Acts (Part 02) - Background to Pentecost
The eleven disciples (now apostles) travel back from the ascension site on Olivet to Jerusalem to wait as instructed by Christ. They went in the upper room (1:13), which is probably the same place (Mark’s mother’s house) where they had the Last Supper. This house was undoubtedly in the upper city—the area of more wealthy Jews—which accounted for the large number of people that met there (i.e., the 120 mentioned in 1:15). Luke specifically mentions the disciples, the women (the noted women disciples from his Gospel), and Jesus’ family. No doubt the brothers of Jesus, who had opposed him earlier, have been made disciples through the events of the Passion week.
The rest of chapter 1 is devoted to an interesting event that took place during these days of waiting. (By the way, there were 10 days of waiting. From resurrection to Pentecost was a total of 50 days. Jesus, we are told (1:3), appeared to the disciples for 40 of those.) Peter, understanding from the Scripture that he quotes that the position held by Judas Iscariot as the 12th disciple must be refilled, stands and calls everyone’s attention to this fact. He then proposes the selection through qualification of candidates. They pray over those selected and then cast lots, choosing Matthias to be counted among the eleven. But was Matthias truly God’s choice? Was this exercise Peter suggested truly the means by which God would select the replacement apostle? The following is a made-up dialogue between Noel, a Bible surface-reader, and me that attempts to examine the issue.
Noel: Okay, who am I missing—Peter and Andrew, James and John, Matthew, uh, Thomas, Philip, then…um…Bartholomew, and then…that’s eight…then, Thom—no, I said him. Um, oh, Simon the Zealot, Judas the son of James, and…and…the new one, Matthias, that took Judas Iscariot’s place, and then…who am I missing?
Dan: You’re naming apostles?
Noel: Uh, yes. Hello. What did you think?—reindeer?
Dan: Well, at first I thought the twelve disciples. But then you tossed Judas out, so I guessed apostles. And it’s James the son of Alphaeus that you’re missing.
Noel: James! That’s right. That should have been easy to remember—two named James. But, uh, what do you mean by saying you “guessed” apostles? Did the mention of Matthias throw you?
Dan: A little.
Noel: Did you forget he was the replacement for Judas?
Dan: Hard to forget something you never knew.
Noel: You didn’t know about Matthias?! Is the book of Acts not on your reading list?
Dan: So, Acts tells you that Matthias is the replacement for Judas Iscariot?
Noel: You become more confusing to me every day. Acts chapter 1. It’s all there.
Dan: Oh, you mean when they’re casting lots?
Dan: Is that how Jesus chose the other eleven?—casting lots?
Noel: No, but Jesus isn’t on the scene anymore. This is after His ascension.
Dan: And who decided to cast lots.
Noel: Who decided? I don’t know. Maybe Peter. It was his idea to get a replacement.
Dan: Peter’s idea?
Noel: Well, I mean, he mentioned it. Actually, it’s God’s idea. Peter quotes, I think, somewhere in the Psalms about another should take his…wait a sec…okay, here it is. In Acts 1:20 Peter quotes…um…footnote says Psalm 109:8. He says, “Let another take his office.” So…God’s idea.
Dan: But the verse doesn’t say anything about casting lots.
Noel: No, but…c’mon…they had to decide. They picked two people who fit the criteria and then let the Holy Spirit decide exactly who. It’s all Scripture—God-inspired, you know?
Dan: You just said three or four things that bother me. Can we look at this a little more closely?
Noel: Does there always have to be something deeper? Can you not let anything go at face value?
Dan: It’s the face value that’s giving me problems. Like, what did you mean by two people fitting the criteria? What were the criteria?
Noel: Oh, okay, I see your point. You’re upset that I said criteria instead of criterion. Okay, yeah, maybe there was only one criterion. The person had to have gone around with Christ and the disciples the whole time from the beginning through the resurrection. Yeah, that’s verse 21.
Dan: Actually it doesn’t matter whether there were one or more criteria. My question is who came up with that criterion?
Noel: Peter did…or God actually.
Dan: God? Does Peter quote from the Psalms again to show it was God’s idea?
Noel: Well, no, but Peter was an Apostle. And…and the book of Acts was inspired by God, so…
Dan: Not everything recorded in the Bible reflects God’s desire, does it? We do have sin recorded there.
Noel: Yeah, but, God wanted them to choose somebody. They were just trying to make an intelligent choice.
Dan: That’s the other thing. How do you know God wanted them to choose?
Noel: Psalms says…
Dan: Psalms doesn’t tell them to choose. Do you find any mention of the Holy Spirit endorsing their action?
Noel: Uh…it says…in verse 24 it says they prayed and asked the Lord to show them which of the two he had chosen.
Dan: But, again, it is their prayer, not a reply from God, not an endorsement by the Holy Spirit.
Noel: But when the lot fell on Matthias, it says he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
Dan: Who numbered him with the eleven?
Noel: I guess the other apostles did.
Dan: And when do we hear of Matthias next?
Noel: I’m not sure, but I can find it.
Dan: I’ll save you the trouble. He’s not mentioned again. The rest of Acts and the New Testament ignore him.
Noel: Yeah, well, it doesn’t mention Simon the Zealot again either.
Dan: No, but when the New Testament did mention Simon, it mentioned that Jesus is the one who chose him.
Noel: But if Matthias is not the replacement, who is? Are you thinking Paul?
Dan: Does Paul make sense as a choice?
Noel: He wasn’t with the disciples from the beginning.
Dan: No, but whose criterion was that?
Noel: Okay, that was Peter’s. But the Apostles had two jobs, didn’t they? Witnessing of the resurrection and founding the Church. We don’t know that Paul witnessed the resurrection.
Dan: We don’t? Who exactly did Paul see on the road to Damascus?
Noel: Yeaah, buut…
Dan: That was Christ—post resurrection and in bodily form. And do we not have Scriptural example of Paul testifying of his eyewitness encounter with Christ?
Dan: And on that road to Damascus, we have the same formula again as with the other eleven. It’s not the casting of lots that chooses apostles. Christ personally chooses and ordains. He did just that with Paul. And Paul testifies of that too. Romans 1:1 says he was “called to be an apostle.”
Noel: I guess that makes sense.
Dan: And the other job of the apostle? Look at Paul’s writings and missionary efforts. Is there any other known person who helped more in establishing the Church?
Dan: And to top it off, read the Galatians 1 record of Paul’s first years as a Christian. It says he was not taught by the others, but went to Arabia for a time and then to Damascus for three years before he finally went to Jerusalem to meet Peter and James. In other words, just like the other disciples, Paul was both chosen personally by Christ and taught by him for a period of about three and a half years—just as the disciples were. And after that teaching he finally meets the disciples and Galatians 2:6 tells us that the disciples “added nothing to” Paul. In other words, they did not find any lack in Paul’s thinking. What Christ taught Paul made him complete in his gospel understanding. Paul certainly seems to be God’s choice for the replacement apostle.
Okay, we will leave that conversation now to touch on one more important point. If Paul truly is God’s choice as replacement for Judas, why does Luke spend so much time here at the beginning of Acts to discuss a rather purposeless exercise? Obviously other events and conversations took place during those 10 days of waiting. Why did Luke include this one if it really didn’t mean anything?
I think we have to look at the development and what Luke intends for this second volume of his work. His Gospel concentrated on Jesus, God the Son. This volume, Acts, concentrates on God the Spirit. Jesus had told the disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that the HS would bring them power for witnessing (1:8). Jesus had previously told them (John 16:13) that the HS would come to guide them into all truth. But here, before the HS comes, Peter and the others decide to take action on their own to make one of the most significant decisions concerning the foundation of the church—the choice of one of the founders. So Luke sets this up in chapter 1 in structured style. They are gathered together; Peter stands and calls the group’s attention; he makes a speech; the result is the choosing of someone who is never heard of again. Contrast that with chapter 2 after the Holy Spirit has come. Again, they are gathered together, Peter stands and calls the group’s attention; he makes a speech; and this time, the result is that 3000 people get saved. That is some difference—an effective contrast to show what occurs without the HS and with the HS. This book is not about Peter or Paul. It is about the Holy Spirit working through Peter, Paul, and others to build the Church.
Acts 2 discusses the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost that year. A little background concerning Pentecost would help us understand the importance of the feast and how this event is the direct result of God’s movement through the whole of Scripture and history past.
The Jews celebrated seven main feasts through the year. They were Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles. Passover began as the means by which the Hebrew families were spared during the 10th plague in Egypt. God said that death would come to the first born of all families. However, if the blood of a sacrificed lamb were smeared on the doorposts and lintel of a house’s entrance, that house would be passed over or spared. It was a protection by blood. They were to eat the Passover meal in a state of readiness to depart. God specifically tells them not to put leaven in their bread. This signified that they did not have time to wait; they were not at home. So, the feast of Unleavened Bread commemorates that readiness to follow—their preparedness to escape from Egypt.
The feast of firstfruits was celebrated at the very beginning of the harvest still in the Spring. The Hebrews were to celebrate this hope of harvest, the expectation that God would provide. Fifty days later, the feast of Pentecost occurred, well into harvest. This was a feast of thanksgiving to God for his involvement with them through his provision of life.
The last three feasts took place in the Fall. The Bible does not clearly tell us the significance of the feast of Trumpets but there are indications that help us to understand the purpose of the feast. First of all, trumpets in the Bible are used to herald and in association with judgment. Passover was held on the 14th of Nisan (the first month of the Hebrews’ religious calendar). Following that very first Passover and the escape from Egypt, the Bible tells us in Exodus 19 that the Children of Israel arrived at Mt. Sinai on the third new moon following Passover. Since the new moon marked the beginning of the month in their lunar calendar, they arrived at Sinai at the beginning of the fourth month of the year. In chapter 19 and following we learn that after about 5 days, Moses goes up on the mountain to receive the Law. He stays on the mountain for 40 days. Coming down he finds the Hebrews in celebration, worshipping a golden calf. In his anger, Moses breaks the stone tablets of the Law and puts an end to the idol worship. About five days later Moses goes back up the mountain and spends another 40 days there with God, receiving the Law. He then brings it down to present to the people. Therefore, from arriving at Mt. Sinai, there is a period of about 90 days (5+40+5+40). Ninety days from the beginning of the 4th month takes us to the beginning of the 7th month—the month of Tishri. Tishri happens to be the first month of the political year (that month that had been first before God designated Nisan, the Passover month, to be first in Ex. 12:2). So, the first of Tishri is New Year’s Day in regard to the political year. This is still celebrated by Jews today as Rosh Hashanah. It is the first of Tishri that was designated as the day for the feast of Trumpets. Thus, we see that the significance of the feast of Trumpets is in heralding the coming of the Law, which, as Paul tells us, teaches us of sin and therefore judgment.
The Day of Atonement, occurring 10 days after Trumpets, was a day when the Hebrews were “to afflict” themselves. This is generally understood to be a time of fasting that would put them into remembrance of their sin that threatened the relationship they had with God. During this day two goats were chosen. One would be sacrificed for sins. The priest would lay his hands on the other goat, confessing the sins of the people, and this scapegoat would be turned loose in the desert taking away these sins. Five days after the Day of Atonement, the feast of Tabernacles was held for 8 days. During this time the Hebrews commemorated the wanderings in the desert, living in makeshift booths or tents, realizing God’s protection all the while.
These feasts, therefore, had specific symbolic significance. We can summarize the significance as follows:
Passover - Death payment
Unleavened Bread - Obedience
Firstfruits - Promise of life
Pentecost - Relationship
Trumpets - Law
Day of Atonement - Sacrifice
Tabernacles - Protection
We will come back to the feasts shortly. Right now we must turn our attention to the covenants—the stream for reconciliation established by God. When Adam was created a covenant was made by which God promised life for Adam’s obedience. Adam failed and sin entered the world. This was, of course, no surprise to God. God continued with a covenant relationship with Adam and Eve. Although the Bible does not expressly state another covenant here, we must understand that the holiness of God would demand immediate rejection and complete punishment of Adam and Eve for their sin. But God did not do so, assuring us that a covenant did exist by which God would atone for their sin. We are given a hint of that in Genesis 3:15.
The next covenant along this reconciliation stream is the one made with Noah. The flood did not occur because God just got irrationally angry one day and decided to wipe out the world. The picture presents the heinousness of sin and the complete separation from God that it causes. On the basis of that picture we see the covenant made with a promise for life.
The covenant with Abraham expands much of our understanding of this reconciliation stream. We learn that in making the covenant, God promises alone to ensure that it is accomplished (Gen. 15:17-21). Through this covenant, all people were promised blessing. And in this covenant we learn much about the requirement of faith. Those without faith die without realizing the eternal promises of the covenant.
The next covenant is somewhat different. The covenant made with Moses was a covenant based on works. If the Law was not kept, the covenant was broken. Since all of Israel continued to break the covenant, this covenant would come to an end. However, in the physical reality of this covenant were pictures or shadows or indications of eternal significance that affected the reconciliation stream of God. The book of Hebrews lets us know much of how the sacrificial system and the priesthood related to what Christ accomplished.
The Davidic covenant was also a covenant with a condition of following God. This too was broken. But this covenant also had spiritual significance for the overall reconciliation stream of covenants in that Christ becomes king over all Israel (all the people of God) forever.
Finally, the New Covenant is established by Christ through his keeping of the Old (Mosaic) and his sacrificial atonement for our sins. It is in this New Covenant that we realize reconciliation with God.
Throughout this reconciliation stream of covenants, we find that God acts according to justice. He also acts according to mercy. But he never compromises his justice for his promises of mercy, and he never compromises those promises for the sake of his justice. He is fully faithful to both justice and mercy, and that is the point of the whole covenant stream.
We see God acting in justice, faithfulness, and mercy in the following manner:
Now notice that these elements of God's justice, faithfulness, and mercy in the activity of Christ through both his advents is not only a result of the covenants established throughout earth's history, but also is symbolized and shown in those feasts that we discussed were established in the old covenant.
So we see that all of history from the covenant viewpoint is focused on God's reconciliation plan, and magnificently interweaves to bring about his creation purpose--the everlasting love relationship with his people. This is the beauty of what we see in Acts 2 at Pentecost—the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell the hearts of God’s people of faith creates relationship whereby we may be called the children of God.
We see Pentecost as the distinct realization of God’s plan through prophecy as well. In Daniel 9:24-27 we learn that 70 weeks (or 490 years—each week is a period of 7 years) are determined from the decree releasing the Jews to return from captivity to their homeland to rebuild Jerusalem to Messiah, the Prince, and the end of God’s dealing with the Jews in national covenant relationship.
The decree was made by Cyrus (Ezra 1:1-4). It was prophesied that Cyrus would make such a decree (Isaiah 44:28). And we even have archaeological evidence of the decree with more detail, specifying the rebuilding of the city. The problem is that the date of the decree is 538 BC. If this is the start of the 70 weeks (490 years), its end would occur in 48 BC, long before the Messiah is even born. This has led to many scholars picking one of several other Persian decrees (most commonly the one directing Nehemiah back to Jerusalem) as the one of reference in Daniel 9. However, the Ptolemaic dating system we have is suspect.
Martin Anstey, a scholar around the turn of the century from the 1800s to the 1900s, wrote an in-depth work titled Romance of Bible Chronology in which he did an exhaustive biblical chronology. His conclusion was that the Ptolemaic calendar (the one by which the Persian dates are assigned) was off by about 82 years. Most Persian records had been destroyed by Alexander’s Hellenistic efforts during his furious invasion. Some poetry and vague traditions remained that, in Ptolemy’s efforts to correlate with certain lunar eclipses and other archeological histories, resulted in the traditionally accepted dates. Anstey’s work, however, concludes the same thing that God had foreordained and made known in Isaiah’s prophecy—Cyrus was to deliver the decree that began the 70 Weeks of Daniel.
Since Anstey, several noted theologians have accepted his dating, including C.I. Schofield. Although Schofield’s reference Bible uses the Ptolemaic dates, Schofield later wrote in What Do the Prophets Say? that “whatever confusion has existed at this point has been due to following the Ptolemaic instead of the biblical chronology, as Anstey in his Romance of Bible Chronology” (p. 142). G. Campbell Morgan also endorsed Anstey, writing the preface for his book. Ernest L. Martin, in a 1998 article entitled, “Chronological Falsehoods,” wrote, “Anstey with great dexterity demonstrated that accepting Ptolemy in a dogmatic way was a very precarious and dangerous procedure. Adopting the opinions of this Egyptian astronomer (whose first business was that of being an astrologer) as being the sole authority for understanding the chronology of the Neo-Babylonian and Persian periods was seen by Anstey as a reckless endeavor. Anstey was right! Yet, the whole secular world of the scholars (and sadly, even those who held the Scriptures in esteem) went over to accept Ptolemy's opinions in an infallible sense. Very few even questioned the conclusions of this early astronomer/astrologer. And today, when you look at any historical work or encyclopaedia concerning the dates of years within the Neo-Babylonian periods, you will see the opinions of Ptolemy in full evidence and with a rank of infallibility surrounding the dates he indicated.”
Correcting Ptolemy’s dates by the 82 years that Anstey disallowed results in a date for Cyrus’ decree of 456 BC. Thus, 490 years (or 70 weeks) from 456 BC ends in AD 35 (accounting for the fact that there is no year 0). This places the last or 70th week of the prophecy—the week dealing with Messiah the Prince—from AD 28 through AD 35. And as we noted in the Matthew series (see article “Matthew (Part 02) – The Virgin Birth” on the TruthWhys website) Christ’s baptism and beginning of ministry was in AD 28.
The months of the Hebrew calendar are based on the lunar cycles and are as follows:
Tishri - 30 days
Cheshvan - 29 days
Kislev - 30 days
Tevet - 29 days
Shevat - 30 days
Adar - 29 days
Nisan - 30 days
Iyar - 29 days
Sivan - 30 days
Tammuz - 29 days
Av - 30 days
Elul - 29 days
These total to 354 days. Of course since it takes about 365¼ days for the Earth to circle the Sun, adjustments must be made to this not only by adding or subtracting a day based on lunar anomalies (called defective and excessive years in the Jewish calendar), but also by adding an extra month every fourth year (leap year).
We know that Jesus was crucified on Nisan 14 (Passover) of AD 31. Thus his ministry lasted 191 days of that year. Jesus ministered on earth for all 354 days of years AD 30, 29, and 28. Additionally, one of those years must have been a leap year, so we need to add another month or 30 days to the equation. We find in totaling these days of ministry that from Tishri 1, 28, the beginning of Christ’s ministry (on the Feast of Trumpets that year) to his crucifixion on Nisan 14, 31, there are 1283 days. Remember that immediately following Passover is the feast of Unleavened Bread—a feast whose significance is obedience, following God. Adding those 7 days to the timetable puts us at 1290 days.
Now, the abomination of desolation spoken of in Daniel 9 is actually abominations that lead to desolation (Daniel 9:27). We learn from Matthew 24 and Luke 21 that the desolation is the destruction of the temple in AD 70. But what set this up? What were the abominations that led to this destruction? Matthew presents Jesus as Messiah, King, and God. Jesus, the Messiah-King-God, began his ministry on Tishri 1, 28. At that point he was baptized not only by John, but by God with the Holy Spirit. God called out from heaven that this was his beloved Son. But throughout Christ’s entire ministry he was rejected by the nation. And it was this act of continuing to sacrifice to God at the temple while rejecting God’s own Son sent to them to be the sacrifice that was an abomination and continuing abomination to God that eventually led to the desolation and destruction of the temple in AD 70.
One more fact before we tie this all together. Pentecost was held fifty days from the feast of Firstfruits. (Actually the 50 days included both Firstfruits and Pentecost in the count.) Jesus rose that year on the feast of Firstfruits (which was the 3rd day of the feast of Unleavened Bread). Thus, from the end of the feast of Unleavened Bread to Pentecost, there were exactly 45 days.
Now we finally move to Daniel 12. Daniel 12:11-12 tell us this: “And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days. Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days.” This prophecy in Daniel is exactly fulfilled in the events of Christ’s ministry and death. We counted 1290 days of Christ’s ministry through the end of the feast of Unleavened Bread. That is the 1290 mentioned in Daniel 12. But the angel tells Daniel that the one who waits 45 days longer—to the 1335th day—is blessed. And what greater blessing could there be then was shown that year after Christ’s death and the end of the feast when exactly 45 days later Pentecost was celebrated with the coming of the Holy Spirit.