Acts 2 – Pentecost in the Book of Acts

The Jewish festival of Pentecost is important for understanding the events of Acts 2. The Feast of Weeks or Shavuot celebrates the first fruits of the harvest. It happens fifty days after Passover (seven weeks) in the late spring / early summer. This festival included an offering of two loaves made with the wheat given in the first fruit offering (Lev 23:15–16; Deut 16:9).

Pentecost, Shavout

For first-century Jews, Shavout was a declaration of “God’s ownership of the land and his grace in bringing forth food” (Sanders, Judaism, 139). The book of Ruth is read during this festival. That Ruth takes place during the wheat harvest may be the reason, but Ruth is not only a gentile convert to Judaism, she is the ancestor of King David. “There may also be a messianic significance in the choice of this work, i.e., that all the world will turn to Judaism eventually” (The Encyclopedia of Judaism; Leiden: Brill, 2000, 1:43). Since Acts begins the story of the Gospel beginning in Jerusalem and eventually going out to the whole world, this background may be significant. A significant problem for this view is our lack of certainty that Ruth was read at Pentecost in the first century. Even if it was, would Luke be aware of the reading, and would he want to tease out any messianic significance for reading Ruth at the Feast of Weeks.

According The Book of Jubilees, Pentecost was the day on which Moses was given the Law (cf. Tobit 2:1, 2 Macc 12:32). Although the Book of Exodus does not make this clear, there is a tradition that the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai 50 days after the first Passover (Exod 19:1). Some scholars (Knox, Snaith) see a connection between this tradition and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Since Moses gave out the Law to Israel on this day, Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to the church. Joseph Fitzmyer suggested Luke was aware of the tradition since there are some indirect allusions to the giving of the Law in Acts 2, such as the image of fire descending from heaven (Exod 19:18). For some, the descent of the Spirit as “tongues of fire” alludes to the theophany at Sinai.

However, as Keener points out, there is no scholarly consensus on the meaning of Pentecost in this passage (Acts, 1:784). There are some parallels with a covenant renewal ceremony (Jubilees 6.17) or traditions about Pentecost in the (potentially later) Targumim. Keener concludes Luke use of Pentecost as a festival has no more significance to his narrative than providing large crowds and a short interval after Passover (Acts 1:787).

It is likely the first fruits of the harvest refers to those who receive the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. The new age has begun and the Holy Spirit has come for the first time. But there are two other potential Pentecosts in the book of Acts. In Acts 10 the Holy Spirit falls on Cornelius, a God-Fearing Gentile and he speaks in tongues just as the Jewish believers do in Acts 2. Peter makes this point himself in Acts 10:47: the Gentiles in Cornelius’ home received the Holy Spirit “just as we have.”

There is a third reference to Pentecost in Acts 20:16. Paul wants to return to Jerusalem before Pentecost if possible. This was a dangerous journey, especially since Paul wanted to deliver the collection from the Gentile churches at Pentecost. By delivering a gift to the poor in Jerusalem the Gentile churches demonstrate that they too have received the Holy Spirit. Paul’s return to Jerusalem at Pentecost is calculated to highlight his harvest among the Gentiles. That there are three references to Pentecost are not unexpected since Luke repeats important events three times several times in Acts (Cornelius’ conversion, Paul’s conversion, the rejection of Israel, etc.)

Whatever the intended imagery, the day represents the largest crowd in the Temple area since Passover fifty days before. Peter and the other apostles will be able to preach to large crowds of Jews gathered to worship God in the Temple (Acts 2-3).

What is there in Peter’s sermon that makes some use of this Pentecost imagery?  Why did God choose Pentecost for the outpouring of the Spirit?


Bibliography: W. L. Knox, Acts, (NCB, Oxford: Clarendon, 1967), 80-84; N. Snaith, “Pentecost, the Day of Power,” ExpTim 43 (1931-32): 379-80; Mark J. Olson, “Pentecost,” ABD 5:222.

16 thoughts on “Acts 2 – Pentecost in the Book of Acts

  1. Repeating Joel’s words, Peter is speaking out the end times. Jesus himself says in Acts 1, “It is not for you to know the times and dates the Father has set by his own authority.” If it was me as a Jewish man, I would be fearing for my life, thinking that the end times were near with all of the “gibberish” and different tongues speaking around me. Peter’s imagery reminds me of an equivalent a Billy Graham revival. We don’t know when Christ will come back to earth to rule and reign. Yet, we also do not know when God will pour his Spirit, and when it will invigorate us for the right time. It is only by those who can really bring it out, like Peter, Paul, and the other men of missions.


  2. It does seem evident when looking at the context of the day of Pentecost during the Old Testament and that we can acknowledge parallels between it and the passage of Acts 2-3. Though there may not be a direct correlation mentioned between the giving of the first fruits and the accounts of Pentecost in Acts, but the outpouring of God’s Spirit and the resulting three thousand souls saved does show us the fruit of God working in people’s lives through the Holy Spirit.
    In Acts 3 we read what Peter says to a lame man that they come across at the Beautiful Gate on the temple: “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” The language of Paul surrendering what he has to aid this man – the Holy Spirit’s power – sounds like there may be ties in his verbiage to the day of the Feast of Weeks celebrated by the Jews.
    Being gathered together as they were and after receiving the Gospel and recognizing its power, it says that the people, “were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:45-47). If Pentecost was a time of declaring God’s ownership of the land, these believer’s actions declare that they knew everything was the Lord’s and therefore shared it among them, not selfishly holding onto “their own”.


  3. I would argue that one of the reasons the Pentecost was chosen for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is because of the large gatherings and celebrations that happened during that time. There were a lot of people celebrating together and it made it an opportune time to teach to on Jesus and the Holy Spirit. For example, in Acts 2:5 there were Jews from every nation dwelling together in Jerusalem, and Polhill in the ESV notes suggests that this took place in the temple, the only place that could accommodate three thousand persons (2083). So, it was a very large group. After the Holy Spirit filled the believers, they came out to the temple and were speaking in tongues, but the Jews who did not believe could understand what they were saying in their own language, just as if someone was speaking in Portuguese and you understood them in English. The people did not know what it meant, and Peter took this opportunity given by God to teach on the Holy Spirit and the Messiah. The power that was displayed in what occurred caught the Jew’s interest and they listened, some became believers and were baptized (Acts 2:37-41), and then spread their new faith in their travels to their nations.


  4. “Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1- 4). When the people were gathered at the Pentecost two things happen. The pouring of the Holy Spirit and the apostles receiving power. I believe that God chose the Pentecost as the setting for the pouring of the Holy Spirit because, during that time many believers were gathered at the Pentecost. “Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel” Exodus 34:23. When the people gathered they need to hear God’s word. Which is why the Pentecost was indeed the right place for the pouring of the spirit.


  5. God works in so many different ways! I think that there are so many times that He does the impossible. He goes against science with so much of His works. I think that it is so easy to get caught up in daily duties that God can get lost within the mix of things. Pentecost was a day that God showed His power to remind them that He is still there. Throughout the events that take place, God is always there. The people were already celebrating the work that God did for them. It was the best time for God to make known to them that He was the God who was sovereign over their harvest. It is easy to take credit of something that we do without giving credit to where it belongs. God wants people to know that He was is the One that is sovereign over everything and that He is present in the midst of the people. People cannot look to themselves for salvation no matter how great they think they are. Peter says in Acts 2: 38, “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the Holy Spirit.”


  6. I believe that the reason that God chose Pentacost to pour out the spirit because of the large gathering of the Jews. People of the Jewish faith were gathered in Jerusalem from all parts of the known world during this time. This means that a large quantity of people were able to hear about the teachings and life of Jesus, and because of the disciples speaking in tongues, people from all nations could understand what was being taught. This meant that, with the amount of people who were hearing the gospel and having the ability to bring it back to their homelands, Jesus’ message could be spread faster to more people. Also, as you said in your blog, this time parallels when, it is thought, Moses was given the law.


  7. These correlations bring up some interesting possibilities. The one thing that comes to mind is that God works everything according to his plans and his purposes. This feast would bring many people from various regions in order to obverse the holiday. The evidence and outcome that has been recorded through the scriptures is that many came to Christ at Pentecost. “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). Point being, God chose this time because the harvest would be the greatest. There is the possibility of a connection between Pentecost and Moses giving of the Law. Whether there is or not I do not see as very significant. However, the reason God chose Pentecost is the same reason any marketing business would want to get brands all of the New Years Eve ball drop in New York. Hundreds of thousands of people are watching the ball drop. As for Pentecost, the Scriptures detail the several different nations that are present when Peter stands up and addresses the crowd. Thus, the time in which the Holy Spirit comes is not by chance, but more of a strategic play that helps jump start the church.


  8. Pentecost was an important time for the Israelite people. They took time to remember God’s grace and the first fruits He had provided for them. The first time Pentecost occurred was at Sinai when Moses presented the Israelites with the Ten Commandments. Most Christians today remember Pentecost as the time when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples. Acts 2:3-4 says, “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit…” Why is the timing of this event, during Pentecost, important? Is it? Some suggest it is significant “since Moses gave out the Law to Israel on this day, Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to the church” (Long). In both the original and the Acts 2 record of the Pentecost, a gift was given from God to His people in order for them to better govern their lives. “As God constituted His people through the theophany and giving of Torah at Sinai, so now God marks out his people through this new theophany that is marked by the outpouring of the Spirit” (Jipp 41). The timing of this gift is important, because it directly mirrors the original Pentecost. In both cases, something descended to God’s people offering them guidance in their daily walk with Him. Also, in both situations God moves in a fiery way. In Exodus, He descended on Mount Sinai like fire (Exodus 19:18). In Acts, He descended on the disciples (Acts 2:3). The difference is that in Acts 2 God gave His people a new way to guide their lives. Instead of a set of rules, He gave Himself in the form of the Holy Spirit. Despite the differences, both were events that altered the believers’ lives.


  9. Piggybacking off of Longs reference to the number three throughout Acts, it is interesting that Acts 1:7-8 describes three locations that the disciples will be witnesses in. Before Jesus ascended he specifically listed Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth as places that needed the Gospel. So the question is why these three specific regions or areas? According to the class notes, the history of the New Testament moves with the Holy Spirit (Long 3).First the gospel was presented to the Jews, then to the Gentiles and eventually to the known world. This shows the relationships between the different cultures that interacted with Jesus. The Jews were God’s chosen people and were waiting for the Messiah, they had direct influence and teaching concerning Jesus. The Gentiles knew Jesus by association but were not directly involved with the happenings of the Jewish faith. Those living at ‘the ends of the Earth’ (Ethiopia) probably had no connection or understanding of the religious differences that involved the Jews and the Gentiles. It is interesting that when the Holy Spirit came upon the believers at Pentecost, it showed itself as ‘divided tongues’ as of fire ( Acts 2:3). This can be interpreted as showing that even though the people gathered were of different nations, they were united by the Holy Spirit into the same kingdom of God. In my mind, I visualize each nation being represented by an individual tongue that was cut from the same whole object (fire), and when divided showed the individuality of the nations but when put together showed the completeness of God’s kingdom. Maybe I am reading to far into this analogy or metaphor but it does show how God is not limited by our human divisions or understanding.


  10. One possible reason for the time of the outpouring of the Spirit was because of the diverse multitudes gathered. Acts 2:9-11 describe all those who were listening. Later in the chapter, in verse 41, it describes that three thousand of these people were saved. This means that after the holiday, these people would depart and return to their homes. This broad reach that these people had likely quickened the spread of the Gospel.

    Another possible reason for this time was that the people were likely already mindful of God. Because this holiday was about giving their bounty to God and to declare His ownership, they may have been primed to receive the Gospel through their worship. They also set aside the time for God. Instead of focusing on work or everyday life, they had the time to listen to the disciples.

    Another possible reason, as you mentioned, was the parallel of the commandments and the outpouring of the Spirit. Again, the first Pentecost was when Moses gave the people the ten commandments. So it may be fitting that at this Pentecost was when God gave the people the Holy Spirit. Correct me if I am wrong, but the first Pentecost was when the law was established, and the Pentecost when the Spirit came down was the beginning of the abolishment of the law.

    It might also be a combination of some of these things. Maybe it would be strategic to have Pentecost on a holiday which many gather as well as it being summer. This would allow for more people to hear the word initially, and since it was summer with warmer weather and food likely easy to get ahold of, the spreading of the Gospel would be faster than if it were in winter. Also, since it was summer, travel may have been easier.


  11. During this time of the Pentecost there were many other celebrations going on. Such as festivals. People come to festivals, and lots of them. This would be the perfect time for God to outpour His spirit. Throughout the bible there are instances where Jesus has the chance to speak/preach. Most of these instances come when there are crowds. And I think the significance of that is because it gives the point of, Jesus is really who He says He is. Not that you need a large crowd in order to spread the word of God, however, people just really needed to hear this. The blog states that during the festivals that I had stated above, these festivals were supposed to have the theme of “God declaring ownership of the land and his grace in bringing forth food.” Which I can only imagine, that when someone with authority such as God, using this as a theme, for a teaching, people will come to this. Just like in (Acts 2:23), “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and knowledge of God.” God had a plan for these festivals, why not make this the time to do it.


  12. It seems that Pentecost was an extremely effective time for God to pour out His Spirit on the disciples because of the variety of people present at the event. There were apparently Jews present from “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5 ESV). Since Jesus specifically mentioned that the gospel was to be spread first to the Jews, then to others (Acts 1:8), I read the account in Acts 2 as God’s way of creating an efficient means by which the disciples can get the gospel message outside the walls of Jerusalem. Just thinking about the idea of 12 men spreading the message of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins to the whole world is a daunting task, but if the first step in that process is converting 3,000 Jews from many countries, then the task becomes much more manageable. Could God have chosen another time to pour out His Spirit? Of course! But this specific celebration seems to be logistically efficient and helpful for the disciples. Had the message not been given to those who would leave Jerusalem and go to other counties, there is perhaps a chance that the persecution from the Sannheddrin and Saul would have wiped out the outstanding church in Jerusalem. Regardless, it seems to me to just be a logical place to start.


  13. It is an interesting and thought-provoking question– “Why is Pentecost the time God chose for the outpouring of the Spirit?” I think that the answer is summed up in basically one statement or sentence in this post. Pentecost was the Jewish celebration of when Moses received the Law from God, so I believe that the Holy Spirit intended to descend at Pentecost in Acts 2 to represent the receiving of the Law to Moses and the Jews in Exodus 19. The imagery plays an important part in this when Luke writes that the Spirit descended like tongues of fire, I believe he was intentional in including that in the passage because of the fire that was pouring down when Moses received the Law. Thus, Luke, being a Jew himself, wrote of that imagery to connect the receiving of the Spirit in Acts 2 with the receiving of the Law to Moses in Exodus. Furthermore, I believe the Spirit intended to descend specifically in Acts 2 because Pentecost, being an instrumentally important Jewish celebration festival, had a large gathering of Jews for whom the Spirit could potentially dwell in not long after the death of Christ as a powerful display of God’s glory. Imagery is very important, I agree at least, for this passage and it is very important to understand the history and background of Israel in order to better understand the context and narrative depicted in Acts 2.


  14. God’s outpouring of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost had a few specific intentions. First off, God intended on pouring out His Holy Spirit to the believers during this time that they might see its power on display through the teaching. The disciples were looking and waiting for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; although they did not know what that would look like. God chose this time because He wanted to answers the disciple’s questions and concerns about what the Holy Spirit could do and how it would change them as individuals. Secondly, Pentecost drew in many people and Jews that would be impacted by the Holy Spirit’s work through the disciples. Additionally, the crowd there at Pentecost would be the same crowd that was in Jerusalem for Passover. These people, while perhaps not aware of Jesus’ ministry, would certainly be familiar with his crucification. The familiarity of the crowd to the death of Christ meant that Peter’s words to the crowd would not be misunderstood. Furthermore, the references that he makes to Scripture would also be understood by a crowd of Jews that would be aware of the Scriptures. Thirdly, the Pentecost, as mentioned by Dr. Long, coincided with the time at which the Law was given to Moses. This imagery reveals the obvious turning from the old law to the new law. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost pointed the disciples and the Jews in the crowd to Jesus’ sacrifice, God’s intentions, and the Holy Spirit’s power.


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