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God’s Word for You

Acts 2:3 what seemed to be tongues of fire

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, August 21, 2019

3 Then what seemed to be tongues of fire appeared. They separated and came to rest on each of them.

The second miracle of Pentecost was this appearance of “what seemed to be” (Greek ὡσεὶ) tongues of fire. This was not a physical fire, as if the hair of the apostles was in danger of burning, but rather a signal of God’s divine presence. While fire can be an indication of God’s wrath (Leviticus 10:2; Numbers 11:1-3; Jude 7), here that can’t be the case. This must simply have been a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Also, John the Baptist has prophesied that Jesus would baptize men with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16). This was a fire that showed Godly purification, men who were now the temples of the Holy Spirit.

We should not give too much attention to the use of the word “tongues” in this verse along with the use of the word “tongues” later on when the same word refers to languages. Greek had the same parallel idioms that we have with tongues of flame and tongues meaning languages, and it would be reading too much into the text to draw any conclusions from these words. We have a similar issue when Jesus says “I will make you fishers of men” in English (Matthew 4:19) when the pun is not present in the Greek text, which just says halieis anthropon, “fish-catchers of humans.”

Why did the tongues of flame appear? One of the more important reasons must have been to show that these apostles and no others were given the gift being displayed, and to clearly show that the message being proclaimed had the authority from God to say what they were saying. Theirs was a message that would be new to many of their listeners. Just as people had asked where Jesus’ authority came from (Matthew 21:23; Luke 20:2; John 2:18), they would ask where the apostles got their authority to preach. To smooth things over, so to speak, the tongues of flame showed their authority. It hadn’t been too hard for Moses to come down from the mountain with his face still shining to get people to listen to him. In fact, they were afraid of him (Exodus 34:30). Most people would get nervous around a preacher with fire dancing on his pate.

What were these tongues of fire, if they weren’t really flames that consumed matter. They were a supernatural, miraculous visual manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit. They looked like flames of fire, “as if” (hōsei, ὡσεὶ) they were fire, but not fire. We find the same “as if” word, ὡσεὶ, in the baptism of Jesus. There, the Holy Spirit appeared “as if” (ὡσεὶ) a dove, but it was the Holy Spirit, not a bird. The devil inhabited a serpent when he tempted Eve, but the Holy Spirit did not inhabit or “possess” a bird. He took on the form of a bird. Here, the Spirit sent a light that had the appearance of flame but not the substance of fire. It was a visual signal, not something which consumed. It pointed; it did not destroy. It showed, it displayed, it proclaimed: These men who are speaking are speaking with the authority of God Almighty. It was the presence of the tongues of flame that announced: “These are my apostles. Listen to them.”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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