On Whom did the Tongues of Fire Rest?
Just before Jesus ascended into heaven after His resurrection, He commanded His apostles “not to depart from Jerusalem” until they had received the promised gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-8). During their wait, they assembled with many of the women and other disciples who had followed the Lord during His earthly ministry. Peter (who emerged as the leader of this early gathering), when assembled with over 120 of the disciples, proposed that a new apostle be picked to take the place of Judas (Acts 1:15-26). The new apostle, chosen by casting lots, was named Matthias, “and was numbered with the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:26). All these events are recorded in Acts 1. At the beginning of Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came upon certain people, and appeared as divided tongues of fire on their heads. The question arises: on whom did the Holy Spirit come?
Many have answered that the Holy Spirit came upon all the disciples that were gathered together in Acts 1:15 (about 120). According to this idea, the Holy Spirit came not only upon the apostles on the Day of Pentecost, but also empowered others with the very same powers given to the apostles. Those who reach such a conclusion, do so because they assume that, in Acts 2:1, the statement, “they were all with one accord in one place,” refers to the 120 disciples. Upon further investigation, however, this conclusion can be seen to be inaccurate. In truth, only the apostles received the miraculous “baptism of the Holy Spirit” on the Day of Pentecost.
It is important to a proper understanding of the Bible to remember that the chapter and verse divisions in our present-day Bibles were not in the original texts, but were added many hundreds of years after the original autographs of the Bible were written. The chapter division between Acts 1:26 and Acts 2 often causes a misunderstanding. Some assume that the events in Acts 2:1-4 must go all the way back to Acts 1:15. If we remove the chapter division, however, this problem is easily resolved. Acts 1:26 and 2:1, without the division, read as follows: “And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles. Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.”
When these verses are combined, as they are in the original text, it is easy to see that the ones who were “with one accord in one place” were the apostles. The pronoun “they” in Acts 2:1 does not refer to the 120 disciples, but to the immediate antecedent—the apostles. This fact is illustrated further by the fact that, in Acts 2:14, the Bible records that Peter was “standing up with the eleven,” and in 2:37 the text mentions that the audience spoke to “Peter and the rest of the apostles.” Further, in Acts 1:2,4, it was the apostles whom Jesus commanded to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit had come upon them.
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit that was accomplished on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 was not a phenomenon that came upon hundreds of disciples, but only upon the apostles (see Miller, 2003). They were the only ones who had the tongues of fire on their heads. Many modern-day religious people who claim to work miracles believe that they have been given the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”—like the 120 disciples. An accurate understanding of the Bible, however, shows that the promise of Holy Spirit baptism was given only to the apostles. And, while it is true that the Holy Spirit dwells in every true Christian (1 John 3:24), it is not true that such is accompanied by miraculous powers. Today, the evidence of the Spirit in Christians is not the ability to speak in tongues or work miracles, but the presence in their lives of “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 2:22-23).
Miller, Dave (2003), “Modern-day Miracles, Tongue-speaking, and Holy Spirit Baptism: A Refutation,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2572.