Pentecost, The Feast of

pentecostThe Feast of Pentecost
One of the Seven Feasts of Israel Fulfilled by our Lord.
The Beginning of the Church and Church Age.

Its Name:

The name Pentecost is from the Greek word PENTEKOSTE, πεντηκοστ (pen-tay-kos-tay’) that literally means, “fiftieth.” This word used for the feast is only found in the New Testament, Acts 2:1; 20:16; 1 Cor 16:8.

This Festival is:

  • First spoken of in Exo 23:16 as “The Feast of Harvest, the Firstfruits of your labor,” because it concluded the harvest of the later grains.
  • In Exo 34:22; Deut 16:10; 16; 2 Chron 8:13, it is called “The Feast of Weeks, the Firstfruits of the wheat harvest,” because it was celebrated seven complete weeks, or fifty days, after the Feast of Firstfruits, Lev 23:15-16.
  • In Num 28:26, it is called “The Day of the Firstfruits,” because the first loaves made from the new grain were then offered on the altar, Lev 23:17.

The Hebrew name for the feast, SHAVUOT, is the masculine plural of the Hebrew noun for “weeks”-  SHEBUA –  שָׁבוּעַ (shaw-voo-ah), that means, “a period of seven or week.”

Its Origin:

It is the second of the three annual festivals, (Unleavened Bread and Ingatherings / Booths / Tabernacle are the other two), that God gave to Israel when He gave them the Law. At that time, He established seven major Feasts that they were to celebrate throughout their generations. Of the seven, those three, including SHAVUOT, were principal feasts in which all able-bodied males were required to attend, Exo 23:14-17; 34:23; Deut 16:16; 2 Chron 8:13; Psa 42:4; 122:4; Ezek 36:38; Luke 2:44; John 4:45; 7:1-53.

Its Time of Celebration:

The time fixed for celebrating Pentecost is the fiftieth day from “the day after the Sabbath” of the Feast of Firstfruits, Lev 23:11, 15-16; or, as given in Deut 16:9, “seven full weeks after the sickle was put to the standing grain.” It is essentially a harvest celebration, where the term “weeks” was used of the period between the grain harvests from the barley harvest (Firstfruits), to the wheat harvest (Pentecost), a period of about seven weeks or fifty days to be exact. The fiftieth day, according to the Jewish Canons, may fall on 5th, 6th, or 7th Sivan. Therefore, from the Feast of Firstfruits there are seven complete weeks, i.e., forty-nine days, were to be counted, and then on the fiftieth day this feast was held which fell on the 5th, 6th or 7th of Sivan, (about the end of May or early June). It lasted for one day. Calling it “Firstfruits” is not to be confused with the Feast of Firstfruits that is celebrated less than 50 days prior, which coincides with our Lord’s Resurrection.

Its Purpose:

The purpose of this feast was to commemorate the completion of the wheat, grain harvest. It was celebrated as a Sabbath with rest from ordinary labors and the calling of a holy convocation, Lev 23:21; Num 28:26. It was a feast of joy and thanksgiving for the completion of the harvest season. The manner in which it was to be kept is described in Lev 23:15-19; Num 28:26-31. Besides the sacrifices prescribed for the occasion, everyone was to bring to the Lord his “tribute of a free-will offering,” Deut 16:9-12, 16.

The Old Testament does not give it the historical significance which later Jewish writers have ascribed to it. Pentecost is the only one of the three great feasts which is not mentioned as the memorial of events in the history of the Jews. Yet some believe, as has been adopted by later tradition, that the Feast of Weeks is associated with the giving of the Law at Sinai, on the fiftieth day after the deliverance from Egypt, cf. Exo 12 and 19. Some also think that Deut 16:12 may have connected the Sinai event and the festival, but Scripture does not indicate any definite link between Sinai and Pentecost.

The Israelites were admonished to remember their bondage on that day and to re-consecrate themselves to the Lord, Deut 16:12, but it does not commemorate the giving of the Law at Sinai or the birth of the national existence, in the Old Testament conception, Exo 19.

Philo, Josephus, and the earlier Talmud are all ignorant of this new meaning which was given to the day in later Jewish history. It originated with the great Jewish rabbi Maimonides and has been copied by Christian writers. And thus, a view of the Jewish Pentecost has been originated, which is wholly foreign to the scope of the ancient institution.

Nevertheless, there are several interesting parallels between the giving of the Law to establish the Jewish dispensation and the giving of the Holy Spirit to establish the dispensation of the Church.

Its Offerings:

Its distinguishing feature was the offering of “two leavened loaves” made from the new corn of the completed wheat harvest, which with two lambs were waved before the Lord by the Priests as a peace and thank offering. According to the Mishna (Menachoth, xi.4), the length of the loaves was 7 handbreadths, its width 4, its depth 7 fingers.

The other sacrifices were a burnt offering of a young bullock, two rams and seven lambs with a meat and drink offering, and a kid for a sin offering, Lev 23:1, 15-19.

In total, the offerings included: the daily offerings; and a kid of the goats for a sin offering; two young bulls, one ram, seven yearling lambs, for a burnt offering; three one-tenth ephahs of flour and oil for each bull, two one-tenth ephahs for the ram, one-tenth an ephah for each lamb, grain offering; one-half hin of wine for the bull, one-third hin of wine for the ram, one-fourth hin of wine for each lamb, drink offering. After the above was presented, the new grain offering of two wave loaves, made of two one-tenth ephahs of wheat flour, baked with leaven, was offered. With these were offered seven yearling lambs, one young bull, and two rams, for a burnt offering, with the prescribed grain and drink offerings; a male goat, for a sin offering; two yearling lambs for a peace offering. These could not be eaten until after this ceremony, Lev 23:14; Josh 5:10-11, and none of this bread was placed on the altar because of the leaven content. The feast was concluded by the eating of communal meals to which the poor, widows, orphans, strangers, and the Levites were invited. Until the Pentecostal loaves were offered, the produce of the harvest might not be eaten, nor could any other Firstfruits be offered.

The whole ceremony was the completion of the dedication of the harvest to God as its giver, and to whom both the land and the people were made holy, which was begun by the offering of the wave-sheaf at the Feast of Firstfruits.

Christ’s Fulfillment of the Feasts of Israel:

Each of the Feasts of Israel point to an aspect of the coming Messiah and were a picture of God’s Plan of Salvation for mankind.

  • Christ in His First Advent fulfilled the first four Feasts.
  • The last three will be fulfilled at His Second Coming.

Here we note the feasts according to Lev 23, and the New Testament reference to Christ’s Fulfillment.

Passover, a one-day feast, commemorating the last plague against Egypt and the Jews freedom from slavery. It also signified the Lord passing over their sins until the perfect sacrifice was made, saving everyone from the slave market of sin, Lev 23:4 ff.

  • Fulfilled by Jesus’ Death on the Cross, 1 Cor 5:7.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread, a seven-day feast commemorating the removal of sin. It entailed the removal of sin as depicted by the removal of all leaven (yeast) and the hiding away of the unleavened bread, Lev 23:6.

  • Fulfilled by Christ’s burial and time spent in the grave. 1 Cor 5:7-8

The Feast of Firstfruits, another seven-day feast commemorating the harvest and logical grace blessings from God, Lev 23:9.

  • Fulfilled by Christ’s resurrection, 1 Cor 15:23.

The Feast of Pentecost, commemorating the sin of man and the peace made between sinful man and perfect God, Lev 23:15.

  • Fulfilled by Christ by sending the Holy Spirit to Indwell every Church Age believer, Acts 2:1-5.

The Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah / Rosh Hashanah), a one-day feast ushering in the civil New Year, Lev 23:23.

  • Yet to be fulfilled at the Exit Resurrection or Rapture of the Church, 1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thes 1:10; 4:13-18.

The Day of Atonement, (Yom Kippur), a one-day feast where atonement for sins were made for the family, Lev. 23:26.

  • Yet to be fulfilled at Christ’s Second Advent, 1 John 2:2; Zech 12:7-14; 14:4, Mat 24:29-31; Rev 1:7, 19.

Feast of Tabernacles, a seven-day feast, commemorating Israel’s release from Egypt, where they wandered in the wilderness and the Lord dwelt among them in the tabernacle, Lev 23:33.

  • Yet to be fulfilled when Christ sets up His Millennial reign on earth and tabernacles / dwells among us once again, Zech 14:16; John 7:8.

Current Day Jewish Celebration:

The wheat harvest has to do with modern time’s rituals within the Jewish Church. They celebrate SHEVUOT / Pentecost today as the Firstfruits of the Wheat harvest speaking of God’s Divine provision.

In that celebration, it is customary to read the Ten Commandments in the synagogue in keeping with the tradition of linking Shavuot (Pentecost) to the Giving of the Law, which we noted above as a later addition. Yet, since the Word (Jesus Christ) is the bread of life this may not be farfetched, but is not documented in the Bible or by early historians.

Also on this day they read the book of Ruth for three reasons.

  • The setting of Ruth is the harvest.
  • She became a follower of the God of Israel, just as Israel became a follower of the Almighty at Mount Sinai.
  • The Book of Ruth announces the ancestry of King David, Ruth’s great-grandson who, according to Jewish tradition, was born and died on Shavuot.

In Ashkenazic synagogues, (Eastern European descent – mainly the name for Germany, Gen 10:3), they recite a twelfth-century poem called Akdamut in the Aramaic language. This poem extols God and heralds the Messianic future.

In Sephardic congregations, (Iberian and N. African descent), a poetic ketubah, marriage contract, between God and Israel is offered.

So even in the modern celebration of Pentecost, we see the signs of Messiah harvesting His bride.

Shavuot (Pentecost) Customs:  From Jews for Jesus web site.

  • It is customary to read the Ten Commandments in the synagogue, in keeping with the tradition of linking Shavuot to the Giving of the Law.
  • We read the book of Ruth at Shavuot for three reasons. The setting of Ruth is the harvest. She became a follower of the God of Israel, just as Israel became a follower of the Almighty at Mount Sinai. And the Book of Ruth announces the ancestry of King David, Ruth’s great-grandson who, according to Jewish tradition, was born and died on Shavuot.
  • In Ashkenazic synagogues, our people recite a twelfth-century poem called Akdamut in the Aramaic language. This poem extols God and heralds the messianic future. In Sephardic congregations, a poetic ketubah (marriage contract) between God and Israel is offered.
  • It is customary to decorate homes and synagogues with green plants and flowers. According to tradition, we do so because Shavuot is the day of judgment for trees and because grass grew on Mount Sinai, the place of the Giving of the Law. Also, green plants remind us of the trimming used to adorn the people’s baskets of Firstfruits.
  • There is a custom of staying awake all night on the eve of Shavuot to read the Torah, the Psalms, and the Talmud. One Midrash tells us that God revealed Himself on Mount Sinai at noontime, but the Israelites were still asleep and Moses had to rouse them. Some say the present custom of staying awake all night is a way of atoning for our failure to be awake and alert when God appeared to us.
  • One tradition states that when Israel received the dietary laws (kashrut) and realized that the pots being used were not kosher, the only solution was to eat dairy products which didn’t need to be cooked! For that reason, dairy foods are eaten during Shavuot. Another tradition states that after receiving the Torah, the Israelites were too hungry to wait for meat to be cooked, so they simply made a dairy meal instead.
  • Since the nineteenth century, Reform Jews have used the occasion of Shavuot to hold confirmation ceremonies, just as our people were “confirmed” in our faith at Mount Sinai, when we entered into the Covenant and Ruth was “confirmed” into the fold of Israel. The Christian holiday of Pentecost or Whitsunday is a confirmation time for Christians to receive first Communion. Some Shavuot customs beautifully express how our spiritual needs relate to our physical needs:
  • According to one rabbinic interpretation, dairy foods are eaten at this time, because the Bible compares the Torah to milk in the Song of Songs 4:11: “Honey and milk are under your tongue.” Another reason is that the law of Firstfruits is right next to the law that prohibits boiling a kid in its mother’s milk, possibly to avoid imitating pagan rites. As we consider how God’s word “feeds” us, physical requirements become images of our spiritual necessities.
  • We array our homes and synagogues with flowers and plants to symbolize that the Torah is a tree of life. As a tree provides fruit and nourishment, so does the word of God.
  • A Jewish child would learn the alef-bet on the Shavuot of his or her fifth year. A special treat followed—a taste of honey to help the child associate God’s word with sweetness, as it says in Psalm 119:103, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”

The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary Notes:

“Present-Day Observance”. This festival is annually and sacredly kept by Jews on the 6th and 7th Sivan—i.e., between the second half of May and the first half of June, thus prolonging it to two days. In accordance with the injunction in Leviticus 23:15-16. The three days preceding the festival, on which the Jews commemorate the giving of the law, are called “the three days of separation and sanctification,” because the Lord commanded Moses to set bounds about the mount and that the people should sanctify themselves three days prior to the giving of the law (Exodus 19:12, 14, 23).

On the preparation day, the synagogues and private houses are adorned with flowers and fragrant herbs; the males purify themselves by immersion and confession of sins, put on festive garments, and go to the synagogue, where, after evening prayer, the hallowed nature of the festival is proclaimed by the Cantor in the blessing pronounced over a cup of wine. The same is also done by every head of a family before the evening meal. After supper, either in the synagogue or in private houses, the reading of Scripture continues all night, the reason given being that, when God was about to reveal His law to Israel, He had to awaken them from sleep; to remove that sin they now keep awake during the night.

In the general festival service of the morning special prayers are inserted for the day, which set forth the glory of the Lawgiver and of Israel; the Great Hallel is recited; the lesson from the law (Exodus 19:1, 20, 25), the Maphtir (Numbers 18:26-31), and the lesson from the prophets (Ezekiel 1:1-28; Ezekiel 3:12) are read, the evening prayer (Musaph) is offered, and the benediction is received by the congregation, their heads covered by the fringed wrapper.

On the second evening, they again go to the synagogue, using there the ritual for the festivals, in which are again inserted special prayers for the occasion, chiefly those on the greatness of God and on the giving of the law and the Ten Commandments. The sanctification of the festival is again pronounced, both by the Prelector in the synagogue and by the heads of the families at home. Prayers different from those of the first day, also celebrating the giving of the law, are mingled with the ordinary prayers; the Hallel is recited, as well as the book of Ruth; the lesson read from the law is Deut. 15:19-16:17, and the lesson from the prophets is Habakkuk 2:20-3:19, or Habakkuk 3:1-19; prayer is offered for departed relatives; the Musaph Ritual is recited; the priests pronounce the benediction; and the festival concludes after the afternoon service, as soon as the stars appear or darkness sets in.”

The Beginning of the Church and Church Age:

During His Upper Room Discourse, Jesus prophesized regarding the sending of the Holy Spirit in John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7-15; Acts 1:5, 8.

In John 16:7-15; we see three purposes for sending the Holy Spirit.

John 16:8, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”

In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples 50 days after his Resurrection and 10 days after the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, at the festive time when Jews from different countries were in Jerusalem to celebrate this annual Feast of Shavuot, Acts 2:1-4. The day of Pentecost is noted in Scripture as the day on which the Spirit descended upon the apostles, signifying the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit for the Church Age believer to uniquely empower and enable them to fulfill God’s Plan for their lives. This was demonstrated to the apostles and people when the apostles began to speak in foreign languages they had never spoken before, languages that were understood by the Jews visiting Jerusalem whose native tongues were of various foreign languages, Acts 2:1-13. In addition, under Peter’s preaching, many thousands were converted to Christ in Jerusalem, Acts 2:14-47.

Notice that in Peter’s address he touches upon the three purposes Jesus prophesied about, as for the reason for sending the Holy Spirit.

1) John 16:9, “Concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me.” Cf. Acts 2:14-24.

2) John 16:10, “And concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me.”

3) John 16:11, “And concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.” Cf. Acts 2:33-36

We see that Pentecost was an important festival for Paul too in Acts 20:16; 1 Cor 16:8.

Firstfruits:

As we have noted there are actually two “Firstfruits” Feasts. The first to celebrate the barely harvest which represents the Jewish believers, and the second to celebrate the wheat harvest that represents the Church Age believers. This has to do with the promise of resurrection as Paul noted in 1 Cor 15:20-23, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the Firstfruits of those who are asleep. 21For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own order: Christ the Firstfruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming,”

Each in its own order: Church Age believers will be raised first at the end of the Church Age and just prior to the beginning of the Tribulation, (the dead first and then those who are alive at that time, 1 Thes 4:15-18); this is called the Bravo company. Then the Jewish Dispensation believers and Tribulational Martyrs at the end of the Tribulation, which concludes the Age of Israel; this is Charlie company. And then millennial saints at the End of the Millennium will be raised; this is Delta company, “each in its own order.”

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Therefore, as God has established the Seven Feast of Israel, Jesus Christ will fulfill each one between His First and Second Advents which commemorate God’s works in the establishment of the Nation of Israel, and His great plan of Salvation for all of mankind, culminated with the promise of resurrection to eternal glory for all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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