Shavuot and its Impact upon a Messianic Soteriology

Recent discussions within Messianic Judaism have addressed various aspects of soteriology.  Unfortunately, the relationship between Shavuot and the Messianic view of salvation is often missing from the dialogue.  Yet, in Luke-Acts, the events on Shavuot are the culmination of Messiah’s redemptive work.  Therefore, this paper will explore the significance in the arrival of the Spirit on Shavuot and its impact upon the development of a Messianic soteriology.*

The Anticipation of Shavuot in Luke-Acts

Luke’s portrayal of Yeshua’s life continually anticipates the Father’s promise of the Spirit and culminates with the pouring out of the Spirit on Shavuot (Acts 2:1-41). When Yohanan called the nation to repentance, he described the coming Messiah as one who would purify Israel by means of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) and with fire (Luke 3:16).[1] Following his death and resurrection, Yeshua guaranteed he would send the Spirit and instructed his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the power of the Ruach HaKodesh (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5, 8). Thus, when the disciples gathered in Jerusalem for the observance of Shavuot, they received the Father’s promise when they were filled with the Ruach HaKodesh (Acts 2:4).[2] Peter indicates the significance of this event when he shows the relationship between the forgiveness in Messiah and the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38). Therefore, the giving of the Spirit on Shavuot accompanied the message of salvation and was the “realization to the Messiah’s promised work.”[3] In the message of Luke-Acts, Yeshua’s work is not complete until he pours out the Spirit on Shavuot, since G-d inaugurates his kingdom through the Messiah who imparts the Spirit (Matt 3:2, 11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16).[4]

Shavuot within Judaism

The Torah primarily presents the feast of Shavuot as a harvest festival, which represented the end of the barley harvest and the first fruits of the wheat harvest (Ex 34:22; Num 28:26; Deut 16:10).[5] Later, Jewish tradition links Shavuot with the day Israel received the Torah at Sinai. Celebrating Shavuot on the sixth of Sivan connects the observance with the rabbinic tradition that G-d gave the Ten Commandments to Israel on the same day (b. Shab 86b; b. Yoma 4b).[6] The Talmud also indicates that the reason Shavuot is a solemn assembly is because it is the day on which G-d gave the Torah to Israel (b. Pes 68b).

While later Jewish tradition associates Shavuot with the giving of the Torah, it is not clear to what extent this tradition was prevalent during the first century. It is possible that during Asa’s reign, the nation celebrated the festival as the annual renewal of the covenant between G-d and Israel (2 Chron 15:10-12).[7] The Book of Jubilees, which dates to the second century bce, instructs Israel to observe Shavuot as the renewal of the covenant made with Noah, which was kept by the patriarchs, but forgotten by the nation until G-d renewed the covenant with Israel at Sinai (Jub 6:17-31). Although Luke’s account of the coming of the Spirit in Acts does not develop the relationship, the available evidence indicates that some first century Jewish communities likely observed Shavuot as the anniversary for the giving of the Torah.[8]

The Anticipation of the Spirit in the Tanak

Although Luke does not utilize the connection between Shavuot and the giving of the Torah, Jeremiah’s anticipation of a new covenant  between G-d and Israel establishes the relationship between Torah and the indwelling of the Spirit (Jer 31:31-34). Following the exile, G-d promises to reunite Israel and Judah and restore the nation to their land (Jer 31:31, 33). While G-d previously wrote the Torah upon tablets of stone, G-d will engrave this renewed covenant upon the hearts of his people (Ex 24:12; 31:18; 34:1-4; Jer 31:33). He instructed each generation to teach Torah to the next generation by making it ubiquitous. Under the new covenant, his people will instinctively understand his law through an inward dynamic (Deut 6:5-9; Jer 31:33-34).[9] The hope for a restored relationship with G-d is at the heart of Jeremiah’s promise of a renewed covenant with Israel, because G-d will forgive his people and transform their hearts (Jer 31:33-34).

When Israel returns to the land from the exile, Ezekiel promises that the people will purge idolatry from the nation (Ezek 11:17-18). After they forsake the idols and return to the L-rd, G-d promises to restore their heart and place a new spirit  within them, which leads to obedience and a restored relationship with G-d (Ezek 11:19-20). Later, Ezekiel reiterates that when G-d gathers his people back from the exile, he will give them a new heart and a new spirit that will divinely enable Israel to live within an obedient covenant relationship with him (Ezek 36:24-28).[10] Yet, in this account, Ezekiel confirms that this will accompany the forgiveness and purification of the nation (Ezek 36:25). Therefore, the Tanakh looks forward to a time when G-d will cleanse Israel and place his spirit within his people, which will animate them into a restored relationship with their G-d (Ezek 36:27-28; cf. Deut 30:1-6).

Thus, in his description of the Messiah as the one who will purify Israel through the Ruach HaKodesh, Yohanan recalls the anticipation within the Tanakh of the cleansing and indwelling of the Spirit, who restores Israel’s relationship with G-d (Matt 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16).[11] Even though Luke does not emphasize the connection between the indwelling of the Spirit and the giving of the Torah, both the observance of Shavuot within Jewish tradition and the anticipation of the Spirit within the Tanakh, suggest the gift of the Spirit on Shavuot was a focal point in G-d’s plan of salvation.

Relationship to Salvation

The preceding material demonstrates the anticipation of the Spirit within both the Tanakh and the life of Yeshua and the inherent relationship between Shavuot and the Torah in Jewish tradition. Since the events on Shavuot play a predominant role in both the structure of Luke-Acts and the anticipation of the Spirit within the Tanakh, the remainder of this article will look at the important role of the Spirit in Messiah’s work of salvation. Peter shows the significance of the event when he tells the crowd that the “gift of the Spirit” is part of the message of salvation (Acts 2:38).[12] Paul indicates the indwelling of the Spirit occurs at the point of salvation and the reception of the Spirit functions as a seal upon the Believer, which identifies him/her as G-d’s sacred possession (Rom 8:9, 16; 2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:13; 4:30).[13] The indwelling of the Ruach HaKodesh accompanies salvation and is a down payment that guarantees G-d will complete his work of redemption (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5, Eph 1:14).[14] Therefore, the presence of the Spirit in the life of the Believer is present assurance for the eternal reality.

Yet, the Spirit not only functions as a guarantee, but also provides the power for a transformed life. Ezekiel looked forward to a time when G-d would give Israel his Spirit, who will empower the nation to live obedient lives (Ezek 36:27). Previously, Ezekiel envisioned the glory of the L-rd departing the temple, due to the disobedience of the nation (Ezek 10).[15] But G-d will not permanently abandon his people; he promises a time when Israel will have a restored relationship with him, in which his Spirit will reside within their hearts forever (Ezek 11:19; 36:26-27; 37:5, 14, 26-28). The outpouring of G-d’s Spirit on Shavuot was the initiation of G-d’s promise to give Israel a new heart. G-d promises to transform the hearts of his people through the same Spirit who raised the Messiah from the dead also indwells Messiah’s followers (Rom 8:11). G-d empowers his people through the Spirit “so that new life can come and flow forth from cleansing” (Rom 8:4-6; Eph 2:1-10).[16] The indwelling Spirit regenerates the hearts of G-d’s people and enables them to live the type of righteous life that is impossible without the empowerment of G-d.

{josquote}Therefore, corporate solidarity is imperative in the creation of the new temple for G-d.{/josquote}

Although G-d once indwelled the Jerusalem temple, he now indwells his people through his Spirit (1 Cor 3:16-17). He indwells his people both individually and corporately. When G-d poured out his Spirit on Shavuot, he created a new community, comprised of both Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor 12:12-14). Like a human body, this new messianic community has many diverse parts that work together to form one unified whole. G-d chose this composite body of both Jews and Gentiles to create for himself a new dwelling place (Eph 2:21-22).[17] Therefore, corporate solidarity is imperative in the creation of the new temple for G-d.

Paul’s depiction of the new covenant highlights the significance of the arrival of the Ruach HaKodesh on Shavuot (2 Cor 3:1-18).[18] He shows the strong connection between the work of the Spirit and the “new covenant,” which he contrasts with the Torah that Israel received at Sinai. In this comparison, Paul echoes Jeremiah’s promise that G-d will place his Spirit upon the hearts of his people and not upon stone tablets, which G-d gave to Moses at Sinai (Ex 24:12; 31:18; 34:1; Deut 9:10-11; Jer 31:31-34; 2 Cor 3:3). Through his Spirit, which is the hallmark of the “new covenant,” G-d imparts life to his people (2 Cor 3:6).[19] Despite its glory, the Torah did not produce life, but death (2 Cor 3:7).[20] Paul affirms that the Torah is holy, righteous and good, but it lacks the ability to produce the same divine empowerment as the Spirit (Rom 7:12-24; 8:3-10). Paul does not malign the Torah, since he depicts it as arriving with glory, but, by comparison, he emphasizes the magnitude of the work of the Spirit within the new covenant (2 Cor 3:7-9). If G-d bestowed great honor upon the Torah, which was not able to produce life, then he gives even greater honor to the Spirit who transforms G-d’s people from death to life (Rom 8:11). [21] Although G-d reveals his holy standard through the Torah, he empowers his people to live according to his holy standard through the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:9-10; Rom 8:3-4). By the Spirit, G-d is in the process of continually transforming his people into his likeness (2 Cor 3:18).[22] The transformation in the lives of the Corinthians authenticated Paul’s ministry (2 Cor 3:1-3). Therefore, the inward work of the Ruach HaKodesh in the life of the Believer testifies to the effectiveness of the Messiah’s work of salvation.


Up to this point, this paper has illustrated the significance of the arrival of the Spirit on Shavuot. The remaining discussion will look at its implications within a messianic context. Unfortunately, many discussions concerning soteriology focus simply upon issues dealing with the eternal aspects of salvation. While eternal destiny is a central concept of salvation, it is only one facet. A messianic soteriology that does not include the various elements of redemption is significantly bereft of the depth with which the Bible presents salvation. Analyzing the Spirit’s role in salvation provides insight into G-d’s elaborate redemptive plan.

The Torah anticipated a time when Israel would fail to keep G-d’s commandments; therefore, after G-d punished the nation for her disobedience, G-d promised to bring his people back to their land and circumcise their hearts (Deut 30:1-6). The prophets also looked forward to a time when G-d would transform the hearts of his people through a dynamic power. At this time, G-d would both forgive the nation and govern them through the inward Torah that he places upon their hearts (Jer 31:31-34). Yet, G-d must first give his people a new heart and put his Spirit within them, which initiates a renewed relationship between Israel and her G-d (Ezek 11:17-20; 36:24-28). Luke-Acts portrays Yeshua as the agent who purifies the nation through the Spirit (Luke 3:16; 24:49; Acts 1:4-5, 8). Luke indicates the fulfillment of this promise occurred on Shavuot (Acts 2:1-4, 17-21, 33, 37-39). Thus, the gift of the Spirit on Shavuot was the culmination of Messiah’s redemptive work and the inauguration of the new covenant.

{josquote}Therefore, salvation is not something that occurs after death, but begins in life.{/josquote}

Since the gift of the Spirit is a pivotal event in G-d’s redemptive plan, it must have a significant impact in the development of a messianic soteriology. First, salvation is more than one’s eternal destiny; it is an entire process that begins with the indwelling of the Spirit. Therefore, salvation is not something that occurs after death, but begins in life. This aspect must influence the message of salvation within the messianic community. G-d’s redemption of his people includes both their eternal residence and their present life. If Messianic Judaism wants to connect with the larger Jewish community, it must not neglect the aspects of salvation that occur prior to death.  Therefore, salvation is not something that occurs after death, but begins in life. While most in the Jewish community are not immediately concerned with their eternal destiny, they are interested in living a meaningful life. The Spirit’s role in transforming the heart and creating a renewed relationship between G-d and his people addresses this desire for a meaningful life.

Second, exterior obligations to the Torah are not as important as interior obedience to the Spirit. This does not mean Torah obedience is inconsequential; but, by itself, it is insufficient. Like Paul, Messianic Judaism must affirm the holiness of Torah (Rom 7:12). Yet, this affirmation has to include more than a call for Torah observance if the Messianic community wants to have a unique message within the wider Jewish community. Only through the regeneration offered within the new covenant can the Jewish community experience the righteous life expressed in the Torah (2 Cor 3). Therefore, external observance of the Torah is incomplete without the inward transformation of the Spirit.

Third, when G-d poured out his Spirit on Shavuot, he created a unique community composed of both Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor 12:12-14). This means both Jewish Believers and Gentile Believers are part of the same body. Unity is essential between these two groups. To borrow from Martin Buber, both groups must move into an “I and Thou” relationship with each other.[23] Jewish Believers cannot consider the Gentile Believers as a distinct, unrelated group. Both groups must recognize that they are joined in an intimate relationship, in which they share in the unity of the Body of Messiah.

Finally, the transformed life provides a testimony to the community. In a post-modern society, truth is of little importance in matters of faith, but experience is formative. Therefore, the Messianic community can create curiosity when the surrounding community observes the dynamic transformation by the Spirit in members of the Body of Messiah. Tikkun Olam (Restoration of the World) must begin through the regeneration of the heart of the individual (San 4:5).


Scott Nassau, from Los Angeles, has a B.A. in Jewish Studies from Moody Bible Institute and a Th.M. in Hebrew Bible from Dallas Theological Seminary. He and his wife Dana have one son, Ilan. Currently, they reside in Israel, where Scott is studying at the University of Haifa.



* I wish to thank both my wife, Dana, the paradigm of an lyx t#)for editing this article and Mitch Glaser for his suggestions. Any errors or inaccuracies are mine alone.

[1] Four main interpretations exist concerning the meaning of the phrase, “with the Holy Spirit and fire.” For an overview and analysis of these four positions, see Darrell L. Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50The Gospel According to Luke (I-IX): Introduction, Translation, and NotesGreek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 373-374.

(Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), 322-324. The baptism of both the Spirit and fire probably alludes to one baptism, which refines and purifies those who accept it, but judges the wicked, see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981), 473-474 (1QS 4:20-21; Is 4:4-5). The preposition (e?n) followed by the dative probably indicates means, see Daniel B. Wallace,

[2] Luke describes the presence of many devout Jews within Jerusalem (2:5). Since Shavuot was one of the three pilgrimage festivals, observant families celebrated the feast in Jerusalem and fulfilled the obligations of Torah (Ex 23:17; 34:23; Deut 16:16).

[3] Darrell L. Bock, Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 96.

[4] Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50, 324.

[5] Early Jewish communities debated the timing of Shavuot. For a brief discussion of the various interpretations see “Shavuot,” in Encyclopedia Judaica, 14 (Jerusalem: The Macmillan Company, 1971) 1319.

[6] The Pharisees determined the date of Shavuot by counting seven weeks from the day after Passover; therefore, Shavuot fell on the fiftieth day after the 16th of Nisan, which is the sixth of Sivan (Lev 23:15). Targums Yerushalmi and Neofiti confirm the Pharisaic view by beginning the Counting of the Omer on the first day after Passover (Tg. Neof. and Tg. Ps.-J. on Lev 23:15). For a full discussion on the date, see Lohse, TDNT 6:46-47.

[7] I. Howard Marshall, “The Significance of Pentecost,” Scottish Journal of Theology 30, no. 4 (1977) 348.

[8] Bock, Acts, 94-95.

[9] Charles L. Feinberg, “Jeremiah,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 6 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986) 576-577.

[10] The unique construction in v. 27 highlights that G-d will cause his people to live obedient lives, which suggests divine coercion. See Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 356.

[11] Here, Yohanan uses the verb bapti/zw to describe both his baptism with water and the Messiah’s baptism with the spirit and fire. Messiah’s baptism includes both the purification and immersion with the Spirit during salvation and sanctification. See BDAG 165.3b; I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 146-148.

[12] The application of Peter’s message has three components: repentance, baptism in the name of Yeshua the Messiah and the gift of the Spirit. Yeshua, who is the means to a life with G-d, provides both forgiveness and the Spirit as the primary gifts of G-d. Luke mentions a “gift” (four times in Acts; each time the gift refers to the reception of the Ruach HaKodesh (Acts 2:38; 8:20; 10:45; 11:17). See Bock, Acts, 141-144.

[13] Fitzer, TDNT, 7:949. Harold H. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 238-239.

[14] The down payment (a)is the initial deposit, which ensures future payment in full, see BDAG 134. Judah offered Tamar his staff, seal and cord as a “pledge,” which assured her that he would send her a young goat to complete the transaction (Gen 38:17-21).

[15] The inner court of the temple functioned as G-d’s earthly throne room; therefore, the removal of G-d’s presence from the temple foreshadows G-d’s imminent judgment of the nation.

[16] Bock, Acts, 144.

[17] Ephesians 2 describes how, through the Spirit, Gentile Believers, who were once alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, now join with the Jewish Community as the new temple of G-d. The verb sunoikodome/w shows the corporate involvement in the creation of a new community of G-d, since it implies the involvement of diverse parts, see BDAG 974. The new community is G-d’s dwelling place (katoikhth&rion), which recalls G-d’s dwelling place in both the temple and heaven (Ps 75:3; 1 Kgs 8:39, 43).

[18] In this chapter, Paul has to defend his ministry against the accusations of the “Super Apostles,” who have distorted his ministry and the Gospel (2 Cor 11:5; 12:11).

[19] Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary of the Greek Text273.

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005)

[20] This may be a comparison between the differing results in the giving of the Torah and the Spirit. When Israel disobeyed G-d and practiced idolatry at Sinai, three thousand people died (Ex 32:28), but on the day G-d poured out the Spirit on Israel, three thousand were saved (Acts 2:41). The Torah apart from the Spirit is powerless to produce life, but it reveals humanity’s failure and pronounces a curse on all those who choose to disobey G-d’s law (Deut 28:15; 30:17-19). The Torah, itself, does not cause death, but exposes unrighteousness. Humanity is innately unable to keep the Torah’s righteous standard; therefore, apart from the indwelling of the Spirit, G-d’s people are without hope.

[21] Paul’s emphasis in this verse is upon the future resurrection. Since the Spirit now makes his home in the body, his presence results in life for the body he inhabits. The Spirit transforms the mortality of the physical body into the “immortality of eternal life in a resurrected body.” See Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 493 for his discussion on this verse.

[22] Colin Kruse, The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary. metamorfo/w is a customary present, which shows the continual process in the transformation.

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987)

[23] Martin Buber, I and Thou, 2nd ed., (New York: Scribner, 1958). Buber describes two types of relationships. The “I and It” relationship is when one considers an object separate and distinct from oneself. The “I and Thou” relationship is when the two parties move into a mutual and reciprocal relationship.