This is the fourth in a series of articles on Jesus in the feasts of Israel.
|Name||Scriptures||Time / Date||Purpose||Fulfillment|
|Pentecost||Lev. 23:15-22; Num. 28:26-31; Deut. 16:9-12||50 days after Firstfruits (May/June)||To dedicate the firstfruits of the wheat harvest||The outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2)|
Scripture uses three names to identify the feast many Christians today know as Pentecost (Shavuot in Hebrew):
- Hag Hashavuot, meaning “the Feast of Weeks” (Ex. 34:22; Deut. 16:10; 2 Chron. 8:13). It’s called the Feast of Weeks because seven weeks were counted from the Feast of Firstfruits until this feast.
- Yom Habikkurim, or “the Day of Firstfruits” (Num. 28:26). This is the day in which the firstfruit offerings of the summer wheat crop were brought to the Temple. This day marked the beginning of the summer wheat harvest, while the Feast of Firstfruits marked the beginning of the spring barley harvest.
- Hag Hakatzir, or “the Feast of Harvest” (Ex. 23:16). This feast marked the beginning of the summer harvest season.
In the Greek language, Shavuot was known as Pentecost, meaning “fiftieth,” since it was celebrated 50 days after the Feast of Firstfruits.
The Biblical Observance
Three Scripture passages outline the biblical observance of Shavuot. Lev. 23:15-22 and Num. 28:26-31 describe the Temple offerings, and Deut. 16:9-12 outlines the requirements for individual worshipers.
Like the feasts of Unleavened Bread and Tabernacles, Shavuot was one of three “solemn feasts” decreed by the Lord (Ex. 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16; 2 Chron. 8:13). All Israelite men were obligated to present themselves at the Temple. The Temple services for Shavuot closely resembled those of the Feast of Firstfruits, since both holy days were observed with firstfruit offerings. However, the offering for Shavuot was different. It consisted of two long loaves of wheat bread with leaven in them, as the Lord commanded: “Bring two loaves of bread from your settlements as a presentation offering, each of them made from four quarts of fine flour, baked with yeast, as firstfruits to the Lord” (Lev. 23:17).
The loaves of bread were not burned because God had forbidden leaven on the altar (Lev. 2:11). Instead, these loaves with yeast in them, along with two lambs, formed the wave offering for Shavuot. The priest waved them in front of the altar forwards and backwards, and then up and down. After that, they were set aside “for the priest” (Lev. 23:20) and became the festive meal the priests ate later that day in the Temple.
The Modern Observance
After Roman troops destroyed the Jewish Temple in 70 A.D., many of the feasts changed, since the Temple had been the focal point of the spring and fall festivals. In 140 A.D., the Sanhedrin decided to change the emphasis of Shavuot away from agriculture and onto the giving of the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Although the Bible does not associate Shavuot with Sinai, the giving of the law occurred in the third month (Ex. 19:1), so there was some justification for the decision. Shavuot became known as Zeman Mattan Toreatenu, “the Time of the Giving of Our Law.”
Today, it is customary to decorate synagogues with flowers and greenery for Shavuot. This reminds Jews that Firstfruits is a harvest festival and, according to tradition, Mt. Sinai once was covered with grass and trees. Key Scriptures are from Ezekiel 1:1-28 and 3:12; and Habakkuk 2:20-3:19. These passages describe the brightness of God’s glory. After Shavuot was refocused on the giving of the law, Exodus 19-20 and the Book of Ruth were added to the festival’s readings. In addition, many synagogues hold Shavuot confirmation services for teenagers to celebrate completion of their childhood studies and their commitment to observe the Mosaic Law.
Dairy foods are traditional Shavuot fare. This is because, the rabbis say, the law is like milk and honey to the soul. Among the dishes are cheesecakes, cheese blintzes, and cheese kreplach. The blintzes are cheese rolled into pancakes the fried in a skillet. The kreplach are dough pockets stuffed with cheese. It is also customary to bake two loaves of hallah bread. They represent the two loaves of bread offered in the Temple and the two tablets received on Mt. Sinai.
It’s also customary for observant Jews to stay up all night studying and discussing the Torah. They study the opening and closing verses of each Sabbath reading, the opening and closing verses of each book of the Bible, and the entire book of Ruth, with breaks throughout the night for coffee and cheesecake.
Acts 2 records the fulfillment of Shavuot as the promised Holy Spirit descends, indwells believers and ushers in the church age. Key points to remember are:
- Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come and live in believers’ hearts (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), and He said it would happen soon after His ascension (Acts 1:4-5).
- The Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost as Jews from all over the world gathered in Israel (Acts 2:5). They heard the sound of a rushing, mighty wind and came together to investigate it (Acts 2:6). In this way, God began to use believers, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, to be His witnesses, beginning in Jerusalem (Acts 1:8). The 3,000 saved on the Day of Pentecost were Jews.
- While unleavened bread symbolizes Jesus’ sinless humanity (Luke 22:19), the two loaves used at Shavuot / Pentecost contain yeast and symbolize that the Body of Christ (the church) would be made up of sinners.
- The two loaves used at Shavuot also symbolize Jews and Gentiles, demonstrating the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham to bless all the nations through him (Gen. 12:3; see Gal. 3:26-28).
- Just as faithful Jews brought the firstfruits of their wheat harvest to the Temple on Shavuot, so the 3,000 Jewish believers on the Day of Pentecost were the firstfruits of the church.
- One of Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of heaven refers to wheat and tares – a message that the true church, like wheat, would exist along with false professors of the faith, like tares, until Christ returns and separates them (Matt. 13:24-30; 34-43).
Next: The Feast of Trumpets
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips
Objection 8: There are so many Christian denominations today, it’s clear that Christians can’t agree on what the Bible teaches.
The Handbook of Denominations in the United States (12th Edition) lists more than 200 Christian denominations in 17 broad categories, from “Baptist Churches” to “Community and New Paradigm Churches.” If Jesus prayed that His followers would be one (John 17:11), and if there is to be “one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:4-5), why can’t Christians get along? Even within denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention there have been major splits over issues such as the inerrancy of Scripture and the role of women in the church. Doesn’t all this contentiousness prove a fatal flaw in the Bible, since even people who study it and say they believe it can’t agree on what it teaches?
First, it should be noted that many of the disagreements among Christians are over matters of conscience, such as which day of the week to worship, dietary restrictions, or which translation of the Bible to use (see Rom. 14:1-23; 1 Cor. 10:23-33), or they focus on lesser points of doctrine, such as the mode of baptism, church polity or the manner in which missions activities are organized and funded.
Second, it should be acknowledged that Christians often have engaged in petty squabbling, internal power struggles and political wrangling, resulting in unnecessary divisions in the body of Christ, not to mention damage to the church’s reputation. The New Testament implores believers to be gracious toward and forgiving of one another; clearly, this has not always been the case.
At the same time, Christian denominations generally developed out of a desire for fellowship and joint ministry between individual churches – a biblical concept (Acts. 11:27-30), according to Charles Draper (“Why So Many Denominations?” Apologetics Study Bible, p. 1709). In addition, denominations many times began as renewal movements. The Reformed movements of the 1500s sought to restore the doctrines of the sovereignty of God and justification by faith to the church, which had all but abandoned these biblical teachings. In time, some Presbyterians drifted toward liberalism and new conservative Presbyterian groups emerged to preserve the Reformed teachings. Baptists came along within the Reformed tradition. Pentecostals and charismatics formed new unions based on their view of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts.
There is a rich diversity among Christian denominations, and the differences between them often are not as wide as they appear. This is not to say that all differences are minor, or that all should be set aside for the sake of unity, for in Scripture Christian unity is the product of God’s Spirit working in the hearts of regenerate people and anchored in the truth of God’s Word. Some separations are, in fact, necessary. In the New Testament, many false teachers were disciplined or left the churches (see 1 Tim. 1:18-20; 1 John 2:19). In addition, the apostle Paul warns the church that false teachers will rise to prominence in the church in the days before Christ’s return (2 Tim. 3:1-9). The church today should be on guard against those who preach “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4). For example, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be Christian in their theology and practice, yet both organizations deny the central teachings of Scripture, particularly those having to do with the person and work of Christ, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and the gospel.
Charles Draper summarizes: “The most important thing to do is to examine a church’s teaching and practice to see if it is consistent with Scripture. And finally we have to realize that in this life Christians will not agree on everything” (Ibid.).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips