Pentecost – The Coming of the Spirit
According to Scripture, Jerusalem was the global hub of the initial outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit that took place on the Day of Pentecost, or SHAVU’OT, roughly 2,000 ago, 50 days following the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Whether you visit the Upper Room on Mount Zion or the Southern Steps of Temple Mount with one of our Sar-El groups, these locations in Jerusalem draw every visitor closer to those miraculous world-changing events that took place in this City so long ago.
Shavuot, or Pentecost, is the fourth great celebration of the seven annual feasts that God gave the Hebrew nation, and it is held in great prominence by Jewish and Christian traditions alike. While agriculturally Pentecost marks the beginning of the summer harvest, spiritually it commemorates the receiving of the Torah of God at Mount Sinai after the Exodus from Egypt, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem 1,500 years later on Mount Zion. Consequently, Pentecost is a kind of a “birthday” for both of God’s covenant people; the natural Israel, and the “grafted in” Israel. As it is written in Romans 11:17, “… And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them and … became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree…”
Israel’s first national covenant with God was ratified at Mount Sinai with the ear-splitting sound of blowing trumpets; the frightening sight of smoke and fire upon the mountaintop; and a powerful earthquake that shook the entire mountain. Moses descended down from meeting God on the mountaintop with the Ten Commandments carved on the stone tablets, and then proceeded to labor long and hard to educate and train the young nation in the 613 rules and regulations that would govern God’s people and set them apart from all other nations.
Turbulent centuries followed as the young Hebrew nation entered the Promised Land and was led by judges, kings, and prophets through repeated cycles of failure and repentance, frequent wars, invasions, and even exile. Nearly 1,500 years after that historic “birthday” at Mount Sinai at the giving of the Law, another “birth” took place with attending fire and wind. This one happened at Mount Zion when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth at the Upper Room in Jerusalem just as He had promised. These early disciples, frightened and confused by the recent dramatic events culminating in the visible ascension of their resurrected Lord, were now waiting in Jerusalem for the promise of their Rabbi who commanded them, saying, “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49).
Remarkably, the same display of fire, wind, and power took place during the Feast of Pentecost once again, 1,500 years after the first Pentecost at Sinai. The biblical record tells us that “When the day of Shavuot (Pentecost) had fully come, they were all together in one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues as of fire and rested upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4)
Israel Born Anew
As it was during the first Pentecost experience by Mount Sinai at the “birthing” of the Hebrew nation, a second supernatural experience now accompanied the “birth” of a new Hebraic movement that was to change the world forever. This time, it was not the giving of the LAW, but the giving of the SPIRIT which launched the movement that would spread the good news of God’s salvation to all mankind. A new family of faith, a “grafted-in Israel” was born out of the original people group and other nationalities, a new community that soon spread all across the world and touched every nation under heaven with the saving message of the God of Israel.
The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit was active on earth from the beginning of the work of creation in Genesis all through the times of the Patriarchs, judges, kings, and prophets. However, in all those accounts and throughout all those centuries, the Holy Spirit rested upon various individuals at different times for specific purposes. These were temporary and task-specific visitations that produced visions, prophecies, and miracles as God’s Spirit anointed His servants. Yet, these visitations did not last long and often the people soon lapsed back into spiritual compromise.
What took place at Pentecost in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago on the other hand, was very different. At this second great Pentecost, the Spirit of God descended with tongues of fire and the sound of rushing wind upon a sizeable group of disciples, revived their spirits, and from them moved on to many others who believed their testimony, transforming multitudes from fear to boldness and from doubt to unshakable faith that has spread across the earth as a flood of life, love, and the revelation of our Heavenly Father.
The Promised Outpouring
According to the biblical record, the sound of the wind in the upper room was so intense and the disciples’ actions so noticeable, that a huge crowd gathered to see what was happening. Remember, all this took place during the Feast of Pentecost, one of Israel’s three Pilgrim Feasts when hundreds of thousands of worshippers gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world. This was a massive public event, and Simon Peter, seeing the large audience genuinely curious, captured the opportunity. Armed with the new power and excitement of the Spirit, Peter delivered a short and powerful message which is recorded for us in Acts chapter two. This is the very first apostolic message we have on record; a message which drew thousands of Jewish worshippers into instant repentance and faith in the Messiah.
Using succinct and pointed sentences, Peter explained to the gathering crowd who Jesus of Nazareth was and how God’s pre-ordained and merciful work of salvation was accomplished through Him. He also placed the Pentecostal experience in a biblical context that was familiar to his listeners as he described that what they saw and heard was “… what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams...” (Acts 2:17). Many times and in many portions of Scripture God promised that He would send His Holy Spirit, His very presence, upon His servants. Now, at this great Pentecost in Jerusalem, about 2,000 years ago, the floodgates finally opened wide and heaven was pouring down on earth!
Why did the Spirit come now? Why couldn’t God send His Spirit earlier? What held Him back from pouring out His life-giving Spirit lavishly upon His suffering children in previous generations?
Isaiah offered some insight when he wrote, saying, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2). Apparently, it is SIN that separates us from God; that ancient and inherent flaw that tracks the human race all the way from the Garden of Eden; infecting each and every one of us with its mortal consequences. And if that truly is the issue that keeps us disconnected from our Heavenly Father, then who could deliver the entire human race from such a predicament?
Jesus addressed this same issue from His “Savior’s” perspective when He spoke to a large crowd at the Temple courts, saying, “… If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37-39). Notice that the keywords are: “For the Holy Spirit was not yet given, BECAUSE Jesus was not yet glorified.” The biblical text tells us clearly here that the promised outpouring of God’s Spirit (which most of Israel’s prophets predicted) was directly related to Jesus of Nazareth and to His finished work of redemption.
Historically and biblically, everything changed when Jesus accomplished the eternal work that only He could complete on His cross. Now that His righteous blood offering was accepted before our Heavenly Father as the final atonement for the entire human family; now that He was glorified and seated by God’s right hand; and now that the offenses that separated us from God were removed through the forgiveness of sins; only NOW could the Holy Spirit come. He came at Pentecost, and He keeps coming from generation to generation, offering a new birth to all who believe the message; equipping God’s children with power and abilities (fruits and gifts of the Spirit) to carry out our life’s purpose for the glory of God.
A Promise for All who believe
As the Apostles’ message spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond, it did so by the power and impact of God’s Holy Spirit working with and through the disciples. The new community of faith which centered upon the Messiah of Israel became unstoppable as it grew beyond Jerusalem and spread to Judea, Samaria, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and across Europe to the ends of the earth. Isaiah’s ancient prophecy began to be realized, saying, “… For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring…” (Isaiah 44:3).
David echoed the same longing for God’s Spirit when he pleaded, saying, “Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.” (Psalm 51:11-12). In Ezekiel 36:27 God promised, saying, “I will put My Spirit within you…,” and in Zachariah 12:10 God assured the future generations that a time will come when “… I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced … they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son …” And while most Bible students associate this particular prophecy with Israel’s final salvation at the Messiah’s return, it certainly had its beginnings at that First Century great Pentecost in Jerusalem.
When God pours out His Holy Spirit upon His people, we are told to expect an ongoing and positive transformation as heaven’s ethics and priorities begin to permeate and motivate the human heart. Pentecost was in that sense the complement of Calvary as it fulfilled what Calvary made possible; the reconciliation between God and mankind. Can Pentecost be repeated? Historically no; but experientially, yes; as God’s people are invited to come to the springs of the water of life and drink daily.
The Word and the Spirit
During this time of year, here in Israel we celebrate both the first and the second great “Pentecosts.” The first one at Mount Sinai brought to us the Torah, God’s holy and righteous instructions. The second Pentecost, the one at Mount Zion, brought to us the Holy Spirit in a personal and intimate experience. Both Pentecosts introduced immeasurable and timeless blessings and virtues into human history as the Law and the Spirit guided humanity through many dark centuries and kept us on the path of life. The Torah of God kept Israel on track, not without struggles, for roughly 3,500 years. And the Spirit of God, His very presence which was poured out at Pentecost, guided and empowered the Messianic and Christian community for the last 2,000 years.
Let us remember that Jesus Himself taught us, saying, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill…” (Matt 5:17). And Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, instructed the young Galatian Christians and explained to them that “… the Law was our tutor to bring us to Messiah, that we might (now) be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24).
Today, following these thousands of eventful years, the people of the WORD (the natural Israel) and the people of the SPIRIT (the new-born Christian community) are serving God side by side, preparing for the arrival of Messiah’s kingdom. Pointing to the great impact of God’s WORD and SPIRIT upon humanity, Isaiah prophesied long ago, saying, “As for Me, says the LORD, this is My covenant with them: My SPIRIT who is upon you, and My WORDS which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants' descendants, says the LORD, from this time and forevermore.” (Isaiah 59:21).
The SPIRIT and the WORD continue to guide and guard God’s people today, and your Sar-El team is looking forward to host you and your group here in Israel for your own “Pentecost experience;” Bible study tours; Christian conferences and events: fun family trips; or other adventures. Please contact your travel agent today as our operators are standing by to answer any questions and help you plan your life-transforming visit to Israel, the land where it all began.