by K.W. Leslie, 05 June

Pentecost is the Christian name for the Feast of Weeks, or שָׁבֻעֹת֙/Šavuót: Seven weeks after Passover, at which time the Hebrews harvested their wheat. Ex 34.22 On 6 Sivan in the Hebrew calendar, the 50th day after Passover, they were expected to come to temple and present a grain offerng to the LORD. Dt 16.9-12 Oh, and tithe a tenth of it to celebrate with—and every third year, put it in the community granary.

Our word comes from the Greek τὴν ἡμέραν τῆς πεντηκοστῆς/tin iméran tis pentikostís, “the 50th day” Ac 2.1 —the Greek term for Šavuót.

Why do Christians celebrate a Hebrew harvest festival? (And have separate “harvest parties” in October?) Well we don’t celebrate it Hebrew-style: We consider it the last day of Easter, and we celebrate it for a whole other reason. In the year 33—the year Jesus died, rose, and was raptured—the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’s new church on Pentecost. Happened like so:

Acts 2.1-4 KJV
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.

The speaking-in-tongues part is why the 20th century Christian movement which has a lot of tongues-speaking in it is called Pentecostalism. Weirdly, a lot of us Pentecostals never bother to keep track of when Pentecost rolls around. I don’t get it. I blame anti-Catholicism a little. Anyway, Luke goes on:

Acts 2.5-13 KJV
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.

Christians like to call this “the first Pentecost.” Obviously it wasn’t. It’s the Feast of Weeks, which meant every devout Jew on earth was bringing their grain offerings to temple on that very day, 25 May 33. And suddenly a house full of Galileans broke out in every language they knew—spoken to as if to them personally.

Got their attention.

Peter’s sermon.

Simon Peter followed up with an explanation: This baptism of the Holy Spirit is a prophetic last-days event which God had always intended.

Acts 2.14-21 KJV
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 that 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. Jl 2.28-32

Christians like to claim that before this Pentecost, the Holy Spirit never indwelt people. At most he’d only “came upon them“ to give ’em prophecy, strength, or some other miraculous power. But it was temporary; he always left. We speculate this was because Jesus hadn’t yet died for the world’s sins, so humanity was too sinful for the Spirit to stick around too long. As if sin, not the Holy Spirit, is the Almighty.

But when you read the scriptures, you realize this is rubbish. The Holy Spirit’s power might have come and gone; same as it does nowadays. But the Holy Spirit himself didn’t leave. Becuase he doesn’t. He 13.5 That’s not who God is. We quit him; he doesn’t quit us.

What is different between the Old Testament times and today, is the Spirit didn’t indwell every believer; just the prophets. They had the Holy Spirit within them, permanently—for the same reason the Holy Spirit’s in us, permanently: Evidence of our relationship with God, Ep 1.13 enabling us to hear him… and enabling us to prophesy. If we can hear God, we can tell others what God says. And that is what Joel’s prophecy is all about: In the last days, God’s pouring out his Holy Spirit to everybody, and we shall prophesy. Jl 2.28, Ac 2.18 God has come near! So has his kingdom.

Acts 2.22-36 KJV
22 Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: 23 him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: 24 whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. 25 For David speaketh concerning him,
I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: 26 therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: 27 because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. 28 Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. Ps 16.8-11
29 Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. 30 Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; 31 he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. 32 This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33 Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. 34 For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself,
The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, 35 until I make thy foes thy footstool. Ps 110.1
36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.

Upon hearing this, the listeners were κατενύγησαν τὴν καρδίαν/katenýghisan tin kardían, “stabbed in the heart.” Ac 2.28 No, not literally. But they wanted to know what to do next, and Peter had ’em turn to Jesus. That day, Jesus’s new church grew from about 120 people Ac 1.15 to 3,000. Ac 2.41 And over the past 20 centuries, we’ve grown to 2.3 billion of the earth’s 7.3 billion people. About a third of the planet—with plenty of room for more.

How Jews have celebrated Pentecost since.

After the Romans destroyed the temple in the year 70, there was nowhere for the Jews to gather every year for the Feast of Weeks; no temple where they can offer their grain. Hence the rabbis invented alternate customs for the day.

Over the centuries, Weeks evolved from a harvest festival, to honoring the day God gave the Law to the Hebrews at Mt. Sinai. ’Cause the Hebrews arrived at Sinai on 1 Sivan Ex 19.1 and a few days later God handed down the 10 Commandments. The dates coincide. This idea was developed in the Sefer ha-Khinúkh, “Book of Education,” a 13th-century Spanish commentary on the Law. Nowadays, certain devout Jews observe Weeks by reading through all the commands (including commentary) on an overnight binge. Some clever folks try to tie harvest and Law together, by pointing out the bible is our daily bread.

Various Christians assume medieval Judaism and Pharisaism are the same thing. Nope; one descended from the other. But these folks claim the Jews of Jesus’s day also celebrated the giving of the Law during Weeks. There’s no evidence of this from contemporary sources. Yeah, there’s what medieval rabbis claimed, but because people have the annoying habit of rewriting history to match our beliefs—medieval rabbis in particular—it makes their histories really unreliable.

Regardless, the original purpose of Weeks was to thank and honor God for the harvest. And check out the fun parallel: Jesus was “planted,” so to speak (and pardon the crudity), into the earth for Passover… and look at the harvest of 3,000 people whom the Holy Spirit produced for Pentecost.

The reason the Spirit empowers us is because the fields are ripe for harvest. Jn 4.35 More than just pray for workers to harvest it, Lk 10.2 we need to be the answers to those prayers. This is why he empowers us after all. To prophecy, to produce signs and wonders, and to harvest.

How Christians do Pentecost.

Christians began to put a different spin on Pentecost, as is implied by Paul’s special observance of it. Ac 20.16, 1Co 16.8 Some Christians observe it as the birthday of the church. Others look on it as the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the church. Either way, it’s a relevant day.

Churches celebrate Pentecost in all sorts of ways. Lots of us do prayer vigils, to remember how the apostles prayed for the Holy Spirit to come. Lots of symbols are used to represent the Spirit: Birds, red to represent his fire, flags or trumpets to represent his rushing wind. Sometimes the scriptures are read in multiple languages, reminding us of the many languages the Spirit enabled the apostles to speak. Pentecost is also a great day for baptisms.

And, like I griped at the beginning of this piece, some churches give it a miss altogether. Too traditional, too liturgical, too old-school for their taste. In the United States, since it often falls near other holidays (like Mother’s Day or Memorial Day) the other holiday tends to take precedence.

Some churches make Pentecost Monday into a holiday. But beyond that, Eastertime is over, and we go back to “ordinary time”—the days between Easter and Christmas, when there are no major Christian holidays. But we should still strive to make these days more than ordinary—by making good use of the Spirit’s empowerment at Pentecost.