Pentecost is Shavuot

By: Bill Katz

I’m always surprised when some people tell me they don’t know that the birth of the Church was a Jewish event!  It’s sad to see many believers ignore the Jewish context of the New Testament because this impairs their understanding of the event that we read in the New Covenant.  Recently I heard something that really describes this situation: “Trying to understand the New Testament without understanding its Jewish context is as trying to understand how a submarine works without understanding water.”

Pentecost is no exception to this rule because what most Christians know as Pentecost is the Jewish holiday of Shavuot (Feast of Weeks).  Both “Pentecost” and “Shavuot” refer to the number “50”, and essentially mean the same thing. The “50” of Shavuot refers to the fifty days that take place between the celebration of Passover and this holiday.

This is what Scripture has to say about Pentecost in Acts 2:1–13:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.”

Acts 2:1 reads, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” Why were the disciples of Yeshúa all together?  First of all, they were there because our Messiah had told them to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father as it is written in Acts 1:4.  This made a lot of sense because, like other Jewish people, they were supposed to be in Jerusalem for this holiday.

However, a careful reading of the literal meaning of 2:1 reveals something very interesting as it says, “…when the day of Pentecost was being fulfilled….” If, as previously stated, Pentecost is the same as Shavuot, then the logical conclusion is that the Feast of Shavuot was being fulfilled.  When we start comparing the two events, the original Shavuot in Exodus 20 and its fulfillment in Acts 2, we find some amazing similarities.

First of all, we find the original Shavuot took place 50 days after the first Passover, when the Lamb had been sacrificed so that its blood spread on the doorpost would protect the ancient Israelites from physical death.  The events in Acts 2 take place after the Passover when the Lamb of God (Messiah Yeshúa) had given His life and whose blood protects us from spiritual death, so that we can have eternal life.

Secondly, Acts 2 speaks about tongues of fire that appeared to the disciples.  Exodus 19 and 20 speak clearly of the presence of fire on Mount Sinai as Moses was about to receive the Torah from God.  As we read in Exodus 19:18:

Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently.

Even more, a targum (ancient Jewish manuscript) says: “The first commandment, when it left the mouth of the Holy One . . . as meteors and lightening and as torches of fire; a fiery torch to its right and a fiery torch to its left, which burst forth and flew in the air of the heavenly expanse; it proceeded to circle around the camp of Israel.”

However, the most evident fact that points to Acts 2 as the fulfilment of Exodus 20 is the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  In Exodus 20, we see God making a covenant with the Jewish people.  As part of that covenant God gave the Jewish people the Torah to guide them in how they were to live. However, the Jewish people did not keep this covenant.

The Lord could have forsaken His people, but His love and mercy are so great that He decided to make a new covenant with the Jewish people. This new covenant was announced by the prophet Jeremiah when he wrote in Jeremiah 31:31–34:

 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law (torah) within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

God promised the Jewish people a new covenant.  Just as He had given the Torah to the Jewish people as part of the Old Covenant to guide us, He sent the Holy Spirit to guide us again, but this time in a more intimate way as He puts His Torah in our hearts so that we may follow His commandments.

Praise Him for His mercies and His everlasting love!


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