive tree, Israel.
The book of Acts begins speaking about the kingdom of God and the Holy Spirit.
“After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’
7 He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’” (Acts 1:3-8 emphasis mine)
After Jesus had talked to the disciples for 40 days about the kingdom of God and they, therefore, asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” it was not because they were “slow” (as is often implied in preaching). It was because they understood that the promised gift of the Holy Spirit was for the purpose of restoring the Kingdom.
The disciples understood that the promised gift of the Holy Spirit was for the purpose of restoring the Kingdom.
Jesus’ answer to their question was not, “No, stop being stupid!” It was paraphrased, “You don’t need to know when (v7), you need to know how (v8)!” The way the promised restoration of Israel will come is that the Spirit will empower the people of God to be witnesses in word and deed (reference the sermon from June 5, 2022) first in the capital city of the kingdom, Jerusalem; then in the historic southern and northern kingdoms of Judea and Israel (Samaria), and then it will break out into all the world. That is how the promise of the Father of the restored kingdom by the power of the Holy Spirit will happen.
What is the promise of the Father? That he will restore the kingdom of Israel by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the New Covenant. It is the church of Jesus made up of Jews and Gentiles who are the seed of Abraham through faith in Jesus (Gal. 3:26-29). It is what began at Pentecost and continues today through disciples who are being shaped into witnesses in word and deed as a community called the church. And it has come to the utter most parts of the earth.