Pentecost (Shavuot) is still remembered in Christianity. Even when all the rest of the Biblical Festivals have long ago been discarded, Pentecost has somehow retained a place in the Church lection. Pesach, Rosh HaShanna, Yom Kippur and Sukkot all disappeared from Christian observance within three hundred years of the birth of the Church, but in many churches, Shavuot is still acknowledged. It is known by its Greek name, Pentecost, but it is still Shavuot. There is even a movement within the church which identifies itself as Pentecostal!
The reason the Church still remembers Pentecost is the narrative of Acts chapter 2. Everyone remembers the story of the mighty wind, the tongues fire, the Holy Spirit and the speaking in every language. But most of us are unaware of the Torah background behind the story. The Church Holiday most of us know only as a remembrance of Acts chapter two is actually a Biblical appointment filled with a wealth of meaning and symbolism.
Numbering the Days
The festival of Shavuot begins with a countdown. The Torah commands us to count the days to Shavuot. On the Day after the Sabbath during the week of Unleavened Bread, that is on the day on which the First Fruits of the Barley were harvested and offered up in the Temple, we are commanded to begin a countdown to the next festival (Leviticus 23:9-12). We are commanded to count off 49 days. After the 49 days are completed, the 50th day is the appointed time of the Festival of Pentecost. Both the English and Hebrew names for the festival reflect the counting. The English name is Pentecost. It is from the Greek for "Fiftieth Day." The Hebrew name for the festival is Shavuot. Shavuot means "weeks" and is so named because of the seven full weeks (49 days) of the counting. The counting is a chain that links Shavuot to the Festival of Unleavened Bread. In this sense, Shavuot concludes the festival season begun with Passover.
Shavuot is referred to as the Atzeret (conclusion) of the Feast of Unleavened Bread just as the Eighth Day of The Feast of Tabernacles is the Atzeret (conclusion) of that festival. In that sense, Shavuot is a sort of 8th day festival, concluding the 7 holy days of Unleavened Bread.
From Harvest to Harvest
Shavuot is a harvest festival. Just as the First Fruits of the Barley, which occurred during the week of Unleavened Bread celebrated the ripening of the Barley crop, in a similar way Shavuot celebrates the ripening of the wheat crop. At Shavuot, the first fruits of the wheat harvest were brought to the Temple and baked into two loaves of leavened bread. The 49 days of counting are called the counting of the Omer because it was begun with the harvest of a single barley sheaf (omer) and concludes with the harvest of the wheat sheaves.
In addition to the wheat, the pilgrims celebrating Shavuot brought with them the First Fruits of all their crops and offered them before the altar (Deuteronomy 26:1-11).
The Mishnah (Bikkurim 3:1-8) vividly describes a pilgrimage of Israelites bringing their First Fruits to the Temple. They converged on Jerusalem from all over the land of Israel.
It is a time of thanksgiving for the first fruits of the year's harvest.
For the disciples of Yeshua in Acts chapter 2, the Shavuot festival already carried extra significance. For them Shavuot came exactly 50 days after the Master was resurrected. He was the First Fruits of the Resurrection. In fact, the disciples and followers of Yeshua were themselves the First Fruits of Messiah's ministry. On Shavuot, 3,000 were added to their number and the great harvest of souls was begun.
A Remembrance of Mount Sinai
Just as Passover is a memorial of the Exodus from Egypt, so too Shavuot memorializes an Exodus event. According to Jewish tradition, Shavuot is the anniversary of God's descent onto Mount Sinai. Therefore it is celebrated as the anniversary of the giving of the Torah.
For that reason, Shavuot is called the festival of Mattan Torah, the "Giving of the Torah." Exodus 19 and 20, the story of the giving of the Ten Commandments and the covenant at Sinai, are the principal Torah readings in the Synagogue on Shavuot.
As the disciples of the risen Messiah gathered to celebrate Shavuot in Jerusalem, they were gathering to celebrate the anniversary of the Giving of the Torah.
Midrash and Mystery
Great miracles, signs and wonders accompanied the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. We read about them in Exodus 19. There was the smoke and fire and cloud on the mountain. The mountain trembled and the blast of a shofar sounded louder and louder. The voice of God was audibly heard by the entire nation. According to Midrash, the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai was accompanied by additional wonders, two of which are significant to our reading of Acts chapter two.
The Midrash speaks of flames of fire which came to each individual at Sinai: "On the occasion of the giving of the Torah, the Children of Israel not only heard the LORD's Voice, but actually saw the sound waves as they emerged from the LORD's mouth. They visualized them as a fiery substance. Each commandment that left the LORD's mouth traveled around the entire camp and then came back to every Jew individually." (The Midrash Says. Shemot)
The second miracle the Midrash preserves is the voice of God speaking in every language known to man. In Rabbinic lore, there are 70 mother languages. "It says, "And all the people witnessed the thunderings." (Exodus 20:15) Note that it does not say "the thunder," but "the thunderings"; wherefore R. Yochanan said that God's voice, as it was uttered, split up into seventy voices, in seventy languages, so that all the nations should understand." (Shemot Midrash Rabbah 5:9)
Whether or not these traditions preserve actual historical memories of the Mount Sinai experience is not important. It is important to remember that the disciples and followers of Yeshua were all well aware of the Shavuot legends. They knew the story of the Giving of the Torah on Shavuot. They knew the story of the words of fire resting on each individual on Shavuot. They knew the story of God's voice speaking to all mankind in every language on Shavuot. Therefore, the miracles and signs and wonders that came upon them in Acts chapter two carried deep significance. The tongues of fire and the speaking in every tongue were both direct allusions to the Mount Sinai experience and the receiving of the Torah. God was underscoring a connection between his Holy Spirit and His Holy Torah!
The Spirit and the Torah
Shavuot draws a line of connection between Exodus 19 and Acts chapter 2. The festival superimposes the giving of the Spirit in Jerusalem over the giving of the Torah at Sinai. The two events are forever inseparably linked. This link creates a profound theological implication for believers. The Torah and Holy Spirit are substantially of the same essence.
Jeremiah the prophet foresaw this when God declared through him, "Behold, I will make a New Covenant . . . I will put My Torah within them and on their heart I will write it, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (Jeremiah 31:33) Ezekiel the prophet foresaw this when God declared through him, "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances." (Ezekiel 36:27)
According to these prophets, the Holy Spirit was given in order to place the Torah within the believer's heart. If that is true, then the Spirit within us and the Torah of God must agree. Both are from the same God, and God is One. The Spirit and the Torah must agree.
The Holy Spirit is within us in order to enable us to walk in the statutes and observe the ordinances. The Spirit and the Torah are not, God forbid, opposed to each other. Instead, as Paul says in Galatians, "Opposed to the fruit of the Spirit there is no Torah." (Galatians 5:23). The Holy Spirit is the same essence as the Torah: the full expression of God, dwelling within, so that He might be our God, and we might be His people. That was the stated purpose of the first Pentecost at Mount Sinai. It was the purpose of the Shavuot of Acts chapter 2, and it is the purpose for which we have been recreated.