What is Pentecost?

Most people only know Pentecost as a Christian holiday, one that commemorates the day when the Holy Spirit fell on the apostles and disciples of Christ as they gathered in the Upper Room after the Ascension (cf. Acts 2:1-4). While the apostles and disciples remained in Jerusalem out of obedience to Christ (cf. Acts 1:4-5), Scripture tells us that Jews from many different nations were also present in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 2:5, 9-11). They were present for a different reason: The Jewish feast of Pentecost.

Pentecost is originally a Jewish holiday. Along with Passover and Tabernacles, it is one of the three Great Feasts of the Jewish calendar. The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word which means “fiftieth.” The feast takes this name because it occurs fifty days after Passover.

To the Jewish people, Pentecost has historical and agricultural significance. Historically, Pentecost commemorates the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Since God accommodated His Law to an agricultural people, it enjoins upon the Jews various grain offerings. So, agriculturally, Pentecost also commemorates the time when the first fruits of the wheat harvest were harvested and brought to the Temple in the form of two cakes of leavened bread (cf. Lev 23:17).

As Christians, we may wonder what significance there is to the fact that Jesus decided to pour out His Holy Spirit upon the Church on this particular Jewish feast. I think there are many instances in which the Christian celebration of Pentecost proves to be a sort of fulfillment of the Jewish feast.

For one, recall that the Jewish feast celebrates the beginning of the wheat harvest by offering the first of the harvested wheat to the Lord. In the Christian feast, we celebrate the beginning of the Christian Church, when Jesus harvested 3000 souls who were “cut to the heart” by Peter’s teaching and were baptized (cf. Acts 2:37-41).

Secondly, as I’ve said, the Jewish feast also celebrates the giving of the Law to Moses. Of course, when he came down from Mt. Sinai, he found them worshipping the golden calf and 3.000 people were killed because of their idolatry. This is reversed in the Christian feast, which celebrates the day when 3.000 people were brought to new life by the baptism that Peter preached.

Finally, the Spirit that the Church received on that day guides us into all truth and knowledge of God’s Will in a way that far surpasses what was given in the Torah.

We see from this that God picked the perfect day to pour out His Spirit upon the apostles and disciples of Christ and enliven the Church that He founded on Peter. In this, as in so many ways, the Jewish faith finds its fulfillment.

Peace of Christ to you,
Nicholas Hardesty
WIMM Board Member
Director of Religious Education, Blessed Mother Catholic Church
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