Harvest time. This phrase likely evokes various concepts: Carefully removing a pepper from the vine in your backyard garden. Grabbing a ripe, juicy, red apple from a low-hanging tree branch. Driving past a field full of golden corn, waiting to be picked.
The Feast of Pentecost is the third of God’s seven annual Holy Days. It is the last of the spring festivals. This unique day centers on the concept of harvest. It also recalls pivotal events that have taken place in Church history.
As with the other Holy Days, Pentecost is to be kept forever (Lev. 23:14, 21). It is also known as the Feast of Weeks—this refers to the special way it is counted—the Feast of Harvest, and the Feast of Firstfruits.
In the Old Testament, this day was tied to the spring harvest period. It is crucial to realize that while the grain crops harvested in ancient Israel were certainly vital for the families who relied on barley and wheat to survive, these physical crops were only an analogy for a much more special and precious crop—human beings being born into the Family of God.
The book of James makes this clear: “Of [God’s] own will begat He us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (1:18).
Christians today have not yet been harvested into God’s Kingdom. They are in preparation to be part of a special early harvest—to go first. To avoid crop failure, Christians must produce spiritual fruit in their lives. Read Galatians 5:22-23.
There were two annual harvest periods in Israel. First, a small harvest in spring—this pictures the few God has called and worked with for the past 6,000 years. In the fall, a much larger harvest took place. This represents a time to come, when everyone who has ever lived is given a full opportunity to live God’s Way.
Principles of agriculture are found throughout the Bible. Think of the parable of the sower, in which “word of the Kingdom” is likened to seed, and Jesus equating the Holy Spirit to water, which is crucial for plants to grow.
Just as farmers tend to the “fruit of the ground” with much time and carefulness, God, the ultimate husbandman (John 15:1), watches over and provides for His cherished human crop.
Pentecost pictures the process of God working with His spiritual firstfruits. We will look at what anciently took place during this season, as well as its place in God’s plan of salvation.
Law Given at Mount Sinai
A pivotal event took place on the day of Pentecost in ancient Israel: “[God] gave unto Moses, when He had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God” (Ex. 31:18).
Although they had been in effect before this, Pentecost was the day the Ten Commandments were formally given to the physical “church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38).
God accompanied this with tremendous displays of His power: “There were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled” (Ex. 19:16).
Moses explained the purpose of these displays: “God is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before your faces, that you sin not” (20:20). I John 3:4 shows that sin is the breaking of God’s Law. Properly fearing God will help you to avoid sin. Yet ancient Israel soon forgot what they saw.
Any gardener knows certain rules must be followed to successfully produce a crop. Proper soil, regular weeding, and keeping away pests are just a few of the things needed for a plant to reach its full potential.
The same is true of God’s human crop. The Ten Commandments must be followed to ensure Christian growth. Yet only a few know and actively strive to obey this perfect Law today (Luke 12:32).
Jeremiah 31 shows what God will do with this Law on a much greater scale: “This shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel…I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people” (vs. 33).
Wave Sheaf and Wave Loaves
Leviticus 23 introduces two important symbols related to Pentecost.
First is the wave sheaf—a bundle of grain cut from the spring crop. The high priest was to “wave the sheaf before the Lord” (vs. 10-11). It symbolized the first of the spiritual firstfruits—Jesus Christ. The waving of the sheaf pictured His resurrection to be born into the God Family (Col. 1:18).
I Corinthians 15:23 proves the same will soon happen to God’s servants through the ages: “Every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming.”
The second symbol is found in Leviticus 23:17: “You shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the Lord.”
These represent the Old and New Testament saints, and are waved to picture them receiving salvation. These loaves were leavened to show that God’s servants battled and overcame sin in their lives.
New Testament Church Born
The New Testament records another monumental event that occurred on Pentecost: the birth of God’s Church. This was accompanied by something truly dynamic.
Jesus had told His disciples, “You shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you” (Acts 1:8). The Greek word for power is dynamis. It means “miraculous power” or “force.”
The disciples waited in Jerusalem for this power to be given. Acts 2 shows that “when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues [languages], as the Spirit gave them utterance” (vs. 1-4).
Peter gave a powerful sermon, leading to great numbers repenting, being baptized and receiving the “firstfruits of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:23).
This small down payment of God’s divine power is what empowers Christians to grow spiritually.
How to Count It
The Greek word Pentecost means “fiftieth,” denoting the 50th day. Unique from the other Holy Days, instead of falling on a specific calendar date, Pentecost requires careful counting. Yet this does not need to be complicated.
The count begins on the first Sunday during the Days of Unleavened Bread—the day the wave sheaf was offered.
“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” (Lev. 23:15-16).
Deuteronomy 16:9-10 states, “Seven weeks shall you number unto you: begin to number the seven weeks from such time as you begin to put the sickle to the corn. And you shall keep the feast of weeks [Pentecost]…”
This 50-day period was the span of the early harvest, with the final day (Pentecost) always falling on the first day of the week.
Properly counting Pentecost should reinforce the key concepts of this day in your mind: that you are a firstfruit, producing spiritual fruit in your life, en route to being harvested into the Kingdom of God.