June 3, 2012, in the Christian year we celebrated Pentecost Sunday. This celebration is important for both Jews and Christians: the shadow is in the old, the fulfillment is in the new.
For Jews – The Old Covenant
For the Jews, it was part of offering of the firstfruits, that celebration at the beginning of the harvest which signified Israel’s gratitude to God, their absolute dependence upon God, and an acknowledgement that all of this was based on God’s grace (Lev. 23:9-14; cf. Dt. 26:1-11). There was a special firstfruits celebration held annually that coincided with Passover, seven weeks prior to Pentecost (Lev. 23:15).
The firstfruits offering during Passover found its fulfillment in the Feast of Weeks that happened seven weeks later, the 50th day (Ex. 34:22; Lev. 23:15-20; Dt. 16:9-10). At this time, the focus was on gratitude to God for the harvest that had occurred.
All of this is stated in the law given by God. In later Judaism, it was also connected with the celebration of the giving of the law at Sinai (Jubilees 1:1; 16:7; but consider Ex. 19:1 to make this a reasonable chronological deduction).
For Christians – The New Covenant
For Christians, Pentecost is one of the highpoints of the existence of the church. It marks the next stage in redemptive history after Jesus’ ascension and session, i.e. being seated at the Father’s right hand, that is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus ascended he instructed the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high. As these disciples were waiting 50 days after Jesus’ death, the Holy Spirit descended upon them (Acts 2). When this happened, Peter preached a sermon that spells out its significance and connection with previous redemptive history. He does so by claiming present fulfillment of Joel’s past promise (2:28-32; Acts 2:16-21).
Duane Garrett (EDBT, “Feasts and Festivals of Israel)) writes,
The catalyst for the Book of Joel was a terrible locust plague that left Israel destitute. . . . Joel links the concept of agricultural and economic abundance to spiritual restoration. . . . For these prophets, therefore, a theological link existed between the material blessing of God seen in a rich harvest and the spiritual benefits obtained when God gives his Word and Spirit. . . . It is appropriate, therefore, that the giving of the Spirit in fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32 should have come about on the harvest celebration day of Pentecost.
And then Garrett applies this transition from Passover to Pentecost to the New Testament and Christians:
The slaughter of the Passover lamb recalled the great deliverance of the exodus and marked the beginning of the harvest with the gift of the firstfruits, and the Feast of Weeks was the great celebration in thanksgiving for the grain harvest. Jesus’ crucifixion at Passover, similarly, was the sacrifice for the deliverance of his people, and the subsequent pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost was the fulfillment of what his sacrifice had promised (John 14:16-20; 16:7).
As the Passover is to Jews, so Easter is for the Christians. Pentecost is the third great Christian celebration after Christmas and Easter.
Important Truths About Pentecost, The Holy Spirit and Christ
Here are some important broad/general truths lessons of Pentecost:
- Prior to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, Pentecost was a celebration of Jews under the old covenant. Once Jesus came, this shadow celebration was fulfilled in him and his work, which was marked by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit post Jesus’ ascension.
- This marked the time at which Jesus’ work of redemption was completed, and it was now being applied by and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
- Through this work, the new covenant was established, the time at which the Holy Spirit would write the law of God on the hearts of believers (Jer. 31:31-33; Ezek. 36:25-27; 2 Cor. 5:17). Moreover, this would mean that only would one be given a new heart, this new heart would have a desire to please the Lord and the power to do so (cf. Rom. 8:4). And not only did this mean individual hearts would be changed, those individuals would become part of the new covenantal community (1 Pet. 2:9-10), the people of God, the church of Jesus Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit.
- As the old covenant Pentecost celebrated the ingathering of harvest, with thanks to God the provider, so the new covenant Pentecost celebrated the ingathering harvest of 3000 souls on that one day (Acts 2:41). This is all of God’s grace.
- Though it had been promised throughout the Old Testament, this marked the universalizing mission of God among all people (cf. “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh,” Acts 2:17).
Here are some specific truths related to Pentecost and the Holy Spirit:
- Presence and comfort. Jesus ascension would be followed by the sending of another, another of the same, who is the third Person of the Godhead, God the Holy Spirit. It was his Person, his presence that would bring comfort in Jesus’ absence (Jn. 14:16-18, 26-27).
- Power. The Holy Spirit would come to replace hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, i.e. regeneration or being born again (Jn. 3:3, 5), and his indwelling presence would give the power to be witnesses to the gospel (Acts 1:8) and its power to transform (1 Thess. 1:5; Tit. 3:4-8). Those redeemed, those in whom Holy Spirit indwells bear the fruit of the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-25). In fact, they delight to do God’s will (cf. Heb. 10:5-10). Moreover, they are empowered to overcome sin, temptation and the principalities and powers (Rev. 12:10; cf. Eph. 6:10-18).
- Promise. Not only is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit a fulfillment of the promise made for a new covenant that would come (Ezek. 36:25-27), it is also a promise of fulfillment that we will be kept safe until the Lord Jesus Christ returns. The Holy Spirit is our arrobon, the down-payment that ensures this will come to pass (2 Cor. 1:21; 5:5; Eph. 1:14).
Here, finally, are a few additional truths related to Pentecost and the Holy Spirit’s ministry in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. Though God the Holy Spirit and God the Son are both fully God, they do serve different role/functions within the Trinity. The Holy Spirit’s role is to apply the work of and bring glory to Christ (Jn. 16:14). Here are some ways he does that post-Pentecost, continuing on in lives of believers today.
- The Holy Spirit illuminates the Bible, which focuses on the centrality of Christ (Lk. 24:27, 44).
- The Holy Spirit empowers for witness to preach the gospel, which is a proclamation about Christ (Acts 1:8).
- The Holy Spirit regenerates in conversion or new birth, which brings new life in Christ (Jn. 3:5-8).
- The Holy Spirit sanctifies, which transforms us into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29; Tit. 3:4-8).