Pentecost, otherwise known as “The Feast of Weeks,” is the second of the three major Jewish festivals (the other two are Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles). The Hebrew word for the festival is “Shavuot,” and it means weeks.
Passover was in early spring and included first fruits offerings from the early harvest of barley. Shavuot was in late spring and included first fruits offerings from the wheat harvest. The Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, was in the fall, was the final harvest and included first fruits of olives and grapes.
All three of these festivals involved a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It was required of all Jewish men to travel to Jerusalem to observe these three festivals.
Exodus 34:22-24 22“You must celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the first crop of the wheat harvest, and celebrate the Festival of the Final Harvest at the end of the harvest season. 23Three times each year every man in Israel must appear before the Sovereign, the LORD, the God of Israel. 24I will drive out the other nations ahead of you and expand your territory, so no one will covet and conquer your land while you appear before the LORD your God three times each year.[i]
The Passover celebrated God’s deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt. Seven weeks after the 2nd day of Passover was the Feast of Weeks. Jewish tradition holds that the law, or Torah, was given to Moses at that time. It is also tradition that David was born and died on that day.
Here is a list of the Holiday traditions surrounding Shavuot.
1. The Ten Commandments are read to commemorate the giving of the Law.
2. Some Jewish people stay up all night studying the Torah (Law) to "re-live" the revelation at Mount Sinai.
3. Book of Ruth is read, tying in with the theme of harvest as well as the theme of community. This also ties in with the belief that King David was born on Shavuot, since the last verse of the book shows that Ruth was one of his ancestors.
4. A 12th century Aramaic poem, Akdamut, which heralds the Messianic future, is read.
5. Jewish people traditionally decorate their homes and synagogues with flowers and greens.
6. An older tradition prescribes that two loaves of leavened bread be baked; some say they represent all of humanity (one loaf is the Jewish people, the other Gentiles), while others see them as representing the two tablets Moses brought down from Sinai.
7. It is traditional to eat milk products, because the rabbis say that when our people received the Law they were as newborn babies.[ii]
Here is a link to an entertaining video about Shavuot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFG_2iT-Lm4
In Jesus’s day, Jerusalem was crowded at the time of Shavuot, or Pentecost. It was at this feast time that the Holy Spirit was poured out. Acts 2:2-4 says:
“Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.”
This was an astounding event. While all Israel was gathered together to celebrate God’s provision for them, God provided something even more momentous than the Law. If they had been like newborn babies at the giving of the Law, this was to be even more transforming and powerful. This was not the doing away with the Law, but the fulfilling of it. Now what the prophet Jeremiah said about the law of God being written on the hearts of His people would be fulfilled. “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day," says the LORD. "I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)
Look at verse one of Acts chapter 2. It says, “On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place.” Notice that it says, “All the believers.” Acts 1:15 speaks of 120 believers gathered together in one place. All the believers gathered together in Acts 2 must be at least 120 believers.
Next, look at verse 41. It says, “Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.” Romans 8:29 speaks of Jesus being the first born among many brethren. The resurrection took place at Passover. Jesus then would be the first harvest. These 3,000 then would be the first fruits of the second harvest. I do not have any Biblical support for this statement, and it is just my imagination at work, but I do find it significant that God chose to pour out His Spirit on this particular feast day.
Jesus said, “But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you.” (John 16:7) This passage in Acts 2 is an example of what Jesus was talking about.
As far as I know, there has never been another day in history when 3,000 people gathered in one place made a decision to accept Christ as Savior at the same time. In 2012, the number of people in the world that called themselves Christians stood at 2.2 Billion. There is a great difference between being Christian in name and professing Christ. However, there is no way to account for the billions of people throughout history that have called themselves Christian apart from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is still working. “On average, around the world, 178,000 people convert to Christianity every day.”[iii]
In Acts 2:7 it says, “They were completely amazed. “ How can this be?” they exclaimed.” Next in verse 12 it says, “They stood there amazed and perplexed. “ What can this mean?” they asked each other.” In two places closely connected, the text emphasizes how amazed and perplexed the people were.
When the sound of the mighty rushing wind was heard, people went running to see what it was. They knew something was happening and they wanted to see.
When they saw, they were even more amazed. Galileans were speaking languages from all corners of the Empire.
What they saw needed explaining.
This is true of many of the works of the Holy Spirit. How does one explain the growth of the Church from 120 people to billions?
How do you explain what He has done in your life? The Lord leads and opens doors. He provides for us and makes a way for us. Everyday people are delivered from all kinds of bondage. I used to listen to the radio program “Unshackled.” Every week there would be the story of a person who was saved from drug addiction, alcohol or a life of crime. The Holy Spirit is still at work today.
On that Day of Pentecost, people did not understand what was happening so they made their own explanation. “They’re just drunk, that’s all!” (Acts 2:13)
Peter got up and explained. He says, ““Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that. (Acts 2:14-15)
He then explains that this is what the Prophet Joel foretold:
‘In the last days,’ God says,
‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
18In those days I will pour out my Spirit
even on my servants—men and women alike—
and they will prophesy.
19And I will cause wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below—
blood and fire and clouds of smoke.
20The sun will become dark,
and the moon will turn blood red
before that great and glorious day of the LORD arrives.
21But everyone who calls on the name of the LORD
will be saved. Acts 2:17-21
Certainly, verses 17 and 18 were fulfilled that day with people proclaiming the great things the Lord had accomplished. However, the sun becoming dark and the moon turning to blood are things that are yet to be fulfilled. These things are foretold in Revelation. Peter is talking about the Church age, the time from Pentecost until the Church is taken up to meet Jesus in the air. The Spirit has been poured out and is being poured out. The work that the Spirit started that day is continuing to this. Everyday people are turning to the Lord and are being baptized.
Peter gives the inaugural address for the Church. In it he says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” This is the same message Paul repeats twice in Romans 10. Peter summarizes the core of this message when he says, “So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” (Acts 2:36)
This is the same message that we preach today. Jesus is both Lord and Messiah.
There is another feast. It is the feast of Tabernacles. It is the final harvest.
There is also another day coming. Jesus will return. The sun will be darkened, and the moon will turn red like blood. This will be the final harvest of the Church age as our Lord and Messiah ushers in His 1,000 year reign on earth. Until that time, the call that Peter made is still our call and invitation today. It goes like this:
Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles—all who have been called by the Lord our God. Acts 2:38-39
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.