A Day of Beginnings and Endings
The central theme of the Feast of Weeks is beginnings. These beginnings have to do with the start of events that radically alter the social, political, and religious lives of those whom God is directly dealing with in conjunction with his plan for the salvation of humanity.
At Mount Sinai
Many Biblical Scholars and Jewish Historians believe that God gave the law from Mount Sinai to the Israelites on the Feast of Weeks. Others believe that the Feast of Weeks was the day on which God made, ratified, and sealed his covenant with Israel. There is also a belief that this was the day when the Israelite's Egyptian slavery officially ended. Although no scriptures can be found to support any of these claims, all of these beliefs would easily fit within the symbolic meaning of the Feast of Weeks.
In support of the above beliefs, Exodus 19:1 does say that Israel arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai on the 1st day of the 3rd month. If we assume that it took Moses one day to go up Mount Sinai, speak to God, and come back down (Ex.19:3-8), and we add the three day wait for God to appear on the mountain (Ex.19:9-19) and one day for Moses and the priest to go back up the mountain and return, we have a total of five days. Thus, Moses would have returned from the mountain with the law of God on the 6th or 7th day of the third month.
Using the shortest and longest lunar months, the earliest the Feast of Weeks could have occurred would have been the 7th day of the 3rd month and at the latest, the eleventh day. Therefore, using the most conservative or the most liberal calculations for determining the Feast of Weeks, the feast could very well fit within this time period and there would have been plenty of time for God to have given the commandment and the law, which the people had already agreed to keep (Ex.19:8).
An Ending and Beginning of Covenants
Whether or not the law was given on the Feast of Weeks, as many believe, there is no doubt that 50 days after the Lift Offering of barley in 30 A.D., the original laws concerning how to be justified before God the Father were superseded by those of the New Covenant.
One of the major prophecies concerning the Feast of Pentecost has to do with the ending of the first covenant with national Israel and the beginning of the New Covenant. In order to understand the significance of the ending of the first covenant, it is necessary to review the major events surrounding its making, its primary terms and conditions, and its prophetic symbolism in relation to the New Covenant.
The Covenant With National Israel
The following are a number of significant events surrounding the making of the first covenant with national Israel:
- God chose the Israelites to become his sons.
- The sacrifice of a lamb was necessary to cover their sins.
- They were spared from death because of their obedience.
- They were freed from slavery through the power of God.
- They departed Egypt into a new land through the Red Sea.
The Covenant Proposal
After God brought the People of Israel to his holy mountain, he offered them a covenant through which they would reap tremendous benefits:
"Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure to me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. And all the people answered
together, and said, All that the Lord has spoken we will do. "
The Israelites were to become God's treasure, his priests and his holy people. This offer of a national covenant with the Creator God had never before been made to any other people. Not only were they to have God's blessings above all other people but also they were to represent God to the world as a nation of priests who were sacred to God.
"And he [Moses],took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you concerning all these words" (Ex.24:7-8 KJV).
Here, the people formally agreed to do anything God might ask them to do, which also implies that they were willing to do God's will at that time and in the future. When God added something to the covenant, the people would always affirm that they agreed to what was added and that they would obey.
Terms and Conditions
- God would give the Israelites his laws by which to live their lives.
- The Israelites would obey whatever the Eternal asked them to do.
- God would formally make the nation of Israel his people—his treasured possession.
- Each Israelite would represent God's system of worship and way of life to the world.
- The people would be sacred (i.e., have a divine quality).
- The agreement's continuation was predicated on the Israelite's continued obedience.
- It was a blood covenant, which was ratified and sealed with the blood of an animal sacrifice.
The Covenant is Broken
The covenant God made with the people of Israel was a wonderful covenant because it could be kept by all of Israel. However, it was not kept and was repeatedly broken until God severed his covenant relationship with national Israel because of their continual disobedience.
The Promise of a New Covenant
"Behold the days come, says the Lord, that I will cut a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant that I cut with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—which covenant of mine they broke, although I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this shall be the covenant that I will cut with the house of Israel: After those days, declares the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer.31:31-33 Para.).
Those whom God had made the original contract with are all dead along with millions of their descendants who died without a new covenant. The Israel of the original covenant is not a nation under the rule of God today; her peoples are now scattered throughout the earth.
"A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them" (Ezk.36:26-27 KJV).
Although these prophecies in Jeremiah and Ezekiel are for National Israel after the return of Christ, they also pertain to the elect of God (spiritual Israel) before Christ's return, according to the writer of Hebrews:
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put my laws in their minds, and write them in their hearts: and I will be a God to them, and they shall be a people to me" (Heb.8:10 Para.). See chapters 8 and 9 of Hebrews.
The New Covenant
Remember that the Law of God that was given at Mount Sinai was written both on tables of stone and in a book. Moreover, in giving a promise of a New Covenant, the Creator God who became Jesus Christ foretold the time when God the Father, through the power of his spirit, would place his righteous law within the minds and hearts of those he chooses to be his sons:
"Forasmuch as you are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God; not on tables of stone, but in the fleshly tables of the heart" (2.Cor.3:3 KJV). See Ex.24:12; 32:15; 34:1.
When one receives the holy spirit, the laws of God are made a part of one's very nature and being, which makes it possible to be continually conscious of the difference between righteous and unrighteous concepts and behavior. Having these laws as a constant part of the consciousness alerts a child of God to the right spiritual path that should be followed as they experience life with its various trials and temptations.
The Day of Sabbaths
There are a number of very important events noted in the New Testament that happened on the Day of Pentecost, which would have gone unnoticed, if it were not for the specific use of the phrase "on the day of the Sabbaths." The word used in this phrase is shabbaton, which is not a Greek word; it is the Hebrew word that is used to describe an annual festival day.
Besides the word itself, there are two others clues which reveal that it is the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) which is being spoken of in the texts where this phrase "on the day of the Sabbaths" is used:
- The writer specifically uses the plural of 'shabbaton' to indicate that the day is a culmination of a number of weekly cycles. This plural use clearly separates this day from the observance of the weekly Sabbath.
- The context of the texts concerns the beginning and ending of a significant event in the plan of God for the salvation of humanity.
Now let us review a number of important events from the following list that occurred on the Day of Pentecost:
- The beginning of Jesus' formal ministry.
- The beginning of a number of the Apostle Paul's evangelistic missions.
- Paul's stay in Ephesus documents Pentecost observance by the early church.
- Pentecost in 66 A.D. foretells the destruction of Jerusalem.
Did Jesus' Formal Ministry Begin on Pentecost?
"And he came to Nazareth, where he was brought up. And he went in, as was his custom, on the day of Sabbaths, into the synagogue, and stood up to read . . . He found the place where it was written: The spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to captives, and new sight to the blind; to send away crushed ones in deliverance; to preach an acceptable year of the Lord" (Lk.4:16-19 Para.).
This event seems to be the formal announcement of the beginning of Christ's ministry and the beginning of the end of the high priest's function within the sacrificial system as the bridge builder and intercessor between God and man.
Although the phrase 'on the day of Sabbaths' seems to indicate that this day may have also been the Feast of Weeks, there are no scriptures to support this assumption; however, it is a possibility considering how the sacred calendar is structured and the Calendar Court's authority to administer it.
The Ministry of Paul
Acts 16:6-10,13 Paraphrased
"When Paul, Timothy, and others decided to go from Galatia toward Asia, being forbidden by the spirit to go any further, they decided to go north into Bithynia, the spirit again forbid them to go in that direction. Traveling on they arrived at the port city of Troas. While in Troas, Paul received a vision that instructed him to go to Macedonia; therefore, he and the small band of people with him immediately departed for Macedonia" (vs.6-10).
Arriving in Philippi, they stayed a few days, but apparently they did not try to evangelize the population until the Day of Pentecost:
"And on the day of the Sabbaths [the Day of Pentecost], we went outside the city beside a river, where it was customary for prayers to be made" (v13).
Beside the river, they began to preach to the women and they met a woman named Lydia whom God called to salvation along with the rest of her household.
The significance of this event is that this Day of Pentecost was the beginning of Paul's effort to preach the gospel to Europe—a new beginning. It is interesting that, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul specifically calls this event "the beginning of the gospel" (Phil.4:15). See also 2.Cor.2:12.
In his letter to those at Corinth, Paul says that he remained at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door had been opened to him to declare the Gospel:
"For I will not see you now by the way; but I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit. But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great door and effectual is opened to me, and there are many adversaries" (1.Cor.16:7-9 KJV).
In this passage, there is yet another reference made by Paul about Pentecost. Why did Paul want to wait at Ephesus until Pentecost? First, Paul was accustomed to keeping Pentecost. Moreover, since he was about to embark on an evangelical campaign; therefore, perhaps he wanted to observe this Feast Day with the elect of God at Ephesus to seek their counsel and support. Whatever the reason was for Paul wanting to stay at Ephesus until Pentecost, the fact remains that this particular Pentecost marked the ending of one phase of Paul's work and the beginning of another even greater work.
Paul also formally began his ministry to the area of Galatia in the city of Antioch-Pisidia on the Day of Pentecost. See Acts 13:13:15.
The Early Church
"For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: therefore he hurried so that if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost" (Acts 20:16 Para.).
Paul was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem for Pentecost. Why? To understand why he wanted to be there at this particular time, we must analyze the passage more closely. Notice the words 'to' and 'be'. If we take these words at face value, this verse would seem to say that Paul just wanted to be there on Pentecost. But, this is not the case at all. The Greek word that is translated into two separate English words 'to' and 'be' can also be translated 'celebrate' (The New Testament according to the Eastern texts by George M. Lamsa). With the correct word inserted into Acts 20:16, it is easy to understand why Paul was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem. The fact is, Paul wanted to be in Jerusalem to celebrate the Day of Pentecost—a day that is an annual festival day commanded by God to be observed.
The Temple, 66 A.D.
The Jewish historian Josephus recorded several dramatic witnesses and events that concerned the temple worship system at Jerusalem (War, Book 6. ch.5.). Some of these witnesses and events foretold the end of the temple worship system at Jerusalem, and other events that are recorded show the events that brought it to an end. The following are just four of the witnesses and events recorded by Josephus:
- During the Feast of Unleavened Bread in 66 A.D., a heifer being led for sacrifice was said to have given birth to a lamb in the midst of the temple. Around midnight, the huge temple gates which normally took twenty men to open, opened by themselves.
- Later, on the twenty-first of Jyar, just before sunset, chariots and soldiers in armor were seen running about in the clouds around the city. See Lk.21:20.
- During the night portion of the Day of Pentecost in 66 A.D., as the priests were entering the inner court of the temple, they felt a quaking and heard a great noise and a sound like a great multitude of voices saying, "Let us remove hence."
- Jewish historical records state that the shekinah glory departed the temple at that time and remained over the mount of olives for three and a half years, during which time, a voice could sometimes be heard coming from the mount pleading for the Jews to repent. See Midrash Lamentations 2:11.
The Jews failed to heed this warning that began 3 ½ years earlier, on the Day of Pentecost. It is said that just before the Roman's final siege of Jerusalem that this light, which appeared over the Mount of Olives, disappeared into the heavens.
If indeed the nation of Israel began its covenant relationship on the Day of Pentecost at the foot of Mount Sinai, it ended this relationship on the Day of Pentecost in 66 A. D..
HISTORICAL EVIDENCE OF PENTECOST OBSERVANCE
In his book Christian Feasts And Customs, a Catholic writer Frances Weiser writes, "Pentecost was held annually from a very early date. . .Pentecost must have naturally suggested itself as a complementary festival (to the Passover), commemorating the fulfillment and fruit of Christ's redemptive task and of His resurrection . . ." (p.248).
The oldest secular writings we have concerning the celebration of Pentecost, outside of the New Testament is from the 2nd century (100-200 A.D.). The Catholic Encyclopedia states, "The first mention of a Christian Pentecost is found in the 'epistola Apostolorum' of the mid 2nd century. . ." ('Pentecost,' Vol. 11, p. 109).
In the 3rd century, Origenes and Tertullian spoke of Pentecost as a GREAT feast––the latter mentioned it as a well-established Christian feast. Bishop Eusebius (339 A.D.) called it "all blessed and all holy, the feast of feasts." In his sermons on the Feast of Pentecost, John Chrysostom (407 A.D.) used phrases, such as the following:
"Today we have arrived at the peak of all blessings." "We have reached the capital of feasts." "We have obtained the very fruit of our Lord's promise." History shows that the festival day of Pentecost was always observed by the early Christians (Weiser, p.248).
The Feast of Pentecost contains many meanings; therefore, it is no accident that tremendous events have and will transpire on this day. This day truly pictures many beginnings and endings that are extremely important to the plan and purpose of God for humanity.
Although most of the symbolic meanings and prophetic events of this day have been fulfilled, there are still three major events that must come to pass as an integral part of this day prior to the return of Christ to establish the Kingdom of God upon the earth:
The great power that the early church was given on the Day of Pentecost in 30 A.D. will be given to God's people again. Only this time, the power that is given will be unlimited in order for the great work that began on Pentecost 30 A.D. to be completed. The giving of this spirit power will mark the beginning of the end of human rule on earth. See Joel 2:29-32; Hab.1:1-5; Acts 13:40-41; Jn.14:12-14; Rev.3: 7-10.
The First Resurrection
The resurrection of the righteous dead who have been justified and saved from eternal death through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ will likely happen on a Pentecost.
The transformation of all righteous individuals (both the resurrected and the living) into immortal beings as a part of the Family and Kingdom of God will likely happen on a Pentecost.
All of the above events will complete the symbolic and prophetic meanings and events of the Feast of Pentecost and will begin a new era for humanity under the rule of the righteous Kingdom of God.
By B. L. Cocherell b5w54