When Is Pentecost?

When is Pentecost? What Old Testament events pave the way for this New Testament event?

Contributing Writer
Updated May 12, 2023
When Is Pentecost?

When Is Pentecost?

Most of us know Pentecost as the day Jesus gave the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. But this day is also called The Feast of Shavuot (or the Feast of Weeks), a Jewish feast. “Pentecost” comes from a Greek root meaning 50 because we celebrate it for 50 days, beginning the day after Passover.

This year, we celebrate Pentecost on Sunday, May 28. 

When Was the First Pentecost?

Many Christians believe the first Pentecost was 10 days after Jesus’ ascension.

The Feast of Shavuot, celebrated by Jewish people worldwide, began at the start of the wheat harvest. Jewish people celebrate the Feast of Shavuot because that was when YHVH (transliterated as Yahweh) gave Moses the Torah at Mt. Sinai.

On the forty-sixth day after leaving Egypt, the Children of Israel entered the Desert of Sinai and they (or in some translations he) camped Exodus 19:1-2 

The words “entered and “camped are the same Hebrew word, except entered is plural and camped is singular. What does this mean? Chaim Bentorah explains: “Why is the first encampment plural and the second singular? I found a Jewish rabbi and scholar who addressed this problem… The rabbi explained that the remez…was that in the wilderness the people of Israel bickered, fought and complained with each other and were not of one mind, but before Mt. Sinai, the mountain where God showed his glory, the mountain where He gave his commandments they were of one mind, they were unified”  (emphasis mine).

The children of Israel had finally become unified. Now, they were ready to meet with YHVH at the mountain.

Three days later, they came to Mt. Sinai and waited at its base as Moses went up to the top with YHVH. The frightened Israelites saw a large cloud over the mountain, with thunder, lightning, and a loud trumpet sound coming from it. Smoke covered the mountain due to the fire coming from YHVH’s presence. If this wasn’t enough to scare them, the mountain quaked as the trumpet sound intensified. However, Moses wasn’t afraid—he spoke to the LORD, and the LORD replied, calling him to the top of the mountain (Exodus 19:16-20).

The Old Testament Pentecost

On the fiftieth day, Moses came down with the tablets of the Ten Commandments. 

“When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear.” (Exodus 20:18), (emphasis mine)

In Exodus 20:18, the Hebrew says, “The people saw the voices and fires….” (emphasis mine). The Hebrew word for thunder used in verse 18 is a plural word for voices, and the Hebrew word for lightning is burning torches or fires.

“A well-known Midrash says, ‘On the occasion of the giving of the Torah, the Children of Israel not only heard the LORD’s Voice but actually saw the sound waves as they emerged from the LORD’s mouth. They visualized them as a fiery substance. Each commandment that left the LORD’s mouth traveled around the entire camp and then came back to every Jew individually.’

It goes on to record Rabbi Yochanan saying, ‘God’s voice, as it was uttered, split up into seventy voices, in 70 languages, so that all the nations should understand.’ The number 70 in Scripture is usually associated with the nations.” ~ Estera Wieja

Genesis 10 outlines the 70 nations which came from the sons of Noah. 

Some scholars have suggested that YHVH wanted to give His Spirit to the people at the mountain. But they were frightened and wanted Moses to be their “intercessor.” As a result, YHVH dwelt with them in the tabernacle

The Greek translated Torah as Law, but it actually means instruction or teaching in the Hebrew language. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus described a reason He came—it was not to destroy the Law or Prophets. He came to teach or explain them: “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill [to teach or explain] them.”

When Moses came down the mountain with the Torah, he saw the golden calf the people had asked Aaron to make. This calf was to be their image for YHVH. Since the people proclaimed this calf represented the god who brought them out of Egypt (Exodus), Aaron perhaps didn’t intend for it to be another god other than YHVH. It was to replace Moses, who they feared had disappeared on the mountain and would not return.

Aaron took what the people gave him, then cast an idol in the shape of a calf. Then he proclaimed, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD” (Exodus 32:4-5).

Then Moses told the Levites, who were on the LORD’s side, to get their swords and go throughout the camp and kill their friends and family. “The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day, about 3,000 of the people died” (Exodus 32:27-28, emphasis mine).

Remember, 3,000 people died this day. We’ll see that number again.

The New Testament Pentecost

“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all [united] together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:1-2).

The “house” was most likely a Temple room, and all men were required to go to the Temple on Shavuot. However, we see here that these followers of Jesus were all together or unified. Mighty things happen when the followers of Jesus are unified.

According to Strong’s concordance, the Greek word for “mighty wind” means “violent breath or gust.” The sound of the wind was similar to the sound of the thunder at Mt. Sinai. 

“They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:3-4).

Just as we saw in Exodus, at the first Pentecost, fire and different languages was spoken by YHVH. 

What exactly are tongues of fire? Some have said they are like flames leaping from a bonfire into the air. But where there is fire, there is the presence of YHVH.

In Ezekiel 1:4, 13, Ezekiel described YHVH’s presence as a windstorm, lightning, brilliant light, and like torches of fire.

In Acts, God spoke through His people and enabled them to speak different languages. And just as YHVH gave the Torah or the teaching in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, He gave His Holy Spirit, the Teacher.

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit…will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter addressed the crowd: 

“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ…and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit… So those who received his word…and there were added that day about three thousand souls’” (Acts 2:38, 41).

What can we learn from this? YHVH’s timeline is not linear like humanity’s timeline—His time is cyclical. His story repeats itself. To learn more about His story, ways, and Jesus, we must dive into the Hebraic roots of our faith. We will see the LORD in the way He showed Himself to His chosen people.

“‘What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.’ Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ESV). In plainer language, history repeats itself.” ~ John W. Ritenbaugh

Further Reading:

What Is the Meaning of Pentecost?

What Was the Golden Calf and What Can We Learn from this Bible Story?

What Really Happened at Pentecost?

Why Is Mount Sinai Such an Important Biblical Landmark?

Why Is Pentecost Significant to the Church Today?

Photo Credit: Getty Images/sedmak

Stephanie Pavlantos is passionate about getting people into God’s Word. She has taught Bible studies for twenty years and has spoken at ladies’ retreats. She is ordained with Messenger Fellowship in Nashville, TN. Stephanie works for Besorah Institute for Judeo-Christian Studies in the Student Services department as well as teaching online classes.

She is published in Refresh Bible study magazine, Charisma magazine, and CBN.com. She is also a contributor to www.VineWords.net, Feed Your Soul with the Word of God compilation by Lighthousebiblestudies.com, and Love Knots compilation by VineWords Publishing. You can visit her blog at www.stephaniepavlantos.com and other social media sites on Twitter (@DPavlantos) and Facebook.

Her Bible study, Jewels of Hebrews, placed third in the Selah Awards at Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference (2021), and an Honorable Mention at the Florida Christian Writers Conference (2019).

Married for thirty years, she and Mike have three children, Matthew, Alexandria, and Michael. Stephanie loves animals and has dogs, ducks, sheep, and chickens.

This article is part of our Christian Terms catalog, exploring words and phrases of Christian theology and history. Here are some of our most popular articles covering Christian terms to help your journey of knowledge and faith:

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