4 Things You Need to Know About the Feast of Pentecost
Pentecost is familiar to some because of the events of Acts 2. But is there more to this day than those events? What do you need to know about Pentecost?
On May 16, a relatively small group of Christians around the world will gather to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost.
This is a unique festival because some churches that don’t observe any of the other festivals of God found in the Bible do celebrate Pentecost in some form. (Catholics and Protestants will celebrate it May 23, and the Eastern Orthodox will observe it June 20.) There is even a denomination of Christianity that has named itself “Pentecostal” after this festival.
Of course, this is due to the events that occurred on Pentecost in Acts 2. On that momentous day, we read about the founding of the New Testament Church, the gift of tongues, the giving of the Holy Spirit, Peter’s powerful sermon and the baptism of 3,000 people.
Many read about these miraculous events and realize there’s something special about the Day of Pentecost. That’s why many churches celebrate it in one form or another.
But how much do you know about this special day? What should you know about the Feast of Pentecost? Is it a day you should mark on your calendar and observe? Is it more than just the anniversary of significant events in the history of the Christian church?
Here are four things every Christian should know about the Feast of Pentecost.
1. Pentecost is the third of God’s seven annual festivals.
While it is commendable that some churches recognize and celebrate this festival, Pentecost is not a stand-alone observance. This day is actually the third of a set of seven festivals God revealed in the Old Testament.
In Leviticus 23, those festivals are revealed together and in order. God introduced this list by declaring the days to be “the feasts of the LORD” (verse 2). The observance we refer to as Pentecost is found sandwiched in the middle of the “feasts of the LORD” list (in verses 15-21).
Pentecost is preceded by two festivals that occur in the spring in the northern hemisphere (the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread) and is followed by four festivals that occur in the early fall (the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day).
These seven festivals stand as a complete package. We can’t pick just one to celebrate and ignore all the rest. If these festivals are holy and commanded by God, then we must observe all of them.
There’s a reason that the apostles and members of the early Church were observing the Feast of Pentecost in Acts 2. It is because they observed all of “the feasts of the LORD.” The scriptural evidence shows that these special feast days were observed by Jesus and His early followers.
That begs the question: If Jesus and His early followers observed these seven festivals, shouldn’t we today? To begin to answer that question, read our article “Biblical Festivals: Does God Want Us to Celebrate Them?”
2. Pentecost has multiple names in the Bible.
If you read the description of this festival in Leviticus 23:15-21, you’ll quickly notice that the name “Pentecost” isn’t used. In fact, if you read closely through these seven verses, you won’t find a definite name given to this festival. Instead we find a detailed description of how it was to be calculated. (More on that in the next point.)
“Pentecost” is simply the Greek word for “the fiftieth day” and is based on the instruction to “count fifty days”Elsewhere in the Bible we find this day referred to by a number of different names. Those names include:
- “The Feast of Harvest” (Exodus 23:16).
- “The Feast of Weeks” (Deuteronomy 16:10).
- “The day of the firstfruits” (Numbers 28:26).
All three of these names are rooted in the description of this festival in Leviticus 23:15-21 and are appropriate names for the day.
So where did the name Pentecost come from?
Pentecost is the name used in New Testament times for this festival. “Pentecost” is simply the Greek word for “the fiftieth day” and is based on the instruction to “count fifty days” (Leviticus 23:16).
In the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, we usually refer to it as the Feast of Pentecost, though the names Feast of Harvest, Feast of Weeks and Feast of Firstfruits are equally valid names for the day.
3. Pentecost is the only festival of God calculated by counting.
When you study Leviticus 23 and read about the “feasts of the LORD,” you’ll notice that this day is unique because it is determined by counting days. It is not tied to a specific calendar date, like all the other “feasts of the LORD” (Leviticus 23:5-8, 24, 27, 34-36).
Pentecost is calculated by counting “from the day after the Sabbath” (verse 15). The day after the Sabbath would be the first day of the week, or Sunday. Beginning with the Sunday that falls within the Days of Unleavened Bread, we are told to “count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath” (verse 16). That brings us to the Sunday seven weeks after the count began.
This means that the Feast of Pentecost will always fall on a Sunday, but the exact date will vary based on when the Feast of Unleavened Bread falls in a given year. You can find a graphic that shows how the Pentecost count works here: “Counting 50: When Is Pentecost?” (This graphic was designed to teach children, but can also be helpful for adults.)
4. The founding of the Church on Pentecost was no accident.
The reason some churches include Pentecost on their liturgical calendar is because they understand that the New Testament Church was miraculously founded on that day. But was it just a coincidence that the events of Acts 2 occurred on this festival?
The answer is no. There’s great significance in why the Church came into existence and the Holy Spirit was given on the Feast of Pentecost.
We’ve already discovered that this special day was tied to a harvest. After all, it is also called “the Feast of Harvest” and the “day of the firstfruits” in the Bible. This feast was tied to the early summer barley harvest in Israel. In Old Testament times, they were to offer two loaves of bread and other offerings as “firstfruits” to God (Leviticus 23:20).
Those who are called in this early firstfruit harvest are given His Holy Spirit and placed into His Church.The “firstfruits” simply referred to the first of the ripened crops of the harvest year. This was a smaller harvest compared to the larger harvest that came in the late summer and early fall.
So what does this have to do with the founding of the Church and the giving of the Holy Spirit?
The answer is found in the New Testament. In his epistle, James refers to God’s faithful people as “a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:18). This connection between firstfruits and God’s people was also made by other New Testament writers (Romans 16:5; Revelation 14:4). Jesus also likened the calling of God’s people to an agricultural harvest (Matthew 9:37-38).
The analogy is simple, yet profound. God is “harvesting” human beings into a relationship with Himself. He does this by individually calling them (John 6:44). Those who make up His Church now are the “firstfruits” of that harvest—meaning that they are the early harvest of His plan. Those who are called in this early firstfruit harvest are given His Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-17) and placed into His Church (Acts 2:47; 1 Timothy 3:15).
So it was no coincidence that the beginning of God’s firstfruit harvest occurred on the Feast of Firstfruits!
Take a deeper look
Pentecost has deep and important meaning for members of the Church of God. It is the anniversary of the beginning of the New Testament Church, and it also reminds us that God has a plan for all of mankind. The very fact that God’s people are called firstfruits implies there will be a much larger harvest later. That larger harvest of human beings is revealed in the fall festivals.
To learn more about the Feasts of the Lord and what they picture in God’s plan, take a few minutes and watch our “Feasts of the Lord” video series. We also offer two Bible study lessons on these feasts in our free Bible Study Course.