Shavuot - The Feast of Pentecost

The Historical Aspect (Commemorating the Past)

In its backward look towards the past, the Feast of Pentecost celebrated the time in summer when the Jews arrived at the foot of Mt. Sinai and God assembled them there and gave them the Ten Commandments. At that time, God revealed Himself to the entire nation in earthquake, thunder and lightning, billowing clouds of smoke, the loud long blare of a trumpet, and His Voice coming as if from all around, filling the hearts of the people with shock and awe.

Later, when the people were in the Land under Joshua, this was also the time when they gathered their first harvest.

Thus Pentecost commemorated the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai, and the harvests that God graciously granted to His people from the time they entered the Land.

The Prophetic Aspect (Fulfilled in Acts 2)
And the Personal Aspects in Our Lives

The forward look (forward at the time the Feast was instituted, and up to the last Pentecost that Jesus celebrated on earth the year before His death and resurrection) was to what was going to happen ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven.

On that extraordinary day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on the 120 disciples in the upper room, with a mighty rushing wind, and tongues of fire distributed over the heads of the waiting disciples.

This event had its parallels to Sinai. There was the sound of wind in both cases, and God descended in fire. In both cases, a new dispensation was inaugurated (the dispensation of Law in the first instance, and the dispensation of Grace in the second). Both incidents inaugurated a covenant. The covenant of Law promised salvation to those who performed the works of the Law. The covenant of Grace promises salvation to those who believe God for salvation, to whom their faith will be accounted for righteousness.

At Sinai, the covenant was communicated through Moses. At Pentecost, the new covenant was communicated through Peter and through the speaking in tongues of the 120 disciples.

New Grain Offering

Leviticus 23:16 commands the Jews to offer new grain to the Lord fifty days after Bikhurim.

Leviticus 23:15  And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete:
16  Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD.
17  Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the LORD.

Verse 16 speaks of a new meat offering unto the LORD. The Hebrew text does not refer to meat as in flesh, but as in food. For instance in John 4:31-34, Jesus uses the word "meat". In context, the reference is not to "flesh" but to "food". This is obviously so because the disciples thought that Jesus must be hungry, and He said in effect, I have food to eat that you don't know of. In this passage, therefore, the word "meat" is used in the sense of "food".

John 4:31  In the mean while his disciples prayed him, saying, Master, eat.
32  But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of.
33  Therefore said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought him ought to eat?
34  Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.

Similarly with the Leviticus 23:16 passage above. The "new meat offering" was the "new food offering", or more specifically, the "new grain offering". The next verse makes it clearer by referring to loaves and fine flour.

Prophetically, the new grain offering portrayed the small group of people gathered in the upper room. They were the dedicated 120 that were waiting for the Promise of the Father which Jesus had spoken about. These were the dedicated few who had sacrificed their own ambitions in order that they might be a part of Christ's purpose. In other words, they were like the free-will new grain offering. They were gathered together in one accord, presenting themselves freely to the Lord, and prepared to pay the price of identification with Jesus.

You see, the Feast of Pentecost has great power in it, but to experience it there is also a great price to be paid. It is the price of yielding ourselves completely and freel to the Lordship of Jesus Christ to serve Him so that "... Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death." (Philippians 1:20). This fits in with what Jesus said to the disciples in Acts 1:8.

Acts 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.

The word translated into English as "witnesses" is, in Greek, "martus", from which we get the English word "martyr". In fact, according to historians, except for the apostle John who wasn't executed, all the apostles and hundreds of other disciples gave witness at the cost of their lives.

Before Jesus was martyred, a woman came with an alabaster box of very costly perfume, and she poured it on Jesus' head. Jesus said about this action, that in pouring this fragrant oil on His body, she did it for His burial. (Matthew 26:7,12)

Matthew 26:7  There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat.
8  But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste?
9  For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.
10  When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.
11  For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.
12  For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial.

At Pentecost, we are anointed for burial and martyrdom.

Stephen was the first witness to lay down his life for Jesus. (Acts 22:20  And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed ... )

The book of Revelation mentions another martyr, Antipas. (Revelation 2:13  ... thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.)

This is a personal aspect of Pentecost that most "Pentecostals" who "speak in tongues" know nothing about. They want power to achieve their own purposes, not to achieve the purposes of God as soldiers of the Cross prepared to lay down their lives as martyr-witnesses.

This is the meaning of the new-grain offering. Grain is planted into the ground, dies, and rises as a shoot containing many new grains. We are not all called upon to die physically as martyrs, but we are called upon to die to self if we want to be fruitful. This is called a "living sacrifice". New grain therefore is a symbol of the death to self, the sacrifice of self, out of which meekness and yieldedness comes a Harvest of Life.

Romans 12:1  I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

The Two Loaves

We return to the passage we quoted from Leviticus 23:15-17.

Leviticus 23:15  And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete:
16  Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD.
17  Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the LORD.

It is significant that the two loaves offered in this feast were to be baked with yeast. Yeast (leaven) is a type of sin. We have studied this in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, where we were commanded to put away leaven, as we are unleavened.

Now we are told to offer leavened loaves. Very significant. The Feast of Unleavened Bread tells us what Jesus did for us. He died for our sins, was buried (as leaven was buried in preparation for Pesach), so that He made us positionally unleavened. (We are unleavened in Him.) However, in Pentecost, the Lord is making a different point. He is not waiting for us to become unleavened experientially, before He can start using us as witnesses. Just a few weeks before Pentecost, the twelves had shown themselves weak and afraid, forsook Jesus and fled (Matthew 26:56). After the resurrection, Jesus found the eleven behind shut doors, where they were huddled for fear of the Jews (John 20:19). They were cowardly. This in itself was sinful. He had commanded them again and again, "Fear not!" They were now yielding to fear. It is right there that Jesus told them that the Holy Spirit would empower them, that they would no longer be afraid, that they would boldly proclaim the gospel even to physical martyrdom. And that is what Pentecost did for the fearful disciples. It changed their fear into faith. The doors swung open. They were out on the streets preaching Jesus in the face of arrst, imprisonment and martyrdom. (Acts 4:1,3,18,29,33; 5:17-20; 42).

Pentecost does not require that you be holy and perfect. It requires only that you thirst for God's presence and power, thirst to become witnesses. (Psalm 63:1-2; 84:2; 107:9; 145:19. Luke 11:13.)

It doesn't automatically make you holy and perfect either (the loaves may be leavened). But it makes you bold, willing to be a witness to Jesus at cost to yourself.

Receive the Gift

The legal definition of a gift

A gift is an offer and an acceptance without price or consideration.

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is described as THE GIFT promised by the Father (Acts 1:4; 2:38).

God's gifts are given because of his gracious nature, not because of our worthiness. The power of Pentecost was God's gift to a community that was not perfect. He comes to us, not because we are perfect, but because we need to be perfect. Nonetheless, perfection doesn't come instantaneously. Instead what comes instantaneously is the gift of a prayer language by which we can pray ourselves through situation after situation as we move towards perfection. In answer to prayer made in tongues, God will transform us "from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18b).

A divine encounter

Pentecost is a divine encounter with the Third Person of the Trinity. If one has really encountered the Third Person, and received the gift of Tongues, one is not going to forget that day and moment easily. You have already had that divine encounter. To minister on the subject to others, you may want to refer to The Triple Foundation, Spirit Baptism, How to Receive.

A stone of stumbling

This is a personal aspect of the Feast that is still relevant today. There is still the need for the free-will offering of ourselves to God. A great many people desire the power of Pentecost, but not in the same way that it happened in Acts 2. They don't want tongues. They feel that speaking in tongues is unnecessary or embarrassing. They construct theological theories as to why speaking in tongues is not for today, that tongues have ceased.

And so people fail to receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Why? Because they sought it not by faith, for they stumbled at that stumblingstone (Romans 9:32). Just as Jesus is "a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence" (1 Peter 2:8), even so it is the case with the gift of tongues. Just as God incarnate was irrational to the Jews, just as a crucified Messiah was an even greater irrationality to them, so the sign gift of unknown tongues seems irrational to many Christians. It wasn't any denomination that put this stone of stumbling in the Bible. It was Jesus. And there were those who stumbled on this stone on the day of Pentecost itself. (Acts 2:13  Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.)

Baptism of fire

John the Baptist prophesied that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16).

So Pentecost is also the Feast of the Baptism with Fire. Fire symbolizes purging, the burning of impurities in the metal. Experience of this Feast will test your relationships at home, at church and generally in life.

Pentecost was an occasion when all Israel appeared before the Lord. They appeared so that He might work upon their hearts, putting something of His own character into them. This happened for the 120 assembled in teh upper room in Jerusalem at Pentecost. The power of Pentecost will change us too.

But we must not approach it just out of curiosity or as an experiment. It is wrong to come to pentecost in the same way that we approach anything else about which we are curious.

To reflect His glory

One of the Holy Spirit's purposes in filling us to begin transforming us, so that we can reflect more and more the glory of God. That is the message of 2 Corinthians 3:17-18. The Spirit wants to remove the veil from our hearts so that we can see and understand God better and better, and, as we behold the glory of God, we too begin to reflect some of that glory, and more of it day by day as we go on gazing at the glory.

But remember: that change does not happen instantly, like making instant coffee. It happens as we continue to offer ourselves as a freewill new grain offering to the Spirit of God.

Pentecost looks back at Sinai. When Moses came down from Sinai, with the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments in his hands, he did not know that the skin of his face was shining. People were so afraid of the radiance in Moses' face, that when Moses spoke to them he had to put a veil on his face to hide the glory. But when moses went in before the Lord, he would take the veil off. When he came out, once again the skin of his face was shining. (Exodus 34:29-35).

Exodus 34:29  And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses' hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him.
30  And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.
33  And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face.
34  But when Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he took the vail off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded.
35  And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone: and Moses put the vail upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

You see, Moses spent so much time beholding the Lord that His face caught some of that glory. This can and should happen to us as well. I remember that during the first month after I received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, there were people in my advertising agency Lintas, who wrote letters to me. One of them said that when I smiled at him it felt as if Jesus was smiling at him. Others expressed it differently. A Muslim felt that when I was reading out of the small book I carried, waves of electricity flooded the room. No two people will have exactly the same experience, but a Pentecost which is cold and colorless, and makes no impact on the environment is not a Pentecost. It was never meant to be a private experience, but one that would transform us into active and effective witnesses.

See also: Shavuot vs Pentecost