It is 9 a.m. on a major feast day. One wonders what the disciples were expecting. Jesus had died during Passover. He was placed in the ground on Unleavened Bread. He had risen from the dead on First Fruits. Shavuot was the next feast, and a major one. He had promised to return. Don’t you think at least a few of them expected him to return on this day?
After all, the angels had told them as he left them and ascended that he would indeed return as they had witnessed him leaving.
From the southern steps of the Temple, the Mount of Olives looms tall just to the east. It is clearly visible. I can imagine their side glances. It had been ten days since he left. They must have been longing for his return.
Those gathered on the steps expected the standard Shavuot readings. Portions of the Torah and Haftarah were read every year.
First would be Exodus 19-20. We know the passages well. The people were gathered. They had to keep a distance from God’s holy presence. Moses went up the mountain to meet God. When God’s presence joined Moses on the mountain, there was smoke that billowed up in the wind. There was fire in the lightning storm.
The people knew the story well. The Israelites were not alone on their exodus. Sojourners and aliens had joined them and were welcomed. The people also remembered the sin of the golden calf, and God’s righteous anger as 3,000 idolaters died in the aftermath (Exodus 32:28).
Second would be Numbers 28: 26-31, where God gave to the people instructions for Shavuot.
The third readings were a Haftarah portion from Ezekiel 1 and 3. Ezekiel 1 describes his vision of the glory of God. A windstorm came from the north. There were flashes of lightning and a brilliant light. Ezekiel goes on to describe the vision and concludes with verse 28b, “This was the appearance and the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”
In Ezekiel 3 the Lord instructs Ezekiel to eat a scroll. In verses 4-8 Ezekiel is told to take those words now inside of him to the people of Israel, who will stubbornly refuse to listen. The vision also alludes to people who speak other and difficult languages who would have listened had the word been given to them. In verse 12 Ezekiel says, “Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me a loud rumbling sound as the glory of the LORD rose from the place where it was standing.” The Spirit took Ezekiel to be among the exiles (who were in the lands of the gentiles).
The people knew more of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel, the prophet sees God’s Spirit departing (Ezekiel 10) and returning (Ezekiel 43) from the east. And that is the location of the Mount of Olives and, beyond it, the wilderness. To the ancients, the east was God’s direction.
Finally, Habakkuk 2:20–3:19 is read. “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” “The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.”
What happened on Pentecost? To a great extent, the answer is that what happened was something that faithful believers had been awaiting for almost 1,500 years.
The Spirit of the Lord departed the House once again. But unlike the vision of Ezekiel, when God’s presence departed because of unfaithfulness, this time the Spirit of God changed its residence. And those present could not help but notice.
As at Sinai and in the vision of Ezekiel, God revealed his presence in wind and fire. As other nations joined the Israelites at Sinai and were part of the vision of Ezekiel, so people of all nations heard the good news in their own language at Pentecost. As 3,000 died at Sinai, 3,000 were baptized at Pentecost.
In context, each of the Shavuot readings was fulfilled at the Temple on that first Pentecost morning. God kept his promise then, and he does now. Those called to be his disciples have his story to tell.
Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services