It was November of 1914. The occasion was the 2nd General Council of the newly formed Assemblies of God. The setting was the Stone Church in Chicago.
I am sure that at least some outside observers must have laughed when they heard the group’s bold declaration. This small band of “ordinary” people–they were not rich, powerful, or famous–committed themselves to a remarkable goal: “the greatest evangelism the world has ever seen.”1
This small group, empowered by the Holy Spirit and focused on exalting the name of Jesus, formed the vanguard of a movement that has impacted hundreds of millions of lives around the globe. There are now over 200 million denominational Pentecostals; and more broadly, over 500 million Pentecostals/Charismatics.2 The impact was so great that one scholar has named the modern Pentecostal movement as “the most successful social movement of the past century.”3
As we consider this bold declaration, it is fitting that we pause and consider the theological commitments that produced this great missionary movement. We should remember, we should reflect on the important theological legacy that our Pentecostal forefathers have left us. I believe this legacy, of theology and mission, centers on three core commitments. Of course the true center is a passionate love for Jesus and a desire to see people from every tribe and nation worship Him. However, in addition to this fundamental commitment shared by Christians around the world, three distinctive convictions shaped this new movement:
- They had a special way of reading the Bible and particularly the book of Acts: They read the book of Acts as a model for their lives and ministry. They were convinced that the stories of the apostles and the early church served as models for the contemporary church. So, the Azusa Street Revival met at the “Apostolic Faith Mission” and early Pentecostals loved to speak of the Apostolic Faith. The term, Apostolic Faith, highlighted their connection with the early church and the pages of Acts. “Their stories are our stories,” aptly summarizes their approach to the book of Acts.
- Our Pentecostal forefathers also had a special understanding of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. They were convinced that the Baptism in the Spirit is a missiological gift – an empowering for service; and that it should not be equated with conversion. Acts 2 is not the story of the birth of the church or the regeneration of the disciples; rather, it is the beginning of the grand story of the church’s mission to the ends of the earth…really a continuation of Jesus’ story. So, they had confidence that Jesus, who had called them, would also grant them power to fulfill this calling.
- Finally, our Pentecostal forefathers highlighted that speaking in tongues is a sign that the Spirit is a missiological gift– an empowering for service. Speaking in tongues was important for them because: (a) it symbolizes and validates a Pentecostal approach to the Bible: “Their experience is our experience; their stories are our stories.” (b) And, speaking in tongues, they declared, also reminds us of who we are: we are nothing less than a band of end-time prophets called and empowered to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.
I want to focus our attention on the Pentecostal understanding of Baptism in the Holy Spirit. I believe the church – our churches – desperately needs to recapture a sense of the apostolic calling and power that Pentecost represents.
Some years ago a Chinese house church leader (no stranger to persecution) commented, “When foreign Christians read the book of Acts, they see in it inspiring stories; when Chinese believers read the book of Acts, we see in it our lives.” My friend’s words challenged me: Do we read the stories of Acts with this kind of urgency and desperation, with this kind of solidarity and hunger? The prayer of my heart is that we would: Lord, let it be.
I want to encourage you in this pursuit – this quest to allow the pages of Acts to serve as our model. I want to encourage you in this pursuit by suggesting that our forefathers got it right! When our forefathers spoke of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit as a missiological empowering available to every believer, they got it right. I believe that two passages in Luke’s gospel highlight, in a unique way, the missiological purpose of Baptism in the Holy Spirit. The first passage is found in Luke 10:1-12, 16. The second is at the very end of Luke’s gospel in Luke 24:44-49.
1. Baptism in the Spirit and Our Identity: A Community of Prophets
Let us begin by turning to a text unique to Luke’s gospel, Luke’s account of the Sending of the Seventy (Luke 10:1-16). All three synoptic gospels record Jesus’ words of instruction to the Twelve as he sends them out on their mission. However, only Luke records a second, larger sending of disciples (Luke 10:1–16).
In Luke 10:1 we read, “After this the Lord appointed seventy–two [some mss. read, ‘seventy’] others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.” A series of detailed instructions follow. Finally, Jesus reminds them of their authority, “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (10:16).
A central question centers on the number of disciples that Jesus sent out and its significance. The manuscript evidence is, at this point, divided. Some manuscripts read “seventy,” while others list the number as “seventy–two.” Bruce Metzger, in his article on this question, noted that the external manuscript evidence is evenly divided and internal considerations are also inconclusive. Metzger thus concluded that the number “cannot be determined with confidence.”4 More recent scholarship has largely agreed with Metzger, with a majority opting cautiously for the authenticity of “seventy–two” as the more difficult reading.5 Although we cannot determine the number with confidence, it will be important to keep the divided nature of the manuscript evidence in mind as we wrestle with the significance of this text.
Most scholars agree that the number (for convenience, we will call it “seventy”) has symbolic significance. Certainly Jesus’ selection of twelve disciples was no accident. The number twelve clearly symbolizes the reconstitution of Israel (Gen. 35:23-26), the people of God. This suggests that the number seventy is rooted in the OT narrative and has symbolic significance as well.
A number of proposals have been put forward,6 but I would argue that the background for the reference to the “seventy” is to be found in Numbers 11:24–30. This passage describes how the Lord “took of the Spirit that was on [Moses] and put the Spirit on the seventy elders” (Num. 11:25). This resulted in the seventy elders, who had gathered around the Tent, prophesying for a short duration. However, two other elders, Eldad and Medad, did not go to the Tent; rather, they remained in the camp. But the Spirit also fell on them and they too began to prophesy and continued to do so. Joshua, hearing this news, rushed to Moses and urged him to stop them. Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Num. 11:29).
The Numbers 11 proposal has a number of significant advantages over other explanations:
- It accounts for the two textual traditions underlying Luke 10:1 (How many actually prophesied in Numbers 11?).
- It finds explicit fulfillment in the narrative of Acts.
- It ties into one of the great themes of Luke–Acts, the work of the Holy Spirit.
Numerous allusions to Moses and his actions in Luke’s travel narrative support our suggestion that the symbolism for Luke’s reference to the Seventy should be found in Numbers 11. 7
With this background in mind, the significance of the symbolism is found in the expansion of the number of disciples “sent out” into mission from the Twelve to the Seventy. The reference to the Seventy evokes memories of Moses’ wish that “all the Lord’s people were prophets,” and, in this way, points ahead to Pentecost (Acts 2), where this wish is initially and dramatically fulfilled. This wish continues to be fulfilled throughout Acts as Luke describes the coming of the empowering Spirit of prophecy to other new centers of missionary activity, such as those gathered together in Samaria (Acts 8:14–17), Cornelius’ house (Acts 10:44–48), and Ephesus (Acts 19:1–7). The reference to the Seventy, then, does not simply anticipate the mission of the church to the Gentiles; rather, it foreshadows6 the outpouring of the Spirit on all the servants of the Lord and their universal participation in the mission of God (Acts 2:17–18; cf. 4:31).8
In Luke’s view, every member of the church is called and empowered to take up Israel’s prophetic vocation and be “a light to the nations” by bearing bold witness for Jesus (Acts 1:4–8; cf. Isa. 49:6).9 Far from being unique and unrepeatable or limited to a select few, Luke emphasizes that the prophetic enabling experienced by the disciples at Pentecost is available to all of God’s people. At Pentecost, Moses’ wish now begins to be realized. Luke 10:1 anticipates the fulfillment of this reality.
In short, Luke presents the Sending of the Seventy, with its call to “heal the sick” and proclaim “the Kingdom of God” (Luke 10:9; cf. Acts 8:12), as a model for the later “sending” of all of Jesus’ disciples that begins at Pentecost.10 The missiological nature of this “sending” and the anointing (or baptism in the Spirit, cf. Acts 1:5) that makes it possible cannot be minimized. This passage, then, offers strong support for the Pentecostal position.11
2. Baptism in the Spirit and Our Calling: Our Prophetic Vocation
In the last chapter of Luke’s gospel, there is a striking emphasis on the necessity of Jesus’s death and resurrection. This theme begins with the message directed to the women at Jesus’ tomb by two angels. The angels declare to the frightened women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again’” (Luke 24:5-7).
This theme continues with Jesus’ conversation with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The two disciples, who do not recognize the risen Lord, describe all that has happened to Jesus. They describe Jesus’ ministry as “powerful in word and deed,” and speak of his crucifixion, the empty tomb, and the startling report of the angels that Jesus was alive. Then, Jesus breaks in with these words, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have (dei) to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). In the next verse, we begin to learn why these events were so necessary: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
Finally, this theme reaches its climax with Jesus’ appearance to the disciples who had gathered in Jerusalem. Jesus declares to them all, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44).” Then Jesus “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45).
But here we are told that Jesus not only revealed to the disciples the meaning of OT passages that speak of the Messiah’s death and resurrection (Luke 24:46); we are also told that Jesus taught them from the Scriptures of the mission of the church (Luke 24:47). Indeed, Jesus declares, “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in [the Christ’s] name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 14:47-48).
It is interesting to consider what texts Jesus explained to the disciples. Surely, this was the greatest Bible study ever conducted. What texts did Jesus open their minds to? Although none of us was there, Luke gives us plenty of clues concerning the identity of the key texts discussed. For example, what Old Testament passages speak of the Messiah’s death and resurrection? Certainly one text that Jesus “opened their minds” to in this regard was Isaiah 53.
Later in the narrative of Acts, a portion of Isaiah 53 is quoted by Luke as he tells the story of Philip’s dramatic encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch. “Tell me,” the Eunuch asks, “who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” (Acts 8:34). Beginning with this very text, Philip “told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35).
We also have some important clues concerning the texts that Jesus used to teach about the mission of the church. One key text was certainly Isaiah 49:6.12 In their sermon in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas specifically cite this text (Acts 13:47). It also forms the backdrop to Jesus’ promise in Acts 1:8, “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.”13 The phrase, “the ends of the earth,” is echoed in Isaiah 49:6.
This important verse, which undoubtedly helped shaped the early church’s identity, reads: “He [the Lord] says, ‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob, and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Isaiah 49:6).
Against this backdrop, Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8 take on fresh meaning. In response to the disciples’ rather limited and ethnocentric question, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6), Jesus declares that they should not worry about the restoration of Israel. He is doing that. But the Lord’s plan for them is larger than they can imagine. He will use them – not only to restore Israel – but to fulfill Israel’s prophetic calling. They are to be “a light to the nations.”14
The reason for this emphasis on the necessity of Jesus’ death and resurrection is now laid bare. It is all a part of God’s wonderful, unstoppable, and incredible plan – a plan that was foretold in the Scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament). Amazingly, this plan includes us (Luke 10:1; Acts 2:17-18). We, too, have been called to declare his “name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). We, too, are witnesses of these events…witnesses to “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And so the promise comes: “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:48).
The Pentecostal movement is recognized around the world as a powerful and dynamic force impacting the lives of hundreds of millions of people. It is changing the face of the Christian church. And in many cases, such as Korea, it is hard to overestimate its impact on the larger society. Yet, in spite of all of this, many still do not see Pentecostals as having much to offer theologically. It is a movement of experience, we are told, not doctrine. In this lecture I have sought to challenge this faulty assumption. Pentecostals have an important theological contribution to make to the larger church world; if the other churches will simply listen.
First and foremost, Pentecostals are calling the church to take a fresh look at Luke-Acts. Only by hearing Luke’s distinctive voice can we develop a truly holistic doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Only by reading Luke-Acts on its own terms can we understand the significance of the promised baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). For far too long Protestant theology has highlighted Paul’s important insights into the work of the Spirit, but largely ignored Luke’s contribution. In this regard, Pentecostals are calling for a new reformation.
One of the great strengths of this fresh reading of Luke-Acts is that it highlights the missiological nature of discipleship and the church. Luke reminds us that the Holy Spirit is all about inspiring praise and witness for Jesus, and His vision knows no boundaries. Regardless of one’s race, gender, or class, all are called to participate in God’s great redemptive mission. And all have been promised power to fulfill this calling (Acts 1:8). Pentecostals are calling the church to recover its primitive power and its apostolic calling. The church is nothing less than a community of prophets who are called to bear bold witness for Jesus.
© 2013 Dr. Robert Menzies
1. Combined Minutes of the General Council of the Assemblies of God in the United States, Canada, and Foreign Lands Held at Hot Springs, Ark. April 2-12, 1914 and at the Stone Church, Chicago, ILL. Nov. 15-29, 1914, p. 12 (available at www.ifphc.org).
2. Vinson Synan, The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal, 1901-2001 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001), pp. 1-2.
3. Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 8.
4. Bruce Metzger, “Seventy or Seventy-Two Disciples?,” NTS 5 (1959), pp. 299-306 (quote, p.306). See also the response of Sidney Jellicoe, “St Luke and the ‘Seventy (-Two),” NTS 6 (1960), pp. 319-21.
5. A “more difficult reading” refers to a unique version of a text preserved in early manuscripts that is hard to explain as a scribal correction, omission, or addition. Thus, this “difficult” reading is often viewed as authentic. All of the following scholars favor the “seventy-two” reading as original: Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9.51-24.53 (Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996), p. 994; I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGCT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), p. 415; Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), p. 409; Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation, Volume 1: The Gospel According to Luke (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), p. 233; Craig Evans, Luke (New International Biblical Commentary; Peabody: Hendrickson, 1990), p. 172. One exception to this general rule is John Nolland, who favors the “seventy” reading (Nolland, Luke 9.21-18.34 [Word Biblical Commentary 35B; Dallas, TX: Word, 1993], p. 546.).6. For the various options see Metzger, “Seventy or Seventy-Two Disciples,” pp. 303-4 and Bock, Luke 9.51-24.53, p. 1015. 7. For more detailed support of this position, see Robert P. Menzies, The Language of the Spirit: Interpreting and Translating Charismatic Terms (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2010), pp. 73-82. 8. Keith F. Nickle, Preaching the Gospel of Luke: Proclaiming God’s Royal Rule (Louisville:Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), p. 117: “The ‘Seventy’ is the church in its entirety, including Luke’s own community, announcing the in-breaking of God’s royal rule throughout the length and breadth of God’s creation.” 9. For a dissenting perspective, see Max Turner’s two articles, “Does Luke Believe Reception of the ‘Spirit of Prophecy’ makes all ‘Prophets’? Inviting Dialogue with Roger Stronstad,” Journal of the European Pentecostal Theological Association 20 (2000), pp. 3-24 and “Every Believer as a Witness in Acts? – in Dialogue with John Michael Penney,” Ashland Theological Journal 30 (1998), pp. 57-71. Turner argues that only a select group is empowered for prophetic witness. Yet I would suggest that his discussion fails to adequately account for this text. 10. Luke intended for his readers to read Jesus’ instructions to the Seventy (Lk. 10.1–16), which includes eight directives, as a model for their own lives. The one exception is the command to travel lightly, without “a purse or bag or sandals” (Lk. 10.4), which Jesus specifically rescinds in Luke 22.36. All of the other commands shape the missionary practice of the early church as it is recorded in Acts. For a detailed discussion of this thesis, see “The Sending of the Seventy and Luke’s Purpose,” in Paul Alexander, Jordan D. May, and Robert Reid, eds., Trajectories in the Book of Acts: Essays in Honor of John Wesley Wyckoff (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010), pp.87-113. 11. Contra Turner, who asserts, “Luke does not in fact portray the whole church as actively involved in witness” (Turner, Power from on High, p. 432). 12. See D.L. Tiede, “The Exaltation of Jesus and the Restoration of Israel in Acts 1,” HTR 79 (1986), pp. 285-86. 13. Other allusions to Isa. 49:6 may be found in Luke 2:32; Acts 26:23; and perhaps Acts 28:28. 14. In “The Spirit and Salvation in Luke-Acts” (in The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins: Essays in Honor of James D.G. Dunn [Graham Stanton, Bruce Longenecker, and Stephen Barton, eds., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004], pp. 103-116) Max Turner places great weight on the veiled references to Isaiah 32:15 in Luke 24:49 and Luke 1:35, much more weight it would appear than on Luke’s direct statements (e.g., Luke 11:13; 24:47-49; Acts 1:8, 2:17-18). These allusions encourage Turner to suggest that in Luke’s view the Spirit is the agent of the Christian community’s “righteousness, peace, and life” (p. 110). I find Isaiah 49:6, which has a missiological focus, to be a much more convincing backdrop for Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:4-8. In any event, none of this should obscure the force of Luke’s explicit statements. These allusions also lead Turner to see Jesus’ miraculous birth by the Spirit (Luke 1:35) as a parallel to the believer’s experience of the Spirit at Pentecost (p. 113, n. 31). Yet certainly Luke has crafted his narrative in such a way as to present Jesus’ experience of the Spirit at the Jordan (and his OT commentary on this event at the synagogue in Nazareth) – which Turner himself acknowledges to be an empowering for mission – as the true parallel to the disciples’ experience on Pentecost (again, interpreted as a fulfillment of OT prophecy by Peter).