Pentecost or Weeks

The authors’ thesis is that Jesus completed, or fulfilled, Pentecost or Weeks1 in that He sent the Holy Spirit in power and the Church was born on the very day the holiday was celebrated. Is this warranted on the basis of the biblical material itself? 

Christians traditionally speak of “Pentecost” while Jewish people use the term “Weeks.” Here the terms will be used interchangeably. 

Pentecost or Weeks. The transliterated word from the Hebrew is shavuot and means weeks. It is the second of the three pilgrimage feasts, one of the three agricultural feasts, when all male Jews who were not prevented by unusual circumstances should attend the celebration at the Temple in Jerusalem. Most observant Jews would therefore attend the first three spring holidays, since Passover, the first pilgrimage feast, was followed so closely by Unleavened Bread and Firstfruits—all over the course of three days (though Unleavened Bread lasts for seven days and incorporates Firstfruits). 

Deuteronomy chapter 16 records the instructions of only Passover, Pentecost (referred to as The Feast of Weeks), and Tabernacles (referred to as The Feast of Booths) and may be the reason that only these three were designated as the pilgrimage feasts. 

In Exodus 23:16 this feast is referred to as the “Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor,” a term that is a major clue in seeing how Jesus, through the sending of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, fulfilled the long-term intentions of this feast. 

Leviticus 23:15-22 

“You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you bought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD. You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the LORD. And you shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, and one bull from the herd and two rams. They  shall be a burnt offering to the LORD, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, a food offering with pleasing aroma to the LORD. And you shall offer one male goat for a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of peace offerings. And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the LORD for the priest. And you shall make proclamation on the same day. You shall hold a holy convocation. Your shall not do any ordinary work. It is a statute forever in all your dwelling places throughout your generations. And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to the edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner. I am the LORD your God.” 

Notes on the passage: 

One. There is no introductory formula for Pentecost as it appears to be connected with Passover and is the conclusion of the spring holidays that begin with Passover. 

Two. Pentecost is a word that comes from the Greek meaning “fifty.” The holiday may be referred to as Pentecost, but the most common biblical term would be The Feast of Weeks. Pentecost would have fallen on the sixth day of the month of Sivan. 

Three. Fifty days after Firstfruits means Pentecost would occur on a Sunday, the day following the Sabbath day. 

Four. The feast was centered on a grain offering, like Firstfruits. On Firstfruits a sheaf of newly cut grain, most likely barely, was waved before the LORD. Then at Pentecost, two baked loaves of bread were waved before the LORD, and most likely the grain was wheat. 

Five. The loaves were baked with leaven within them. 

Six. In addition to the loaves, there would to be a burnt offering, a sin offering, and a peace offering. 

Seven. No ordinary work was to be done. Again and again the emphasis is on rest, perhaps the focal point of all the holidays.

Eight. Provision was made for caring for the poor, which was a necessary part of the feast. 

Background material 

Israel, according to many biblical scholars, arrived at Mt. Sinai around the time of Weeks, and thus the feast came to be associated with the celebration of the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. This feast could also then be called the Feast of Revelation. 

The Law given to Israel re-established God’s covenant with His people. In Jewish tradition it is called “the Season of Giving of our Torah.” Though not stated in our Leviticus passage, Pentecost has been considered almost as the birthday of Judaism, because so much of the religion has to do with God’s revelation of His will via Moses to His chosen nation. The rite of circumcision, which was part of the requirements of the Law, was the basis for the covenant God made with His people going back to the time of Abraham. Circumcision was and is important, because it is an affirmation of God’s promises to Abraham and an expression of faith that God will preserve the physical seed of Abraham in spite of all the efforts to destroy that seed. 

The giving of the Law at Mr. Sinai, however, was not without tragedy. While Moses was receiving the Law upon the mountain, the people grew restless and rebellious, and a golden calf, apparently resembling an Egyptian god the people had known during their captivity, was created and worshiped. Judgment soon followed, and “that day about three thousand men of the people fell” (Exodus 32:28). The number three thousand must be remembered. 

Prior to Sinai the people of Israel grumbled and complained. After spending a year at Sinai, receiving God’s revelation, and enjoying His provision, they again set out and again grumbled and complained (see Numbers 11:1-15). It grieved Moses so badly that he wanted to die. In response God instructed Moses to gather seventy men of the elders of Israel upon whom He would place some of the Spirit that was upon Moses and these seventy would help bear the burden of leading the people (see Numbers 11:16-25). “And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied” (Numbers 11:25). Of great significance is the ending of Numbers 11:25, “But they did not continue doing it.” 

But then, when two of the new prophets, Eldad and Medad were prophesying in the camp and Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ chief assistant, requested that Moses stop them, Moses’ reply was, “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29). Could it be that the prophet Joel, who would one day speak of an outpouring of the Spirit upon God’s people (see below), saw the significance of Moses’ desire in Numbers and that it informed part of his prophecy? 

The point is that the Law given at Sinai did not and could not change Israel; they would continue to grumble and complain—a rejection of the LORD. There would come something more, a later outpouring of the Spirit. 

Pentecost fulfilled 

By the days of Jesus, Pentecost was a celebration, both of the wheat harvest and the giving of God’s Law to Moses. Jews from all over the Roman world arrived in Jerusalem for the feast. Jesus had already risen from the dead and had made it clear to His disciples immediately before His ascension back to the Father that they were to wait in Jerusalem. Luke described the situation in Acts 1:4-5: 

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 

The disciples remained in Jerusalem as ordered, but during another post-resurrection appearance the apostles asked Jesus if He was then going to restore the “kingdom to Israel” (see Acts 1:6). These men had seen enough, they had seen the blind and crippled healed, the dead raised to life, demons cast out, food multiplied to gigantic proportions, and realized that even nature was subject to His command. There was no doubt that this young Galilean was none other than the Messiah about whom the prophets had written. 

Jesus responded that it was not necessary for them to concern themselves with times or seasons—not that the kingdom they were looking for would not come—but there was something else awaiting them. He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

And they waited until Pentecost. They were in Jerusalem, gathered together in one place, probably the famous “upper room” where the Last Supper was eaten, when suddenly their world was altered forever: 

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 

Acts 2:2-4 

The imagery in these verses comes from the Old Testament. At Mt. Sinai God came down with the dramatic sound of thunder and with the fire of lightning (see Exodus 19). 

The noise in the upper room brought a large group of the pilgrims, devout Jews from all over, apparently to the street outside the home where the apostles were meeting. What they heard was the apostles “telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11). Some were amazed; some mocked and thought the men they were hearing were drunk. 

A prophet’s message comes true 

Peter, speaking for the rest, quickly challenged the accusation that they were drunk by quoting from the prophet Joel and essentially saying that what the crowd was hearing was what their own prophet had said would happen. Peter proceeded to quote Joel 2:28-29: 

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. 

In Acts 2:17-21 are the words Peter spoke to the crowd that day that included Joel 2:30-32; they are closer to the Septuagint or Greek translation of the Tanakh than the Hebrew. But the essential declaration of Peter is clear—what was heard was a fulfillment of an ancient message from one of the prophets, namely Joel. 

On Pentecost, then, a prophecy was fulfilled. Jesus had spoken several times that when He left, He would not leave His disciples orphans. He would send the Paraclete meaning Comforter, Counselor, Advocate, Helper, or more literally, One who would come along side them. The Paraclete being with them was the same as Jesus being with them. Following are some examples of Jesus’ promises to the apostles relating to the Paraclete

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:18 

“The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 14:26 

“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” John 15:26 

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” John 16:7 

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. John 16:13-14 

The fruit of Peter’s sermon 

In Acts 2:14-36 Luke presents Peter’s sermon that Pentecost day. It is a very Jewish address indeed. The concluding sentence was, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). 

The effect was immediate: “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37). Peter responded with the core message of Messiah Jesus and concluded with words based on the prophecy from Joel: 

Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. 

Acts 2:38-39 

The Church, now only minutes old, experienced the influx of about three thousand Jews, along with possibly some Gentile proselytes and God fearers. “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). Remember—at the time when the first covenant was given at Mt. Sinai—about three thousand died. Now three thousand are “added” with the arrival of the second or New Covenant. Not an insignificant detail. 

Two more prophetic fulfillments 

An enormous paradigm shift had occurred. The Holy Spirit had come upon ordinary people, men and women, young and old, and social class did not matter. The promise of a new covenant had become reality, that promise expressed by the prophet Jeremiah many centuries earlier: 

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” 

Jeremiah 31:31-35 

The prophet Ezekiel, in chapters 36 and 37, spoke similarly to Jeremiah. From verse 22 in Ezekiel 36 to the end of Ezekiel 37, the LORD informs Ezekiel there would come a time when He would cleanse His people of their uncleanness. Verse 26 of chapter 36 reads, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Then chapter 37 has the story of the “Dry Bones,” where God revives a valley full of dry bones, the seemingly impossible miracle of restoring Israel. The climax of the story is Ezekiel 37:14: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.” 

The prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel are one—both point to a time in the future when God will do Himself what the Law could never do, was not intended to do. And it would be then, after sin was forgiven and removed, that God’s Spirit would indwell His people, personally and individually. 

The prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Joel spoke about the cleansing of sin, personal and individual fellowship with God, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the person, or body, of the individual. And this is what happened through the ministry of Jesus. His sacrifice on the cross, His burial—these put away sin. His resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit make possible a personal relationship of the individual with God, characterized by the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer. In this way, the believer becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16). 

Pentecost completed 

Embedded in the story of the Feast of Weeks was a promise of a greater harvest and a better covenant. This is what Jesus said would happen. He then completed or fulfilled the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost through the Holy Spirit, that Spirit which would bear witness to and glorify Him. 

Is there a biblical warrant? 

Is it possible to state that Jesus completed, satisfied, and fulfilled, in His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit something that God had laid the foundation for in the Jewish holidays and which mark the roadmap of world history? 

These authors say it is so, but there is more. We now turn to the fall holidays to see if perhaps there are any indications that Jesus will one day complete or fulfill these as well. 

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