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FESTIVALS IN SCRIPTURE AND HISTORY
VOLUME I: THE SPRING FESTIVALS
PENTECOST IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University
Pentecost began as the celebration of the Spring wheat harvest in ancient Israel and became the celebration of the first spiritual harvest of souls that marked the founding of the Christian church as an institution. Pentecost is the festival that celebrates the birth of the Christian church, because it was on that day that Christs followers were consolidated into a new messianic community, the Church.
Christ revealed His intent to establish His Church by calling and training His disciples. However, He did not form a separate synagogue, nor did He start an independent movement. In spite of the constant conflicts with Jewish leaders, Christ did not break in any outward way with either the Temple or the synagogue. His disciples formed an open fellowship within the Jewish religious communities whose only distinguishing mark was their commitment to their Master.
Even after Jesus death and resurrection, the disciples, now numbering 120, still believed in the restoration of the Jewish theocracy (Acts 1:6) and waited on God for divine direction. The situation changed dramatically on the day of Pentecost. Something extraordinary happened on that day that transformed the apostles into men of conviction and courage and provided them with a spiritual impetus that enabled the Christian movement to expand rapidly into the major cities of the Roman Empire.
Objective of Chapter. This chapter has two objectives. The first is to reflect on the theological significance of the events that occurred on the day of Pentecost. The second is to examine the three New Testament references to Pentecost (Acts 2:1; 1 Cor 16:8; Acts 20:16) in order to establish whether the Apostolic Church observed Pentecost.
THE MEANING OF THE CHRISTIAN PENTECOST
The Timing of Pentecost. The meaning of the Christian Pentecost depends partly upon its connection to the Jewish Pentecost. In the case of the Christian Passover, we found that its meaning grew out of the typology of the Jewish Passover. This is also true of Pentecost, though the New Testament offers fewer explicit connections between the Jewish and Christian Pentecost.
One of the explicit connections is the timing of the first Christian Pentecost given by Luke. Time references in Acts are few and far between, but in introducing the events that occurred on the day of Pentecost, Luke says: "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come" (Acts 2:1, KJV). Literally translated, the Greek verb "sumpleroustai" means "was being fulfilled." This awkward verb seems to be intentionally chosen by Luke to make the point that the momentous events associates with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred at the very time when the celebration of Pentecost was in progress, perhaps to indicate the morning hours. There is no question, then, that whatever is the meaning of the events, they occurred while the Jewish Pentecost was in progress.
It is evident that for Luke it is significant that the events associated with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred not before, not after, but on the very day of Pentecost. One wonders, Why was Christ sacrificed as true Paschal Lamb on the very day when the Jews sacrificed their Passover lambs? Also, Why did God pour out the Holy Spirit to harvest the first fruits of the spiritual harvest procured by Christs redemptive mission on the very day when the Jews celebrated Passover? The answer is to found in Gods concern to prove that Christ was indeed the fulfillment of the hopes of redemption that had been typified and nourished by the celebration of these annual feasts. By timing Christs redemptive acts in accordance with the feasts that foreshadowed them, believers could more easily recognize and accept the reality of salvation that had been accomplished by Christs death, resurrection, and inauguration of His heavenly ministry.
The Manner of Pentecost. The manner in which the coming of the Holy Spirit manifested itself on the day of Pentecost is also significant, because it resembles the extraordinary phenomena that occurred on Mount Sinai at the giving of the Law. In chapter 5 we noted that Pentecost became for Jews a feast of covenant renewal commemorating the giving of the Law at Sinai.
Luke reminds us of Gods cataclysmic manifestation at Sinai when he describes the phenomena of the day of Pentecost as "a sound . . . like the rush of a mighty wind," and "there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them," and all "began to speak in other tongues , as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:2-4).
It is not difficult to see a parallel to the phenomena which heralded the giving of the Law from Sinai. In the course of time, Jewish traditions embellished these phenomena (Ex 19:16-25; Heb 12:18) and added such particulars as that at Sinai "Gods voice, as it was uttered split up into seventy voices, in seventy languages, so that all the nations should understand . . . ."1 The notion of seventy languages is derived from the number of the seventy children of Israel that came out of Egypt (Ex 1:1-5; Deut 32:8) which is interpreted to represent all the nations of the world.
In The Midrash Says, Rabbi Moshe Weissman explains the rabbinical interpretation of the supernatural phenomena accompanying the giving of the Law, saying: "In occasion of the giving of the Torah, the children of Israel not only heard the Lords voice but actually saw the sound waves as they emerged from the Lords mouth. They visualized them as a fiery substance. Each commandment that left the Lords mouth travelled around the entire Camp and then to each Jew individually, asking him, Do you accept upon yourself this Commandment with all the halochot [Jewish law] pertaining to it? Every Jew answered Yes after each commandment. Finally, the fiery substance which they saw engraved itself on the tablets."2
This Jewish embellishment of the giving of the Law, in which Gods voice looked like a "fiery substance" which split into seventy languages, is strikingly similar to Lukes comparison of the Holy Spirit to tongues like flames of fire alighting for a while on each head. A number of scholars acknowledge the similarity between the manifestation of Gods power at the giving of the Law and at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
In his Commentary on the Book of the Acts, F. F. Bruce comments on the tongues as of fire, saying: "When the law was given at Sinai, according to one rabbinic tradition, the ten commandments were promulgated with a single sound, yet it says, "All the people perceived the voices" (Ex 20:18); this shows that when the voice went forth it was divided into seven voices and then went into seventy tongues, and every people received the law in their own language (Midrash Tanchuma 26c). So now, on the reputed anniversary of the law-giving, people from every nation under heaven heard the praises of God, every man . . . in his own language. The parallel in the narrators mind is plain: it has been caught and expressed by John Keble in his Whitsuntide hymn:
When God of old came down from heaven,
But when He came the second time,
The fires, that rushed on Sinai down
And as on Israels awestruck ear
So, when the Spirit of our God
In a similar vein Philip Schaff wrote: "The Sinaitic legislation was accompanied by thunder and lightening, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud, and all the people that were in the camp trembled (Ex 19:6). The church of the new covenant was ushered into existence with startling signs which filled the spectators with wonders and fear."4
Perhaps the most vivid description of the analogy between Sinai and the Christian Pentecost is offered to us by Jerome (A. D. 342-420), the famous translator of the Latin version of the Bible known as Vulgate. He wrote: "There is Sinai, here Sion; there the trembling mountain, here the trembling house; there the flaming mountain, here the flaming tongues; there the noisy thunderings, here the sounds of many tongues; there the clangor of the ramshorn, here the notes of the gospel-trumpet."5
The close connection that Luke establishes between the time and manner of the Jewish and Christian Pentecosts suggests that Luke saw in the Christian Pentecost the Messianic fulfillment of the events typified by the Jewish Pentecost. Since the time of Luke, many Christians, like Jerome, have seen the Christian Passover in the same light. James Strong and John MClintock note that " It is not surprising that the coincidence of the day on which the festival was observed with that on which the law appears to have been given to Moses, should have impressed the minds of Christians in the early ages of the Church. The divine Providence had ordained that the Holy Spirit should come down in a special manner, to give spiritual life and unity to the Church, on that very same day in the year on which the law had been bestowed on the children of Israel which gave to them national life and unity. They must have seen that, as the possession of the law had completed the deliverance of the Hebrew race wrought by the hand of Moses, so the gift of the Spirit perfected the work of Christ in the establishment of His kingdom upon the earth."6
The Crowning of Christs Passover. The Jewish pilgrimage feast of Pentecost gained new significance for Christians because it coincided with the birthday of the Church as an institution. On that day, the Holy Spirit baptized 120 disciples of Jesus as they awaited His coming in an upper room (Luke 24:53). This event was the crowning of Christs Paschal sacrifice, for by sending forth the Holy Spirit after His ascension, Christ fulfilled the "promise" of the Spirit (Acts 1:4) which had been predicted by John the Baptist (Acts 1:5).
John the Baptist said to those who came to receive the baptism of repentance, "I have baptized you with water; but he [who is coming after me] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1:8). Before His ascension, Jesus promised that Johns words would soon be fulfilled: "John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:5). This promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. Peter proclaimed that Gods promise had been fulfilled because the Holy Spirit had been given, in accordance with the prediction of the prophets (Joel 3:1-5; cf. Ezek 36:27).
When Jesus ascended to heaven following His resurrection, He presented Himself to the Father as the first fruits of a coming harvest. On that occasion He took into the Holy Place "not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Heb 9:12). In this sense, Pentecost represents the climax of Christs Paschal sacrifice that was celebrated in heaven. When the Father accepted His sacrifice "for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2) and exalted Him (Acts 2:33), the Father and the Son sent forth the Spirit. Pentecost is then the crowning of Christs Passover in heaven, which was manifested on earth with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:32-33). "By the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost," writes Ellen White, "thousands were to be converted in a day. This was the result of Christs sowing, the harvest of His work."7
The Inauguration of Christs Heavenly Ministry. Pentecost celebrates not only the crowning of Christs Paschal sacrifice, but also the inauguration of His heavenly ministry. The ascension constituted the transition from Christs redemptive work on earth to His intercessory work in heaven. Upon His ascension, Christ was exalted to a position of honor and dignity by being seated at the right hand of God (Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55). As the seating of delegates represents their official installation, so the seating of Christ at the right hand of the Father represents His official enthronement. He himself predicted this exaltation when He appeared before the Sanhedrin: "From now on the Son of man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God" (Luke 22:69). In his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter explained that the Christ who had been crucified, had been raised from the dead and "exalted at the right hand of God" (Acts 2:33).
The "right hand" is a symbol of the supreme honor, power, and authority with which Jesus was invested. By being invited to sit at the right hand of God (Acts 2:34; Eph 1: 20; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3, 13), Christ was installed to His heavenly ministry. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is seen as evidence of the official enthronement of Christ to His heavenly ministry (Acts 2:33).
"When Christ passed within the heavenly gates, He was enthroned amidst the adoration of the angels. As soon as this ceremony was completed, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in rich currents, and Christ was indeed glorified, even with the glory which He had with the Father from all eternity. The Pentecostal outpouring was heavens communication that the Redeemers inauguration was accomplished. According to His promise He had sent the Holy Spirit from heaven to His followers as a token that He had, as priest and king, received all authority in heaven and on earth, and was the Anointed One over His people."8
The meaning of "sitting" as intercessory ministry is explained especially in Hebrews 8:1-2, where Christ is presented as the "high priest, . . . seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent." Through His intercessory ministry, Christ sustains the Church (Rev 1:13, 20), mediates repentance and forgiveness to believers (Acts 5:31; 1 John 2:1-2; 1:9), makes our prayers acceptable to God (John 16:23-24; Rev 8:3), provides us with the invisible and yet real asistance of His angels (Heb 1:14; Rev 5:6; 1:16, 20), and bestows upon us the essential gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33).
Inauguration of Christs Ministry in Revelation. Some scholars see the inauguration of Christs ministry in the heavenly sanctuary in the throne scenes of Revelation 4 and 5. The scenes in a sense are a celebration of Pentecost in heaven, which results in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on earth.9 Christ, the Lamb that "had been slain" (Rev 5:6), is welcomed back to heaven by four living creatures, twenty-four elders, and myriads of angels who praise Him, saying: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" (Rev 5:12). The immediate result of the Lambs sacrifice is intercession (Rev 5:8) and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit represented by the "seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth" (Rev 5:6).
In his book A Rebirth of Images: The Making of St. Johns Apocalypse, Austin Farrer sees in the vision of the throne (Rev 4-5) a description of the feast of Pentecost: "The Christian Pentecost which St. John describes took place in heaven, but had its effect on earth. The Lamb, by virtue of the sevenfold Spirit which is his seven horns of strength, his seven eyes of knowledge, opened all revelation, and when the day of Pentecost was fully come, he poured it on his servants in prophetic Spirit. The pentecostal gift is constantly renewed, as in this apocalypse of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to shew his servants what must quickly be, and which he signified by the message of his angel to his servant John. Yet the first Pentecost is not cast into the shade by such renewals, but kept all the more lively in mind."10
This interpretation of the vision of Gods throne (Rev 4-5) as cast in the setting of the Feast of Pentecost suggests that at the time of Johns writing (about A. D. 90-100), the feast played a significant role in the liturgical life of the church, especially since the book of Revelation was used in the liturgy of the church. Farrer continues noting the connection between the imageries of Passover and Pentecost in the vision of the throne: "It is the Christ of the Passover, the paschal Lamb standing as slaughtered, who by his sacrificial merit has attained to take the book and loose the seven seals thereof. And so while Pentecost provides the frame of Apocalypse 4-5, it is inlaid with the principal of all the paschal emblems."11
Today many Christians are wondering, What on earth is Jesus doing in Heaven? Some think that Jesus is on vacation in heaven, recovering from His exhaustive earthly mission. Pentecost reassures us that Jesus is not on vacation. He has not taken a leave of absence. He has not forgotten us. On the contrary, Pentecost teaches us that as soon as Jesus ascended to heaven, He was officially enthroned at the right hand of God (Acts 2:32; Rev 5:9-12) and began His intercessory ministry on behalf of believers on earth: "God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:31).
The New Testament uses several human analogies to describe the heavenly ministry of Christ which began at Pentecost when He poured out the Holy Spirit upon His expectant disciples. He is described as "Priest" (Heb 7:15; 8:4), "High Priest" (Heb 2:17; 3:1), "Mediator" (1 Tim 2:5; Heb 8:6), "Intercessor" (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25). This gives us reason to believe that Jesus is working hard to bring to completion at the day of His coming the good work that began on the day of Pentecost with the inauguration of His heavenly ministry.
The Founding of the Christian Church. Pentecost celebrates also the founding of the Christian church as an organized body of believers with a message and a mission. The institution of the Church began when Christ called the twelve disciples and trained them to become His witnesses. But the constitution of the Church occurred at Pentecost when the disciples were qualified for their calling by the power of the Holy Spirit. On that day, Christs followers were consolidated into a new body with the conviction and courage to preach the Gospel to the ends of the world.
The Christian church was not extracted from the larger Jewish social order to become another separated-unto-God sect within Judaism. Rather, Pentecost marks the initial fulfillment of the prophetic vision of the ingathering of Gods people from all the nations to the uplifted temple in Zion and the going forth of the Law to teach all the nations (Is 2:2-3; Mic 4:1-2; cf. John 2:19; 12:32). A new people of God (the Church) was formed on the day of Pentecost, consisting not only of Jews but of "all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:39).
The loving acceptance of one another and the selfless sharing (koinonia) among the members of the new community of faith reflected the universalization of Jesus ministry by the Spirit in and through each member. They expressed their spiritual oneness by devoting "themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42). Their mutual commitment to Christ was expressed by sharing their means with "all, as any had need" (Acts 2:45). Pentecost reminds us that our commitment to Christ finds expression in loving service to others.
The Birthday of the Christian Mission. Pentecost celebrates also the birthday of the mission of the Church. After His resurrection, Christ instructed His disciples about "the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3) and promised them that, after being energized by the Holy Spirit, they would become His witnesses from Jerusalem "to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Peters proclamation "standing with the eleven" (Acts 2:14) was the first manifestation of Christian obedience to this missionary task. Throughout the book of Acts, we are reminded that Christians became witnesses as a result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. "We all are witnesses" (Acts 2:32). "We are witnesses to all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem" (Acts 10:39; cf. 3:15; 5:32; 10:41; 13:31).
The gift of tongues that were intelligible to "devout men from every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5) underscores the universal scope of the Christian mission. In view of the fact that most of the Jews who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost understood Aramaic or Greek, the linguistic abilities given by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost may be indicative of Gods desire that each language group should hear the Gospel in its native language, the one most meaningful to the individual heart.
It should be noted that the Spirit was given at Pentecost not merely to enrich the corporate worship and fellowship of Christs followers, but primarily to energize them for missionary activity. Acts frequently refers to the role of the Spirit in the evangelistic activity of the Church (Acts 4:8; 13:2; 15:28; 16:6). The initial Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit is to be distinguished from the subsequent infilling of the Holy Spirit that empowered Christians to share the knowledge of Jesus Christ (Acts 13:52; 14:1; 15:28).
Pentecost reminds us that the Christian Church was founded by Christ, not to perpetuate itself as a self-serving organization but to extend the divine provision of salvation to men and women everywhere. The speaking in tongues at Pentecost for a moment set off in bold relief Gods redemptive purpose for the whole world. The missionary outreach of the Church, which unites people of different languages and cultures as one body in Christ, represents the reversal of the scattering and hostility of the nations that followed Gods judgment at Babel (Gen 11:1-9). Pentecost celebrates the birthday of the Christian mission.
The Bestowal of Spiritual Gifts. Pentecost marks the beginning of the bestowal of spiritual gifts on all the redeemed so that each may participate in the life and mission of the Church. Before His death, Christ reassured His disciples that He would bestow upon His followers the gift of the Holy Spirit"the gift that would bring within their reach the boundless resources of His grace."12 "I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you" (John 14:16-17).
Christ was pointing to a day when the Holy Spirit would come to do a mighty work as His representative. That day came on Pentecost, when His disciples "were all filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:4) and "great grace was upon them all" (Acts 4:33). In a sense, Pentecost represents not only the fulfillment of Christs promise but also Gods answer to Moses prayer: "Would that the Lords people were prophets, that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!" (Num 11:29).
From the day of Pentecost onward, all Christians are called to the full-time task of proclaiming "the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Pet 2:9). All Christians can receive the spiritual gifts that "equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ" (Eph 4:12).
"From the Day of Pentecost to the present time, the Comforter has been sent to all who have yielded themselves fully to the Lord and to His service. To all who have accepted Christ as a personal Savior, the Holy Spirit has come as a counselor, sanctifier, guide, and witness. . . . The men and women who through the long centuries of persecution and trial enjoyed a large measure of the presence of the Spirit in their lives, have stood as signs and wonders in the world. Before angels and men they have revealed the transforming power of redeeming love."13
The mission of the Holy Spirit will continue until the Gospel has been preached to all nations (Matt 24:14). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is likened to the "former rain" that ripened the Spring harvest that was gathered in at the beginning of Christianity. "But near the close of earths harvest, a special bestowal of spiritual grace is promised to prepare the church for the coming of the Son of man. This outpouring of the Spirit is likened to the falling of the latter rain; and it is for this added power that Christians are to send their petitions to the Lord of the harvest in the time of the latter rain. In response, the Lord shall make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain. He will cause to come down . . . the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain (Zech 10:1; Joel 2:23)."14
The celebration of Pentecost invites us to seek for the outpouring of the latter rain by putting away all differences and by coming closer together in Christian fellowship. It challenges us to pray daily for a special endowment of spiritual power to become fit to be laborers together with God in the final harvest of the earth.
The First Fruits of Christs Redemption. Pentecost was known as the Feast of the First Fruits because, as we have seen, the first fruits of the Spring wheat harvest were offered on the first and last day of the Feast as an expression of thanksgiving to God. The Christian Pentecost also celebrates the first fruits of Christs redemptive mission , which are manifested in a variety of ways.
In the first place, Christ Himself is the first fruits of Pentecost because He rose as the first fruits of redeemed humanity on the very day when the first sheaf of barley was presented at the Templethe event that marked the beginning of Pentecost. Paul alludes to the connection between the two events when he writes: "Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor 15:20).
As the first fruits offered on the first day of Pentecost pointed to the harvest to come, so Christs resurrection is the first fruits that points to the harvest of believers to be resurrected at His coming. As Paul puts it, "Each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ" (1Co 15:23). But Pentecost reminds us not only of the final resurrection harvest, but also of our present privilege to receive the first fruits of the Spirit while we await the resurrection harvest. "We ourselves," Paul says, "who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Rom 8:23).
The meaning of the Feast of Pentecost is lived out every day in our life as our inward being is renewed daily by Gods Spirit (2 Cor 4:16). As we receive the fruits of the Spirit, we bring forth the fruits of the Spirit in our life, namely, "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal 5:22). These in turn enable us to become the first fruits of God. Since Pentecost, God has been picking out those who respond to the Gospel invitation and calling them to be His first fruits. James brings out this truth, saying: " Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures" (Jam 1:18). Ultimately, those who have been redeemed from mankind, are "as first fruits for God and the Lamb" (Rev 14:4).
The various applications of the first fruits typology of Pentecost to Christs resurrection, the reception of the Holy Spirit, the fruits of the Spirit in the life of the believer, the Christian calling to be Gods first fruits in this world, and the redeemed as the first fruits of mankind show the importance of the Feast in Christian thought and practice. In a sense, Pentecost is a feast that celebrates what Christ has already accomplished through His earthly redemptive mission, what He is doing in heaven by making intercession for us (Heb 7:25), what the Holy Spirit does on earth as a counterpart to Christs heavenly ministry, and what Christ will ultimately do when He comes to reap the harvest of the redeemed.
THE OBSERVANCE OF PENTECOST
IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Our study of Passover has already shown that the New Testament does not provide us with explicit information regarding the time and manner of observance of festivals. Most likely they were taken for granted, since the religious life of the Apostolic Church was still regulated by the Jewish liturgical calendar.
The many thousands of Jews (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 9:42; 12:24; 13:43; 14:1; 17:12; 21:20) who accepted Jesus as their expected Messiah did not desert their Jewish religion; they became believing Jews. Luke describes them as "zealous for the law" (Acts 21:20). Their zeal was undoubtedly manifested in the observance of the feasts, since they are the most enduring aspect of the religious life. Obviously, they observed the Old Testament festivals with a new meaning derived from the redemptive accomplishment of Jesus Christ.
Indirect Indications of Pentecosts Observance. In the New Testament, only three references to Pentecost occur. We examined the first reference in Acts 2:1, where Luke informs us that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred "when the day of Pentecost was fully come" (KJV). We noticed that the close connection Luke establishes between the time and manner of the Jewish and Christian Pentecost suggests that Luke saw in the Christian Pentecost the messianic fulfillment of the events typified by the Jewish Pentecost. By emphasizing that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which gave birth to the Christian church occurred at the very time when the Jewish Pentecost was in progress, Luke seems to view Pentecost as an important anniversary of the birthday of the Christian church.
An indirect indication of the observance of Pentecost is provided by the vision of Gods throne in Revelation 4-5, which is cast in the setting of Pentecost with Christ standing as a slaughtered Lamb sending His seven spirits into all the earth. Jon Paulien notes:"At the inauguration of the heavenly sanctuary, the throne-scene of Revelation 4-5 is fittingly associated with Pentecost. The song of Revelation 5:9,10 recalls the language of Exodus 19:5, 6, which describes the inauguration of Israel as the people of God. According to Exodus 19, the giving of the law on Mount Sinai took place on the fifth day of the third month, the day that was ever after celebrated as the festival of Pentecost. As the New Moses, the Lamb receives, as it were, the new Torah [law] from God in Revelation 5."15 This vision of the celebration of Pentecost in heaven suggests that the feast was significant for the church by the end of the first century. John could hardly have described the celebration of Pentecost in heaven if the feast had no significance on earth.
The second reference to Pentecost is found in 1 Corinthians, where Paul says: "I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has been opened to me" (1 Cor 16:8-9). This is a surprising time reference, since both the Ephesian and Corinthian churches were predominantly Gentile. Pentecost was not connected to any of the pagan feasts of the Roman and Greek society. Paul could hardly have used "Pentecost" as a time reference unless the feast was known in Gentile Christian churches. If I were to tell my parents, who live in Rome, Italy, that I plan to visit them for Thanksgiving, they would not know what I am talking about, because in Italy we do not have such a feast.
Pauls casual mention of "Pentecost" in a letter written to a predominantly Gentile church suggests that the feast was wellknown to the Corinthians. In his commentary on The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Gordon D. Fee points out: "Such a casual mention of it [Pentecost] in this way (cf. Acts 20:16) may suggest that the church very early saw Christian significance to this feast, probably as a result of the birth of the church on the Day of Pentecost."16
"Hastening to Be at Jerusalem." The third New Testament reference to Pentecost is found in Acts 20:16, where Luke informs us that Paul sailed directly from Assos to Miletus, bypassing Ephesus, "for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost." This text raises an important question: Why was Paul eager to reach Jerusalem in time for Pentecost? Several suggestions have been made.
Some maintain that Paul was eager to observe Pentecost in Jerusalem to prove to Jewish Christians his respect for Jewish traditions. For example, The Interpreters Bible says: "Paul was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible on the day of Pentecost, probably because he wished to vindicate his loyalty in the eyes of Jewish Christians who would be attending the feast."17 Similarly, William Neil writes: "His [Pauls] attendance at the festival would demonstrate to the Jerusalem Christians his loyalty to Jewish tradition."18
There is no doubt that Paul was eager to prove to his Jewish brethren that he was not a renegade of the law. Luke tells us that when Paul arrived in Jerusalem, he participated in a rite of purification at the Temple in order to show that, as stated by the church leaders, "there is nothing in what they have been told about you but that you yourself live in the observance of the law" (Acts 21:24).
It is possible, however, that Paul was eager to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost, not only to vindicate his loyalty to Jewish traditions in the eyes of his Jewish brethren, but also because he found profound meaning in the feast. In The Life of Paul, Benjamin Robinson observes: "This day [Pentecost] was not only a Jewish celebration, but an anniversary of the outpouring of the Spirit described in Acts, chapter 2. It would be a particularly opportune and appropriate occasion for presenting the contribution of the Gentile churches to the Jewish Christians."19
In a similar vein, G. T. Purves writes: "Among the early Jewish Christians observance of the Hebrew feasts continued, doubtless with fresh significance derived from the new revelation. So it is noteworthy that Paul earnestly desired to present the gifts of the Gentile Churches to the saints in Judea at Pentecost (Acts 20:16)."20 Gifts can be presented at any time, but Paul may have wished to present the generous gifts contributed by the Gentile churches to the distressed believers in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, because that was the day that commemorated Gods generous gift of the Holy Spirit to His church. What better way to commemorate Gods bestowal of spiritual gifts upon the church on the day of Pentecost than by offering material gifts to needy fellow believers!
Paul also may have wished to be in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost because of the opportunity the feast provided to meet with a larger number of brethren who would be attending the feast. Eduard Lohse suggests this possibility. "It is quite possible," Lohse writes, "that the first community in Jerusalem took part in the Jewish Pentecost. For when Paul was in a hurry to be at Jerusalem for Pentecost (Acts 20:16), the apostle must have expected to meet a larger number of brethren than usual on the feast day."21
No one can tell all the reasons for Pauls eagerness to be in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Yet all the reasons just mentioned presuppose that the Feast of Pentecost was important for Paul. Whether he wanted to be in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost to show to his Jewish brethren his respect for Jewish festivals, or because he viewed the feast as an appropriate occasion to present the gifts which had been contributed by the Gentiles, or because he expected to meet a large number of brethren that would be attending the feast, the fact remains that all these reasons presuppose that Pentecost was significant for Paul.
Ellen White acknowledges the importance of Pentecost for Paul when she writes that he shortened his stay at Ephesus, because "he was on his way to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost."22 In this statement Ellen White explicitly speaks of Paul "on his way to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost." The implication is clear. Ellen White believed Paul celebrated the Feast of Pentecost.
The same view is expressed by The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary: "Even Paul, least interested in observances as such (Rom 14:5), was eager to celebrate Pentecost at Jerusalem in spite of his missionary journeys in Asia and Greece (Acts 18:21; 20:16)."23 If the Feast of Pentecost was important for Paul, known for his indifference to observances as such (Rom 14:5), we have reason to believe that it also must have been important for Christians at large.
Unfortunately, the New Testament does not tell us how Paul or the Apostolic Church observed the Feast of Pentecost. If the later documents (to be examined the chapter 7) reflect even partly the apostolic practice, then the Feast of Pentecost must have been observed by the Apostolic Church as a joyful celebration of the risen Christ who ascended to heaven as the first fruit in order to give the gifts of Spirit to His Church.
Conclusion. In the New Testament, Pentecost is of fundamental importance to the origin and mission of the Christian. Chronologically and typologically, the Christian Pentecost is linked to the Old Testament Pentecost, because it began on the very day of the Jewish feast as the spiritual harvest of the first fruits of Christs redemption.
The Feast of Pentecost celebrates the crowning of Christs Paschal sacrifice in heaven. It was manifested on earth with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:32-33), which was the first fruit of the spiritual harvest (Rom 8:23; James 1:18) procured by Christs redemptive mission. It commemorates the inauguration of Christs ministry of intercession in heaven and the founding of the Christian church on earth. It teaches us that the Christian church came into existence not to be a self-serving organization, but to fulfill the mission of making Christ known, loved, and served throughout the world. It reassures us of another Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit (the Latter Rain) to enable the Church to complete the spiritual harvest that began on the day of Pentecost. It challenges us to seek daily the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to prepare ourselves and others for the final harvest of Christs coming.
The few incidental references to Pentecost in the New Testament suggest that the feast was important for the Apostolic Church. Unfortunately, we are not told how it was observed. If the documents examined in the next chapter are any indication of the apostolic practice, then the Feast of Pentecost must have been observed by the Apostolic Church as a joyful celebration of the risen Christ, who ascended to heaven as the first fruit in order to give the gifts of Spirit to His Church.
The Feast of Pentecost affords us today an opportunity to celebrate our Christian origin and mission while seeking for another Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit to complete the spiritual harvest that began on the day of Pentecost.
NOTES ON CHAPTER VI
1. Midrash on Exodus Rabbah 5:9, as cited in Edward Chumney, The Seven Festival of the Messiah (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1994), p. 80.
2. Rabbi Moshe Weissman, The Midrash Says on Shemot (New York, 1980), p. 82.
3. F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of the Acts (Grand Rapids, 1983), pp. 59-60. A similar comment is made by Howard Marshall, "We are reminded of Old Testament theophanies, especially of that at Sinai (Ex 19:18)," The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids, 1983), p. 68. James Hastings also concludes: "The resemblance is close and could not well have been accidental," in "Pentecost," Dictionary of the Apostolic Church (New York, 1918), vol . 2, p. 162.
4. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, 1960), vol 1, p. 228.
5. Jerome, Ad Tabiol 7, cited in The International Bible Encyclopaedia, s. v. "Pentecost," (Grand Rapids, 1960), vol 4, p. 2319.
6. James Strong and John MClintock, "Pentecost," Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature (New York, 1888), vol. 7, p. 929.
7. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, California , 1940), p. 192.
8. Idem, Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, California 1960), pp. 38-39.
9. See, for example, D. T. Niles, As Seeing the Invisible (New York, 1961), pp. 62-95; W. Hurtado, "Revelation 4-5 in the Light of Jewish Apocalyptic Analogies," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 25 (1985), p. 114; Lucetta Mowry, "Revelation 4-5 and Early Christian Liturgical Usage," Journal of Biblical Literature 71 (1952), pp.75-84; Leonard Thompson, "Cult and Eschatology in the Apocalypse of John," Journal of Religion 49 (1969), pp. 330-350; M. D. Goulder, "The Apocalypse as an Annual Cycle of Prophecies," New Testament Studies 27 (1981), pp. 342-367.
10. Austin Farrar, A Rebirth of Images: The Making of St. Johns Apocalypse (Glouchester, Massachussetts, 1970), p.106.
12. Ellen G. White, Acts of the Apostles (note 8 ), p. 47.
13. Ibid., p. 49.
14. Ibid., p. 55.
15. Jon Paulien, "The Role of the Hebrew Cultus, Sanctuary, and Temple in the Plot and Structure of the Book of Revelation," Andrews University Seminary Studies 35 (1995), pp. 258-259.
16. Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, 1987), p. 820.
17. The Interpreters Bible (Nashville, 1989), vol. 9. p. 269.
18. William Neil, The Acts of the Apostles (London, 1973), p. 212.
19. Benjamin Willard Robinson, The Life of Paul (Chicago, 1928), p. 183.
20. G. T. Purves, "Pentecost, A Dictionary of the Bible, ed., James Hasting (New York, 1900), vol. 3, p. 742.
21. Eduard Lohse, "Pentecost," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed., Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids, 1973), vol. 6, p. 50.
22. Ellen G. White, Redemption: Or the Teaching of Paul, and His Mission to the Gentiles (Battle Creek, 1878), p. 65.
23. The Seventh-day Adventist Commentary (Washington, D. D., 1957), vol. 6, p. 134. Emphasis supplied.