Sinai/Pentecost Parallels

“By the time of the first century, the Day of Pentecost seems to have been associated with the giving of the law at Sinai. By the time of the second century, this was thought to have taken place in the seventy languages of the world, and this tradition may have already been commonplace. But even if that association in Judaism is questioned, a Sinai-Pentecost parallel is established in the New Testament itself. The revelation of God to Moses at Sinai had been accompanied by fire, wind and a divine tongue (Heb. 12:18-21). Moses had ascended the mountain. When he descended he had in his possession the Ten Commandments, the law of God. Christ too had recently ascended. At Pentecost he comes down, not with the law written on tablets of clay, but with the gift of his own Spirit to write the law in the hearts of believers and by his power to enable them to fulfil the law’s commands. Thus the new covenant promise begins to be fulfilled (cf. Je. 31:31-34; Rom. 8:3-4; 2 Cor. 3:7-11)” (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 61).

After reading this passage the other day, I thought of another interesting parallel between Sinai and Pentecost: the reception of God’s revelation. At Sinai, Israel ‘responds’ to God’s law with rebellion; they create a golden calf in direct contradiction of the law they had received. Moses sent the Levites, with sword in hand, to purge Israel of this rebellion. We are told in Exodus 32:28 that three thousand men fell that day. Interestingly, at Pentecost we read that the number who believingly received God’s word was about three thousand (Acts 2:41). Three thousand slain at Sinai because the mere external word of the law had no effect in their hearts; three thousand saved at Pentecost because the Spirit was poured out, causing God’s external word to penetrate into the heart of man (Acts 2:37).

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