The festival of Pentecost or the Day of Pentecost was, as
most church-going people are aware, the day on which God sent the
promised Comforter or the Holy Spirit. It was the day on which
the New Testament(NT) church began. The day of Pentecost, as
many theologians have said, is the BIRTHDAY of the Christian
The word "pentecost" is a Greek word, not used in the Hebrew
of the Old Testament(OT), and means FIFTIETH. In the OT this
special day was called the feast of WEEKS or FIRST FRUITS
The ancient Israelites dwelling in Palestine were
predominately an agricultural society with a SPRING harvest of
GRAIN and a FALL harvest of FRUITS. The harvest of grain in the
Spring always BEGAN during the feast of UNleavened Bread which
feast started on the 15th day of the first month of the year in
their calendar. In fact, God was very specific about WHEN this
first harvest was to be started.
There was to be a small cutting of the grain done by the
priests on the day after the Sabbath during this Unleavened Bread
festival. This small cutting was called the WAVE SHEAF
(Lev.23:10-15) and it was waved before the Lord in the
Tabernacle(and later the Temple). This cutting of the grain(which
was Barley in actual fact) and waving it before God, once done,
signified that the early spring harvest of Barley and Wheat could
now be harvested.
The Israelites were to count from this "wave sheaf day"
(which was the first day of the week) SEVEN SABBATHS and the day
after the 7th Sabbath (again the first day of the week) was to be
observed as a Holy Day, called the Feast of Weeks or First
Fruits. Because there were 50 days from the wave sheaf day to the
day of the first fruits (Lev.23:15-16), it became known as the
day of Pentecost by NT times.
I realize there is much debate still going on among the
festival observing organizations within the Churches of God, as
to the correct COUNTING (when to start the count) to arrive at
the day of Pentecost. There was much debate among the Jews
themselves after the return from the 70 years captivity in
Babylon and at the time of Christ. The Pharisees counted one way
and the Sadducees counted another way. The main body of Judaism
today observes this festival on Sivan(the 3rd month of the Hebrew
calendar) the 6th. It is not the purpose of this article to
establish and prove which is the correct way to count to
Pentecost. It can be somewhat of a technical study to answer,
and I have done so in other study articles which the reader can
The Jews used the word Pentecost to indicate not only the
Feast Day itself, but, the WHOLE SEASON of fifty days preceding
it. This is why Luke (who wrote the book of Acts), when writing
down the events that occurred on the SPECIFIC DAY of Pentecost
- the 50th day from the wave sheaf offering - wrote: "And when
the day of Pentecost was FULLY COME...." thereby telling us that
these events were on the actual feast day of the First Fruits
itself, and not on some other day of the 50 day Pentecost season.
The Israelites were instructed on HOW to rejoice on this day
in Deuteronomy 16:9- 12.
As this was the SECOND of the THREE annual festival seasons
(Deut.16:16), it drew large crowds to the central festival site
of Jerusalem. In the time of Christ, the Jews came from near and
far to celebrate this festival day at Jerusalem, that is why Luke
reported, "There were staying at Jerusalem devout Jews from every
nation under heaven....." (Acts 2:5-11).
The apostles of the early Church soon became aware that as
the FIRST cutting of the FIRST harvest was waved and presented
before God upon the FIRST day of the week, so Jesus PRESENTED
Himself after His resurrection to the Father on the FIRST day of
the week (compare John 20:1-18 with Matthew 28:9) as the FIRST of
the First Fruits of the Spiritual harvest. They became aware
that the WAVE SHEAF represented CHRIST, the First of God's
harvest of humans to be gathered in from physical flesh and
blood to Eternal Spirit life, or immortality. Paul later wrote:
"But now is Christ RISEN from the DEAD, and become the
FIRSTFRUITS of them that slept.....But every man in his own
order: Christ the FIRSTFRUITS; afterwards they that are Christ's
at His coming" (1 Cor.15:20, 23)).
The apostles could see that the early spring harvest, the
FIRST HARVEST of the two main harvests in Palestine, typified the
harvest that God was now reaping into His Kingdom - the SPIRITUAL
harvest of people who would REPENT, be BAPTIZED, and receive the
gift of the Holy Spirit. All these people would be part of the
FIRST resurrection(Rev.20:1-6) at "Christ's coming" as Paul put
The apostle James, talking about, and talking to Christians,
said: "Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth, that
we should be kind of FIRSTFRUITS of His creatures" (James 1:18).
John, given a vision of the coming of Christ, the
resurrection and the 144,000 in Revelation 14:1, wrote:
"......These were redeemed from among men, being FIRSTFRUITS unto
God and to the Lamb" (verse 4).
PENTECOST - AN IMPORTANT DAY TO THE APOSTLES
Put yourself into the shoes, or should I say sandals, of one
of the 12 apostles - maybe Andrew, Thomas, Philip or John. You
would belong to the House of Judah, raised in the Law, and from a
youngster, taught to observe the festivals "of the Lord" as given
in Leviticus 23 and elsewhere in the books of Moses.
You have been with Christ during His three and one half year
ministry. You have seen Him observe the day of Pentecost, as
well as the rest of the feasts and you have observed them with
Him. You know that Jesus had never spoken against the festivals.
You know He had never said they were to be "done away with" at
His death. On the night He was betrayed you heard Him speak
about another Comforter that He would send to be IN you (John
14:15-17). After Jesus' death and resurrection which you had
been witness to, you were there just before His ascension into
heaven and heard that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, was to come
not many days hence (Acts 1:4-5). You knew that the SPECIFIC DAY
that the Holy Spirit was to come had not yet been revealed, but
that Jesus had said that you and all the apostles were to wait in
Jerusalem until it had arrived.
Forty days had gone by since Jesus' resurrection (Acts 1:3)
and in ten days would be the feast of Pentecost or Firstfruits.
That day arrived, and you, together with the other disciples,
were assembled in one place to observe this festival day just as
you had done during Christ's ministry and before, while growing
up in the local synagogue (Acts 2:1). The Holy Spirit had not
arrived up to this day, and you really had no idea WHEN it would
arrive. But on this particular Pentecost, SUDDENLY, as the
striking of lightening, from heaven there came "......as a
RUSHING MIGHTY WIND, and it filled all the house where they were
sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of
FIRE, and it SAT UPON each of them" (Acts 2:2-3).
You were probably for a few seconds NUMB with shock, the
hair on the back of your head stuck straight up as like the
quills of the porcupine when defending itself from an enemy. Your
breath was blown out of you, and you were frozen in whatever
position or stance you were in at the time. Maybe cold sweat was
immediately pouring out of your skin. For a few seconds it seemed
like you were living the craziest dream or nightmare of your
life. You were speechless.
Then you began to realize this was the Holy Spirit, the
Comforter, sent from the Father to FILL you with His POWER and
NATURE (Acts 1:8; 2:4). And what POWER that was!! Within
minutes you and the others with you, were speaking languages that
you had never learned. You were able to communicate to those of
different nationalities all gathered in Jerusalem for this feast
You can well remember that Peter was so INSPIRED in
preaching that day, that about 3,00 people were led to REPENTANCE
and BAPTISM (Acts 2:38-41).
Can you see how this day of FIRSTFRUITS would have become
VERY SPECIAL to each person present at this assemblage in
Jerusalem? This Pentecost was the BEGINNING of the NT Church of
God which EXPLODED on the scene with THOUSANDS of new converts
because of the POWER of the Holy Spirit. Would YOU ever be able
to forget such a day?
Even though it was a feast day BEFORE this event took place,
NOW it had even GREATER meaning! Now, with every year that
comes, you celebrate it in a new and better way, with greater
spiritual insight, and with greater thanksgiving and praise to
God, for sending His comforting and saving POWER of the Holy
Although Paul was not converted on the day of Pentecost,
after he was converted, he too saw the importance of that day.
To him also, it was a very important day of the year. Notice
Acts 20:16. Paul was determined not to visit Ephesus or Asia for,
".....he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem
the day of Pentecost."
The Greek word translated "to be" is "genesthai" (see the
Interlinear Greek/English NT by Berry, p.376). The ANALYTICAL
GREEK LEXICON page 79 says this word can mean - "to be kept,
celebrated, solemnised, as festival, Mat.26:2 etc......."
The LIVING BIBLE renders this verse 16 as, "Paul had decided
against stopping at Ephesus this time, as he was hurrying to get
to Jerusalem, if possible for the celebration of Pentecost."
Some may want to argue that this verse does not specifically
say Paul was observing the day of Pentecost, but only that he
wanted to be in Jerusalem by that day. This argument becomes
very weak in the light of Acts 18:21 and 1 Cor.5:7,8. A number
of past and recent Christian scholars have come to see that the
NT church continued to observe the feasts of the Lord, as well as
availing themselves of the Temple worship(Acts 21). Christianity
at first would have been thought by many as just another
religious sect among the Jewish people.
Doubtless the day of Pentecost was still an important
festival to be observed by Paul and all the disciples of the
early church. In fact, it was probably more important to
them now, under the NT dispensation, than under the OT. It was
the day to remember the great gift from God, of the Holy Spirit.
ALBERT BARNES in his "Notes on the New Testament" written in
the 19th century, has this to say, in part, on 1 Cor.16:8,
"......the great festivals of the Jews were well known among most
of the cities of Greece, as there were Jews in them all who were
scrupulous in their observances. It is no improbable
supposition, also, the Christians everywhere regarded this day
with deep interest, as being the day on which the Holy Spirit
descended on the apostles and on the people of Jerusalem......"
PENTECOST AND EARLY CHURCH HISTORY
From very early times the celebration of the day of
Pentecost has been observed by the LARGE professing "Christian"
church, the church that has become known as the Roman Catholic
The Catholic writer, FRANCIS WEISER, in his book "Christian
Feasts and Customs" says this on page 248.
"....Pentecost was held annually from a very early date...."
and "....Pentecost must have naturally suggested itself as a
complementary festival (to the Passover) commemorating the
fulfilment and fruit of Christ's redemptive task and of His
The WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA, article 'Pentecost' says, in
part, "From at least the 200's, Christians celebrated Pentecost
on the seventh Sunday after Easter as one of their greatest
The oldest secular writings we have concerning the
celebration of Pentecost is dated in the 2nd century (100-200
A.D.). The CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA states, "The first mention of
a Christian Pentecost is found in the 'Epistola Apostolorum' of
the mid-2nd century in the east......" ('Pentecost' Vol.11, page
On page 248 of the book CHRISTIAN FEASTS AND CUSTOMS by
Weiser, we learn this:
1. In the 3rd century Origen and Tertullian spoke of
Pentecost as a GREAT feast - the latter mentioning it as a
well-established Christian feast.
2. Bishop Eusebius (339) called it "all blessed and all
holy, the feast of feasts."
3. John Chrysostom (407) used in his sermons on Pentecost
such phrases as: " Today we have arrived at the peak of all
blessings, we have reached the capital of feasts, we have
obtained the very fruit of our Lord's promise."
So, we have the clear testimony of history showing that
Pentecost - the festival day - was observed as a Christian feast
from the beginning of the NT church of God. And is STILL
observed today by not only the Roman Catholic and Anglican
churches but many Protestant fundamental churches also. Sure
they may observe it at a different calendar date than most
churches of God that observe it also, but that is another
question altogether. The point of this article is to demonstrate
that a very large part of Christianity has and does believe in
observing the festival of Pentecost.
PENTECOST IN TRANSITION
The Pentecost festival has undergone various transitions
during the centuries by the large Universal church. Writing as a
Roman Catholic, Francis Weiser, in his book that I have
previously quoted from, has this to say:
" During the EARLY centuries, just THE DAY itself was
celebrated in the Western church. AFTER the SEVENTH century,
however, the WHOLE WEEK came to be considered a time of festive
observance. Law courts did not sit and servile work was
forbidden during the ENTIRE octave. The council of Constance
(1094) limited this prohibition to three days. Pope Clement
14th, in 1771, abolished Tuesday as a prescribed holyday.
Finally, in 1911, Pope Saint Pius 10th abolished Monday as a
holyday of obligation; but most European countries, both Catholic
and Protestant, still observe it as a legal holiday " (Christian
Feasts and Customs, pages 248-49).
It is plain to see, as history shows us, that the festival
of Pentecost has always been observed - always been regarded as a
important Christian Holy day. From the time of the first
apostles and the NT church to the time of today and the large
denominations of the Christian world, the feast of weeks or first
fruits, the Pentecost festival, has been, and still is proclaimed
as a festival of the Lord.
The name WHITSUNDAY is also a name that is branded on the
Day of Pentecost in certain parts of the world.
The WORLD BOOK Encyclopedia tells us this: " Pentecost was
later called Whitsunday or White Sunday because the newly
baptized wore their white baptismal robes on that day....."
As you have seen in this article, the DAY OF PENTECOST is
recognized by most of the Christian world as one of the GREAT
festivals of the Lord. So indeed it is, for the MEANING of this
wonderful feast is not only very PERSONAL, but very important for
ALL NATIONS on this earth. The meaning of this feast day relates
a PART of the very plan of Salvation that the Eternal God is
working out here below in the lives of all humans that will have
ever lived on this good green earth.
by Keith Hunt