What is Pentecost?

What is Pentecost?

What is Pentecost? And what’s its significance?

Did you know there’s even a day that celebrates Pentecost?

I didn’t know what Pentecost Sunday was for a long time, and I certainly didn’t understand the full significance of it. Yet, Pentecost is full of significance. Pentecost Sunday is a celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit. It, however, is not widely celebrated; at least, not very much in non-liturgical churches.

I grew up celebrating Christmas and praising God for the incarnation of Jesus. And I’m thankful for that. I grew up rejoicing in the truth of Easter, that Jesus is victorious over sin and death! And I’m thankful for that. But, Jesus said something that makes me think we’re missing out on an important celebration.

Jesus—God in human form—came to earth and walked and talked and performed miracles. And this GodMan, Jesus, said, “It is better that I go away” (Jn. 16:7). How could that be true? I mean, I know Jesus always speaks the truth, but how could this be true? How could anything be better than Jesus walking and talking on earth with us?

How could something be better than Jesus’ physical presence?!

Jesus has said some pretty shocking things, but this is one of His greatest hits!

Who or what could be better than Jesus’ physical presence?! Thankfully Jesus answers that question for us.

He said, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you” (Jn. 16:7).

Jesus said it was to our advantage that He go because then He would send the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to us.

We rightly celebrate the coming of the Messiah at Christmas. Yet, if it is to our advantage that the Messiah go so we have the Spirit, shouldn’t we celebrate the Spirit too? Of course, one of the reasons the Spirit is not celebrated as Jesus is, is because one of the roles of the Spirit is to help us celebrate Jesus (Jn. 16:14).[1] Nevertheless, we should acknowledge and know and praise God for His helpful presence by the Spirit.

Pentecost Sunday is a day to celebrate the powerful presence of the Spirit.

Pentecost’s Background

Pentecost (pentékosté) comes from a Greek word that means “fifty.” Pentecost takes place fifty days or seven weeks after Passover (Ex. 23:14-16; 34:22-23; Lev. 23:15-16; Num. 28:26; Deut. 16:9).[2] Sometime people call it the Feast of Weeks. Pentecost is one of the three major Jewish festivals or feasts. It was a day to celebrate, anticipate, and thank God for His provisions, specifically of wheat.

For this festival, God’s people would offer the first fruits of their wheat harvest (Ex. 34:22), their new grain (Lev. 23:15-16) to the LORD (Ex. 34:23). This required a pilgrimage. And it required much planning because no customary work was supposed to be done on this feast day (Num. 28:26). “Though the holiday lasted but one day, it was a national event with elaborate rituals well known throughout the land.”[3]

Pentecost, however, is not just mentioned in the Old Testament; it’s mentioned in the New Testament too (Acts 2:1; 20:16; 1 Cor. 16:8). Passover is the more famous festival but both Passover and Pentecost are important. “The Festival of Passover… pointed forward to the death and resurrection of Jesus, so the Feast of Pentecost pointed forward to another pivotal event in the history of the church.”[4]

The time of Pentecost was a time of anticipation. God had promised to provide and it was a time to see God’s provision. So, “Pentecost is all about living in anticipation of a harvest that is yet to come.”[5] With God’s provision there was life, health, and rejoicing. But, if God did not provide there would be devastation.[6]

Pentecost in Acts 2

In Acts 2, we see God provide more than just grain. God provided the gift of His presence as Jesus said He would, and as was foretold in Joel 2:28-29. God’s people received power from on high (Lk. 24:49).

In Acts 2, we see that “something tremendous happened in Jerusalem that transformed the Apostles into men of conviction and courage and provided them with a spiritual impetus that enabled the Christian movement to expand rapidly, so that in a few decades vital congregations were in all the major cities of the Roman Empire.”[7]

At Pentecost, there was a divine visitation, the presence of God came upon His people. In the Old Testament, we see God’s appearance was accompanied by wind and fire (1 Kings 18:38; 19:11-13; Ezek. 37:9-14). Yet, we see something new in the New Testament. God’s presence was also accompanied by the gift of tongues. So, we see at Pentecost that God is shifting His redemptive purpose from Israel, His particular people, to all people being welcomed in through Christ the risen King.[8] People were scattered because of sin at Babel but through the much-anticipated gift on Pentecost we see God gathering and uniting His people in King Jesus.[9]

The Spirit did not come just for us personally. The Spirit is also given for the purpose of mission: that all people might know Jesus as both Savior and King. As Glasser has said, “The spirit was not given just to enable the people of God to pursue personal holiness and joy in corporate worship and fellowship… The spirit was also given to energize corporate waiting on God for missionary outreach.”[10]

Jesus told His disciples to make disciples, but He let them know they wouldn’t have to do it all on their own. He would be with them, even to the end of the age. But, how? At Pentecost we find the answer. Jesus sends the Spirit (Jn. 14:16–17, 26 15:26) and is with us by the Spirit (Scripture even speaks of “the Spirit of Christ,” see Rom. 8:9; Gal. 4:6; 1 Pet. 1:11).

The Spirit given at Pentecost is the “first fruits” of more that is to come (Rom. 8:23; Eph. 1:13-14). God heaps grace upon grace!

“Our redemption has begun, with the fullness yet to come. As Jesus has risen, so we will too. As we have come to Christ, more will follow. The Holy Spirit who guarantees our final redemption is the first part of her vital new relationship with God, with more to come.”[11]

Jesus, who has redeemed the Church, will also recreate the whole earth.

On Pentecost Sunday, we thank God for sending the Helper. We rejoice in His gift of the much needed and anticipated Helper.

Notes

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[1] It’s important to realize that Peter’s concern on Pentecost aligns with the Spirit’s concern: focus on Jesus Christ!

[2] Pentecost Sunday happens fifty days after Easter. Of course, Easter or Resurrection Sunday corresponds with Passover.

[3] David Brickner and Rich Robinson, Christ in the Feast of Pentecost, 101.

[4] Brickner and Robinson, Christ in the Feast of Pentecost, 31.

[5] Ibid., 108.

[6] In the Old Testament, we see God’s promise to provide crops is often in connection to His people’s faithfulness to obey Him.

[7] A. F. Glasser, “Pentecost,” 757 in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

[8] Glasser, “Pentecost,” 757. “Pentecost marks the completion of Christ’s redemptive work. Following His resurrection He ascended into heaven and presented Himself as the first fruits of the coming harvest” (Ibid., 758).

[9] “Missionary outreach provides the divine reversal of the scattering and hostility of the nations that fall the judgment at Babel (Gen. 11:1-9)” (Glasser, “Pentecost,” 758).

[10] Glasser, “Pentecost,” 758.

[11] Brickner and Robinson, Christ in the Feast of Pentecost, 140.

1 thought on “What is Pentecost?

  1. Amen
    Rejoicing in the truth of Easter
    God equipping His church with the power of His Spirit so that He will be glorified among the nations

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