Ascension And Pentecost In The Old Testament

Ascension day is a notable time in the bible. It’s when Jesus left us after the resurrection, and it triggered the Pentecost, whereby the Holy Spirit entered the disciples and us today. But everything Jesus did was nothing new, nothing we haven’t seen before in the Old Testament, which includes his ascension and the Pentecost. This is an important topic to discuss because the Old Testament is full of little pieces of Jesus’ life in highly relatable stories. Sometimes it can be hard to put ourselves in the disciples’ shoes, therefore if we can better relate the ascension and Pentecost to our own lives, then we can better rely on the more misunderstood person of the trinity: The Holy Spirit. The Old Testament has a very specific account of a piece of the Ascension, and a piece of the Pentecost, and after this we will have a much bigger visual of what these things meant for the disciples, and what they mean for us today.

The Ascension

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. – Acts 1:9

We’ve seen this before in the Old Testament. You might recall the two common examples:

And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. – Genesis 5:24

Then it came about as they were going along and talking, that behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven. – 2 Kings 2:11

These examples certainly have meaning and there’s a lot going on with them, but this time we’re more interested in the less common ascension. This one comes from Judges, and you’re probably familiar with who this story is about:

A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was childless, unable to give birth. The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, “You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son. Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” – Judges 13:2-5

The Angel of the Lord

This story in Judges is all about Samson, but right here we’re interested in the interaction Samson’s parents have with what is called “the angel of the Lord.” But the Old Testament ever so frequently shows us that the angel of the Lord is, in fact, God himself in most circumstances. How do we know this is God? The same way we know “the angel of the Lord” was God in the burning bush with Moses:

There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. – Exodus 3:2

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” – Exodus 3:4

Even Stephen makes this connection later in the new testament:

“After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to get a closer look, he heard the Lord say: ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look.” – Acts 7:30-32

Jesus

After God gives the promise of a child to Samson’s parents, they have one final peculiar interaction before the great Old Testament ascension we’ve been waiting to see:

Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “We would like you to stay until we prepare a young goat for you.” The angel of the Lord replied, “Even though you detain me, I will not eat any of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to the Lord.” (Manoah did not realize that it was the angel of the Lord.) Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?” He replied, “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.” – Judges 13:15-18

This is the sign that the angel of the Lord, who we know is God, is even more specifically Jesus himself. Now, don’t think that Jesus showing up in the Old Testament is unheard of. We see Jesus refuse to give his name in another place:

Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. – Genesis 32:29

Why would Jesus withhold this information? Because the name “Jesus” wasn’t given to him yet, and before his virgin birth he had another name, a name that he still has today that cannot be blasphemed, cannot be tainted, and is forever pure and holy:

His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. – Revelations 19:12

Are you still not convinced that this is Jesus? Isaiah attributes all of these types of encounters with the angel of the Lord to Jesus, our savior:

He said, “Surely they are my people, children who will be true to me.” And so he became their Savior. In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them. – Isaiah 63:8-10

Isaiah is recounting the entire experience of Israel, and how God saved them repeatedly and fought against them in their many rebellions. But God the father is not the redeemer, Jesus is, and he was alive in the Old Testament just as he is alive today!

I know that my redeemer lives. – Job 19:25

Jesus Departs

Now that we understand where Jesus fits in this story, we can finally see the Old Testament ascension:

Then Manoah took a young goat, together with the grain offering, and sacrificed it on a rock to the Lord. And the Lord did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. When the angel of the Lord did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord. – Judges 13:19-21

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. – Acts 1:9

It’s pretty self explanatory at this point, isn’t it? The only difference is that there is no fire involved in the New Testament. But the significance of this is related to the difference between Old and New Testament sacrifice, which is another story in itself. But there’s one more thing to cover that is key to this whole topic: the Pentecost.

The Pentecost

On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. – Acts 2:1-4

We see this happen to Samson after Jesus ascends in fire:

When her son was born, she named him Samson. And the Lord blessed him as he grew up. And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him while he lived in Mahaneh-dan, which is located between the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol. – Judges 13:24-25

The Holy Spirit can impart a multitude of gifts to people today, and in the Old Testament. There’s a misconception that Samson was given super strength permanently as long as his hair wasn’t cut. But looking at some examples where he shows great strength illustrates that it’s the Holy Spirit that decided when to give and when to take:

Then the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. He went down to the town of Ashkelon, killed thirty men, took their belongings, and gave their clothing to the men who had solved his riddle. – Judges 14:19

As Samson arrived at Lehi, the Philistines came shouting in triumph. But the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon Samson, and he snapped the ropes on his arms as if they were burnt strands of flax, and they fell from his wrists. Then he found the jawbone of a recently killed donkey. He picked it up and killed 1,000 Philistines with it. – Judges 15:14-15

And when did the Holy Spirit leave him? We already saw Isaiah mention this earlier:

Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them. – Isaiah 63:10

When Samson gives in to his wicked and overbearing wife, telling her his secret, he has rejected God. She then cut his hair which grieved the Holy Spirit:

When he woke up, he thought, “I will do as before and shake myself free.” But he didn’t realize the Lord had left him. – Judges 16:20

This is the Pentecost in the Old Testament. It’s an event in which the Holy Spirit enters us and gives us amazing power to do God’s will, after Jesus’ promise and ascension. In the New Testament, Jesus leaves and gives us the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, Jesus left and left Samson the Holy Spirit.

What This Means for Us

We’ve seen the Ascension, the Pentecost, and Jesus in the Old Testament. So what if Jesus was talking to Samson’s parents? So what if the Holy Spirit became available to Samson after Jesus ascended in fire? Why does this matter? It serves as an illustration of the great things the Holy Spirit can help us do, and it’s a warning of what happens when we reject God. Samson is a highly relatable person who has access to great power provided by the Holy Spirit. His life is full of betrayal, mistakes with women, overbearing influences he gives into, and high expectations from his family raising him as a strict Nazarite. But even in his failure, even when God fought against him and took away his strength, handing him over to his enemies, we can see that God was still waiting for him to finally return and restore him. Although Samson died in the end, he died like the thief on the cross, who said:

“And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds.” – Luke 23:41

And just like the thief, Samson, resting by the pillars of the Philistine temple, blind and beaten, experiencing the ultimate consequences for his failures, finally chose God:

Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me again.” – Judges 16:28

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” – Luke 23:42

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