Many Christians are familiar with the feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot as it is more commonly known in Israel. Many of you have probably celebrated a Passover seder before as well, and are appreciative of the beautiful significance that it brought to your faith. Many, however, are not as familiar with the feast of Shavuot. Interestingly though, Christianity does have a counterpart in Pentecost.
In Judaism, Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. To many, it is known as the marriage ceremony, when the children of Israel formed a relationship with their Creator and received His instructions for their lives. The Torah gives us no specific dates to celebrate Shavuot as it is meant to be exactly fifty days after Passover. During this fifty-day period, each family counts the “Omer,” which culminates in the feast of Shavuot.
In the New Testament, we see this fifty-day period as very significant. Yeshua died and rose again at Passover. He then appeared to more than 500 people over the next forty days. During that time, He taught them about His Kingdom. When He finally ascended to His Father, He had one last piece of instruction for His disciples:
“And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’” (Acts 1:4-6)
Yeshua told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Promise of the Father, which they would receive not many days from then. The disciples knew that Shavuot was only ten days away. They would have had great expectation that the promise that Yeshua gave them would arrive at the culmination of the counting of the omer, at Shavuot!
We see this story played out exactly in the next chapter in Acts. I’d like to retell it, with brief interludes to also paint for you what happens in modern-day Jerusalem at Shavuot.
After Yeshua left them, the disciples returned to Jerusalem in great anticipation to finish counting down the remaining days until Shavuot. Their excitement was even greater than years previous, as they were in anticipation of a special gift this year.
Like all of the other Jews in Jerusalem, the disciples would have spent the night of Shavuot in prayer and Torah study, probably banding together in the upper room.
The beginning of Shavuot is marked by a special service in the synagogues, a festive meal usually consisting of dairy foods, and then the Torah studies begin. All night long, the Jewish people will engage in Torah study, listening to their favorite rabbis and discussing and learning from one another. The book of Ruth is also read and studied. All night long they stay awake. Some of them will wander from synagogue to synagogue, or house to house, joining different studies all throughout the night.
About an hour before sunrise, however, the studies wrap up and thousands of people from all over Jerusalem begin making their way to the Western Wall. Quietly, in the darkness, the streets of Jerusalem begin to be filled with people, all of them headed in one direction. The closer one gets to the Old City, the bigger the crowds grow. All of them pack into the Western Wall plaza and stand facing the Temple Mount, where they quietly wait.
In the beginning of Acts 2, we read that the disciples were all in one accord, in one place. Most assume that they are still in the upper room. However, just a few verses later, we read that the Jews of Jerusalem were astonished to hear them speaking in their own languages. After Peter’s sermon to the people who were gathered there, 3,000 people were added to the disciples’ number. That means that there were thousands and thousands who witnessed the Holy Spirit fall on the disciples and heard Peter’s presentation of the Gospel!
The hint as to what happened is in the beginning of Acts 2 and in the traditions of the Jewish people. We read in verse 1 that they were in “one place.” In Hebrew this is hamakom, a term used all throughout Scripture to refer to the Temple.
Let’s go back to the Western Wall in modern Jerusalem. Just as the sun peeks over the horizon, someone gives a signal and the morning prayers begin. Each sect or group of Jews prays together with their leader. Even though the thousands who are praying are not in perfect unison, everyone is praying together, facing the Temple Mount. The experience is incredible.
Suddenly, the original Shavuot when the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples makes sense! After spending all night in the upper room in prayer and study, they would have joined the rest of Jerusalem in making their way to the Temple just before dawn. As faithful Jews who adhered to the traditions of their time, they would have joined in the morning prayers, probably finishing with the “Our Father” that Yeshua taught them. This was a common practice for rabbis of the day to give their disciples a unique prayer to add to the end of the daily prayers.
On this Shavuot, however, an amazing thing happened. In what must have been reminiscent of the original Shavuot, when God appeared in great splendor and glory to the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai, a great wind shook the Temple. Tongues of fire appeared on the heads of the disciples, and suddenly they were speaking in the languages of all those who were present. The rest of the story we know.
The question is, could it be that the giving of the Holy Spirit was dependent on the disciples being in one accord and being in one place? Yeshua did tell them specifically to stay in Jerusalem. We read very clearly: “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. (Acts 2:1)
Being in one accord does seem key to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. What if, however, the second key is to be in alignment with “the Place” – the Temple? We know with near certainty that the disciples were in the Temple when the Holy Spirit fell on them during that Pentecost Day nearly 2,000 years ago.
What if, instead of allowing more than 40,000 denominations to divide Christianity, we returned to the original place where the disciples were in one accord? What if we aligned with Zion?
Even if you can’t physically be in Jerusalem this year, you can still face Jerusalem as Shavuot begins tonight.
We encourage you to join with other believers tonight, and make sure you are aligned in one accord with Jerusalem and God’s Kingdom.
Chag Shavuot sameach! (Happy feast of Shavuot!)