Acts: Chapter 2:1-3 (A Rushing Wind and Tongues of Fire)

(Act 2:1-3 ESV) When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.

By now, it should be obvious that everything has symbolic value. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t really happen — it did. But God communicates his messages not only in words but in symbols. Think of it as performance art, that is, actions that have symbolic meaning. We have to interpret not only the Greek but also the actions.

The wind

So, obviously, the wind happened (and is mentioned) for a reason. Here’s why I think it is —

(Eze 37:1-14 ESV) The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.  2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.  3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.  5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.  6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”  7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.  8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”  10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’  12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel.  13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.  14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”

Ezekiel prophesied from Babylon at the beginning of the Exile. In this famous, powerful passage, he describes how God will end the Exile: by pouring out his Spirit.

Now, it helps if you know that in both Hebrew and Greek, the word for “breath” (ruach or pneuma) also means wind and spirit.

A good Jew, who know this passage very well, would recognize the association of “Spirit” with the wind, and would also recall that God promised that his Spirit come from “the four winds.”

Tongues of fire

The fire surely would bring to mind such passages as —

(Exo 3:2 ESV) And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.

(Exo 24:17 ESV) Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.

(Exo 40:38 ESV) For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.

(Lev 9:24 ESV) And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.

And especially —

(Deu 4:12 ESV) Then the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice.

(Deu 4:15 ESV) “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire,

(Deu 4:33 ESV) Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live?

(Deu 4:36 ESV) Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire.

(Deu 5:4 ESV)  4 The LORD spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire,

(Deu 5:22-26 ESV) 22 “These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me.  23 And as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders.  24 And you said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live.  25 Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, we shall die.  26 For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived?

(Deu 9:3 ESV) 3 Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the LORD your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the LORD has promised you.

Deuteronomy is filled with references to fire as symbolizing the presence of God, especially on Mt. Sinai — when the Torah was given — but not only on Mt. Sinai. I could go on. I quote so many passages to make the point that this is no incidental symbol. God chose to communicate his presence, his voice, and his vengeance through fire.

Thus, the fire of God is both the consuming fire that destroys his enemies and the fire of God’s presence that speaks to his people and makes covenants with them.

(Isa 4:2-6 ESV)  2 In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel.  3 And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem,  4 when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning.  5 Then the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy.  6 There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.

Isaiah follows the same symbolism to speak of the cleansing of Jerusalem and the coming of the presence of God.

Therefore, I think the “tongues of fire” communicate that God is present in his disciples and that God is speaking through them — words of covenant and of destruction.

Remember, this is Pentecost, the day the Torah was given. And God reappears, this time to the 12 apostles (at least), who serve in the place of Moses, that is, as spokesmen for God as he established his new covenant with both blessings and warnings.

It’s Mt. Sinai all over again.

PS — Regarding the popular view that the tongues of fire refer to baptism with fire, see this post and this other post.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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18 Responses to Acts: Chapter 2:1-3 (A Rushing Wind and Tongues of Fire)

  1. Price says:

    Jay, perhaps I read your comment incorrectly but I’ve always understood that a “wind” actually didn’t happen per se but that the “sound” of a wind was present…may not make any difference in the representation…

  2. Ray Downen says:

    The tongues of fire apparently were only upon the apostles. Only THEY were promised they would receive the baptism in the Spirit. The sounds were heard all over Jerusalem, which caused the crowd to come to the temple area where they then saw the tongues like fire and heard the preaching by the apostles. Only the sermon by Peter is recorded, but obviously all were speaking to smaller groups. Would it have been possible for one speaker to be heard by the more than 3,000 men who had gathered? Not likely. No sound systems. But if each apostle spoke in a particular language (unknown, yes, but known to the hearers) and those who understood that language were hearing, then all could hear. And 3,000 chose to be added to the number of the faithful that day.

    Were the tongues like fire symbolic? Most likely so. That’s a good point. It was through His apostles that Jesus built His kingdom which was not of this earth. Was this similar to the appearance at Sinai? Yes, as pointed out. Notice that no one was burned. They were not tongues OF fire. They were tongues LIKE fire.

    The tongues like fire were associated with the baptism that day received by the apostles. But the baptism IN fire is a promise for a future day.

  3. Ray Downen says:

    The importance of the prophesy that the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh is obvious. That the pouring out of the Spirit is NOT baptism in the Spirit should be equally apparent. The gift of the Spirit which follows the new birth of water and spirit is for all. The baptism in the Spirit was for very few indeed.

  4. Price says:

    Ray….what do you think Peter meant when he was describing the events of Cornelius’ conversion to the leadership in Jerusalem (Acts 11:15-16) that Cornelius and his family had the Spirit “fall on them” as had happened to the Apostles in the beginning ? Moreover Peter says the experience caused him to remember Jesus’ words that they would be immersed with the Spirit in contrast to being immersed with water ?

    Jay….is there a clear and undisputed teaching that delineates between the concept of being immersed in various ways by the Spirit or is it just speculation based on one’s understanding of the gifts and outpouring of the Spirit today ?

    How would one compare Paul’s Apostleship with that of the other 12 based on “how” the Spirit was received ? I just don’t see a consistent pattern…the wind blows where and how it wants it seems to me…

  5. David says:


    How very Ray Vander Laan-ish. 🙂

  6. Jay Guin says:


    You’re right that the text refers to the sound of wind, not wind per se, but the symbolism is the same.

  7. Jay Guin says:


    There is no teaching that is undisputed … no matter how clear. 🙂 People like to argue.

    I explained my understanding of baptism of the Spirit in more detail in the recent comment to Ray. /2010/12/baptism-an-exploration-part-3-john-the-baptist/#comment-244657

    I would add this one thought. Nothing in the Cornelius accounts mentions the gifts of the Spirit received by Cornelius as being the same as that received by the apostles. The accounts make the point that the Gentiles receive the same Spirit as the Jews.

    (Act 10:23 NAU) 23 So he invited them in and gave them lodging. And on the next day he got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. …
    (Act 10:47 NAU) 47 “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?”

    Who is “we”? Peter has said not a word about the apostles or those at Pentecost. “We” is a reference either to the brothers from Joppa (fellow Jews, of course) or, more broadly, the Jews in general — the point being that these Gentiles received the same Spirit as the JEWS, not the apostles.

    Parallel is —

    (Act 11:2-3 NAU) 2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, 3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” …
    (Act 11:16-17 NAU) 16 “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 “Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

    Who is “us”? In this telling of the story, there’s no reference to the men of Joppa or the apostles. “Us” presumably is the audience Peter is addressing: “those who were circumcised.” Again, Peter’s point is that Cornelius received the same gift of the Spirit as the JEWS.

    Therefore, we read our assumptions into the text when we assert that Peter declared that Cornelius received the same gift as the apostles. Cornelius did not become an apostle. He became a Christian, and the point of the account is that Gentiles are just as saved as the Jews because they received the very same Spirit.

  8. Jay Guin says:


    Paul’s receipt of the Spirit was quite different from the apostles’, that is, the original 12 received the Spirit without water baptism, whereas Paul had to receive water baptism to receive the Spirit. And so, as you say, the point is that it is the SPIRIT received, not the means of receipt. And as to apostles, it’s about what gifts the Spirit provides them, to equip them for their work. Same Spirit; different giftings.

  9. Larry Cheek says:

    I do not see where there is proof of this concept, “that is, the original 12 received the Spirit without water baptism” I would not automaticly believe that they were not baptized by water, just because there is no recorded statment that they were. They all except Paul could have been baptized by John’s baptism, have you proof that all that were baptized by John were re-baptized after Penticost. It seems obvious that the men that were baptized after, had been bapized by John’s baptism after Penticost in a time when John’s baptism had been replaced. Were the 12 that you mentioned exempt from?
    (John 3:5 NIV) Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.
    (John 3:5 KJV) Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

  10. Jay Guin says:


    The nature of Christian water baptism is that it is into Jesus, and it is in the name of Jesus, and it brings with it (normally) the indwelling Spirit (there are exceptions recorded in Acts).

    By that understanding, the apostles plainly never received Christian baptism because they received the Spirit at a time far removed from any baptism.

    If they were baptized into Jesus, when did it happen? Some suggest it was at Pentecost, but Luke disagrees —

    (Act 2:41 NIV) Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

    Plainly, the 3,000 were added to the 120 (see Acts 1:15). When were the 120 baptized? After the Ascension? Seems really unlikely. The Spirit had not yet come.

    Some hold to the theory that the 120 were baptized before Jesus’ death, but there is zero evidence for it — and it’s surprising that such an event would not have been recorded. And how could Jesus have baptized them into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus before he died, was buried, and resurrected?

    I guess it could have happened between his resurrection and Ascension, but that would have been one more example showing the nature of his glorified body and would have been too important for Luke and others to have skipped. And — more importantly — the Spirit had not yet been outpoured. You can be “born of water and Spirit” without an outpoured Spirit.

    There’s just no way to fit a water baptism of the 120 into the story.

  11. Charles McLean says:

    Ray, I think this idea that the baptism of the Spirit was for “a very few” has no support in scripture. None. One might as well argue that the gospel was only for people in the first century, as the scriptures don’t record anybody hearing it afterward. It’s foolishness. I suspect the genesis of the idea you present is not ancient but modern. It is pretty simple: a man looks at the lives of the early disciples and at the power of the Spirit evidenced there, then he looks at his own disbelieving powerless life. He must reconcile the disparate situations. This brother might choose to believe that he has failed to believe and to grasp an important reality. Or — more likely– he may decide that his spiritual lack is proof that the promise is not really to him or to anyone of his generation. Choosing Door Number Two allows this brother to dismiss any need to seek God for more than what he has experienced, or to learn from others who have a different experience. It is simple doctrinal reverse-engineering based on confirming the satisfactory nature of one’s own experience.

  12. ck says:

    When you move into Thy Father, this is what happens. You hear the rush of wind, and you speak tongues.

    Essentially I guess it is the conscious upgrade which causes the wind, and the tongues you speak is your mind “being upgraded” (content, understanding, datalinking, symbols) via this highly efficient “language” eg Thy Father says 5 sentences but gives you 1000 books of knowledge.

    And just to be clear. I did NOT read this from a book. This is via Experience from Thy Father.

    This is what the Holy Trinity is trying to explain. It is a guide book. There are other places in the Bible (old + new testament) that explain the areas you need to get through in order to get back to Thy Father.

    God Thy Father, The son YOU, The Holy Spirit Mother.

    You would do well to pray and ask God for understanding of “daughter” and “son” as it relates back to “the son YOU”.

    The Kingdom of Heaven is WITHIN – as Jesus said.

    Mediate and find him. Thy Father is waiting.

    mindfulness – cleanse and build your mind
    metta (kindness) – cleanse and build your heart

    No buddhism required. just concentrate on breath, and on 3 people you know.
    Google it, it is very simple but VERY effective.

    God is ONE. All Religions are One.

  13. ck says:

    Why do you try and understand the Apostles when Jesus laid his hands on them and pulled them up. Way up. L4+?

    The point is, you should listen to Jesus, his words, his symbols.

    If you want to get to thy Father? Pray (talk to God) Meditate (listen to God).

    Love Thy Neighbour, Love God with all your Mind and Heart. That is all you need to know.

    Be Pure in Mind, Speech and Actions. It is about Intent.

  14. ck says:

    You should also invoke the sign of the cross properly, at all 3 levels.

    Burn the cross in your mind, on your body. The bottom is the Son, the top Thy Father. etc.

    Then when you say “In the name of the Father, The Son, And the Holy Spirit, Amen – and you make the points of the cross, THEN ALSO invoke the mental image of the cross in your mind.

    You will feel the difference. Indeed you invoke this symbol now to Thy Father as it should be done.

  15. ck says:

    Upon death the “man of God” found himself in front of God.
    God asked him, do you love me? Yes sir, he replied.
    All of me, asks God?
    Of Course, I would do anything blah blah blah.
    Enough! says God.
    Fine, which one of the 100 Million Gods of Hinduism do you want to talk about?

    And so he realised in that second that God has many faces, all as true as each other.

    Indeed, they ALL teach you ONE thing – How to get back to Thy Father!

    God is ONE. Religion is One.

  16. ck says:

    But let me be clear, there is NO higher MASTER than Jesus, from any religion.

  17. ck says:

    If you need to remove any/all of this, please do – I come with love and I am just trying to help, not to teach which I will leave for others.

    If you follow the tradition and law of Christianity then you would do well to listen to your teachers. And the way they explain scripture. Pray for guidance on the words they give you.

    I give this out to those already long on the path, not to confuse those who are just starting.

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