Wind, Fire, and Smoke!
By Rabbi Matt Rosenberg
The Jewish holiday of Shavuot is the greatest testament to the faithfulness of God on the Hebrew calendar. The word Shavuot literally means “weeks” because we count seven weeks plus one day (fifty days) from Pesach (Passover) to the day of Shavuot. For many Christians, Shavuot is known as Pentecost, which in Greek means the “fiftieth day.”
It was also the day the original disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) gathered at the Temple in Jerusalem and received the Holy Spirit. The majority of people who believe in the Bible are familiar with Passover, the Exodus, and the fact that both the death and resurrection of Yeshua take place during Passover. Far less is known or understood regarding the importance of Shavuot and the connection to the holidays that precede it.
In the Torah, Pesach and Shavuot are connected by the counting of fifty days called the fifty days of Omer. In Leviticus 23:15-16, we find one of the several places that give instruction for these important days:
“Then you are to count from the morrow after the Shabbat, from the day that you brought the omer of the wave offering, seven complete Shabbatot. Until the morrow after the seventh Shabbat you are to count fifty days, and then present a new grain offering to Adonai.”
So we count fifty days from the 16th of Nissan, one day after the day of Passover (15th of Nissan) on the Jewish calendar. Many wonderful biblical events occurred during these fifty days; among them are the parting of the sea of reeds, the giving of manna from heaven, and God’s provision of quail to the Israelites. In the New Testament, a resurrected Yeshua appeared to His disciples (including Peter, Thomas, and John), as well as to over 500 others over a period of 40 days after His death (Acts 1:3). The culmination of these events was on the fiftieth day, Shavuot, when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit at the Temple in Jerusalem (Acts 2). Shavuot is also traditionally believed to be the day that God gave the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard preachers say that Acts 2 is when God decided to do something brand new (i.e. the start of the Church) and that He was leaving the Jewish people behind. The scriptures do not reflect this. In fact, when we look in Acts 2:5, we find that the opposite is true! The passage says,
“Now Jewish people were staying in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven.”
The vast majority of the men in Acts 2 were Jews,
“Parthians and Medes and Elamites and those living in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and parts of Libya toward Cyrene, and visitors from Rome (both Jewish people and proselytes), Cretans and Arabs….”
Why were there so many Jews, and God-fearers, in Jerusalem worshipping God fifty days after Yeshua rose from the dead? Simply because they were commanded to be there every year, fifty days after Pesach for the celebration of Shavuot.
There is nothing “new” happening in Acts 2!
A bold statement I know. The text shows us that instead of the creation of a new entity (the Church), God is fulfilling the promises that He made to Israel, to His people. Sure, they experience the filling of the Holy Spirit, but much of what is recorded in the book of Acts happened before on the very same day on the Jewish calendar. In fact, traditionally Moses received the Torah on Mt. Sinai on the very same day, Shavuot, so there is a distinct relationship with the disciples being filled with the Holy Spirit and Moses receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai. In Exodus 19:16-19, Moses writes:
“In the morning of the third day, there was thundering and lightning, a thick cloud on the mountain, and the blast of an exceedingly loud shofar. All the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the lowest part of the mountain. Now the entire Mount Sinai was in smoke because Adonai had descended upon it in fire. The smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace. The whole mountain quaked greatly. When the sound of the shofar grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him with a thunderous sound.”
Compare what happened on Shavuot in the days of Moses (above) to what happened to Yeshua’s disciples in Acts 2:1-4 on the Shavuot following His death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven:
“When the day of Shavuot had come, they were all together in one place. Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And tongues like fire spreading out appeared to them and settled on each one of them. They were all filled with the Ruach ha-Kodesh and began to speak in other tongues as the Ruach enabled them to speak out.”
They are similar intentionally. Wind, fire, Mt. Sinai (Exodus), the Temple Mount (Acts). When Peter preaches to the people in Acts he doesn’t say, “Guys, this is a totally brand new thing! Let’s stop doing everything we’ve been doing, start a new religion, and begin a new people of God.” Rather, he reminds his listeners,
“Fellow Judeans and all who are staying in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and pay attention to my words.”
Peter quotes the prophet Joel, he talks about Yeshua’s death and resurrection, he talks about two different Psalms and King David, and he ends with Acts 2:36,
“Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him—this Yeshua whom you had crucified—both Lord and Messiah!”
Interesting that he says “the whole house of Israel,” because the phrase Kal Yisrael (lit. “All Israel”) is quite important throughout the Hebrew Scriptures in that what God does He does for the whole people, represented by those devout Jews who showed up to worship on Shavuot.
If the book of Acts or any of the New Testament become vehicles of displacement of the Jewish people, then everyone who believes in the God of Israel is in trouble. If the whole story of Yeshua and His disciples can be disconnected from Jews and Judaism, then the God of Israel becomes inconsistent and untrustworthy. The point of the story is to relay both continuity and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel and the Jewish people. It is also a reminder of our responsibility as Jews to tell the Gentiles (nations) that our God is trustworthy, and that if anyone from any nation calls on Yeshua, they too can become a part of the family of God, forever. This is why Passover, the fifty days of Omer, and Shavuot are more than dates on the Jewish calendar, but also an entire season of incredible things that God has done to make Himself known to the world.
At Restoration in Seattle we celebrate Pesach with seders (meals) and count the fifty days of Omer together. On the day of Shavuot we celebrate with a huge picnic! We each bring a special offering for the day of Shavuot, a day to bring our first fruits as an offering to the Lord. Shavuot is the perfect day to celebrate all of God’s faithfulness to the Jewish people and to anyone, from any nation, who calls on the name of Yeshua.
Matt Rosenberg is the Rabbi and Chief Officer of Awesome at Restoration in Seattle. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Laura, and three children. Restoration is a Messianic Synagogue with a mission to lead people to become fully devoted followers of Yeshua. You can find more at ShalomSeattle.com and follow both Matt and Restoration on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram.n