We formerly alluded to the feast of Pentecost, and described it as the feast which was, for various reasons, more than any other, frequented by Jews from foreign parts. Note: Evening Series; Thirty-First Week—Saturday. It seems, therefore, probable that the wisdom of God deferred for ten days after the ascension of Christ, the striking manifestation which has rendered this Jewish festival memorable in the annals of the Christian church, in order that it might occur at a time when Jerusalem was filled with strangers, who would bear back the intelligence of it, and of the circumstances connected with it, to their distant homes: thus preparing the way for the subsequent appearance and ministrations of the apostles in those parts. Indeed, many returned home from this feast as converts to the doctrine of Christ, and were thereby ready in all quarters to receive the preachers of that doctrine with gladness when they came among them. It is impossible to estimate too highly the importance of the occasion, which, through the Jews present at the feast, and afterwards returning to the countries of their sojourning, enabled the seed of the Gospel to be sown broadcast into all lands, yielding in the end abundant and glorious fruits. This, therefore, seems to supply the motive—and certainly a most adequate one—for the delay of the ardently expected boon.
The feast of Pentecost is not known by that name in the Old Testament, being a Greek term for denoting the festival as being celebrated on the fiftieth day from the feast of Unleavened Bread or the Passover. It was a festival of thanksgiving for the completion of the harvest, which commenced immediately after the Passover. It is hence called in the Old Testament the Feast of Harvest; and it was also designed the Feast of Weeks, because it was seven weeks, or, according to the Hebrew mode of expression, “a week of weeks,” from the first day of the Passover. The primary object of the festival was undoubtedly to render thanks to the Lord for the blessings of the season; and its first fruits were then rendered as an offering to Him in a basket, with the words given in Deu_26:5-9, beginning, “A Syrian ready to perish was my father; and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous;” and proceeding to recite how they were afflicted in that country, and how the Lord, “with great terribleness,” delivered them therefrom; “And He hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, even a land that floweth with milk and honey: and now, behold, I have brought the first fruits of the land which Thou, O Lord, hast given me.” It was hence also called the Feast of First Fruits.
There is no trace in Scripture that this feast was also designed, at least in part, to commemorate the giving of the law from Mount Sinai; but this impression was in later times entertained, and has acquired especial prominence since the Jews have been cast forth from their own “good land;” and, in all the different countries of their sojourning, have ceased to be an agricultural people, or to take interest in agricultural affairs.
This was one of the three great yearly festivals, which all the adult males were, in strictness, required to attend at the place of the Lord’s altar. In most of the places where it is mentioned, under any of its various names, it might seem to be a festival of only a day; but it was in reality of a weeks duration, although only the first day was distinguished by the religious solemnities described in the books of the Law.
It was when this first day of Pentecost was fully come, that the apostles (and probably the disciples) were assembled at their usual place of meeting, when the sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, filled all the house where they were sitting. It does not seem that there was actually any wind, but only the sound of it, which sound pervaded all parts of the house. This wind, or sound of wind, was an appropriate emblem of the descent and ingress of the Holy Spirit, which as frequently designated as a breath or a wind. Indeed, in the Old Testament the proper term for spirit is a word which equally denotes these two things. It was therefore of the nature of a sign to them of what was to take place, and which they were expecting, though they knew not the form of the manifestation. Presently divers masses of lambent flame appeared moving through the place, which settled upon their heads in the shape of “tongues of fire,”—called tongues, from the general resemblance, both in shape and movement, of a lambent flame to that of a tongue. Thus was fulfilled the prediction that they should be “baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire”—(Mat_3:11)—and the frequency with which the manifestations of the Divine presence are connected in the Old Testament with the appearance of fire, rendered this a peculiarly appropriate and intelligible visible symbol of the descent upon them of the Divine Spirit. They had thus both audible and visible evidence of the reality of this manifestation—audible in “the sound of the rushing mighty wind;” visible in “the tongues of fire.” That these tongues of fire, or rather of flame, should settle upon each of the subjects of this grace, must have been more satisfactory than a single body of flame diffused over the heads of all, as there might then have arisen a question, whether there might not be some who had not received it; but all misconception was prevented by every one being marked out individually by this fiery sign. And if there were some present who did not receive this power from on high, it was the more essential that those who did receive it, should be thus manifestly distinguished. On this point there is some difficulty. The general impression seems to be, that the apostles only were present, and that they alone received this sign, and the gifts which followed. But we have supposed it probable that the one hundred and twenty disciples were also present with the apostles. In that supposition the question arises, Did they also receive the Holy Ghost? It is impossible to be very positive on this point; but from the freedom with which we find the apostles at all subsequent periods imparting (as they were authorized to do) the gifts they on this occasion received, to others who were to preach the Gospel, it seems that these gifts were not by any means intended to be peculiar to the apostles, and suggests the probability that the disciples then present, were also subject to this Divine influence. And this seems to be corroborated by the large terms employed in describing the event, especially in Peter’s application to it of the prophecy of Joel (Act_2:16-18), the expressions in which are very full and extensive.