If it weren’t for Pentecost, we wouldn’t know about Easter.
For most of us, tomorrow isn’t flagged on our calendars as Pentecost Sunday. But it is a big deal for Christians, and there are at least three reasons why it’s a day worth celebrating.
First, the back-story. Recall that Jesus spent forty days after his resurrection with his disciples ( Acts 1:3 ). Imagine those moments — the risen Savior in a glorified body talking and praying with his close friends (Luke 24:39–43 ). But it cannot last. Jesus must ascend to the Father and establish his everlasting reign by receiving, as the God-man, all dominion, power, and authority (Luke 24:44–51 ; cf. Daniel 7:13–14 ).
Watching Jesus ascend to heaven (Acts 1:11
), the disciples must have felt an immediate sense of loss. But Jesus steadied them with an important promise: “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5 ).
So, on the seventh day after the ascension, we find the disciples gathered in Jerusalem, praying, waiting, and celebrating the Feast of Weeks. This important annual festival was observed on the seventh Sabbath after Passover.
At the conclusion of Passover, the first sheaf of the barley harvest would be offered before God in the temple, anticipating the greater harvest that was to follow in the summer. On the fiftieth day after Passover (Pentecost comes from the Greek word for
fifty), all Israel would come to the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate in God’s presence. Parents, children, male and female servants, sojourners, the fatherless, and widows would all give thanks and feast in memory of Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage ( Deuteronomy 16:9–12 ).
Luke tells us that when the disciples were gathered on the day of Pentecost,
suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:2–4 )
According to Luke, Jews from every tribe under heaven were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. Learning what had happened, an international multitude gathered to find the disciples declaring the gospel in languages that each person could understand. As they marveled, Peter explained the miracle as the fulfillment of God’s word:
This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.” ( Acts 2:16–18 )
Peter goes on to proclaim that what has happened in their hearing is the validation of the lordship of Jesus the Messiah and the realization of the promises of God (Acts 2:29–36 ). Those gathered are “cut to the heart,” and three thousand of them receive the good news of Jesus as Messiah and are baptized ( Acts 2:41 ). The rest of the Book of Acts develops the world-transforming changes that have begun in these moments at Pentecost.
How, then, is Pentecost important for us?
1. Pentecost fulfills Jesus’s promise to never forsake his own.
As painful as the parting at the ascension might have been, Jesus assured the disciples that it was to their advantage that he would go away,
“for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. . . . When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” ( John 16:7 , 13–14 )
The fulfillment of the promise of Jesus was the outpouring of the gift of the Holy Spirit on the disciples and, as Peter proclaimed, on
all of God’s people in this new era (Acts 2:38
The promises of the new covenant are ours through the indwelling Spirit (Jeremiah 31:33ff ; Ezekiel 36:26ff ). Jesus did not end his work on earth with the ascension — he continues it now through his Spirit-indwelt church. We, therefore, can take fresh courage in Jesus’s words, “Behold, I will be with you always, even to the end of the age” ( Matthew 28:20 ).
2. Pentecost launches the global proclamation of the gospel.
Jesus’s death at Passover and his mighty resurrection three days later signaled the “firstfruit” of God’s victory over sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:20–24 ). Jesus had accomplished everything necessary for the gospel to run and triumph (Hebrews 2:14–15 ; cf. Revelation 20:1–3 ) and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost signals that the greater harvest has begun.
The three thousand souls added to the church on Pentecost hailed from all corners of the Roman world. They, in turn, would carry the gospel to their families and communities. The narrative arc of Acts follows the Spirit-indwelt disciples as they carry the gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth ( Acts 1:8 ). You heard about Easter because of Pentecost. The fields are white with harvest and, as part of the church of the risen Christ, we too can “go, therefore, and make disciples” ( Matthew 28:18 ).
3. Pentecost signals the coming of fuller restoration and a greater celebration.
At Pentecost, Peter proclaims that the prophecy of Joel 2:28–31 has come to pass. Intriguingly, this prophecy of the eschatological gift of the Spirit comes immediately after another striking promise from God in Joel 2:25–27 :
I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lᴏʀᴅ your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lᴏʀᴅ your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
While Jesus’s reign is secure and eternal, it has yet to come to its fullest expression on the earth. While death has been decisively defeated, it has yet to be put to a final end (1 Corinthians 15:24–26 ). Paul reminds us that creation longs for its final restoration and that even we ourselves, who “have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” ( Romans 8:23 ).
Pentecost is a pointer that history is inexorably moving towards the restoration of all things. The bridegroom has come; his bride is making herself ready. We await the greatest celebration of all.
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words. (Revelation 19:9)
Assistant Professor, Church History and Humanities.