A Generous Pentecostalism, Part 2: The In-Breaking of God’s Kingdom

If you’re just tuning in, in honor of Pentecost Sunday, I’m sharing my thoughts on a “lowercase ‘p’ pentecostalism,” in which the whole church can share—a “Pentecost for the Rest of Us” so to speak. In part one, I shared that I think the first characteristic of this ‘catholic pentecostalism’ is a direct and dynamic relationship with God through the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In this post, I’d like to share about a second characteristic of this pentecostalism I’m describing: The In-Breaking of God’s Kingdom.

What Does “Kingdom Come” Look Like?

For biblical portraits of God’s Kingdom, there are few better places to look than Isaiah chapter 2 and Revelation chapter 21. Isaiah’s vision of God’s Kingdom is a mountain to which all “nations” (meaning ethnic groups) stream to worship YHWH. And in a related way, this mountain is also God’s temple, another way of saying the location of his dwelling presence. There, Israel and the nations are taught God’s “ways” and how to “walk” in his “paths.” YHWH will act as judge and provide justice for all peoples. There will be no favoritism, as all people receive what they need. Furthermore, Isaiah pictures justice as the end of war in the beautifully vivid picture of swords being beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks (2.4; see also Micah 4).

John’s vision is strikingly similar, yet utilizing a different metaphor. Instead of a mountain, John sees God’s Kingdom as a renewed heaven, a renewed earth, and a beautiful city—the New Jerusalem. This city, like Isaiah’s “mountain” is also the dwelling of God’s presence, so there is no need for the city to have a temple (v.22). In this city, which is the bride of Christ (i.e. the church), there is justice just as in Isaiah’s vision. For God will “wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (v.4) And just like the mountain of God, this city too will be the home of the “nations.” (v.26). Earlier in John’s vision (chapter 7), the nations were seen by John worshipping the Slain Lamb (Jesus) as a great multitude from “every nation, tribe, people and language”(v.9).

While Isaiah and John’s visions of God’s Kingdom are beautiful and helpful, all pictures, symbols, and metaphors fall short. There is only one perfect embodiment of God’s Kingdom and that is Jesus the Messiah (Heb. 1.1-3, 8.5, 10.1; Col. 2.7). In Jesus: in his life, ministry, teachings—and chiefly in his self-sacrificial and victorious death and resurrection—we see precisely what the Kingdom of God looks like. Jesus demonstrates the shalom (justice and wholeness) of God in his ministry as he affirmed the dignity of those in society who were stigmatized as “unclean,” drew close to those who were cast out, and empowered those who had been trampled upon. Jesus demonstrates the perfect, renewing provision of God, by healing the sick, raising the dead, and multiplying the loaves and fishes. All of our needs are met in Jesus. Finally, Jesus embodies the perfect peacemaking and self-sacrificial love of God when he does not even offer a defense for himself, nor return violence for violence, but instead surrenders himself to the care of his Father and the wrath of his enemies. For Jesus, God’s Kingdom is an alternative to all the kingdoms of this world, which are under the control of the Evil One. For Jesus, God’s Kingdom looks like an innocent Palestinian Jewish itinerant preacher being executed by the Roman government as a revolutionary criminal while praying for the forgiveness of his executioners.

The In-breaking Kingdom: When & Where the Spirit Shows Up

For God’s Kingdom to be established, Jesus promises his disciples more than a book or a list of laws. Jesus promises them (and by extension us) his Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of God. In Acts, we read the account of the first Jesus-disciples becoming the Jesus Movement we call the church today. It happened during the Jewish festival of weeks following the Resurrection of Jesus, when he commanded his disciples to wait for the Spirit to empower them so they could be his witnesses (1.4-8). In chapter 2, the Spirit shows up in dramatic fashion and thus begins the amazing adventure that continues even now.

Following this incredible experience, the early church that was impacted by this move of God, did not just continue on—business as usual—but began to live life in new and radical rhythms. Verses 42-47 of chapter 2 have long been pointed to as evidence of the fundamental shift that took place in their midst. But all throughout the early chapters of Acts, we see many signs that the Spirit had produced an entirely new way-of-being. For now, three signs will be my focus:

  1. One of the first, obvious changes included an entirely new approach to provision and possessions. This fledgling church, filled with the Holy Spirit, was moved to share generously with those in need. They came to prioritize the needs of others above their own. The Spirit birthed a solidarity among the disciples that was countercultural. We could say, they became one family. In this way, God’s shalom was demonstrated in the practice of justice. Along with this, another aspect of God’s shalom (namely, wholeness) was bursting forth in the form of physical healings performed by the apostles in the power of the Spirit.
  2. A second radical change was the ethnic/racial make-up of the Way-followers. Since Pentecost was a major festival in the Jewish faith-culture, celebrations attracted pilgrims from far and wide. By my count, Luke (Act’s author) records at least 15 different people groups gathered in Jerusalem, and witnesses to the Spirit’s outpouring. This shift from an ethnically-restrictive posture to a wildly-diverse openness demonstrates another effect of the Spirit’s presence in the disciples’ midst. Later in Acts, Peter will be shown in no uncertain terms that God has chosen to gather the Gentiles into his church (chapter 10). As Jesus foretold, their witness would extend out from Jerusalem to the whole world. Diversity, then, is an important part of the church’s identity from its very start.
  3. A third, and much less obvious, effect of this Pentecostal program is the posture of the early church toward the powers that be in their world. In very little time, the early church had already threatened their civil and religious overlords. The newly empowered church immediately came into conflict with those their power threatened, and their response to that conflict is illuminating. In chapters 4, 5, 6 and onward, the apostles are arrested, hauled into court, and required to give a defense for their acts and their accompanying teachings. The pattern that emerges is that the early church viewed themselves as independent from the rulers, religious “authorities,” governments, etc., called to a mission by a higher authority, and did not seek to defend themselves violently or legally. Instead, they only answered their accusers with words supplied by the Holy Spirit just as Jesus promised (cf. Luke 12.11-12, 21.12-19; John 14.25-26; and Acts 4.8). This motley crew of “unschooled” women and men suddenly had the boldness and wisdom to answer the most learned and religious leaders of their society. They didn’t need swords to defend themselves, they had the Word and the Spirit. Preaching was both their proclamation of the Gospel and the protest of their persecution. Instead of lobbying the government to gain more political influence, they prayed to the Sovereign Lord (4.24). They also didn’t fear death; they gladly laid down their lives like their Lord, Jesus the Messiah.

Three very peculiar signs marked the early church and demonstrated that God’s Kingdom was breaking into this world: 1) The justice that flowed from a new understanding of God’s provision and personal possessions, the forming of a faith-family. Wholeness was created by God in and through miraculous physical healings; 2) The extending of this new faith-family to women and men equally, and to all ethnic groups, even those previously thought to be “unclean”; 3) A renewed understanding of the church’s identity vis-a-vis the rulers and “authorities” of their world, as well as a Christ-like response to threats and violence: Nonviolence, preaching, and prayer.

God’s Kingdom in Los Angeles?

For Jesus’s disciples today, God’s Kingdom is still whenever and wherever the Spirit shows up in our lives and in the midst of our communities. In recent U.S. history, another outpouring of the Spirit that sparked a world-wide renewal movement in the church was marked by these very same signs. The “Azusa Street Revival” was the birthplace of the Pentecostal movement in the United States and subsequently around the globe.

A holiness minister named William Seymour was the catalytic leader of this movement. In 1906, compelled by the Spirit to preach the word of God, Seymour and others procured a facility in downtown Los Angeles that had once been a church, but was most recently being used as a stable. Without a pulpit or raised platform, with no microphones nor a choir, Seymour led revival meetings that would change the landscape of Christianity forever.

Known perhaps most famously for the gift of golosallia, the Azusa Street Revival was also marked by the three signs of the in-breaking Kingdom of God that have been described above. Early accounts of the revival claim miraculous healings characterized the meetings.1 Through the ministry of healing, God’s shalom was shown to restore and renew those who were touched by the Spirit. Furthermore, the revival was also characterized by the same Pentecostal diversity present in the early church. The significance of racial diversity at this time in U.S. history can hardly be overstated. Harvey Cox writes,

“There was, however, one distinct element at Azusa Street, one which Seymour himself eventually came to believe was the most important sign that a new Pentecost was occurring: black, white, and brown people were praising God together at the absolute nadir of the Jim Crow era. Indeed, in 1906, that simple frame building on Azusa Street may have been the most racially integrated address in America. For Seymour and many of his associates, this gathering was not just a project in interracial cooperation. It was a sign from God that the curse of Babel and the sinful division of the church were both being healed. Seymour believed the Lord was cleansing the bride for the coming of the divine groom at Azusa Street.” 2

Finally, the early Pentecostal movement was also marked by a radical commitment to nonviolence. Largely overlooked, or intentionally hidden, many church historians failed to regard the early Pentecostals as pacifists. But several scholars in recent years have uncovered and celebrated this distinct mark of the Spirit’s Kingdom presence. 3 One early Pentecostal statement summarizes their position vis-a-vis war:

“…it is our firm conviction, supported by the Word of God, our conscience bearing us witness, that we cannot take up arms against our fellow men, however great may seem the provocation or however just the cause might seem: it being the teaching of the Spirit of the Gospel presented by Christ in his sermon on the mount. Matt. 5:39-46.” 4

All of these descriptions converge to form a compelling testimony that God’s Spirit continues to break into our world establishing God’s Kingdom.

Why Does This Matter?

The in-breaking of God’s Kingdom matters because the world is still broken and in need of new creation. People are still hurting physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. Every tear has not yet been wiped from every eye. There is still mourning and war. Therefore, Jesus’s mission continues to be advanced by his disciples. Until that day when all of creation is renewed, and every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord, the church is still called in the power of the Spirit to manifest the Kingdom of God on earth to the glory of God the Father.


1. Randall K. Burkett, Richard Newman, Black Apostles: Afro-American Clergy Confront the Twentieth Century

2. Harvey Cox, “The Legacy of Azusa Street”

3. For more on early Pentecostal nonviolence/pacifism see: Peace to War: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God and Pentecostals and Nonviolence: Reclaiming a Heritage by Paul Alexander. Also see Pentecostal Pacifism: The Origin, Development, and Rejection of Pacific Belief Among the Pentecostals (Pentecostals, Peacemaking, and Social Justice) by by Jay Beaman (with foreword by John Howard Yoder). See also, Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace & Justice (Resources).

4. “Apostolic Faith statement on War 1917”