Pentecost in Jerusalem | What Happened on That Special Day?
According to Messianic / Christian understanding, Jerusalem is the global hub of the initial outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit that took place on the Day of Pentecost, or SHAVU’OT, exactly 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, these locations in Jerusalem can bring every visitor closer to those miraculous world-changing events that took place here so long ago.
The fourth great celebration of the seven annual feasts that God gave the Hebrew nation, Pentecost, 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, the Laws of God, at Mount Sinai, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem 1,500 years later on Mount Zion. Consequently, Pentecost is the “birthday” season of both of God’s covenant nations, the natural Israel and spiritual Israel.
Israel’s first national covenant with God was ratified at Mount Sinai with the ear-splitting sound of blowing trumpets, the terrible sight of smoke and fire upon the mountaintop, and a great earthquake that rocked the entire mountain. Moses descended down the mountain with the Ten Commandments carved in stone tablets, and then labored long and hard to educate and train the young nation in the 613 rules and regulations of God that would govern His people.
Turbulent centuries followed as the young Hebrew nation entered the Promised Land and was led by judges, kings, and prophets through repeated cycles of idolatry and repentance, frequent wars, invasions, and exile. About 1,500 years after that historic “birthday” at Mount Sinai with the giving of the Law, another “birth” took place with attending fire and wind. This one took place at Mount Zion when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples of Jesus at the Upper Room in Jerusalem. They were waiting on the promise of their Rabbi who commanded them before His ascension, 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). And so they waited.
Remarkably, this repeated display of fire, wind, and power took place during the Feast of Pentecost again. 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)
A New Birth
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 will change the world forever. This time, it was not the giving of the LAW, but the giving of the SPIRIT which launched the spreading of the good news of God’s salvation to all mankind. A new nation, a “spiritual Israel,” was born out of the original people group (not without difficult birth pangs), and this new community of faith in the Messiah, armed with both Hebraic roots and spiritual fruits, soon spread all across the world and touched every nation under heaven with the saving message of the God of Israel.
What was special about this work of God’s Spirit? 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, the Holy Spirit rested upon individual people at different times for specific purposes that were needed for their time. These were temporary and task-specific visitations that produced visions, prophecies, and miracles as God’s Spirit-anointed His servants, but they did not last long.
What happened at Pentecost in Jerusalem, on the other hand, was very different. At this second great Pentecost, the Spirit of God descended with tongues of fire and a loud sound of rushing wind upon a sizeable group of disciples, and from them to many others, transforming them from fear to boldness and from doubt to unshakable faith.
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 major pilgrim feasts when hundreds of thousands of worshippers gathered in Jerusalem coming from all over the world. This was a massive public event, and Peter, seeing the large audience genuinely curious, captured the opportunity, armed with the new power and excitement of the Spirit, and delivered a short, powerful apostolic message.
Peter not only explained who Jesus of Nazareth was and how God’s merciful salvation was accomplished through Him, but he also placed the Pentecostal experience in a biblical context. He described to the listening multitudes that what they saw and heard “… is 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 scriptures God promised that He would send His Holy Spirit, His pure presence, to His servants. But now, at this Pentecost in Jerusalem, the floodgates finally opened wide and heaven was pouring down.
Why now? Why couldn’t God do it before? What held Him back from pouring out His Spirit lavishly upon His children in previous generations? Isaiah offered some insight, 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) So 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 problem, then who is able to deliver the entire human race from such a predicament?
Jesus addressed this same question when He spoke to a similarly 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.” Here the Bible tells us 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. Now that His offering was accepted before God our Father, now that He was glorified and seated by God’s right hand, now that the offenses that separated us from God were removed through the forgiveness of sins, NOW… the Holy Spirit could come. And He came at Pentecost and keeps coming from generation to generation, offering a new birth to all who believe the message, equipping them with power and abilities (spiritual fruits and gifts) to carry out their life’s purpose.
The Universal Promise
As the Apostles’ message spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond, it did so by the power and influence of God’s Holy Spirit. 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 Minor, and across Europe to the ends of the earth. Isaiah’s ancient prophecy began to be realized on earth, 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 presence and 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 assures all 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 prophecy with Israel’s final salvation at the Messiah’s return, it certainly had its beginnings at that First Century Pentecost in Jerusalem.
When God pours out His Holy Spirit into His people, we are told to expect an ongoing and positive transformation as heaven’s ethics, priorities and dynamics begin to permeate and motivate the human heart. In that sense, Pentecost was the complement of Calvary as it fulfilled what Calvary made possible through the outpouring of God’s Spirit. Can Pentecost be repeated? Historically not, but experientially, yes, as God’s people are invited to come to His springs of the water of life and drink daily.
The Word and the Spirit
During this time of year, we celebrate both Pentecosts. The first one at Mount Sinai brought the Torah, the Law of God, and the second one at Mount Zion which brought the Spirit. Both introduced immeasurable and timeless 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 nearly 2,000 years. And the Spirit of God, His very presence which was poured out at Pentecost, guided and empowered every true Christian for the last 2,000 years until now.
Let us remember that Jesus Himself said, “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 4,000 eventful years, the people of the WORD and the people of the SPIRIT are serving God side by side as both Israel and the Church are 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 hosting you and your group in Israel, whether it is for a Pentecost experience or another adventure. Contact us today, our operators are standing by to answer any questions and help you plan and book your upcoming trip to Israel, the land where it all began.