The Precision and Power of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost always occurs on a Sunday.  It celebrates a remarkable day, but it is not only what happened that day but when and why it happened that reveals the hand of God, and a powerful gift for you.

What happened on Pentecost

If you heard of ‘Pentecost’, you probably learned that it was the day when the Holy Spirit came to indwell the followers of Jesus.  This is the day that the Church, the “called-out ones” of God, was born.  The events are recorded in Acts chapter 2 of the Bible.  On that specific day, the Holy Spirit descended on the first 120 followers of Jesus and they started speaking loudly in languages from around the world.  It created such a commotion that thousands who were in Jerusalem at the time came out to see what was happening.  In front of the gathered 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 ever since that Pentecost Sunday.

That day happened exactly 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection. It was during these 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.

This understanding of Pentecost, though correct, is not complete.  Many people want a repeat of that Pentecost Sunday through a similar experience.  Since the first disciples of Jesus had this Pentecostal experience by ‘waiting for the gift of the Spirit’, today people hope that likewise by ‘waiting’ He will come again in a similar way.  Therefore, many people plead and wait for God to bring about another Pentecost.  To think this way assumes that it was the waiting and praying that moved the Spirit of God back then. To think this way is to miss its precision – because the Pentecost recorded in Acts Chapter 2 was not the first Pentecost.

Pentecost from the Law of Moses

‘Pentecost’ was actually an annual Old Testament festival. Moses (1500 BC) had established several festivals to be celebrated through the year. Passover was the first festival of the Jewish year.  Jesus had been crucified on a Passover day festival. The exact timing of his death to the sacrifices of the Passover lambs was meant as a sign.

The second festival was the feast of Firstfruits, and the Law of Moses stated it was to be celebrated on the ‘day after’ Passover Saturday (= Sunday).   Jesus rose on Sunday, so his resurrection occurred exactly on the Firstfruits Festival.  Since his resurrection happened on ‘Firstfruits’, it was a Promise that our resurrection would follow later (for all those who trust him).  His resurrection is literally a ‘firstfruits’, just as the festival name prophesied.

Precisely 50 days after the ‘Firstfruits’ Sunday the Jews celebrated Pentecost (‘Pente’ for 50.  It was also called Feast of Weeks since it was counted by seven weeks).  Jews had been celebrating Pentecost for 1500 years by the time the Pentecost of Acts 2 happened.  The reason that there were people from all over the world that Pentecost day in Jerusalem to hear Peter’s message was precisely because they were there to celebrate the Old Testament Pentecost.  Today Jews still celebrate Pentecost but call it Shavuot.

We read in the Old Testament how Pentecost was to be celebrated:

Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, 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)

Precision of Pentecost: Evidence of a Mind

There is a precise timing of the Pentecost in Acts 2 since it occurred on the same day of the year as the Old Testament Pentecost (Feast of Weeks).  The crucifixion of Jesus occurring on the Passover, the resurrection of Jesus occurring on FirstFruits, and the Pentecost of Acts 2 occurring on the Jewish Feast of Weeks, points to a Mind coordinating these through history.  With so many days in a year why should the crucifixion of Jesus, his resurrection, and then the coming of the Holy Spirit happen precisely on each day of the three spring Old Testament festivals, except if they were planned?  Precision like this happens only if a mind is behind it.

Events of New Testament occurred precisely on the three Spring Festivals of the Old Testament
Events of New Testament occurred precisely on the three Spring Festivals of the Old Testament

Did Luke ‘make up’ Pentecost?

One might argue that Luke (the author of Acts) made up the events of Acts 2 to ‘happen’ on the Feast of Pentecost. Then he would have been the ‘mind’ behind the timing. But his account does not say that Acts 2 is ‘fulfilling’ the Feast of Pentecost, it does not even mention it. Why would he go to such trouble of creating these dramatic events to ‘happen’ on that day but not help the reader see how it ‘fulfills’ the Feast of Pentecost? In fact, Luke did such a good job of reporting events rather than interpreting them that most people today do not know that the events of Acts 2 fell on the same day as the Old Testament Feast of Pentecost.  Many people think that Pentecost simply began at Acts 2. Since most people today are not aware of the connection between them, Luke would be in the impossible situation of being a genius to invent the connection but utterly inept in selling it.

Pentecost: A New Power

Instead, Luke points us to a prophecy from the Old Testament book of Joel predicting that one day the Spirit of God would pour out on all peoples.  The Pentecost of Acts 2 fulfilled that.

One reason that the Gospel is ‘good news’ is that it provides power to live life differently – better. 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. The Bible puts it like this:

And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. (Romans 8:11)

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 another firstfruits, because the Spirit is a foretaste – a guarantee – of completing our transformation into ‘children of God’.

The gospel offers an abundant life not through 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.  If this is true – that God offers to indwell and empower us – that would be good news.  The Old Testament Pentecost with the celebration of fine bread baked with yeast pictured this coming abundant life.  The precision between the Old and New Pentecosts is perfect evidence that it is God that is the Mind behind these events and this power of an abundant life.

Pentecost – Why did it occur when it did?

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.