“Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken” (Acts 2:5-6).
Acts 2 goes on to tell us about travelers and visitors. Jerusalem was on the route to nowhere. Why were people from every nation under heaven living there, traveling there, and visiting there on this first Pentecost day?
The answer is in the Bible. The day that we now call Pentecost was among the seven Jewish feasts that God ordained in the Torah. It was Shavuot. Our Bibles call it the Feast of Weeks. In Exodus 34:22 God said, “Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year.”
God also called it one of the three most important of the seven feasts. “Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles. No one should appear before the LORD empty-handed” (Deuteronomy 16:16).
The Torah also gives us the timeline. The Feast of Weeks was celebrated 50 days after Passover. It had to be a complicated schedule and travel dilemma for the faithful. In a time long before airlines, trains, and cars, how did one manage to travel from every nation under heaven to Jerusalem to be at the Temple for Passover and Shavuot? One would no sooner arrive home in Rome or Asia from the Passover journey before turning immediately around and heading back to Jerusalem for Shavuot.
And so, many faithful lived temporarily in Jerusalem or the vicinity, perhaps finding temporary work. Others, who were less devout, made choices. Perhaps this was the year to be in Jerusalem for Passover, and they would come for Shavuot the next year. Then there was Sukkot in the fall, which called for another trip. Being devout in the first century required a very practical commitment.
Shavuot was a time of another remembrance, too. After the first Passover in Egypt, the Israelites departed. After traveling through the desert for about 40 days, they arrived at Sinai. There they camped, Moses went up the mountain, and there God gave Torah. As rabbis did the math, they concluded that the Torah (the Law) was given at the time that coincided with Shavuot.
It doesn’t matter if the day was exact. What matters is that it was agreed and understood over the millennia that the Torah was given on Shavuot.
So, what was Pentecost? It was Shavuot, a major feast ordained by God. It was a time when devout believers from every nation had gathered in Jerusalem. It was a time to bring the first grain of the wheat harvest as a sacrifice to God. It was a time that the people believed God also gave Torah to Moses and to them.
Those who have been called to lead might ask themselves if our commitment comes close to matching that of the first century faithful.
Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services