The Origins Of Pentecost
The historical and Biblical origins of what we know as Pentecost today can be found in Exodus 23:14-19, Leviticus 23:15-16 and Deuteronomy 16:10. One of 3 significant Jewish festivals, Pentecost is the Greek name for the Festival of Weeks, a prominent feast in the Jewish calendar that celebrated God giving them the 10 Commandments 50 days after the Exodus from Egypt. God instructed his people to celebrate the Festival of Weeks, which was to be held 7 full weeks (49 days) plus one day after Passover, equaling 50 days. Also called the Feast of Harvest, this was when the Jews would present offerings of the first fruits of their spring crops. Jewish law required all adult Jewish men to come to Jerusalem from wherever they were living to personally be in attendance for the celebration.
This is the context in which Acts 2 begins, saying “When the day of Pentecost came…there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven…Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya and Rome, Cretans and Arabs” (Acts 2:1, 5, 9-11). When the Holy Spirit arrived on the Day of Pentecost, it was to symbolize that it was the new first fruit of God’s spiritual harvest to come, the second coming of Jesus and redemption of his Church.
Empowering and Expanding the Church
In Acts chapters 1-2, we learn that about 120 followers of Jesus were gathered in prayer in an upper room of Jerusalem, having recently seen Jesus depart and return to his Father in heaven. While the believers were gathered, the Holy Spirit came upon them with flames of fire and violent wind. Why such dramatic signs of power? Precisely because the Spirit was empowering the church for the mission Jesus had given them in Acts 1:8: To be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus had known that his followers could only fulfill this mission with the help and power of the Holy Spirit, so he had instructed them to wait in Jerusalem until they were given the Spirit. (Luke 24:49) Just as the Spirit had empowered Jesus for ministry (Luke 4:1), so the Spirit would now empower Jesus’ people for ministry.
At Pentecost, the church was not only empowered but also expanded to all nations and people groups. In the Old Testament, God’s work had mostly centered on one ethnic group–the people of Israel. But at Pentecost, God expanded his kingdom to all nations. The Spirit demonstrated this by enabling the believers to speak in foreign languages they had never known, so they could share the gospel with people from “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:6). Peter told the crowds in Jerusalem that the Spirit was being poured out on all people so that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21)
The Holy Spirit Today
Because of Pentecost, Jesus can now be personally present with every believer around the globe, through his Holy Spirit. In fact, because the Holy Spirit dwells inside us (1 Cor. 3:16), it is something that can never be taken away. Jesus promised in John 14-16 that the Spirit will gives us peace, courage, comfort, and guidance–everything we need.
Because Pentecost was such an important, history-changing event, many Christians have commemorated it up to the present–particularly the Christian traditions that follow a church calendar, such as Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and more. The practice of observing Pentecost seems to date to the early church, when the entire period from Easter to Pentecost was used as a for preparing and then baptizing new believers.
Today churches vary in how they celebrate Pentecost Sunday, but they often incorporate symbols of the Spirit, such as a dove, flames of fire, or colorful vestments–perhaps red for fire or green for life. Pentecost has also been called “Whitsunday,” due to the white garments worn by those being baptized at this time.
Episodes about Pentecost on Minno: