In the second chapter of Acts, we read the account of the New Testament Church beginning on the Day of Pentecost in 31 AD. It began when 3,000 people made a baptismal commitment after witnessing the dramatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit and listening to the inspired preaching of Jesus’ disciples. But did these 3,000 people merely decide on the spot to “give their hearts to the Lord”? Or was there something more—something unique and profound—going on? Do we really understand what God was doing on that day when the New Testament Church began? Were those events related to God’s previous actions in history? And how do the events on Pentecost relate to you and to the Church of God today?
A Special Calling
It is instructive to notice that when Jesus began His ministry, He did not stand on street corners and invite just anyone to become His disciples. Jesus called specific individuals to become His first disciples (Matthew 4:18–22). Later, as He trained His disciples, He explained to them, “it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them [those not called by God] it has not been given” (Matthew 13:10–11). Jesus explained that only a few would initially be called to follow Him, and that those not called would be blinded to understanding the true Gospel. Jesus then told His disciples, “blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly… many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it” (Matthew 13:16–17). In other words, Jesus’ disciples were called and given a special understanding of the plan of God, which others were not yet given.
On another occasion, Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). Jesus then began a spiritual discussion about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, which many in His audience did not understand. Jesus then repeated His earlier statement that “no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father” (John 6:65). At that point, those who did not grasp Jesus’ meaning ceased to follow Him—and Jesus did not pursue them. On the night before Jesus was crucified, He told God in a prayer, “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world” (John 17:6). Some years later, the Apostle Paul wrote to Church members in Corinth, “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:26–27). James called those called into the Church at this time the “firstfruits” in God’s plan (James 1:18).
From these verses, we learn that people do not decide on their own to become Christians, and that God is not now calling everyone into His Church. He is calling a few individuals to become “firstfruits” who will reign with Christ when He returns to set up the Kingdom of God on the earth (see Revelation 5:10; 14:4; 20:4–6). Jesus said that a calling to be His disciple is a unique opportunity and very special privilege that would only be offered to a few in this age. What happened on the Day of Pentecost in 31 AD was according to God’s plan, and something very profound was occurring. The people who made baptismal commitments on that day did not just decide on the spot to “give their hearts to the Lord.” Rather, God had called them and given them a special opportunity to become part of His Church. He gave them the ability to understand the meaning and significance of what they had seen and the message they heard from the disciples Jesus had called and trained. What happened on Pentecost in 31 AD was part of the plan of God that has important implications for each of us and for the Church of God today.
Admonitions and Warnings
The Apostle Paul admonished the ministry of God’s Church, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine… they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:1–4). Paul’s admonition to provide instruction fit for the season would imply that messages given on the Holy Days should communicate the meaning of those days, so the Church would not lose or forget their understanding of what those days picture. Sadly, as Paul also warned, many would leave the Truth to follow false religious teachings and practices in the context of the “last days” (2 Timothy 3:1–5).
Paul also warned that, before Christ’s return, a “man of sin”—a “lawless one”—would appear on the world scene to deceive many with miraculous signs and false doctrines, and implored true Christians to “stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught” (2 Thessalonians 2:1–15). One of the most insidious of these “lawless” teachings is that, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, Christians should not strive to keep God’s law with the help of the Holy Spirit, and can continue in their sinful ways with God’s approval.
Of course, this idea does not agree with the teaching or example of Jesus, who said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Scripture plainly teaches that Jesus came to “magnify the law” (Isaiah 42:21, KJV) and to show that the letter of the law (e.g. Exodus 20:13–14, forbidding murder and adultery) also has a spiritual dimension (e.g. Matthew 5:21–28, about anger and lust). Scripture shows plainly that Jesus kept the Sabbath and the Holy Days and taught others to follow His example (Luke 4:16; John 7:1–10).
The Apostle Paul warned that false teachers would preach about another Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:3–4). Today, most professing Christians worship an effeminate, law-breaking individual whose birth is celebrated on December 25. Paul warned that false teachers would preach a different gospel (such as the idea that you can be saved merely by “giving your heart to the Lord” and that your reward for doing so will be to spend a leisurely eternity in Heaven). These false teachers would be led by a different spirit that promotes lies and fables instead of the Truth and turns a blind eye to the facts of history. This is why the Apostle Jude warned Christians to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Jude was writing sometime around 70 AD, when men had entered the Church with an agenda of “turning the grace of our God into lewdness” (Jude 4).
Such misleading ideas were promoted by Gnostics who used Jesus’ name but called God’s law a burden (contrary to 1 John 5:3). Many Gnostic teachers, though calling themselves Christians, told people that it was acceptable to keep other religions’ holidays to honor Jesus, and that they could choose their own day of worship instead of the seventh day. These false Gnostic ideas were absorbed by the Roman Catholic Church and were later transmitted into Protestant churches where they are still believed today. This is why Catholics and Protestants have lost sight of the Holy Days and their meanings, and why they do not understand the truth about the plan of God.
Holy Days: Commanded Assemblies
What is the purpose of keeping the Holy Days? What truths does God intend them to convey? What lessons can we learn—especially about Pentecost—that are relevant to Christians today? Scripture states that the Sabbath and the Holy Days are not the feasts of Moses or the Jews, but “the feasts of the Lord” (Leviticus 23:2). These festivals are also called “holy convocations”—they are commanded assemblies that were established to be kept “forever” (Leviticus 23:4, 14, 21, 31, 41). God did not establish His Sabbath and Holy Days as nice options for us to observe out of the goodness of our hearts if we are so inclined. Rather, He commanded His people to observe the Festivals He established. We are told in three different Old Testament passages, “Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year”—in the spring at the Days of Unleavened Bread, in early summer at Pentecost, and in the autumn at the Feast of Tabernacles (Exodus 23:14–17; 34:22–23; Deuteronomy 16:16). It is interesting that the idea of “firstfruits” is closely associated with the Feast of Pentecost in these passages, yet this idea is not fully explained in the Old Testament. The Apostle Paul mentions that the Festivals of God provide “a shadow of things to come” (Colossians 2:16–17), and it is in the New Testament that we learn the real significance of “firstfruits” in relation to God’s plan and the events that occurred on Pentecost in 31 AD.
But what instructions did God give to the ancient nation of Israel? How do those instructions relate to Christians today? In Deuteronomy 4, Moses reviewed the conditions of the covenant God had made with the nation of Israel. He explained that God gave them His laws—including the Sabbaths and Holy Days—for their benefit, and that they were neither to add to, nor take away from, any of His commandments. This would include not rejecting the Holy Days and not replacing them with pagan holidays. Moses explained that God gave Israel His laws to set them apart from other nations, so they could be an example to the world of a wise and understanding people—an example that the peoples of the world would want to emulate when they saw the blessings the Israelites received. Jesus gave similar instructions to His disciples when He told them to keep His commandments and be lights to the world (John 14:15; Matthew 5:14–16).
Moses also instructed the Israelites to teach the laws of God to their children and grandchildren, so they would not forget the covenant they made with God, nor how God dealt with their nation. Yet, despite these warnings, Moses perceived that these instructions would be forgotten (Deuteronomy 4:25-28). Moses reminded the Israelites that God chose them and raised them up from humble origins to be His “special” people—to be blessed and be an example of holiness to the world if they would obey His instructions (Deuteronomy 7:6–26). God gave the Israelites His Sabbath and Holy Days as a sign to set them apart from the nations of the world, and to keep them mindful of His great plan (Exodus 31:12–18). This also applies to those whom God is calling into His Church today (1 Peter 2:9–10).
Sadly, the ancient Israelites forgot God’s instructions, rejected His laws, and failed to observe His Sabbaths and Holy Days. They lost sight of their special mission, corrupted themselves, went into captivity, and lost their national identity (see Deuteronomy 31:26–29; 2 Kings 17:18; Ezekiel 20). Those whom God has called in our present day to become part of His Church—to be lights to the world—must be alert to these lessons of history and must not repeat the mistakes of the past!
Pentecost in the New Testament
As we have seen, Jesus did not come to do away with the laws of God. Jesus kept the Sabbath and the Holy Days all His life and taught His disciples to follow His example (Luke 4:16; 22:14–16; John 7:8–10, 37). Jesus’ disciples taught the early New Testament Church to do likewise (Acts 17:2; 18:21; 1 Corinthians 5:8; 11:1). In the days after His resurrection, Jesus commanded His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4–8). It was on the Day of Pentecost—a Holy Day that God’s people have been commanded to observe forever (Leviticus 23:21)—when God poured out His Spirit and began the New Testament Church of God (Acts 2). We are told that God gives His Spirit “to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32). Because they were following His commandments and instructions, God poured out His Spirit on Jesus’ disciples in a dramatic and visible way, enabling them to speak in many languages to those who had come together at Pentecost, so these people could understand the Gospel (Acts 2:1–12).
This sudden capacity to speak in a different language was not—as most professing Christians assume—a personal ecstatic experience in which participants babble a series of unrecognizable syllables. Rather, God supernaturally gave the disciples the ability to communicate with each listener in his or her own language, so the Gospel message could be understood and spread. This miraculous sign of speaking in another tongue is also mentioned in Acts 10:44–48 and Acts 19:1–6. In each case, the ability to speak in a different language was a sign that God was leading His Church, not a personal ecstatic experience meant to give the speaker some enhanced personal sense of spirituality.
Scripture shows how God began His Church—and added to it—by calling individuals out of this world, to whom He gave the Holy Spirit to guide them into understanding His truth and His plan. On several occasions, Jesus said that to receive God’s calling and the capacity to understand His truth is a unique opportunity and a special privilege. Those who made a baptismal commitment on the Day of Pentecost took advantage of that opportunity to become part of the New Testament Church. If God has called you and given you the capacity to understand His Truth, you, too, have been given this same unique opportunity and special privilege to become part of His Church and play a role as a “firstfruit” in God’s plan of salvation that will change the whole world. The Day of Pentecost should be a sobering and exciting reminder of that special calling.
Gifts of the Spirit
Those whom God called to be part of His Church on Pentecost in 31 AD were told that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit if they would repent and be baptized, accepting Jesus Christ’s sacrifice to pay for their sins (Acts 2:38). Repentance involves changing our lives and coming ever closer to God by living ever more fully according to His laws. Remember, Jesus told His disciples to keep His commandments, and taught that God gives His Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32). We also learn from Scripture that God imparts the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands by God’s ministers after baptism (Acts 8:14–18).
Jesus called the Holy Spirit the “Spirit of truth” and said that the world “cannot receive” that Spirit, which it neither sees nor knows (John 14:16–17). Scripture plainly states that people are not truly Christians—and will not receive the Spirit of God—unless they are called by God, repent, accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as payment for their sins, and at baptism (which means full immersion in water, not a ritual sprinkling) make a commitment to obey God (Romans 8:9)—a commitment an infant cannot yet make.
Jesus also said that God’s Spirit will lead Christians and His Church “into all truth” (John 16:13). This is why the Church of God understands the meaning of the Holy Days and how these days picture the plan of God. This is also why the Church of God understands the “mystery of the kingdom of God” (Mark 4:11), and why the Church is able to have a “more sure word of prophecy” (2 Peter 1:19–21, KJV). God makes these gifts available to His Church so it can accomplish the mission He gave it.
The gift of the Holy Spirit comes with a responsibility. Once we receive the Holy Spirit, we must nourish that Spirit by daily prayer, Bible study, and meditation on the things of God (2 Corinthians 4:16). Jesus told His disciples that we glorify the Father when we bear much fruit (John 15:8). Scripture describes that fruit. Those whom God calls to be Christian must be distinguished by genuine outgoing love and concern for others (John 13:35; 15:12–13). They must strive to develop the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). They must become peaceable, easily entreated, full of mercy, and without hypocrisy (James 3:13–18). The Apostle Paul explained that when we are plagued with doubts we are not using or being led by God’s Spirit. However, those who are continually being renewed and led by God’s Spirit are confident about what they believe and can discern where and how God is working (2 Timothy 1:6–7). Another visible fruit of the Holy Spirit is unity—that those being led by God’s Spirit will be able to work together in harmony because they share the same mind and the same judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 4:1–3).
When we observe the Day of Pentecost, we should remember these important concepts. We are commanded to remember and observe a day that pictures an important step in the plan of God. It reminds us that God is calling a few to become the firstfruits of what will ultimately become a great harvest. It is a reminder that God is calling a few into His Church now, to be educated and trained to teach others God’s way of life during the Millennial reign of Christ. God is giving His Spirit to those He calls so that we can develop the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which will enable us to become more like Him and eventually be born into His Family. As we observe the Day of Pentecost, let us remember and deeply appreciate this unique opportunity and very special calling!