The Meaning of Pentecost

THE WORD PENTECOST is used only three times in the Bible, and, being a Greek word, appears only in the New Testament. The most familiar usage is found in Acts 2:1-4. These verses say, “When the Day of Pentecost was fully come, they [Jesus’ disciples] were all with one mind in the same place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, like a violent wind rushing; and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And divided tongues appeared to them, like fire, and one rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”—Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott

Pentecost is used later in Acts 20:16: “Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the Day of Pentecost.” The final use of the word is in I Corinthians 16:8, a very short verse: “I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost.”

In the latter two references it is intimated that Pentecost was more than just the notable event that is described in Acts 2 concerning the giving of the Holy Spirit. In fact it was a periodic celebration—a special day.—vss. 1-4


To find out what was the special significance of the Day of Pentecost requires going to the Old Testament. Pentecost was one of the three annual feasts of Israel, and was not called Pentecost at that time. It went by two names, one. being the ‘Feast of Harvest’ and the other the ‘Feast of Weeks’. We read of its use as the Feast of Harvest in Exodus 23:14-16, where it says, “Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year. Thou shalt keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread: … and the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of thy labors, which thou hast sown in the field [Pentecost]: and the Feast of Ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labors out of the field.”

Another reference to this feast is in Deuteronomy 16:9,10,16, where it is not called the ‘Feast of Harvest’, but the ‘Feast of Weeks’. “Seven weeks shalt thou number unto thee: begin to number the seven weeks from such time as thou beginnest to put the sickle to the corn. And thou shalt keep the Feast of Weeks unto the Lord thy God with a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto the Lord thy God, according as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee. … Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and in the Feast of Weeks, and in the Feast of Tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the Lord empty.” The term ‘Feast of Weeks’ is also referred to in two other places: Exodus 34:22 and Numbers 28:26-31.

Leviticus 23 explains these three feasts and exactly when the Feast of Pentecost occurred, its purpose, and why it goes under both names: the Feast of Harvest and the Feast of Weeks. Verse 5 reads: “In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the Lord’s Passover. … The fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread. … In the first day [i.e., the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread—the fifteenth of Nisan] ye shall have an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.” This first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was to be a ‘holy convocation’, or, in reality a special Sabbath Day. Sabbath days were those in which the Israelites did no servile work. In this case, it was not the seventh-day Sabbath, but a special Sabbath—a holy convocation to the Lord. The last day of the feast, likewise, was a special Sabbath Day.

Continuing with verse 10: “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest: and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.” This waving of the handful, or sheaf, of the firstfruits of their harvest, was done on the day after that special Sabbath—the sixteenth of Nisan.

Verses 15 and 16 read: “Ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; [in other words, from the sixteenth of Nisan] seven Sabbaths [49 days] shall be complete: even unto the morrow after the seventh Sabbath [the morrow after the seventh Sabbath would be the fiftieth day] shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the Lord.”

This ‘new meat’ was the special offering of the Feast of Harvest, or the Feast of Weeks. It was referred to in certain scriptures as the Feast of Weeks because the date on which that feast began was determined by the counting of seven weeks, plus one day, from the time that the sheaf of the firstfruits was offered. Additionally, the Greek word Pentecost means ‘the fiftieth day’.


This feast was to be a celebration of thanksgiving to God for the firstfruits of the Jewish harvest, hence the second name, Feast of Harvest. This was a special harvest. It was not the harvest of vegetables or fruit, but was the harvest of grain—specifically wheat. The firstfruits of this wheat harvest were dedicated to the Heavenly Father. During this feast, as recorded in the 23rd chapter of Leviticus, many offerings were given. There were burnt offerings, meat offerings, drink offerings, sin offerings, and peace offerings—all given as a celebration of thanksgiving to God for their harvest, their grain (wheat) harvest.

The special offering of the feast was to be a new ‘meat’ offering. Verse 17 says, “Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the Lord.” They offered two loaves of bread made from the firstfruits of their wheat harvest. It was then waved before the Lord as a thanksgiving, as a dedication, to him for the bounties of their harvest. Fifty days earlier they had also waved an offering before God, but it was only a handful of the firstfruits. Now they had begun the actual harvesting of the wheat and brought these two loaves made from the wheat they had just harvested to offer to the Lord. Their harvest would now continue until all the wheat was gathered.


The reason for going into detail regarding the typical Feast of Harvest, i.e., Feast of Weeks, Feast of Pentecost, is that it ties in beautifully to the antitype—the reality. Seen first of all is the correspondency of the timing of this feast. Remember that the 14th of Nisan was the Passover. In the antitype this corresponded to the death of Jesus, the Passover Lamb—the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), which occurred exactly on this date. On the 16th of Nisan, the sheaf or the handful of the firstfruits was waved before the Lord. This corresponds in antitype to the resurrection of Jesus, which occurred on the same date. The Apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 15:20 that Jesus was “the firstfruits of them that slept.” He was the first one raised from the dead. He was the ‘sheaf, the ‘handful’ of firstfruits—the very first one raised from the dead by the mighty power of God. Then, counting seven Sabbaths plus one, or fifty days, from the resurrection of Jesus, from the antitypical waving of the sheaf of the firstfruits, brings us to the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2.

Just as the typical feast involved the dedication of the wheat harvest, so, in antitype, the Day of Pentecost encompassed the dedication of the antitypical firstfruits—the ‘wheat’—to God, the church being referred to as part of this firstfruits class. Jesus was the firstfruits, but the church also, as stated in James 1:18, is a “kind of firstfruits.” John the Revelator speaks also of the church as the ‘firstfruits’ in Revelation 14:4, where he described these as being “redeemed from among men, the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.” The process of the dedication of the church began at Pentecost. They began to be ‘waved’ or shown before the Heavenly Father as dedicated to him. This waving has continued all down through the Gospel Age.

In viewing the antitypical Pentecost, it was a culmination of three very important and vital events in God’s plan. The first was the ransom price itself, which Jesus provided upon the cross. The second of these vital events was his resurrection by the mighty power of God. The third was the Day of Pentecost, the day of dedication of the prospective church to the Heavenly Father.


The events that encompassed Pentecost in antitype are quite numerous. The Day of Pentecost was not merely the day that the Holy Spirit came upon the church. This did indeed happen, and the benefits were not only to those that were present, but have extended throughout the entire Gospel Age.

For those 120 followers of Jesus gathered in the upper room (Acts 1:15) who had dedicated their lives to him, this Day of Pentecost meant many things. It meant that God would now accept their consecration to him. It meant that they were now justified in his sight. It meant that now their covenant of sacrifice would begin, and it meant that begettal of the Holy Spirit had taken place and that as a result they would now be New Creatures in Christ Jesus.

This was a very eventful day for those present. But for the church down through the Gospel Age, it was also very significant. It signified the beginning of the Gospel Age and its work. It signified the opening of the “High Calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14) Pentecost also signified the anointing, or the dedication of the church as a class, to be God’s Royal Priesthood.

It signified that the opportunity was now open for each individual prospective member of that priesthood to receive the things that those in the upper room were receiving: God’s acceptance of their consecration, justification, the beginning of their sacrifice, and spirit begettal. Each prospective member of the Royal Priesthood throughout the Gospel Age has come into that same relationship, because of the events that took place then. In short, the Day of Pentecost began the actual process of bringing man back to atonement with God, beginning with the church. The Day of Pentecost was the first evidence to mankind of God’s acceptance of the ransom price as provided by Jesus.


Understanding the begettal of the Holy Spirit is the key to appreciating the full significance of Pentecost. What is the Holy Spirit? In general, the Holy Spirit is the power and influence of God. It has always existed. God is from everlasting to everlasting, and so his power and his influence—his Holy Spirit—is also from everlasting to everlasting.

But what about the Holy Spirit as it applies to members of the church? For these the Holy Spirit can be defined as ‘the holy and righteous influence and power of God that gives the spark of life to, nourishes, and governs the New Creature life in each one of God’s consecrated people’.

The word spirit is from the Greek word pneuma, and means ‘breath’. To simplify the definition of the Holy Spirit, to the New Creature it is as the breath of life is to the natural body. The body must have the breath of life. If the breath of life is taken away from the natural body it dies within minutes. Likewise, without the Holy Spirit the New Creature cannot live.


Luke, in Acts 2, described what happened on the Day of Pentecost relative to the giving of the Holy Spirit. In verses 2-4 he said, “Suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of 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. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Why did God give such an outward demonstration of the begettal of the Holy Spirit as a ‘sound from heaven’, a ‘rushing mighty wind’, ‘cloven tongues like fire’, and ‘speaking with tongues’? There were two reasons why this was done. First, it was a witness to those present. This was a feast of Israel, although the antitype was now being fulfilled. Verse 5 states, “There were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.” Many Jews had traveled to Jerusalem because this was one of their feast days, when this was “noised abroad” (vs. 6) it was a witness to them.

The Holy Spirit had an immediate effect upon the apostles and they began speaking in other languages, and some who heard accused them of being drunk. This caused Peter to stand up and refute the charges. (Acts 2:4-15) Peter quoted from the Prophet Joel, and the Psalms, and gave a beautiful witness of God’s plan. The result of that witness was, as stated in verse 41: “The same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”

In addition to being a great witness, this giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was a demonstration of God’s power and influence as never before seen in man. This power rested in a very special way upon the apostles in that they were given various ‘gifts’ such as speaking in foreign tongues. The Apostle Paul identified some of these gifts in I Corinthians 12:28-30 as “gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues … workers of miracles.” These were all part of the outward gifts of the Holy Spirit that were given to the apostles which helped to establish the Early Church and the authority of the apostles. These were a tremendous demonstration of God’s power and influence upon them, manifesting his authority on their behalf.


As extraordinary as these demonstrations were, as exciting as the gifts were, and although they added three thousand prospective members to the body of Christ in one day, none of this was the real significance of Pentecost. The real meaning of Pentecost concerned the principal work of the Holy Spirit, which was to be inward. It was not to be seen by man. It was, in fact, to be the work of developing the New Creature. The most significant event of Pentecost was the begettal of the disciples by the Holy Spirit. In I Corinthians 12, Paul discusses this very matter. After recounting the various gifts of the Spirit in previous verses, he states in verse 31: “Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way.” What was the ‘more excellent way’? That way was love, the subject of the next chapter—I Corinthians 13. Love is the summation of the fruits of the Spirit, which describe the development of the New Creature. That was the ‘more excellent way’, the more excellent work of the Holy Spirit, and the real meaning of Pentecost.


What is the inward work of the Holy Spirit, which has been summed up by Paul as being love? There are many scriptures in the new Testament that deal with this subject. The 8th chapter of Romans is a discussion about the Holy Spirit giving much enlightenment and guidance to the followers of Christ. The phrase, ‘Holy Spirit’, or ‘Spirit’ is mentioned some twenty times in this chapter alone. The works of the Holy Spirit as described here can be divided into ten areas:

1. Verses 1 and 2 describe for us that the Holy Spirit is a ‘law’, a “law of life,” and can be likened to the breath of life in natural man. So, also we must have the Holy Spirit, a law of life, or the New Creature dies. These verses read: “There Is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, … for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” Not only does this passage say that his Spirit is a law of life, it also has made his followers free from that other law that they were under—the law of sin and death.

2. The Holy Spirit is an influence by which one walks, and thinks. Verses 4 through 6 bring this out: “That the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

3. The Holy Spirit embodies the thought of ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’. Verses 9 and 10 allude to this, saying, “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” This Holy Spirit of God, or as Paul refers to it, the ‘Spirit of Christ’, has to be ‘in’ his followers. If it is in them, it fulfills the thought that says, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27) Christ is not literally in us. It is his Spirit of anointing, his influence, that motivates us.—I John 2:27

4. The fourth work of the Holy Spirit is described in verse 11, which says, “If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” The Holy Spirit ‘quickens’; it gives life. It gives one the opportunity to serve God, to understand his truth, to be an acceptable sacrifice, and eventually it will quicken those who are faithful, giving them divine, spirit bodies.

5. The action of the Holy Spirit upon our minds mortifies the deeds of the body. Verse 13 says, “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.”

6. Another work of the Holy Spirit is stated in verse 14. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” The Holy Spirit ‘leads’ and this can be thought of as God’s providential care over his followers. His Holy Spirit brings about this care by being with his followers along each step of the narrow way. A hymn says, “I’d rather walk in the dark with God, than go alone in the light.” God’s people are able to say this because it is the Holy Spirit, his providential influence and power, that leads and directs their lives.

7. The Holy Spirit is an assurance of sonship. Verse 15 states: “Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption [‘sonship’, Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott] whereby we cry, Abba Father.” What an assurance the Spirit gives the followers of Christ that they are the sons of God!

8. Verse 16 says, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” This is an assurance that our spirit, our heart, our motives, which have been given to the Lord in consecration, are on the same ‘wave length’—that is, that they ‘bear witness’ with the Holy Spirit. When these ‘bear witness’ together, it is an assurance to us that we are the children of God, that we have the same purpose which the Holy Spirit purposes in us.

9. The Holy Spirit does not prevent us from sharing in the trials and the ‘groanings’ of the present life while in the flesh. It is true that God’s power can accomplish anything, and he could use his Holy Spirit to prevent us from going through the trials and the groanings of the flesh. However, this is not in our best interest. This aspect of the Holy Spirit is shown in verse 23: “Not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”

10. The Holy Spirit is able to intercede for us with the Father. Verses 26 and 27 say: “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because it maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” The Holy Spirit is able to intercede in those cases where we are not able to pray to the Father as we would desire, or to know what we should pray for. As the verse states, the Holy Spirit intercedes ‘according to the will of God’.


We are reminded by the Apostle Paul that we are not to “quench the Spirit” (I Thess. 5:19), a completely willful renunciation of the New Creature’s life-giving power. We must be on guard for even partial willfulness in this regard. “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God,” Paul says in Ephesians 4:30. Rather, let us strive to obtain the fullest measure possible of God’s influence and power: “Be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph. 5:18) Thus we may truly appreciate, by being faithful ‘even unto death’, the significance of Pentecost and its resulting blessing to the Lord’s footstep followers of the present age.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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