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What is Pentecost?

Posted by on May 3, 2011 in discipleship | 9 comments

What is Pentecost?

Forty days after Jesus was raised from the dead, he ascended into heaven. (Acts 1:3) About 10 days after that, on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit indwelled 120 of Jesus’ followers. (Acts 2:1-4) But, what was this “Day of Pentecost”?

“Pentecost” is a transliteration (sound-alike) of the Greek term that means fiftieth. In ancient Jewish tradition, Pentecost or Shavuot happened 50 days after the first Passover (as found in Exodus). It marks the day that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. Shavuot also marked the ending of the Passover season.

In the New Testament, Pentecost is only mentioned in Acts 2:1, Acts 20:16, and 1 Corinthians 16:8. The first occurrence marks the day (about 10 days after Jesus’ ascension) that the Holy Spirit indwells those first followers. The last two instances of “Pentecost” in the New Testament occur when Luke and Paul (respectively) mention that Paul desired to return to Jerusalem before Pentecost toward the end of his third missionary journey.

In the Old Testament, Shavuot is called the Festival of Weeks (which is the literal meaning of the word Shavuot) (Exodus 34:22 and Deuteronomy 16:10), the Festival of Reaping/Harvest (Exodus 23:16), and the Day of First Fruits (Numbers 28:26). The other ancient Jewish writings, other terms are used to indicate Shavuot (Pentecost).

Thus, Shavuot (Pentecost) commemorates both the giving of the Ten Commandments and the annual grain harvest in Israel. (There are certainly possible connections there with the giving of the Holy Spirit, but that connection is not directly made in the New Testament. Any connection – while possible and perhaps probable – would be speculative on our part. Of course, speculation is fun at times.)

Five books of the Hebrew Bible (Tanak) are known as the Megilloth. These books are Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Song of Songs, and Ruth. In Jewish tradition, each of those books was associated with a certain festival. Ruth (as you might expect) was associated with Shavuot (Pentecost).

It was during this time that 120 disciples of Jesus were gathered in the room where Jesus and his disciples had their last meal together before his crucifixion. At Jesus’ request, the Father then sent the Holy Spirit to indwell his children (creating a new remnant), and they immediately began testifying about him to everyone they came into contact with.


9 Comments

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  1. 5-3-2011

    I love to speculate :) one of the things I find marvelous about the timing of the passover and pentecost is the apparent foreshadowing of the traditions of Jews. After passover, the children would count down the days in anticipation for celebrating the giving of the law. On the day of pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the firstfruits and the law was written on their hearts.

    while it may be speculation, the grand truth is this: we are Gods fruit bearing seed and we no longer have to follow a code of conduct because the conductor lives in us.

  2. 5-3-2011

    Bobby,

    I like speculation also. I agree with what you said about the Holy Spirit, the firstfruits, and us being God’s fruit bearing seed. One of the reasons that I hesitate to connect this specifically to Pentecost is that none of the authors of Scripture make that connection. What there a connection? Maybe. :)

    -Alan

  3. 5-3-2011

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, brothers. I appreciate the opportunity to have my mind engaged in Scriptures and how they reveal Christ!

    I think Acts 2:38 provides a synopsis of the connection between the giving of the Law (repent), our following Christ (be baptized), and experiencing the Reality of the Holy Spirit in our lives as was first revealed at Pentecost: “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

    I am perceiving a great symmetry between the Feasts as they were instituted by God and the manner in which they are revealed in the Christ and those who follow Him.

    As I ponder on this, I am considering Passover as a time of remembering the consequence of the Law (Christ’s Crucifixion). Since we, too, are crucified with Christ, as we pass through baptism in that death (as Christ lay in the tomb) into New Life (The Resurrection), then we receive Pentecost as the next part of the fulfillment of the Promise of the New Covenant.

    I also remember the conversation between Peter and Jesus when we’re told we need to be washed after we bathe… at least I know I need continual cleansing! Lord, help me!

    Well, that was an enjoyable way to spend my lunch break – thinking about the Beauty of God & His Word : ) Thank you again!

  4. 5-3-2011

    John,

    Thanks again for the comment. Could Acts 2:38 connect the giving of the Spirit with Pentecost? It’s possible. It’s not as clear to me as it is to you. For example, Paul calls Jesus Christ our “Passover lamb” in 1 Corinthians 5:7. That’s a pretty good connection. We don’t have the same thing for Pentecost, although (as you’ve pointed out) there are secondary ways to connect them.

    -Alan

  5. 6-14-2011

    i never knew about the megiloth, thanks for that.

  6. 5-26-2012

    Alan,
    I’m wondering what your take on the teaching of this video might be: http://www.levitt.tv/media/watch/717

    I don’t agree with everything Zola Levitt says in this video, but I love how he attempts to show that Jesus’ life was all planned by the Father down to the detail, with the purpose of bringing us into family of God.

    I believe that God created and made commands as an artist of unprecedented intelligence (an understatement, of course, since He eternally comes first before all intelligence), a mastermind with intent and purpose in all He did. I see His universe as layer upon layer of mysteries that all reveal Himself. So His mandates of Jewish feasts to the Jews all point to Jesus. I believe it is our joy to search Him out, look for His meaning, look for His picture in everything He made.

  7. 5-27-2012

    Esther,

    Thanks for the link. I don’t have time to watch the video right now, but hopefully I will soon.

    -Alan

  8. 10-20-2012

    Thank you! This is very insightful and gives great history into this festival. As a Pastor I’m always looking for great resources. Are you able to recommend any good books that cover Hebrew culture and/or language?

  9. 10-22-2012

    Rhea,

    No, unfortunately, I do not know of any good resources on this topic. You could start with commentaries on specific books of the OT and go from there.

    -Alan