God’s sovereignty over history is seen in his creation of our 365-day year and the ordering of the Jewish calendar. In this, fifty days were set from the beginning of Passover to the day of Pentecost (also called the Feast of Weeks, since seven weeks were counted out from the end of barley harvest to the fiftieth day).
Into that calendar came Jesus, God’s passover lamb. ‘Christ, our passover lamb, has been sacrificed’ (1 Corinthians 5:7). He is our sacrifice, who ends all the sacrifices of the levitical sacrificial system (Hebrews 5:10-14).
We should always hold the fifty days from Passover to Pentecost in our minds. Day one, Christ was crucified; day three, he was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead; day 40, he ascended to heaven ‘before their very eyes’ (Acts 1:9). Ten days later, on day 50, the Holy Spirit was poured out in mighty power.
1. Pentecost was an act of the exalted Lord Jesus Christ and triumphant vindication of Jesus as Son of God. ‘Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear’ (Acts 2:33). Only God could send God. He had been alongside his disciples, but now another Comforter (allon parakleton), one similar to him but not the same as him, would minister to them.
2. Pentecost was the beginning of the new covenant age or ‘last days’ (Acts 2:17). It was an important day in world history. The outpouring of the Spirit is clinching evidence that the last days have arrived (Numbers 11:29; Isaiah 32:15; Ezekiel 36:26-27).
3. Pentecost was attested by three miraculous signs: the sound of a mighty rushing wind; tongues of fire resting on each of the 120; and their speaking in foreign languages.
4. Pentecost resulted in 3000 conversions and baptisms in one day, a spiritual work that far exceeded anything similar in the life of our Lord and fulfilled his promise that his disciples would do greater works than he did.
5. Pentecost revealed God’s power through human weakness. Jesus’ disciples were traumatised by the demise and seeming defeat of their leader. Peter hit an all-time low by denying Jesus before a servant girl. Pentecost reminds us of the kind of men God uses. The disciples were a small band, feeble in the eyes of the world, but Jesus had prepared them well. Peter did not preach a jumbled sermon on the day of Pentecost; Luke reports a perfectly structured exposition. The apostles were humble, courageous, sincere and prayerful men. They worked hard in Scripture (Acts 6:1-4) and were doctrinally reliable and compassionate shepherds of souls.
6. Pentecost heralded the way in which church membership should function. ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer’ (Acts 2:42).
7. Pentecost brought clarity to the way of salvation: ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (2:21); ‘repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call’ (2:38-39).
8. Pentecost was the first Christian revival, and the first of many more to come. Powerful revivals have recurred ever since.
Points 1-3 above are initiatory and unique; they are not repeated in subsequent revivals. Pentecost is to be regarded as an event in historia salutis and not understood as ordo salutis (the order of events in personal salvation).To use it as for ordo salutis is unwise, since it tries to create a two-tier Christianity separating those who have had a spectacular spiritual ‘experience’ from those who do not.
The 120 disciples in the upper room were the unique recipients of historic signs, fulfilling the specific prophecy of Joel 2. It is important to note that every true believer, that is, every one who comes by faith into union with Christ, is baptised by the Holy Spirit into the ‘one body’ (1 Corinthians 12:13). Thus the 3000 converts at Pentecost were baptised to symbolise that reality.
Pentecost reminds us that Christian leaders should pray for revival. The need for spiritual awakening is evident and this should be remembered in church prayer meetings and the prayers in our church services.
We do not know what form the next revival will take. A very relevant feature of Pentecost is its multilingual, international character. Many churches today have members from different nations. An outpouring of the Holy Spirit in one country can soon be repeated in others.
The author is associate pastor at Leeds Reformed Baptist Church, UK. He is editor of Reformation Todayand helps spearhead pastors’ conferences for southern Africa. His best known book is Who are the puritans? And what do they teach?(EP Books).