A noted holiness leader once posed the question: "Was Pentecost a special day?" Answering his own question, he replied, "No, it was not a special day, it was a specimen day." For this man, Pentecost was an ordinary day, to be remembered only because he believed the 120 were sanctified on that day in the upper room. Such a view does not do justice to a day that marked the watershed of salvation history. It is true that what was experienced on that day by the 120 and the 3,000 is repeated in the hearts of all who are raised from spiritual death to life in evangelical regeneration. Considered fully, however, Pentecost was a special day for additional and significant reasons that are scripturally demonstrated.
On that first Pentecost the descendants of Israel had just been delivered from Egyptian bondage fifty days before receiving the Law from Mt. Sinai. The word pentecost carries the meaning of fifty. Not only had it been fifty days since their deliverance out of Egypt but it had likewise been fifty days since the slaying of the paschal lamb on the first Passover. Here the children of Israel assembled at the foot of Mt. Sinai and from that mount God spoke with audible voice the words of the Ten Commandments. By instructions given through Moses, the Israelites were then commanded to keep that day as a spiritual feast, known otherwise as the feast of weeks or feast of harvest. This feast was to be observed throughout their generations. Hereby, they celebrated the ushering in of the Mosaic dispensation and covenant, making Pentecost a very special day.
Acts 2:5 tells us that on the day of the Christian Pentecost "there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven." These Jews would have had to possess a fervent belief in God to be identified as "devout." What could have brought them from the ends of the known world to keep a feast to the Lord, if they had been mere atheists? And yet it is evident, that through prejudice they had come without believing that the Messiah had already appeared and that He had been crucified fifty days before; was now resurrected and ascended to heaven for the purpose of bringing them redemption. Peter's sermon that day would bring a change of mind to many of these devout Jews, convincing them that they must repent and believe in Christ Jesus as their glorified Messiah, Savior and redeemer.
We read that "when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord" (Acts 2:1). Some like to suppose that the timing of Pentecost and the Spirit's outpouring was dependent upon the unity and spiritual readiness of those in the upper room as if the 120 were somehow lacking in the bond of brotherly fellowship and that only after mending interpersonal problems was the Spirit finally poured out. Overlooked is the fact that back in chapter one verse 14, we are told that the one-hundred and twenty were already in one accord from the time they began their prayer vigil in the upper room.
Adam Clarke assures us that the timing was providentially determined by Almighty God.
It was wisely ordered that the miraculous descent of the Holy Ghost should take place at this time, when so many from various nations were present to bear witness to what was done, and to be themselves subject of his mighty working. These on their return to their respective countries, would naturally proclaim what things they saw and heard; and by this the way of the apostles was made plain; and thus Christianity made a rapid progress over all those parts in a very short time after the resurrection of our Lord [Commentary, 5:695].
Pentecost became a special day to all Christians after the outpouring of the Holy Ghost on that day recorded in Acts 2. We read in Acts 20:16 that Paul, while completing his third missionary journey was in a hurry to arrive in Jerusalem so as to be present for the day of Pentecost. Pentecost Sunday has since been observed annually by the Christian Church throughout its history. It was observed this year (2007) on May 27.
As the dispensation and covenant of the Law was ushered in on the day of the first Pentecost, so the new covenant or dispensation of the Holy Spirit was ushered in on a later day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. This special day took place fifty days following the Passover and slaying of the true Paschal Lamb.
The dispensation of the Law was ushered in with physical phenomena, such as thunder, lightning and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud. We read also that "Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly" (Exod 19:16-18). Truly, this was a great day to the Jews.
In turn, the new covenant and dispensation of the Holy Spirit was also ushered in by such physical phenomenon as a sound of a rushing mighty wind, tongues of fire sitting upon the heads of the 120 and their speaking in other tongues or languages for the evangelical benefit of those who had come from many other nations to Jerusalem on that day. It was definitely a special day for the 120 in the upper room. But it was likewise a special day for the 3,000 converts who were now trusting in the true Lamb of God who had been "delivered for their offenses and raised again for their justification" (Rom 4:25). They were now joyful recipients of the same outpouring of the Holy Spirit enjoyed earlier that day by the one-hundred and twenty.
Adam Clarke gives added emphasis to the close "correspondence between the giving of the law, which is celebrated by the feast of pentecost, together with the crucifixion of our Lord, which took place at the passover, and the descent of the Holy Spirit, which happened [fifty days later] at this pentecost [described in Acts 2]."
1. At the [first] Passover, the Israelites were delivered from Egyptian bondage: this was a type of the [slavery] in which the human race was to Satan and sin.
2. At the [final] Passover, Jesus Christ, who was typified by the paschal lamb, was sacrificed for the sin of the world, and by this sacrifice redemption from sin and Satan is now procured and proclaimed.
3. On the [first] Pentecost, God gave his law on Mount Sinai, accompanied with terrible thunderings and lightnings. On the Pentecost [that followed Christ's ascension to heaven], God sent down his Holy Spirit, like a rushing mighty wind; and tongues of fire sat upon each disciple, in order that, by his influence, that new law of light and life might be [manifested] and established. Thus, the analogy between the Egyptian bondage and the [bondage] occasioned by sin—the deliverance from Egypt, and the redemption from sin—the giving of the law, with all its emblematic accompaniments, and the sending down the Holy Spirit, with its symbols of light, life, and power, has been exactly preserved.
4. At the [final] Jewish Passover, Christ [the true Paschal Lamb] was degraded, humbled, and ignominiously put to death. [Fifty days later] at the following festival and celebration of Pentecost, He was highly glorified; and the all conquering and everlasting might and power of His kingdom then [began]. The Holy Spirit seems to have designed all these analogies, to show that, through all preceding ages, God had the dispensation of the Gospel continually in view; and that the old law and its ordinances were only designed as a preparation for the new [Commentary, 5: 691].
Through the centuries prophets and saints had longed for the arrival of this anticipated outpouring of the Spirit. Moses once exclaimed, "Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!" (Numb 11:29). Isaiah also foresaw the coming of this special day and proclaimed in the word of the Lord, "I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring" (44:3). John saw the dawning of that special day soon to fully appear and said of Jesus, "he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost" (Mark 1:8). "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus [Himself] stood and cried, saying, "If any man thirst, let come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of water" (John 7:37, 38).
In John 14:16-17 we find Jesus promising His disciples He would "pray the Father, and he [would] give [them] another Comforter," who was the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit said He, "dwelleth with you," now but at the fulfillment of the promise, He shall then "be in you." While the disciples were in the presence of Jesus and being trained by the Master, they were actually living in a time of transition between the covenants of the law and the Holy Spirit. James Dunn explains:
It is impossible to regard the experience of the apostles throughout this period as a pattern, far less a norm, for experience today. With Pentecost the transition phase came to an end; the old stage of salvation-history was wholly past and the new stage wholly in operation. Henceforth entry into the blessings of the new dispensation is immediate, whereas for the apostles it was "staggered.." A set of experiences whose order and depth was determined by an utterly unique and unrepeatable set of events (those from Bethlehem to Pentecost) cannot be the pattern for the regular experience of conversion and Christian growth after Pentecost. Only if Jesus were to live, die, rise and ascend again and again, could the experience of the apostles be described as normative for later Christianity, since their experience was determined by their relation to the historical ministry of Jesus. If a norm is desired for the gift of the Spirit, we have it not in John 20:22 or Acts 2:4 but in Acts 2:38 [Baptism in the Holy Spirit, p.182].
The one significant difference between the experience of the disciples before Pentecost and all born again believers after Pentecost is demonstrated by the fact that believers now receive the Spirit in his regenerating, cleansing baptismal power, bringing the forgiveness and life of the new dispensation. There is also an inward enjoyment that comes with the presence of the Holy Spirit who readily establishes the inward kingdom of heaven, which is "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost" together with an inward witness of the Spirit that they are born of God.
The arrival of the Christian Pentecost was a glorious fulfillment of prophecy and arrival of the long and anticipated desires of God's people. The blood of the sacrificial Lamb of God had now been shed just fifty days before. Full reconciliation with God for sinful man was now provided, and a new covenant offering the fullest measure of redemptive grace was procured. The glorified Christ was now "at the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he shed forth this," filling His followers with divine love and blessing—such blessing as was never before known. A new covenant and dispensation of grace had truly been opened.
In John 7:39 the Apostle makes plain that in the days of Jesus' ministry, the Spirit was not yet given because Christ was not yet glorified. John Fletcher quotes George Whitefield, who proposed and answered the following question. "Why was not the Holy Ghost given till Jesus Christ was glorified? Because," answers Whitefield, "till then, he was himself on the earth, and had not taken on him the kingly office, nor pleaded the merits of his death before his heavenly Father, by which he purchased that invaluable blessing for us" [Works, 2:560].
Finally, Pentecost was a special day because the glorified Jesus was now newly seated upon His throne. Pentecost marked His inauguration as King and His opening of a "new and better covenant" (Heb 8:6, 8). As "King of kings and Lord of Lords" He reigns in a particular manner within the hearts of all the redeemed. In a universal sense He is now reigning in the world at large and "shall reign until all His enemies have been made His footstool" (Heb 1:13).
In conclusion, we see that Pentecost was a special day for the Jews because of the giving of the law. It was a special day for believers of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ who began to be recipients of the Holy Spirit of promise." Hereby they began and do still experience the assurance of sins forgiven and the regeneration and sanctification of their souls. Lastly, Pentecost was a special day because the glorified Lord Jesus was newly seated upon His throne at the right hand of the Father. From there he intercedes for His people. Upon them He pours out His Spirit and reigns in righteousness, glory and power.
Though Pentecost cannot be considered the perfection of the Church it was surely the time of its glorious birth. From a historical standpoint, it was a one-time event never to be repeated in the same manner.