The celebration of Pentecost finds it's origin in the Feast of Weeks, also known as Shavuot. You can read about the establishment of the Shavuot in Leviticus 23:15-22. Calling this date "Pentecost" comes from a greek word meaning fifty, as the celebration took place fifty days after the bringing of the wave offering (Leviticus 23:15).
So why is this festival important?
"It's at this holiday that we remember not only that God provides for us, that's why we bring the first fruits, but also that he has provided through the corners for the poor in Israel" - Dr. Michael Rydelnik
Excerpted and adapted from Christ in the Feast of Pentecost
by David Brickner & Rich Robinson (Moody Publishers, 2008).
The biblical feasts of Israel were designed to help God's people remember what He did in the past, that we might recognize what He is doing today and have hope in His promises for tomorrow.
The "tomorrow" for those living in Old Testament times was not only the coming days, weeks, months, and years. The hope of tomorrow was also the hope of Messiah.
The "tomorrow" for those of us who have received Jesus as Messiah and Lord is divided between our future in this world—wherein we have certain promises for daily living—and our future in the world to come.
Christ is seen so significantly in the Feast of Pentecost the through Him, this holiday speaks of our past redemption as Christians, as well as to all of our tomorrows.
The original and central aspect of Pentecost is that of a firstfruits festival, with all it's attendant offerings. We have seen that Paul used "firstfruits" to refer to the resurrection of Jesus. That central event pronounced the guarantee of our future resurrection as "the rest" of the harvest. Thus Pentecost helps us look back to Jesus' resurrection and forward to the day when we shall be changed and receive all the promises that God has prepared for us.
The Holy Spirit was sent, by the Father, in Christ's name on the Day of Pentecost--bringing His followers new purpose and power. We look back on that historic event, and forward to a Spirit-empowered life for our present and future on this earth as we know it. The purpose of that empowering is that we should serve God as we anticipate Christ's return. The Lord gave us a variety of guidelines on how to invest our lives until He returns—and one of the most prominent is to proclaim His gospel to others. We also know that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is but the firstfruits of an even more intimate relationship we will one day share with Jesus when we see Him face-to-face.
We also saw how Jewish tradition transformed Pentecost into a holiday of God's Word—and how in Acts 2, the apostles' proclamation of God's Word was a dramatic demonstration that the curse at Babel had been reversed. Not only that, but the New Covenant had come into effect as people received Jesus, the living Word, into their hearts. We look back on this miraculous event and it gives us hope to look forward to an even greater day promised in Revelation 7:9: "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb."
Someday all those aspects of our lives—our identities—will come together. Our past, present, and future will converge in an integrated, healthy way. Firstfruits and Pentecost help us begin to achieve that integration now. We know from where we came—"My father was a wandering Aramean," in the words of the Pentecost liturgy in Deuteronomy 26: "He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey"--therefore "now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O Lord, have given me." And they are just that, firstfruits, harbingers of what is yet to come.
As John says, "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2)
Can there be any better hope? And who would have thought that a few sheaves of wheat would have so much to teach us?
Suggested reading list:
Brickner, David & Rich Robinson. Christ in the Feast of Pentecost. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008.
Goodman, Philip. The Shavuot Anthology. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1992.
Isaacs, Ronald H. Every Person's Guide to Shavuot. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1998.
Strassfield, Michael. The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.
Waskow, Arthur I. Seasons of Our Joy: A Modern Guide to the Jewish Holidays. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990.
Want to learn more about the liturgical calendar? The following websites provide some starting resources.
The Lectionary Page (Provides a liturgical calendar to follow)
The Revised Common Lectionary (Scripture readings that follow the liturgical calendar)