Pentecost is one of three major festivals in the Jewish calendar each year. Deuteronomy 16 describes each one: first was Passover (see vv. 1-8), second was the Festival of Weeks, later called Pentecost (see vv. 9-12), and the third was the Festival of Tabernacles or the Festival of Booths (see vv. 13-15).
These festivals are summarized in Deuteronomy 16:16-17: “All your males are to appear three times a year before the LORD your God in the place He chooses: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread [which was related to Passover], the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Booths. No one is to appear before the LORD empty-handed. Everyone must appear with a gift suited to his means, according to the blessing the LORD your God has given you.” (See also Ex. 23:14-17).
Here we will consider Pentecost and its significance in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The term Pentecost comes from the Greek term that carries the meaning “fiftieth day.” This term reflects the timing of the event, as we will see. In the Old Testament the observance was not only called the Feast or Festival of Weeks, but also the “Day of Firstfruits” (Num. 28:26; see vv. 26-31 for the context) and the “Festival of Harvest” (Ex. 23:16).
With prescribed procedure and ritual, the Hebrews were to dedicate the firstfruits of their crops at a time when the corn harvest ripened in Palestine. Significantly, corn was the last crop to ripen in that region. The festival began on the fiftieth day following the Passover.
In the New Testament, this observance took on added significance because it was on the occasion of the Pentecost following Jesus’ death and resurrection that the Holy Spirit manifested His presence in and through the earliest followers of Christ and gave birth to the church: “when the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying. And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them. Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them ability for speech (see Acts 2:1-4; see vv. 1-41 for the context). Let us not miss the significance of the fact that Pentecost also was called the Festival of Harvest, and on this Pentecost the earliest believers, because of the work of the Holy Spirit, reaped a bountiful harvest of souls.