Summary: Pentecost has been the source of much too much confusion and little unity. What does it mean?
When the Day of Pentecost Was Fully Come
We now begin the first of several messages about the day we called Pentecost or Whitsunday on our church calendar. Careful exposition of the text is very important here, because to go wrong here is to go wrong for the rest of the Book of Acts. As the purpose of this extended study in Acts is to use the apostolic church as a blueprint of what the 21st century church should look like, we want to be sure to get this right. In the broad spectrum of Christianity today, there are those who claim that speaking tongues and the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit are for today, while others say that they ended with the death of the apostles. Rather than trying to start with an opinion on the manner, I am going to do my very best not to read my understanding into the text, but rather let Scripture speak for itself. I do know that this is a difficult if not impossible task and God will have to be the judge of how well I do this.
I do think at this point, I need to include a little of my theological background, so at least you the reader might have some means of evaluating where I am coming from. I have my bachelors from Lee University in Cleveland, which is a Church of God school. I received my M Div from the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, also in Cleveland in 1989 and am about to graduate from Knox Theological Seminary in Ft. Lauderdale with a Doctor of Ministry (May 2015). I do not like to include details about myself as the story is about God, but honesty requires that you might know what prejudices I might bring to the text. I can only pray that what is exposited here is true to God’s understanding of things.
Acts 2 begins with the words: “When the day of Pentecost was fully come.” The construction of the Greek with an imperfect with a infinitive supports that this Pentecost was the end of a process rather than simply noting that Pentecost had come which would have been done with a simple past tense. In the Old Testament, Pentecost was a yearly holiday in which the Jews celebrated the wheat harvest. The name Pentecost comes from the Greek word for fiftieth, as it was held on the 50th day after the feast of unleavened bread. The Jews has also come to celebrate this day as the giving at the law at Sinai, assuming that it occurred 50 days after Passover. It is interesting to note that Jesus rose on the day in which the barley sheath was waved as a firstfruit of the barley harvest and Pentecost comes on the day in which the better quality wheat was harvested.
In saying that the day had fully come, this can be seen as what is known as the Hebrew use of what is called the “divine passive.” The Hebrews tended to shy away from using the name of God or even the general term “God” out of reverence, so they would state the activity of God passively of else use the term “under heaven” to designate the work of God. What this means here then is that God sovereignly chose this particular day to be what all of the previous pentecosts. In other words, the event described here in Acts 2 was divinely ordained in the past to happen at this particular time and place. All of the Jewish celebrations of the holiday to this point pointed to this day, something which is known as typology. All of the Jewish celebration of the second harvest pointed to this day in which God appointed to be the second harvest. As we shall see, the harvest would include both Jew and Gentile. It would be the celebration of a worldwide harvest of souls and not just those in Palestine.
So this day of Pentecost should be seen as a day of new beginnings, a birthday of sorts. This is the day Jesus had commanded the disciples to wait for, the day in which they would be empowered by the Holy Spirit. In this, we see a parallel to Jesus’ own ministry. Jesus did not enter into ministry right away. Other than the extraordinary accounts of His birth, the persecution and flight under Herod, and the remarkable incident of Jesus at twelve remaining behind in Jerusalem to teach the Rabbi’s, Jesus’ life until the age of thirty seemed to be pretty ordinary. He grew up in knowledge just like any child and made a favorable impression among His townfolk and the Father. He was waiting for the timing of the Father’s plan to inaugurate His ministry. This would occur at His baptism. The time before this was a time of preparation for ministry in which He was under the Father’s direction. The disciples spent three years in preparation for the inauguration of their ministry learning and growing up at the feet of Jesus.