Scriptural Characteristics of the Festival
Lev 23:1-21, Ex 23:16, 34:22, Num 28:26-31, Deut 16:9-12
1. The two loaves
2. First fruits
The section ‘First Fruit Principles’ on the web page on the festival of First Fruits outlined the principles of what a first fruit offering implied and are equally relevant here. If they’ve not yet been read, they should be referred to if the reader needs an explanation of what follows as some of the conclusions drawn there are applied here with no Scriptural proof being given.
Scriptural Characteristics of the Festival
The festival of Pentecost suffered from a great many additions to both its meaning and its liturgy in later times and the reader will, no doubt, find many commentators who take one of these - the remembrance of the giving of the Law at Sinai - and parallel it in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost in the NT (Acts chapter 2).
Although it’s possible to gain much teaching from such considerations, that the festival didn’t initially hold this meaning is warning enough for us to attempt to stick to the Scriptural festival and to see in this alone a fulfilment in Jesus Christ.
Conner makes much of the giving of the Law at Sinai and even includes a list of the time which it took the Israelites to journey out from Egypt and for Moses to go up the mountain to receive the ten commandments (page 34-5). But, unfortunately, although it looks all pretty neat and has used the date of Moses’ ascension by citing Scripture, he’s forgotten to make sure that he uses the correct amount of days in each of the two months which precede them, counting Nisan and Zif (the first and second months) as both containing 30 days.
Being a lunar calendar, they would be expected to have had either 28 or 29, throwing out the exact fulfilment and reason for the festival as being the giving of the Law. It also seems strange that, in the first mention of the festival (Ex 23:16), no relationship to the giving of the Law is even so much as hinted at.
Moreover, Ex 19:1 records (my italics) that
‘On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone forth out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai’
The ‘third new moon after’ the Israelites had come out of the land of Egypt gives us at least two full months that have to be counted (14 Nisan would be the date of the Full Moon, the first new moon occurring at the start of the month that follows it) and, therefore, must be in excess of fifty days (see the relevance of that time period below) before the time spent encamped at Sinai or the time between 14 Nisan and the end of the month are added in.
However, that the Jews believed that the Law had been given at the time of Pentecost is significant and God isn’t averse to adding relevance when he saves 3000 into the Church by the redemptive work of Christ (Acts 2:41) when, contrastingly at the giving of the Law, 3000 were killed by the judgment that comes by sin (Ex 32:28).
These parallels shouldn’t be missed even though the exact date of the giving of the Law wasn’t the Festival on which Pentecost was commanded to be celebrated.
Ex 23:16, 34:22, Deut 16:11
Pentecost was one of the three pilgrimage festivals at which all males were commanded to come to the place where God was to put His name (which, eventually, became Jerusalem but, prior to this, it followed the moving of the Tabernacle). The relevance of these three festivals in the life of believers will be dealt with in the Afterword but, for now, we’ll just note that this festival is one of those three.
Lev 23:15-16, Deut 16:9
The Jews were to count fifty days from ‘the day after the sabbath’ (Lev 23:15) and celebrate Pentecost on this fiftieth day. But which sabbath did Moses mean?
The Pharisees taught that the first day of the seven day festival of Unleavened Bread which was a ‘holy convocation’ (that is, a special added sabbath - Lev 23:7) was the sabbath to which this referred.
Each year, Pentecost would have fallen on the 9th of Sivan (presuming that the months were each of 28 days duration which they were not - see my introduction on the festival of Trumpets at this point to see how the length of months were determined and proclaimed throughout Israel) as Passover was also fixed (15th Nisan according to the Rabbis - see Appendices 1 and 2 in the Passover notes).
The Sadducees, on the other hand, considered that the sabbath referred to was the normal sabbath that occurred during the seven days of the festival of Unleavened Bread. They counted fifty days from the day after that sabbath so that Pentecost fell on a different date each year.
As we’ve seen under the discussion on ‘First Fruits’, the Sadducean interpretation is to be preferred and is probably the correct one, even though it’s possible that the Pharisaic chronology is the one that was being implemented in the Temple around the time of Christ.
However, it’s quite difficult to be definite as to which date for the day of Pentecost would have been celebrated. Going by the timetable laid out in Appendices 1 and 2 of my Passover notes, in the year of Jesus’ crucifixion, the Pharisees would have celebrated Pentecost the day before the Sadducees - because the ‘sabbath’ according to the Pharisees was the Friday of Jesus’ crucifixion while, for the Sadducee, it was the Saturday on which Jesus was in the tomb.
Subsequently, the date from which Pentecost would have been calculated would have been one day different. Recourse to the ‘authorities’ to try and see which date would have been the one in use at the time of Christ is not of any real help, either. The most important authority, the Mishnah, makes no mention concerning the calculation of the day which hinders a definitive statement. Jeremias (page 264) states that
‘The complete calendar, especially the feast of Pentecost, was fixed according to Pharisaic reckoning...The following fact shows how powerless the Sadducees were: they once tried by a trick to fix the calendar according to their calculation for the feast of Pentecost, and to do this they sought through false witness to mislead the commission appointed by the Sanhedrin to deal with the calendar’
which is such an absolute statement that it’s almost sacrilege to disagree with it! But his isn’t the only word on the subject. Zondervan (my italics) notes that
‘The Pharisees understood the “sabbath” of Leviticus 23 as the first day of Passover (the fifteenth of Nisan)...This view prevailed after AD70’
and Actsbruce notes on Acts 2:1 that
‘While the Temple stood, the Sadducean interpretation would be normative for the public celebration of the festival’
which both, obviously, state just the opposite to Jeremias! If both these latter commentators are correct in their interpretation of the times in which Jesus lived, both the festivals of First Fruits and Pentecost may have been celebrated on the correct Scriptural day indicated by the OT commandments.
When we read in Acts chapter 2 that the Holy Spirit was first poured out upon the believers on the Day of Pentecost, we normally interpret the date in the light of what the Sadducees believed but it’s possible (though unlikely) that the Pharisaic chronology is being used. Whatever, it’s impossible, in my opinion, to read into Luke’s words the declaration that the Day of Pentecost that he speaks of is the ‘Scriptural date’ rather than the day on which the Jews were celebrating it if the incorrect Pharisaic date was being used.
The reason for my statement that I’ve accepted the Sadducean date as the one being celebrated at the time of Christ is purely on the basis of Scripture’s fulfilment and not based upon any historical or Biblical (as a historical document) source (I just can’t find any!). That Jesus has fulfilled the first three festivals to the day has already been shown and there seems no good reason to doubt that we should look for a similar fulfilment for Pentecost.
Therefore, with little or no justification apart from Scriptural considerations, we must make the assertion that the Day of Pentecost referred to in Acts chapter 2 is the day calculated in accordance with the Sadducean interpretation.
Finally, note here that the Deuteronomy passage referred to above under the title of this section, dates the festival from ‘the time you first put the sickle to the standing grain’ which was the celebration of the festival of First Fruits as laid out in Lev 23:9-14 and dealt with previously.
Lev 23:17,20, Num 28:26, Ex 34:27
Two (wheat) loaves made from the first fruit of the wheat harvest were to be brought to the Temple and waved by the priest before the Lord. The loaves were specifically to be baked with leaven. There were also specific sacrifices which were to be offered on the day of the festival (Num 28:26-31) as there were on other of the festivals but these needn’t concern us here for the main thrust of the explanation and fulfilment in Jesus Christ concerns the ceremony surrounding the two wheat loaves.
Lev 23:21, Num 28:26
It was to be a one day festival which was proclaimed as a ‘holy convocation’ (that is, an additional sabbath very much like the British ‘Bank Holiday’ - except that the shops were probably ‘closed’).
It was to be a time of rejoicing for all the inhabitants of the land. They were to remember that they had been slaves in Egypt.
6. Names (Biblical and Rabbinic)
That the festival of Pentecost had various names seems to indicate its importance in the life of the nation as opposed to the festival of First Fruits which, as far as I’m aware, had just the one. Scripturally, the festival could be called ‘The feast of weeks’ (Ex 34:22, Deut 16:10 - because it occurred seven weeks after the festival of First Fruits), ‘The feast of harvest’ (Ex 23:12 - because it was the end of the spring harvest season) or ‘The day of first fruits’ (Num 28:26 - because it was the first fruit offering of the summer harvest) but its names didn’t stop there.
To these, the Rabbi’s added the titles ‘The feast of first fruits’ (given because it was the first fruit offering of the summer harvest but, of course, this laid the festival open to be wrongly identified as the festival of First Fruits which occurred some 49 days before this and on which Christ rose from the grave), ‘The closing festival’ and ‘The closing season of Passover’ (the first four festivals are linked together and comprise the first ‘cycle’ of festivals for the year. With Pentecost, the four festivals are therefore concluded) and ‘The time of the giving of the Law’ (Jewish tradition teaches that it’s the time when the Mosaic Law was given at Sinai. It is, today, well celebrated, but it’s not the original reason for the celebration even though there’s the outside possibility (and it’s no more than that) that it was the day on which the Law was given).
Finally, in the NT, the name given to the festival is ‘The day of Pentecost’ (Acts 2:1, 20:16, I Cor 16:8). This is the Greek title for the festival as the transliterated ‘pentekonta’ is the word for ‘fifty’. The festival occurred fifty days after the sabbath of the Passover, hence its name and it’s this title which most christians today would recognise.
1. The two loaves
Eph 2:11-18, 3:4-6, I Cor 12:12-13, Acts 2:1-4,41-42
The Law of Moses separated the Jews apart from the Gentile nations so that the latter were alienated from the promises and inheritance given by God to the Jews (Eph 2:11-12). Not that God had intended that the Gentiles should be shunned if they came to offer worship to YHWH, but that the outworking of the Jews’ calling in their own thought was that, being a special and distinct people from the nations which surrounded them, they were to separate themselves from all the other nations and so became, in effect, a spiritual elite.
This certainly wasn’t the intention of the Law and was almost certainly not the belief and practice of most Jews, but the religious community (notably the Pharisees) were concerned to keep themselves separate in case they should somehow contaminate themselves through ritual and ceremonial uncleanness. This segregation from the Gentiles was demonstrable in many different layers of the everyday Jewish social and religious life.
In Herod’s Temple, for instance, a placard was erected between the Court of the Gentiles and the Court of the Women forbidding any Gentiles to come closer. Josephus, the Jewish historian, records its presence in his writings - in one of Titus’ recorded speeches to the Jews at Jerusalem, he says (page 347 lines 1-5)
‘You disgusting people! Didn’t you put up the balustrade to guard your Holy House? Didn’t you at intervals along it place slabs inscribed in Greek characters and our own, forbidding anyone to go beyond the parapet? And didn’t we give you leave to execute anyone who did go beyond it, even if he was a Roman?’
The complete inscription recorded on such a slab was found in 1871 by the French archaeologist Clemont Ganneau and a fragment of another was excavated in 1936, showing that the letters had been originally painted red to make the words stand out. It reads
‘No stranger is to enter within the balustrade round the temple and enclosure. Whoever is caught will be responsible to himself for his death, which will ensue’
Far from being a purely physical barrier, the Mosaic Law had made the Jews feel spiritually superior to all the Gentiles - they were labelled ‘the uncircumcision’ (Eph 2:11) which was not, by any stretch of the imagination, an honorary title! The choice of the phrase was to provide grounds for the distinction between what the Jewish religious people felt was acceptable to God and what wasn’t. In short, it divided the world into two types of people - the Jews and the ‘unacceptable to God’ Gentiles.
But Christ, in His flesh, broke down that partitioning wall of the Law (Eph 2:14-15) so that, in place of the two separate peoples, there might be one (Eph 2:15, 3:6). The Gentiles, who’d found themselves separated from the promises, blessings and presence of God, in Christ found themselves of equal standing with the Jewish believers because salvation was shown to be not on the basis of legal observance but by the free gift of God through Christ.
Not that Jesus had elevated the Gentiles to the stature of the Jews but that He created in Himself one new man (Eph 2:15 - where the Greek word translated ‘new’ implies that it’s something that hasn’t existed before) instead of there being Jew and Gentile.
It had been the Mosaic Law that had stood as the barrier (Eph 2:15) but it was removed in the cross (the partitioning between God and man was also removed in the cross so that both Jew and Gentile have freedom of access into the very presence of God in Christ - Mtw 27:51).
How was this achieved? The NT writers, being mostly Jews, didn’t try to sweep this aspect of the cross under the carpet, so to speak, but openly proclaimed it as being one of the major works of the cross. Not only did these Jewish believers speak openly about the unity of men and women in Christ, they were openly persecuted by their own fellow Jews because of it.
Paul variously writes (Col 1:18) that
‘He [Christ] is the head of the body, the Church...’
and (Eph 2:18) that
‘...through Him [Jesus], we both [Jew and Gentile] have access in one Spirit to the Father’
and, similarly pointed (I Cor 12:12-13), that
‘...by one Spirit, we were all baptised into one body - Jews or Greeks [Gentiles]...’
By being ‘baptised in the Holy Spirit’ (which first occurred on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4) both Jews and Gentiles have become one body, the Church of Christ. There no longer exists any division - all believers are united/baptized in one Spirit into the body of Christ (Eph 3:6) and , therefore, all have equal standing before God.
But how does this fit in with the two loaves and in fulfilment of the festival of Pentecost? There are three specific characteristics which point the reader in the direction of a fulfilment:
Pentecost was a celebration of the first fruit of the wheat harvest, therefore the loaves that were baked were made from the first fruit of that year’s wheat.
Wheat, in the NT, is used as a picture of men and women in general (Mtw 3:11-12 speaks of believers being like wheat that are gathered by the Son of man into His storehouse - Mtw 13:24-30,37-43 tells us that wheat is the ‘sons of the Kingdom’ who are harvested for the use of the farmer - John 4:35 [though ‘wheat’ is not specifically mentioned] refers to the people ready to be brought in to the Kingdom as a ripe field ready to be harvested) and it is here taken to be indicative of them.
b. Two loaves
The two different loaves each made from wheat represented the two peoples.
One, the Jews, the other, the Gentiles, separated from one another by the Mosaic Law (indicated by there being two separate loaves) but who were both equally acceptable to God (indicated by both loaves being acceptable to God).
This ‘acceptance’, though, is solely on the basis of Jesus’ work and not based upon any self-righteousness or self-effort on the part of individuals.
The loaves were specifically baked with leaven.
We saw under ‘The Festival of Unleavened Bread’ that ‘leaven’ more especially means the influence which pervades not only lives but societies with either a positive or negative influence based upon the context in which it’s used. Here, however, it may also be used to mean ‘sin’ (either way, the meaning is not much different) but it’s difficult to be absolutely certain whether it’s meant to be used positively or negatively unless the interpretation of the festival is used to define its meaning.
After all, ‘leaven’ doesn’t always have to be indicative of sin wherever it’s used (see, for instance, Mtw 13:33).
The reason for leaven’s inclusion seems to have been to show that the division of mankind into two groups of the Jews and Gentiles can now be brought together into the one offering before God despite their imperfections because acceptance before God is achieved through the offering of the great High Priest, Jesus, on the cross.
In Him, then, believers have now become one unleavened lump and should live out the reality of that in their lives (I Cor 5:7 - see the notes on the festival of Unleavened Bread) but, outside Him, there were (and still are) two people in whom both sin dwells and advances.
This seems to be the better interpretation rather than to interpret the two loaves as indicative of the Body of Christ in which sin still dwells - that is, a confession that the Church is still flawed but acceptable to God.
Rather, it’s a call to the nations to come to God through Jesus and so find acceptance.
Conner sees the meaning of the two loaves as being representative of the Church who have not yet reached sinless perfection (page 38) and notes that Passover used no leaven because it had specifically to do with Christ. That doesn’t, however, explain the reason for no leaven to be used in the Festival of Unleavened Bread and Paul’s observation that it was to be indicative of the Church age (I Cor 5:6-8).
Besides, even though many would see in the two loaves the Jewish and Gentile believers brought together into one Body, there’s nothing like this in the ceremony which would hint at it and one is left assuming that the two bodies of believers are to still remain separate.
It’s best, therefore, to accept the loaves as being the two groups of men on the earth, both with imperfection but who can both find acceptance before YHWH on the basis of the work of the High Priest - thereby demonstrating the availability of acceptance of all men.
Both Jews and Gentiles (the two wheat loaves) are baptized into the Holy Spirit into one body, the Church. The disharmony that existed between Jew and Gentile has been abolished forever. Firstly, through the cross, then, secondly, by the Holy Spirit in the fulfilment of the day of Pentecost.
But, outside Christ, the distinction still remains - the Jews are still a distinct people, separated from the Gentile world by their adherence to the Mosaic Law. Until a Jew comes to acknowledge the work of Christ, this division will always remain amongst the ‘religious’.
Incidentally, the division between Jew and Gentile has been replaced by a division between believer and unbeliever - ironically, the unity that God offers mankind through His Son, is also the means whereby divisions are made!
There’s a spiritual principle here that we must be careful not to miss. We need to learn not to despise or reject christians in other denominations. Corinth had that problem, so to speak. Therefore, Paul writes in I Cor 1:10-13
‘I appeal to you...that you all agree and that there be no dissensions among you...Is Christ divided?’
The bickerings and divisions that the Corinthians had set up amongst themselves showed that the body of believers were immature and unspiritual. Even though they thought that they’d attained some sort of spiritual maturity in the things that they were experiencing, by their very individualisation into ‘camps’ and ‘sects’ they were showing that they’d failed to grasp the fundamentals of the christian message.
Besides, this class division (or ‘denominationalism’ if we are to bring it up to date) breeds spiritual superiority in the hearts and minds of believers everywhere. Maybe some denominations haven’t moved on into as much of the Lord as we have, but each one is called to share the good things that have been received with all fellow believers (I Cor 4:6-7).
All things are to be done to build up the weak brother (Rom 14:19), not to condemn him. It’s before Christ that he’ll be justified and he’s not to be condemned by another’s judgment (Rom 14:4).
Neither should the less experienced brother despise and feel jealousy towards the brother who has either seen or received more of the Lord’s provision and His work - even those who have had a revelation of God that doesn’t fit in with our man-made traditions and laws (which are traits of our church structure rather than being Scriptural absolutes).
The wall of partition that Christ tore down, therefore, is re-erected by our denominationalism that we hide behind - whether factions within the local church or factions between different local churches. All such divisions are demonstrations of our failure to grasp the unity that exists between true believers on the basis of Christ’s work.
2. First fruits
Being a first fruit festival, the principles which this kind of offering gives to the participant is also relevant here. The two loaves which were offered to God as the first ripe sheaves of the wheat harvest were both the ‘foretaste’ - given to God first - of what was to come in the full and final harvest and the ‘guarantee’ that God would watch over the land until that time came.
Paul observes in his letter to the Roman believers (Rom 8:23) that
‘...we ourselves, who have the first fruit of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies’
and, in Eph 1:13-14, he further observes that
‘...you...were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it...’
The Holy Spirit’s indwelling and outflowing is the first fruit of the believer’s inheritance, the fulfilment in each one of the day of Pentecost.
Just as the wheat that was brought to the Temple was the first fruit (Ex 34:22), the foretaste of the final harvest that was to be celebrated at the Feast of Tabernacles, so the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and everything He causes to be either brought in to a believer’s life or in through their life, is the first fruit - the foretaste of the inheritance that has been set aside for them to be received at the Messiah’s return.
Not only is what is received a foretaste of those things which are to come, but it serves the follower of Christ as the evidence that what has been promised has been guaranteed by their present experience. Therefore Paul observes (II Cor 1:21-22 see also II Cor 5:1-5) that
‘...[God] has...given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee’
and (Eph 1:13-14) that the Holy Spirit
‘...is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it...’
The infilling of the Holy Spirit is the believer’s ‘guarantee’ that the inheritance - that is, the harvest that God has promised them (specifically, new resurrected bodies which will find their fulfilment in the Feast of Tabernacles) - will be given them.
The Greek word ‘guarantee’ (Strongs Greek number 728) came into the language from a Semitic tongue, perhaps from the vocabulary of the Phoenician traders. It’s used only once in the LXX in Gen 38:17-20 where it’s the word used for Judah’s pledge to Tamar.
In modern Greek, the word is used for an engagement ring and also for a pledge in a contract. The word also came to stand for a first payment, a down payment, as in the modern ‘hire purchase’ system. Both meanings of ‘pledge’ and ‘first instalment’ are involved in each of the three NT occurrences of the word.
According to Vines, the word was originally used to denote earnest money deposited by the purchaser and forfeited if the purchase was not completed and, in general usage, it came to denote a pledge or earnest of any sort. The Holy Spirit, therefore, is:
a. the initial payment that God has made to believers to secure their entire lives for His service.
b. the pledge that He’s made to believers that they’ll receive new, incorruptible bodies according to His word of promise, and,
c. the engagement ring until the believers are eternally married to the Lamb.
We should make a note of the AV’s rendering of Eph 1:13-14 which runs that the Holy Spirit given now to believers is the guarantee
‘...until the redemption of the purchased possession...’
which conveys the meaning better than the RSV. ‘Redemption’ to the Greeks included the setting free of slaves and especially of those who were taken in war (see the subject ‘Redemption’).
The setting is that God has given to believers the Holy Spirit as the first payment until the time comes when they will be gloriously set free from their slavery to death and be wholly the purchase and property of God.
There’s also a spiritual principle here about bringing the Kingdom of God in over the earth.
The ‘infilling’ (Acts 2:1-4) and ‘outflowing’ (John 7:38) of the Holy Spirit is the provision for the Church’s call to ‘bring in the Kingdom of Christ’. It’s achieved by allowing the Holy Spirit to work through a believer’s life and to bring the first fruit of that coming Kingdom into the everyday situations around them.
What believers lay hold of now in the Spirit are foretastes of what will be brought in when Jesus sets up the Kingdom visibly upon His return. The ‘infilling’ that’s so much taught today is of no lasting value if what is received stays inside the believer for, as with natural water, stagnation will result. Living water (John 7:38) is water that flows and continues to flow.
Once it becomes static, it no longer holds the title of being ‘living’ water so that a follower of Jesus is always exhorted to allow God’s presence and His provision to flow out from their midst where God dwells and into all the earth (for further explanation, see my study on ‘The Feast of Tabernacles' in section 3bii).
And so we draw to a close the initial ‘four’ festivals of Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits and Pentecost which were fully fulfilled in Jesus’ first coming. There now follows a long gap until the three festivals of the seventh month take place - Trumpets, Yom Kippur and Tabernacles - but, what is often forgotten by commentators on the festivals is that an Intermediate Festival was commanded to be observed and it’s this which informs the believer of the times and seasons in which he now lives before the final month of festivals when God in Jesus will bring all things to their final conclusion