To clarify the signification of Pentecost, we need to look back into salvation history to the tower of Babel. Then we’ll understand Pentecost as the culmination of salvation history.
Babel is a story about the world hitting rock bottom. It is the consummation of humanity’s idolatry and self-exultation. Recall what they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves” (Gen 11:4). Building a city doesn't seem like such a bad thing, but by building this city the people were denying their dependence on God. They saw themselves as replacing God; they, themselves, would live in the sky and have dominion over the world.
Our secular culture has this same intention It is anti-religious and seeks to exalt itself into the place of God. Its goal is for humankind to be the master of the universe who chooses what is good and evil. Humanity chooses the meaning of his own life. Humanity chooses the standard of what is good. It refuses to see the truth that goodness is a gift from God and that our freedom and exultation is achieved not by grasping at equality God, but by emptying ourselves out in love.
Whenever we make ourselves the arbitrators of what is good and evil, we are rebuilding the tower of Babel by making ourselves to be God. But what’s the fruit of this tower? The Babylonians built their tower only to be sundered into division. Rather than reach the sky, their works ended in fragmentation. Their language was confused, and they were scattered to the ends of the earth. Whenever we exalt ourselves, we divide ourselves. We don’t obtain happiness and peace; we experience disunity and despair.
After the tower of Babel, God begins building His own house. He calls Abraham, an unimportant, desert nomad, but God promises him that he will be the father of many nations and that the whole world will find blessing in him. God begins a history of salvation which will climax in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ who ascends into Heaven in order to send forth the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Pentecost is the reversal of Babel. At Babel, humanity built a tower. At Pentecost, God builds a temple, the Church. In the former, humans exalt themselves. In the latter, God exalts humanity. People who were in unity with each other were confused, divided, and scattered across the world at Babel, but at Pentecost, people who were scattered across the world were brought into one family in Christ, united in one faith and one Spirit.
The Spirit brings unity to humanity based on love, not selfishness. “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” That is, to be of benefit to others. Those who cling to selfishness are in the flesh and “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Live out of the Spirit which has been given to you!
Christ ascended into heaven and sent His Spirit into our hearts to lead us to Himself. Christ has given us a Spirit of adoption “through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father.” God has sent forth His spirit and renewed the face of the earth. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” All humanity, from every nation, was brought into Christ who is the seed of Abraham. By the sending of the Spirit, God manifests His covenantal faithfulness. At Pentecost, Abraham has been made the father of nations and the whole world finds blessing in him.