Like all the biblical feasts that God gave to Israel, God intended Pentecost to help His people remember what He’d done in the past. Remembering what He’d done in the past would help them recognize His continuing care in the present... and that’s what the people needed in order to put their hope in His promises for tomorrow.
God’s people today have the same need to remember what God has done, and that is why Pentecost is meaningful to both Jews and Gentiles who trust in Jesus.
Pentecost Sunday falls on June 9 according to this year’s church calendar – but long before Pentecost was a Christian holy day, it was a Jewish festival. In Hebrew it’s called Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, and you’ll find it in the month of Sivan on the Jewish calendar. (This year, the Jewish Pentecost is corresponding to sundown Saturday, June 8 through Monday, June 10.)
When we think about Pentecost and remember the past in order to ultimately help us trust God for the future, we realize that God’s promises for “tomorrow” are never simply for the next day, week, or even the next year. In Old Testament times, the ultimate hope for God’s people always included the promise of a Messiah.
Pentecost was originally a first fruits festival, with all the appropriate offerings. Whenever the Lord spoke about the produce of the land, He also had in mind the people of the land. An abundant harvest was a sign of His abundant blessing on the people. The first fruits of each harvest pointed to a greater harvest to come; first fruit offerings demonstrated gratitude, but they also demonstrated people’s trust that the rest of the harvest would come and would meet all their needs.
In the New Testament, Paul used the phrase “first fruits” to describe the resurrection of Jesus. That climactic event guarantees our future resurrection as “the rest” of the harvest. Pentecost helps us remember Jesus’ resurrection so that we can realize the power of that resurrection in our lives today – and trust Him as we look forward to the day when we shall be changed and receive all the promises that God has prepared for us.
It was on the day of Pentecost, that great harvest festival, that God fulfilled the mysterious parting promise Jesus had made to His disciples. The Holy Spirit came, anointing Jesus’ followers with His purpose and power. That historic event reminds us that we, too, have the promise of a Spirit-empowered life. And it also reminds us to look forward to a time when God will gather in the final harvest of people for His kingdom.
The purpose of God’s empowering Spirit is for us to serve Him as we look forward to Christ’s return. The Lord gave us priorities as we consider how to invest our lives until He returns – and one of the highest of those priorities is to share His gospel with others. And as amazing as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is, it’s actually the first fruits or “down payment” of an even more intimate relationship that we will one day share with Jesus when we see Him face-to-face.
The Acts 2 scene, depicting the amazing proclamation of God’s Word in many languages, is even more amazing when we remember that Pentecost was one of three pilgrimage feasts. All Jewish people, including those living in other lands, were commanded to come and celebrate in Jerusalem. God chose this holiday to break down barriers as He made the gospel known to people who spoke a wide array of languages. That dramatic demonstration proved that the curse at Babel had been reversed!
When we remember this miraculous event, it reminds us that God will still use us to speak to Jewish people in ways that they can understand today. And it gives us hope as we look forward to an even greater day promised in Revelation 7:9-10: “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues, standing before the Lamb... saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!’”
Pentecost helps us remember much about what God has done and recognize what He is still doing today... while pointing to even greater things that He still will do. Yet those greater things might raise questions. What will you and I be like after the resurrection? How much of who we are now will remain? How old will we be in heaven?
Just like the Jewish festivals, our identities involve our past, our present, and our future. Each and every believer in Jesus had a journey of one kind or another until God met us with the gift of redemption. That is our past. Now, in a redeemed relationship with God, we are free to live as His people in the present, with all the worship and service, hardships and joys that entails. And we have the hope of the resurrection, when we will experience the fullness of God’s presence, and forever fellowship with all the saints in the community of God.
We can’t know what His promises will look like once they’ve unfolded; we just know that our future with God is better than anything we can imagine or comprehend.
One day, our past, present, and future identity will come together in an integrated, healthy way. Pentecost, with its first fruits promise, helps us begin to live out that integration now. We know from where we came. In the poetic words of the Pentecost liturgy from Deuteronomy 26:5, “My father was a wandering Aramean.” And we can rejoice that “He brought us to this place and has given us this land, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey;’ – and now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land which you, O Lord, have given me” (Deuteronomy 26:9–10). And they are just that: first fruits, harbingers of what is yet to come.
As John says, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Can there be any better hope?
Portions of this article were adapted from Christ in the Feast of Pentecost by David Brickner and Richard A. Robinson, published by Moody Press.