Pentecostal Paradoxes

Today is Pentecost Sunday. I can’t help but remember how in the church I grew up, Pentecost Sunday used to be observed in a muted fashion. In many mainline churches, Pentecost Sunday is deemphasized, knowingly or unwittingly.

To a conventional CSI (Church of South India) congregant like myself, the word “Pentecost” evokes vivid images of the purposefully distinctive white attire of the denominational Pentecostals in South India. Literally, the word “Pentecost” is of Greek origin and simply means fiftieth. It is that simple, yet profound in nature; so profound that it is referred as the birth date of the church.

On the fiftieth day after resurrection morning, God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, came down to dwell in the hearts of His people.  Various bible scholars indicate that it happened in an upper room on Mount Zion.1 This historical event was very much real and the most important event right next to the birth and resurrection of Jesus. For any such real things in the New Testament, shadows are often cast in the Old Testament.2 An unmistakable hint was cast nearly 1,500 years before the Day of Pentecost in the times of the Old Testament, at Mount Sinai. Precisely fifty days after the Israelites left the bondage of Egypt, the Ten Commandments was thundered from the top of Mt. Sinai.

A striking resemblance between the events at Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion is their anchor points. The Mt. Sinai event occurred on the fiftieth day of the Passover and Mt. Zion event on the fiftieth day of the Easter. While the Passover marks the deliverance from earthly bondage, the resurrection of Christ marks the deliverance from eternal bondage.

The plot thickens, as the parallels continue. Both events were accompanied by strikingly similar graphic and acoustic elements.  At Mt. Sinai, the glory of the Lord appeared “like a consuming fire” and at Mt. Zion it similarly appeared as “divided tongues, as of fire.” At Mt. Sinai, there were “thunderings and lightnings … the sound of the trumpet was very loud”3 and at Mt. Zion, “a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind”4 was heard. Mt. Sinai was only a hint to the awesome plan to come at Mt. Zion.5

ClayPot-Pentecost-12At Mt. Sinai, God wrote the law on stone tablets, and at Pentecost He wrote the law “on their hearts”.6 While the chosen ones were busy celebrating Jehovah’s giving of His laws on tablets of stone, the Holy Spirit came down and wrote His laws on everyone’s hearts. The indwelling Spirit in the tablets of human hearts replaced the tablets of stone. If Mt. Sinai’s Ten Commandments is a static map to guide us on how to live, then the indwelling Spirit at Mt. Zion is a dynamic GPS to constantly guide us on our journey through life. Mt. Sinai is the shadow, while Mt. Zion is the real thing.5

Here is the kicker: as that day progressed, contrasting events took place as a figurative hint. At Mt. Sinai, 3,000 men died7 on the day the law was given. At Mt. Zion 3,000 people were saved8 on the day the Holy Spirit was given. The law brought death, while the Spirit brought life! The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.9

This curious confluence of parallel motifs and contrasts brings about a fascinating antithetical resemblance that demands a compelling question – are these two happenings just a sheer coincidence? Or as G.K. Chesterton would put it, is “truth standing on her head to attract the attention” of conventional congregants?



1 Taylor, John William. The Coming of the Saints 1906. p.39
2 Colossians 2:17        3 Exodus 19:16         4 Acts 2:2
5 Hebrews 10:1           6 Jeremiah 31:33       7 Exodus 32:28
8 Acts 2:41              9 II Corinthians 3:6