What is Pentecost?

Fifty days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the early Christians on a day known as Pentecost. This powerful event from the first century is described in Acts chapters 1-2. There, we learn that about 120 followers of Jesus were gathered in prayer in an upper room of Jerusalem, having recently seen Jesus depart and return to his Father in heaven. It was now the day for celebrating a Jewish harvest festival known as Pentecost, or Feast of Weeks. But God would give this Old Testament feast a far greater significance through the spiritual harvest He would produce that day.

Empowering and Expanding the Church

While the believers were gathered, the Holy Spirit came upon them with flames of fire and violent wind.  Why such dramatic signs of power? Precisely because the Spirit was empowering the church for the mission Jesus had given them in Acts 1:8: To be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus had known that his followers could only fulfill this mission with the help and power of the Holy Spirit, so he had instructed them to wait in Jerusalem until they were given the Spirit. (Luke 24:49) Just as the Spirit had empowered Jesus for ministry (Luke 4:1), so the Spirit would now empower Jesus’ people for ministry.

At Pentecost, the church was not only empowered but also expanded to all nations and people groups. In the Old Testament, God’s work had mostly centered on one ethnic group—the people of Israel. But at Pentecost, God expanded his kingdom to all nations. The Spirit demonstrated this by enabling the believers to speak in foreign languages they had never known, so they could share the gospel with people from “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:6). Peter told the crowds in Jerusalem that the Spirit was being poured out on all people so that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21)

The Holy Spirit Today

Because of Pentecost, Jesus can now be personally present with every believer around the globe, through his Holy Spirit. In fact, because the Holy Spirit dwells inside us (1 Cor. 3:16), it is something that can never be taken away. Jesus promised in John 14-16 that the Spirit will gives us peace, courage, comfort, and guidance—everything we need.

Because Pentecost was such an important, history-changing event, many Christians have commemorated it up to the present—particularly the Christian traditions that follow a church calendar, such as Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and more. The practice of observing Pentecost seems to date to the early church, when the entire period from Easter to Pentecost was used as a for preparing and then baptizing new believers.

Today churches vary in how they celebrate Pentecost Sunday, but they often incorporate symbols of the Spirit, such as a dove, flames of fire, or colorful vestments—perhaps red for fire or green for life. Pentecost has also been called “Whitsunday,” due to the white garments worn by those being baptized at this time.

Phil Vischer, Buck Denver and Friends explain the Pentecost to kids in his DVD on Acts.

Learn more in Volume 11: Spreading the Good News! {The Book of Acts}

You can also read more about the Pentecost by checking out our other post here: Pentecost and Talking to Our Kids about the Holy Spirit.  And for a fun activity, download our Pentecost Coloring Page!

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