Agape Bible Study

THE FEAST OF PENTECOST

Then never let anyone criticize you for what you eat or drink, or about observance of annual festivals, New Moons or Sabbaths.  These are only a shadow of what was coming: the reality is the body of Christ.
Colossians 2:16

The old covenant holy day of obligation known as the Feast of Weeks, Shavuot in Hebrew, or the Feast of Pentecost as it was known in Jesus' time (from the Greek he pentekoste meaning the fiftieth day), was a feast established by Yahweh in the covenant formation at Mt. Sinai before the sin of the Golden Calf.  In the beginning of the great adventure at the crossroads of salvation history known as the"Sinai Covenant," God ordained that Israel was to commemorate three annual feasts in which the Israelites would relive the themes of mercy and redemption that were played out in the Exodus experience.  The three "pilgrim feasts," in which every man of the covenant must present himself before Yahweh's holy altar of sacrifice, were designated in Exodus 23:14-17: Three times a year you will hold a festival in my honor.  You will observe the feast of Unleavened Bread.  For seven days you will eat unleavened bread, as I have commanded you, at the appointed time in the month of Abib,  for in that month you came out of Egypt.  No one will appear before me empty-handed.  You will also observe the feast of Harvest, of the first-fruits of your labors in sowing the fields, and the feast of ingathering, at the end of the year, once you have brought the fruits of your labors in from the field.  Three times a year all your menfolk will appear before Lord Yahweh. The feast of Unleavened Bread began at sundown the day of the Passover commemoration in the first month of the liturgical year.  This entire eight-day feast is sometimes referred to as Passover.  The feast of the harvest is the Feast of Seven Weeks, also known as the Feast of Weeks, or in Jesus time as the Feast of Pentecost.  The feast of ingathering at the end of the liturgical year is the Feast of Shelters (the Hebrew word for"shelters," Sukkoth, is also translated as"tabernacles" or"booths").

After the sin of the Golden Calf the instructions for the pilgrim feasts were repeated as part of the covenant renewal in Exodus 34:18-23, and in addition to the three pilgrim feasts, four more remembrance feasts were added to the annual feasts in Leviticus 23:5-44.(1)  The command to keep the pilgrim feasts as part of Israel's covenant obligations was so important that during Moses' last homily to the Israelites, prior to the covenant people's mission to take possession of the Promised Land, Moses repeated the pilgrim feast obligations in Deuteronomy 16:16-17

According to the instructions for the pilgrim feast of Pentecost in Leviticus 23:15-21 and Numbers 28:26-31, after taking possession of the Promised Land Israel was to commemorate the blessings of Yahweh to His covenant people in the richness of the land by offering God the first portion of the annual wheat harvest.  It was also to be a celebration in which Israel as a covenant community was to relive with thanksgiving the birth of the nation as a covenant people and the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai "the day God came down in fire on the mountain and took Israel to be His holy possession, to be a witness to the pagan nations of the earth, and to testify to the existence of the One True God.

In the period of the united monarchy, Israel's kings continued to be committed to the covenant obligation of the pilgrim feasts of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost and the Feast Shelters.  In 2 Chronicles 8:13 Scripture records that King Solomon made the sacrifices for these feasts himself on the altar of the Temple in Jerusalem.  The annual pilgrim feasts were festivals of great joy, and despite the fact that only the men were required to appear before Yahweh, often whole families made the journey to the beautiful Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the covenant obligation (Lk 2:41; Jn 7:2-4).(2)

In the designation of the dates for each of the holy feast days in Leviticus 23, only two of the seven annual feast days do not have a specific date of celebration.  Passover was to be commemorated in the first month of the liturgical year on the 14th of Abib, with the Feast of Unleavened Bread lasting for seven days from Abib the 15th through the 21st.  The Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hosannah), the feast which began the civil"new year," was to be celebrated annually on the 1st day of the seventh month, followed on the 10th by the Feast of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and then from the 15th to the 21st of the same month Israel was to celebrate the Feast of Shelters (Sukkoth).  Each of the annual feasts was designated to be celebrated on a specific date with the exception of the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Pentecost.

The instructions in Leviticus 23 concerning the Feast of Firstfruits dictated that the sacrificial offering of the first fruits of the barley harvest, along with the whole burnt sacrifice of a yearling lamb together with a baked wheat cake and red wine libation, was to fall within the holy week of the first of the pilgrim feasts, the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex 23:14-15).  Yahweh gave instructions to Moses concerning the Feast of Firstfruits, after enumerating the requirements for the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread: Speak to the Israelites and say: When you enter the country which I am giving you and reap the harvest there, you will bring the priest the first sheaf of your harvest, and he will present it to Yahweh with the gesture of offering for you to be acceptable.  The priest will make this offering on the day after the Sabbath, and on the same day as you make this offering, you will offer Yahweh an unblemished lamb one year old as a burnt offering.  The cereal offering for that day will be two-tenths of wheaten flour mixed with oil, as food burnt as a smell pleasing to Yahweh.  The libation will be a quarter of a hin of wine.  You will eat no bread, roasted ears of wheat or fresh produce before this day, before making the offering to your God.  This is perpetual law for all your descendants, wherever you live (Lev 23:10-11; all underlining in quotations is added by the author).   The offering for the Feast of Firstfruits was to be presented on the day after the Saturday Sabbath during the week long Feast of Unleavened Bread, indicating that this feast was always intended to fall on the same day of the week every year, on what we call Sunday, the first day of the week.  It is to be a perpetual sacrifice so long as the covenant with Israel endured.  The command for a perpetual statute is found in Leviticus 23:14, 21, 31 and 41 and only applies to four of the seven feasts: the feasts of Firstfruits, Pentecost, Atonement, and Shelters.

The date of the Feast of Pentecost, and the giving of the first fruits of the wheat harvest, was determined by counting fifty days from the Sunday of the Feast of Firstfruits: From the day after the Sabbath, the day on which you bring the sheaf of offering, you will count seven full weeks. You will count fifty days, to the day after the seventh Sabbath... (Lev 23:15-16).  The Feast of Pentecost was intended to always fall on the same day annually.  It was intended to fall on a Sunday, the day after the Sabbath, counting seven weeks from the Feast of Firstfruits (Sunday to Sunday) until the fiftieth day (the ancients counted without the concept of a zero-place value, counting the first day in the sequence as day #1)(3).

Sometime after the Resurrection of Jesus the Pharisees changed the celebration of this feast by interpreting Leviticus 23:11 to mean not the Saturday Sabbath of the holy week of the Feast of Unleavened Bread but that by the word"Sabbath" in Leviticus 23:11 the passage indicated the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread on Abib the 15th, which was also commemorated as a"day of rest."  Therefore, the date of the barley harvest offering, which was also the celebration in remembrance of the Exodus crossing of the Red Sea, was altered and was changed to the 16th day of Abib (called the month of Nisan from the 6th century BC forward).  The date of celebration was changed to the day after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on a day of the week which would change from year to year.  Since the sacrifice of a Passover lamb or kid is no longer possible, modern Jews celebrate their Seder meal on the 15th of Abib/Nisan the 15th and they refer to the entire seven days of what was the Feast of Unleavened Bread as"Passover."

The problem with the interpretation of Abib the 16th as the Feast of Firstfruits is that the instruction for the seven annual feasts and their individual sacrifices in Leviticus chapter 23 lists the requirement of each feast to fall on a particular date in the month (according to the lunar calendar), with the exception of these two feasts.  If the Feast of Firstfruits was intended to always fall on the day after the 15th of Abib why didn't the passage in Leviticus 23:11 simply record the required date for this feast as Abib the 16th?  It is significant that the feasts of Firstfruits and Pentecost are deliberately not given a specific date but move each year so as to fall on a particular day of the week"Sunday.

The Karaites, a sect of Judaism that claims descent from the Sadducees, continues to celebrate the Feast of the Firstfruits annually on a Sunday, however, they are the only Jews who continue to celebrate the Feast of Firstfruits.(4)  Both Orthodox and Reform Jews count Pentecost as fifty days from the 16th of Abib instead of counting seven full weeks from the first day of the week (Sunday) of the holy week of Unleavened Bread.  They also do not list the first fruits of the barley harvest as a liturgical feast, even though that feast, like the others, has required blood sacrifices and grain and wine offerings unique to its celebration and is commanded to be a perpetual observance: This is to be a perpetual law for all your descendants, wherever you live (Lev 23:14).  In the Feast of Firstfruits the Karaites insist that they continue the ancient traditions of this"feast of remembrance" in commemorating the crossing of the Red Sea in the Exodus experience and the first offering of the annual barley harvest of the Promised Land.  They continue to celebrate this feast, as their ancestors did, on the day after the first Sabbath of the holy week of the feasts of Passover/Unleavened Bread, celebrating the Feast of Firstfruits always on a Sunday.  They also celebrate Pentecost on a Sunday fifty days later, just as it was literally commanded in Leviticus 23:11.

Verification of the change in the long tradition of the celebration the feasts of Firstfruits and Pentecost on a Sunday is found in the writings of the Jewish priest Yoshef ben Matthias (37-100 AD).  Known to history by his adopted Roman name as Flavius Josephus, the works of this first century AD Jewish historian and member of the old covenant priesthood are the principal source for the history of the Jews from the time of Greek Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes (175-163 BC) to the fall of Masada at the end of the First Jewish Revolt in 73 AD.  Josephus was a descendant of the Hasmoneans, the ruling family of Judah prior to the Roman conquest, and he was educated to be a high priest of Yahweh in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Joining the sect of the Pharisees at age nineteen, he was in a unique position to understand the practice of the religious rites of the old covenant Jews.  In his history of the Jews, Josephus wrote concerning the Feast of Pentecost: And truly he did not speak falsely in saying so; for the festival, which we call Pentecost, did then fall out to be the next day to the Sabbath (Antiquities of the Jews 13.8.4 [252]).  Josephus' statement offers evidence that the festival of Pentecost used to fall on a Sunday, the day next to the Jewish Sabbath which was Saturday, but at some point the day of the feast was changed. Flavius Josephus' statement that the day of the celebration of the feast Pentecost was originally celebrated on a Sunday, also indicating the change in the day for the celebration of the Feast of Firstfruits.

Why would the Pharisees find it necessary to change the day of the week on which these two feasts fell?  The dramatic events of the year 30 AD provide the answer. During the week long feast of Unleavened Bread, in the spring of 30 AD, Jesus gave up His life on the altar of the cross during the daytime sacrificial services of the feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev 23:7; Num 28:17-24)), the sacred meal of the Passover victim having been eaten the night before in the meal Christians call"the Last Supper."  The Gospels record that it was"preparation day" for the Sabbath on the Friday when Jesus died (Matt 27:62; Mk 15:42; Lk 23:54; Jn 19:31).  Immediately after giving up His spirit, Jesus descended to the abode of the dead to preach the Gospel of salvation, liberating those souls who believed in Him (1 Peter 3:18-19; 4:6).  Jesus"rested" from His work in the tomb on the Sabbath, as God the Father had rested on the seventh day of the old creation.  Three days after His crucifixion Jesus arose from the dead.  It was on the first day of the week that He arose (Matt 28:1), on the first day after the Saturday Sabbath"on a Sunday.  It was on the first day after the Sabbath of the holy week of the feasts of Passover/Unleavened Bread, on the day designated as the Feast of Firstfruits (Lev 23:11).  He arose on the feast that celebrated the giving of the first fruits of the barley harvest and commemorated the crossing over of the Red Sea by the children of Israel, as they passed from a life of slavery and death to new life as children of God. zxcJust as the Israelites had "crossed over" from bondage to slavery and death to renewed life in the miracle of the Red Sea crossing, Jesus as the "first fruits" of the Father had"crossed over" the barrier of sin from death to eternal life.

The Feast of Firstfruits was also the only one of the seven annual remembrance feasts that required the blood sacrifice of a single unblemished male lamb, offered with an unleavened wheat cake and red wine"a foreshadowing of the Eucharist.(5)  It was on the Feast of Firstfruits that Jesus conquered sin and death through His resurrection, offering all who believed in Him the promise of eternal life in heaven.  Jesus was the"Firstfruits" of the resurrected dead, as St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23: In fact, however, Christ has been raised from the dead, as the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep.  As it was by one man that death came, so through one man has come the resurrection of the dead.  Just as all die in Adam, so in Christ all will be brought to life; but all of them in their proper order: Christ the first-fruits, and next, at his coming, those who belong to him.

The Feast of Pentecost was to be celebrated fifty days after the Feast of Firstfruits (Lev 23:15-16).  After the Resurrection Jesus taught the Church for forty days until His Ascension (Acts 1:3).  At His Ascension Jesus instructed the Apostles and disciples to return to Jerusalem and to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit: John baptized with water but, not many days from now, you are going to be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5).  The Apostles and the disciples were obedient to Jesus' command.  They prayed together as one community for ten days until fifty days after the Feast of Firstfruits, until the Sunday of the Jewish feast of Pentecost which commemorated the birth of the old covenant Church at Mt. Sinai.  On the Feast of Pentecost, 30 AD, God the Holy Spirit baptized the New Covenant people of God: When Pentecost day came round, they had all met together, when suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of a violent wind which filled the entire house in which they were sitting; and there appeared to them tongues as of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them.  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak different languages as the Spirit gave them power to express themselves (Acts 2:1-4).

On the holy feast which commemorated God's descent in fire upon Mt. Sinai to call Israel to be His covenant family, God the Holy Spirit descended to take possession of the faithful remnant of the New Israel, called to be the New Covenant people of God.  Since this was a pilgrim feast there were Jews present in Jerusalem from across the Roman Empire: Now there were devout men living in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven, and at this sound they all assembled, and each one was bewildered to hear these men speaking in his own language.  They were amazed and astonished.  Surely,' they said, all these men speaking are Galileans?  How does it happen that each of us hears them in his own native language? (Acts 2:5-8)

The New Israel of the New Covenant Church wasn't to be limited to one ethnic group, as the old Church had been limited to the 12 tribes of children of Israel, 10 tribes of which had been lost and scattered among the Gentile nations since the 8th century BC.  Now the New Covenant family of God was to encompass all the nations of the earth"calling the 10 lost tribes and all of mankind back into a universal family"an extended family which hadn't existed since the disbursal of God's children in the sin of the Tower of Babel, when their tongues became confused and the people were scattered across the face of the earth.  Now, in the birth of the New Covenant Church, the rupture caused by the disbursal of the human family is mended"all people are called into a covenant union and all will speak one language"the language of the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. How perfect was God's plan that the new "Day of the Lord" set aside for worship in the New Covenant was the first day of the week.  It was the first day of the old creation (Genesis 1:1; 2:1-2), which now signified the first day of a new creation in Jesus the Christ: Then the one sitting on the throne spoke.  Look, I am making the whole of creation new' (Rev 21:5).

Flavius Josephus' statement that the day of the celebration of the feast Pentecost was originally celebrated on a Sunday, and by inference also indicating the change in the day for the celebration of the Feast of Firstfruits. The command in Leviticus 23:11 and 15:15 establishing the first day of the week as the day of celebration for the feasts of Firstfruits and Pentecost was part of God's plan for the redemption of mankind.  Christ's fulfillment of these feasts would not be missed by orthodox 1st century AD Jews.  As St. James, first Christian bishop of Jerusalem, told St. Paul: You see, brother, how thousands of Jews have now become believers, all of them staunch upholders of the Law (Acts 21:20b), and as St. Paul himself wrote: Then never let anyone criticize you for what you eat or drink, or about observance of annual festivals, New Moons or Sabbaths.  These are only a shadow of what was coming: the reality is the body of Christ (Colossians 2:16).  The prescribed celebration of these feasts on the first day of the week was a foreshadowing of God's plan that the Christ would be resurrected on the Feast of Firstfruits on a Sunday and that the birth of the New Covenant Church would also fall fifty days later on the Sunday of the feast of the second great Pentecost when God again revealed Himself to His holy covenant people.

 

THE ANNUAL FEAST OF SHAVUOT (PENTECOST)
Yahweh said to Moses, Speak to the Israelites and say to them:
These are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of Yahweh, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.'

Leviticus 23:1-2
A pilgrim feast: Exodus 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Deut. 16:16-17; 2 Chr 8:13

Classified as a"remembrance" sacrifice

Then never let anyone criticize you for what you eat or drink, or about observance of annual festivals, New Moons or Sabbaths.  These are only a shadow of what was coming: the reality is the body of Christ
Colossians 2:16.

Type of feast Pilgrim feast of the remembrances feast days; compulsory attendance and both compulsory and voluntary sacrifices. Known as the Feast of Weeks; Shavuot or Hag Hashavuot in Hebrew, also known as the feast of the harvest (Hag Hakatzir, also spelled Chag ha-Kotsir); in the 1st century AD known as Pentecost, meaning 50th day in Greek. 
Scripture references Ex 23:16; 24:22; 34:22; Lev 23:15-21; Num 28:26-31;
Dt 16:9-12, 16-17; 2 Chr 8:13;
Act 2:1-15; 20:16; 1 Cor 16:8
Time of year Israelite month of Sivan = May/June; 7 weeks and a day = 50 days after the feast celebrating the firstfruits of the barley harvest, which fell the first day after the first Sabbath of the week long Feast of Unleavened Bread. This requirement determined that this feast always on a Sunday (as the ancients counted) until sometime after the 1st century AD when the Jews changed the day of the feast to rotate as a different day each year. Still celebrated on a Sunday, 50 days after Firstfruits, by the Jewish Karaites. 
Description Old Testament = A sacred assembly of the community of Israel.  Celebrated as a festival of joy in remembering the origination of Israel as the chosen covenant people of Yahweh 50 days after crossing the Red Sea.  This feast expressed Israel's thankfulness for the Lord's blessings in the birth of the old covenant Church, in the giving of the Law at Sinai, and in the blessing of the wheat harvest.
Requirements Mandatory and voluntary offerings including the first fruits of the wheat harvest. Every man of the covenant over 13 yrs of age required to attend this pilgrim feast.  Every family was required to bring a new grain offering of wheat and 2 loaves of bread made of the wheat flour baked with leaven as an offering to the Lord. As a community the covenant people must offer 7 unblemished lambs less than a year old, a bullock and 2 rams, with a grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil with each sacrifice, and an accompanying wine libation as a whole burnt offering on the Altar. A goat must be offered as a sin sacrifice and 2 lambs as a communion sacrifice.  The priests are to eat the people's 2 lambs of the communion sacrifice in a sacred meal in the Holy Place.
New Covenant Connection During the celebration of this feast at 9AM (the 3rd hour Jewish time)  in 30 AD, 50 days after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and 10 days after His Ascension, the Holy Spirit filled and indwelled the Apostles and disciples of Jesus of Nazareth assembled in the Upper Room in Jerusalem.  This miracle signaled the birth of the New Covenant Church.  In the early Church, Pentecost was the part of the liturgical year that extended 50 days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday.  Today this period is considered to be Eastertide in the liturgical calendar, with Ordinary time beginning again the Sunday after Pentecost. 

Michal E. Hunt © On the Feast of Divine Mercy, 2008 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved

Footnotes:

1The seven God ordained annual feasts were: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Feast of Trumpets, Feast of Atonement, and Feast of Shelters (Tabernacles).

2It has been estimated that in the 1st century AD that the population of the city of Jerusalem would swell to hold from 2-3 million worshippers.  Flavius Josephus recorded three million attendees at the Feast of Passover/Unleavened Bread in 65 AD (The Wars of the Jews 2.14.3 [280]) and that the number of lambs and kids slain during the feast of Passover a year later was 256,500, with one lamb for every 10 to 20 people: So these high priests, upon the coming of their feast which is called the Passover, when they slay their sacrifices, from the ninth hour till the eleventh, but so that a company not less than ten belong to every sacrifice (for it is not lawful for them to feast singly by themselves), and many of us are twenty in a company, found the number of sacrifices was two hundred and fifty-six thousand, five hundred; which, upon the allowance of no more than ten that feast together, amounts to two million seven hundred thousand and two hundred persons that were pure and holy (The Wars of the Jews 6.83 [423-426]).

3The ancient Israelites and the 1st century AD Jews, like most ancient peoples, did not have the concept of a zero-place value and therefore the first of any sequence was counted as number 1.  This is why it is written in Scripture that Jesus was in the tomb three days from Friday to Sunday instead of two days as we would count it; see Christianity and the Roman Empire, Ralph Novak, page 282.

4This sect of Judaism calls themselves the Karaim, which means"adherents to Mikra." Mikra is the Hebrew word for the Bible.  The Karaites rejected Rabbinic Judaism which was the attempt to re-invent the old covenant faith after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD when sacrifices could no longer be offered and the rites of the Sinai Covenant no longer observed.  The Karaites claim to be descendants of Sadducees who formed the legitimate priesthood; they reject rabbinic law introduced by the Pharisees and deny the authority of the Talmud.  See The Jewish Book of Why, volume I, pages 37-39.

5The Feast of Firstfruits was the only annual remembrance feast that required the exclusive blood sacrifice of a single, unblemished male lamb.  The Passover sacrifice required a yearling male from the flock, either a kid or a lamb: On the tenth day of this month each man must take an animal from the flock for his family: one animal fir each household (Ex 12:3; also Deut 16:2).  The Feast of Unleavened Bread required the blood sacrifice of two young bulls, a ram, seven yearling lambs and a goat offered in sacrifice every day for 7 days.  The Feast of Trumpets required a young bull, one ram, 7 yearling lambs, and a goat.  The Feast of Atonement required the blood sacrifice of a young bull, 2 male goats, 7 yearling lambs, and a ram.  The Feast of Shelters required the blood sacrifice of 70 bulls over an 8 day period.  For 7 days 2 rams, 14 lambs, and 1 goat were offered daily; on the 8th day 1 ram, 7 lambs and 1 goat were offered in sacrifice.  The only other class of blood sacrifice that required (exclusively) an unblemished male lamb was the whole burnt offering offered twice daily for the covenant community (doubled on the Sabbath) known as the Tamid.  (Scripture on blood sacrifice of the Tamid and the annual feasts see Ex 23:26-32; 29:38-42; Lev 16:1-34; 23:3-44; Numbers 28:1-39; Deut 16:1-16).

 

Resources:

  1. Christianity and the Roman Empire , Ralph Novak, Trinity Press International, 2001.
  2. The Works of Josephus, translated by William Whiston, Hendrickson Publications, 1998.
  3. A History of Israel, John Bright, Westminster John Knox Press, 2000
  4. Offerings, Sacrifices and Worship in the Old Testament, J. H. Kurtz, Hendrickson, 1998.
  5. The Jewish Feasts, Hayyim Schauss, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1938.
  6. he Jewish Book of Why, volume I, Alfred J. Kolatch, Jonathan David Publishers, Inc. 1981, revised edition 1995.
  7. The Feasts of the Lord, Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal, Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1997.
  8. The New Jerusalem Bible, Doubleday, 1985.