The Context of Pentecost Matters

by Pastor Greg Denham

While many believers today are praying for a “Jesus Movement”—an incredible work of the gospel—in our generation, to truly grasp what it means to be a Jesus follower, we need to understand the first believers, and it all begins at Pentecost. The impact of Pentecost is just as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago in the upper room. Pentecost began the Jesus Revolution. One might say that we must go backward to go forward, so let us journey back in time and learn how the context of Pentecost matters.

Following His resurrection, Jesus instructed His disciples in Acts 1:4 to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father. We now know that He had a specific day in mind for that promise to be revealed—the day of Pentecost, which is one of the three pilgrim festivals required by the Lord (Exodus 23:14–17; 34:18–24; Deuteronomy 16:16–17). Pentecost comes from the Greek word penteconta (πεντήκοντα), which means fifty. The number fifty refers to the fifty days of counting the harvest, which began immediately after Passover.

The Hebrew name is Shavuot (שָׁבוּעוֹת), which means “weeks” and comes from the Hebrew word for “seven.” Shavuot is 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 in Jerusalem for the Shavuot (Pentecost) festival was the belief that the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) had been given on Shavuot 1,300 years earlier. The Jewish tradition is called Z’man Matan Torah, “the season of the giving of the Law,” when the Lord separated His people from Egypt and drew them into a relationship with Him. It is when the earth shook with flashes of lightning, and God spoke in thunder!

Fifty days after Jesus gave His life on the cross was “when the day of Pentecost had fully come” (Acts 2:1). The events that follow reveal that the parallels between the giving of the Law and the giving of the Spirit—the beginning of the Jesus Revolution—are unmistakable. God manifested His presence atop Mount Sinai; 1,300 years later, He began the Jesus Revolution and inaugurated the New Covenant atop Mount Zion when He revealed His presence, power, and purpose to one hundred twenty Jewish believers. On Mount Sinai, God gave His commandments, written with His finger on tablets of stone; but at Pentecost in Jerusalem, He sent His Spirit to write His commandments on human hearts. At Mount Sinai, God judged three thousand for idolatry; but on the top of Mount Zion, three thousand people came to faith in Messiah Jesus!

In essence, the knowledge of God was exploding through the faithful remnant of Israel in the one hundred twenty followers of Jesus in the upper room! They were the remnant that was publicly and divinely identified by the 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 declared, after being empowered and gifted by the Spirit, 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, inaugurated by Jesus’ blood on the cross at Passover, was now transforming three thousand Jewish people who had repented (Acts 2:37–41) and in whom now dwelt the Spirit of God. Now, the nations of the world could enter the New Covenant given to Israel, and could now experience the outpouring of God’s Spirit, too. (Acts 2:16-21; 39)

God’s plan, clearly revealed in His Word, has always been unstoppable! In that light, it is not surprising that both Passover and Pentecost frame God’s redemption narrative and point us to Jesus, the Messiah, who completes it.

Years ago, the apologist and Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer was asked, “What is the greatest obstacle to the modern church?” His answer was fascinating. He did not say that the major problems were the “-isms” in culture: atheism, materialism, relativism, etc. Instead, he said, “The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or 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.”[1]

Rediscovering the beginning of the Jesus Revolution in the first century—in its original context—can renew and even reorient to God’s intended course and mission for the Church!

For example, the context of Pentecost tells us that we can only accomplish God’s purposes for our lives in His strength! Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). 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 fellowship with “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15). The Spirit comes upon the believer to empower with divine gifting for a divine mission. Zechariah 4:6 reads, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” The Spirit of God is the source of our strength in all areas of our life. We need to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) daily!

The context of Pentecost also tells us that Peter was addressing a specific audience in Acts 2:22, namely, the Jewish pilgrims who went to the Temple to give their offerings. In principle, it speaks of the often overlooked priority of Jewish evangelism. In Romans 1:16, Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Paul wrote this in the present tense, which means that if the gospel is still the power of God “for” salvation and is still for “everyone who believes,” then the gospel is still “to the Jew first.” The term “first” does not merely speak of sequence, but priority.[2]

Later, the Apostle Peter underscored an eschatological link to Jewish evangelism by saying,

Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. (Acts 3:19–21)

Peter’s statement is consistent with Jesus saying, “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Matthew 23:39). Additionally, Revelation 1:7 reads, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.” The reality is that before the world sees Him, Jerusalem will turn to Him! (Zechariah 12:10), “And so all Israel will be saved…” (Romans 11:26).

You can see that there is a tremendous spiritual battle regarding evangelism, of which we must be aware. “If Jerusalem will not see Him until she welcomes Him back, then no eye will see Him until Jerusalem receives Him!”[3] The origin of the Jesus Revolution at Pentecost reminds us that we cannot allow Jewish evangelism to become the “great omission” of the Great Commission.[4]

Pentecost reveals that the bullseye of the Church’s mission and preaching is the Person and work of Jesus! Peter proclaimed, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene…” (Acts 2:22). Keep the focus on Jesus, His death on the cross that bridged the gap between God and man, and His resurrection. Jesus demonstrates by rising from the dead that He is creating all things new in Himself. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Acts 4:12 reads, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” There is only one reason 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)!

The context reveals the importance of repentance! On the day of Pentecost, the people were “pierced to the heart” and said, “‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:37–38).

The Greek word translated as repentance is metanoia[5] (μετάνοια), which means to change the way one thinks. Such a change leads to a lifestyle change from a self-centered life in rebellion to God to a complete allegiance to Jesus Christ as one’s 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 everyone to repent! The Apostle Paul said,

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).

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-night. Right-about-face!”[6]

Finally, the context of Pentecost reminds us that God’s plan unfolded in a Jewish environment. This perspective is essential for deepening one’s understanding of the Scriptures! We need great teachers today, we need great evangelists today, and we need a Church grounded in the truth and making Jesus known by the power of the Holy Spirit! The Jewish context is the basis for the accurate exegesis of Scripture, expository preaching, evangelism, and gospel contextualization in our twenty-first-century global audience.


Greg Denham is the pastor of Rise Church in San Marcos, California. Greg is a dear friend of Dr. Mitch Glaser, president of Chosen People Ministries. Greg loves the Lord, the Jewish roots of the faith, and is an active student of all biblical matters related to Israel and the Jewish people.

To contact Greg, or visit Rise Church online, click here.


Footnotes:

[1] Francis A. Schaeffer, No Little People (Introduction by Udo Middlemann) (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2003), 66.

[2] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, trans. and rev. W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, second rev. F. W. Gingrich and F. W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 726; Wilhelm Michaelis, “proton,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 6:869.

[3] Michael L. Brown, Our Hands Are Stained with Blood: The Tragic Story of the Church and the Jewish People, revised & expanded ed. (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., 2019), 226.

[4] Mitch Glaser, (lecture, Talbot School of Theology, La Mirada, CA).

[5] Metanoia literally means a change of mind. The Greek verb translated as “Repent!” is related to μετάνοια. The second-person plural imperative form of the verb μετανοέω (metanoeō) is mετανοήσατε, which is the word Peter used in Acts 2:38.

[6] W. H. Daniels, D. L. Moody and His Work (Hartford: American Publishing Company, 1876), 471.

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