But there is more about the Feast of Weeks that we must consider. In fact, there is much about all of the first four feasts that we must think through. These were not simply memorial feasts. These were more than just remembrances of what happened in the history of the ancient Israelites.
At the time of Moses, the feasts were also prophetic. This prophetic aspect remained true all throughout the Old Testament era. No doubt this meaning of the feasts was not apparent to the people of the time. They primarily saw them as days of remembrance.
This was, after all, how God instructed them: “And this day will be a memorial for you,” God told Moses in regard to the Passover. “You are to celebrate it as a feast to the LORD, as a permanent statute for the generations to come” (Exodus 12:14). Of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread: “Remember this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 13:3).
It was not until the coming of Jesus that the prophetic aspect of the first four of these feasts began to become revealed. The most obvious of these was at the crucifixion of Jesus.
We will recall that the Feast of the Passover was initiated at the time that the Israelites made their exodus out of Egypt. In the tenth and final curse that God had imposed upon the Egyptians, he instructed each family of the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb, and to apply the blood of the lamb to the frame of their doorway.
God said to Moses, “On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and strike down every firstborn male, both man and beast, and I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood on the houses where you are staying will distinguish them; when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No plague will fall on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:12-13 BSB).
In connection with this feast, when Jesus began his public ministry as a young adult and began to reveal himself as the Son of God, it was not by that title, the Son of God, that he first used. It was not “The Son of God,” but rather, it was “The Lamb of God.”
When John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the people for the first time, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
After the crucifixion of Jesus, the Apostle Paul writes, “God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Therefore, since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from wrath through Him!” (Romans 5:8-9 BSB)
It was at the date of the yearly Feast of the Passover when Jesus was crucified. For all of those hundreds of years when the Israelites were observing the Feast of the Passover, in their minds they were remembering an event that took place even hundreds of years earlier. However, unknown to them, they were also looking ahead to the fulfillment of the Passover.
“For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” Paul writes. “Therefore, let us keep the feast, not with the old bread, leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and of truth.”
The Feast of Unleavened Bread
This statement by Paul brings us to next think about the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This feast took place on the day following the Passover and began with the words of Moses to the Israelites when he said, “For seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you are to remove the leaven from your houses…Remember this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; for the LORD brought you out of it by the strength of His hand. And nothing leavened shall be eaten” (Exodus 12:15; 13:3 BSB).
The unleavened bread is called “the bread of affliction” (Deuteronomy 16:3), because it represented a time when the Israelites had to flee from their homes and Egypt. It was the bread prepared under times of duress. It was on the celebration of the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread that Jesus was buried.
But the unleavened bread also represented a life that is purified. It speaks of a life that has cleansed itself of all worldly influences. As the Israelites were doing at the first Feast of Unleavened Bread, it also represents a life that is fleeing from slavery, they from the slavery to the Egyptians, we from the slavery to the world.
It is this aspect of the feast that brings us to the next feast—The Feast of the Firstfruits.
The Feast of the Firstfruits
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say, ‘When you enter the land that I am giving you and you reap its harvest, you are to bring to the priest a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest’” (Leviticus 23:10 BSB).
This feast was all about celebration. It was upon entering into this land that God had promised to the Israelites when they first celebrated their new life in their new homeland. Their long trek through the wilderness was past, and they were now able to settle into their new homes.
On the third day after he was crucified, Jesus rose from the dead. His resurrection took place on the day of the Feast of Firstfruits. The day of resurrection is all about celebration. The wanderings through the wilderness of the world is past, and the new life has begun.
It is this very aspect and with this feast that we first see that these feast days are not only prophetic for the life of Jesus, for they are even prophetic for our own lives through Jesus Christ.
This is revealed to us by Paul, who writes, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ the firstfruits; then at His coming, those who belong to Him” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23 BSB).
The Feast of Weeks
And now we come to the Feast of Weeks. God had said to Moses, “From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering (Feast of Firstfruits), you are to count off seven full weeks. You shall count off fifty days until the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD” (Leviticus 23:15-16 BSB).
Again referring to the previous sermon of last Sunday, the observance of this feast included bread that was unlike the “bread of affliction,” the unleavened bread of the feast that was even called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The bread in the Feast of Weeks, in contrast, was of baked loaves of bread containing leaven that had been allowed to rise.
If Jesus was crucified on the day of the Passover, buried on the first day of Unleavened Bread, and was resurrected on the day of the Firstfruits, to what prophetic event does the Feast of Weeks point, fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus?
According to the gospel writer Luke in the book of Acts, after Jesus rose from the dead on the day of Firstfruits, he remained on earth and appeared to the disciples over a span of forty days (Acts 1:3). But this was only forty days—ten days short of fifty. What happened on the fiftieth day—on the Feast of Weeks of that year?
The 40 Days of Teaching
Luke writes that in those forty days, Jesus presented himself to the apostles with many “convincing proofs” that he was alive. It was necessary that the apostles have no lingering doubts of any kind that Jesus actually did rise to life from death. They were to be, after all, the apostles.
I want to quickly point out the definition of an apostle in comparison to the definition of a disciple. The writer Luke is very specific in his use of these two words. The word disciple is used to describe a follower or a student. One could almost use the word pupil or protégé in place of the word disciple. This is the word that Luke predominantly used for the twelve when he wrote his account in the gospel that is titled after his name.
An apostle, however, is more than a disciple. An apostle is one who is sent on a mission or one who is a messenger. An apostle is an envoy or an emissary. He is an ambassador.
Luke uses the two words together in his gospel when he writes that after Jesus had spent an entire night on a mountain in prayer, he called his disciples to him. We do not know how many of his followers were present, but certainly there was a larger number of them. It was from that number of numerous followers that he chose twelve of them. These twelve, he designated to be his apostles. These were to be his representatives (Luke 6:12-16).
So it was that, after his resurrection, during these forty days that Jesus was with the apostles, he presented to them much convincing evidence that the man appearing to them and standing before them was indeed the same Jesus whom they had followed as disciples and under whom they had learned during the previous three years. Jesus also gave them some further instructions concerning truths about the kingdom of God.
Then he told them this, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift the Father promised, which you have heard Me discuss. For John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5 BSB).
I would be interested to know how much of these words the apostles truly understood at the time when Jesus spoke them. What did it mean when Jesus told them in a “few days” they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit? He contrasted this baptism by the Holy Spirit with the baptism of John, which was with water. How did the two baptisms compare?
Clearly, the matter of the water in John’s baptism is figurative. When Luke originally wrote of John’s baptism, he said that John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John’s baptism spoke of a cleansing, which is why the use of water is an appropriate symbol for this baptism.
John’s message was that people should change their manner of living. They were to be genuinely remorseful about their former manner of living and change completely their priorities.
As John put it, “Produce fruit, then, in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8).
What did he mean by this statement? He gave several examples:
John replied to the people who asked, “Whoever has two tunics should share with him who has none, and whoever has food should do the same.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
“Collect no more than you are authorized,” he answered.
Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
“Do not take money by force or false accusation,” he said. “Be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:10-14 BSB)
But even John knew that his manner of baptism and repentance could never be enough to actually change people. The effort to change might be present in the people, and the intention to do so, but they lacked the power to actually transform their nature. Something more was needed. Some power outside of themselves.
“I baptize you with water,” John told them, “But One more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 316 BSB).
In one of the forty days that Jesus was with the apostles, he commanded them: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift the Father promised, which you have heard Me discuss. For John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
The reason I wonder if the disciples truly appreciated or understood what Jesus told them about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, is that later, when they were again all together with Jesus, they asked him, “Is it at this time that you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
They were not thinking about the kingdom of God that Jesus had just spent the forty days teaching them (and indeed, even in the three years previous to the forty days), but they were still thinking about some kind of kingdom on earth. They were soon to learn differently.
The Wheat Harvest
In returning our thoughts to the seven feasts, forty days earlier the apostles had celebrated the Feast of the Firstfruits of barley. At the time that Jesus spoke to them about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, if the apostles had lifted their eyes to the fields, they would have noticed that the wheat crop was now nearing maturity (I spoke last week of these two harvests). And if they had been “counting the days” as God instructed Moses, they would have known that they were approaching the Feast of Weeks. This feast followed fifty days after the Feast of the Firstfruits.
Actually, I am quite certain that they did realize this Feast of Weeks was soon to occur, since the day was still widely celebrated at the time. But during the time of the disciples, the holy day was no longer commonly called the Feast of Weeks. At that time, the day was most widely known as “Pentecost.”
Why had the name been changed? Pentecost is actually a Greek word, meaning “fiftieth day.” Because of the wide influence of the Greek language in that region of the world, and because as we remember, the Israelites were to count the days, it became common to refer to the actual day as “the fiftieth day”—Pentecost.
Thus, I am sure that the apostles were aware of the approaching fiftieth day, but I am not so certain that they were aware of what was about to take place. If they had happened to remember what John the Baptist said as he was baptizing with water, by some of his words, they may have had a clue of what was to come.
What was the clue? Listen carefully. John told the people, “I baptize you with water, but One more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Certainly, the reference to gathering the wheat into the barn at the harvest is a minor part of what John was saying, and I cannot say if this is a deliberate reference to the wheat harvesting time, but it nevertheless is interesting.
The apostles, at the time when Jesus was speaking to them about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, were approaching Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks. This, as we learned in the sermon last week, was the harvest of the wheat. John, in speaking of the then future baptism of the Holy Spirit, referenced the time of gathering the wheat into the barn.
It may have been a simple coincidence, but as one looks back, one can see these kinds of references and wonder if they were deliberate. If so, it seems like the apostles missed it at the time.
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit
When the day of Pentecost actually arrived, all of the apostles were gathered together in one place. With all the indications that had been given to them, perhaps they were expecting something unusual to happen, but whether or not they were prepared for what actually did happen is another question. Here is the account as written by Luke:
Suddenly a sound like a mighty rushing wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. And when this sound rang out, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking his own language.
Astounded and amazed, they asked, “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? How is it then that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism; Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
Astounded and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
(Acts 2:2-12 BSB)
This is how the Holy Spirit first came upon the apostles. It is the fulfillment of what Jesus had earlier told the apostles: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift the Father promised…in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5).
It is fascinating that the Holy Spirit came in this manner. The Holy Spirit came with a great show of power and marvelous manifestation. How different from the manner that Jesus Christ first came into the world!
In outward appearances, the coming of Jesus was barely noteworthy. Of course, the birth of Jesus was miraculous in its own way. However, apart from the two people who knew of the circumstances of his conception and birth, Jesus was simply another child born to a poor, working class family who probably would also grow up to be a poor laborer. Certainly, after Jesus was born, there were great signs in the heavens, but the actual birth of Jesus came inconspicuously and modestly.
But when the Holy Spirit came into the world, no one present or even in the vicinity could deny that something miraculous had happened. The sound of a mighty heavenly wind filling the room? Flames of fire resting upon each of the apostles? Uneducated Galileans suddenly speaking in various languages?
It all attracted a crowd from the area. It is interesting to me that the writer Luke took time to list the number of languages and the origins of the people present. He must have done so to show that these languages spoken were not simply local dialects, but I think even more importantly, he did so to draw attention to the fact that what was happening was the firstfruits of the ultimate fulfillment of the Feast of Weeks.
At this time of the offering of the firstfruits of the wheat crop in loaves of bread containing the leaven, the speaking in the tongues of the world was an indication that the way of communion with God does not depend upon any type of worldly grouping or classification. In Christ, there are no such barriers such as race or nationality, language or social status, or even religious background. All are welcome to be cleansed by the blood of the Lamb of God. They must only come.
It was of this that the Apostle Peter spoke when the crowd had gathered. He first quoted from the Old Testament prophet, Joel:
In the last days, God says, I will pour out My Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
Even on My menservants and maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the coming of the great and glorious Day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Acts 2:17-21 BSB)
The Firstfruits of all Tongues Praising God
We will remember that it was at the Tower of Babel when the tongues of the peoples of the earth first became confused. It was then that the people were compelled to separate themselves into their various groups to be with people of their language. This was the judgment of God. God did so because the people of the earth were using their common language to only glorify themselves. They were building a memorial to their own greatness.
“That we might make a name for ourselves,” they said. (Genesis 11:1-9).
It is at Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit that we see the firstfruits of the lifting of that judgment by God. God is now opening the door to again have no confusion of tongues, and where men and women from all different regions of the world and of every ethnicity will again all speak with unified voice.
The difference is that these of God’s kingdom will not be using their tongues to speak of their own perceived greatness, but rather they will use their voices to sing and speak of the greatness of the Creator of all that there is.
Paul later writes of Jesus Christ, “God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11 BSB)
John also later writes of a vision that he had of the heavens. “Then I looked,” John writes, “And I heard the voices of many angels and living creatures and elders encircling the throne, and their number was myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands. In a loud voice they were saying: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!’”
John continues: “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying: ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever!’ And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.” (Revelation 5:11-13)
This was not the only vision that John had of the events taking place in heaven. He further writes:
After this I looked and saw a multitude too large to count, from every nation and tribe and people and tongue, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. And they fell facedown before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7:9-12 BSB)
The Feast of Weeks. Pentecost. The feast with the bread that was allowed to be made with leaven. It is the feast when every tongue confesses the glory of Jesus Christ and of God the Father.
From the prophet Isaiah:
So will it be on the earth and among the nations, like a harvested olive tree, like a gleaning after a grape harvest.
They raise their voices, they shout for joy; from the west they proclaim the majesty of the LORD.
Therefore, glorify the LORD in the east. Extol the name of the LORD, the God of Israel in the islands of the sea. From the ends of the earth we hear singing:
“Glory to the Righteous One.” (Isaiah 24:13-16 BSB)
I intend to be part of these great choruses. As one who once lived as one abandoned and alone, but who has learned to glean from the harvest and now has become blessed, I intend to be part of these great choruses of heaven and earth. I am beginning my rehearsal even now.
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”