The Significance of Pentecost before Jesus
Anyone studying Fulfilled Prophecy is bound to come across a discussion regarding the feasts of Israel. Jesus was crucified on the Passover thereby fulfilling prophecies, Isaiah 53 for example. Jesus rose again from the dead on the feast of first fruits, fulfilling yet even more prophecies, Psalm 16 for starters. Paul writes about the parallel between the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the need to keep wickedness out of the fellowship in I Corinthians 5:6-8.
Out of the four spring feasts, it seems that Pentecost is the most overlooked of the four in terms of what it meant before Christ came and fulfilled it. After all, what do these sacrifices fifty days after the first fruits have to do with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit? These four spring feast are all linked together in terms of significance and in terms of how the dates are calculated. There must be some connection here.
The three fall feasts get pulled into discussion regarding prophecy as well because many speculate that they will be fulfilled at Christ’s second coming. The fact that one of them is called the blowing of trumpets causes quite a bit of speculation trying to link this either with the trumpet blown at the coming of Christ or the trumpets in relation to the wrath of God. The Day of Atonement and Feast of Booths also get some discussion, mostly in relation to how God will save the nation of Israel.
But let’s talk about Pentecost. There are a whole group of people out there claiming to be “Pentecostal”! What was the significance of this before the Holy Spirit descended? It seems like we can find every other feast in some type of language in the new testament scriptures except this one. As previously mentioned, the Passover is expounded in I Corinthians 5:7 with the Feast of Unleavened Bread in I Corinthians 5:6-8. The feast of first fruits is revealed in I Corinthians 15:20-23 in relation to the resurrection of Christ. But where is the correlation between the original Pentecost and what happened on what we now call Pentecost Sunday?
Our study is going to be limited (which is a good thing) because there are only three references of this observance in all the scriptures, I’m not counting Acts 20:16 and I Corinthians 16:8. The lengthiest is in Leviticus 23:15-22. Deuteronomy 16:9-12 is a little shorter but contains additional language. Exodus 34:22 only names the feast as the feast of weeks, since they had to count seven weeks. What is confusing is that this passage seems to conflate the feast of first fruits with the feast of weeks. “You shall observe the feast of weeks of the first fruits of the wheat harvest”. That would explain why Exodus 23:14-19 mentions only the feast of first fruits and not Pentecost. If all males were required to appear before the LORD beginning with the feast of first fruits (the first day of the week after the first Sabbath after the Passover) and stay until the seven weeks were fulfilled, that would harmonize Exodus 23:14-19 with Exodus 34:18-26. Exodus 34:22 starts out naming it the feast of weeks of the first fruits and then down in 34:26 this section concludes with calling it the first of the first fruits of your land. So the feast of first fruits and Pentecost are connected somehow. Let’s look at that connection.
In Leviticus 23:9-14, we find a brief description of the first fruits. The day after the Sabbath, meaning the first Sabbath after Passover, bring a sheaf (or a measurement) of the first fruits to God. Remember this is the spring time when crops are just beginning to grow. Each Israelite who grew crops was commanded to bring the very first of all that grew at that very time and present it to God. This was a wave offering. Wait, what? They would come in with the first bundle of grain and simply wave it before God. There was a meager offering to accompany this, a one year old male lamb, a little bit of unleavened bread, and some wine. In verse 14 is the most important part. No one was allowed to eat any of the food that grew on their land until they performed this certain ceremony. This was a recognition that the LORD God was the provider of all crops that grew. The Israelites were commanded to figuratively say, “God, this is all yours. I am waving this before You to give you the credit for all that grows in my field.” It is more like the presentation of first fruits, but it does say in Lev. 23:2 “these are my feasts”. In essence, the feast of first fruits was a one time presentation which was supposed to determine the overall attitude of the nation all throughout the time that crops would be growing. All these crops belong to God and He is a good God by providing for us. Now that we have done this, we can eat food all year!
So let’s count. The first day of the year commemorates a new beginning. The fourteenth day of the first month is the Passover, beginning in the evening. On the fifteenth day is the first day of the feast of unleavened bread. That fifteenth day is a Sabbath whether it falls on the seventh day of the week or not. But the day after the first seventh day Sabbath after the Passover is the day that the first fruits are to be presented. So basically, it will be the first day of the week after the Passover. Then from that Sabbath just before the first fruits, count fifty. That day will be Pentecost and it will be on the first day of the week. Note this has the meaning of a new beginning.
Now that we understand the original reason for the first fruits, let’s look at the original reason for Pentecost. Pentecost also would be a Sabbath where no work was to be done, see Lev. 23:21. This would mean two days in a row no work would be done. The sacrifices required are greater in number and more diverse than the sacrifices for the first fruits. The bread is doubled but this time it’s leavened. This is to be made from the grain of the first fruits. Then we have seven one year old lambs, a young bull, two rams, all with the prescribed accompaniments as outlined elsewhere in the law. Then the requirement is a goat for a sin offering and two one year old lambs for peace offerings. Then the priest, just like before, is to wave this before the LORD, another presentation that these things belong to God. So far this seems like the same lesson, right?
Just as the last verse in the description of the first fruits provides the key for the significance, the last verse in the description of Pentecost describes the significance here. Look at and read Leviticus 23:22. This is not a random verse or change of subject. This is the entire reason for the feast of Pentecost. A portion of the crops in the field of every single Israelite belonged to the poor. The Israelites were commanded not to take everything from the field but leave some for the poor and foreigners. Foreigners were supposed to be eligible for free food. Just as the presentation of the first fruits set the attitude for the entire year, the feast of Pentecost did as well. This was a promise at the beginning of the year that out of everything that grows in the land, the Israelite who believes and trusts in the LORD as their God would set aside a portion of everything that grew to belong to the poor and foreigners. If the nation of Israel recognized at the feast of first fruits that everything belonged to God, they must also recognize that God wanted a portion of HIS food to be designated for the poor. There is no way around this.
Now let’s look at the four verses in Deuteronomy 16:9-12. This passage is general as opposed to Leviticus, which we would expect from a sermon about Pentecost. Here Moses preaches to the people that they are to count the days from when the crops begin to grow. There will be a presentation to the LORD from what God has blessed them with. Then for the feast of weeks (Pentecost), there is the command to rejoice along with several categories of people. Basically, it’s time to celebrate. But with whom are we celebrating? It starts out fairly standard: sons, daughters, okay that’s family. But then servants are allowed in the celebration along with Levites. Well, okay, we’ll allow that. But then it gets uncomfortable. The Israelites are commanded to celebrate with foreigners. Wait, with Gentiles? Yes. Now let’s really mess with the social distinctions. Orphans and widows are to be allowed in the celebration. This is sounding like God wants the poor and marginalized to be eating and drinking alongside the wealthy. But wait, where are the poor getting their food from? This is a nationwide celebration commanded by God at the expense of the wealthy.
Just as in Leviticus 23:15-22 the last verse provided the key to the reason for the feast, it is the same here. God commands the nation of Israel to remember that they were slaves in the land of Egypt. Who showed them kindness while they were oppressed? When their burdens were too great, who took pity on them? When there wasn’t enough to eat, who opened up their home and let them in? The answer: nobody. Oh wait, except the LORD God heard their groans and freed them from Egypt with a mighty right hand, brought them into the promised land, and gave them all this food flowing from the land of milk and honey. Now God is commanding, remember who you were. You were slaves. Have pity on those who have less than you. You will be kind to Gentiles in your midst. Fatherless, widows, poor, you will provide them a holiday for them to celebrate. This was at the beginning of the year when crops were beginning to grow. This was to set the tone for the entire year of farming.
We have looked at two passages to give us the reason for Pentecost from the old covenant perspective. The first was to dedicate to the poor a portion of all crops that grew in their fields. The second was to have a holiday for the poor to celebrate because the Israelites had once been poor slaves in Egypt. This is what was supposed to take place. Whether the Israelites were obedient remains to be seen. We thank God for the book of Ruth which shows the godly testimony of Boaz. Here is a man who feared God enough to allow foreigners and widows to walk onto his field and do exactly what God had commanded. Here is a man who did not look at the profit line, but at the generosity of God.
When we come to Acts 2, this is not the first feast of Pentecost that has ever been celebrated. But from here on out, Pentecost would have a new significance, mainly because of the arrival and baptism of the Holy Spirit. But what are these disciples of Jesus being baptized into? Let’s simply look at the text. One of the immediate results of the Pentecostal experience is that the believers had all things in common, see Acts 2:42-47. Anyone who was in need had their needs supplied by others because they were selling their possessions to meet needs within the fellowship. Disciples of Jesus did not consider their belongings to be their own, but rather as belonging to the family at large.
Today in modern preaching from this text, I see so much emphasis placed on either A ~ the gifts of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, etc. or B ~ the doctrine of the apostles, fellowship, ongoing growth of the church through evangelism and salvation. I see very little emphasis placed on the fact that when the Holy Spirit arrives, that the believer is baptized into a body, see I Corinthians 12:13. That believer now belongs to that body and everything that the believer has now belongs to that body. If we had the old covenant perspective that Pentecost is a recognition that out of everything that I have a portion will belong to the poor (those in need) then it would make for an easier transition in understanding that when I am saved, when I become a Christian, when I receive the Holy Spirit, that I am responsible for other believers who are in need.
The true Pentecostal experience is to be in a body of believers that truly cares for each other. This care need not stop at the boundary lines of a country either. II Corinthians 8 and 9 outlines the apostle Paul’s reasoning for taking up a collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem from Gentile churches in Macedonia and Greece. Read through these verses with this in mind. The object was not to make one faction poor or make another faction rich, but that there would be an equality, see II Corinthians 8:13-14. As long as one family has an abundance and another family is in need, there is not a Pentecostal experience.
The two major internal tests that the early church underwent had to do with this very issue. Ananias and Sapphira were in the midst of a culture that gave selflessly to the needs of the church. They had a piece of property that could meet the needs within the church. However, how would it look if they kept part of the money for themselves? They decided to lie to the church so that they could have the appearance of the Pentecostal experience, but have some benefit for themselves. You can read about this in Acts 4:31-5:11. The testimony here from the inspired writing of Luke demonstrates that the power the early church had was in the unity of possessions. There was not a single needy person among them because this was a congregation so united that every need was met. The Holy Spirit ensured that the Pentecostal experience would not be interrupted by hypocrites. The second major test was alleged favoritism as the needs were being met in Acts 6:1-7. The favoritism was perceived to be because of ethnicity. Of course, in the true Pentecostal experience, having a foreign accent or background should not be grounds for exclusion or being secondary. The apostles confronted the issue head on. The unity of fellowship should not be interrupted. The result of their decision is recorded in Acts 6:7. The ministry of the Holy Spirit through giving to the poor would continue.
Could it be that the fulfillment of the feast of Pentecost is recorded right in those scriptures where Pentecost is being described? While another passage might state, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us,” the fulfillment of the feast of Pentecost was stated in terms that the early church easily understood. A portion of all that we have belongs to the poor. This is a feast for all the poor of the land to experience at the expense of those who can afford it. This is the holiday of the kingdom of God. The Messiah has come and now His kingdom plan is advancing. Psalm 112 (part of the Great Messianic Opus of Psalm 110-118) foreshadowed this, that He would disperse to the poor through good, wealthy men who give. Psalm 113 pictures poor people being raised up out of the dust alongside princes. This is why James, Peter, and John were so explicit with Paul when he began his new ministry to “remember the poor”, Galatians 2:10. The Pentecostal ministry of the Holy Spirit manifests itself through giving to the poor.
To close, I’m going to place the old testament scriptures alongside the new testament scriptures and see if you agree. God’s word speaks powerfully all on its own without any commentary. Praise the LORD!
Leviticus 23:21 And you shall proclaim on the same day that it is a holy convocation to you. You shall do no customary work on it. It shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations. 22 ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God.’ “
Deuteronomy 16:10 Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the Lord your God blesses you. 11 You shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your gates, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are among you, at the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide. 12 And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.
Acts 2:43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. 32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. 34 Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.
Have fun and stay busy ~ Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman
P.S. This is going to run contrary to the ways of this world.