Pentecost is a celebration that should certainly connect Christians to our Judeo roots. We must be careful not to leave out the definitive greatness that this holiday holds for Jewish and Christian people alike. The word “Pentecost” (Ancient Greek - Πεντηκοστή) actually means “The 50th Day”.
For Christians, it is the 50th Day after Jesus’ glorious Resurrection, while for Jewish people, it signifies the 49 days (7 weeks) after the second day of Passover or 50 days from its start.
Though Pentecost has taken on a “nuance” of Christian flavor and interpretation during the last few centuries, the commemoration actually reflects two core attributes of Judaism.
Those core attributes are united in Pentecost as a celebration for the giving of the Torah and the harvest festival also called The Festival of Weeks (Heb. – Shavu’ot”), as the establishment of the agricultural way of life that sustained the Jewish people throughout the earlier centuries of Israel’s history.
“You shall count for yourselves -- from the day after the Shabbat [Sabbath], from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving -- seven Shabbats [Sabbaths], they shall be complete. Until the day after the seventh sabbath you shall count, fifty days... You shall convoke 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 21:15-16, 21
The website Judaism 101 gives an enriching synopsis of the Festivals of Weeks and the giving of Torah.
“Shavu'ot, the Festival of Weeks, is the second of the three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are Passoverand Sukkot). Agriculturally, it commemorates the time when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple, and is known as Hag ha-Bikkurim (the Festival of the First Fruits). Historically, it celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and is also known as Hag Matan Torateinu (the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah).
The period from Passover to Shavu'ot is a time of great anticipation. We count each of the days from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavu'ot, 49 days or 7 full weeks, hence the name of the festival. See The Counting of the Omer. The counting reminds us of the important connection between Passover and Shavu'ot: Passover freed us physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavu'ot redeemed us spiritually from our bondage to idolatry and immorality. Shavu'ot is also known as Pentecost, because it falls on the 50th day; however, Shavu'ot has no particular similarity to the Christian holiday of Pentecost, which occurs 50 days after their Spring holiday [Easter].
It is noteworthy that the holiday is called the time of the giving of the Torah, rather than the time of the receiving of the Torah. The sages point out that we are constantly in the process of receiving the Torah, that we receive it every day, but it was first given at this time. Thus it is the giving, not the receiving, that makes this holiday significant.
Shavu'ot is not tied to a particular calendar date, but to a counting from Passover. Because the length of the months used to be variable, determined by observation (see Jewish Calendar), and there are two new moons between Passover and Shavu'ot, Shavu'ot could occur on the 5th or 6th of [the Jewish month of] Sivan.” (http://www.jewfaq.org/holidayc.htm)
Mary Fairchild, a writer for About.com, elaborates a little more for us on Shavu’ot –
“Pentecost or Shavuot has many names in the Bible (the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Harvest, and the Latter Firstfruits). Celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover, Shavuot is traditionally a joyous time of giving thanks and presenting offerings for the new grain of the summer wheat harvest in Israel. The name "Feast of Weeks" was given because God commanded the Jews in Leviticus 23:15-16, to count seven full weeks (or 49 days) beginning on the second day of Passover, and then present offerings of new grain to the Lord as a lasting ordinance.
Shavuot was originally a festival for expressing thankfulness to the Lord for the blessing of the harvest. And because it occurred at the conclusion of the Passover, it acquired the name "Latter Firstfruits." (Mary Fairchild, About.com)
The Christian perspective of Pentecost focuses around the events that occurred during Shavu’ot, not the holy day itself. For Christians, the events surrounding the 120 disciples in the “Upper Room” are the most significant –
Act 1:4 And, [Jesus] being assembled together with them [the disciples], commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ” ye have heard of me.
Act 1:5 For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.
Act 1:8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth”.
Act 2:1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
Act 2:2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
Act 2:3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
Act 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Act 2:5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
Act 2:6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
Act 2:7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?
Act 2:8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
Act 2:9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,
Act 2:10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,
Act 2:11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
For Christians, Pentecost signifies 3 specific events:
- The Holy Spirit’s inauguration (or “birth”) of the Church (established through Jewish believers first) some 50 days after Christ’s Resurrection.
- The fulfilling of prophecies by Old Testament prophets (Ezek. 29:39, Joel 2:28 & Acts 2:17) and John the Baptist regarding Jesus (“He Who comes after me…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” – Matt. 3:11 MKJV). Pentecost actualizes God’s intent for all men to be immersed in His Spirit. People are now endowed with the sanctioned power and spiritual gifts needed to effectively preach the Gospel.
- The establishing of the Gospel as a universal message to be openly preached to all people. Pentecost removes the veil of the Gospel being kept from the Gentiles (non Jewish people). Though the people were all Jews from many different countries that heard the disciples speaking in their own languages, this event begins the opening of Judeo-Christianity to all of those various nations from which the new Jewish converts haled. Acts 2:41 and 47 tells us “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls…Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”
From the Day of Pentecost, we can experience at least 3 powerful things:
The Upper Room event took place at a specific point and time which incorporated God’s “bigger picture”. First, the disciples had to be “on one accord, in one place”, meaning they may have had some disputes or disagreements between them previously, but now they were gathered together for the celebration of the giving of Torah and Shavu’ot. Secondly, all Jewish men were according to the Torah, required to come to Jerusalem for Shavu’ot , thus many people would be nearby to hear the Gospel being revealed by the disciples. What we can learn from this today, is that God initiates our spreading of the Gospel – He sets up opportunities and coordinates the events surrounding those opportunities. Then He places us where we need to be and puts the words within us just as He caused the disciples to speak by placing cloven tongues of fire upon them.
The disciples being in “on one accord, in one place” was crucial for the Holy Spirit’s plan to work and be the most effective. What we can benefit from in realizing this today is that we must always be willing to settle disputes or “ill feelings” towards our fellow Christians and church members. We must be willing to be available for one another, to work together, and be on one accord. The Greek word for the term “one accord” is “homothumadon”, which literally means to be “unanimous” or“of one mind”. We cannot be effective in ministry if we are separated from other believers – we are one Body in Christ and must work together as our own individual body parts work in unison.
Lastly, we can experience the power of Pentecost by realizing that the Gospel must be made available to everyone. We do not have the right to determine who we will preach to or who we will share God’s Word with. The Message of the Gospel is far more important than then messengers. Whether our listeners are poor, rich, White, Black, Yellow, or Brown, gay, lesbian, transgendered, homeless, a pauper or a president, the Gospel is available for all to hear. For God’s message is that through His Son, He finds us both where and the way we are, but He never leaves us where we are or the way He finds us.
May the joy and power of Pentecost be with you always.