Pentecost: Origin, Significance, and Importance

Pentecost is the mark of God’s new covenant and the birth of the Church of Jesus.

The Day of Pentecost is a well-known holiday celebrated by Christians. It was an earth-shaking occurrence in history that displayed one of the majestic moves of God. It contains a high degree of spiritual significance that marked the birth of the Church of Jesus, yet not many are aware of its true essence when celebrating it. To honor and understand Pentecost is one way of publicly displaying our faith.

Have you ever pondered on what Pentecost signifies? Why is it important? Why do Christians celebrate it? 

What is Pentecost?

The Pentecost has a variety of names in the Bible: Shavuot, The Feast of Weeks, the First Fruits, or the Feast of Harvest. Pentecost or Shavuot is traditionally known as a festive time in Israel for offering thanksgiving and bestowing offerings for the new grain of the summer wheat harvest. 

In the modern-day, Pentecost is widely known as a Christian holiday that commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and believers of Jesus while they were celebrating the Feast of Weeks in Jerusalem. (Acts 2

The Pentecost marks the beginning of the Church of Christ and its mission to spread the Good News. It is one of the major Christian festivals celebrated on a Sunday that falls on the 50th day of Easter. 

Some of the denominations that observe Pentecost are Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, and other Christians. 

Origin of Pentecost

Etymology Of Pentecost

The word Pentecost derives from the Greek “Πεντηκοστή” (Pentēkostē), which means “fiftieth.” It refers to the Jewish celebration held on the 50th day following First Fruits (also known as Feast of Weeks) and the rabbinic tradition of the Feast of 50 days.

Background Of Pentecost

Pentecost emerged from a Jewish Harvest festival named Shavuot (Feast of Weeks in English). God commanded the Jews to count seven full weeks beginning on the second day after Passover and then as a lasting ordinance present offerings of new grain to the Lord, hence the name “Feast of Weeks.”

Shavuot began as a festival to express gratitude to the Lord for the blessings of the harvest. It became the “Latter Firstfruits” since it occurred towards the end of the Passover.

The Feast of Pentecost began in the Pentateuch as a First Fruits offering, mandated in Israel on Mount Sinai. On the first evening of Shavuot, it has been customary for Jews throughout history to study the Torah all night. The children could enjoy treats and sweets if they memorize Scripture. 

Symbols of Pentecost

  • Red – The most common symbol for Pentecost, especially in Western Churches, is the color red. It’s the color of liturgical vestment on Pentecost. Many priests, ministers, or choirs wear red clothing in the celebration of Pentecost. A lot of churches decorate their altars with red burning candles, red banners, and red altar cloth to depict the movement of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost. The color red represents joy and the fire of the Holy Spirit. 

Other churches incorporated the use of red balloons to signify the birthday of the Church.

  • Dove – The dove is one of the symbols of Pentecost. It represents how the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and other believers like a dove. 
  • Wind – The wind symbolizes the free movement of the Holy Spirit and the breath of God. It represents the sound of a mighty wind on the Day of Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit descended upon the believers. (Acts 2:2)
  • Fire – The fire represents the Holy Spirit who filled the Apostles with zeal and burning passion. As they were filled with the Holy Spirit, “tongues of fire” came to rest on each of them. (Acts 2:3)

Biblical References of Pentecost

Old Testament

There are several biblical references to the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost in the Old Testament. These are found in the books of Leviticus 23:15-22, Deuteronomy 16:16, Exodus 34:22, and 2 Chronicles 8:13.

New Testament – Book Of Acts

The incidents happening in Acts Chapter 2 transpire against the backdrop of the celebration of Pentecost in Jerusalem. It starts by stating how the Apostles have gathered in one place on the Day of Pentecost. Then, a sound like a mighty wind came from heaven and filled the entire room. The wind is a common symbol of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles noticed what appeared to be “tongues of fires” that split apart and landed on each of them. Afterward, the Holy Spirit filled them with His presence, and the Apostles began to speak in other tongues. 

This event represents the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy in Joel 2:28 when God will finally pour out His Spirit on everyone. Peter affirms that this event marks the beginning of a “continual outpouring” of God’s Spirit that is available to every believer from that point on. 

The narrative in the Book of Acts Chapter 2 elicits the symbolism of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. It connects the prophecy of John the Baptist to the baptism of the disciples with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. 

Liturgical Celebrations of Pentecost

Eastern Churches

Pentecost is one of the Orthodox Great Feasts and is considered the second-highest Great Feast of the Lord in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Pentecost is also one of the seven major “Lord’s Feasts” of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.

The Orthodox icon of the Feast of Pentecost displays the Apostles seated in a semicircle where the Holy Spirit is at the top of the icon, descending upon them in the form of tongues of fire.

Eastern Churches practice a service called the Kneeling Prayer on the night of Pentecost. The people pray a set of three long poetical prayers while making a full genuflection. Orthodox Churches also practice the Apostles’ Fast. The beginning of the Apostles’ Fast starts on the Second Monday after Pentecost.

Orthodox believe that the Church existed before the creation of the world and not because of Pentecost.

Western Churches

Western Churches have extremely rich and varied liturgical celebrations of Pentecost. A typical Western image of the Pentecost is that of the Virgin Mary seated prominently in the center among the Apostles with burning flames resting on their heads. The flames represent the “tongues of fire” that came to rest upon them. 

Not all churches celebrate Pentecost. However, most of the churches that do are the Protestant denomination. Many Christians observe Pentecost because they believe it is the birth of the Church and the descent of the Paraclete upon believers.

The color red is the primary symbol for Pentecost in Western Churches. It symbolizes the fire of the Holy Spirit. Liturgical vestments on Pentecost are mainly red. The people who celebrate Pentecost wear red, and even the decorations are red. 

When is the Day of Pentecost?

The time of observance for Pentecost is on the fiftieth day from Easter Sunday. It is on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan (May or June), or the seventh Sunday from Easter. 

  • 2021 – May 23 (Western); June 20 (Eastern)
  • 2022 – June 5 (Western); June 12 (Eastern)
  • 2023 – May 28 (Western); June 4 (Eastern)

Significance of Pentecost

Celebration Of The Descent Of The Holy Spirit On The Apostles And Believers

Modern Christians celebrate Pentecost to remember the descent of the Holy Spirit on the twelve Apostles and other believers. The narrative of the Book of Acts 2 also depicts the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy in Joel 2:28-29, where God will pour out His Spirit to all His servants.

After Jesus ascended to Heaven, His followers gathered together in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. Afterward, there was a magnificent outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them, and they began to speak in tongues. 

This peculiar event piqued everyone’s interest, and it drew a large crowd. The Holy Spirit empowered Peter to speak with boldness about repentance and the Good News. With Peter’s effective evangelism, 3,000 new believers were added on that day. 

The baptism of the Holy Spirit brought a better revelation of the Gospel to the believers. They were able to grasp its complexity much better than before. Their increased knowledge and new experience with the Lord equipped them to preach the Good News effectively.

Birth Of The Church

You might have wondered why Pentecost is considered the Church’s birthday. The Day of Pentecost marked the beginning of preaching Jesus’ message to others and establishing the Church and its mission to preach in all nations. 

Peter denied Jesus three times. He did not dare to tell the world about Jesus before. But, with the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter was able to preach the message of Jesus to a large crowd. Like a drunk man who’s not afraid of anything, Peter was drunk with the Holy Spirit at that time. That particular movement of God caused a radical and swift transformation of Peter’s character. From a man full of fear to a man full of bravery and supernatural boldness who preached the Gospel publicly. As a result, it added 3,000 new believers! 

God deliberately sent an unlimited source of His power through the Holy Spirit so everyone can do great things for His glory and preach the Gospel. The Holy Spirit will help every believer to do God’s will and do miraculous things. A display of supernatural abilities will help unbelievers see a glimpse of God’s glory and come to believe in Him. Like how He anointed Moses to perform the miracles to display His greatness, the same way He anoints His servants through the Holy Spirit. 

Why is Pentecost Important?

Influence Of Pentecost On Christians Today

Pentecost is still important today because what was given to the Church at that time is still available to the Church today. God’s call for His people will remain unchanged. He wants everyone to continue preaching the Gospel and significantly impacting other people’s lives. Just like how Peter preached the Gospel boldly, God wants us to do the same. 

The Holy Spirit continues to guide and lead us in our lives. He continues to teach and sanctify us. The Holy Spirit is still living in us, equipping and empowering us to serve one another and preach the Gospel. 

Pentecost Sunday is crucial today because it allows us to not only reflect on and celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit in the past, but it also inspires us to look forward to seeing these same acts present in our lives now.

Mark Of The New Covenant

The major trend in the Old Testament is that the Holy Spirit’s enablement is only for chosen people on special occasions. The Holy Spirit’s empowerment wasn’t available to just anyone. 

That’s why the Pentecost Sunday is tremendously significant because it commemorates the establishment of a new, better covenant in which the Holy Spirit can now dwell in all believers.

The Holy Spirit’s anointing and gifts are now accessible to all God’s people. 

In Summary

Celebrating Pentecost will be more meaningful when you have a better grasp of it. Christians must be aware of what it truly is for them to fully appreciate it. Pentecost is still relevant today because it allows us to not only reflect on and celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit in the past, but it also inspires us to expect the same acts to emerge in our lives now.

Pentecost tells a thrilling story of God’s supernatural move and brings greater clarity to the beginning of the Church and its mission. As we celebrate Pentecost, let it be a reminder of our God-given purpose. And, let us not only remember Pentecost as something that happened in the past but let it also be a thrust forward for us to fulfill God’s calling in our lives.  

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Alex Shute
Alex Shute, MBA
Alex is a family man and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. His passion is to serve the global Church and bring people of diverse backgrounds together to learn & grow.

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