Pentecost: Origin, Meaning, and Modern Implication

Meaning of Pentecost

The meaning of our word Pentecost is derived from the Greek “pentekoste,” and it simply means “fiftieth.”  The Hebrew word that was translated pentekoste is “Shavuot,” meaning “Weeks,” a reference to the holiday falling seven weeks after the second day of Passover, or 50 days.  The holiday itself is tied in Exodus 34 to the Feast of First Fruits, where the early harvest was dedicated to God.

Giving of the Law

When Israel left Egypt to journey to the land of Canaan, they made a critical stop at Mount Sinai where God gave them the Law.  That was exactly 50 days after they left Egypt on the very first Passover.  In this, the way to a Holy life was given by God to the people that He chose to represent Him. (You can read about the preparations made for this in Exodus 19:1-17).  For Earth, the way to God had been prescribed by God in His own hand on stones that He gave to Moses, who carried them to God’s chosen people.  The way to salvation was now to submit oneself to God and His holy ordinance, being persuaded that God would rescue you if you did so.  (In other words, by faith, just like Abraham, in Genesis 15.  Sadly, Jewish religious rituals and traditions became their focus instead of the spiritual realities behind them, and we should take warning from that.)

Feast of First Fruits

That same Mosaic Law, in Exodus 34, attached this feast to this day.  It is called a “pilgrimage festival,” in that all Israel was to go up and present themselves to God at the Tabernacle in Shiloh, and then later at the Temple in Jerusalem.  It was the second of three.  In order of observance, they are Passover (Pesach), the Feast of First Fruits (Shavuot), and finally the Feast of Booths (Tents, or Tabernacles) (Sukkot).  All of these have a larger meaning found in Jesus, His work, and His Church now in New Testament times.  The meaning of Passover is well established, in that Jesus is our Passover Lamb, slain to cover our sins and rescue us from the world, seen in Biblical typology as Egypt.  This feast also has a New Testament equivalent:  this is the day that God gave His Holy Spirit to us and formed the Church, presenting His First Fruits of the Harvest, this time of souls, to God in worship.  We’ll save the Feast of Tabernacles for another time, perhaps.  The Feast of First Fruits is known in the Scriptures by other names:  It is also called the Festival of Reaping (Exo. 23:16), and the Day of the First Fruits (Num. 28:26).

Giving of the Spirit

This is where we come to our passage in Acts.  Scripture tells us that there were about 120 people in the upper room, probably that same room where Jesus ate the Last Supper with His disciples, according to traditional sources.  It does not say what they were doing, but imagine they were talking about things the Lord had done, maybe praying, maybe singing hymns softly, maybe reading from the Hebrew Scriptures.  Whatever they were doing, I bet it was quiet, for fear of being found by the authorities.

We’re going to try a little experiment, and I need everybody’s help.  What I want you all to do is inhale as much air as you can, and then all blow it out as loudly and forcibly as possible (without the raspberries please).  I want to hear what that violent wind from heaven sounded like.  I’ll cue you to exhale.  Everyone ready?  Okay, here we go.  [Breathe in, wait a second or so, exhale as loudly as possible.]

Suddenly, there was a huge racket, the noise of a violent wind coming from heaven, and it filled the house they were in.  Think about what we just did and what that sounded like.  Now louder.  Wow!  Then, as if this wasn’t enough, tongues of fire came to rest on each of them.  “What’s that noise?”  Peter asked that new guy from Phoenicia – the one Peter knew spoke no Hebrew – and heard him answer in flawless Hebrew.  The Phoenician turned to Peter and asked – why are you speaking Phoenician?  Then Peter got it – God was doing something.  He remembered the passage from the book of Joel about how God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh, and it clicked.  Later that day, he would explain the phenomenon publicly, and 3000 people would become followers of Christ on the spot.

There are some things of note we can see here.  The very first thing is that these were followers of Jesus.  If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have been given the Holy Spirit.  Second, God did this.  No one else could have.  The Holy Spirit is translated from the Greek phrase “pneumatos hagion,” literally meaning holy breath.  The Holy Spirit is the Living Breath of God!  In the Genesis 2 account of the creation of Man, we read that God “breathed” on his creation to make it live.  And now, with Jesus having redeemed us to God, God once again breathes on us anew and we are born again to a living hope, according to the apostle Peter.  God makes us alive again with His breath.  It’s His air in our lungs.  Think about that for a minute.  [Pause a few seconds.]

With God’s breath now making us alive again, we can now live the holy life that God described in the Law at Mount Sinai.  Where the Law sought to force change upon us from outside of us, to conform us to God’s standard, the Holy Spirit instead renews us from the inside, making us transform so that it is what we want in the first place!  And in doing so, we become a part of His harvest of souls – the first fruits of His harvest, in fact!

Comparison of Old and New Testament Events

There are several things we can see by a comparison of the events:

  1. Both events happened to a newly called people. The Exodus marked the birth of the Israelite nation while the Pentecost events recorded in Acts 2 marked the very birth of Christianity.
  2. Both events involved God’s people receiving a gift: The Law and the Holy Spirit.
  3. The Israelites left Egypt on Passover and 40 days later arrived at Sinai. Then Moses went up on a mountain to see God (Mt. Sinai). Ten days later Moses came down with the Law, and the Israelites broke the covenant – and 3000 people died as a result.  Jesus died on Passover and 40 days later went up on a mountain to see God the Father (Mount of Olives).  Ten days after Jesus (God the Son) ascended, the Holy Spirit (God the Spirit) came down and 3000 people were saved!
  4. Fifty days after sacrificing Passover Lamb, the Israelites received a covenant from God.  Fifty days after sacrificing Jesus, Our Passover Lamb, believers received the guarantee of a new covenant from God (the Holy Spirit).
  5. Both events had similar sounds and symbols:  wind, fire, smoke, and voices.  The Hebrew word translated thunder in Exodus is “kolot,” which means voices or languages. Think about this in light of the Acts 2 events.
  6. The fire at Mount Sinai was one fire visible by all; the fire at Pentecost was individual fires on every person. In the event at Mount Sinai, the people were kept away from the fire, but in Acts, the fire came to the people.
  7. In both events God gave His Law to His People and in both cases He sealed the covenant that He had made with them. At Sinai He gave the Law written by His finger on tablets of stone. At Pentecost, He gave the Law written on Tablets of the Heart.  [reference OT reading]
  8. In both events a mixed multitude of people were represented (Exodus 12:38 & Acts 2:5-13). The Torah (the Law) attempted to change people from the outside (without). The Holy Spirit changes from within. The word “Torah” means “teaching,” and in John 14:26, the Holy Spirit is called the teacher in the text.


This list is by no means exhaustive!  What we begin to see is that nothing God does is EVER “by accident.”  He has a plan from the beginning, and for people that know how and where to look, it is as plain as day.  Remember, prophecy in Scripture is not just the foretelling of future events.  It is also patterning of recurring events that reflect spiritual and heavenly realities, and it is so here.

Presentation of First Fruits

The actual presentation of First Fruits was a grain offering, where the best of the grain from the early harvest was to be presented to the Lord as a wave offering.  According to Leviticus 23:16-17, the grain was to be in the form of two loaves of leavened bread, made with fine flour from that grain.  This is different from a burnt offering in that the bread was given to the Levites to be consumed as part of their meal afterward.  I know, I know, what could that possibly symbolize, right?  Well, think about it.  Those that have been with us in our study of Ephesians know that God had two groups of people that he made one body out of, Jews and Gentiles.  So that’s two loaves.  And baked with leaven, which always means sin in scripture?  Well, it means that we are all sinners, and God accepts us anyway, so come as you are!  Jews and Gentiles make up these first fruits – that would be us, according to Romans 8:23 and James 1:18, speaking of the first fruits of the Spirit.

Oh friends – this has real meaning for us!  If we are indeed first fruits of His harvest, and His followers, then we must ask ourselves the same question as Francis Schaeffer – How shall we then live?  It seems obvious that we must display those fruits of the Spirit in our lives.

Fruit of the Spirit

Conveniently, these are listed off for us in Galatians 5:22, right Bible Study People?

Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control.

  1. Love [agape] – in Scripture, this is always divine, self-giving, self-sacrificing love.  This is the “For God so LOVED the world” of John 3:16.  It is always expressed in ACTION, not just words or emotions.  “God so loved that He GAVE…” and so on.  You can always tell when someone is exercising this kind of love, because it is driving them to DO something to help.
  2. Joy [chara] – The word means to be filled with calm delight, despite the circumstances sometimes. This is the condition of being filled with gladness, either as the cause of the gladness, or of the gladness received from an external source.  It does NOT mean “happy,” that is a different word with a different set of related concepts.  This is a deep calm, whether it makes you smile or cry (and it can do both).
  3. Peace [Eirene] – This literally means a state of quietness or rest. It can be used to represent peace at a personal level or between nations.  It means harmony, concord, security, safety, prosperity, and suitability.  It perfectly expresses the peace that the Messiah brings in the Old Testament.  It is used in Matthew 11 to describe the rest that Jesus offers.
  4. Patience [makrothumia] – longsuffering, slow to avenge wrongs, forbearance. We are all sinners, and we all need patience, especially when we are wronged.  Have you ever considered that what that one did to you was not intentional?  Or if it was intentional, what may have initiated it on your part?  Whether real or perceived, we as a church will operate better on patience.
  5. Kindness [chrestotes] – goodness, excellent, upright, upholding moral integrity. Anyone ever see that old classic with Keanu Reeves, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure?  They taught Abraham Lincoln a lesson – Be excellent to each other.  We need to be excellent to each other.  What is the best thing we can do for them right now?  Find out, and do it for them!
  6. Goodness [agathosune] – it literally means goodness. What can we do for the good of this person?  This church?  This country, the place we live?  The world?  The Gospel?  We need to do good as God is good.
  7. Faithfulness [pistis] – that firm persuasion about how Christ died for us all, paying the price to redeem us all to God, and those that appropriate that truth for themselves will be saved, like it says in Romans 10:10. The word here is not the adjective form, it is the noun, and it literally means to be filled with faith, this firm persuasion about Christ, as opposed to being faithful (loyal) to perform assigned duties.
  8. Gentleness [prautes] – humility. KJV uses “meekness.”  Remember, meekness is perfect power under perfect control.  Think of it as the difference between Captain Kirk and Captain Picard.  Kirk was a shoot-first-ask-questions-later kind of guy.  Picard was a diplomat.  He had the power, ability, and authority to enforce policy on others – in fact that always seems easier – but just because he could, did not mean he did – he always chose to speak diplomatically, putting the needs of the person being spoken to before his own.
  9. Self-control [egkratia] – the virtue of the one that masters his or her own desires and passions, especially sensual appetites, but not exhaustively this. Personal example – I love Nanaimo bars.  As a pretty sever diabetic these days, you can imagine those are bad for me.  I still love them.  I will still eat them.  But I MUST plan for the intake of the additional pure sugar with a little extra insulin – or I must stop at one-half of a bar.  Either way, it requires discipline and restraint on my part, or I could…well, get a little less like the Gerry the Lord is working through.  I must exercise self-control.

Those are the fruits brought to us by the Holy Spirit.  You may be thinking at this point, “Well, I can’t do any of that…”  That’s the good news – YOU don’t have to – Christ, with God’s Help through God the Holy Spirit, will perform it until the work He wants in you is complete.  All we have to do is yield to Him as He does the work.  Sometimes that takes a while, but He will do it.  Now, I have heard a rebuttal to this – “It takes too long, so I don’t want to bother.”

Now, here is a sobering thought – Jesus said in Matthew 7:15 that we would know people by their fruits.  He was speaking specifically of false prophets, those wolves in sheep’s clothing that have nothing but their own gain in mind when they preach, but the point can be applied with those who will not listen to Him.  He says that a good tree produces good fruit.  Bad trees cannot produce good fruit.  Grapes don’t come from thorn bushes, and figs don’t come from thistles.  They come from grapevines (reference to the gentiles?) and fig trees (reference to the Jews?), respectively, don’t they?  A tree can be known by its fruit.  So can a Christian, apparently.  If you are not developing these and growing in them daily, you may wish to inquire of Christ on how to know Him.  Because people will know, whether you like it or not.

Final Thoughts

The gift of the Holy Spirit is what makes possible the Christian life that the apostles describe in the New Testament.  God fills all those that will accept the redemption payment Jesus made on the cross with the Holy Spirit.  There is no ritual or ceremony that can communicate it that we may perform – it is something God does for any who will accept His gracious gift.  The day of Pentecost is the third most important day of the Christian year, after Christmas and Easter, both direct acts of God on Earth.  This is yet another footprint of our triune God, who loves us.  In Ephesians 3:14-19, Paul names all three persons of God.  He prays that God the Father, from all of His riches, would strengthen our inner man through God the Holy Spirit, so that Christ (God the Son) would come to live in our hearts by faith, so that we would know the immensity of the love of Christ, and be filled with the infinite fullness of God!

When we consider this, let us give thanks to our heavenly Father for sending His Son Jesus to redeem us, and then sending the Holy Spirit Himself to move in and clean house as a guarantee of the New Covenant.  It is He who energizes us to live as little Christs in the world.  He is our Teacher and Guide.  He is our Counselor.  He is our Anointing.  He is our Pentecost.

May the Lord Bless you, today of all days, as we look forward to next week, Trinity Sunday.


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