The word Pentecost (Gr. Pentēkostēs) comes from the adjective meaning “fiftieth.” The word is a reference to the fifty days from the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of the First Fruits (Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost). The dating of Pentecost centers upon the date of the Passover. The Passover was observed on Nisan 14. The 15th day was the start of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and on the 16th a sheaf of the first fruits (of the barley harvest) was waved before the Lord (Lev. 23:5–11).
From the 16th, seven weeks and a day, 50 days were calculated to the Feast of First Fruits (of the wheat harvest), which was also known as the Feast of Weeks, because of the seven weeks that intervened (Lev. 23:15, 16). This feast came to be known as Pentecost. Since, in the year of the crucifixion, Nisan 16 fell on a Sunday (Matt. 26), Pentecost, coming 50 days later (seven weeks and one day), would also fall on a Sunday in that year.
The celebration at Pentecost
Pentecost brought many visitors from far lands. The hazards of travel by sea and land in the early spring and late autumn (Acts 27:9) prohibited a big number of visitors to come to the Passover or to the Feast of Tabernacles. But the Pentecostal season was convenient. Thus, it was the right time for the outpouring of the gift of God’s Spirit to bless a great number of people. Also, the nature of the offerings, which consisted mostly of peace and dedication, put a joyous mark on that day. Thus, Pentecost was similar to a harvest festival.
The symbolic meaning behind the feast
Each facet of the old Feast of Weeks gave a symbolic meaning which made the work done in this feast distinctive. As the Feast of First Fruits, it was proper that it should be the occasion of the first harvest from the fields that were “white already to harvest” (Ex. 23:16; John 4:35). At this feast the Israelites, remembered that they once were slaves in Egypt but were delivered by God’s power (Deut. 16:9–12) from slavery (Lev. 23:21). Thus, it was a proper time to be filled by the Spirit of God; and “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). For the Holy Spirit was to guide the believers into the truth and free them from error (John 8:32).
There is an ancient tradition that says that the religious leaders calculated the time between the first Passover and the giving of the law on Sinai, and they decided that God spoke the law to the people (Ex. 20:1) on the day that was later observed as Pentecost. For this reason, the feast was also considered to have a memorial identity. Thus, Pentecost was a significant day in the life of an Israelite, and was appropriately set as a type of the greater day that made the Spirit of God accessible for all who devoted themselves to God.
In His service,