Pentecost, Old And New

As Christians we understand the celebration of Pentecost as the time at which Jesus poured out his Spirit on the church. This, of course, is correct, but Pentecost was one of the three major Feasts on the Jewish calendar that was celebrated since the time of the giving of the Law. Pentecost itself was the Feast that corresponded with the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. Exodus 19.1 tells us that the children of Israel arrived at Sinai on the “third new moon after the people had gone out of Egypt” (i.e., the Passover). It was “on that day” that they came to Sinai and began preparations to receive the Law. Considering that Pentecost was fifty days after the Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread when the firstfruits sheaf was offered (got all that?), the chronology lining up the giving of the Law with Pentecost seems more than plausible. The Feast of Pentecost was, among other things, a commemoration of the giving of the Law at Sinai.

The correlations between the giving of the Law and the giving of the Spirit are quite informative in a number of ways. The giving of the Law and all of the imagery from the record of Scripture should be teased out in all of its glorious detail. However, it is the contrast between the two that is also a concern for the church. 

In a shocking move in Romans 6 and 7, Paul speaks of the Law and sin as doing many of the same things. Sin reigns (Rom 6.14). The Law reigns (Rom 7.1). We died to sin (Rom 6.2). We died to the Law (Rom 7.4). We are free from sin (Rom 6.7, 18, 22). We are free from the Law (Rom 7.6). Reading Paul one might think that the Law and the Sin were practically the same thing! Paul is aware of what he is saying and anticipates the question in Romans 7.7: “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin?” In sentences that follow he makes certain that those who hear this letter don’t equate the Law with sin. Sin uses the Law for nefarious purposes, but “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good” (Rom 7.12). 

While the Law is holy, it is not adequate to bring about freedom from the dominion of sin and death. What the Law did was not only to reinforce the death in the world created by sin, but sanction it as a divine arrangement. The Law exacerbated the death in the world by reinforcing and expanding the division set up by circumcision. This death was the division that the Law reinforced between Israel and the Gentiles. Humanity would continue to be ripped in half. Humanity would continue to live on in death ... and it was God’s Law that sanctioned this dominion of sin over mankind. This is at least an aspect of how the Law intensifies sin.

As long as the Law of God is in place, death rules. The Law anticipates life–resurrection from the dead–but the Law cannot give life. The Law, by its nature, can’t reunite the nations into one body because the Law is given to maintain the division.

But it was all a part of the divine scheme of grace. Where the sin abounded, grace did much more abound. God is using death as the means to deal with sin and ultimately bring resurrection. God takes the strongest weapons of the enemy and uses them for his own purposes. The Law that divinely codified death became the place sin would be dealt with so that resurrection and life for the world could come.

This is the contrast between old Pentecost and new Pentecost. Old Pentecost, while glorious, was a ministry of death (2Cor 3.6-7). New Pentecost is more glorious because it is a ministry of life. The Spirit poured out by the resurrected and ascended Christ unites the nations into one glorious body. He has made one body out of the two by abolishing the divisions created by the Law (Eph 2.14-15). While we may all be from different nations, speaking in different languages, we are one people of God in Christ Jesus.

The glories of the new Pentecost are proclaimed to the world when the church maintains the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4.2). The principalities and powers of the world are notified of the wisdom of God in this new world order through the church living out this unity (Eph 3.9-10). Pentecost is not merely another tick on the clock of the liturgical calendar. Pentecost is a calling, a calling to strive for the bond of peace in the family of Christ.