The Jewish Feast of Pentecost and Its Meaning for the Church

It was less than a week after Christ was ascended to heaven, where he was seated on the right hand of the Almighty. The apostles and perhaps others gathered on the first day of the week. The narrative is as follows:

Acts 2:1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. 6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. 7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? 8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? 9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. 12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? 13 Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine. 14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: 15 For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. 16 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; 17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: 18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: 19 And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: 20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come: 21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Luke’s narrative in the Acts of the Apostles says that the disciples were gathered with one accord on the feast day of Pentecost. The feast of Pentecost was a Jewish festival marking the LORD’s giving of the law to Moses on Mount Sinai (Henry), on the 50th day after the Passover, which was the beginning of the Exodus from Egypt. This feast of Pentecost was that feast which Moses had explained to Pharaoh that the LORD had commanded his people to make in the desert. It was to be kept, not with unleavened bread as the Passover, but with leavened bread.  It was a festival of thanks for God’s provision, when the new grain of the harvest was to be baked into leavened loaves of bread and waived before the LORD, together with animal sacrifices (lambs, bull, rams, goat) for burnt offerings, a sin offering, and peace offerings.

Leviticus 23:15 And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: 16 Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the Lord. 17 Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals; they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the Lord.n 18 And ye shall offer with the bread seven lambs without blemish of the first year, and one young bullock, and two rams: they shall be for a burnt offering unto the Lord, with their meat offering, and their drink offerings, even an offering made by fire, of sweet savour unto the Lord. 19 Then ye shall sacrifice one kid of the goats for a sin offering, and two lambs of the first year for a sacrifice of peace offerings. 20 And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits for a wave offering before the Lord, with the two lambs: they shall be holy to the Lord for the priest. 21 And ye shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be an holy convocation unto you: ye shall do no servile work therein: it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.

This was the day on which the nation of Israel was constituted, in which it became a nation constitutionally and was sent out in the name of YHWH to travel to the land of Canaan and conquer in his name. What is the significance of this Jewish feast day to the Pentecost event that occurred in Acts 2? The Old Testament Pentecost is a foreshadowing of the New Testament Pentecost in several ways:

1. At Pentecost the Church of Jesus Christ was constituted as a holy nation unto the Lord.

Christ, in response to a question from some of his apostles as to when the restoration of the kingdom of Israel would be, commanded them to wait until Pentecost, when they would receive power from on high, Acts 1:8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. Christ here taught his apostles, in his answer to their question, that there were be a re-ordering of the outward form of the spiritual nation of Israel, which they were to await. At Sinai the covenant of grace was expressed to the children of Israel in terms of God’s gracious deliverance of that nation from slavery in Egypt. Exodus 20:2 I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. In the New Testament there is a change of the order of things in keeping with the fulfillment of all the Messianic promises. Now the covenant of grace is expressed in more clear terms, since Christ is come and fulfilled the salvation which was promised, though the same covenant had always been the essence and root of the covenant that God made with Israel. In the Old Testament the grace of God in Jesus Christ which gathers his elect people of every nation was prefigured in the types and shadows that God had commanded through Moses, such as the priesthood and feast days when animal sacrifices would be offered for sin and as an offering procuring peace with God. Now at Pentecost the nation of Israel, having as a whole rejected the Messiah and crucified him, was being restored in a new form. Just as the law of Moses was what constituted the gaggle in the desert to be the restored people of Israel fresh out of bondage in Egypt, so the constituted Church of Jesus Christ was formed by the power of the Holy Spirit at the Pentecost event based on the constitution of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which though it had not yet been written down, had been received from his own mouth by those very apostles, in preparation for their task of proclaiming it to all the nations of the world. Significantly, proselytes v. 10 were among those gathered who heard the apostles speak in their tongues. That same spiritual people which had been reconstituted at Sinai in the terms of the law was reconstituted in a new form, now not restricted to ethnic Jews, based on the definitive revelation of God in the gospel. This gospel is the constitution of the Church of Jesus Christ, that which forms us together to be a people for God’s own peculiar possession.

2. At Pentecost the Church of Jesus Christ experienced her first harvest.

Pentecost in the Old Testament was a feast day to give thanks to God for the harvest that had been partially gathered in. It was an acknowledgement of the mercy of God in providing food for the Israelites to eat, of confessing sins committed despite his grace, and procuring his continued favor and blessing. In Acts 2, Pentecost was the first harvest, when around 120 souls (Ewart) received the initial harvest of three thousand souls added to the Church in one distinct blast of the rushing mighty wind which is the Holy Spirit. Imagine one of our little churches growing by a factor of 30 in one day! As amazing as that first harvest was, he is still at work today. It is the Holy Spirit that brings in the harvest of souls, as our Lord had said that the fields were white for harvest. Myriads of people the whole world over are still coming to Christ, despite the all the contempt the world can muster. The harvest continues, wherever the Holy Spirit draws people from every nation under heaven, where the good news of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God is preached by his appointed emissaries. He feeds us daily of his word, through the Scriptures read and preached. Let us give thanks to God for the harvest of souls that continues to come into the Church of Jesus Christ, for his continual provision of spiritual nourishment, and pray that God will continue to bless this earth with showers of gentle dew preparing the hearts of people all over the world to hear and heed the good news, to repent of their sins and lay hold upon eternal life in Jesus Christ.

3. At Pentecost the Church of Jesus Christ was sent forth to conquer the nations by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The nation of Israel was constituted on Sinai as a conquering nation. It was to travel the long journey from Sinai to the land of Canaan and there wrest the land from its previous inhabitants by the power of the sword and shield. Observance of the feasts is connected with the conquering of the promised land. In Exodus 23 the feast of Pentecost is referred to as the feast of harvest.

Exodus 23:16 And the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field.
17 Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord God.
18 Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread; neither shall the fat of my sacrifice remain until the morning. 19 The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his other’s milk. 20 Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. 21 Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him. 22 But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries. 23 For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off. 24 Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images. 25 And ye shall serve the Lord your God, and he shall bless thy bread, and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee. 26 There shall nothing cast their young, nor be barren, in thy land: the number of thy days I will fulfil. 27 I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee. 28 And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee.

The command to conquer Canaan has been expanded to include the entire world. That nation gathered at Sinai was reconstituted in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, but no longer are the weapons of its warfare carnal. No longer conquering by sword and shield, the Church of Jesus Christ, which is the New Israel, is commanded to subdue the nations, bringing them to loyal obedience to the King of Kings Jesus Christ by the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. That word is nothing else but the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of forgiveness of sins and new life toward God, the covenant of grace which declares freely to all persons of every nation that eternal life is assured them if they will repent of their sins and bow the knee to Jesus Christ our King who sent us to declare his reign.  And our success is as assured as it is promised, for the power that conquers is not of our own strength, but of that same rushing mighty wind that brought 3,000 souls to loving subjection to King Jesus on that feast day of Pentecost. If the Holy Spirit be for us, who can be against us? Let us go forth boldly as the Church of Jesus Christ, knowing that victory is assured by him who said, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:20b

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