The arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost — the Greek name for Shavuot (שׁבועות), the Jewish Feast of Weeks — empowers followers of Jesus to continue their Messiah’s mission. The way that Acts presents Pentecost echoes the giving of the Torah on Sinai, and shows how God reclaims those of Israel who had been lost after the sin of the golden calf. The advent of the Spirit fixes the problem that occurred in the wilderness, and highlights the divine desire to heal and restore the Jewish people.
According to Judaic tradition, Shavuot commemorates the gift of the Torah through Moses. Acts reflects this relationship between Pentecost and Sinai by using language that recalls events in Exodus. For example, with reference to believers at Pentecost, Luke says that “tongues of fire (πῦρ; pur) appeared to them” (Acts 2:3). Similarly, Exodus notes that the Lord “descended on [Mount Sinai] in fire (πῦρ; pur)” (19:18 LXX). More, just as the divine descent onto Sinai is accompanied by the “sound” (φωνή; foné) of thunder and trumpet (Exod 19:16-19 LXX), the “sound” (φωνή; foné) of a rushing wind accompanies the Spirit’s arrival (Acts 2:6). Insofar as God descends in fire and sound in the wilderness, and God’s Spirit descends in fire and sound at Pentecost, Luke presents the Holy Spirit’s arrival recapitulating the giving of the Torah at Sinai.
Soon after Moses receives the Torah, however, the Israelites rebel against God by building the golden calf. The Jewish-Greek translation of Exodus 32 uses language to describe this rebellion that Luke repurposes in the Pentecost account. Responding to Israel’s idolatry, “All the Levites assembled together (συνέρχομαι; synérchomai)” around Moses before killing a number of the people (32:26). Luke also describes a gathering of the Jewish people, not as a precursor to death, but to new life in the Spirit: “And at this sound [of the Spirit] the multitude assembled together (συνέρχομαι; synérchomai)” (Acts 2:6). Thus, Acts repurposes Exodus’ language to allude to the coming restoration at the outpouring of the Spirit.
After the Levites do their destructive duty, the Hebrew notes, “that day about three thousand (ביום ההוא כשׁלשׁת אלפי; bayom hahu kishloshet alphei) men of the people fell” (Exod 32:28). Luke draws on this Hebrew phrasing in the description of the Spirit’s saving work among the Jewish people: “Those who received [Peter’s] word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand ((ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ… ὡσεὶ τρισχίλιαι; heméra ekeíne… hoseì trischíliai) lives” (Acts 2:41). Whereas the golden calf incident ended in the loss of three thousand, the Holy Spirit ensures that the three thousand who were lost are reclaimed at Pentecost. God’s Spirit enacts an initial restoration of the chosen people as a foretaste of the salvation that goes from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.