The season of the grain harvest lasted seven weeks in Israel and its conclusion was celebrated with the Feast of Pentecost, when another “firstfruits” was presented to the Lord.
“And you shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave-offering; seven sabbaths shall there be complete: even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall you number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meal-offering unto Jehovah. You shall bring out of your habitations two wave-loaves of two tenth parts of an ephah: they shall be of fine flour, they shall be baked with leaven, for first-fruits unto Jehovah. And you shall present with the bread seven lambs without blemish a year old, and one young bullock, and two rams: they shall be a burnt-offering unto Jehovah, with their meal-offering, and their drink-offerings, even an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor unto Jehovah” (Leviticus 23:15-18).
Ancient Jewish tradition which was universally understood at the time of Christ was that this Feast was held on the anniversary of the giving of the Law from Mount Sinai. As Moses Maimonides wrote in his commentary on the Mishna; “Just as one who is expecting the most faithful of his friends is wont to count the days and hours to his arrival, so we also count from the Omer (Sheaf of first fruits) of the day of our Exodus from Egypt, to that of the giving of the Law, which was the object of our Exodus, as it is said, ‘I bare you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself’. And because this great manifestation did not last more than one day, therefore we annually commemorate it only one day”.
Alfred Edersheim, too, wrote of this day; “If Jewish tradition connected the feast of firstfruits with the ‘mount that might be touched’ and the ‘voice of words which they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them anymore’ we have in this respect also come to mount Zion and to the better things of the New Covenant. To us the day of Pentecost is indeed the feast of firstfruits and that of the giving of the better law, written not in tablets of stone but on the fleshly tablets of our heart”.
Historical and Typical
While there seems much probability in the traditional Jewish association of Pentecost with law-giving, of more significance here is the ceremonial that constituted the particular features of that feast, for which modern Judaism has no explanation beyond the visible and literal, that it was an acknowledgement of the mercies of Jehovah in giving them the good land and in causing it to be fruitful. But this material outlook begs the question as to why there should be a different kind of firstfruits celebration and a different ceremonial with the Pentecostal presentation of the wheat harvest to that of Omer, the presentation of the barley harvest, already celebrated on 16th Nisan. For there were significant differences in the ceremonial procedures.
In contrast to the Omer, or sheaf of firstfruits presented on 16th Nisan, this offering, presented 50 days later on 6th Sivan, consisted of not one, but two loaves. Various rational theories have been devised by the Rabbis to explain this phenomenon but in the light of the New Testament it seems to set forth a picture of the dispensation of the New Covenant and the unique feature of its people; namely that two formerly irreconcilable elements – the Jew and the gentile – are made one in Christ.
Without the light of the Holy Spirit and the scriptures of the New Testament it could not be known to the Jews“that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6). Historically, no gentile, even if he were circumcised and became a proselyte and surpassed the most pious in Israel in piety and learning, could ever be received on terms of equality and regarded as one with the congregation of Israel. It took Christ to deal with that enmity. He “broke down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in the flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself of the two one new man, so making peace; and might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby” (Ephesians 2:14-16).
Even the early disciples of Christ didn’t understand this until it was revealed to Paul and then to Peter and so, at the Council of Jerusalem, to all the followers of Christ. Hitherto, God’s mercies were lavished on the Jews, to whom was “the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises”(Romans 9:4).
But now there are two loaves on the altar; “for through Him we both have access unto the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). This is the significance of the two loaves of the Pentecostal ceremonial.
A further distinctive feature of the Feast of Pentecost was that the loaves presented were to be baked with leaven; this in breach of the express injunction given to Israel that “You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread” (Exodus 34:25). This unique aspect of the ceremonial associated with the Feast of Pentecost only serves to give us insight into the minutiae of God’s planning of these events and the rich symbolic significance with which they are imbued.
Leaven signifies the corruption of the fleshly nature of mankind. From every sacrifice and offering which was set forth and was typical of the Son, leaven was rigidly excluded. Thus with first-fruits of the barley harvest of Omer, which is typical of Christ in resurrection, there was no leaven, for nothing of corruption existed in Him who was the obedient and perfect man according to God’s design and intention.
But it is otherwise with His people; we are indeed elect “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:2). As believers we are possessed of a new life and whatever our previous life may have been, we are now washed and cleansed and justified in Christ Jesus. But who, even of the holiest of God’s people, can say that they are free from sin? “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
For this same reason, the innate sinfulness of man, there is expressly commanded that apart from the other offerings, there should be a sin offering of a he-goat in this Feast, whereas in the presentation of the firstfruits that prefigured Christ in the Feast of Omer, no sin offering was required. But in the case of this feast of Pentecost that prefigures the gathering of the firstfruits of sinners among men, blood had to be shed, even symbolically, foreshadowing the only way in for sinful man.
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling them that have been defiled, sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:13-14).
While that which is typified by Pentecost is spread over the whole dispensation of the New Covenant, a striking fulfilment took place when the first Christian Pentecost “was now fully come”. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the consequential testimony of the apostles enabled the gathering of firstfruits amounting to three thousand souls (Acts 2:41).
There is another observation to make about the relation between the feast of Firstfruits, held on the 15th Nisan, and this feast of Pentecost, held 50 days later on 6th Sivan. The Omer of the barley harvest, set forth the type, fulfilled in Christ, of “the firstfruits of them having fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20) and was both a pledge and earnest of the Pentecostal event that prefigured the Church as the firstfruits from among men. “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18).
In the same way, this second firstfruits gathering is, in itself, also a prophecy and pledge of the greater harvest, of which Paul wrote, is yet to be gathered in the “dispensation of the fullness of times” (Ephesians 1:10).
Thus the prophetic aspects of this feast were fulfilled in Christ, fulfilled again in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and throughout the dispensation of the New Covenant, and will be fulfilled again at the coming of the Lord of Glory in the end times, when He comes for “they that are Christ’s, at his coming” (1 Corinthians 15:23).
Pentecost is the last of the spring feasts; all are fulfilled; what lies ahead, the autumn feasts, will be fulfilled at the second coming of Christ the Lord of Glory.