Explore the Bible: Acts 2:1-12
One of the questions raised as you read Acts 2 is just where the followers of Jesus were when the Holy Spirit descended. Traditionally, most scholars have held that they were in a room together, most likely the same room mentioned in Acts 1:13. Such a room must have been large (it held 120 people) and located in Jerusalem somewhere not far from the Temple area. It has been speculated that it would have been in the poorer part of town, since most of the followers of Jesus were from the working class and were visitors who had been in the city for almost two months.
A few scholars, however, argue that the coming of the Holy Spirit happened in the Temple itself. They point out that the word “house” is sometimes applied to the Temple, and that there was certainly room in the Temple courts for 120 people to gather. The time given in verse 15, 9:00 AM, suggests that the disciples would have already have gone to the Temple to observe the festival. If this is the case, then the coming of the Spirit would have been heard and seen by a huge throng at the Temple and in its vicinity, which could explain the amazement of the crowd and the powerful response to Peter’s preaching.
As attractive as this idea is, I think there are two facts in the text that make it unlikely. The first is that the group is described as “sitting” in the house where they were. Worshippers would not have been sitting in the Temple on a feast day; they would have been standing amidst a mass of people gathered for the feast. The Greek word translated “sitting” does have a secondary meaning of “staying” or “dwelling,” but the more common translation seems to be appropriate here.
The second factor that tells against the Temple theory is that we do not read that the crowd was amazed by the visible and audible phenomena that surrounded the descent of the Holy Spirit. Rather, they were amazed by the fact that the followers of Jesus, although distinctly Galilean, were speaking in their own native languages, and this all at the same time. Those who derided them as drunk may have been natives who, of course, only heard them speaking Aramaic or Hebrew, the common languages of Israel. It was this phenomenon that drew the crowd and attracted their attention.
I think the most likely scenario goes like this: The followers of Jesus were gathered in an upper room not far from the Temple. Sometime before 9:00 AM, perhaps as they were preparing to leave to go to the Temple, the Holy Spirit came with audible and visible signs, and as they began to talk about what was happening they were intelligible to all people in their native languages. (This is often seen as a reversal of Babel.) As they went out in the street and moved toward the Temple, they began to attract a crowd of amazed onlookers, Jews from all over the Roman and Parthian empires. Peter rose to the occasion, and the Spirit moved the crowd through Peter’s preaching so that 3000 people responded and were saved.
Whatever the facts are, we can see that the power of the Holy Spirit, coming at Pentecost, brought about conviction of sin and conversion of hearts. The same Spirit is still at work today, and we should not be surprised when, in any place and at any time, we see Him working in power today to draw people to Jesus and to bring salvation to any who yield to Him.