Understanding the Mystery of Pentecost (Part 1) - by: Gary Stearman - https://prophecywatchers.com/understanding-the-mystery-of-pentecost/
In Hebrew, the word Pentecost is "Shavuot," which means "weeks." In the Jewish calendar, the Feast of Weeks is the Festival of the wheat harvest in the Land of Israel, which is always a metaphor of souls saved being brought into the household of God.
"9 Seven weeks shalt thou number unto thee: begin to number the seven weeks from such time as thou beginnest to put the sickle to the corn. 10 And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the LORD thy God with a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto the LORD thy God, according as the LORD thy God hath blessed thee" (Deut. 16:9, 10).
As first given in Leviticus, it is seen as the culmination of seven weeks, plus one day ... the day after the Sabbath. These fifty days are mentioned in the New Testament as Pentecost, the Greek word for "fifty."
Of all the observances of the Jewish Festival Calendar, The Feast of Weeks is the most mysterious. In modern Judaism, Pentecost is always observed on two days, a mystery in itself. Because it floats on their calendar, it is called, "the festival without a date."
When most Christians think of Pentecost, they don't think of Jewish holidays at all. Quite naturally, their first thought is the Book of Acts. This book - the history of apostolic activity in the formative days of the Church - is founded upon the dispensation of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church on Pentecost morning. By itself, it is one of the most amazing events in the history of the world.
The Book of Acts opens near the end of the fifty-day period that began to be counted after the Feast of Firstfruits - the day that marks the resurrection of our Lord. Luke opens his narrative in Acts by referring back to his Gospel, calling it "the former treatise." At the end of that "former treatise" - The Gospel of Luke - Jesus ascends into the heavens after meeting with many people. He ended his appearances by saying "And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high" (Lk. 24:49).
Then, in Acts, after a 40-day gap, Luke writes:
"1 The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2 Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: 4 And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. 5 For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence 6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. 8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the Earth. 9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; 11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts1:1-11).
Jesus rose before their wondering eyes, received into a "cloud." Many believe that this event foreshadows the moment when Christians shall be caught up to be with Him. During the following ten days, they gathered and prayed until Pentecost:
"1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:1-4).
FESTIVAL OF THE HARVEST
From its earliest days, Pentecost was known as a festival of the harvest. Long ago, the Omer was offered by the high priest, who stood before the Tabernacle, or later, the Temple. It was the token of the Festival of Firstfruits. In Leviticus 23:11, it is called, "the sheaf." In its most common sense, an omer was a dry measure that amounted to a little over two quarts. The offering of the Omer marked the first day of a fifty-day countdown to Pentecost:
"15 And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf [omer] of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: 16 Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the Lord. 17 Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the Lord" (Leviticus 23:15-17).
The counting of fifty days from Firstfruits to Pentecost is typical of redemption in general. For the Jew, in the observance of the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), it has always represented the maturing relationship between God and Israel.
Think for a moment about the traditions that originated in the first years of the church. Its central doctrines were handed down through men brought up in the traditions of Jewish history and prophecy. Their lives had literally revolved around the keeping of the festival calendar. They had heard the teachings of Christ. Some, no doubt, had heard in person. They had listened to His parable of the harvest, when the good wheat and the tares, which had grown up together would be separated. They knew about the Festival of Harvest (Pentecost).
When Peter preached that historic sermon on the Day of Pentecost, he quoted the prophet Joel, whose entire book is centered around the harvest cycle.
When Joel wrote the prophecy, "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh," he set the theme of the harvest. Joel said, "The field is wasted, the land mourneth" (Joel 1:10). He said, "That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten" (Joel 1:4). That was a prediction of Israel's exile. The Jews must be scattered from their land, to suffer among the nations.
But that's not all. Joel also spoke of Israel's restoration and linked it to the time of the spring harvest.
"23 Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God: for he hath given you the former rain and the latter rain in the first month. 24 And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil. 25 And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten" (Joel 2:23-25).
This is a prophecy that began to be fulfilled in 1948. Furthermore, Israel was restored on May 14th of that year, during the season of the harvest cycle. This date, the 5th of Iyar in the Jewish calendar, was the 20th day in the counting of the Omer.
In Matthew 13:39, Jesus said, "The harvest is the end of the world." He indicated that end-time events would culminate in a great harvest of souls. Pentecost, the day following the seventh sabbath, marked the end of the grain harvest, at which time two loaves baked with leavening were brought to the Temple and held aloft by the High Priest. These two loaves symbolize the completed bodies of the redeemed. It seems quite reasonable that one is emblematic of spiritual Israel, while the other represents the church.
EARLY AND LATTER RAINS
Once the Holy Spirit was poured out in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, the prophecy of the "early rain" was fulfilled. Some day, the Holy Spirit will be poured out again in Jerusalem. It should be a fulfillment of the promise of a "latter rain." Will it also occur on Pentecost? In Peter's second sermon, he spoke of the ultimate fulfillment of the festival cycle. In Acts 3:19-21, he said:
"19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; 20 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: 21 Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:19-21).
The prophetic implications of the festival cycle lie in God's promise to restore the Earth to the state of glory that He originally intended. So that His people would always remember what He has in mind, He planted this prophetic scenario in their culture. At some future time known only to Him, the story will become a reality. The festival narrative is arranged around events in their calendar that foreshadow their future counterparts.
We find ourselves experiencing another wave of renewed excitement about the near possibility of the rapture of the church. Interest in the prophesied culmination of the church age has waxed and waned over the years, periodically rising to its present level when world developments seem to signal a radical change. At the moment, an imminent war in the Middle East, coupled with financial collapse on a global scale, have aroused the attention of Christians around the world.
Many years ago, we began to share our studies on the traditions of Pentecost, which demonstrated numerous remarkable connections with the prophetic conclusion of the church age. It is the fourth and central feast among the seven Feasts of Israel: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Tabernacles. The first three are spring festivals, representing the blood sacrifice and resurrection. The last three come in the fall, calling forth judgment and the establishment of the Kingdom. At the middle - in summer - is Pentecost. In the Bible, it is represented by two loaves of leavened bread, held aloft by the High Priest. Today's Jews celebrate it in a ceremony called, "decorating the bride." Most remarkably, it typifies the catching-away of the church.
Every year, we are reminded afresh of Pentecost's enormous significance in the panorama of biblical prophecy. Many years ago, we first brought you its amazing prophetic truths. Better than any other ancient festival, it embodies the elements that we associate with the catching-away, or rapture, of the church. We repeat them here to refresh your memory concerning the joys of this season and to remind you that the Lord is near, even at the door. Our studies have made it increasingly obvious that the Lord-specifically for latter-day understanding-has inculcated specific memorial elements into the Jewish traditions surrounding Pentecost. As we continue to investigate this important subject, we are repeatedly impressed by the strong connections between Pentecost and the coming change of dispensation that will move the world into the age of the Kingdom.
Watching this festival, we constantly stress the fact that it is the most mysterious of all the Jewish festivals. First called the "Feast of Weeks," it is the major harvest festival. But its associated symbols and metaphors invoke meanings far beyond the mere harvesting of grain.
Among the Jews, this is the festival that celebrates the giving of the Torah, or Law. This was the time, they say, when Jews gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai. There, they heard the actual voice of God, as He spoke the commandments. The Bible does not seem, at first glance, to make a clear connection between Sinai and Pentecost. Nevertheless, the link is there, if we take the time to look.
Furthermore, this festival presents the ceremony of the marriage between God and Israel. In this context, Passover (which precedes Pentecost by seven weeks) becomes the period of God's courtship of His wife. The spiritual picture that emerges is the establishment of a faithful and holy household. A bit later, we'll examine it in greater depth.
JUDGMENT OF THE FRUIT OF TREES
Traditional Jewish belief holds that Pentecost is the day when the fruit of trees is judged in heaven. Christians throughout the Church Age have believed that the fruit of one's life will be judged following the rapture. This, of course, is the picture given by the apostle Paul to the church at Corinth in II Corinthians 5:10: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad."
The resurrection of Jesus as the Omer or offering of Firstfruits began a countdown to the completion of the body of Christ. The good fruit of the righteous will be reviewed, then will come the judgment of the depraved world.
But there is more to add to this picture. Jewish families observe Pentecost by wearing bright and festive clothing. Homes are decorated with green plants and celebrative foods are prepared.
According to Hayyim Schauss, writing in The Jewish Festivals:
"The custom of decorating the homes and synagogues with green plants is variously explained. One theory is that the day is marked in heaven as the day of judgment for the fruit of the trees." Here is the theme of fruit-bearing, which points to the Judgment Seat of Christ following the rapture and resurrection. In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus likened true versus false teaching to the fruit of trees:
"15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them" (Mt. 7:15-20).
Jesus teaches that false prophets can be known by their "fruits." The righteous will bring forth "good fruit." This "good fruit" is the "fruit of the Spirit," spoken of in Galatians 5:22, 23:
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law."
Pentecost, associated with the giving of the Law, is a time for reviewing one's "fruit." To the Jews, the Law is seen as the way toward such "good fruit." But the apostle Paul wrote that only through the resurrection of Christ can we bring forth "fruit" unto God.
"Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God" (Romans 7:4).
By His resurrection, Christ became our "firstfruits." He laid the "foundation" that made it possible for the church to bring forth more "fruit." This principle is clearly stated in I Corinthians:
"11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13 Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (1 Cor 3:11-13).
The judgment of the fruit of trees corresponds to the reward of the believer in heaven, here likened to a building. The good fruit of the believer's life will be judged for its final worth. This is exactly the theme seen in the Jewish festival of Pentecost.
PENTECOST: FESTIVAL WITHOUT A DATE
Remember, Pentecost is called Shavuot (or Weeks), in the Hebrew. It is so named to reflect the nature of its dating. It always falls seven weeks plus one day after the offering of the Omer.
Since it is based on counting the seven weeks following the Feast of Firstfruits, the date of Pentecost is fluid. Thus, when the Jewish calendar was still based upon visually marking the appearance of the new moon, Pentecost could fall on the fifth, sixth or seventh of Sivan. The final determination of the date would depend upon whether or not the months of Nisan and Iyar were full thirty-day months.
To this day, if one calculates the date of Pentecost as actually instructed in the Bible, its precise timing is always something of a mystery. Symbolically then, it becomes a perfect model for the rapture, since its date is also beyond reckoning.
According to Hayyim Schauss, the date for Pentecost cannot be fixed. He calls it the "only Jewish festival for which there is no fixed date." The Books of Moses do not state on which day of the month Pentecost is to be observed. It says only that it is to be celebrated fifty days after the offering of the Omer [Firstfruits], the first sheaf of the grain harvest, which was to be offered on "the morrow after the Sabbath," as we have already seen in Leviticus 23:15-17, making it a Sunday.
Following the destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70, it became physically impossible to commemorate either the Festival of Firstfruits or the waving of the loaves at Pentecost. The calendar date for Pentecost then became fixed at the sixth of Sivan ... the date upon which it is remembered to this day.
THE TRUMPET AND THE BRIDE
Around the same time, Jews adopted Pentecost as the time to commemorate the giving of the Law. The 19th chapter of Exodus relates that the giving of the Law at Sinai came in the third month on the third day of the month. This places the event at the time of Pentecost. They call it, "the revelation at Sinai." This revelation and the symbols of harvest are intertwined to give full significance to the observance of Pentecost.
In the festival, they also commemorate the symbolism of the marriage between God, the Groom, and Israel, the bride. They view Mt. Sinai as an enormous ketubah, or wedding canopy. The two tablets of the Law that Moses brought down from the mountain represent the marriage contract.
As mentioned earlier, this image is developed at Passover, which becomes the time of God's courtship with Israel, and Pentecost comes to represent the marriage itself. In its traditional aspects, Pentecost pictures the catching away of the bride more clearly than any other festival.
We have noted before that the blowing of the ram's horn on Rosh Hashanah has been suggested as representing the final trumpet of resurrection. But does it really? Is it possible that the trumpet blast on Rosh Hashanah represents instead, a "memorial" of the heavenly Pentecost trumpet?
"In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation" (Leviticus 23:24).
Let us review the part Pentecost has played at the beginning of two dispensations - Law and Grace. The rabbis say that the Dispensation of Law began on Pentecost. On that day, a heavenly trumpet was heard at Mount Sinai. The Jews remember this as a time when their national identity took a new direction.
"And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by a voice" (Exodus 19:19).
Many Jews say that this, the first mention of a trumpet blast in Exodus was regarded by the spiritual leaders of Israel as having occurred on Pentecost. Exodus 19:1 tells us that this event came about in Sivan, the third month.
Furthermore, the trumpet was blown, not by man, but by a heavenly being. It was God's own voice! Moses and the Chosen People had gathered at Mt. Sinai, on the third day of preparation, wherein they washed themselves, cleaned their clothes, and were forbidden to touch the mountain. When God came down, a trumpet sounded long and loud, filling the people with awe and terror. On that occasion, the fire of God's glory descended and God gave the Ten Commandments. Here, we find the only heavenly trumpet recorded in the Old Testament. The next such trumpet should sound on the day of rapture and resurrection, making the day of Pentecost an interesting possibility for that event:
"For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first" (I Thess. 4:16).
THE ORDER OF THE RESURRECTIONS
For the Gentile, Pentecost represents the relationship between Christ, the Bridegroom and His bride, the church. As mentioned earlier, the resurrection of Jesus was a literal Firstfruits offering that looked forward to the resurrection of all the faithful:
"20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection from the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. 24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power" (I Cor 15:20-24).
Here, Paul writes about Christ's resurrection in a specific way. Let's consider that word, "order." There is a specific order in the Jewish festival cycle and there is a well-defined order of resurrections. Paul, an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin, had been schooled in the Scriptures at the feet of Gamaliel. Without a doubt, he was intimately aware of the tiniest details of the Jewish calendar. Therefore, when he speaks of Christ as the "firstfruits" in the context of an order of events, he knows that the next event in that order is Pentecost.
But of course, this was not the Pentecost at which the Holy Spirit was given to the infant church. No, that signal event had already taken place over twenty-five years before Paul wrote these words. He must, then, be referring to a future Pentecost which would conclude the harvest - Christ's resurrection being the "firstfruits," and our resurrection coming at the end of the harvest. Might this possibly occur on a future Pentecost? Might this be the time when Christ will come to take home His followers? Remember, Pentecost is the formal conclusion of the grain harvest.
It seems that when Paul used the word, "order," he intended the reader to see the order of the Jewish festival cycle. It is at least possible he was suggesting that the resurrection could take place on a future Pentecost.
Apparently the early church thought so. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible offers the following comment:
"The Church Fathers highly regarded Pentecost. Easter was always on Sunday, so Pentecost was also. Between Easter and Pentecost, there was to be no fasting. Praying was done standing, rather than kneeling. During this time, catechumens [new converts] were baptized. Many expected, because the Ascension had taken place near Pentecost, that Christ would return in the same season."
Pentecost was a time of expectation for the early Church. They felt that Christ might come for His own during this period. Why did they believe this? Was it because of its closeness to the time of the Ascension, or was it because of something else they had been taught? Remember, Christ's actual Ascension took place forty days after His resurrection. Ten days later, the Holy Spirit empowered the church for its future role in the harvest of souls ... the fifty days till Pentecost.