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Commentary Let Her Lead Theology

The Difference of Pentecost

We come to Pentecost in Acts 2. It is, without a doubt, one of the most electrifying, motivating, and mystifying passages in the New Testament. 

It also helps us make sense of gender roles in the post-resurrection era of the Kingdom of God.

Think of this post as a sequel to the last two on Jesus and women. In those, we looked at how Jesus’ interactions with women changed the game on gender in the first century. Now, we’ll see how Jesus begins to carry on his work through his people, including women, by his Spirit.

What Happened at Pentecost?

Pentecost was a Jewish feast to celebrate the first-fruits of harvest. Because it was a religious observance, thousands of faithful Jews from other parts of the world made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship God during the festival.

There were about 120 believers gathered together for prayer on the day of Pentecost. The group included both men and women (see Acts 1:14). Luke, the author, writes while they were praying a mighty wind rushed upon them. Something like “tongues of fire” came to rest above their heads and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.

The disciples began sharing “the wonders of God,” and everyone heard what they said in their native language. The crowd was quite confused. Some even said that they were drunk.[1]

Joel foretold of a day when God would pour out his Spirit on all who believe without regard to status, ethnicity, or gender.

But Peter stood up to explain that they weren’t drunk. (It was only 9am!) This was the fulfillment of what the prophet Joel had written centuries before. His speech is found in Acts 2:14-36. His opening words in Acts 2:17-18 (quoting Joel 2:28-30) are the most important for our discussion. Here it is in the NIV:

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.

In the Old Testament, God poured out his Spirit for certain occasions and on particular people. No longer. Joel foretold of a day when God would pour out his Spirit on all who believe without regard to status, ethnicity, or gender (cf. Acts 2:39).

At Pentecost, that day had finally come. God now lives in and with his people–men and women–for good.

What Does Pentecost Mean?

Pentecost means a whole lot. As it relates to gender roles, I’ll mention three important take-aways:

1. Pentecost means God has come to dwell with both men and women, equally.  

This was the goal of creation all along. In the beginning, God dwelt with humanity in perfect fellowship. The story of the Old Testament is God’s pursuit of his people Israel to dwell with them in spite of their sin. Nothing is a permanent solution. 

Until Jesus. 

All who believe in him become the place where God’s presence dwells on earth. We are God’s temple—his sacred space.

Jesus is God’s sacred space—the “place” where God dwells. He calls himself the temple to prove the point (John 2:19-21). He is where heaven and earth meet. 

And through his life, death, and resurrection, he reconciles people back to God and gives them his Spirit. Now, all who believe in him become the place where God’s presence dwells on earth. We are God’s temple—his sacred space.[2] 

This is a major theme in the New Testament, and it was foundational for the early Church’s understanding of what it meant to be God’s people. (see 1 Cor 6:18; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21-22; 1 Tim 3:15; 1 Pet 2:5). 

This has nothing to do with worshiping in a building or particular liturgies or churches operating as organizations. It has everything to do with being a people-movement energized and empowered by God’s Spirit for a specific identify and function: being with God as his people and being his witnesses to the rest of the world.

2. Pentecost means men and women are both his authoritative witnesses to the world.

Because God now dwells in us, we represent him to the world. This was, again, God’s intention from the beginning. He created man and woman in his image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-28), meaning they represented God in their activity in the world.

Sin did not entirely remove God’s image from humanity. But it brought destructive effects so that we sought to rule ourselves, rather than joyfully represent God as we were created to. 

Women, along with men, are authoritative witnesses for God because they, like men, have the Spirit.

Pentecost reverses this curse. The indwelling Spirit brings redemption and restoration to whoever believes in Jesus. Revelation 1:6 and 5:10 call the Church “a kingdom…and priests to our God,” echoing the language of image and likeness from Genesis.[3] Believers in Jesus can now fulfill humanity’s original intent.

Peter’s choice of the Joel passage especially highlights the mutuality between men and women in this new era of the Spirit. To prophesy in the context of Pentecost means to speak on God’s behalf with his authority. Women, along with men, are authoritative witnesses for God because they, like men, have the Spirit.[4]

There’s no hierarchy here. There’s no male-only leadership. The Kingdom of God, through the event of Pentecost, ushers in a new ministry paradigm in which men and women labor side-by-side in the work of the gospel.

3. Pentecost means the Church previews the world to come.

Jesus’ resurrection inaugurated the new creation. But it didn’t end with him. He is called the “firstborn” of a new creation (Col 1:15-20; cf. Rev 1:5). Now, whoever has the Spirit dwelling in them is “in Christ” and is, therefore, a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17).[5] This will take its full effect when we are with Christ and receive our resurrected bodies in the new creation. 

As “new creation” beings, we are a “sneak peak” of the “coming attraction.” We’re a preview of what it will be like when we will reign with Jesus in the new heavens and new earth.

We do this in many ways, don’t we? We fight sin, pursue Christ-centered community, give justice to the disadvantaged and oppressed, care for the environment, bring hope to the hopeless, healing to the hurting, food to the hungry, and so on.

All of these are a faint whisper of life without sin, brokenness, and death.

In other words, we fight the curse.

Why wouldn’t we do the same with gender hierarchy? 

If men and women will live together in a redeemed world serving God equally as a kingdom and priests, shouldn’t we align our beliefs and practices with that reality now? Shouldn’t our ministries reflect the equality and mutuality God gave men and women at creation and in redemption?[6]

For me, the answer is a resounding “yes!”

If men and women will live together in a redeemed world serving God equally as a kingdom and priests, shouldn’t we align our beliefs and practices with that reality now?

What’s Next?

Now, on to Paul. In the next post, we’ll look at how Paul included women in gospel ministry. We’ll also consider some of his general teaching that should help us set a “baseline” for how Paul would think about women in ministry.

After that, we’ll start to dive in to the specific, controversial texts by Paul on women’s roles in the Church.


Notes

[1] For our purposes, what this language phenomenon actually was isn’t important. I have my own take. But that’s for another post. 

[2] If the concept of “sacred space” is new to you, please read my previous posts on Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 for context. 

[3] This is a major theme in 1 Peter. I’ll also show in the next post on Paul, that it’s a significant reason for his focus on the entire body of Christ contributing to its growth through spiritual gifts. Which, as we know, are not gendered.

[4] Of course, Peter, a man, takes the lead in his Pentecost speech. But as I’ve shown previously, we can’t overlook the fact that Jesus’ closest disciples were male for cultural reasons. Jesus accommodated himself to the culture he came to live in.

[5] A literal translation of 2 Corinthians 5:17 goes something like this, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ—new creation!” (2 For 5:17). There is no gendered pronoun in the verse. When a committee translates this passage as “he is a new creation,” we may know that Paul is talking about a generic person, but the gender bias damage has already been done. The focus of the verse is not “he” but “anyone” (Gk tis). Why is this text important for gender roles? Because it’s in a section where Paul talks about the ministry of reconciliation. If anyone is in Christ and is therefore a new creation, Paul writes, they have the distinct role of being his ambassador—to preach the message of Christ to a lost world. This ministry is for men and women. The theology of Acts 2 is no doubt in the forefront of Paul’s mind as he writes these words to the Corinthians. We have to ask ourselves: why would any woman be able to have this high identity and calling of “ambassador of Christ” to the world and yet not be a local church elder/pastor?

[6] I have heard some complementarians argue that there will be gendered hierarchy in the new heavens and new earth, based on the fact that there was a hierarchy built into the original creation. I have not found an actual article or book that explains the idea of “gender roles” in the new creation, however. Still, I remain unconvinced by this argument based on my conviction that Genesis 1-2 does not teach men are inherently “over” women as leaders. If there was no hierarchy in the Garden, it doesn’t make sense to me that there would be in the new creation. See my posts on Genesis 1, 2, and 3 for more on this. Other complementarians may argue that if a gender hierarchy is the result of the fall, that’s “just the way world is” and we should live with it. I may write an interlude post soon responding to the issue of birth order and whether or not we should fight against the curse. 

Categories
Theology

Psalm 16 and Jesus

Have you ever noticed how seemingly flippant the apostles quote the Old Testament in relation to Jesus? On the surface, it appears that they use the Hebrew Scriptures as a grab bag, just pulling whatever the want out of context in order to built up Jesus’ reputation. This could not be further from the truth.

In Luke 24:27 and John 5:39, Jesus said that the law and prophets bear witness to him. So in Acts 2:25-28, when Peter quotes David in Psalm 16, he is following Jesus’ most basic interpretive principal: everything in the Bible is about Jesus.

In Psalm 16, David asks God to preserve him and be a refuge for him. Peter quotes verses 8-11. In the context of David’s life, he’s making a holy argument for why God should not abandon him, and he seeks ultimate hope, joy, and pleasure in God.

Peter interprets this Psalm through the lens of the resurrection. He says in Acts 2:29-32, “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet…he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.”

Peter’s main point is this: Jesus is the true and better David. David’s corpse is still rotting in a grave. Jesus has risen. David prayed to avoid Sheol. Jesus abolished Sheol. Jesus will never see corruption or be abandoned to Hades because he is the only one whose life has never been corrupted. He is the only one who has perfectly set the Lord before him. He is the only one who perfectly rejoiced in the Lord. He is the only one whose pleasure in life and all things was ultimate a pleasure in the Father. Though Jesus did die, his flesh did not see corruption in the grave. Because of Jesus’ perfect life, the Father justified him by resurrecting him from the grave. Jesus therefore defeated corruption and is now seated at the right hand of the Father.

Only when we see Jesus as the fulfillment of Psalm 16 will we overcome the grave and the corruption it brings. Only then will we avoid eternal judgment and wrath. Only when we look to Jesus, who sought true joy and pleasure in his Father, will we experience pleasure forevermore.

Categories
Life

Pentecost, the Jews, and Salvation

God’s Big Story: View Series
Continued from Part 5

At his ascension, Jesus looked at his disciples and said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).  The whole world — literally “all the peoples,” according to Matthew 28:19 — will hear the gospel because of these apostles.  They will receive power from God to make it happen.

On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were gathered together, and suddenly the Holy Spirit fell on them.  They were filled with the Spirit and began to speak in other tongues.  This would be a great time, you would think, for God to start this world-wide revolution and reach all the Gentile nations with the gospel.  After all, the language barrier is now gone.

After this happens, Peter preaches a short, yet amazing, sermon to thousands of people in Acts 2.  He preaches the gospel — that Christ was delivered and was crucified according to God’s plan and that whoever believes in him will receive the Spirit.  He calls  everyone who’s listening to repentance.  That day, verse 41 says, 3,000 souls received the word and were saved and baptized.

And here’s the crazy part: every single one of those 3,000 people was Jewish.  Not one Gentile was saved.

How do we know this?  Acts 2:5 says, “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.”  Peter was in Jerusalem preaching to Jews.  When he began preaching, “the multitude” approached him because they heard Peter in their own language (or “dialect”).  These were Jewish pilgrims from various parts of the world (vv. 9-11).  The pilgrims had come back to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost, which is historically related to a Jewish harvest festival.

Furthermore, when Peter began his sermon, he lifted up his voice and said, “Men of Judea!” (v. 14).  Again, in verse 22, he called their attention and said, “Men of Israel.”  He quotes the prophet Joel (vv. 17-21).  He quotes King David twice (vv. 25-28, 34).  There is no doubt he is speaking to Jews.

Then in verse 36, his grand conclusion, he pronounces the dismal, yet glorious indictment on Israel: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”  It is dismal because they murdered one of their own — the only One who could save them.  It is glorious because if they turn to him — even after crucifying him — they will be saved and set free from sin.

The gospel hasn’t gone to all peoples yet.  Though the whole Bible up to this point has made it clear that this is God’s plan, the plan keeps getting delayed.  In God’s perfect time, however, this spiritual revolution of the Gentiles will come.