Traditionally celebrated fifty days after Passover time, the Pentecost was initially celebrated as a Jewish harvest festival when first fruits were offered to God. Following the crucifixion of Jesus, and the dramatic events described in the book of Acts, it came to have added significance.
Jesus was crucified at Passover time. Three days after the crucifixion, Jesus was resurrected. Forty days after the resurrection, he ascended to heaven. Ten days after the ascension, his disciples personally experienced the release of the Holy Spirit - the events of the Pentecost.
God made his presence known in a very captivating way – violent wind, fire, and his Holy Spirit. The Bible (Acts 2: 3-4) provides a spectacular and breathtaking account of events leading to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples, and indeed, all believers.
This divine anointing came in the form of “tongues of fire” resting above the head of each disciple. Many view this miraculous release of the gift of the Holy Spirit, as the beginning of the Church. For them, the Pentecost is viewed as a celebration of the renewal of God’s Covenant.
Why tongues of fire? An outward sign was needed to serve as confirmation of faith of the disciples themselves, and to convince others. The sign chosen by God was “tongues of fire.” It is believed that tongues symbolize speech and communication of the gospel.
Comparatively, fire is believed to symbolize God’s purifying presence. Certainly, such a purifying presence could serve to burn away the undesirable elements of our lives and set our hearts on fire to ignite the lives of others.
On Mt. Sinai, God confirmed the validity of the Old Testament Law with fire from heaven (Exodus 19:16-18). At Pentecost, God confirmed the validity of the Holy Spirit’s ministry by sending fire. At Mount Sinai, fire had come down on one place.
Alternatively, at the Pentecost, fire came down on many believers, symbolizing that the presence of God is available to all who believe in him. Some two thousand years later, Christians all over the world continue to celebrate this glorious event. For them, the flame continues to burn in their hearts and minds. Why? Because we still need the fire.
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