If you've grown up in church or been a Christian for very long, chances are you know the rest of the story. It's a Christian hallmark, the tale of the "church's birth." The disciples spoke in unlearned tongues, and onlookers—God-fearing Jews who had come to Jerusalem from surrounding nations—heard their own languages being spoken. Everyone marveled. Some thought the disciples were crazy, even drunk. "Why are these goons babbling about so liberally and audaciously?" people must have wondered. Then Peter, the lead apostle, stood up and addressed the crowd. He preached about Christ, the resurrected and ascended Lord, and called his hearers to repent. Three thousand people were saved and baptized on the spot. The Spirit empowered a minority "sect" to carry out Christ's call: to make disciples and baptize them (Matt. 28:20).
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit ushered in a new era, one in which the promises of God have become a reality. In his sermon, Peter indicated that the words of the prophet Joel had been fulfilled: "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people."
When most of us think about Pentecost, we think of charismata and mission. But Pentecost is about more than just spectacular signs and church growth. As important as these are, they emerge from and point to a more profound event: The Spirit's breaking down the major barriers of our lives and in human history.
Completion and Application of Redemption
Pentecost was essentially a harvest festival, and it fell on the 50th day after Passover. For Israel, it signified the end of the reaping season and completed the Passover offering. But Pentecost isn't just a Jewish holiday. The apostle Paul, even after he became a Christian, celebrated the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 20:16). So why is it significant for Christians? One key reason is it marks the completion and application of Christ's redemptive work.
Throughout history, Christians have recognized the connection between Passover and Christ's death. Passover, which commemorates Israel's liberation from Egypt, anticipates the freedom from sin and death we receive by Christ's sacrificial death on the cross. His resurrection gives us new life, and his ascension into heaven obtains for us eternal redemption (Heb. 9:11–12).
Just as Passover foreshadowed Christ's sacrificial death, so Pentecost foreshadowed the completion of Christ's saving work. In other words, Christ's "reaping"—the culmination of his labor—is carried out by the Spirit's descent at Pentecost. The Spirit applies all the benefits of Christ's death and resurrection to our lives. The Spirit raises us from the dead (Rom. 8:11), justifies us (1 Cor. 6:11), and sanctifies us (2 Thess. 2:13).
Christians have historically affirmed the inseparable link between the Spirit and the Word. Jesus, the Word of God, has accomplished our salvation, and the Spirit is the one who applies the benefits of Christ's work to us as individual believers. That means there is no barrier between us and the effects of Christ's work. Christ lived, died, and rose again two millennia ago, but the Spirit extends the effects of those events to us, even in the 21st century.