On this Sunday, Christians celebrate Pentecost. This highlight of the church calendar commemorates the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, in fulfillment of prophecy, as recorded in the second chapter of the book of Acts. Jesus had promised His disciples that He would bring this about; He said it would happen upon His ascension into heaven – “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (John 16: 7).
And now, during the Jewish Feast of Weeks when the city was filled with people from all parts of the known world, the time had come, and the Spirit was poured out.
How did this manifest itself? By the disciples communicating directly with all those visitors, speaking in foreign tongues, or, as eyewitnesses put it, “How hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2: 8—11).
What is the significance of this? Peter’s explanation speaks for itself. But there is something else, which in our day is of great significance. The very fact that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit manifested itself in, of all things, the proclamation of the mighty works of God in foreign tongues, is not coincidental. It points to the plan for the ages that at this point took a new step forward.
According to the biblical testimony, which stretches back to the very origins of civilization, there was an event which indicates how foreign tongues came into existence in the first place. This is key to understanding the significance of that speech-making in foreign tongues.
The incident to which we refer is the building of the Tower of Babel, which took place at a time when mankind was already unified: “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech” (Gen. 11: 1). And people wanted to keep it that way, so, of course, they decided to build “a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven” in order to make for themselves “a name,” to keep from being “scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (v. 4).
A name for themselves…
In man’s eyes, a necessity; in God’s eyes, not really a good idea. “Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (v. 6). The implication is that they will be doing bad things, just like they did before the Flood. God had promised no more floods, so He betook Himself to a different strategy.
For this urge to maintain unity was done by mankind in its own name, to “make a name,” to establish a self-contained kingdom of man which, with its tower reaching to heaven, constituted a challenge and an affront to someone else’s kingdom, namely, God’s.
And so the effort was thwarted. The means to accomplish this was by scattering mankind through the confusion of languages: “let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (v. 7). Mankind dispersed, and stopped building the city. Significantly, the place was Babel, in Hebrew meaning confusion, in Aramaic “gate of God,” a double-entendre of which the Bible is rich; the name would live on as the “code name” for illicit efforts at playing God, as we shall note.
Here is what makes Pentecost so significant. What it means is that the kingdom of God has arrived to achieve the reunification of mankind. What once upon a time was lost in the illicit power grab surrounding the Tower of Babel is now restored – but only on God’s terms. It is through the ministry of Word and Sacrament (Acts 2: 41) that that unity is restored, not through holding high a banner with the word “HUMANITY” inscribed on it.
A name for themselves…
This is the danger of the times we now live in. This urge toward global unification is occurring precisely in the name of humanity, precisely in the way, the Bible warns us, that we should not be pursuing it. There is a struggle going on between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, the Prince of Peace and the Prince of this world. For what did Jesus say on the eve of His crucifixion? “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12: 31—32). It is in Him that men will be drawn together; but that will occur only through the judgment of the world, through the casting out of the ruler of this world.
How will that unification manifest itself? Jesus Himself spoke of it just prior to the crucifixion, in His high-priestly prayer. “Neither pray I for [My disciples] alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” This unification is of the Spirit, in the name of Christ, as a testimony to the world.
What about the world itself being unified? The Book of Revelation warns of a renewed attempt to establish this unified world. It will manifest itself as a global kingdom of man. Significantly, the center of this empire, once again, will be Babel – Babylon – “Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth” (Revelation 17: 5), “that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth” (v. 18), whose “merchants were the great men of the earth,” by whose sorceries “were all nations deceived,” in whom was found “the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth” (18: 23—24).
This is globalism, but the wrong kind. The globalism of Pentecost restores unity in in the name of God. The globalism of man asserts unity in the name of man. Choose carefully.
“Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24: 14–15).