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The Feast of Pentecost

The Firstfruits of God's Harvest

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In the process of revealing His plan of salvation for mankind, God established His annual Holy Days around the harvest seasons in the Middle East (Leviticus 23:9-16 Leviticus 23:9-16 9 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 10 Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, When you be come into the land which I give to you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then you shall bring a sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest: 11 And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. 12 And you shall offer that day when you wave the sheaf an he lamb without blemish of the first year for a burnt offering to the LORD. 13 And the meat offering thereof shall be two tenth deals of fine flour mingled with oil, an offering made by fire to the LORD for a sweet smell: and the drink offering thereof shall be of wine, the fourth part of an hin. 14 And you shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, until the selfsame day that you have brought an offering to your God: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. 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.
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; Exodus 23:14-16 Exodus 23:14-16 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.
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). Just as His people harvested their crops around these three festival seasons, God’s Holy Days show us how He is harvesting people for eternal life in His Kingdom.

The Holy Days have meanings that build upon each other. Together they progressively reveal how God works with humanity.

Earlier we saw Passover symbolizing Christ’s giving of Himself for us so our sins could be forgiven and we could be redeemed from death. We also learned how the Days of Unleavened Bread teach us that we must remove and avoid sin and instead obey God in actions and attitudes. The next festival and Holy Day, Pentecost, builds on this important foundation.

This festival is known by several names that derive from its meaning and timing. Also known as the Feast of Harvest (Exodus 23:16 Exodus 23:16And 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.
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), it represents the firstfruits (Numbers 28:26 Numbers 28:26Also in the day of the first fruits, when you bring a new meat offering to the LORD, after your weeks be out, you shall have an holy convocation; you shall do no servile work:
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) gathered as the result of the labor of those who completed the spring grain harvests in ancient Israel (Exodus 23:16 Exodus 23:16And 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.
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).

It is also called the Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22 Exodus 34:22And you shall observe the feast of weeks, of the first fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end.
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), with this name coming from the seven weeks plus one day (50 days in all) that are counted to determine when to celebrate this festival (Leviticus 23:16 Leviticus 23:16Even to the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall you number fifty days; and you shall offer a new meat offering to the LORD.
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). Similarly, in the New Testament, which was written in Greek, this festival is known as Pentecost ( Pentekostos in the original), which means “fiftieth” (W.E. Vine, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words , 1985, “Pentecost”).

Among Jews the most popular name for this festival is the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot, in Hebrew. When celebrating this festival, many Jewish people recall one of the greatest events in history, God’s revealing of the law at Mount Sinai.

But Pentecost doesn’t just picture the giving of the law; it also shows—through a great miracle that occurred on the first Pentecost in the early Church—how we can persist in living by the spiritual intent of God’s laws.

The gift of Pentecost: the Holy Spirit

God chose the first Pentecost after Jesus Christ’s resurrection to pour out His Holy Spirit on 120 believers (Acts 1:15 Acts 1:15And in those days Peter stood up in the middle of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,)
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). “Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues [languages], as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4 Acts 2:1-4 1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat on each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
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).

The speaking in various languages occurred as a crowd of people from many nations gathered in Jerusalem, with each visitor hearing the speech of the disciples in his own native tongue (Acts 2:6-11 Acts 2:6-11 6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. 7 And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? 8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? 9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, 10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
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). These astounding events demonstrated the presence of the Holy Spirit.

At first the people of Jerusalem who witnessed this miraculous phenomenon were astonished, with some attributing the proclamations of the Christians to drunkenness (Acts 2:12-13 Acts 2:12-13 12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What means this? 13 Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.
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). The apostle Peter, now filled with the Holy Spirit, boldly explained the event to the crowd as a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17 Acts 2:17And it shall come to pass in the last days, said God, I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
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; Joel 2:28 Joel 2:28And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
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).

Peter explained how his listeners could also receive this Spirit: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39 Acts 2:38-39 38 Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call.
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).

God used these miracles and Peter’s preaching to add 3,000 people to His Church in one day. These converts were all baptized and received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:40-41 Acts 2:40-41 40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. 41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.
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). From this pivotal point, God’s Spirit has been available to all who truly repent and are properly baptized. The Day or Feast of Pentecost is an annual reminder that God poured out His Spirit to establish His Church, the group of believers who are led by His Spirit.

Why we need God’s Spirit

Humanly speaking, no matter how hard we try not to, we still sin (1 Kings 8:46 1 Kings 8:46If they sin against you, (for there is no man that sins not,) and you be angry with them, and deliver them to the enemy, so that they carry them away captives to the land of the enemy, far or near;
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; Romans 3:23 Romans 3:23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
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). Acknowledging this inherent weakness of humanity, God lamented in Deuteronomy 5:29 Deuteronomy 5:29O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!
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, “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments that it might be well with them and with their children forever!”

Here God explains that humankind has a heart problem. Academic knowledge of the law does not enable us to think like God. Becoming godly in our thoughts, attitudes and actions is beyond the comprehension and ability of men and women without an additional ingredient— God’s Spirit.

God’s way of thinking produces peace, happiness and concern for others. Jesus complimented a religious scholar who correctly quoted the essence of God’s law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind” and [ love ] your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27 Luke 10:27And he answering said, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.
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). This man quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 Deuteronomy 6:5And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
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and Leviticus 19:18 Leviticus 19:18You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
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, from two books of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). Jesus here confirmed that the Old Testament Scriptures are based on these two great principles of love (Matthew 22:40 Matthew 22:40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
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).

The essence of God’s law is love (Romans 13:8-10 Romans 13:8-10 8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For this, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, You shall not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 10 Love works no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
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; 1 Thessalonians 4:9 1 Thessalonians 4:9But as touching brotherly love you need not that I write to you: for you yourselves are taught of God to love one another.
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). God gave His commandments because He loves us. Writing to Christians who had God’s Spirit, John said, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:2-3 1 John 5:2-3 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
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).

Because God’s Spirit was now residing in the Church, its members could express genuine love. “A new commandment I give to you,” Jesus had said, “that you love one another; as I have loved you . . . By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 John 13:34-35 34 A new commandment I give to you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.
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). God’s gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost made it possible for the Church to fully express God’s commandments of love.

Jesus Christ: the firstfruits of eternal life

Firstfruits are the first agricultural products to mature and ripen. Throughout the Bible, God uses the analogy of the harvest—and, particularly on Pentecost, firstfruits—to illustrate aspects of His plan of salvation. Israel observed this day in the late spring after the barley and wheat harvests. A special offering of the first ripe grain during the Days of Unleavened Bread, called the wave-sheaf offering, marked the beginning of these harvests, which continued during the next 50 days and led up to Pentecost (Leviticus 23:11 Leviticus 23:11And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.
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). This spring harvest was the firstfruits of the yearly agricultural cycle.

One of the first harvest lessons of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ “is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20 1 Corinthians 15:20But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.
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). The wave-sheaf offering represented Jesus Christ, who was the “firstborn over all creation” and the “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:15 Colossians 1:15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
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, 18). He presented Himself to God the Father on the Sunday after His resurrection, the same day during the Days of Unleavened Bread on which the first sheaf of grain of the spring harvest was to be waved before God.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark and after Jesus had already been resurrected (John 20:1 John 20:1The first day of the week comes Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, to the sepulcher, and sees the stone taken away from the sepulcher.
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), Mary Magdalene came to His tomb and discovered that the rock in front of it had already been rolled away. She ran to tell Peter and John that Jesus was no longer in His grave. The two men hurried to see this and verified that Jesus’ body was gone (John 20:2-10 John 20:2-10 2 Then she runs, and comes to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, They have taken away the LORD out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid him. 3 Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulcher. 4 So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulcher. 5 And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. 6 Then comes Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulcher, and sees the linen clothes lie, 7 And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. 8 Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulcher, and he saw, and believed. 9 For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went away again to their own home.
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). Mary also returned and, after Peter and John left, she stood outside the tomb (John 20:11 John 20:11But Mary stood without at the sepulcher weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulcher,
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). As she wept, Jesus appeared to her but would not allow her to hold on to Him because He had “not yet ascended” to the Father (John 20:17 John 20:17Jesus said to her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brothers, and say to them, I ascend to my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
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).

Later that same day Jesus appeared again. This time He allowed certain women to hold on to Him (Matthew 28:9 Matthew 28:9And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.
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). His own words show that, between the time Mary Magdalene saw Him and the time He allowed the women to hold on to Him, He had ascended to, and been accepted by, the Father.

The wave-sheaf ceremony God gave to ancient Israel thus represents Jesus Christ’s acceptance by His Father as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20 1 Corinthians 15:20But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.
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).

The Church as firstfruits

Romans 8:29 Romans 8:29For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
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speaks of Jesus Christ as “the firstborn of many brethren.” Yet the New Testament Church is also considered to be firstfruits. In speaking of the Father, James said, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (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.
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).

God’s Spirit within us identifies us and sanctifies us—sets us apart as Christians. “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ,” wrote Paul, “he is not His,” and “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:9 Romans 8:9But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
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, Romans 8:14 Romans 8:14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
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).

Paul also referred to the members of the Church as those “who have the firstfruits of the Spirit” (Romans 8:23 Romans 8:23And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
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). He alluded to several first-century Christians as the firstfruits of God’s calling (Romans 16:5 Romans 16:5Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the first fruits of Achaia to Christ.
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; 1 Corinthians 16:15 1 Corinthians 16:15I beseech you, brothers, (you know the house of Stephanas, that it is the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,)
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).

The significance of the Bible writers calling these people of God firstfruits becomes evident when we consider John 14:6 John 14:6Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me.
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. Here Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

How many, throughout the centuries, have really accepted and practiced the way of life Jesus taught? Even today many people have simply never heard much, if anything, about Jesus Christ. How will God offer them  salvation?

Few people understand that God follows a systematic plan, symbolized by His Holy Days, to save all of humanity by offering all people eternal life in His Kingdom. In this world we are simply at the beginning of the harvest for the Kingdom of God.

The apostle Paul understood this: “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep . . . For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:20 1 Corinthians 15:20But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.
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, 1 Corinthians 15:22-23 1 Corinthians 15:22-23 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
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). Anyone who is now called and chosen by God is included with Christ as God’s firstfruits.

The Bible teaches us that God must call people (John 6:44 John 6:44No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
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; John 6:63 John 6:63It is the spirit that vivifies; the flesh profits nothing: the words that I speak to you, they are spirit, and they are life.
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). Our Creator, therefore, controls the timing of His harvest. When God founded His Church by imparting His Spirit to believers on the Day of Pentecost 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, He was expanding His spiritual harvest. It was the beginning of what Joel prophesied, that God will ultimately pour out His Spirit on “all flesh” (Joel 2:28-29 Joel 2:28-29 28 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: 29 And also on the servants and on the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
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; Acts 2:14-17 Acts 2:14-17 14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said to them, You men of Judaea, and all you that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known to you, and listen to my words: 15 For these are not drunken, as you suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. 16 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; 17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, said God, I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
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).

The Holy Spirit at work

The coming of the Holy Spirit dramatically changed the lives of these early Christians. The book of Acts is filled with accounts of the early Church’s remarkable spiritual impact on the surrounding society. A transformation was so evident that nonbelievers accused the Christians of “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;
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). Such was the dynamic, miraculous power of the Holy Spirit.

To fully grasp how God’s Spirit can work in our lives, we must comprehend what the Holy Spirit is. It is not a person who, along with God the Father and Christ the Son, forms a “Holy Trinity.” In Scripture the Holy Spirit is described as the power of God at work in our lives (Acts 1:8 Acts 1:8But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come on you: and you shall be witnesses to me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.
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; Romans 15:13 Romans 15:13Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
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, Romans 15:19 Romans 15:19Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about to Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
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), the same power that was at work in the ministry of Jesus Christ (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.
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; Acts 10:38 Acts 10:38How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.
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). (To learn more about what the Holy Spirit is, read our free Bible study aids Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion , Who Is God? and Is God a Trinity?  )

This divine power allows us to be “led by the Spirit of God” (Romans 8:14 Romans 8:14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
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). It was this same power that transformed the lives of the early Christians and is the power working in the Church today. Paul told Timothy that God’s Spirit is a “spirit of . . . power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7 2 Timothy 1:7For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
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).

Pentecost serves as an annual reminder that our Creator still works miracles, granting His Spirit to those called to be the firstfruits of His spiritual harvest, empowering them to carry out His work in this world.