The Day of Pentecost tells of remarkable transformations in the lives of Jesus Christ’s disciples. This change was in sharp contrast to their lives 50 days earlier. The Gospel accounts are not flattering about their humanity. At Christ’s arrest and trial, all forsook Him and fled (Matthew 26:56 Matthew 26:56But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.
American King James Version×). Peter, who avowed he would always stand by Jesus, cursed and swore—even denying he knew Him (Matthew 26:69-75 Matthew 26:69-75 69 Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came to him, saying, You also were with Jesus of Galilee. 70 But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what you say. 71 And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said to them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth. 72 And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man. 73 And after a while came to him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely you also are one of them; for your speech denudes you. 74 Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. 75 And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said to him, Before the cock crow, you shall deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.
American King James Version×).
The crowd asks what they should do. Peter replies they should repent and be baptized.
Yet within the span of seven weeks, by Pentecost, we see a transformation in the disciples’ courage. They now speak openly to large crowds, declaring Jesus was resurrected from the dead. They boldly confront the civil and religious authorities. They defy orders and threats that they will be imprisoned if they continue to speak about Jesus (Acts 4:18-23 Acts 4:18-23 18 And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.
19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, judge you.
20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.
21 So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done.
22 For the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was showed.
23 And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.
American King James Version×). They courageously face beatings and death threats for preaching Christ (Acts 5:17-33 Acts 5:17-33 17 Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation, 18 And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison. 19 But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, 20 Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life. 21 And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned and told, 23 Saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within. 24 Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow. 25 Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people. 26 Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. 27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, 28 Saying, Did not we straightly command you that you should not teach in this name? and, behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood on us. 29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you slew and hanged on a tree. 31 Him has God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God has given to them that obey him. 33 When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.
American King James Version×).
Seven weeks earlier they denied they even knew Him. Now nothing can stop them from openly publicizing what they know to be true. These men will devote the rest of their lives to the daily transformation made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Peter’s remarkable change
Peter’s boldness on the Feast of Pentecost stands out. At the temple he addresses a large crowd, of which 3,000 later become disciples of Jesus. They are in Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Pentecost as commanded by God (Leviticus 23:15-16 Leviticus 23:15-16 15 And you shall count to you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete:
16 Even to the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall you number fifty days; and you shall offer a new meat offering to the LORD.
American King James Version×). Peter tells them they know about Jesus and what had happened seven weeks earlier at the Passover (Acts 2:22-24 Acts 2:22-24 22 You men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the middle of you, as you yourselves also know: 23 Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: 24 Whom God has raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be held of it.
American King James Version×). Peter fearlessly tells them they are the ones who had crucified Jesus.
The reaction of the crowd is significant. There is no denial, outcry or attempt to stone Peter for this outrageous charge. They sense a personal involvement. They know of the events surrounding the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Christ. They know that many—perhaps even some standing there listening to Peter—had shouted for Christ’s blood. They’d heard of the strange events that had taken place at the time—darkness over the land as Jesus was being crucified, people resurrected from their graves and walking the streets of Jerusalem, an earthquake and the veil in the temple being torn from top to bottom. Peter now challenges them to change their lives and make decisions that will affect their futures.
The crowd asks what they should do. Peter replies they should repent and be baptized. That is how they will receive the only power that can truly transform a human life—God’s Holy Spirit.
Before He left His disciples, Jesus promised He would send another “Comforter” in His place—the Holy Spirit (John 14:26 John 14:26But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said to you.
American King James Version×, King James Version). This invisible power from God is what makes possible the transformation of a human life. It’s the power that can change ordinary men from ordinary walks of life.
To be holy is to be different, and firstfruits don’t apologize for being different in a world under the sway of the devil.
This power starts inner changes to this frightened band of disciples who had been ready to throw away everything and flee. These adult men—who had failed miserably just 50 days before—are now, by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, changing into dynamic leaders for the Church. By the power of the Holy Spirit they perform supernatural healings for the crippled. Even Peter’s shadow passing over the sick brings instant healing (Acts 5:12-16 Acts 5:12-16 12 And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders worked among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.
13 And of the rest dared no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.
14 And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.)
15 So that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.
16 There came also a multitude out of the cities round about to Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.
American King James Version×).
The power symbolized by Pentecost
The truth of Pentecost is that the same power that transformed the early disciples is also available to transform and change those today who are the firstfruits of God. Might you be one? Read on to understand the meaning behind this momentous feast day.
In revealing His plan for mankind, God chose Holy Days focused on the harvest seasons of the Holy Land (Exodus 23:14-17 Exodus 23:14-17 14 Three times you shall keep a feast to me in the year.
15 You shall keep the feast of unleavened bread: (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it you came out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:)
16 And the feast of harvest, the first fruits of your labors, which you have sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when you have gathered in your labors out of the field.
17 Three items in the year all your males shall appear before the LORD God.
American King James Version×). Reaping crops at three festival seasons provided spiritual symbolism for God’s people. For us, Pentecost shows how God is harvesting people for eternal life in His Kingdom.
One picture from Pentecost is the tradition that the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai occurred on this day. For New Testament Christians the meaning is how to keep the spiritual intent of God’s law. Pentecost shows we need God’s Spirit in order to keep the law in our hearts and make real change in our attitudes. Mere form in keeping God’s law does not enable us to think like God. Becoming godly in thought, attitude and action is beyond the ability of men and women without the additional ingredient of God’s Spirit.
God reveals through Pentecost that He is now dealing with only very few people—the firstfruits (James 1:18 James 1:18Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
American King James Version×) of the huge spiritual harvest to come. The majority of all who have ever lived will in their own time have an opportunity to know God. But for now God extends truth only to a few. That, too, is a miracle because only God can unlock the human mind so it can comprehend spiritual understanding (1 Corinthians 2:14 1 Corinthians 2:14But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
American King James Version×). The awesome responsibility of firstfruits is in being the possessors of truth. Such knowledge must be used well.
Firstfruits are challenged to be the first to change their lives and do as Jesus would do. The first-century Church was the first (as a group) to work at this task. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit dramatically changed their lives. Their transformation started when they received the Holy Spirit. Some 20 years later they were viewed as turning “the world upside down” (Acts 17:6 Acts 17:6And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brothers to the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come here also;
American King James Version×). Such was the dynamic, miraculous power of the Holy Spirit.
It was the same divine power at work in Jesus’ ministry (Luke 4:14 Luke 4:14And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.
American King James Version×). It led the first-century Church to understand their battle with human nature (Romans 7:22-25 Romans 7:22-25 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
American King James Version×); to see that tests were also with unseen evil forces (Ephesians 6:12 Ephesians 6:12For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
American King James Version×); and to value the sanctity, symbolism and purpose of marriage and family (Ephesians 5:23-28 Ephesians 5:23-28 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body. 24 Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself.
American King James Version×). Wives were encouraged to submit to husbands “as to the Lord.” Slaves were obliged to obey masters. Christians were to obey authorities, whether emperor, king or magistrate.
Firstfruits in the Kingdom of God will be able to explain, from painful experience, how they subjected themselves to the authority of men while under the authority of Christ; how they withstood the philosophies of false teachers and apostles to sort out the true from the false. In effect, they will be able to use the modern phrase: “Been there, done that and bought the T-shirt.”
Firstfruits are called to be holy—different
They learn that when there is a conflict with a job and the Sabbath, it isn’t a Sabbath problem but a job problem. They know the Sabbath was here before the job. They are prepared to be different to serve God. When the biblical Feast of Unleavened Bread comes, they set themselves apart by a different diet without leavened breads, cakes, cookies, etc. (Leviticus 23:6-8 Leviticus 23:6-8 6 And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread to the LORD: seven days you must eat unleavened bread.
7 In the first day you shall have an holy convocation: you shall do no servile work therein.
8 But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD seven days: in the seventh day is an holy convocation: you shall do no servile work therein.
American King James Version×; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 6 Your glorying is not good. Know you not that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
American King James Version×).
Firstfruits have demonstrated a willingness to follow, obey, take orders, learn and repent because God’s Spirit gives an attitude of respect. To be holy is to be different, and firstfruits don’t apologize for being different in a world under the sway of the devil.
God reveals that Spirit-born firstfruits will be those who are as good as their word—people of high integrity.
Jesus’ counsel of the first century holds true today. A few common threads are woven into His instruction to the firstfruits of God’s Church in Revelation chapters 2 and 3: “I know your works.” “He who has an ear, let him hear.” The reward is offered “to him who overcomes.” Those admonitions apply to firstfruits in every age, including our own.
Since every age on earth has been a violent, dangerous one in which to live, firstfruits are called to be the first to demonstrate that commandment keeping can be done, even in an evil time. Firstfruits are first in learning the limitations of man’s government—whether it is Caesar, an emperor or Western democracy.
Firstfruits are first in being accountable for their actions. They are confronted with making righteous judgments on what is right and wrong. They strive to do what Jesus would do and to have a Christian attitude.
God reveals that Spirit-born firstfruits will be those who are as good as their word—people of high integrity. “They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless” (Revelation 14:4-5 Revelation 14:4-5 4 These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits to God and to the Lamb.
5 And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.
American King James Version×, New International Version). They are pictured as true, free of deceit, falseness or window dressing.
As we see in Acts 2, it was on the day of Pentecost that Jesus’ promise to send another Comforter was fulfilled. It is by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we become the firstfruits of God’s Kingdom—and it is only by that power and presence that we can live up to the responsibilities and opportunities of the firstfruits.