Happy birthday, Church! May 25, 2015 is the second day of the two-day Feast of Weeks or Shavuot in Hebrew and also called Pentecost, a Greek reference to 50 days after Passover. Pentecost is one of the seven feasts that God gave Israel to observe and is the only one that is associated with the Church since it was the day the Holy Spirit began indwelling believers (Acts 2:1-41).
It is important to study the Jewish feasts God gave Israel in Leviticus 23 because they reveal the heart of God... "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8, NKJV). The more we learn about why these days were special to God, the more we learn about Him. Applying this in the here and now enables us to better please Him which we should seek to do out of gratitude for all he has done for us.
The first three Hebrew feasts clustered in the Spring are Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits commemorating God delivering Israel from Egypt and settling them in the Promised Land. The details of these feasts point to their ultimate fulfillment in Christ. "Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus was crucified at the very time the people of Israel prepared their Passover lambs! Jesus Himself was the Unleavened Bread because He was without sin and He also was the Firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:23).
The last three feasts of the Hebrews are clustered in the Fall and are yet to be fulfilled in history. They consist of the Feast of Trumpets, or Rosh HaShanah, the beginning of the Jewish New Year; the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur; and the Feast of Tabernacles, or Succoth. While a detailed look at these days are merited, this article is focused on Pentecost.
Firstfruits was a Spring festival celebrating Israel's first harvest in the Promised Land. Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks is also a harvest festival commemorating a second harvest of Israel in the Promised Land. The reason there are two harvest festivals is that there were different crops brought in at different times. Barley was associated with Firstfruits and wheat with Shavuot. Just as there will be a harvest of Jews and Gentiles, there will be two harvests. The wheat of Shavuot is associated with the Church as seen in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares (Matthew 13:24-30,36-43).
The Feast of Weeks occurred fifty days after Firstfruits. It has been traditionally celebrated over two days on Silvan 6 and 7 because the exact time could not be accurately determined. Leviticus 23:15 says the countdown to Shavuot begins on "the day after the Sabbath" but it is unclear if this is referring to the weekly Sabbath or the High Sabbath of Passover. When Scripture is vague there is a reason for this and in this case it became apparent that the best way to address it was to have a two-day observance. Matthew 24:36 comes to mind here where no one know the day or hour when Christ comes for His Church.
The Feast of Weeks is celebrated by making an offering of two loaves of leavened bread as one offering. Again there is symbolism that must be interpreted. The fact that the bread is leavened is a clue; the presence of leaven, or yeast which is an active fungus, usually represents sin in Scripture. So these loaves must represent members of the Church who are not without sin. The fact that there are two of them probably represent both Jews and Gentiles making up the New Testament Church.
The most significant fulfillment of Sahvuot in history is certainly the beginning of the Church, when the Holy Spirit began indwelling believers at Pentecost. But the Jews remember Shavuot as the day God gave Israel the Law on Mount Sinai. The Talmud considers the Torah to represent the marriage contract between God and Israel and thus the giving of the Ten Commandments represents the espousal of Israel to God. Leviticus 23:15 instructs Israel to count the days to celebrating Shavuot... Just as a bride eagerly counts the days between her engagement and her wedding, so Israel counts the days between Passover and Shauvot when they were united with God trough acceptance of the Torah.
It is also interesting to note that God makes an unconditional Covenant with Noah on what would become Silvan 6 (Genesis 8:20-9:17). Tradition also says Silvan 6 was the day Ruth became married to Boaz; the Kinsman-Redeemer who took a Gentile wife. Ruth is one of only three women listed in the in the genealogy of Jesus. The events recounted in the book of Ruth took place during the time of the Spring harvest so Ruth is read as part of the Hebrew celebration of Shavuot. The oral tradition of the Jews also holds that Enoch was both born and taken to heaven on the same day of the year, what would become Silvan 6. This is interesting because Enoch was a prophetic type of the Church who was removed from the earth prior to God pouring out His wrath in the flood of Noah's day.
There are some amazing parallels between the events related to the Mosaic Covenant and Pentecost. Comparing Exodus 19:16-19 to Acts 2:2-15 indicates that both happened at the same time of day, similar sounds were heard, the people reacted similarly, fire represented God in both cases, and the location was the central point for the Jewish people.
Pentecost or Shavuot is certainly significant to the Church because it marks the beginning and is associated with the Church being betrothed to Christ. "We are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:30-32). God established marriage to be a critical institution for human society which also models the intimate relationship we may have with our Creator in eternity. Man's efforts to redefine what marriage is all about must surely be a serious affront to our Creator-God.
On Pentecost, the Apostle Peter explained the supernatural indwelling of believers by the Holy Spirit when he quoted the Prophet Joel (Acts 2:14-21). God poured out His Spirit on the Church at Pentecost. From Joel 2:21-23 we know that Pentecost represented the former rain of God's Spirit. There will also be a latter rain of God's Spirit preceding the end of the Church Age. The Church had a supernatural beginning at Pentecost and will have a supernatural conclusion at the Rapture.
Since the Rapture of the Church is a significant spectacular event, many have expected it to occur on a Jewish feast day. If the Rapture had to happen on a Jewish feast day, Shavuot is the most likely one of the seven because it is associated with marriage and the Church is the Bride of Christ. But there are many who say that Rosh Hashanah is also a possibility for a feast-day Rapture of the Church since it is the next feast that has not yet been fulfilled by the Messiah. But to tie the Rapture to a Jewish feast day comes dangerously close to date setting and defies the doctrine of imminence for this event. "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only" (Matthew 24:36).
It is more correct to think of the Rapture as being tied to a number rather than a date. The Apostle Paul told us, "I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in" (Romans 11:25, NIV). There is a set number of people God has in mind for the completion of His Church and the Rapture will not occur until that number has been reached. This means that our efforts to build the body of Christ can have some bearing on when the Lord returns for His Church. While it is God who saves people, He uses His Church to represent Him and our activities can make an eternal difference in the lives of our associates. The Apostle Peter reinforced the idea that the activities of the Church can influence when Jesus returns when he said we should, "look forward to the day of God and speed its coming" (2 Peter 3:12). The only way we could possibly speed the day of God would be to let Him use us to complete the Church sooner rather than later.
As we consider the birth of the Church during Pentecost, this helps us look forward to the day Christ completes it. "We wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13). All indications are that we will not have long to wait. Meanwhile we should be actively watching for Him and help others also anticipate His coming. The more friends we can take with us, the more wonderful this glorious event will be.