They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

More Thoughts on Pentecost

Grain field

As we have written in our previous posts, the Jewish Feast of Shavuot or Pentecost was celebrated for two major reasons. The first was to acknowledge the fact that at this time of year, during the Exodus at Mt. Sinai, God gave his people the ten commandments and other instructions on how to live. The Torah was God’s contract with his people. Exodus 19:5 says, “If you will obey me fully, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession”. They celebrated to be reminded that they must closely observe all that God had commanded them to do. (Read, The Many Parallels of Sinai and Pentecost for more details).

The second reason that God said to set aside the Feast of Shavuot was an agricultural one. The timing of Shavuot was late May and early June which coincided with the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest. The Jewish nation was to thank him for his provision in the past and ask him to continue providing with this year’s crop. Deuteronomy 8: 10-18 tells the Israelites to not forget who brought them to this good land and has been providing for them all these years. During the celebration, you brought a portion of the first part of your wheat to give to God and ask Him to bless you with the rest as it ripens.

All during the time of the Feast, scriptures were read each day to remind the Israelites of the Exodus events and to be thankful and generous to the poor and alien. Exodus 19, Ezekiel 1, Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17, and the Book of Ruth were always read in full.

There was also another important concept that the Israelites were reminded to practice during the upcoming harvest. They were told In Leviticus 19:9-10 to not cut the corners of their field, but to leave some of the grain or grapes for the poor, alien, and widows. This was God’s way of taking care of the people that didn’t have as much or had been marginalized in some way. The post, “Don’t Cut the Corners of Your Field”, gives a lot more detail on this concept of how you showed how generous you were by the size of the corners of your field. This is such a wonderful practice and analogy of how generous we are supposed to be as we come into contact with people that don’t have as much as we do.

One New Testament story that was interesting to affirm this concept of leaving some of your harvest for others, was the story in the New Testament of Jesus gleaning the fields with his disciples. The story is found in Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28, and Luke 6:1-5. Did Jesus take advantage of this process during his earthly ministry? If you look at the King James Version of the Luke passage, it says, “And it came to pass on the second Sabbath after the first, Jesus was gleaning in the fields.” The KJV records and preserves the Jewish practice of allowing two Sabbaths for the poor and needy to go through the grain fields and get what they could to feed themselves. After the two week period, the farmer would be allowed to bring his animals in to finish cleaning everything up. Jesus and his disciples would have been taking advantage of that window of opportunity to get themselves something to eat.

To conclude, Shavuot (Pentecost) brought attention to some very important precepts that the Israelites were supposed to follow. They were to be thankful that God had chosen them as his special nation and was to be constantly mindful of his blessings. They were to be obedient to God’s laws and they were to be generous in their dealings with their own people and outsiders. Helping those less fortunate was always a big part of God’s message to the Israelites.

Pentecost: God Changed His Address

Note: In previous posts, we have discussed different aspects of the Bible event we call Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit came to the believers. The Many Parallels of Sinai and Pentecost, Where Heaven and Earth Meet Part 1 and Part 2, and Pentecost, Where were the Disciples, cover a lot of the background pieces that you will need to know to fully understand this final piece of the birth of Christianity, which took place during the time of the Feast of Pentecost in Acts 2.

From the beginning, God has always wanted to dwell with his creation. In Genesis 3:8 it says that God walked in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. Heaven and earth were one as God dwelt with his creation. Sadly, sin separated God from his creation and he was forced to banish Adam and Eve from the garden. (Genesis 3:23-24).

However, God did not give up on his desire to dwell with his creation. In Exodus, God chose a group of people to be his own(Exodus 19:5-6) and had their leader, Moses build a tent (tabernacle) that he could live alongside them (Exodus 25:8). With the tabernacle, God could be found again with his creation, living in a small space in the Holy of Holies, on top of the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:22).

The tabernacle was God’s dwelling place until the Israelites permanently conquered and settled the Promised Land. King David purchased the land to build God a permanent house and brought the tabernacle to Jerusalem. David’s son, Solomon, built the first Temple to give God a permanent place to live with his chosen people in the land that he had given them. After standing for several hundred years, this house was destroyed by the Babylonians, and the Israelites were led into captivity. This temple was later rebuilt in partial measure by the Israelites that returned from that captivity. Four hundred years later, Herod the Great then built a new, much larger and more magnificent temple over the site where Solomon’s temple had stood. This temple was still under construction during the time of Jesus.

The whole world knew that YHVH lived in his temple in Jerusalem. If you wanted to meet with God, you had to come to Jerusalem to his house. Jews from all over the world came at least three times a year to be in his presence. However, access to God was severely limited; only one man could be in His space and then, only once a year.

Finally, God sent his Son, Jesus to earth to complete his plan to fully dwell again with his people. (Jeremiah 31:31-34). While Jesus was on earth, God’s presence was among men; he was God in the flesh. Jesus called the Temple, “My Father’s House” (Luke 2:49 and John 2:16). Now, God’s presence was found not only at the Temple, but in his son, Jesus, and God’s presence was with Jesus everywhere he went. When Jesus completed his work on earth, he ascended back to heaven to be with his Father, at his right hand.

All this background is needed for what happened to the disciples during the Feast of Pentecost. They had waited ten days after the Ascension for the promise that Jesus had made to them of receiving the power of God’s Spirit. On the first day of the Feast of Pentecost, at 9:00 a.m., while they were at the Temple (God’s House), God spirit appeared as tongues of fire and came out of the old house into a new house, the hearts of the believers! He now dwells in a new temple (1 Corinthians 3:16). The corporate body of believers is now God’s house, the building where he dwells (Ephesians 2:19-22 and 1 Peter 2:5). Now, you don’t have to go to the Temple anymore to find God. The house now comes to the people; you bring the presence of God with you, wherever you go. If you want to know what God is like, just look at his house (us) where his spirit lives. At Pentecost, God changed his address and we are his new house. His purpose from the beginning was to intimately dwell with his people and the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost accomplished that purpose, once and for all. We are the beneficiaries of his spirit, not just for our personal edification, but to show to a broken world what God is like and to bring those broken people back to a relationship with him. What an amazing plan and what an amazing God we serve!

Pentecost: Where Were the Disciples?

Southern Stairs Today with Excavated Mikvehs

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.
– Acts 2:1 

The events that took place in Acts Chapter 2, where God poured out His spirit and empowered His small band of followers is the pivotal event in New Testament Christianity. Where did this amazing event take place? Most Christians assume that it took place in the upper room where the disciples had been staying. However, a closer look at the Text and some research into the historical setting of the Feast of Pentecost provides strong proof that the events of Pentecost actually took place in an entirely different location. Let’s see what the evidence shows.

  1. Luke 24:53 says that the disciples stayed continually at the Temple praising God. The Feast of Pentecost, or Shavuot in Hebrew, was just starting in Jerusalem as the book of Acts begins. It was one of the three great pilgrim feasts that every Jewish male was required to attend (see Deuteronomy 16:16). Where would these Jewish believers, who were continually in the Temple Courts anyway, have been on the first day of the feast of Pentecost? They would have been at the Temple!
  2. Acts 2:6-12 states that huge crowds of people from every nation gathered to hear Peter speak. Where would there have been room for great crowds of people, who were in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, during the time of day that the Temple services would have been held? It would have had to have been somewhere in the Temple area, the only place where there would have been that much space!
  3. In Acts 2:15, Peter told the crowd gathered that it was 9:00 in the morning. This would have been the exact time for the morning Pentecost service in the Temple. Certainly the disciples and the crowd would have wanted to be present for the Pentecost services.
  4. In Acts 2:2, it says that the sound of a violent wind filled the whole house where they were sitting. The Temple is frequently called, “The House” in the Old Testament (see e.g. 2 Samuel 7:5). Even in Acts 7:47, the Temple is called, “The House”. The House where they were sitting was the Temple!
  5. Peter spoke of the Tomb of David as being there (Acts 2:29). David was buried in the “City of David” (I Kings 2:10), which is the part of Jerusalem that is the closest to the Temple Mount.
  6. In Acts 2:41, it says that three thousand people were baptized in response to the apostles preaching. One of the only places in Jerusalem with that much water to baptize three thousand people would have been at the southern entrance to the Temple, where there were located numerous “mikvoth”. These were ritual baths used by the worshipers to ceremonially cleanse themselves before entering the grounds of the Temple. These pools, which already symbolized the removal of the uncleanness of sin, and their proximity to where the crowds would have been gathered, gives further evidence to Pentecost happening in or around the southern stair entrance to the Temple grounds.

All this evidence overwhelmingly points to the events of Acts 2 taking place on or near the southern stair entrance to the Temple. Hundreds of thousands of God fearing Jews from all over the known world (Acst2:5) were gathered to celebrate the Jewish Feast of Shavuot (Leviticus 23:15-22). At this ancient Jewish feast, God came in the form of tongues of fire and settled on the new believers. God moved out of his old “House”, the Temple, and moved into a new “House”, the hearts of the believers. All of this took place in the framework of Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled at this miraculous event and it all happened at the place God had his people build a place for Him to dwell!

Tower of Babel Reversed!

When the Holy Spirit came in the Pentecost story of Acts Chapter 2, the believers that the tongues of fire rested on began to speak in many other languages. “God fearing Jews from every nation under heaven”, heard the disciples speaking and declaring the wonders of God in their own native tongue. This was such a powerful and miraculous event that three thousand people believed in Jesus the Messiah and were baptized (read Acts 2:5-41).

What I had never noticed before was that the events of this story are an exact reversal of the story in Genesis 11of the Tower of Babel! Up until the time of Genesis 11, the whole world had one language and a common speech. However, the people unified under a common, but sinful and egotistical purpose to try to build a staircase to God and to thus dominate all of creation. God punished the people by confusing their common language so that they couldn’t understand each other. Our English word babble comes directly from the Hebrew word in this story. Then he scattered the people from Babel all over the earth and from this scattering came all the different nations. At Pentecost, God reversed what He had done 2,500 years earlier. He brought together the same scattered nations that had different tongues and dialects and brought them back together so they could once again understand each other. On this occasion, they came together and were unified for the correct reason, to praise and exalt the God of the Universe.

If you look further into the writings of the early Jewish rabbis there is even more to get excited about.  Shabbat 88b in the Talmud says “God’s voice at Sinai was heard in all languages”. When God was giving His written Torah to Moses and the people at Mt. Sinai, something interesting happened. In Exodus 19:16, what the people heard was not, ”thunders”, as most translations have, but, “voices”, (the Hebrew word is kolot; see also They Many Parallels of Sinai and Pentecost)! Think for a minute how that ties into the Acts 2 story. Because of this, the Rabbis taught, that at Sinai, God’s great voice went out and was divided into seventy languages, with seventy being an editorial way of saying, all the nations. Now, at Pentecost, the praises of God are heard and understood by those same “seventy nations”, as one common language.  To the Jewish audience, the events of Pentecost would have confirmed and fulfilled the rabbinical teachings they had heard for generations!

I am continually amazed at how the Hebrew Text and the New Testament are so integrally intertwined. As someone once wrote, “The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament Revealed”. Stories like these are real faith builders for the believer as they show how God intricately planned the Beginning and the End and everything in between, down to every jot and tittle.

The Many Parallels of Sinai and Pentecost

The Feast of Shavuot (pentēkostē in Greek, Pentecost in English), one of the three great pilgrim Feasts that God told the Jewish people to celebrate (Deuteronomy 16:16),  occurs fifty days after the Feast of Pesach (Passover). This holiday, described in Leviticus 23:15-22, was primarily an agricultural festival and celebrated the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest. However, very early in Jewish history, it also took on an even greater significance. The Rabbis determined that the timing of the Feast of Shavuot coincided with the great event in Jewish History of God giving His Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The Israelites left Egypt on the fifteenth day of the first month, the morning after the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb. They arrived at the foot of Mt. Sinai on the fist day of the third month (Exodus 19:1), which would have been approx 40 days. Moses then went up on Mt. Sinai and stayed there several days and then brought back down the two tablets written on stone by the finger of God. This total time-line closely approximated the fifty days after Passover that the Feast of Shavuot was supposed to be held on.

Since Passover was an Exodus related feast as was Sukkot in the fall, the Jewish sages concurred that Shavuot must be Exodus related as well and was to celebrate the occasion in which God revealed Himself to His people and made a covenant with them by giving them His written instructions on how to live (Torah). Why is this of significance to Christians today? The great event described in Acts 2 in the New Testament, when the Holy Spirit appeared and rested as tongues of fire on individual believers, occurred on the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost)! The same day that the Jews were celebrating God’s giving of His Torah on tablets of stone, the Holy Spirit came and wrote His Torah on people’s hearts! This confirmed God’s promise in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and was the promise from the Father that Jesus had told His disciples about in Acts 1:4. A look at these two seminal events in Bible history will reveal some remarkable parallels and similarities and will increase your faith in the awesome God of the Bible! God had planned the Acts 2 events even from the time of the Exodus and then He brought them to pass in the framework of the Jewish Feasts that had been set up 1200 years prior. While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, here are some amazing parallels between these two events that happened 1200 years apart, to the day!

  1. Both events occurred on a mountain (Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion) known as the mountain of God – Exodus 24:13 & Isaiah 2:3
  2. Both events happened to a newly redeemed people. The Exodus marked the birth of the Israelite nation while the Pentecost events recorded in Acts 2 marked the birth of Christianity.
  3. Both events involved God’s people receiving a gift-Torah and Spirit.
  4. In both events the gift was given by God settling on a mountain with the fire of His Spirit
  5. Both events took place at the same time on the same month
  6. The Israelites left Egypt on Passover and 40 days later arrived at Sinai. Then Moses went up on a mountain to see God (Mt. Sinai). Ten days later Moses came down with the Torah and the Israelites broke the covenant and 3000 people died as a result.  Jesus died on Passover and 40 days later went up on a mountain to see God (Mt. Of Olives).  Ten days after Jesus ascended, the Holy Spirit came down and 3000 people were saved!
  7. Fifty days after sacrificing Passover Lamb, the Israelites received a covenant from God50 days after sacrificing Jesus, Our Passover Lamb, believers received a new covenant from God.
  8. Both events had similar sounds and symbols-wind, fire, smoke, voices-the Hebrew word translated thunder in Exodus is “kolot” (Strong’s H6963), which means voices or languages. Think about this in light of the Acts 2 events.
  9. The fire at Sinai was one fire visible by all; the fire at Pentecost was individual fires on every person. In the event at Mt. Sinai, the people were kept away from the fire, but in Acts, the fire came to the people.
  10. Both events had theophanies, that is God showed up (Exodus 19:18-20 & Acts 2:4)
  11. In both events God gave His Torah (Law) to His People and in both cases He sealed the covenant that He had made with them. At Sinai He gave the Law written by His finger on tablets of stone. At Pentecost, He gave the Law written on Tablets of the Heart.
  12. In both events a mixed multitude of people were represented (Exodus 12:38 & Acts 2:5)13) The Torah attempted to change people from the outside (without). The Holy Spirit changes from within. The word “Torah” means teaching and in John 14:26 the Holy Spirit is called the teacher.

Think about these parallels! Wouldn’t they have been powerful to the Jewish people that would have been there to celebrate this time long ago when God showed up in fire, wind, smoke and voices?  Suddenly, it looks like God is showing up again in the same way that He came before! They see fire and smoke and hear voices and the place is shaking violently! God is back! What is He telling us?

Looking at the history of Shavuot and what God did there makes the story of Acts so much deeper and increases our faith in the God of the Bible. His plans for us were made since the beginning of time and are exact down to the last detail. What a mighty God we serve!