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The Day of Pentecost in the Upper Room

Posted by on May 4, 2011 in scripture | 27 comments

The Day of Pentecost in the Upper Room

In my previous post, I explained the Jewish background to the “Day of Pentecost” mentioned in Acts 2:1 (see my post “What is Pentecost?“). However, from a Christian perspective, I’m more interested in that particular Pentecost that occurred 50 days after Jesus Christ was crucified and approximately 10 days after he ascended into heaven.

What can learn about this day from the scriptural account?

First, we know that some of Jesus’ followers were gathered together in the same place. (Acts 2:1) Where were they gathered? Luke does not directly specify where the disciples were gathered in this particular passage. However, it is likely that Luke intended his readers to understand the disciples were still meeting in the same place they had been meeting. Where had they been gathering? Luke says that 120 of Jesus’ disciples had been meeting together in an upper room during the time between his ascension into heaven and the day of Pentecost. (See Acts 1:12-14.)

Which upper room? Since Luke assumes his readers know which upper room he’s talking about (without explanation), the most likely location is the same upper room where Jesus ate with his disciples just before he was crucified. (See Luke 22:7-12.) Since the disciples continued to have access to this upper room of a home after Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, it is possible that the home belonged to one of Jesus’ disciples, but this is not specified. (Some speculate this was Mark’s home.)

Since Acts 2:1 says they were “all” together in one place, Luke is pointing back to the 120 disciples that he had mentioned earlier. (See Acts 1:15.) Who were these 120 followers of Jesus? We know the 11 apostles were among them. (Acts 1:13) We also know that Jesus’ mother, brothers, and sisters were among them. (Acts 1:14) There were at least 2 (but probably more) people who had followed Jesus since he was baptized by John the Baptist. (Acts 1:21) That still leaves others who had followed Jesus (at least after his resurrection).

What were they doing when they were gathered together? Again, in Acts 2, Luke does not specifically tell us what they were doing at that moment (when the Holy Spirit was sent). However, he did tell us previously that they had been praying together. (Acts 1:14) We also know that they had been eating together when Jesus was with them. (Acts 1:6)

So, what happened? When these 120 people were gathered together in the upper room – perhaps eating and praying together – God sent the Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus had told them was going to happen. (Acts 1:4-5) (Also, see my post “The Ascension of Jesus Christ.”)

We know that the Holy Spirit had been at work previously. We see him working through different people throughout the Old Testament. We see Jesus’ close connection with the Spirit in the Gospels. Now, though, something different was happening.

According to what Jesus had told his disciples (i.e., “wait for the promise of the Father”) and what Peter said later (i.e., “received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit”), the Spirit was working in a new manner, that is, in a way that he had not worked previously but in a way that had been promised or prophesied.

This was the setting of that specific day of Pentecost that came along 50 days after Jesus was crucified and 10 days after he ascended into heaven.


27 Comments

  1. 9-19-2012

    Since it is not specifically stated that they were in the upper room at that time could it not also be possible they were meeting at the temple as it was their custom.
    see Act 2:46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple , and breaking bread from house to house , did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart
    Also if it was in a upper private room how could the multitude have heard what happened?
    see Act 2:5 ¶ And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
    Act 2:6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
    I think it’s very possible that all that transpired right there inthe temple.

  2. 9-20-2012

    Sabine,

    It’s certainly possible that Luke meant that the disciples were gathered in the temple area. However, the passage that mentions the temple comes after his statement that they were all together in one place. Plus, Luke had already told his readers that the disciples were all staying together in the upper room in Acts 1:13. It seems more probable that this is the “one place” of Acts 2:1.

    -Alan

  3. 1-30-2013

    Hi Alan
    I stumbled on your site whilst looking for more clarity on what happened and where at Pentecost. I am currently looking at the evidences of the baptism in the Holy Spirit (my roots are pentecostal, now a reformed but unashamed charismatic), and I think that the location of the 120 when the Holy Spirit rushed in may be quite important. P reviously I had always imagined them going back to the upper room where the last supper and no doubt countless other suppers had taken place between Jesus and his closest followers. Maybe owned by sympathisers or followers. However…. at the end of Luke we have Jesus saying “stay in the city (24:49) until you are clothed with power from on high” , and the disciples “returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple, praising God” (24:52). This would seem to conflict with Luke’s other report of the disciples’ location immediately after the ascension – “When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying.” So I am confused. There seem to be two views.
    But the outpouring occurring in the temple, rather than in the upper room, would seem to explain an anomaly which I have never been able to understand – how could the crowd hear the tongues, and converge with the 120 if they were cooped up in the upper room at the time? Surely Luke would mention how these two groups came together – ie, “the 120 spilled out onto the streets” . It would seem more plausible to me that the 120 were preparing to celebrate Pentecost in the Temple, and that the noise of tongues was heard there and attracted the diaspora who had convened in Jerusalem for the festival. Then, added to this, there’s the verse at the end of Acts 2 which suggests continuation of habit by these 120, now embraced by at least some of the 3,000 converts – “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house…….”
    I do not know what to do with the references to the upper room, but I cannot ignore the consistent allusions to the temple and also the explanation of how the interaction of disciples and Diaspora took place that day. Can you help?

    Like your blog. Simple to read, solid and sound.

    God bless you

    Marcus

  4. 1-30-2013

    Marcus,

    Interestingly, Luke only finds it important to tell us that Jesus’ disciples were “all together in one place” (Acts 2:1) when the Holy Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost. (I think it likely, though, that in order to speak to over 3,000 – many more than 3,000 since 3,000 actually accepted their good news – that they did not stay in one place for long.) I think it is quite fitting that Luke does not tell us exactly where the disciples were, because most of this book (Acts) centers on the fact that God is not housed in a certain building (temple), city (Jerusalem), or region (Judea).

    -Alan

  5. 4-15-2013

    How many people starting out waiting for the Holy Spirit but left before He filled the 120 that remained in the upper room?

  6. 4-18-2013

    Debbie,

    As far as I know, there’s no way for us to know if anyone left before the Holy Spirit came or not. There’s no mention of it at all.

    -Alan

  7. 4-21-2013

    how many desciples did Jesus have again? Becuase in this it said he had
    120

  8. 4-22-2013

    Latrell,

    According to Luke, there were 120 disciples in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. I would assume there were more disciples of Jesus than that, but we’re not given an exact number. Why do you ask?

    -Alan

  9. 5-16-2013

    good stuff. I am sure you’ve heard the take that the “obvious” place for Pentecost was actually the temple, not a home:
    http://davewainscott.blogspot.com/2013/05/on-pentecost-happening-in-temple.html

  10. 5-16-2013

    Dave,

    It’s certainly possible that they were all gathered in the temple. Of course, Luke doesn’t mention the temple at all until later in the passage, but he had already mentioned that they were gathering in the upper room. So, to me, the “one place” would point back to the place Luke had already mentioned. Could it be a completely different location? Sure, it could be.

    -Alan

  11. 5-21-2013

    Where in Jerusalem is the Upper Room located. I understand it to be in the home of Mary Magdalene (?) if memory serves me correctly, but Im trying to figure out the direct city. They came from the Mount of Olivet to the Upper Room which took them a Sabbath days journey.
    Acts 1:12-13.

    Thanks in advance,

    Karen, A student researching

  12. 5-21-2013

    Karen,

    I don’t remember the upper room being associated with Mary Magdalene in Scripture. Do you know where that association is found?

    -Alan

  13. 7-1-2013

    The last verse of Luke’s gospel leaves no room for doubt as to where they were on the day of Pentecost. Yes, we are told in Acts that, when they were come in to Jerusalem, they entered into an upper room. That is all that is said. It does not say they stayed there. In fact, it is impossible that they continued there, since Luke tells us they “were continually in the temple.” So they slept in an upper room, a motel room, as it were, and during the day were “continually” in the temple. So, at 9 am on the day of Pentecost, where were they? Well, where was every other devout Jew, who had traveled at great expense from all over the world, at 9 am on that day? In their motel rooms, or taking part in the temple services on that great feast day? Remember, several days had passed, seven at least. Are we to believe that they were “holed up” in a motel room for seven days, when Luke unambiguously tells us that they “were continually in the temple”, in the last verse of Luke’s gospel? Since he also wrote Acts, surely he would be baffled by today’s confusion in the matter. That the majority of preachers think they were in the upper room matters little — the word of Luke is clear enough on the subject.

    Suppose you were a sportswriter, and your employer handed you a ticket to the Super Bowl, paid your way there, and paid for your hotel room — an upper room, let’s say. When you get back, your boss asks you, “How was the game?”. And you reply, “I don’t know. I stayed in my room the whole week.”

    Read Philip Mauro’s chapter in “The Hope of Israel” entitled “Where were the disciples on the day of Pentecost” for further light on this matter.

  14. 7-1-2013

    Alberto,

    It is certainly possible (though not necessary) that the Holy Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost while the believers were in the temple in Jerusalem. However, your evidence above leaves out Acts 1 – which comes between the end of Luke and Acts 2. In Acts 1, we see the believers doing much more than just sleeping in the upper room.

    Again, while I think they were in the upper room at the beginning of Acts 2, I do not think it is necessary either way. The focus of the NT is not on the temple structure, but on the follower of Jesus as the temple of the Holy Spirit. This is the temple that should hold our focus as well.

    -Alan

  15. 7-1-2013

    Dear Brother Alan, I am not trying to be contentious here. And I have no axe to grind. I don’t need to be right. However, I do want to believe what’s true.

    Does the last verse of Luke’s gospel say, “And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the upper room, blessing and praising God?”

    Acts 1 says they entered into an upper room. The next verse says they “continued with one accord in prayer.” And the very next verse indicates that days passed — “in those days”. So they were continuing in prayer, continually, for days on end.

    Where were they continuing? Luke says they were continually in the temple for those seven days or so. Is it logically possible for them to continue in the upper room, and also be continually in the temple?

    Haven’t you ever wondered what kind of room sleeps 120 people? And from where came all these Jews from different countries, instantly on the scene? Were they “playing hookey” from the temple services, where they belonged, wandering the narrow streets of Jerusalem, until they heard tongues from an upstairs window? And from whence came the three thousand the disciples baptized? And how was this done anywhere else than the temple, with its plethora of ritual baths? In a horse trough, in a narrow lane outside the upper room?

    You might wonder why this issue is important to me. Well, if it was the fulfillment of the vision in Ezekiel where water flows out of the temple and fills the world, speaking of the Spirit (John 7:37, 38), then probably it is important.

    But I don’t have to be right. Blessings, and shalom in Christ.

  16. 7-1-2013

    Albert,

    I haven’t read your posts as being contentious. And, I agree completely that neither one of us have to be right about this.

    In your comments, you’ve admitted that “continually in the temple” does not mean “always in the temple.” There were times when they were not in the temple. And, you admit that part of that time, at least, was spent in the upper room. So, I still see no reason to think that the 120 followers had to be in the temple in Acts 2 and could not have been in the upper room.

    By the way, I did a quick perusal of Luke concerning the Holy Spirit. The focus is on the Holy Spirit indwelling and leading Jesus. The Holy Spirit is never associated with being “in the temple.” If Luke is referring to Ezekiel’s vision, then it seems just as likely (perhaps more likely) that Luke sees the Holy Spirit flowing how of Jesus (as the temple) and into his followers (as the temple), without any reference to a temple building.

    -Alan

  17. 7-26-2013

    This is a very interesting subject. And i believe no one is either right or wrong for the simple fact that the Bible does not specify exactly where the disciples were when the Holy Spirit descended upon them. But I would like to add that in Acts 1:14 it says “And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. 14 These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication,with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” And in Acts 2:2 it says “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” If you notice it says “…filled the whole house where they were sitting” An upper room would be found in a house. But also in Acts 2:46 it says “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,” which means that they could have been in either place when the received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I think the most important thing about all of this is not if it took place in the upper room or in the temple, but the fact that we are all so blessed to be able to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit when we come to Christ and are privileged to know that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 6:19).

  18. 7-27-2013

    Wanda,

    You know, I completely skipped Acts 2:2 where Luke specifically says they were in a house. Thank you for pointing that out.

    -Alan

  19. 10-22-2013

    have you ever heard suggested that maybe jesus was in the upper room on the day of pentecost. yes, he had ascended 10 days earlier, who is to say he never appeared to the disciples during the previous nine days or on the day of pentecost. i know the bible doesn’t say or address that question, but it is possible. it seems to me HE might really want to have been there. asking for your thoughts or if you know of anyone who has addressed this possibility. thanks

  20. 10-25-2013

    Steve,

    Jesus was present in the Holy Spirit. Remember, he told his followers that it was good for him to leave (physically) so that another helper (the Holy Spirit) could come. So, while we might think it would be better for Jesus to be with us physically, he said it was not as good. Interesting, huh?

    -Alan

  21. 11-27-2013

    Thank you Alan, the question of WHY YESHUA breathed the Holy Spirit on the disciples {John 20: 19-21}has crossed my mind for quite a while, especially since they were also promised the Comforter…[Acts 2}
    Yesterday 26th Nov 2013, the thought once again crossed my mind and immediately this time l received an answer from the LORD, so l have spent part of the evening last night and most of today studying scripture and writing a teaching on what l feel that the LORD has shown me, because the LORD showed me that when HE breathed the spirit on the disciples it was temporarily as in the Old testament and why. And then late this afternoon l came across your site.. YHVH ALWAYS CONFIRMS IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, what HE reveals to HIS children and especially to HIS prophets. and l am called by YHVH as a Prophetess..
    Yesterday l had already told my husband, my brother and family that l was going to ask YHVH for confirmation and I did ask HIM, and today l came across your site. Once again thank you and thank you Almighty FATHER in YESHUA”S name. l am also a Messianic Jewess who was born and raised Christian and only discovered for certain my Jewish heritage when l was in my twenties.. SHALOM

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