Pentecost

This is part of a series of essays I wrote in 2018 to explain the Biblical Appointed Times (mo'adim) to my family members. If you'd like to read the other papers in this series, you can find them linked here:

  1. Happy New Year! (four months early)
  2. Shabbat shalom!
  3. Passover & Unleavened Bread
  4. Pentecost
  5. The Day of Loud Noise
  6. The Day of Atonement
  7. The Grand Finale
  8. That Jewish Christmas?



Chag Shavuot sameach!

It's been seven weeks (give or take) since my last message. Now is the time for our next mo'ed (do you remember what that means?). Shavuot is a tiny feast, lasting only one day long, but it packs a wallop. If you remember from my last letter, I briefly covered the timeline of Israel's exodus from Egypt. They painted their doorways in blood the night of the Passover. The next day, they were told to leave. They fled for a week until they reached the Red Sea, which God parted so they could escape Pharaoh forever. To commemorate those events, the first and seventh days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread are holy days, and we are forbidden to work on them. All the people in Israel are supposed to travel to Jerusalem each year for this week-long celebration. It is one of three major feasts that ask us to go to Jerusalem.

The second of those three is Shavuot. Like I said, this one is only a day long, but there is so much depth to it. You probably know of it by another name—Pentecost. This is the holiday mentioned in Acts 2, and we will talk more about that later. First, I'd like to explain the reason why God chose this date to make holy.

Shavuot is the day when God gave Israel the Ten Commandments. More on this later, but that is the first reason why we celebrate it. Jesus said, “The most important [commandment] is, ‘Hear, O Israel: Yehovah is our God, Yehovah is one. And you shall love Yehovah your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (For the full account, read Mark 12:28-34.) Both of these instructions come out of the Torah (God's instructions given to us through Moses). If you consider a pyramid, the top of that pyramid are these two commandments. Beneath them is the Ten Commandments. And the rest of the instructions in Exodus through Deuteronomy help us know the specifics of what it means to love God and others. You see, loving God and others is the most important thing we can do in life, but we need the other commandments to explain how to do that. We don't get to just make it up ourselves.

So what about Pentecost? Why were the disciples in Jerusalem on that day, and did their experience with the tongues of fire have anything to do with Shavuot? Well, they were in Jerusalem because Jesus told them to wait there until God sent his Spirit to them (Acts 1:4-5). But in chapter 2, we see that they were gathered in one place, sitting in a house. Probably in all of our churches, we've been told that they were sitting in an upper room, huddled together for fear of the Jews. While it is true that they slept in the upper room of someone's home in the city, they were not in that house on this day.

In the Old Testament, the Temple is often called the House of God. Every man in Israel was required to be at the Temple on Shavuot, so that is the house where Jesus' disciples were gathered that particular morning.

Around 9:00 a.m., a rushing wind came down from heaven and filled the Temple. It divided into tongues of fire that rested on each one of the disciples (there were probably over 120 of them there; Acts 1:15). They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and many of them began speaking in foreign languages. These events have a lot of parallels with the first Shavuot, when God gave Israel the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 19, we read,

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because Yehovah had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. Yehovah came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And Yehovah called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

Do you notice any similarities? Maybe not, but I will point a few out. This passage mentions a loud trumpet blast. Well the word for trumpet (teruah) can also mean “shouting”. There might have been a trumpet involved, but the Jewish sages have traditionally believed that this was actually a great chorus of voices speaking every language on Earth. They think this because the Bible says over and over that the Torah (instructions of God) are for all the nations, not just Israel.1 While we can't be sure that the trumpet was actually all these voices, it does fit as a parallel to the events in Acts.

Next, all of Israel was gathered together. This also happened in Acts, since they were all gathered at the Temple. It also says that fire descended upon the mountain because God was there. Perhaps that's why there were tongues of fire over the heads of all the disciples.

But the most important connection between the Pentecost in Acts 2 and the Shavuot of Exodus 19 is tied to the Last Supper. As I said in my last email, Jesus used a lot of language related to marriage when speaking with his disciples. There is a reason for this. In Ezekiel 16, God reveals his heart to us in one of the most intimate, raw chapters in the Bible. He's speaking to Israel, whom he chose as a bride. I won't paste it here for the sake of length, but I highly recommend you take a few minutes and read it. Don't read this chapter as God speaking to a nation; rather, read it as a husband speaking to his wife who continually runs off with other men. That is the emotion behind God's words—deep, raw, earth-shattering pain and heartache.

In Jeremiah 3:1-8, we reach the conclusion of the story. God finally divorced Israel and sent her away. (By this time, Judah and Israel had divided into two nations, and God refers to them as sisters. He never divorced Judah.) But this creates a problem. God had promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan forever. If God kicked out ten of the twelve tribes, then he broke his promise to Abraham—a promise which was unconditional. But thankfully, this is not the end of the story by a long shot. In chapter 31, God outlines his plan to restore Israel and keep his promise to Abraham.

Behold, the days are coming, declares Yehovah, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares Yehovah. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares Yehovah: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, "Know Yehovah," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares Yehovah. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

We see this prophecy of a new covenant that God will make with us. Significantly, this time around, he will write his Torah—his instructions—on our hearts. And THAT is what happened in Acts 2 on Pentecost. The disciples had already accepted Jesus' proposal at the Last Supper; now God poured out his holy spirit on them to write his instructions on their hearts. When he gave the Torah to Moses, he wrote it on tablets of stone. This time, it is written on our hearts.

Does that mean we no longer need to study God's word? No. But it does mean that if we desire to have a relationship with God, he will help us understand and remember his instructions as we read them, and his Spirit will help us obey them. We can never be perfect in this life because our bodies are full of sin, but his spirit will lead us in obedience if we truly seek him.

There's one more important connection between Shavuot in Moses' day and in Peter's. Do you remember how, in my last email, I explained the purpose of getting rid of leaven for a week following Passover? If you recall, leaven is a soupy mixture of water and flour that is beginning to ferment. You mix a little bit into bread dough, and the yeast in the leaven will cause the dough to rise. During the week of Unleavened Bread, we are forbidden to eat anything with leaven, in order to remember Israel's flight from Egypt to the Red Sea. Also, you may recall that on the first Sunday after Passover, the high priest goes into the field and cuts down the firstfruits of barley. I didn't go into a lot of detail, but he returns to the temple and bakes this into two flatbread cakes, which he offers to God. After this, the rest of Israel can begin their barley harvest.

As they begin harvesting their grain, they prepare a new batch of leaven that will last them an entire year. If the old leaven represents sin, pride, and false teachings, the new leaven represents being filled with God's word. Over time, our sin can corrupt his word in us—that's why this mo'ed is so important. It's a time for us to throw out all of the sins and bad habits that have grown in the past year and return to God's word.

Anyway, after 50 days (seven weeks), we come to Shavuot. On this Sunday morning, the high priest takes two loaves of leavened bread and offers them to God. This is the only time of the year where God accepts leavened loaves, because they represent a life that is filled with his word rather than sin. And this is where this feast ties into the Last Supper.

At the Last Supper, Jesus broke a loaf of leavened bread. He said, “This is my body.” Well if you read any of Paul's letters, he often calls Christians the “body of the Messiah”. Those two loaves offered on Shavuot—the day when the Holy Spirit anointed the disciples in the Temple—represent the new body of the Messiah, free from the sin that cursed us! When I realized this the first time, it utterly blew my mind. Paul talks about us being a “new creation”; well this Tale of Two Breads is the perfect illustration of that!

We aren't yet in the New Covenant. The Last Supper was the proposal, and we ought to remember it every time we eat bread and drink wine together (it does not have to be in church during Communion). In a few weeks, we'll pick this study up again to see how the whole thing wraps up. There are four more mo'adim to cover. I hope you'll join me.

May the grace of God our Father be with you in Jesus the Messiah.

Love,
Seth שת



  • This is actually one reason why I doubt I could ever convert to Judaism. The Jewish identity is sacred, as they are the only people who have kept the covenant faithfully since it was given 3,500 years ago, so this is in no way meant to denigrate them. But I believe one reason the world is in such a sorry state today is because the Jewish sages have put up a wall between Jews and gentiles. We saw this all the way back in the New Testament (particularly in Acts, Galatians, and Romans), but it goes much deeper than that. It isn't the purpose of this paper to give a thorough explanation of the Jewish perspective of gentiles keeping Torah, but suffice to say that they agree with mainstream Christianity's antinomian (lawless) perspective. For more information, I recommend looking into the Seven Noachide Laws. I plan on writing a future post about this subject someday, but it's on the back burner of topics I'd like to cover.


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