The third step in God’s Plan of Salvation is pictured by the Feast of Pentecost. As we progress through each of the seven Feasts, the pattern of this overall Plan for mankind will become clearer. Those who do not have the knowledge of these Feast days are unable to understand the purpose of human life.
Passover is the annual memorial of the sacrifice of Christ—and includes the vital symbols of the bread and wine and the ordinance of humility that Christ introduced in His last Passover on the eve of His crucifixion. Christ’s sacrifice makes possible the forgiveness of one’s past sins and the opportunity for a completely new start, living in harmony with God’s will. This constitutes the first step in the Plan of Salvation.
The Days of Unleavened Bread picture God’s people coming out of sin, just as ancient Israel coming out of Egypt typified coming out of sin. This is the second step in the Plan of Salvation. But another vital step is necessary in order to successfully overcome sin in this physical life. We will find that this missing element, central to the Day of Pentecost, is the Holy Spirit—the very power of God.
The seven feasts are tied to the two harvest seasons in the region of Judea. The first season is the small spring harvest, followed later by the main harvest that occurs in the fall. The spring harvest is very small compared to the large fall harvest. It begins during the Days of Unleavened Bread and ends by the time of Pentecost-also called the “Feast of Firstfruits,” and the “Feast of Weeks.” The latter name reflects how the time of this feast was derived by counting seven Sabbaths, covering seven weeks. The term “Pentecost” is derived from the Greek language and means “count fifty.”
Before the spring harvest (or firstfruits harvest) began, the wave sheaf offering had to take place. This offering always occurred on the first day of the week following the weekly Sabbath during the Days of Unleavened Bread. This wave sheaf offering of barley was the very first of the firstfruits brought to the priest to be presented before God. Barley was most always used in the wave sheaf offering because it was the first grain to mature and be ready for harvest in early spring.
(1) What did the wave sheaf offering represent? Leviticus 23:10-11; John 20:17; I Corinthians 15:20-23.
Comment: In John 20:17, Christ had already been resurrected and had first manifested Himself in human form to Mary Magdalene. He had been resurrected three days and three nights from Wednesday evening just before sunset—near the end of the weekly Sabbath. Note that He had not yet ascended to the Father, but had revealed Himself to Mary (vs. 1, 11). He indicated that she could not touch Him at that particular time, because He had not yet ascended to His Father.
(2) Were the disciples permitted to touch Christ later that same day? Matthew 28:9.
Comment: Since the disciples were allowed to touch Christ, He had to have been accepted by the Father by that time. As a Spirit Being, Christ had ascended to heaven and returned instantly once He had been accepted. As the fulfillment of the wave sheaf offering, He was accepted on the first day of the week (see John 20:19), just as the wave sheaf was always offered and accepted on that same day (see Lev. 23:11).
(1) Did Christ promise His disciples that after His departure, He would not leave them comfortless, but would send them spiritual help? John 14:16-18.
(2) Did Christ repeat this promise of sending forth spiritual power, even after His resurrection? Luke 24:49; John 20:21-22; Acts 1:8.
(3) On what day did Christ send the Holy Spirit to His disciples? Acts 2:1-4.
(4) What was the reaction of the devout Jews who witnessed these miraculous events? Acts 2:5-12.
Comment: This Day of Pentecost in A.D. 31 was the beginning of the Church of God. The disciples who had been trained by Christ for 3½ years had received the Holy Spirit and began to fulfill their responsibilities as apostles. The sending forth of God’s Spirit is the central meaning of Pentecost. This feast also depicts the small early spring harvest, which typifies those called into God’s Church in this age as firstfruits. The vast majority of humanity will only be called during the Millennium and at the second resurrection, after the close of the Millennium. Only a tiny minority are called now to fulfill special purposes in God’s Plan of Salvation.
(1) Was Pentecost commanded to be kept forever, just as Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread? Leviticus 23:14, 21.
Comment: When God says “forever,” this is precisely what He means. We will see that the Holy Days will be observed in the coming millennium, contrary to the opinions of critics who denounce them as temporary “Jewish days” that were “done away with.”
(2) Did the apostles come together in Jerusalem for the Day of Pentecost? Acts 2:1.
Comment: In this particular case, they were among the many thousands of devout Jews assembled for the purpose of manifesting the power of God.
(3) Is there evidence that the Church in this era continued to keep Pentecost? Acts 20:16; I Corinthians 16:8.
Comment: Pentecost is mentioned in these two places after the event recorded in Acts 2. In Acts 20:16, Luke recorded that Paul was determined to keep this feast in Jerusalem. I Corinthians 16:8 shows Paul informing the Church at Corinth that he would stay in Ephesus until Pentecost. All the Holy Days were important milestones and the apostles often used these days as benchmarks in time. One more important reference is often overlooked due to a mistranslation. In apostolic times, this Holy Day was often referred to as the “day of weeks.” The day of weeks was another term for the Feast of Weeks, also called the Feast of Firstfruits and Pentecost by those who spoke Greek.
We have already seen that the wave sheaf offering depicts the beginning of the small spring harvest, which represents those few now being called as firstfruits. Now we need to understand how Pentecost was counted in order to arrive at the correct date each year.
(1) Upon what day was the wave sheaf offering made each year? Leviticus 23:10-11.
Comment: “The morrow after the Sabbath” meant the first day of the week, or Sunday. The context of this verse falls within the timeframe of the Days of Unleavened Bread, as verse 8 summarized the seven days and that the seventh day was a time of holy convocation. The Sabbath referred to in verse 11 could have only been the weekly Sabbath that fell within the Days of Unleavened Bread. If it were counted from either one of the Holy Days (first or seventh), then Pentecost would always fall on the same day of the month year after year and would not have to be counted.
(2) How was the count made from the day of the wave sheaf offering in order to arrive at Pentecost? Leviticus 23:15-16.
Comment: We are to begin counting on the day after the Sabbath (day of the Wave Sheaf offering) and to number seven Sabbaths (or weeks) from that day. The target day is clearly stated in verse 16, which shows that we are to number “even unto the day after the seventh Sabbath.” Clearly, the target day is the day that follows the seventh Sabbath—the first day of the week following that Sabbath.
The sacred calendar does not designate a specific day in the month of Sivan on which Pentecost always falls. This is why a count is necessary. It is crucial that the first day of the week upon which the wave sheaf offering was to fall always occurred during the Days of Unleavened Bread. It could not be before or after the time span of these seven Days of Unleavened Bread.
Two Hebrew terms are translated as the English word “Sabbath.” The first is Shabbat. At the time of Moses, it meant the weekly Sabbath day or an annual Sabbath (or Holy Day). Later, after the time of Hellenistic influence over Judea in the 2nd century B.C., Shabbat came to mean “week.” By the time of the New Testament, it had come to be used interchangeably for both “week” and “Sabbath day” in the Greek language.
But using the word originally intended to mean “Sabbath” and designating it as “week” (Lev. 23:15-16) led to an error that some made in counting Pentecost. In context, the term Sabbaths could be defined as “weeks” (vs. 15) without changing the meaning. This is referring to the phrase “seven Sabbaths shall be complete.” But to interpret the other two words in verses 15 and 16 as “week” completely changes the meaning. This is referring to the phrase “the morrow after the Sabbath,” as occurs in both verses.
The second of the two Hebrew terms sometimes translated “Sabbath” is the term shavuah or shabuwa. Even in Deuteronomy 16:9, which also instructs how to count Pentecost, the word translated “weeks” comes from shavuah. During the time of Moses, the word for “week” was shavuah, meaning a period of seven days. The plural for shavuah is shavout. Thus, the Feast of Weeks is called the Feast of Shavuot. To this day, Jews call this Holy Day “Shavuot.”
It is crucial that such terms are interpreted according to their original meaning in order to avoid error in counting Pentecost. Now we will see how certain Jewish sects arrived at the wrong date of Pentecost by not following scripture verbatim.
The Pharisees’ method was adopted by the rabbinic Jewish tradition and is followed by most Jews today. The Pharisees chose as their wave sheaf offering the day following the first High Day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, regardless of the day of the week it fell on. They chose not to establish the wave sheaf offering on the day following the weekly Sabbath. Thus, their Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) always fell on Sivan 6. Using their method, it was not necessary to count Pentecost, as it would have been if done correctly.
Another sect, the Falashas of Ethiopia, also based their count on a Holy Day instead of the day after the weekly Sabbath. In this case, they established the wave sheaf offering on the first day of the week that followed the Last Day of Unleavened Bread. Therefore, upon counting fifty days, they always observed Pentecost one week late.
Still another sect, the Qumrans, counted from the day following the Last Day of Unleavened Bread regardless of the day of the week it fell on. In this case, Pentecost always fell on the same day and was not necessary to count. The calendar used by the Qumrans was so distorted that not only was Pentecost kept on the wrong day, but also Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread.
The Jewish sects that observed Pentecost on the correct day included the Sadducees and the Karites (or Qaraites). The high priests who served during the time of Christ (and continuing until A.D. 70) were the Sadducees. They were in charge of the temple at the time of Pentecost in A.D. 31. By keeping the correct day of Pentecost, as thousands of devout Jews gathered in Jerusalem, the stage was set for Christ to miraculously manifest the power of God. The Karites had emerged from rabbinical Judaism and came to reject it in about the 8th century A.D. They returned to the Scriptures as their basic authority, a move that was unheard of in the history of Judaism. Historical evidence shows that the Karites could well have been influenced by the Pergamos Era of the true Church of God. Those of this era—the third of seven eras of God’s Church (Rev. 2-3)—were known as “Paulicians,” based on their leader’s respect and admiration for the apostle Paul’s writings. (To learn more about them, you may wish to read our book Where Is the True Church? – and Its Incredible History!.)
(1) In what capacity are the twelve apostles to serve in the coming Kingdom of God? Matthew 19:28.
(2) Are those called in this age qualifying to rule over cities? Luke 19:12-19.
(3) Are those called in this age destined to judge the world and even angels in the future? I Corinthians 6:2-3.
(4) Will God’s faithful servants reign in the Kingdom of God as kings and priests? Revelation 5:10.
Comment: Those whom God is calling now are preparing to serve in the Kingdom of God as teachers and instructors-as kings and priests. The number of those serving in the government of God is understandably far smaller than the number of their subjects.
(5) Why do even highly educated people in the world have difficulty understanding Scripture, failing to grasp its true meaning? Isaiah 28:9-13; Matthew 13:10-16.
(6) Do we find the vast majority of humanity in a state of blindness in this age? I Corinthians 2:14; II Corinthians 4:4; Romans 11:7.
Comment: Only those whom Christ is working with have their minds opened to the truth. The rest remain blind until the time God will begin to work with them. The following scriptures reveal much of these little understood reasons why the current blindness serves God’s overall purpose: Romans 11:26, 29-33; II Peter 3:9.
(1) Are those called out of the world by God in this age known as firstfruits? James 1:18; Revelation 14:4.
(2) Do we find examples of specific brethren being referred to as firstfruits in Scripture? Romans 16:5; I Corinthians 16:15.
Comment: The small spring harvest of the firstfruits did not begin until the high priest presented the wave sheaf offering (the first of the firstfruits) for God to accept. Likewise, the harvest of the firstfruits in God’s Plan of Salvation did not begin until Christ was accepted as the First of the Firstfruits.
This small harvest of the firstfruits will not take place until the Return of Christ. The intervening period of 50 days between the acceptance of the wave sheaf and the completion of the harvest symbolizes the nearly two millennia that will have elapsed in which the firstfruits will have overcome and qualified to rule in the Kingdom of God.
(3) What was the meaning of the two loaves of bread offered at the Feast of Firstfruits? Leviticus 23:17.
Comment: The two loaves of bread represented the times of the Old Testament Church and the times of the New Testament Church (called out ones). In the offering at this Feast, one loaf portrayed ancient Israel and the other loaf portrayed the true Church. The fact that both loaves contained leavening shows that even those called after the time of Christ are in the process of overcoming sin and developing character.
God gave the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai on the Feast of Pentecost. Although the Law was written in stone at that time (Ex. 31:18), those whom God calls into His Church are to have the Law written in their hearts (Jer. 31:33).
This is made possible with the power of the Holy Spirit, also given to the Church of God on this same day. A review of Lesson 16 of this course (on the subject of the Holy Spirit) would be helpful as we conclude the third step in God’s Plan of Salvation, portrayed by Pentecost.
(To learn more about this subject, read our article “How to Count Pentecost.”)