What Is the Feast of Pentecost in the Bible?

Author of Someplace to Be Somebody
What Is the Feast of Pentecost in the Bible?

In the New Testament, events at the Feast of Pentecost mark a new era in the church. However, to fully understand what happened to the disciples that day in the upper room, we need to consider what the Feast of Pentecost involved and what Jesus told his disciples to wait for.

What is the Feast of Pentecost?

The Feast of Pentecost is the Greek phrase for a Jewish feast day, also known as the Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22) or Feast of Harvest (Exodus 23:16). Pentecost is a Greek term that means “fiftieth,” and the Feast of Pentecost took place 50 days after Passover.

The Lord instituted this celebration when He renewed His covenant with the people as He spoke to Moses in Exodus 34:22-23. In Numbers 28:26, the feast is called the Day of First Fruits. The day was to consist of:

  • A holy convocation wherein people would not do ordinary work
  • An offering of new grain
  • A burnt offering of two bulls, one ram, seven one-year-old male lambs, their grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil (three-tenths of an ephah for each bull, two tenths for one ram, and a tenth for each lamb), and one male goat (all blemish-free), along with their drink offering.

The celebration usually took place in May or early June, 50 days after Passover.

What Were the Apostles Waiting for in the Upper Room?

Before His ascension, Jesus commanded the apostles “not to depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the Promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4). He told them they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5), not many days later.

But the apostles then asked the Lord when He would restore the kingdom to Israel, still believing that Christ would shortly establish His earthly kingdom. They knew the prophecies about the Holy Spirit from Ezekiel 36:27-38 and Joel 2:28-32. They thought the kingdom would soon be physical, as did the prevailing Jewish religious leaders. The difference between the disciples and the religious leaders was the disciples believed Jesus was the Messiah: presumably, the kingdom was coming soon.

Jesus corrected their thinking when He said:

“It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Jesus re-directed their thoughts from the kingdom’s coming on earth to a direct filling of the Spirit in believers, starting with them. After Jesus explained this to them, He ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9-11). They then returned to Jerusalem and went back to the Upper Room, “where they were staying” (Acts 1:12).

So, the 11 apostles (and others) were in the upper room because they were awaiting the promised Holy Spirit.

Who Was in the Upper Room?

Acts 1:13 records that the 11 apostles, Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew (also called Nathanael), Matthew, James, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James “were in the upper room, where they were staying.”

They were in the room with “the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:14). It was probably the same upper room where Jesus shared the last supper (Mark 14:15) with His disciples before being arrested, tried, and crucified. Luke wrote they were of “one accord in prayer and supplication” (Acts 1:14) as they awaited the promised Holy Spirit.

What Biblical Events Happened During the Feast of Pentecost?

The Jews who had pilgrimaged to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost were offering their firstfruits to the Lord. Meanwhile, Jesus’ followers were in the upper room. While they waited, the apostles established something: they needed a new member to replace Judas Iscariot. So, they prayed and selected Matthias by lot to take Judas’ place (Acts 1:15-26).

Then, 50 days after the Passover, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in the Upper Room. The description of His coming is stunning:

“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 in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:2-4)

On this, the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came as the firstfruits of the believers’ inheritance (2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:11,14).

Why Did People Think the Disciples Were Drunk?

Acts 2:5 records devout Jews pilgrimaged Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. A multitude of them came together when they heard the rushing mighty wind of the Holy Spirit’s arrival. They gathered, saw the disciples speaking, and were confused “because everyone heard them speak in his own language” (Acts 2:6). 

The people stood in amazement, and they marveled at what was occurring and said, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?” (Acts 2:7-8). The audience included Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, Rome (Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism), and Cretans and Arabs. All told, Acts lists people from 15 different nations watching the disciples, and they each heard them “speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:8-11). Needless to say, they were perplexed. 

“Others mocking said, ‘They are full of new wine’” (Acts 2:13). New wine was a drink that could have easily made a person drunk, and therefore behave oddly.

Peter stood and preached his Day of Pentecost sermon to the people. He started by refuting the claim they were filled with new wine. He said, “For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day (9:00 a.m.).” He added the words of the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-32), which most in attendance would recognize.

He added a descriptive and beautiful apologetic about the Lord Jesus, and in Acts 2:32-33 said, “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear….” 

He continued in verse 36 with the dénouement the Jews were not expecting, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Messiah).” The people had supposed the Messiah would usher in a kingdom that removed the oppressive Roman yoke. Peter showed how those expectations were off the mark. The Messiah had come, and the kingdom had arrived in a different way.

Peter told the assembled crowd how they might receive the Holy Spirit, and “about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:41). Only God could orchestrate such an event from an accusation of drunkenness to the salvation of about three thousand.

When Do Christians Celebrate the Feast of Pentecost?

Christians celebrate the Feast of Pentecost on the Sunday 50 days after Resurrection Sunday. The celebration is to honor the day the Holy Spirit was poured out on all believers. Different denominations celebrate the Feast of Pentecost in various ways. Some congregations make a scene of “fire” using rose petals or fiery-red confetti to represent the “tongues of fire” as described in Acts 2:3. Other groups blow trumpets to symbolize the rushing mighty wind from heaven. Others preach the gospel in other languages. Some people stress wearing white and being baptized on this special day.

This year’s (2022) Feast of Pentecost will be celebrated on June 5. However one commemorates the Feast of Pentecost, it’s a day of remembrance for what God the Father has done through His Son and His Holy Spirit.

Photo Credit: iStock/Getty Images Plus/Baiterek Media

Lisa Baker 1200x1200Lisa Loraine Baker is the multiple award-winning author of Someplace to be Somebody. She writes fiction and nonfiction. In addition to writing for the Salem Web Network, Lisa serves as a Word Weavers’ mentor and is part of a critique group. She also is a member of BRRC. Lisa and her husband, Stephen, a pastor, live in a small Ohio village with their crazy cat, Lewis.