The Meaning of the Feast of Pentecost
Paul Niehoff (Australia)
We are preparing to keep God’s Feast of Pentecost which will occur in just over a week. What is its specific meaning? We know that it was the day when God’s Holy Spirit was first given to a multitude of people, thousands in fact, of those whom God was calling to be a part of the New Testament Church. In contrast to this, in the Old Testament congregation of Israel, only very few had God’s Spirit. So this is a very important day signifying the beginning of the New Testament Church. But is there more to it than that fact?
The word Pentecost comes from the Greek word pentekoste, meaning fiftieth, which basically means that fifty days were counted to know when it was to be observed. In the Old Testament, Pentecost is called the Feast of Weeks, again because seven weeks or Sabbaths were counted from the wave sheath offering which was brought on the Sunday, which fell during the Days of Unleavened Bread, and fifty days later, the festival of Pentecost was observed, again on a Sunday.
Leviticus 23:15-16 gives these instructions: “And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD.”
So that is how the date is determined from year to year, but the meaning of the day is alluded to in the next verse.
Leviticus 23:17 reads: “You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the LORD.”
This theme of firstfruits is mentioned in Exodus 34:22: “And you shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest….”
Also, in Numbers 28:26, firstfruits is again mentioned: “Also on the day of the firstfruits, when you bring a new grain offering to the LORD at your Feast of Weeks, you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work.”
But during the Days of Unleavened Bread, the sheaf was also called the firstfruits of your harvest (Leviticus 23:10). So, there are two times of the year where firstfruits are specifically mentioned. The first is at the beginning of the barley harvest during the Days of Unleavened Bread and the second is at the wheat harvest on the Feast of Weeks. (Exodus 34:22). Ruth 2:23 informs us that the wheat harvest follows the barley harvest.
However, to find out the meaning of firstfruits, we need to go to the New Testament.
In 1 Corinthians 15:20, we read: “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” And in verse 23 of the same chapter, it says: “But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.”
There are two passages that indicate that Christ was both our Passover and also that the wave sheath offering symbolized Him. The first is 1 Corinthians 5:7: “….For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” The second, which occurred on the first day of the week, on the day when the wave sheath was offered, is John 20:17: “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father, but go to My brethren and say to them, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.”’” So the wave sheath offering pictures Christ again as the firstfruits.
Who else is called firstfruits in the New Testament? James 1:18 tells us that “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” Therefore, firstfruits is a description of both Jesus Christ and the brethren, members of the Church of God.
Going back to Leviticus 23:17, we note that there were two loaves baked of fine flour and leavened. Obviously, anything offered to God was to be of fine quality, but why two loaves and why were they leavened?
When the Church began on the Day of Pentecost, Peter was speaking to the whole house of Israel exclusively. Acts 2:36 tells us: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” But God was soon to show that the Church was also to include Gentiles by having Cornelius and his relatives and close friends baptized. Acts 11:18 reports: “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life’”.
The fact that the two loaves were waved before God as holy to Him (Leviticus 23:20) shows again that both Israelite and Gentile members of God’s Church were to be harvested as God’s firstfruits.
The bread used at the Passover was unleavened, picturing Christ being free of any sin. But as humans, we all sin and therefore are pictured as leavened. 1 John 1:8 shows us this. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
So, to answer the question asked previously, the meaning of the Feast of Pentecost or day of firstfruits is to show that the members of the Church of God are symbolized as firstfruits. We are to be called both from Israelites and Gentiles which is why there are two loaves. And because we are still human, we do commit sin at times, which is why the loaves at this time are leavened. This should give us great encouragement. When we sin, as we will from time to time, we can obtain forgiveness of our sins (1 John 1:9) and go on towards our perfection, so that finally, the leavened loaves will become unleavened