What is Pentecost?
Pentecost took place on the 19th of May (Sunday). For Christians, Pentecost is a holiday on which we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the early followers of Jesus. Before the events of the first Pentecost, which came a few weeks after Jesus’ death and resurrection, there were followers of Jesus, but no movement that could be meaningfully called “the church.” Thus, from an historical point of view, Pentecost is the day on which the church was started. This is also true from a spiritual perspective, since the Spirit brings the church into existence and enlivens it. Thus Pentecost is the church’s birthday.
This day became especially significant for Christians because, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, during the Jewish celebration of Shavuot/Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon his first followers, thus empowering them for their mission and gathering them together as a church.
What actually happened on that day of Pentecost?
This event is recorded in the New Testament book known as The Acts of the Apostles. Chapter 2 begins, “And when the day of Pentecost [ten hemeran tes pentekostes] had come, [the first followers of Jesus] were all together in one place” (2:1). All of a sudden, a sound came from heaven, like a strong wind, filling the house where the people had gathered. Something like tongues of fire rested on their heads. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak” (2:4). (Notice the tongues of fire on the heads of the people in the painting by Restout.)
The languages spoken by the early Christians were intelligible (not other worldly) and were heard by thousands of Jewish pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot. The content of the miraculous messages had to do with God’s mighty works (2:11). Many who heard these messages in their own languages were amazed, though others thought the Christians were just drunk (2:12).
At some point, Peter, one of the leading followers of Jesus, stood up and preached his first sermon. He interpreted the events of that morning in light of a prophecy of the Hebrew prophet Joel. In that text, God promised to pour out his Spirit on all flesh, empowering diverse people to exercise divine power. This would be a sign of the coming “day of the Lord” (Acts 2:16-21; Joel 2:28-32).
Peter went on to explain that Jesus had been raised and had poured out the Spirit in fulfillment of God’s promise through Joel (2:32-33). When the crowd asked what they should do, Peter urged them to turn their lives around and be baptized in the name of Jesus. Then they would be forgiven and would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (2:37-39). Acts reports that about 3,000 people were added to the church that day (2:41). Not a bad response to Peter’s first sermon!
The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was a once-for-all event, no more repeatable than Jesus’ birth, death or resurrection. It ushered in the last days (Acts 2:17). But the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to every believer who repents and receives the forgiveness of sins (2:38). In this sense, every true believer has a personal Pentecost at the time of regeneration.
Then the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us, to apply the benefits of Christ’s death to us and to raise us into newness of life so that Christ’s life may be lived out in us. No more does God only dwell in the Temple at Jerusalem. From Pentecost on, the apostles say to every believer, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit”.
Second, Pentecost was a celebration of the giving of the Law. Some scholars think that the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai was fifty days after the Passover. Certainly in later Judaism there was a close connection between Pentecost and the giving of the Law. The association is significant, because the giving of the Law was designed, by an external standard, to form the lives and characters of God’s redeemed people. And God came down upon Sinai in mighty Power with thunder, lightning and fire.
But God’s ultimate Purpose to write his Law in the hearts of men and women: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” (Jer 31:33) lt is this Promise which is being fulfilled at Pentecost, as Paul makes clear in 2 Corinthians 3:7-8.
Third, Pentecost was also called the Feast of First Fruits. It was the time when the first ears of ripe corn were offered to god. The first fruits were part of the harvest, as well as the promise of its fullness.
This Pentecost was to see the first-fruits of the harvest of the gospel, and that harvest is still being gathered all over the world today. The end of the harvest will not be until the return of Christ in glory.
Great joy and spiritual strength are two of the benefits of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Let Him release these benefits in your life today.