Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Did you know that this evening’s sunset will begin the Feast of Pentecost? Do you even care? What do you think about when you hear the word? Do you think of speaking in tongues, the birth of Christianity, the giving of the Holy Spirit, or maybe even a Christian denomination? While all or some of these things might come to mind when considering Pentecost there is likely far more to this event than most Christians realize.

Pentecost or Shavuot[1] in Hebrew is the 3500 year old festival which celebrates the spring wheat harvest in the Land of Israel. This holy day falls on the 50th day after the first day of Passover (Lev. 23:15-16) and is the day when the first fruits of the wheat harvest were offered to God (Lev 23:7). Beyond Pentecost’s clear agricultural importance the feast also took on a historical significance. Because this feast falls on the third month of the Hebrew calendar and coincides with the period that the Law was received (Ex 19:1) the Harvest also came to be a time for commemorating the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai.[2]

This historic understanding of the Feast of Pentecost can be seen in the portions of the Torah and Prophets which are read by every observant Jew in synagogues all over the world on Pentecost. It has been the practice of the Jews to read a portion[3] of the Torah and the Prophets publicly and aloud on every Sabbath and on every holy day since before the coming of the Messiah. The potions which are read on the first day of Pentecost are Exodus 19-20 and Ezekiel 1-2.

With that background in mind let us take a look at Acts 2.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.

Most assume that the primary reason for the 120 disciples gathering for prayer was in obedience to Jesus’ command that came in the previous week. (Acts 1:8) While this certainly is true it must not be overlooked that these disciples were observant Jews who would have gathered together specifically for the celebration of the Harvest. It is precisely because these Messianic believers were devout that we must assume that they also read the traditional reading portions for this holy day.

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongue as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.

Consider now what every faithful Jew in Jerusalem would have been listening to as the Scriptures were read that morning of Pentecost.

Exodus 19:16-19

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. And the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly and as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.[4]

Ezekiel 1:1, 4, 26-28

In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

Notice that both of these passages closely parallel the manifestations of the Spirit coming upon the 120 who were assembled in the upper room.[5] Both passages indicate that the coming of God’s presence was accompanied by fire and with great power and with the sound of the blast of a trumpet and wind.

Acts 2:15 tells us that this manifestation of the Spirit of God happened during the third hour (9 o’clock). This would have been precisely the time when thousands of Jewish worshipers would have filled the streets having just left Temple after the morning service. Consider that these Jews would have also just listened to and meditated upon the traditional reading portions out of the Torah and Prophets.

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…

It should be stated that regeneration or the Spirit of God opening the hearts of men occurred no differently prior to the coming of the Messiah than it does now after. (Rom 4:1-3) What makes this a hard pill to swallow for many is a misunderstanding of what happened in Acts 2. Luke, in writing Acts, seems to point to the Spirit's presence as an endowment of power by the Spirit and not the inauguration of a new salvation paradigm (Acts 1:8, 6:8, 10:38)[6]; though we do recognize that it was at this time that God was making His people His Temple.

What we see happening here with the giving of the Spirit in Acts 2 is different than what we see in the Old. Under the old covenant this anointing of God’s Spirit was given very rarely, sometimes temporarily, and for the most part to the kings of Israel and the prophets. They were given the Spirit so that they might rule their kingdom, prophesy, and perform miracles; something not everyone enjoyed. With the coming of the Spirit in Acts everyone was given the Spirit of Holiness and endowed with power to proclaim the Gospel. Consider this event parallel to and typified in what we read in Numbers 11:16-30 where God took a portion of His Spirit from Moses and dispersed it amongst 70 appointed elders. In the same way, I think it could be argued that after Jesus had ascended to His Father He sent the fullness of the Spirit that rested upon Him and dispersed it amongst His people on Pentecost.[7]

…and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?

This miraculous event amounts to a reversal of what happened in Genesis 11 at the Tower of Babel. At Babel the people had unified in rebellion against God so He divided their tongues. Here God enabled people whose different languages had separated them to understand each other praising God, which is the proper use of unity.[8]

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

The three thousand that were saved on the day of Pentecost is contrasted against the three thousand who were killed on the day that Moses descended Mount Sinai with the Law and found the Children of Israel worshiping the golden calf.

This, of course, was not the first time that such a spectacular manifestation of God’s glory had occurred in Jerusalem.[9] Second Chronicles gives us the story of when another 120 men were assembled in Jerusalem and God manifest His presence before His people. After Solomon had completed the building of his Temple he gathered the people together for its dedication.

2 Chronicles 5:11-14

And when the priests came out of the Holy Place (for all the priests who were present had consecrated themselves, without regard to their divisions, and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with 120 priests who were trumpeters; and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever," the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God.

That a parallel exists between the Acts 2 narrative and the one found in 2 Chronicles is not surprising. I believe that the 120
disciples[10] present at the coming of the Spirit in Acts are intended to point us back to the 120 priests present at the dedication of the Temple. Further, I believe that this points to the earlier, 2 Chronicles, event as being a type of the future indwelling presence of God in the hearts of men. The message is clear. The believer has become the New Temple of the LORD. We have become the Dwelling Place of the Dwelling Presence of God.

In conclusion, Pentecost represents far more than most people understand. In fact, Colossians 2:16-17 tells us that the substance of Pentecost is Jesus. It is all about Him. We read in Acts 2 that we were given the first fruits of our inheritance in the Holy Spirit; the escrow payment securing our future salvation. We also see the first fruits of the Harvest gathered into the Body of Christ on Pentecost. In Exodus we find that the Law was written on tablets of stone, in Acts we realize the fulfillment of the New Covenant by the Spirit writing the Law upon the hearts of men. At Pentecost we caught a glimpse of the future Kingdom when the languages that now separate us are finally reunited in praise to our God. With the coming and the gift of the Holy Spirit we find that God’s glory no longer dwells in a temple made with hands but in the temple of the hearts of His people. And finally, we understand that where God would not allow the Children of Israel to approach the mountain because His glory rested upon it has now, through the work of His Son and the power of His Spirit, made a way for His glory to come and rest upon us.


[1] – Shavuot, “The Feast of Weeks”, Yom-HaBikkurim (“Day of the First fruits”, Numbers 28:26), Chag- HaKatzir (“Feast of the Harvest” Exodus 23:16)

[2] – Matan Torah

[3] – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torah_reading

[4] – וְהָאֱלֹהִ֖ים יַעֲנֶ֥נּוּ בְקֽוֹל׃ - and God answered him by a voice.

[5] – Acts 2:5-6 suggests that the 120 may have been gathered in a house located in close proximity to the Temple, if not in the Temple's court itself. That 3000 were saved by the preaching of Peter suggests a much larger crowd was present to hear his message and that a larger area for such an assembly of hearers would be necessary to accommodate the crowd.

[6] – Fee, Stuart, How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, pg. 96

[7] – We see additional significance in Numbers 11 because it would appear that Moses prophesies, in verse 29, that the Spirit of God would not be limited to the 70, or to him alone, but would one day be poured out upon all flesh. This is further anticipated in the prophecy of Joel 2, which is quoted by Peter on Pentecost. We also see some significance in the number of elders that were given this disbursement of empowerment by the Spirit. You will note that the number 70 is indicative of the Nations. Genesis 10-11 lists 70 fathers of Nations that were scattered throughout the earth after God confused the languages at Babel. So again, we see the theme of God’s Spirit being poured out upon all men, not just Israel, and we once again see a connection to the reversal of the confusion of the languages.

[8] – Stern, David, Jewish New Testament Commentary, pg. 222

[9] – We see a very clear movement of God’s presence throughout the Biblical narrative. In the Garden we see the Creator walking with His son Adam until Adam breaks Covenant with his God by eating the fruit. God casts Adam from His presence.

Many years later we see the glorious presence of God moving earthward from Heaven and resting upon Sinai. (Ex. 19) God commands the Children of Israel to keep away from the mountain lest they be killed. After the giving of the Law and the acceptance of the Mosaic Covenant God moves his glory from the mountain and into the Tabernacle so that He might dwell among His people.

We see God’s glory in motion once again many years after the Hebrews entered the Land of Promise when King David decides to build a permanent structure for the LORD. David was not able to complete the Temple because of the blood he had spilled but he was able to finance it for his son Solomon. It was at the completion and dedication of the Temple that we see the presence of God making His home in the Holy of Holies. (2 Chr. 5) Unfortunately because of Israel’s disobedience God forsakes the Temple and we see His glory leaving Jerusalem just before the Babylonian captivity. (Ez. 10)

Finally we see God’s glory returning to Jerusalem but in a much more remarkable way. God still came with fire and wind, just as he had done before, but rather than entering the Holy of Holies as He had in the Tabernacle and Temple, He instead takes up His residence within the bodies of the believers gathered there that day.

[10] Interestingly, the 10 Commandments are made up of 120 Hebrew words.  At Sinai, on the inaugural Pentecost, there are 120 words testifying of the Law of God.  On Pentecost, the anniversary celebration of the giving of the Law, we have 120 disciples testifying of the Grace of God in many languages.
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