What does Acts 2:3 mean?
ESV: And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.
NIV: They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.
NASB: And tongues that looked like fire appeared to them, distributing themselves, and a tongue rested on each one of them.
CSB: They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated and rested on each one of them.
NLT: Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them.
KJV: And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
NKJV: Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.
Verse Commentary:
About one hundred and twenty Jesus-followers (Acts 1:15) are sitting in a house in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit comes (Acts 2:1–2). At first, they hear "a sound like a mighty rushing wind" (Acts 2:2). Now bits of fire—or something with that appearance—land on them.

In the Old Testament, God often came as if in wind (Job 38:1; Ezekiel 1:4; 1 Kings 19:12), but He also came in the form of fire. He met Moses in a flaming bush (Exodus 3:2–5) and led the Israelites through the wilderness through a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21–22). When God met Moses on Mt. Sinai, He "descended on it in fire" (Exodus 19:18) and "the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain" (Exodus 24:17).

John the Baptist promised that Jesus' followers would be baptized by the Spirit, but he also said they would be baptized with fire (Luke 3:16; Matthew 3:11). The Bible uses fire as a metaphorical method of purification. Fire purified Isaiah's unclean lips (Isaiah 6:4–8) and burns away the useless chaff of the wheat (Luke 3:17). When we will be judged, our works will be tested as if they were put through fire to destroy the useless and reveal the good (1 Corinthians 3:12–15).

In this case, it appears the tongues of fire are visual manifestations of the Holy Spirit's intent. His plan is to equip the Jesus-followers with the ability to speak other languages (Acts 2:4). Jerusalem is filled with Jews from all over the Roman Empire and beyond who have come for the Feast of Pentecost. It's possible that not all of them speak Aramaic or Greek. In order to effectively spread the message that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah who can reconcile sinners with God, the people will need to hear that message in their own language. And so, the Holy Spirit makes that possible
Verse Context:
Acts 2:1–13 finds Jesus' followers waiting in a house in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit, as Jesus instructed (Acts 1:4, 12–15). The Holy Spirit comes, not only establishing His presence in each individual permanently, but equipping them as needed to spread the news that Jesus forgives sins and reconciles sinners to God. Jews from all over the Roman Empire, in Jerusalem for Pentecost, hear the message in their own languages. Some are derisive, but others are very interested in what the apostles are saying.
Chapter Summary:
Acts 2 describes the beginning of the church in three episodes. First, the Holy Spirit comes upon the Jesus-followers in Jerusalem, equipping them with the ability to teach the gospel in different languages (Acts 2:1–13). Second, Peter gives a public declaration using Old Testament prophecy to show Jesus is the long-awaited Jewish Messiah (Acts 2:14–36). Third, people believe. They repent, trust Jesus will forgive their sins, and agree to be baptized as a public sign that they are now Jesus-followers (Acts 2:37–47). That quickly, the church is born.
Chapter Context:
Acts 2 describes the creation of Jesus' church. Forty days after Jesus' resurrection He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9). One hundred and twenty disciples obeyed His command to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4, 2–15). In Acts 2, they receive the Holy Spirit and share the gospel with a crowd of people who have come to celebrate Pentecost. Three thousand believe, and the church comes to life. In the following chapters, Jesus-followers fulfill Jesus' promise that they will be His witnesses ''in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth'' (Acts 1:8).
Book Summary:
The summary of the book of Acts is provided in Jesus' words in Acts 1:8: ''But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'' In Acts 2:1–13, the Christ-followers receive the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:14—7:60 describes the rapid growth of the church in Jerusalem. Chapters 8—12 find Jewish persecution inadvertently spreading the gospel throughout Judea and Samaria. And in chapters 13—28, Paul and his companions spread the good news throughout the Roman Empire.
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