What is the Feast of Pentecost?
Jesus chose the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost, to begin His Church. This festival is one of the major holy days in God’s calendar, as found in Leviticus 23. But what is the meaning of Pentecost for us, as Christians?
The Festival of Weeks, Shavu’ot in Hebrew, is the third of the three major Biblical festivals that fall in the spring. Shavu’ot is also referred to by its Greek name, Pentecost, because it comes 50 days after Passover. “You shall count for yourselves — from the day after the [Passover] Sabbath, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving [the day of Firstfruits] — seven Sabbaths, they shall be complete. Until the day after the seventh sabbath you shall count, fifty days… You shall gather on this very day — there shall be a holy convocation for yourselves — you shall do no laborious work; it is an eternal decree in your dwelling places for your generations.” -Leviticus 23:15-16, 21
Why do we count?
The period from Passover to Pentecost is a time of great anticipation. We count each of the days from the second day of Passover to the day before Pentecost, 49 days or 7 full weeks, hence the names of the festival. The counting of the days reminds us of the important connection between Passover and Pentecost: Passover freed God’s people physically from slavery, and the giving of the Torah on Shavu’ot redeemed us spiritually from our bondage to idolatry and immorality. Moreover, Christ’s death on Passover, the actual counting of the days by the first Christians for seven weeks, and the giving of the Spirit on Pentecost was a dramatic fulfillment of the spiritual meaning of these feasts – saving us through the work of Christ on the cross, and empowering us from within to live out the Kingdom of God in the Earth and be a new creation – The Bride of Christ.
What are we celebrating?
Agriculturally, Pentecost commemorates the time when the first of the fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple, a picture of the first Christians who were filled with the Spirit of God on this day and became the first fruits of the worldwide Church. Historically, Pentecost celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. It is significant that God sealed the Old Testament covenant with fire and the giving of His Word on a mountaintop, and that He sealed His New Testament covenant with fire and the giving of His Spirit in the Upper Room on the same day of His Biblical calendar.
How do we observe Pentecost?
Jewish custom is to stay up the entire first night (the eve) of Shavu’ot to worship, pray and study the Torah, then pray as early as possible in the morning. This is what the first Christians were doing as they were gathered together in the upper room. Shavu’ot, or Pentecost, is a Sabbath of Sabbaths, meaning that it is a holiday and a day of rest – even though it may not fall on the regular Sabbath day.
To celebrate, gather together for a meal and then for some worship time. You can make this an all night gathering, as is traditional; a watchnight experience can be exciting and very meaningful as we wait, and sing and read like the first Christians did. Read from the scriptures about the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai at Pentecost — from Exodus 19 or 24, for example. Discuss the awesome situation, and what it means that God came down to a mountaintop in order to meet with His people and give them His word. Next read the story of the birth of the church on Pentecost from Acts 2. Compare and contrast the stories, giving thought to the importance of the giving of the Holy Spirit on that day. Read from Hebrews 12 what Paul says about this holiday. Also, Acts tells us that 5000 were baptized on the day the Holy Spirit was given, so it’s a good time to celebrate baptism with your community.
Traditionally the book of Ruth is read at this time. As Christians we can see the symbolic meaning of the book of Ruth in that our “Kinsman Redeemer” has claimed us as His betrothed, we have entered into a marriage covenant with Him, and we are “making ourselves ready” as we look forward to His return. Pentecost is a celebration of God’s bridal covenant with His people: the first covenant, given with fire and awesome wonders on Mount Sinai, and the renewed covenant sealed with tongues of fire and power in the Upper Room.
What about the scriptural meaning?
Pentecost portrays God as the Lord of His harvest, choosing and preparing the first fruits of His Kingdom by giving them His Holy Spirit (Matthew 9:38; Luke 10:2; Romans 8:23; James 1:18). The preceding festival of Unleavened Bread pictures our commitment to come out of a sinful life and live our lives by God’s perfect laws. But we can’t do this on our own. Pentecost pictures God’s willingness to give His Holy Spirit to provide the power we need to live life in His Kingdom. “…you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living god, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” II Cor. 3:3.
God’s Holy Spirit empowers us with the love of God, the motivation to obey Him and a sound mind to discern His truth (2 Timothy 1:7; John 15:26;16:13). The Church of God, which began on Pentecost as shown in Acts 2, is given the mission of preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God in preparation for the next step in God’s plan, the return of Jesus Christ. This is pictured by the next festival, the Feast of Trumpets.
So why should we as Christians celebrate these holy days?
Pentecost and the rest of the Biblical holidays are not necessarily Jewish in an ethnic sense, nor are they Christian in a religious sense; they are divine in a Biblical sense and therefore eternal and universal — given by God for the benefit of His people throughout time. What other structural root system, what other heritage has God given in His wisdom and love that may give form and meaning to our faith and practice? What better heritage could we claim, than the one God has ordained since before the beginning of time for the benefit of His people throughout all generations? Therefore, we can agree with Paul as he says in I Corinthians, “Let us celebrate the feast!” Pentecost, May 14, 15 & 16 2013.