In the year 334 B.C. Alexander the Great, having subdued the Greek states, began his conquest of the Persian Empire. In less than eleven years he succeeded in doing just that he would have gone further into India if his weary army had allowed him to do so. By his conquest the Greeks not only subdued a vast collection of territory and people, but also brought their culture and way of life. This included their political system, city organization and citizenship system, language, customs, religion, philosophy, homosexuality (which included little boys), their love of division and war one against another, and everything else they thought made a man, to use their own words, “beautiful and good”.
After Alexander’s death, his vast empire broke up after an extended period of warfare, the empire was basically divided by three ruling families. The Antigonids took Macedonia and Greece, the Ptolemies (the last of whom was Cleopatra) took Egypt, and the Seleucids took what was Babylonia and parts of Asia Minor.
At the time of Alexander’s conquest, the Jews were scattered throughout his empire, but the core of them were back in the land God had promised them and had a temple in Jerusalem. For many years the Ptolemies ruled the land of Israel from Egypt subsequently it fell into the hands of the Seleucids. One of these, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, set up a statue of the Greek god Zeus in the Jerusalem Temple. This was the original “abomination of desolation”, which helped to ignite the Jews into revolt and ultimate independence under the Maccabees. A few years later the Romans came in and took charge. Having had their fill of the bloodshed that came with Greek civilization, most of the rest of the Middle East was glad.
The Jews’ contacts with the Greeks were not entirely negative. In large Jewish communities such as Alexandria, Egypt, using Greek became a way of life, and so the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament came into being. This gave the Apostles the Bible in a common language when they broke out of Judaism to win the Gentiles.
Among the many holidays the Jews celebrate is one that falls fifty days after Passover. Because of these fifty days, the Greek-speaking Jews began to refer to this holiday as Pentecost. How the name of a Jewish holiday became the word to describe an entire sector of Christianity is a long business before we get that far, it would pay us first to take a look at this ancient celebration itself.
Feast of Harvest
In the Old Testament, the holiday was called either the “Feast of Weeks” or the “Feast of Harvest.” The first reference to this feast in the Old Testament makes no reference to the time of year in which it happens it simply states that the Israelites were to “Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field.” Later on, however, a more complete description of the holiday takes place:
`From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count up fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the Lord. Present with this bread seven male lambs, each a year old and without defect, one young bull and two rams. They will be a burnt offering to the Lord, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings — an offering made by fire, pleasing to the Lord. Then sacrifice one male goat for a sin offering and two lambs, each a year old, for a fellowship offering. The priest is to wave the two lambs before the Lord as a wave offering, together with the bread of the firstfruits. They are a sacred offering to the Lord for the priest. On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.’
We see here that the feast gets its two Old Testament names from two of its important characteristics: its falling seven weeks after “the Sabbath,” and its connection with the harvest, as the firstfruits offered came from the harvest that had just been completed. Looking at the reckoning in the passage above, the reference to “the Sabbath” looks very general, since there is one Sabbath each week. In this case, however, “the Sabbath” refers to the Passover, which had just been detailed earlier in the same chapter. Since the Passover (and thus our Easter) usually falls in March or April, adding fifty days (or seven weeks and a day) brings this festival towards the end of May or early June.
This seems to many of us like an odd time to celebrate a harvest feast. The reason why it isn’t is a function of the climate and agricultural cycle of the land of Israel. Because its climate is generally warm and dry, successful sowing of seed and reaping of food is mostly dependent upon rainfall. This usually takes place during the late fall and early winter months, with some assistance from rain in the spring. Thus the optimum time to sow seed was just before the rain (generally November) and for harvest in April or May, in time to beat the hot, dry summer.
Thus we see that the Feast of Weeks or Harvest, which ultimately became known as Pentecost, started out as a celebration of agricultural success. For Jew and Christian alike, though, there is more to this celebration.
If we take another look at Lev 23:4-21, which includes the section on the Feast of the Harvest, we realize there is in fact a trio of feasts that occur in the spring which are interrelated both in time and purpose. To place Pentecost in its proper perspective, we first need to take a look at the other two feasts, the first of which is Passover. Technically speaking, this passage covers two feasts, the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. These two feasts were basically celebrated as a unit.
Passover is the celebration of the last and greatest of the plagues which the Lord sent to the Egyptians. He sent these plagues to convince their Pharaoh to release the Israelites so that they might proceed to the land which the Lord had promised them. To do this, the Lord dispatched an angel to Egypt to kill every eldest son in the country. To spare the Israelites the same fate, the Lord instructed each Israelite to take one or more lambs. These were to be killed, roasted, and eaten quickly. The blood was then taken and sprinkled on the top and sides of the front doorposts. By this sign the angel would realize that Israelites lived in the house and “pass over” the house in his search for first born Egyptians. When the Egyptians realized what had happened to them, Pharaoh released the Israelites, who quickly left through a parted Red Sea. Their exit was so fast that the Israelites did not have time to prepare bread with yeast in it, which would have forced them to wait for the bread to rise, hence the later celebration of the Unleavened Bread.
This deliverance was essential to the Israelites they could not fulfill the plan that God had for them without it. And the fulfillment of God’s plan and purpose is central for any one person or group whom God has set aside. We frequently look at ourselves and think that we are of no importance, but God has a plan and a purpose for us that we need to be about fulfilling. Frequently this plan takes time to work out we see that the Israelites went through a long process in Egypt, and went through another one in the wilderness before reaching the Promised Land. We need to be patient while God fulfills this plan in our lives when this happens, not only is God glorified but we too find meaning and value for ourselves.
In the fulfillment of God’s plan, the role of the blood of the lambs cannot be overemphasized, because without this blood the destroying angel would have visited the same fate on the eldest of the Israelites that he did on the Egyptians. By being marked with the blood, however, the Israelites were spared this fate and were able to make good their escape from Egypt.
The role of blood in the worship of the Israelites expands from the Passover to include a wide variety of sacrifices and shedding of animals’ blood. Looking at the blood broadly, we see the purpose of its ritual shedding was twofold: 1)to take away sins, and 2)to protect the Israelites from harm. Between their time in the wilderness and the destruction of the Temple under the Romans, many animals gave their lives and their blood first in the Ark of the Covenant and later in the Temple to atone for the Israelites’ sins. These were numerous, serious, and repetitious, and the sacrifices were of like nature, going on generation after generation.
The basic problem with this system is its incompleteness. “For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins…Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties again and again he offers the same sacrifices which can never take away sins”. This state of affairs continued unimproved until one special Passover when Tiberius was Roman Emperor.
When Jesus Christ and his disciples gathered in the upper room for the last time on this earth, their ostensible purpose was to celebrate the Passover meal, as Jews had done since the miracle in Egypt. But Jesus had greater plans for this Passover not only was he going to institute a new Passover feast, he was ultimately going to be its sacrificial lamb as well.
He started during the meal itself: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, `Take and eat this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, `Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.'”
Jesus begins the process by instituting the Lord’s Supper, which is the reenactment of what was to follow. Here he lays out the purpose for his shed blood: to provide for the forgiveness of sins. Just as the animals’ blood in the Jewish system provided for the forgiveness of sins, so now Jesus’ blood will serve the same purpose.
From here through his Passion he proceeds to make his sacrifice a personal reality. After the long hours of agonizing torture and repeated interrogation, he was taken and crucified, a horrible form of execution that the Romans reserved for their worst elements. Through all of this, his precious blood was shed for our sins. Even after he had entrusted his spirit to the heavenly Father who had sent him, the blood did not stop, “Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.”
As opposed to the animals, the important thing about Jesus’ sacrifice is that Jesus is God’s own Son thus, he was able to make a perfect sacrifice for the sins of humanity. In this regard he acted both as the High Priest and the sacrificial victim:
For Christ did not enter a man made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he is appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
By offering himself as a perfect sacrifice, and shedding his own blood, Jesus established a new, durable way for us to find forgiveness of sins and an end to guilt, by the application of his own blood to our sins and our rebirth as new creatures in him. In his sacrifice he also established a new covenant (or “alliance,” as the French would say) with men, ending the need for animal, Temple sacrifice. This last event didn’t take long to bear wide ranging fruit. Less than forty years after Jesus offered himself up, the Temple was destroyed, the sacrificial system was gone, and the Christians, freed from the confines of Judaism, were multiplying throughout the earth.
In this way the Passover, along with the entire Old Covenant, was fulfilled. However, just as the Feast of the Harvest was preceded first by the Passover, so also is Pentecost preceded by the Cross, both in the New Testament and in our own lives. Before there was an upper room with tongues of fire, there was an upper room of the Lord’s Supper, with the reenactment and then the reality of the blood of Jesus for sins. Before there can be a Pentecostal experience in our lives, there must first be the cleansing of sins with the shed blood of Jesus, applied one sinner at a time.
We move on now to Lev 23:9-14, which describes the second of the three feasts, namely the firstfruits. This feast comes close behind the Passover and Unleavened Bread, although its origins are not rooted in Israelite history but firmly in the agricultural cycle.
The concept behind this feast is simple — when the Israelites harvest the first grain of the harvest they present it to the priest, who in turn presents it to the Lord by waving it on the day after the Sabbath. There are other offerings following it, both animal and grain, the animal offering being a lamb without defect. Even while busy with the harvest the Israelites could not keep out of trouble.
The first thing we notice about this feast is that what is offered first is not very substantial, namely the first grain. This doesn’t amount to much, considering that, even in a small community, there are thousands and perhaps millions of grains of wheat harvested. What is important to see is that it is the first grain offered. By requiring this first grain — even if it didn’t amount to anything relative to the entire harvest — the Lord was sending an important message to the Israelites and ultimately to us, whatever we are or produce, that the Lord wants the first portion of it. “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.” This goes for the wheat and other crops as well, for the Lord is the ultimate title holder to everything — “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.” Since everything is the Lord’s to start with, it makes sense that the Lord be offered at least the first fruits of our labor and substance. It is for this reason that the feast of the Firstfruits exists. This idea of the firstfruits does not end here it is carried throughout the Scriptures, with such passages as “`Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, `and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.'”
Since the Lord still owns everything, the concept behind the firstfruits is still a valid one for our day, even with the New Covenant in place. But, just as Jesus radically changed the Passover, so also did he radically change the Firstfruits.
The Nature of God
Before we discuss the change of the Firstfruits, it is a basic tenet of theology that everything that God does, and all of his characteristics, are essential to him. This is a way of saying that all that he is and all that he does are integral parts of his being. This is different from the way in which we act. For instance, I am here writing this book. To accomplish this, I must punch out the letters of the words and the spaces in between and all the other necessary formatting of the text one stroke by one. Once the text is out on the screen or paper, it can be further altered as the need arises (or better as the Spirit directs). On a human level, this book is a product of thought which is translated to words which is again translated to text through the agency of my fingers on the keyboard. This chain of work can be applied to all human activity, whether it be writing, cleaning the house, driving a truck, or whatever.
However, if God were writing this book directly (and it would be an infinitely better book if this were the case), he would not need such a multistep process it would simply be a part of his essence. When the Scripture says, for instance, that “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”, or when “Jesus answered, `I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”, these declarations are not mere metaphor these qualities are an integral part of God.
Returning to book writing, were it a part of God’s essence it would be more perfect and elevated in nature than we humans could stand. Given a revelation from God such as this, Paul found it difficult to recommunicate it, even in the context of the inspired Scripture: “And I know that this man — whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows — was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.” Dante put the problem poetically:
I have been in that Heaven of His most light
and what I saw, those who descend from there
lack both the knowledge and the power to write.
For as our intellect draws near its goal
it opens to such depths of understanding
as memory cannot plumb within the soul
It is on this account that heaven will be all the more glorious, since we as believers, having reached our goal, will be glorified by God to the extent that we will be able to comprehend what God is communicating to us in a more direct form than we do now. For Moses, when he asked the Lord to show him his glory, got this answer: “And the Lord said, `I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,’ he said, `you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.'”
As a follow up to this, John states that “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” Matters improve ever so much when Jesus Christ comes into the world. “Philip said, `Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered: `Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?'” The entrance of the incarnate Word (Jesus Christ), and subsequently the complete written Word (the Bible), bring God to man in forms that he can take hold of for his own abundant and eternal life.
This long digression was made with one object — to show that God’s actions are a part of his essence or being. The Passover is an illustration of this. Jesus Christ made the complete and perfect sacrifice because he was both sacrificial lamb and high priest, enabled by his deity to accomplish this. He repeats this with the Firstfruits because, following his death on the Cross, he became the Firstfruit.
Before there can be a harvest, there must be a planting. “Jesus replied, `The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.'” His plan was for he himself to be the seed. After his death on the Cross, the planting took place: “Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid.”
On the third day, he rose from the tomb in which he had been laid. In doing so he had conquered death, just as he had conquered sin on the Cross with his blood sacrifice. Since Adam’s fall, men had been plagued with the double burden of sin and death, but now man could find a way out because Jesus himself had come out of death and is able to lead others in the same path.
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead came also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn Christ, the firstfruits then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” In their own feast of the Firstfruits, the Jews were celebrating the first part of the harvest that was coming out of the fields. When Jesus celebrated the Firstfruits following his own death, he was the firstfruit of a harvest of many, not of grains of wheat, but of men and women who entrusted themselves to Jesus and Jesus alone. For those of us who fall into this category, we are the harvest of which Jesus Christ was the firstfruit — “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called those he called, he also justified those he justified, he also glorified.” This is a harvest far more excellent than of wheat or other grains.
This is the second necessary prerequisite to a successful Pentecost. In the Passover of the Cross, Jesus conquered sin we must be a part of that. Then he was buried — planted, if you please — and then arose to be the Firstfruit of the greatest harvest the world has ever known. We must be a part of that, too, to share in the eternity that God has planned for us. But there is one more aspect of the resurrection that is a necessary part of the Pentecostal experience.
Rising from the dead was not an ordinary occurrence before or during Jesus time on the earth it is still not. In order to accomplish such a thing, it takes power, lots of it. Jesus Christ was able to rise from the dead because, being God, he had the power within him to do so. Or perhaps it is better to say he had the power never to die, as his immortality is part of his deity.
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” The fellowship of his suffering is something that Christians have been experiencing from the days of the Apostles. There is no way to get around the natural enmity of the life of Jesus with the world, the flesh, and the Devil, and those who decide to live the life of Jesus every day will experience the consequences of this enmity whether they want to or not. This is not to say that every trial that a Christian goes through is a result of this spiritual warfare it is not right to ascribe to God our own folly. However, adversity is something that Christians find quite a lot of in their walk with and towards God.
But what about the power of his resurrection? Doesn’t that just apply in the life to come? Paul wrote while he was living on this earth, and he wanted to know this power while on this earth. How can this be?
First of all, when Paul wrote and lived on the earth, the resurrection of Jesus was a historical fact, just as it is today. The event had already taken place. To have made the event a reality, it took literally resurrection power to do it. Since Jesus lived after the resurrection and followed this by his ascension into heaven, this power was still in existence. Jesus continued to be and, being God, had infinite power.
Having infinite power, which included his own resurrection and that of others, it is reasonable to say that Jesus Christ has power to accomplish things not as great as the resurrection of the dead, such as healings, miracles, and other supernatural acts. We can then say “…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
We can conclude from this that when Paul speaks of the resurrection power, he speaks of something that is not reserved for the last day, but is a part of the portion which we have in Christ Jesus.
This is something that, while it may not be exclusively Pentecostal in nature, is very much a distinctively Pentecostal emphasis. Theologians had spoken about God’s infinite power, and about the nature of the resurrection, both Jesus’ and ours, for centuries. But it takes the move of the Spirit to put the two together and then to apply all of this to our everyday lives on this earth. It was God’s intention that we as his believers walk each day in the power of his resurrection, power that comes only from him: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right (authority) to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” When Pentecostal preachers go on about “resurrection power,” they are not just blowing smoke or trying to induce their hearers to run the aisles they are speaking of one of the greatest facts the Christian life has to offer.
We will spend more time on this later. We see, though, that the power of the resurrection is another necessary prerequisite to Pentecost. We also see that this resurrection power is not something just for our death but for our life as well, and not just a part of our life, but an expansion of it.
The Feast of Weeks
Now that we, with Jesus, his disciples, and others that followed him in life, have experienced first his Passion and death, the forgiveness of sins through the shedding of his blood, and the rising to new life in his resurrection, we come to the Feast of Weeks, to Pentecost. What can we expect to see?
The description in Lev 23 of the feast required the Israelites to come to celebrate the feast “from wherever you live.” When they were all living in Israel and Judah, this wasn’t a major undertaking, at least from a travel standpoint. When the kings of Assyria and Babylon started coming round to the Promised Land, taking away whole segments of the population into exile, the Jewish people became widely scattered. The idea behind the restoration to the land arranged by God through the work of Ezra and Nehemiah and with the assistance of the Persian kings was to allow all of the Jews to once again live in the land which God had made for them. This did not come to pass, because after years away from Israel, many of the Jews actually liked living in exile (as many do today) — even in Egypt! These formed a part of Judaism that became known as the Diaspora. These people, outside of Israel though they were, were still Jews, and many still came to Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts as they had been commanded. When Pentecost came around, many came to Jerusalem for the feast, making the group celebrating the Feast of Weeks a diverse and cosmopolitan group.
Just as the geographical distribution of the Jews had changed, so also had their estimation of the meaning of Pentecost had changed as well. “In the third month after the Israelites had left Egypt — on the very day — they came to the Desert of Sinai.”. Subsequent to this, they received the law for the first time, lead off by the Ten Commandments. Since the Passover and original flight from Egypt had taken place in the middle of the first month, this meant that about six weeks had elapsed from the Passover to the first giving of the law. This would more or less coincide with the Feast of Weeks, and so in the days of the Apostles the Jews added another significance to Pentecost, namely the celebration of the giving of the law. This elevated the importance of Pentecost, since the Jews held the law in high regard.
While the Jews were getting ready for the usual celebration of Pentecost, Jesus’ followers were…well, waiting. After his resurrection, Jesus was on the earth with his followers for a period of forty days, first to prove to them that he had arisen and then to give them some final instructions. “On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: `Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit.’ So when they met together, they asked him, `Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: `It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”
Both of the times that Luke (the author of both the Gospel that bears his name and the Acts of the Apostles) quotes Jesus above, he mentions the same future event to his followers: the baptism in the Holy Spirit. What was so important about the Holy Spirit? And what about the Spirit’s baptism?
The baptism in the Holy Spirit is such an event that not even Jesus’ description of the event gave them many clues as to what it would be like when it happened. But the coming of the Holy Spirit is something that was made necessary by the nature and course of Jesus’ ministry. So long as he was physically with the disciples and other followers, they could enjoy the benefits of his direct presence. In his glorified, post-resurrection state on this earth, Jesus continued to be with his followers. On paper at least, this state of affairs could have continued indefinitely. There were two main problems with this.
The first was his continued bodily presence. As God, Jesus Christ can be and is everywhere, or is omnipresent, to use the technical term for it. But as a man sharing our estate, Jesus was in one place at one time. This put a major restriction on the scope of his ministry. In small regions like Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, this was not a major problem. But from the start it was Jesus’ intention to expand his ministry to the entire world and all the nations therein. To do this Jesus could send someone that would be everywhere doing the work that he did in one place. That person was and is the Holy Spirit.
The second problem was touched on by the disciples’ question cited above: Was Jesus planning to restore the kingdom to Israel? One of the things that frightened both Jew and Roman alike about Jesus’ presence on this earth was the potential for Jesus, having demonstrated his power through the miracles that he wrought and the tremendous things that he taught, to set up a secular Kingdom of Israel and gain the Jews independence from the Romans. Now this independence was something that many Jews wanted very badly, even though their track record as a nation was one of internal strife and bickering.
This debate had not escaped the internal discussions of the disciples one of them, Simon the Zealot, was from a party that made its reputation (and its name) from their favorite murder weapon which they used on Roman or pro-Roman people. It is the background for their question concerning the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. But Jesus’ ministry was not aimed at producing a political solution to the Jews’ problems, because Jesus knew that the root of the Jews’ (and our) problems was not political but within their and our nature. Notwithstanding his teaching on the subject, his bodily presence left a serious temptation to the Jews to attempt to use him for their own political purposes.
Jesus left both of these problems behind for himself and us in his ascension into heaven. But he had no intention of leaving his followers stranded. Here is where the Holy Spirit comes in. He told his disciples before he was betrayed:
“Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, `Where are you going? Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
The Holy Spirit can accomplish what Jesus sets forth above for two basic reasons. The first is his deity the Holy Spirit is God, along with the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ, and so he can be everywhere and do everything and know everything. The second is his unity although the three persons of the Godhead are distinct, they are one God. Thus they all freely hold together the knowledge and attributes of God. In addition to these essential reasons, the Holy Spirit has never been and will not be incarnate there is no temptation for men to set him up as a temporal ruler. He is, however, a spiritual ruler would that men would more often recognize him in that office!
As far as baptism is concerned, the original word for baptism literally means immersion. Jesus told his followers that they would be immersed in and with the Holy Spirit. Such a statement is so powerful in itself that it needs little elaboration — how could the disciples lack power or remain unmoved when they were immersed in God himself? Jesus had already breathed on his disciples the Holy Spirit now they would take the plunge with their whole beings.
From his ascension to the day of Pentecost there was a span of ten days. There were about a hundred and twenty believers, and their main accomplishment in that time was to hold a business meeting, cast lots, and see Matthias chosen to fill the office that Judas Iscariot had abandoned with his treachery and subsequent suicide. Practitioners of church polity will note that Matthias was not elected by the group of believers but by lots. There have been many adverse comments made over the years about this meeting, but is there any assurance that they would have done better with an election?
Having put this matter behind them, Jesus’ followers prepared along with the rest of the Jewish world for the upcoming Pentecost. In addition to the harvest, they would be celebrating the giving of the Law. The celebration that they got was a lot more than they bargained for.
1 Jn 4:16b
2 Co 12:3,4
Dante Alighieri, The Paradiso, translated by John Ciardi (New York:New American Library, 1970), Canto I:4-9, p. 24.
1 Co 15:20-23