Should We Expect Many Pentecosts?

Jeong Woo "James" Lee
Saturday, February 28th 2015
Mar/Apr 2015

As we read in Acts 2 about Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles, it's important to ask what God intended that event to be’a paradigm for church revival, or a unique, unrepeatable redemptive-historical event. Before considering the answer, it's important to recognize that Pentecost belongs to the history of salvation (the objective work of God's redemption in history, which can happen only once, such as Jesus' death and resurrection) rather than the order of salvation (the ongoing, subjective application of God's redemption in history in the hearts of men and women, such as regeneration, faith, justification, adoption, and sanctification).

Most scholars accept the history-of-redemption character of Pentecost as a necessary, climactic conclusion to Christ's once-for-all redemptive work. Nor is it under dispute whether Pentecost was the inauguration of a new era (the final era, in fact) in redemptive history. The point under discussion is the character of this age. This "new age," as it was ushered in by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, is the age of the Holy Spirit. As such, it has to be "spiritual" or "supernatural" in character. If that's the case, then shouldn't we expect more Pentecosts, more "supernatural" phenomena, even more so than any other time in redemptive history?

We certainly affirm Christianity to be a thoroughly supernatural religion. God is a Spirit, a supernatural being, after all. The God of the Bible is not the god of deism; he is intimately involved in the affairs of the world and of humanity. Insofar as our redemption is God's work, it is supernatural in character.

However, when discussing the nature of this age of the Holy Spirit, it is important for us to distinguish between two types of supernatural phenomena: eschatological and sub-eschatological. The term "eschatological" comes from the Greek word eschatos, which denotes "final" or "last." Eschatological things are therefore eternal in nature and duration (since there is nothing that comes after them).

In contrast, sub-eschatological phenomena refer to physical manifestations of the eschatological reality and power. Signs and wonders and miracles belong to this sub-eschatological category. Although they originate from heaven (the eschatological realm, as it were), they are sub-eschatological because they manifest themselves in physical, temporary forms. They are like brilliant fireworks of the supernatural in the dark night of the natural. It's important to point out that Pentecost consisted of both: the eschatological (the coming down of the Holy Spirit to dwell with his people forever, resulting in people's conversion) and the sub-eschatological (the "signs and wonders" of a sound like a mighty rushing wind from heaven, divided tongues as of fire appearing and resting on each disciple, and the disciples speaking in tongues and prophesying).

In order to see the importance of this distinction, it will be helpful to have a brief redemptive historical survey of the pattern in which God worked signs and wonders. This will shed some light on the direction in which God is driving redemptive history and what we should expect from God in these last days’and whether we should expect more than one Pentecost.

The Pattern of God's Work

The supernatural nature of our redemption doesn't automatically imply that God flexes his omnipotent muscles, performing miracles randomly and haphazardly. When we survey the Scriptures, we discover a pattern by which God intrudes into the realm of nature and supernaturally manifests his power.

First, consider the simple fact that God is the Creator. As such, he is the author of the laws of nature. When God pronounced everything he made "very good," the laws of nature were included. God delighted in them as a reflection of his power, wisdom, goodness, and beauty, and he established them as his ordinary, regular way of governing and sustaining the world. Should he take pleasure in suspending and interrupting them regularly then? For sure, the laws of nature serve as the backdrop against which the extraordinary, otherworldly nature of divine miracles shines. But these miracles are meant to be "extraordinary" events, not commonplace occurrences.

Second, in surveying the Bible we see indeed that signs and wonders were not as common as we might expect. This is amazing when we consider the "supernatural" character of redemptive history in which God is working out his (supernatural) redemption. Even so, we see high concentrations of signs and wonders only at certain times in redemptive history.

The Clusters of Miracles in the Bible

Many biblical scholars have observed that there are three major "clusters" of signs and wonders in redemptive history: Israel's exodus from Egypt; Elijah and Elisha's prophetic ministry; and Jesus and the apostles. Understanding their function within the story of salvation and redemption will help us understand the pattern of God's work in history, and what we should expect during our era in redemptive history.

Israel's exodus from Egypt, of course, is the redemptive event in the Old Testament. As redemption is God's work, it is accompanied by many signs and wonders to demonstrate that fact. The same is true of the period of Jesus and the apostles. Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world. And the redemption he accomplished is supernatural through and through. He is the God-man, the greatest Intrusion from heaven. Everything about him and what he does has an undeniable air of the supernatural. It is fascinating that his death and resurrection are referred to as "his departure" (Greek exodos, Luke 9:31). His work of redemption is to be understood as a new, greater exodus, to which Israel's lesser exodus pointed. Even more interesting is the setting’the conversation in Luke 9:31 took place among Moses, Elijah, and Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration. We see the two major prophets, who presided over the other clusters of signs and wonders in redemptive history, talking with the Christ, the true prophet, about the ultimate, greatest exodus!

We can see the common theme of exodus shared between Israel's exodus and Jesus' life and ministry. But how does the time of Elijah and Elisha fit in? What is so significant about their ministry in redemptive history? Does it have anything to do with the theme of exodus? I believe it does, in a significant way: Elijah and Elisha's ministry is the turning point from the old exodus to the new exodus.

Elijah comes onto the stage during the reign of Ahab, the worst king in Israel's history up to that time. He appeared as the forerunner of the Old Testament prophetic ministry, which brought God's covenant lawsuit against the sinful Israel. As such, it signaled the failure of the old exodus to bring true redemption to the people of God (which was prophesied even before Israel entered the Promised Land; cf. Deut. 30:1-2). Elijah's (and Elisha's) ministry signaled the need for a greater and better exodus to accomplish that purpose. We can see this in two major ways.

First is Elijah's reversal of Israel's entrance into the Promised Land. When the time of his departure came, he crossed the Jordan River near Jericho as Israel did long ago. Just as the Jordan River was miraculously cut off when Israel had crossed it once, so it was miraculously parted when Elijah (and Elisha) crossed it. But when Elijah did it, it was in the opposite direction’from west to east, from the land of Canaan into the wilderness. It was as though Israel's exodus was being reversed.

What is more, after Elijah crossed the Jordan he was taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire. It was as though the older exodus was being abandoned for a new one. The old exodus was from Egypt to the Promised Land; the new exodus would be from the Promised Land to heaven! Of course, Elisha crossed the Jordan back into the Promised Land after Elijah's rapture, demonstrating that Elijah's rapture was not the new exodus. Elijah's departure pointed to a newer, greater exodus to come in Jesus Christ.

Consider also another significant aspect of Elijah and Elisha's ministry: the inclusion of Gentiles as beneficiaries of the new exodus. Our Lord highlighted the profound redemptive-historical significance of this phenomenon:

"But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." (Luke 4:25-27)

The Rationale for the Divine Pattern

What is the rationale behind such a pattern of divine miracles? In The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline (Anson D. F. Randolph & Co., 1894), biblical scholar Geerhardus Vos points out two stages in God's redemption: one characterized by signs and wonders through which God accomplishes the objective redemption in history; another characterized by the Holy Spirit subjectively applying that redemption to individuals through the instrument of faith. In this second stage, God's people are called to "live by faith" not by sight. There is a sense, then, that the first stage is characterized by "sight" rather than by "faith." Of course, faith is required in the first stage as well. The exodus generation perished in the wilderness because they did not unite what they witnessed (the signs and wonders) with their faith (Heb. 4:2). Even so, the first stage is when God accomplishes our redemption in history for all to see. It is then followed by a more "ordinary" period in which God's people live by faith.

Why should there be two stages? Why couldn't there be just one stage of God saving us and applying the full benefits of that salvation all at once? A simple answer is that our salvation is eschatological in essence. Our ultimate salvation cannot be completed here in this world. It will be only when the first heaven and the first earth are no more, giving way to a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1). As long as we live in this world (and as long as there are some elect yet to be saved), there will always be an element of "not yet" in our redemption that compels us to live by faith. The death and resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit established what Vos called the "organic center for the new order of things," out of which our redemption can grow, mature, and be fully realized at the second coming. During this time, "the new order of things" grows as the Holy Spirit works through the "ordinary" means of grace, enabling us to live by faith (and repentance) until "faith shall be sight."

As we've traced the progression of redemptive history from the sub-eschatological to the eschatological, we've seen this movement exemplified in the development of Israel as a nation’Israel as a theocracy was a kind of sub-eschatological entity, a kingdom of heaven manifested in an earthly kingdom. Its power and glory were shown in earthly terms in its military victories, in its material abundance and wealth in the land, and so on. Even the glory of its religion was shown in the visible majesty and beauty of its temple. But the theocratic Israel is now replaced with the church under the new covenant. Unlike Israel, the church is not a geopolitical entity. Its glory is the cross, not the land. Its lot is not only to believe in Christ for eternal life, but also to suffer for his sake (Phil. 1:29)’so much so that Paul presents his sufferings as an authentication of his apostleship (2 Cor. 11). Thus endowed with an otherworldly character, the church displays more clearly (than Israel) its eschatological identity and destination.

For A "Thoroughly" Eschatological Expectation

There is a sense in which the sub-eschatological phenomena, such as signs and wonders, are a kind of capitulation of the eschatological to the temporal. They show the superior power of the heavenly in earthly terms. This was made necessary because of the "childish" condition of God's people’childish because they had not yet seen the full redemption of God in his beloved Son. In the coming of Christ, the kingdom of God has come in a fuller measure than ever before. His death on the cross was our final (eschatological) judgment. His resurrection was the down payment of our (eschatological) resurrection on the last day. And his work of redemption culminated with the outpouring of the (eschatological) Holy Spirit. We now live in the last (eschatological) days.


Should we expect many Pentecosts? No. Pentecost, consisting of both eschatological and sub-eschatological phenomena, was a unique, unrepeatable event belonging to the history of redemption. It was the culmination of Christ's once-for-all work of redemption. But it was also the inauguration of the last days; a transition from the sub-eschatological to the eschatological era.

How should we expect God to bless his people in these last (eschatological) days? In these last days, as the end is drawing near, God wants to wean us off this present age, which is already passing away (1 John 2:17), and make us fit for the age to come. So then, we should graduate from our fascination with the sub-eschatological things to an earnest desire for the thoroughly eschatological things. It is so easy to become enamored with supernatural miracles, isn't it? But they are second-class supernatural phenomena in comparison to the thoroughly eschatological one, which is our eternal salvation in Christ Jesus’every aspect of it, from our effectual calling and regeneration all the way to our glorification and eternal life in that eschatological kingdom of heaven! That is the primary purpose for which the Holy Spirit was given to the church. Let us, then, crave for more excellent, higher gifts (1 Cor. 12:31)’the eschatological gift of eternal salvation! May the Lord bless his church with many souls converted at the preaching of God's word as the Holy Spirit works mightily in the hearts of God's people!

Saturday, February 28th 2015

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
Magazine Covers; Embodiment & Technology