“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:4
Every late Spring, 50 days after Easter Sunday, people around the world celebrate Pentecost (“[pente,” fifty). Sadly, it is a holiday most western churches never mention, yet it is highly significant and deserves far more attention than it gets.
Its history is based in the Old Testament, directly affecting both Christian and Jewish faiths. It also guarantees one of God’s greatest promises that you may not know. Here are five ways Pentecost is a special day worth celebrating.
What is Pentecost?
Some people may know about Pentecost from Acts 2, but its history goes all the way back to the time of Moses and the exodus.
Approximately seven weeks after Moses led them out of Egypt, the Israelites camped at the base of Mount Sinai. The people stayed in the camp while God called Moses up the mountain (Exodus 19-20). There on the mountain, God gave Moses the Torah (not just the Ten Commandments) and established the Feast of Weeks (also called The Day of Firstfruits or The Feast of Harvest).
The Jewish faith calls the festival Shavuot (“shah-voo-uht”), and the beginning date is determined by “counting the omer.”
“And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD.” Leviticus 23:15-16
“Counting the omer” begins on the second day of Passover and lasts for fifty days. The fiftieth day is called Shavuot. However, due to the influence of Greek culture following the conquests of Alexander the Great, Shavuot eventually became known as Pentecost, from the Greek word pente meaning fifty.
Shavuot is one of three divinely appointed feasts (the other two being Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah) in which God commands the people to go to the temple and make an offering. On Shavuot, a grain offering is presented in celebration of God’s blessings for the spring barley harvest.
Today, Shavuot/Pentecost is a time of worship because of God’s blessings on Israeli agriculture and a time of celebration of when God gave the Torah to the Jews. For these reasons, Shavuot/Pentecost is often celebrated as the birthday of Judaism.
When is Pentecost?
Because the Jews base their Hebrew calendar on the lunar cycle, Pentecost is always the sixth of Sivan. This is an important distinction from the Gregorian calendar, which western cultures follow.
Pentecost, in the Christian faith, is not a set date nor based on Passover as it is in the Jewish faith. It is simply the fiftieth day after the day of Jesus’ resurrection (Easter Sunday), making the holiday occur at any time. This is why you might hear some say Pentecost is one particular day while others say it is about a week later. But historically, the correct date is the fiftieth day from the second day of Passover.
Regardless of the exact date, celebrating Pentecost is much more important in the Christian faith than many people, including pastors, realize. Indeed, it is a very significant holiday for the Jews, but it means so much more than just the giving of the Torah. It is a commemoration of the giving of the Holy Spirit.
The Giving of the Holy Spirit
About 2,000 years ago, Jesus was crucified and resurrected. He then ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9). Almost six weeks later, Jewish families flooded Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot. Jesus’ disciples were already in Jerusalem because the Lord had told them to wait there.
“And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait for the Promise of the Father.” Acts 1:4
They did not quite know what they were waiting for other than Jesus’ promise to send a Helper.
“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” John 15:26
While the men entered the Temple to make their grain offerings, according to the Torah, the disciples gathered in an upper room to fellowship and pray. Suddenly, they heard what sounded like an unusual gust of wind.
“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord and in one place. And suddenly, there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing, mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” Acts 2:1-2
As the wind blustered, the disciples looked up and saw what appeared as flames dancing over their heads.
“Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Acts 2:3-4
Meanwhile, Jews and “devout men from every nation under heaven” were crowding Jerusalem’s streets. Those who were outside the upper room heard and felt the same blustering wind. And as they looked around in confusion, they all began to speak foreign languages.
“And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together and were confused because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, ‘Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we, each in our own language in which we were born?’” Acts 2:6-8
Some of the crowd wondered, “Whatever could this mean?” while others believed they were “full of new wine.” That is when Peter stood up and began to preach.
A Birthday, Thanksgiving, and Firstfruit
While those of the Jewish faith celebrate Pentecost as the birthday of Judaism, it is also the birthday of the Christian church according to the New Testament.
After the Holy Spirit came, Peter immediately stood up and began to preach. Over 3,000 people accepted God’s gift of grace that day (Acts 2:41), thus establishing the church.
“And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:47
Today, it is estimated there are about 2.3 billion Christians globally, though the number is likely much higher due to underground churches in oppressed nations. It is the most populous religion in the world, and it all began on Pentecost.
But Pentecost is not only a birthday celebration of the church; it is also a day of thanksgiving for Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on our behalf.
Remember that Pentecost is sometimes called The Day of Firstfruits. Firstfruits are the tithe. It is the first part God gets back after He has so richly blessed us.
On Pentecost, the Jews brought their firstfruits of grain. Today, we celebrate Jesus. As the perfect Lamb of God, He is the firstfruit of a sin offering made to the Father. Instead of sacrificing bulls, goats, lambs, and other animals, Jesus came to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He is the ultimate tithe. He is our firstfruit.
Let us enter His gates with thanksgiving in our hearts (Psalm 100:4-5) as we celebrate Jesus being the firstfruit offering for us.
Here Comes the Bride
Pentecost is a birthday celebration and a time for thanksgiving and worship. Additionally, it is a wedding.
When God gave the Torah to Moses, He essentially put a wedding ring on His bride’s finger. By establishing a law, He claimed her as His, and He made a covenant never to leave her nor forsake her (Exodus 34:27). This unbreakable covenant continues and will never cease. It is why Jesus will return to save His bride from annihilation before He decimates the antichrist and destroys evil forever (Revelation 19).
Jesus further fulfills His promise after we have accepted Him as our Lord and Savior. When we put our trust in Jesus, He fills us with His Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). He is the guarantee of the Lord’s constant presence and our future inheritance in glory.
“Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)
“In whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit or promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession [the church], to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14, with addition]
Though the Lord no longer walks among us physically, He is always with us spiritually. The Lord’s Spirit is with us daily, guiding and counseling us to become more like Him—holy. He is indeed our Helper and our best friend.
“And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.” Ezekiel 36:27-28
Time to Celebrate
For many reasons, Pentecost is a great day of celebration. It is…
- The giving of the Torah and the birth of Judaism
- The giving of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Christian church
- Thanksgiving to God for sending the Holy Spirit to help and guide us every day
- Thanksgiving and worship of God for His daily blessings
- God’s continuing promise never to leave us nor forsake us
We have much to celebrate!
Pentecost this year is Sunday, May 28, 2023. May it be a reminder of God’s unfailing love and faithfulness as well as an invitation to be refreshed with the Holy Spirit. May we know His ways and be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live holy lives, bearing much fruit in Him. Our fellowship with the Lord as we abide in His Spirit serves to deepen our faith and enrich our relationship with Him.
“Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has set us apart by Your commandments and commanded us to be a light to the nations, and has given us Yeshua, our Messiah, the Light of the World.”