Feast of Pentecost in the Old and New Testament

Except from God’s Festivals in Scripture and History: Part 2 – The Fall Festivals by Samuel Bacchiocchi available for download here. For an in-depth study of the Feast of Pentecost by Samuel Bacchiocchi, please read God’s Festivals in Scripture and History: Part 1 – The Spring Festivals by Samuel Bacchiocchi available for download here.

The Feast of Pentecost in the Old Testament

The term “Pentecost” is not found in the Old Testament. The feast was variously called the “Feast of Weeks” (Ex 34:22; Deut 16:9-10), because it was celebrated seven weeks after the offering of the barley sheaf; the “Feast of the Harvest” (Ex 23:16), because it came at the end of the wheat harvest; and the “Feast of the First Fruits” (Ex 34:22; Num 28:26), because it marked the beginning of the time the first fruits of the wheat harvest were offered at the Temple.

The Feast was a joyous celebration of the Spring harvest. By offering the first fruits of the harvest, the Israelites expressed their thanksgiving to God for His bountiful provisions. In time, Pentecost was transformed into a feast commemorating the giving of the law at Sinai which, according to Jewish tradition supported by the Biblical data, occurred fifty days after the Exodus from Egypt. The few ceremonies associated with the Feast of Weeks were designed to express gratitude for the material blessings of the harvest and for the spiritual blessings of the Law, which provides principles of life and happiness for God’s people.

The Feast of Pentecost in the New Testament

The antitypical fulfillment of Pentecost is of fundamental importance to the origin and mission of the Christian church. The first Christian Pentecost is linked to the Old Testament feast chronologically and typologically, because it occurred on the very day of the Jewish feast (“when the day of Pentecost was fully come” Acts 2:1, KJV) as the spiritual harvest of the first fruits of Christ’s redemption.

Like the preceding feasts, Pentecost is fulfilled in Christ, the church, and at the End-time. Or we might say that Pentecost has a Christological, ecclesiological, and eschatological fulfillments. Chrystologically, Pentecost celebrates the crowning of Christ’s Paschal sacrifice in heaven, which was manifested on earth with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:32-33)— the first-fruit of the spiritual harvest (Rom 8:23; James 1:18) procured by Christ’s redemptive mission. As in the original Pentecost at Sinai, so in the Christian Pentecost there was fire, earthquake, and a blast of wind (Acts 2:1- 3). As God gave His Ten Commandments at Sinai to Israel, so now He gives the enabling power of His Spirit to the New Israel. As Israel became God’s covenant people at Sinai, so the church now becomes Christ’s new covenant people.

Ecclesiologically, that is, in relation to the church, Pentecost marks the founding of the Christian church and mission. It represents the initial fulfillment of the prophetic vision of the ingathering of God’s 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 speaking in tongues at Pentecost for a moment set off in bold relief God’s 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 God’s judgment at Babel (Gen 11:1-9).

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. 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).

Eschatologically, that is, in relation to the End-time, Pentecost typifies the continuation of the mission of the Holy Spirit until the completion of the Gospel proclamation (Matt 24:14). The End-time outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is known as the “latter rain” because it 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 earth’s 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).”[1]

Pentecost, like Passover, is a remarkable typological feast which began in the Old Testament as the celebration of the blessings of the Spring harvest and continues in the New Testament as a celebration of the spiritual harvest of souls reaped by Christ’s redemptive ministry. The feast affords us an opportunity to be thankful for material and spiritual blessings. We can be thankful that Christ arose as the first fruits of redeemed humanity (1 Cor 15:20). His resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection. We can be thankful Christ ascended to heaven to begin a special intercessory ministry on our behalf. We can be thankful for the gifts of the Holy Spirit which are made available to us through the ministry of Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary.

In summing up the typology of the Spring Feasts, we can say that they reveal both a theological and an existential progression. Theologically, we can characterize Passover as redemption, Unleavened Bread as regeneration, and Pentecost as empowering. Existentially, Passover invites us to accept the fogiveness provided us by Christ, our Paschal Lamb (1 Cor 5:7); the Feast of Unleavened Bread summons us to experience the cleansing from sin resulting from Christ’s forgiveness; Pentecost calls us to become receptive to the infilling, and enabling of the Holy Spirit. The progression is evident. The forgiveness typified by Passover makes it possible for us to experience the cleansing represented by the Feast of Unleavened Bread. These in turn enable us to become receptive and responsive to the infilling of the Holy Spirit, typified by Pentecost.

Endnote:

[1]Ellen G. White, Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA, 1960), p. 55.

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