Did Pentecost really happen in the upper room? – Part 1
In my last article The Biblical imagery of Pentecost, the imagery of the powerful display of wind and fire was examined in some detail. The place where the initial Pentecost experience happened will be the focus in this article.
This would be a proper place to interject a potential challenge to the traditional place where the advent of Pentecost happened. Tradition cites that it happened in the upper room, however, there were 120 people present. Most Jewish homes in that day weren’t equipped to accommodate that many people at one time, and the Scriptures do not attest necessarily to this fact either.
And when they had come in, they went up into an upper room where abode both Peter and James, and John and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the brother of James.
These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren.
If we look at the line up of who is living in this upper room, it is the eleven disciples who are all males. In examining the textual evidence, v. 14 states ‘These all continued…’, the words ‘these all’ in this verse refer to the preceding mention of the eleven disciples who were living in the upper room. The women who had followed the Lord Jesus’ ministry and His Mother and His biological brethren are listed but not necessarily were they living there. But it should be noted that it says nothing of an additional 90-100 people being jam-packed in this room. It is the last verse that mentions their continual habit of being in prayer and supplication, and while the faithful Jewish person also prayed in their own homes, let us look at the next verse.
And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (the number of names altogether were about a hundred and twenty) and said…
Verse 14 is a transitional verse to indicate a separation of time and place. Authors, old and new use literary devices such as time compression to avoid boring their readers and the Biblical writers have done no less. Verse 15 opens with ‘…in those days…’ which is a clear time-marker that sometime during those 10 days, Peter stood up to address the 120 disciples so that they could choose a replacement for Judas Iscariot. So here is where the 120 disciples make their debut into the text.
But the most likely location for this speech is probably on one of the porches that surrounded the Temple in Jerusalem. One of the public porches would have been an excellent location because women, children and gentiles alike could congregate there in freedom. If Jewish women wished to go inside and pray, they were limited to only being allowed in the women’s section. Jewish men could proceed further into the section where the non-Levitical men were allowed, but gentiles were only allowed in the court set aside for their specific purposes. We need to remember that because women were present with the men too, their needs were being considered. While the Lord Jesus allowed women to travel with Him and be His disciples too, the rest of the world was still functioning with the repressive idea that women should be occasionally seen and barely heard. This explains the Lord Jesus’ penchant for teaching outside the Temple, simply due to all of the ritualistic restrictions in place that limited people from approaching near to their God.
With this information in mind, one of the porches (probably Solomon’s) was probably where Pentecost happened. It is highly unlikely that after such a spectacular event (if they truly were in the upper room), that they would have then left the room to noise it abroad. When the presence of God manifests, human flesh cannot stand under the weight of His Glory, and people generally remain bowed, with their faces towards the ground. Textual evidence for this can be found in:
2 Chronicles 7:1-3
Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the house. And the priests could not enter into the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord had filled the Lord’s house. And when all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the Lord upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.
And He had in His right hand seven stars, and out of His mouth went a sharp two edged sword, and His countenance shone as the sun shineth in his strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, “Fear not; I am the First and the Last.
However, if indeed they were gathered together and praying on one of the porches (as this writer is positing), they were witnesses as the Holy Spirit began to descend in such awesome magnificence. They beheld God as He began birthing the New Testament church in a public venue. It would not have taken long for the other people on or around the porch who were watching this event, for them to begin shouting it out to everyone else. Word of this colossal event quickly spread throughout the Temple precincts and people began rushing in to see what was happening.
We will continue this study in Part 2. God Bless.