Is there more to the Day of Pentecost than most realize?
Question: I have read in your magazine about the Day of Pentecost, but it seems different from what my church observes. What is Pentecost, and what should it mean to Christians?
Answer: Pentecost, like a number of other significant statutes and observances in the Bible, is neither universally accepted nor uniformly observed by professing Christians today. Some observe their version of Pentecost on a variety of different days; others either ignore it or acknowledge it as a date but with no special observance.
Pentecost is one of seven annual Holy Days described in your Bible, and its observance is clearly recorded in both the Old and New Testaments. It is a day on which "no customary work" is to be done, and God's people are to gather together in convocations to worship (Leviticus 23:21).
The festival was called the Feast of Weeks in the Old Testament. From the Greek language of the New Testament it took on the name "Pentecost"—from the Greek word meaning "count 50." Pentecost was the day on which Moses received the Ten Commandments for the tribes of Israel, and Judaism to this day observe what it calls Shavuot (Hebrew for "Weeks") as a memorial to that event.
The meaning of the word Pentecost is itself an indication of how the Bible instructs us to observe the Holy Day. Leviticus 23:15 states that, in order to determine the date of the festival, 50 days were to be counted from the date of the "wave sheaf" offering, which occurs on the Sunday that falls during the Days of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6–11). Since day 1 of the 50-day-inclusive count is always the first day of the week, so too is Pentecost—day 50 in that count. On the Julian calendar, it falls on a date somewhere in mid-May to mid-June each year. In 2013, Pentecost begins at sunset on May 18 and continues until sunset on May 19.
Most observant Jews today fix Pentecost to the sixth day of the Hebrew month known as Sivan, 50 days after the first Day of Unleavened Bread. Thus they do not need to perform the biblical "count" to ﬁnd the date of the Holy Day, and Sivan 6 can fall on days of the week other than Sunday. Today, most branches of Judaism follow the Sivan 6 custom, though the Karaites retain the practice of counting to the biblically mandated Sunday Pentecost.
Those who strictly follow the biblical instruction to "count 50" from the Sunday of the wave sheaf offering, however, will always observe Pentecost on a Sunday, on a date ranging from Sivan 5 through Sivan 11.
Pentecost was the day on which the New Testament Church was founded (see Acts 2), and signified the giving of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17-19)—which was the spiritual fulfillment of the Israelites' Feast of Weeks. Just as God called a physical nation-Israel-to be His examples to the ancient world (Deuteronomy 4:6; Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Isaiah 49:6), He founded a Church of spiritual "firstfruits" to become His "lights" to the world and a holy priesthood (Romans 8:22-24; Romans 8:29; James 1:18; 1 Peter 2:9-10) through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The next annual Holy Day after Pentecost is called the Feast of Trumpets, and is observed on Tishri 1 on the Hebrew calendar (September or October on the Julian calendar), picturing the resurrection of all the firstfruits—which will occur at the biblically described "seventh trumpet" (Revelation 11:15). Some mistakenly associate Pentecost—which in fact pictures the gathering of the firstfruits, not their resurrection— with this later biblical milestone.
Just as Scripture shows Jesus Christ and His followers keeping Passover (Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:8), the Days of Unleavened Bread (Matthew 26:17; Acts 20:6), the Day of Atonement (Acts 27:9), and the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths (John 7; Acts 18:21), they also observed Pentecost (Acts 2:1; 1 Corin- thians 16:8). Today, Pentecost retains its importance for Christians as an important milestone in God's annual cycle of Holy Days.