A Christian Perspective on the Feast of Pentecost

Shavuot, or Feast of Weeks, falls on the 50th day after Passover

the first Pentecost

ivan-96 / Getty Images

The Feast of Pentecost or Shavuot has many names in the Bible: The Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Harvest, and the Latter Firstfruits. Celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover, Shavuot is traditionally a joyous time of giving thanks and presenting offerings for the new grain of the summer wheat harvest in Israel.

Feast of Pentecost

  • The Feast of Pentecost is one of Israel's three major agricultural festivals and the second great feast of the Jewish year.
  • Shavuot is one of the three pilgrimage feasts when all Jewish males were required to appear before the Lord in Jerusalem.
  • Feast of Weeks is a harvest festival celebrated in May or June.
  • One theory on why Jews customarily eat dairy foods such as cheesecakes and cheese blintzes on Shavuot is that the Law was compared to "milk and honey" in the Bible.
  • The tradition of decorating with greenery on Shavuot represents the harvest and the Torah's reference as the "tree of life."
  • Because Shavuot falls around the end of the school year, it is also a favorite time for holding Jewish confirmation celebrations.

Feast of Weeks

The name "Feast of Weeks" was given because God commanded the Jews in Leviticus 23:15-16, to count seven full weeks (or 49 days) beginning on the second day of Passover, and then present offerings of new grain to the Lord as a lasting ordinance. The term Pentecost derives from the Greek word meaning "fifty."

Initially, Shavuot was a festival for expressing thankfulness to the Lord for the blessing of the harvest. And because it occurred at the conclusion of the Passover, it acquired the name "Latter Firstfruits." The celebration is also tied to the giving of the Ten Commandments and thus bears the name Matin Torah or "giving of the Law." Jews believe that it was precisely at this time that God gave the Torah to the people through Moses on Mount Sinai.

Moses and the Law
Moses Carries the Ten Commandments Down Mount Sinai. Getty Images

Time of Observance

Pentecost is celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover, or the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, which corresponds with May or June. See this Bible Feasts Calendar for the actual dates of Pentecost.

Historical Context

The Feast of Pentecost originated in the Pentateuch as an offering of firstfruits, decreed for Israel on Mount Sinai. Throughout Jewish history, it has been customary to engage in an all-night study of the Torah on the first evening of Shavuot. Children were encouraged to memorize Scripture and rewarded with treats.

The book of Ruth was traditionally read during Shavuot. Today, however, many of the customs have been left behind and their significance lost. The public holiday has become more of a culinary festival of dairy dishes. Traditional Jews still light candles and recite blessings, adorn their homes and synagogues with greenery, eat dairy foods, study the Torah, read the book of Ruth and attend Shavuot services.

Jesus and the Feast of Pentecost

In Acts 1, just before the resurrected Jesus was taken up into heaven, he told the disciples about the Father's promised gift of the Holy Spirit, which would soon be given to them in the form of a powerful baptism. He told them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit, which would empower them to go out into the world and be his witnesses.

A few days later, on the Day of Pentecost, the disciples were all together when the sound of a mighty rushing wind came down from heaven, and tongues of fire rested on the believers. The Bible says, "All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." The believers communicated in languages they had never before spoken. They spoke with Jewish pilgrims of various languages from all across the Mediterranean world.

Day of Pentecost
Illustration of the apostles receiving the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Peter Dennis / Getty Images

The crowds observed this event and heard them speaking in different languages. They were amazed and thought the disciples were drunk on wine. Then the apostle Peter got up and preached the Good News of the kingdom and 3000 people accepted the message of Christ. That same day they were baptized and added to the family of God.

The book of Acts continues to record the miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit that began on the Feast of Pentecost. This Old Testament feast revealed "a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ" (Colossians 2:17).

After Moses went up to Mount Sinai, the Word of God was given to the Israelites at Shavuot. When the Jews accepted the Torah, they became servants of God. Similarly, after Jesus went up to heaven, the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost. When the disciples received the gift, they became witnesses for Christ. Jews celebrate a joyous harvest on Shavuot, and the church celebrates a harvest of newborn souls on Pentecost.

Scripture References to the Feast of Pentecost

The observance of the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost is recorded in the Old Testament in Exodus 34:22, Leviticus 23:15-22, Deuteronomy 16:16, 2 Chronicles 8:13 and Ezekiel 1. Some of the most exciting events in the New Testament revolved around the Day of Pentecost in the book of Acts, chapter 2. Pentecost is also mentioned in Acts 20:16, 1 Corinthians 16:8 and James 1:18.

Key Verses

"Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year." (Exodus 34:22, NIV)
"From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord ... a burnt offering to the Lord, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings—a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord ... They are a sacred offering to the Lord for the priest ... On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live." (Leviticus 23:15–21, NIV)