On Sunday many in the Christian community will be observing Pentecost as a special day of worship.   At first glance, the celebration of Pentecost may appear somewhat incongruous.  After all, isn’t Pentecost part of the seven annual Holy Days which were established under the Old Covenant (OC)? Hasn’t the OC been replaced by the New Covenant (NC) which doesn’t appear to require the observance of OC Holy Days?  While the Christian community as a whole does not observe the Feast of Trumpets, the Feast of Tabernacles and other observances of the Old Covenant system, Pentecost is often recognized and observed.  

       The Feast of Pentecost is an Old Covenant observance.  It was celebrated in ancient Israel and in first century Israel as well.  It was kept by Jesus and his disciples who lived under the OC.  Even though the death of Jesus made the OC obsolete, it continued to be adhered to by most of the Jewish community until the temple was destroyed in AD 70.  OC regulations were kept by Christ’s disciples after He ascended to be with the Father.  That is why we see them meeting together on Pentecost in AD 31. 

        In Israel there were two harvests each year. The early harvest came during the months of May and June; the second harvest came in the Fall. Pentecost was the celebration of the early harvest.  It always occurred 50 days after the Feast of First Fruits which occurred during the days of unleavened bread. The Feast of First Fruits marked the beginning of the barley harvest and Pentecost marked the beginning of the wheat harvest. 

       So why do Christians still celebrate what essential was a harvest festival. If the OC with its festivals has been fulfilled in Christ, why does the Christian community hang on to Pentecost as a yearly observance?   To be sure, most Christians who observe Pentecost are not celebrating it as an OC festival.  The date for its celebration is not established by counting 50 days from the Sabbath that occurs during the days of Un-leaven Bread as was done under the OC.  Pentecost is not celebrated from sundown to sundown as was done under the OC.

       Pentecost is not celebrated as an OC requirement nor as a NC mandate.  There is nothing in the NC Scriptures that mandates that we observe Pentecost or any other OC Holy Day.  In today’s Christian community, Christians observe Pentecost as an anniversary of a very important event.  Just as much of the Christian community celebrates Christmas to commemorate the great event of the birth of Jesus and Easter to commemorate the great event of the resurrection of Jesus, so Christians celebrate Pentecost to commemorate the great event that made it possible for the Christian Church to develop. This event was the giving of the promised Holy Spirit.

       Picture if you will the circumstances extant in AD 31.  Jesus had been crucified and resurrected and proceeded to spend 40 days teaching His disciples before visibly ascending to heaven.  Just before he ascended, He told them to stay in Jerusalem and wait for what the Father had promised. What had the Father promised?

       Luke 24:49, 52-53:  I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."  Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.   And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

       John 14:16: I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth.

       John 14:26: But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

       John 15:26:  "When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.

       We see Jesus promising His disciples that they would be gifted by the Father with the Holy Spirit which Jesus calls a counselor.  The Greek word is paraclete, and is variously translated as counselor, comforter, advocate and helper.  This Holy Spirit is seen as coming from the father and defined as power and truth.

       This is what the disciples were waiting for as they continued to meet at the temple daily.  Whether they knew it was going to happen on Pentecost we don’t know.  The Scriptures don’t say.  Whether they had any idea as to what was going to happen, we don’t know either.  The Scriptures don’t say. Some believe that the OC was established on Pentecost at Mt. Sinai and now the NC was being established with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost in AD 31.        

         Acts 2:1-4: When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

       Acts 2:5-11: Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs--we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!"

       There apparently were multiple hundreds of Jews present from countries all over the known world. There were Jews from Parthia. The Parthian Empire was a major Iranian political and cultural power in ancient Iran at the time. Medes and Elamites were from this region as well. Mesopotamia refers to a region which is now Iraq, eastern Syria, southeastern  Turkey, and Southwest Iran.  Judea was southern Israel. Cappadocia, Phrygia and Pamphylia were located in what today is Turkey. Portus was located on the Black Sea.  Egypt is to the south of Israel.  There were visitors from Rome, both Jews and non-Jews. There were Gentiles who had converted to Judaism and were thus keeping the holy days of the OC system along with the Jews.

Why the tongues event?

       It is sometimes believed and taught that the reason for the tongues event was to allow the Apostles to preach the Gospel in understandable languages to the foreign Jews visiting Jerusalem to observe Pentecost. Luke writes there were Jews from every nation under heaven in attendance. It is assumed that these Jews were mostly visitors who did not speak the local language.  The assumption is that these Jews would not have understood the Apostles if the Apostles spoke only in their native tongue which was probably Aramaic. Therefore, the tongues event is seen as taking place to ensure the Gospel message could be understood by those assembled to observe the feast of Pentecost.     

       The narrative of Acts 2 does show that some of those present were visitors from outside of Judea. It's not revealed whether they were able or unable to speak or understand the native language of the Apostles. What is noteworthy however, is that it is apparent many if not most of those present were foreigners who had taken up permanent residence in Jerusalem and were not just visitors as is often assumed. 

      The Greek word rendered “staying” in Acts 2:5 is katoikeo. The Greek lexicons define this word as a place of permanent residence, a place of settlement. Strong’s Lexicon defines this word as “to house permanently.”  Thayer’s Lexicon defines this word as to dwell or settle.  The Arndt/Gingrich Lexicon defines it as “cause to dwell, establish, and settle.”  

       Katoikeo appears 47 times in the NT and by context can be seen to identify an ongoing residency and not just someone visiting from out of town. It’s apparent the Jews being addressed were by and large residents of Jerusalem and would have spoken the same native language as the tongues speakers spoke.  These Jews, while originally residing in a number of different countries, had at some point moved to Jerusalem and taken up residence there.

       The NET translation footnotes Acts 2:5 by stating that while there may have been Jews visiting Jerusalem to keep Pentecost, it is probable that the audience consisted of families who had taken up permanent residence in Jerusalem and that archaeological evidence from tombs in Jerusalem indicates that many families immigrated to Jerusalem permanently. Here is how Acts 2:5 is rendered in various English Translations. 

       Now there were Jews residing in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven (New American Standard Version)

       Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven residing in Jerusalem (Net).

       And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation of those under the heaven (Young's Literal Translation).

       At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem (New Living Translation).   

       It is apparent that the majority of those in the crowd hearing the tongues speakers where permanent residents of Jerusalem.  They would have spoken and understood the native tongue of the tongues speakers which was probably Aramaic. Therefore, they would not have had to be spoken too in their native language in order to understand the Apostles.  If this is the case, it may be incorrect to look at the tongues event occurring for the purpose of ensuring the crowds gathered for Pentecost were able to hear and understand the tongues speakers.   

       The reason for the tongues event is actually made very clear by Apostle Peter. It appears to simply be the sign God used to demonstrate that the Holy Spirit had come and that it would be available to all peoples. When the crowd witnessed the tongues event, it is recorded that "they were all amazed and perplexed and they asked one another, "What does this mean?"  Some accused the tongues speakers of being drunk.  Peter, in responding to their accusation, showed them in no uncertain terms what the event they were witnessing meant.

       Acts 2:14-18: Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:  "`In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

       Peter addressed the crowd and directed his answer to fellow Jews and all those who live in Jerusalem.  As mentioned, the Greek word rendered “live” is katoikeo. As already discussed, this Greek word describes a place of permanent residence.  The indication is that Peter was largely addressing those who lived in Jerusalem and was most probably addressing them in the language common to most of them which, as indicated, was probably Aramaic.  

       While it is true that at the beginning of this event those present heard the Apostles speaking in the languages of the countries they had lived in, this tongues event may have been a short lived event that got the attention of the crowd and caused many of them to give heed to Peter’s message which very likely was delivered in Aramaic and was understood by most in the crowd.

       It is apparent that the main reason for the tongues event was to demonstrate that a prophecy of Joel had come to pass. Peter is stating that what the assembly gathered in Jerusalem is seeing is the fulfillment of what the prophet Joel said would happen in the last days.  What they are witnessing is the prophesied pouring out of the Spirit of God on all people. Peter makes this very clear later in his sermon.

       Acts 2:32-33: God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 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.

       What Peter was telling them was that what they were seeing and hearing gave witness to the Holy Spirit being poured out as prophesied by Joel and promised by Jesus.  The Apostles speaking in unlearned languages was for the express purpose of giving evidence to the fulfillment of what the prophet Joel and the Son of God had promised would occur. The tongues event got the attention of the audience which allowed Peter to proclaim the gospel message to what was now an attentive audience.  Peter goes on to provide a synopsis of the Christ event. 

       Acts 2:22-24:  "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.  This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

       Peter brings to their attention that Jesus was a man accredited by God.  To accredit someone is to authorize and sanction them.  God did this by providing Jesus the power to perform miracles and signs and wonders, all things Peter says they knew.  This further verifies that Peter was addressing a crowd who lived in the area and was familiar with what had happened. Peter reveals to them that it was within God’s will and foreknowledge that Jesus was handed over to them and they proceeded to crucify him even though they knew the good that He had done.  Peter goes on to tell them how David had prophesied the death and resurrection of Jesus and concludes with telling his audience that God had made this man they had crucified both Lord and Christ.

       Acts 2:36-38: Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, 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.

       Acts 2:41: Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

       Peter’s message had a powerful impact on those being addressed.  This message would not have had this impact if it wasn’t for the tongues event.  The tongues event was designed to get their attention and get their attention it did. To hear these tongues speakers speak in languages of the countries these Jews had immigrated from must have made quite the impression.      

       Acts 2:1-4: When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

       The miracle may have been as much in the hearing as it was in the speaking.  We are given limited insight as to what actually transpired relative to the tongues event.  What we do plainly see is Peter taking the opportunity thrust upon him to proclaim that the man they had crucified, God had made to be Lord and Christ.      

       Acts 2:36-37:  "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."  When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"

       Peter had powerfully and fearlessly indicted his listeners as being responsible for crucifying the promised Messiah.  In verse 21, Peter tells them that if they call on the name of Jesus Christ they will be saved.  These folks were scared.  Peter gave them the solution to their fear.

       Acts 2:38-39: "Repent and be baptized, 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 or all whom the Lord our God will call."

       This crowd had just witnessed a manifestation of the Holy Spirit of God.  They were given a powerful, no holds barred, straightforward message about the death, resurrection, lordship and Messiah-ship of the man they had crucified. Many were convicted. Those that were convicted asked, “What shall we do?”  Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." 

       Peter was telling them that the Holy Spirit, which they had just seen manifested through the apostles, was a gift that they too could receive upon repentance and baptism.  Some 3000 took Peter up on his offer. They changed their attitude about the Christ event, accepted him as the promised Messiah, were baptized as an outward confirmation of their faith in Christ and were given the Holy Spirit. 

      Peter said that the gift of the Holy Spirit was a promise to those he was addressing, as well as to their children and to all those far off.  We today are in that group defined as “those far off.”  We to, upon acceptance of Christ as savior, and our willingness to demonstrate our commitment to Christ through repentance and baptism, are given the Holy Spirit.  But what does that mean for us?   How does the Holy Spirit make a difference in our lives?  What is the Holy Spirit?

       Jesus identified the Holy Spirit as the paraclete, a counselor, comforter, advocate and helper.  Paul told Timothy that God’s Spirit was a spirit of power, love and sound mindedness or self-discipline as some translations have it.  Peter, in his first letter said it is the Spirit of God that sanctifies us. John said this:

       I John 3:24:  Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

       I John 4:13: We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

      Apostle Paul teaches something very instruct full about how we are to understand and actually use the Holy Spirit.    

       Romans 8:5-9: Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.  Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.  You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.

       2 Timothy 1: 6-7:  For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

       1 Thessalonians 5:19:  Quench not the Spirit.

      Paul says we should allow the Spirit to control us and not our sinful nature control us. Paul writes that God’s spirit is a spirit of power, love and sound mindedness.  Paul also shows that the Spirit can be stirred up and it can be quenched.  

       When one looks at the hundreds of references to the Spirit of God in the Scriptures, it becomes apparent that God’s spirit is a manifestation of what God is. God is life and imparts life to us through His Spirit.  God is love and imparts love and the ability to love through His spirit.  God is power and through the manifestation of His Spirit in us, empowers us to express a righteous nature rather than a sinful nature.

      Yet God does not control us through His spirit.  We have to choose to be controlled by the Spirit.  Paul told Timothy to stir up the spirit.  We do this by focusing on the law of love.  We do this by learning to live our lives as servants of all.  We do this by being the Good Samaritan on a daily basis.

            We tend to make Christianity more complicated than what it is.  There is an entire industry out there selling books, tapes, videos, CD’s and study courses dealing with how to be a Christian. 

       Do we really need all of that.  We sometimes spend more time in learning how to be a Christian than we do in going out into the community and actually being a Christian.  It’s not really all that complicated.  In leading up to the parable of the Good Samaritan we see this interchange between Jesus and a teacher of the law.

       Luke 10:25-28: On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"  He answered: "`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, `Love your neighbor as yourself.'  "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

       The major obstacle we face in being Christian is allowing sinful nature to drive our behavior rather than righteous nature driving our behavior.  That is where the Holy Spirit comes in.  Paul told the Romans that they needed the Holy Spirit to control their expression of the sinful nature. That need is still there today for each and every one of us. 

       So while we don’t, under the New Covenant, keep Pentecost as a commanded observance, we can and should reflect on the events of the Pentecost of AD 31 and acknowledge it as the time when the promised Spirit of God was made manifest which enables us humans to live lives in harmony with the will of God and facilitate our entrance into eternal life.

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