One moment, He was there. The next, He was gone.
The disciples stared at the sky dumbfounded. They had been so engrossed with watching Jesus rise from the ground into the clouds thousands of feet in the air that they did not notice two angels standing next to them (Acts 1:9-10).
Following this encounter, they returned to Jerusalem. Life went on. The disciples and other believers waited to receive the Comforter—the Holy Spirit—that Christ had promised (vs. 5).
Imagine the anticipation!
The day of Pentecost quickly approached. Weeks before the Holy Day, which had marked the end of the spring harvest since the time of Moses, the first of the “firstfruits” would have been brought to the high priest during the Days of Unleavened Bread. He would have presented these to God as a physical wave sheaf offering.
Note that the resurrected Christ had presented Himself to the Father during the Days of Unleavened Bread as a spiritual wave sheaf offering—the first of the firstfruits in God’s Master Plan (I Cor. 15:20-23; Jms. 1:18). The Father accepted His Son’s sacrifice on the same day as the physical wave sheaf offering.
For the disciples, this was the first Feast of Weeks following Jesus Christ’s violent death and miraculous return to life. Christ had told them He would restore the Kingdom to Israel, but now He was gone, having only left assurances that they would “receive power,” and be witnesses of Him in Jerusalem and the “uttermost part of the Earth…not many days hence” (Acts 1:5, 8).
A total of 120 people kept Pentecost together. The account states they were of “one mind,” galvanized by a promise.
Not fully knowing what to expect, they were suddenly surrounded by the sound of a violent wind from heaven. This phenomenon hearkened to when the risen Jesus Christ had breathed on them and said, “Receive you the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).
The Holy Spirit came as promised, filling everyone present. It manifested itself as “cloven tongues like as of fire” and caused those it affected to speak various languages (Acts 2:3-4). This was to fulfill a specific purpose.
Today, we count 50 days from “the morrow after the Sabbath” during Unleavened Bread to observe Pentecost and commemorate God giving His Spirit.
Yet the arrival of the Comforter was even more important than most realize. The outpouring of God’s Spirit on a group for the first time marked the birth of the Church.
Jesus said, “I will build My Church” (Matt. 16:18). These words have added meaning since He is the Master Carpenter. Construction began on Pentecost, with the living, resurrected Christ as its solid foundation and chief cornerstone (I Cor. 3:11; Eph. 2:20).
Christ added that this unique “building” would be indestructible—as it would be built with “lively stones” (I Pet. 2:5) imbued with the power of His Spirit.
We are those stones. We are God’s building (I Cor. 3:9). Pentecost is a time in which we reflect on this.
The Church’s characteristics—what makes it special—were evident from its first day of existence.
Devout men from all nations were in Jerusalem for the Holy Day. Yet God had prepared a message for those gathered there and did not want language to be a barrier (Acts 2:1-13).
News of God’s followers speaking in tongues spread like wildfire and left many people stunned. Some were confused and others incredulous after realizing they could understand what the believers—Galileans who previously had no ability to speak foreign languages—were saying after they had received the Holy Spirit.
Some people even thought that they were drunk. But one message clarified what was occurring.
Bringing the message was Peter, a zealous man who spent years with Christ, yet denied Him when it mattered (John 18:27). Only weeks later, however, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and risking his safety and freedom to preach the sermon of his life to thousands. His swift transformation alone evidenced the power of God’s Spirit.
Peter began his message by highlighting an incredible prophecy. He revealed that the outpouring of God’s Spirit on the 120 believers just moments earlier was a type of what would eventually happen to all human beings. Someday, the Holy Spirit will be poured out “upon all flesh” and everyone will be able to freely call on the “name of the Lord” for salvation. This will occur in the “last days” (Acts 2:14-21).
He also proved that God foretold, through David, that Christ would come doing miracles and showing He was from the Father (vs. 22-35). The Lamb of God would eventually be crucified, then raised to life.
This all built to the climax of the address when Peter declared “that God has made the same Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
With that, the people were “pricked in their heart” (“to agitate violently”). They realized they had killed God, who had been made manifest in the flesh (vs. 37)!
God’s discourse through Peter worked. The people wanted to know what they should do.
Peter then uttered what are among the most important words a person can hear: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (vs. 38).
Those “called” (vs. 39) and obedient to these instructions did not have to wait until the “last days” to join the 120. God opened the door for them to receive His Spirit on the spot and save themselves from an “untoward” or perverse generation (vs. 40). Those who heard Peter’s words with joy and an open mind were baptized. As a result, the Church grew by “about three thousand souls” (vs. 41) and then later to “about five thousand” (4:4).
This should all sound familiar. What occurred with the early Church—from the teachings in Peter’s sermon, to people repenting, being baptized, and receiving God’s Spirit—still happens today.
Read Acts 2:42-47: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”
Do you see these similarities to our modern time in these verses?
Careful reading and tying together a few other passages allows several other characteristics to emerge. Understanding them can help us remain “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (I Cor. 15:58).
Called Out Ones
The word “church” first appeared in Matthew 16:18, when Christ described what He would build. The same word shows up again in the account of this unique day of Pentecost (Acts 2:47).
What does the term “church” mean? Instead of turning to the Bible for the answer, most assume it is a building with religious-looking symbols where people gather once a week to “worship God.” Yet the scriptures are clear.
The word church is the Greek word ekklesia, which means “a calling out” or “the called out ones.” This is a reference to people. Therefore, the Church Christ was referring to was not a building at all—it is people. Christ’s promise in Matthew was to build “people”—not buildings.
From its very first day, the Church was “called” by God out of the customs, traditions and ways of the world (John 6:44, 65). It was to be separate and distinct from those around it (II Cor. 6:17).
Those in the Church—us—are the only true representatives of God on Earth (II Cor. 5:20). By letting our lights shine, we can cause others to glorify our “Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14, 16).
“Church of God”
The Church is kept in God’s name. Jesus Christ said: “Holy Father, keep through Your own name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one, as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name…I have given them Your word” (John 17:11-12).
The words “keep” and “kept” mean to guard from loss or injury with the implication of a fortress for protection (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance).
This ties into Proverbs 18:10: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runs into it, and is safe.”
The term “Church of God” is used throughout the New Testament to describe those purchased by Christ’s blood (Acts 20:28) and afforded safety and other blessings.
In our modern time, “Restored” was added not only for corporate reasons, but more importantly as a reminder that God’s Church in the final era has been given the role of restoring what was lost in the wake of the apostasy or first “perilous time” (II Tim. 3:1).
After debuting with upwards of 5,000 converts (Acts 4:4), one could reasonably assume God’s Church would have quickly grown by millions of members. Yet this was not the case. Persecution and the emergence of a counterfeit movement—a mystery religion—soon caused it to cease growing at the same rate.
During this counterfeit movement, God’s doctrines were dismissed and replaced by false versions. The resultant phony Christianity, ironically, did explode with growth—and its followers now number in the billions.
God’s Church, however, remains small. Even 150,000-plus members in the Worldwide Church of God at its zenith paled in comparison to the total world population. Back then, God, not men, “added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47). It is the same today.
Do not let the size of the Church discourage you. God has always worked with a relative few. We are told, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
God gives the Kingdom to a small group, but He does not want it to remain that size. The Church may start small, but once the Kingdom arrives, it will grow to include the entire world.
Let that inspire you.
For centuries, a debate has raged on how to “count” Pentecost—as it occurs about 50 days, or seven weeks, after the Days of Unleavened Bread. The confusion stems from when to start counting. Yet the Bible commands that we are to begin the day after the weekly Sabbath during Unleavened Bread. The first day, a Sunday, is to be included in the number. In ancient Israel, the High Priest would perform the “wave sheaf offering” on this day (Lev. 23:14-15).
Definition: Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines Pentecost as an adjective denoting “fiftieth,” with the word “day” understood. For God’s instructions about how to keep it, see Exodus 23:16; 34:22; Leviticus 23:15-21; Numbers 28:26-31; Deuteronomy 16:9-11.
Related Names: While the New Testament uses the word Pentecost for this Holy Day, the Bible also uses other terms for the same convocation such as the “feast of the firstfruits” (Ex. 34:22; Num. 28:26), “the feast of harvest” (Ex. 23:16), and the “feast of weeks” (Ex. 34:22; Deut. 16:10, 16; II Chron. 8:13).
Shifting Date: Pentecost always lands on a Sunday, however, its specific day changes each year because the sacred calendar is used to mark the timing of God’s annual Holy Days and festivals.
Under God’s Government
God’s government is everything. It does not exist in churches and organizations of the world, which explains the confusion, infighting and indecision that define them. Appreciate the fact that the government of God is the reason His Church can accomplish so much with so few members.
The Father is at the top of His government. Under Him is Christ, who is the head of His Church. The Church is under Christ, who primarily works through one man to help it follow His doctrines and traditions (Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:9).
This all forms a top-down government structure.
I Corinthians states, “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints” (14:33). While the first part of this verse is well-known, recognize that it is tied directly to His Church. This “peace” is a result of God’s government being in place.
The reference to “the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:2) shows that God works through flesh, particularly the ministry (I Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). These “leaders on the ground” help exercise God’s will throughout the Church.
The early Church “continued steadfastly” all while obeying correct doctrines. This means they were “earnest toward” them, “persevered” in them, and were “constantly diligent” in “attending” to them and “adhering” to them (Strong’s). This is far beyond simply paying lip service to God’s Law.
The true Church is known by its doctrines. Satan knows this and therefore counterfeits every true doctrine of God. Consider this list of God’s laws versus the devil’s versions:
- Sin is the transgression of God’s Law versus Christ did away with the Law.
- God’s Holy Days are to be kept versus men’s holidays.
- Born again at Christ’s Return versus born again in this life.
- Baptism by immersion versus baptism by sprinkling.
- Tithing laws still in existence versus tithing no longer in effect.
- Wicked ceasing to exist versus wicked tortured in ever-burning hell.
- Ruling as a king and priest on Earth versus rolling around heaven all day.
The list could go on.
Another key doctrine is properly keeping God’s Sabbaths (the weekly Sabbath and annual Holy Days). God considers this command a test for His people (Ex. 16:4-5), and also a sign between Him and them to help them not to forget who He is and that He sanctifies them (Ezek. 20:12-13).
Allow the keeping of all of God’s doctrines to have a similar impact on you.
It could be argued that the far-and-away most evident characteristic of the Church at the close of Acts 2 is unity. All believed and were “together” (vs. 44). Members simplified their lives to have “all things common,” served each other, kept services together, and fellowshipped with one another over meals. They did it all with “gladness and singleness of heart” (vs. 44-46).
The Church, also known as the temple (I Cor. 3:16-17) and “house of God” (I Tim. 3:15), is a single structure. It is a building “fitly framed together” (Eph. 2:21) and “fitly joined and compacted” (Eph. 4:16).
It also walks together in full agreement (Amos 3:3). Remember, Christ said He would build His Church—which is singular—not churches (Matt. 16:18).
Brethren must dwell in unity (Psa. 133:1). Doing so ensures that we “all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among [us]; but that [we] be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Cor. 1:10).
Preaches the Gospel
Peter told the crowd that, one day, everyone would have a chance to receive God’s Spirit. This description of mass conversion was a glimpse into the Kingdom of God.
Jesus taught this gospel or “good news” from the outset of His ministry (Mark 1:15). Satan, who is the god of this world, wants to blind the world from the light of this glorious message (II Cor. 4:4). Delivering the good news is an important reason Christ built the Church and ensured it would last. It is the one organization in existence tasked with continuing to spread the gospel.
The last days are upon us. We live in the age when Jesus Christ will come with a Kingdom. But how soon?
Consider all the details of how the gospel will unfold that we as a Church have learned recently. This means we are close!
As the world gets darker, the need for a Savior increases. We must continue what Peter started in Jerusalem by wholeheartedly supporting God’s Work.
Do Not Forget
Jesus Christ built the Church. He is its foundation. He is shaping and building its structure with us as “lively stones.”
Though the early Church only lasted in its initial form until around AD 98, it did not cease to exist. Over the following 2,000 years, God’s building has manifested itself through phases or eras (Rev. 2-3)—each with its own inclinations and proclivities. But all in all, the spiritual Temple has maintained its original characteristics.
Yet the Church is not only where God’s Work is done. It is also the place His begotten children develop and learn to eventually rule with Jesus Christ.
The true meaning of Pentecost in God’s Plan will be fulfilled when Christ returns to His Temple. The smaller spring harvest—all of us—will then go on to assist the bountiful harvest of people to follow later.
To help with this Great Work, however, we must remain steadfast and in the position in which the Master Carpenter places us.
Never forget what you have been called to do and the great Work of which you are a part. This is more important every day as our salvation truly is “nearer than when we [first] believed” (Rom. 13:11).