• Israelis seen at a celebration for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot in kibbutz Sarid, in Emek Yizrael. | Photo: Flash90

The Fulfilment of the Day of Pentecost and the Gift of the Holy Spirit

Kees de Vreugd - 1 June 2022

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit did not occur just somehow or somewhere. The Spirit came “like the blowing of a violent wind from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting”. This house was in Jerusalem. And it happened “when the day of Pentecost was fulfilled”, as it literally reads. This is one of the days for which Jews from all corners of the earth go up to Jerusalem.

It is Jerusalem where, according to Luke, salvation history takes place. Jesus went there to fulfil His departure (Luke 9:31), literally, His ‘exodus’. And there, the disciples received the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses “in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”. Jerusalem is the heart and the centre.

The Day of Pentecost

And there were the disciples, gathered together on the fiftieth day. Seven weeks are counted, starting from Pesach (Passover). On the second day of the feast of unleavened bread, a sheaf of the first harvested grain – in Israel, this is barley (John 6:9) – was brought to the priest as a thanksgiving offering. This sheaf is called omer in Hebrew. From then on, the days must be counted, “seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord” (Lev. 23:15). This is the day of the first fruits, the feast of weeks (Numbers 28:26 and Deuteronomy 16:9-12). The commandment in Deuteronomy adds a remarkable aspect: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees.” In other words, Pentecost is still Passover, too.

In Deuteronomy, the last day of the feast of the unleavened bread is called in Hebrew a Atzeret, meaning either assembly or final day. And it seems as if this final day covers seven weeks. Thus, Shavuot becomes seven weeks of Pesach, and on Pentecost, seven weeks are fulfilled.

Gift of the Torah

It is not entirely clear from the historical sources whether Shavuot was already celebrated as feast of the giving of the Torah in the time of the New Testament. However, a reference to this aspect of Shavuot may be found already in the Book of Jubilees (2nd BC). Interestingly, the Greek wording of Acts 2:1 would also suggest that the disciples were together at the dawning of the new day. In other words, they had spent the night together – for what other reason would that be than praying and contemplating the teachings of Jesus?

It is still a Jewish custom today to study Torah together during the night of Shavuot. When I lived in Jerusalem, I experienced the joy and the excitement that radiated from the faces of the Torah students when they arrived at the Western Wall, at dawn, after this night of study, to say the morning prayers.

Even in Christian tradition, the connection between the gift of the Holy Spirit and the gift of the Torah has been noticed. Nobody less than the church-father Augustine shows in a letter to Januarius that the revelation on Mount Sinai fell on the feast of weeks: “We learn, that after the Jews observed the first Passover with the slaying of the lamb as appointed, fifty days intervened between that day and the day on which upon Mount Sinai there was given to Moses the Law written with the finger of God; and this finger of God is in the Gospels most plainly declared to signify the Holy Spirit: for where one evangelist quotes our Lord’s words thus, “I with the finger of God cast out devils” (Luke 11:20), another quotes them thus, “I cast out devils by the Spirit of God” (Matthew 12:28). In other words, there is a strong connection between the Torah and the Spirit. “We know, says Paul, that the Law is spiritual.”

The House

Apparently, the apostles were gathered in a house (Acts 2:2). Which house would provide room for 120 people (Acts 1:15)? Could it be that they were together in a room inside the temple complex? In Hebrew, the temple is often referred to as the ‘house of the sanctuary’. Furthermore, “Every day, they continued to meet in the temple” (Acts 2:46). And where else would they have been noticed by so many people at the same time? Or where else could they have been able to baptise so many people at once? If anywhere, then it was the temple complex that provided enough ritual baths for this purpose.

Torah and Spirit

On the third day, the Lord descended on Mount Sinai in fire. This was the fiftieth day after Passover. The gift of the Spirit is closely connected to the gift of the Torah. The disciples experienced the gift of the Spirit as the renewal of God’s covenant with Israel. They never disposed themselves of Jewish tradition or Jewish identity. Their preaching of the Gospel bears witness to and confirms God’s covenant with Israel.

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