Pentecost always comes on a Sunday. Unlike Christmas and Easter this day passes with such little fanfare that there is a good chance you will not think about it or be reminded of it. But it is the ‘when’ as well as the ‘what’ of Pentecost that shows it is a Sign, a remarkable allusion of the Gospel that deserves our full attention. However, to see this we need to understand its place in the Biblical story.
What happened on Pentecost
If you are aware of Pentecost, you will probably know of it as the day when the Holy Spirit of God came down to indwell the followers of Jesus. This is the day that the church, the “called-out ones” of God, was born. It is recorded in Acts chapter 2. On that day, the Spirit of God descended on the 120 followers of Jesus and they started speaking out loud in languages from around the world. This created such a commotion that thousands who were in Jerusalem at the time came out to see what was happening and in front of the gathering crowd, Peter spoke the first gospel message and ‘three thousand were added to their number that day’ (Acts 2:41). The number of gospel followers has been growing continually ever since that Pentecost Sunday.
This happened 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection. It was during this ‘quiet’ interval of 50 days that Jesus’ disciples became convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead. On Pentecost Sunday they went public and history was changed. Whether you believe in the resurrection or not, your life has been affected by the events of that Pentecost Sunday.
But this understanding of Pentecost, though correct, is incomplete. This incomplete understanding will keep you from seeing the allusion, the Sign. Many people yearn for a return to that Pentecost Sunday to have a similar experience of speaking in languages and dramatic signs of the Holy Spirit. Since the first disciples of Jesus had this Pentecostal experience by ‘waiting for the gift of the Spirit’, today people figure that likewise if we ‘wait’ He will come again in a similar way. Therefore, many people wait and implore God for a similar experience. To think this way is to assume that it was the waiting and yearning that moved the Spirit of God back then. To think this way is to miss the point and overlook the allusion – because the Pentecost recorded in Acts Chapter 2 was not the first Pentecost.
Pentecost from the Law of Moses
In fact, ‘Pentecost’ was a regular Old Testament festival. In the time of Moses, several annual festivals were prescribed and celebrated throughout the year. The festival of Passover was the first to be celebrated in the Jewish year. In Session Five I showed how Jesus was crucified on that very Jewish festival. And so Jesus, the Lamb of God, was sacrificed on the same day that all Jewish people were sacrificing their lambs in memory of their first Passover. Given that there are 365 days in a year it is striking that Jesus dies on that very day. It is like Moses, 1500 years before the event, establishes the festival of Passover as an allusion to the eventual crucifixion of Jesus.
But it did not end there. Exactly 50 days after Passover Sunday the Jews celebrated the Feast of Pentecost. And they had been doing so yearly for 1500 years by the time the events of Acts 2 happened. In fact, the reason that there were people from all languages who were in Jerusalem that day to hear Peter’s message was precisely because they were there to celebrate the Old Testament Pentecost.
We read in the Law how Pentecost was to be celebrated
Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath [i.e. of Passover], and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD. From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD. (Leviticus 23:16-17)
On the day of firstfruits, when you present to the LORD an offering of new grain during the Festival of Weeks (i.e. Pentecost), hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. (Numbers 28:26)
In the Jewish feast of Pentecost the Jews were to offer up a grain offering along with the regular burnt offerings. The grain was to be ‘firstfruits’ of new grain harvested from the land. This was an allusion – the depth of which was unseen by the first Jews from the time of Moses – of the coming of the Holy Spirit on that more famous Pentecost Sunday in Acts 2.
Pentecost: A Sign of Firstfruits
This is significant on several counts. First of all, one of the reasons that the Gospel is ‘good news’ is that not only is it about a conquering of death, but it is also about living life differently. Life is now a union between God and people. And this union takes place through the indwelling of the Spirit of God – which began on the Pentecost Sunday of Acts 2. The Good News is that life can now be lived on a different level, in a relationship with God through His Spirit. Paul puts it like this:
Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)
The indwelling Spirit of God is a ‘firstfruits’ of the gospel, intimately tied in with the resurrection because the Spirit is a firstfruits – a deposit so to speak – of our coming personal resurrection.
Pentecost Timing: Evidence of a Mind
And it is this remarkable coinciding of the timing of the events of Acts 2 and the Feat of Pentecost with the themes of firstfruits and abundant living that point, once again, to a Mind planning this through history. Given that there are 365 days in a year why should the events of Acts 2 happen exactly on the Feast of Pentecost, the day when the Jews celebrated ‘firstfruits’ of the grain and oil of the land – the things that give not just life, but an abundant life? The timing is remarkable. Timing like this happens only by intent, and intent shows a mind behind it.
Did Luke ‘make up’ Pentecost?
One could argue that Luke (author of Acts) made up the events of Acts 2 to ‘fall’ on Feast of Pentecost. Then he would be the ‘mind’ behind the timing. But when you read Acts he makes no reference back to the Law to tell the reader that this is ‘fulfilling’ the Feast of Pentecost. Instead he points the reader to (another) fulfillment of a prophecy from the book of Joel. Why would he go through the trouble of inventing something ‘big’ on that day and then not help the reader see how it fulfills the Feast of Pentecost. In fact, Luke does such a steady of job of reporting events rather than interpreting their significance that most people today do not know that the events of Acts 2 fall on the same day as the Old Testament Feast of Pentecost. Most people think that Pentecost has its start in Acts 2. If Luke made it up to ‘fit’ the Old Testament he was a genius in dreaming up the connection but a failure in ‘selling’ it since most people today are not aware of it.
Hence this post. Now that you are aware of it you can consider the good news of the offer and reality of a life made abundant not by possessions, pleasure, status, wealth and all the other passing trifles pursued by this world, which Solomon had found to be such an empty bubble, but by the indwelling of the Spirit of God. Think about it! If this is true – that God offers to indwell and empower us – that would have to be good news. And the fact that the timing of the Old and New Pentecosts are perfect is evidence that indeed it is this very God that is the mind behind these events and this offer of an abundant life.