The Context of Pentecost: A Tale of Two Mountains
Guest blog by Greg Denham
Many today are praying for a Jesus Movement – an incredible work of the Gospel in our generation. But in order to really understand who a Jesus follower is today, we need to understand who we were as Jesus followers, and Pentecost is the ground floor. It is the ground floor of the beginning of THE Jesus Revolution! It could be said then that the way forward is the way back. So let’s look back. The context of Pentecost matters.
Pentecost in context
Jesus instructed the disciples after the resurrection to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father. We now know that there was a specific day in mind for that promise to be revealed: the day of Pentecost, one of the three pilgrim festivals required by the Lord.
“Pente” means fifty. It refers to counting the harvest fifty days after Passover. The Hebrew name is Shavout, meaning “weeks”. It’s a harvest festival celebrating the end of the barley harvest and the first fruits of the wheat harvest.
Yet on the minds of the hundreds of thousands attending that Pentecost was the belief that the Torah had been given at that time on Mount Sinai 1300 years earlier.
The Jewish tradition is called Zman Matan Torah, “the season of the giving of the Law” when the Lord separated His people from Egypt and called them into relationship with Him. It is when the earth shook with flashes of lightning, and God spoke in thunder!
What took place fifty days after Jesus gave His life on the cross, “When the day of Pentecost had fully come” (Acts 2:1) made a parallel between the giving of the Law at Sinai and the ground floor of the Jesus Revolution on Mount Zion.
Unmistakeable parallels on two mountains
- God had demonstrated His presence atop Mt. Sinai 1300 years earlier; and on the ground floor of the Jesus Revolution atop Mt. Zion, God demonstrated His presence, power and purpose to 120 Jewish believers.
- On Mt. Sinai God gave His commandments on tablets of stone written with the finger of God; on the ground floor of the Jesus Revolution atop Mt. Zion, the Spirit of God wrote the Commandments on human hearts.
- At Mt. Sinai 3,000 were judged because of idolatry; on the ground floor of the Jesus revolution atop Mt. Zion, 3,000 people came to faith in Jesus Messiah!
In essence, the knowledge of God was exploding through the faithful remnant of Israel in the 120 followers of Jesus atop Mt. Zion. They were the remnant that was publicly and divinely identified with tongues of fire above their heads and given the gift of tongues to communicate the wonderful works of God to an international gathering from fifteen different geographical locations with a variety of languages (Acts 2:3; 5-11).
Peter, after being empowered and gifted by the Spirit declared that Jesus in His death, resurrection and ascension was creating all things new in Himself and would return to establish His kingdom on the earth in the city of Jerusalem! The New Covenant that had been inaugurated by Jesus’ blood on the cross on Passover (Nisan 14) was now transforming 3,000 Jews who had repented and were being indwelt by the Spirit of God. From now on, the nations of the world could enter the New Covenant that had been given to Israel to bless the world through the Messiah of Israel, and could now also experience the outpouring of God’s Spirit.
The context of this reveals an unstoppable plan of God: Both Passover and Pentecost were prophetic. Their ultimate fulfillment is in the Person and work of Jesus the Messiah.
Years ago, the apologist and Christian philosopher Francis Shaeffer was asked, “What is the greatest obstacle to the modern church?” His answer was fascinating both in what he didn’t say, as well as what he did say. He didn’t say that the major problem were the “ism’s” in culture (i.e. sensualism, materialism, atheism, relativism) but rather he said:
“The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.”
Rediscovering the ground floor of the Jesus Revolution in the first century in its original context, can bring renewal and even a reorientation to God’s intended course and mission for the church.
Understanding the true context of Pentecost
1. First, the context of Pentecost tells us that God’s purposes for our lives are only accomplished in His strength. Jesus said,
“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:4-5; 8)
The Spirit’s work is comprehensive. He indwells the believer and gives assurance of being a child of God (Romans 8:16). He brings a believer into intimacy with Abba, Father (Romans 8:15). The Spirit comes upon the believer to empower with divine gifting for divine mission (Acts 1:16) Zechariah 4:6 reads, “It’s not by power nor by might but it’s by my Spirit says the Lord”. The Spirit of God is the source of our strength in all areas of our life. We need to be “filled with the Spirit” on a daily basis! (Ephesians 5:18)
2. Second, the context reveals that Peter was addressing a specific audience: “You men of Israel …” (Acts 2:22). In principle, it speaks of a priority often overlooked. In Romans 1:16 Paul wrote,
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”
Romans 1:16 is written in the present tense which means that if the Gospel is still the power of God “unto” salvation and is still for “all who believe,” then the Gospel is still “to the Jew first”. The term “first” does not merely speak of sequence but priority.1 Later, Peter underscored an “eschatological link” to Jewish evangelism by saying,
“Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:19-21)
This coincides with Jesus saying,
“For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.'” (Matt. 23:39).
You can see then that there is a great spiritual battle with evangelism that we need to be aware of. Because, if Jerusalem will not see Him until she welcomes Him back, then no eye will see Him until Jerusalem receives Him!2 The ground floor of the Jesus Revolution reminds us that we cannot allow Jewish evangelism to become the “Great Omission” of the Great Commission.3
3. Third, the context of Pentecost reveals that the bullseye of the church’s mission and preaching is the Person and work of Jesus. Acts 4:12 reads,
“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
There is one reason and one reason only why a person has eternal life in a right relationship with God; it is by making the right decision to follow Jesus! (John 14:6; Romans 10:13; Acts 4:12; John 3:16).
4. Fourth, the context reveals the importance of repentance. On the day of Pentecost the people were “cut to the heart” and said, “Men and bretheren, what shall we do?” Peter answered,
“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:37-39)
The word “Repent” is actually a Greek word – metanoia. Metanoia means to change the way one thinks that leads to a lifestyle change from a self-centered life in rebellion to God, to a complete allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The call to repent and the promise to receive the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins remains today. In fact, God commands all men to repent!
“Truly these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:3-31)
The great evangelist D.L. Moody put it this way:
“Repentance is getting out of one train and getting into the other. You are in the wrong train; you are in the broad path that takes you down to the pit of hell. Get out of it to-day. Right-about-face!”
5. Finally, the context of Pentecost reminds us that God’s plan unfolded in a Jewish context. This is essential to recognize when we study the Scriptures! We need great teachers today! We need great evangelists today! We need a church grounded in the truth and empowered with the Spirit to make Jesus known! It is a Jewish context that is the basis for accurate exegesis of scripture and for expository preaching and evangelism and Gospel contextualization in our 21st century global audience.