God gave the Holy Spirit to His Church on the Day of Pentecost, but few understand the meaning of this Holy Day. God's Holy Spirit is vital for true Christian living, but many are unaware of what it is, what Pentecost is, and what it means to Christians today!
Do you feel the Spirit of God moving in your life? Can you be filled with the same Spirit of Pentecost as Christ's first disciples? Yes, you can!
It had been an unforgettable 50 days for Christ's disciples. Their Teacher had come back from the dead after a brutal execution, and had taught them for 40 days. More than 500 at one time had seen Him (1 Corinthians 15:6). The disciples ate with Him, talked with Him and even touched the wounds where His body had been pierced.
But that was not all. After 40 dramatic days of instruction, the Savior ascended into the clouds, while His disciples watched with wonder and amazement. But He did not leave them alone—He promised to give them something that would empower them with spiritual vitality they had never before experienced (Luke 24:49).
The disciple Luke describes Christ's encouraging words. "And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, 'which,' He said, 'you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now'" (Acts 1:4–5).
What event was the risen Christ speaking of? What was this "promise" to come? Most Bible students know the basic story, but many are not fully aware of the profound impact this momentous 50th day would have on the Church of God from that point forward. It was the day of Pentecost—the day of miracles—the day the New Testament Church began!
What happened on that amazing Day of Pentecost in 31ad? Luke records the day's events: "When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:1–4).
The beginning of the New Testament Church was characterized by astonishing sights and sounds. It was an awesome display of divine power, reminiscent of the awesome sights God had shown on the day He gave Moses the law on Mount Sinai (Hebrews 12:18–21). In fact, according to Jewish tradition, the law of God at Mount Sinai was given on the Day of Pentecost many centuries earlier!
But more important than the sights and sounds were the events that could not be seen or heard. These manifestations of God's majesty signaled the outpouring of the power of the universe—God's Spirit! The same power that ignited the sun and the stars—the power that formed and set the planets in motion—would now literally abide in human beings on Earth (John 14:17).
These people to whom the Spirit was given would never be the same! As Christ said it would, that Spirit of God transformed the disciples from the inside out. Once-timid men were now filled with the very faith and courage of Christ their Savior. It guided them to preach the message of the Gospel boldly. It led them to personal change and growth. The Apostle Peter—the same man who had denied Christ three times—now stood up and condemned the multitude for putting to death the Son of God, and fearlessly challenged the assembly to repent of their sins (Acts 2:14–39).
And the Church grew. The first dozens grew to hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands (Acts 21:20). And in the centuries that followed, God's true disciples faithfully persevered, guided by the same Spirit that was poured out on that memorable day.
Is that same Spirit transforming you? Is it motivating you? Would you like to have more profound, personal change in your life? Would you like to have more evidence that you are being led by the Spirit of God? And would you like to be more personally involved in the Work Christ is doing today?
The true Spirit of Christ continues to lead His Church almost 2,000 years after that memorable day. The question is, how can you make sure that same Spirit is leading you?
Why were the disciples gathered on the Day of Pentecost at all? Why that day? What were they doing? Just what is Pentecost, and why were the first Christians observing it? The answer may astound you!
The truth lies in the true origin of Pentecost. This observance was actually a Holy Day given to the Israelites centuries before! The Day of Pentecost was actually a Feast day Christ and His disciples had been keeping every year of their lives, because it was one of the ancient Feast days of the nation of Israel. It occurred in early summer (late May or early June) and pictured the early wheat harvest in Israel. Leviticus 23 gives the details: "'And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath [during the Passover season]… seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath" (Leviticus 23:15–16).
Pentecost was an annual Holy Day named after the fact that it was calculated by "counting 50" days. It was "one of the great feasts of the Jewish year and was the reason why so many Jewish people from so many parts of the world were visiting Jerusalem at the time of the first Christian Pentecost" (A Feast of Festivals, Hugo Slim, 1996, p. 144).
The very fact that there were Jews keeping this Feast day from all over the world made "speaking in tongues" a necessity on that eventful day. Christ began His Church by having His disciples witness to many Jews and proselytes from all over the Roman Empire: "Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs" (Acts 2:9–11). As the apostles spoke the Gospel message, each listener heard it in his or her own language (not an unknown or unrecognizable tongue, as some incorrectly assume)!
The Church of God continued to observe Pentecost after that first eventful day. As David Brickner and Rich Robinson write in Christ in the Feast of Pentecost, "There can be no doubt that the Feast of Pentecost was important to the early church, chiefly because the early church was a Jewish church" (2008, p. 11). The Book of Acts attests to this fact with Luke's references about the travels of Paul: "For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost" (Acts 20:16). Why would Paul rush to be in Jerusalem by Pentecost if he was not observing that Feast? The only reasonable answer is he was planning to observe it in Jerusalem.
So was it just for Church members who had been born as Jews? Not at all! Paul also mentioned in his letter to the Corinthian church that he would "tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost" (1 Corinthians 16:8). Why would Paul refer to Pentecost in this way to a largely Gentile congregation, unless Gentile Christians were keeping it as well?
The so-called "Church fathers" would continue to speak of Pentecost in a positive light for centuries, as the late Samuele Bacchiocchi explains in God's Festivals in Scripture and History: Part I. As Bacchiocchi points out, Clement of Alexandria (about 150–215ad) expressed: "Fifty is the symbol of hope and of remission given at Pentecost"; Tertullian (about 160–225ad) wrote that "Pentecost is a most joyful space"; Origen (about 185–254ad) spoke of Christians as being "always in the season of Pentecost"; Eusebius (about 260–340ad) referred to Pentecost as an "august and holy solemnity" and the "feast of feasts"; and John Chrysostom (about 347–407ad) gave a sermon on "Why are the Acts Read in Pentecost?" (1995, pp. 204, 206–209).
Even today, many "mainstream Christians" are familiar with Pentecost services, Pentecost sermons and Pentecost themes. But how many Christians actually observe Pentecost? Do you keep Pentecost as a Holy Day to God? Dr. Bacchiocchi continues: "'Pentecost' is a popular term of the Christian vocabulary. Not only Christian preachers but ordinary members often speak of the need for a new Pentecost for the church today. Christians often pray for the power of Pentecost, the unity of Pentecost, the courage of Pentecost, the revival of Pentecost. There is much talk about the experience of Pentecost, especially among evangelical Christians, but little, if any, discussion about the need to observe the Feast of Pentecost" (p. 226).
Do you keep the Day of Pentecost? Christ did. His disciples did. The Apostle Paul did. And God's true Church continues to observe it today. In 2010, the Day of Pentecost occurs on Sunday, May 23. Ask yourself, will you be keeping Pentecost this year? If not, why not?
How should you keep Pentecost today? Through the years, many unscriptural traditions developed about Pentecost, some bordering on the ridiculous. In the Middle Ages, in some cathedrals in Europe, "there were 'Holy Spirit holes' in the ceilings of the churches, opening them to the sky… On Pentecost, doves were let loose through these holes to fly about in the church" (Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras, Diana L. Eck, 2003, p. 130). Do dramatic performances of doves circling above and rose petals falling from the ceiling (as some churches also did in the Middle Ages) please God? Is that the way God wants us to honor Him and regain the true Spirit of Pentecost?
Instead, the Old Testament book of Leviticus explains that the Feast of Pentecost was a Holy Day for the Israelites, on which they were to abstain from normal, everyday work, and to gather with other believers to worship God. "And you shall proclaim on the same day that it is a holy convocation to you. You shall do no customary work on it. It shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations" (Leviticus 23:21).
On this Holy Day, God's people gather together to hear His true ministers teach the real meaning of Pentecost for Christians today. They explain that God's saints are the firstfruits of the Kingdom of God—the "early harvest" in God's plan of salvation for all of humanity (James 1:18). They expound that God's saints today are called to prepare to rule with Christ in His coming Kingdom (Luke 19:17; Revelation 5:10).
On Pentecost, God's ministers teach how His Spirit will empower true Christians. As Peter explained, receiving the Spirit involves belief, genuine repentance and baptism (see "Baptism: Ritual or Requirement?" on page 22 of this issue): "Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). As Christians commit to obeying God (Acts 5:32), the Spirit of Truth guides them further into His Truth (John 16:13).
What about wild displays of ecstatic utterance? Do they please God? Are they evidence of His Spirit moving? When the disciples spoke in "tongues" on the Day of Pentecost, it was clearly miraculous—but what were they really doing? Remember, Jewish believers from all over the known world were gathered in Jerusalem for one purpose—to worship God on the Feast of Pentecost. What the Bible records as "speaking in tongues" was God's miraculous arrangement by which pilgrims of every nationality could hear the Gospel message spoken in their own native languages (Acts 2:8).
To have God's Spirit guide you in your life, you must be willing to commit to a life of obedience to Him. As Jesus said, "the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:23–24). Part of that obedience is keeping Pentecost in the spirit in which God intended. Are you willing to do that?
What are the lessons of the 50 days before that pivotal Pentecost almost 2,000 years ago? The disciples witnessed the power of God on that crucial day. They learned that God's Spirit can work miracles to accomplish His Work. They learned that His Spirit can break down barriers of culture and language, in preaching His message to the world. They learned that God's Spirit was a Spirit of transformation, to bring about personal change in them, so they could do what they could not do before.
But what else did the disciples learn? A powerful lesson of those 50 days was to carefully obey the commands of God. Jesus had specifically commanded His disciples to remain in Jerusalem to receive the Promise of the Father (Acts 1:4). If they had not heeded His commands—or had not been keeping the Day of Pentecost at all—would they have been there to receive the outpouring of the Spirit on that historic first day of the Christian Church? Of course not!
The lesson for us is clear: if we want God's blessings—to be filled with His power, His mind, and His Spirit—are we "showing up" when and where He does? Are we keeping the Feast of Pentecost—and other Feast days—which He made holy time to worship Him and call upon His name? Or will we be like the many who are Christians in name but do not really do what Christ commands, of whom Christ said, "But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46).
Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). True Christians must let the Holy Spirit really change them—from the inside out! They must grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18), letting Him subdue their carnal human nature of lust, greed, envy and pride. They become focused on loving others as themselves (Matthew 19:19). True Christians are even to conquer their thoughts, as His Spirit empowers their minds to become obedient to the laws of God, in letter and spirit. As Paul wrote, Spirit-filled Christians should be "casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5).
This Pentecost, ask yourself if you are truly obeying God in everything you do. Ask yourself if you are submitting to your Lord and Master in thought, word and deed! And ask yourself if you are being obedient in keeping holy the Holy Days that God ordained.
True Christians can obey God from the heart, more deeply than they ever have before—through the power of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Pentecost!