How did Christ Jesus fulfill the Feast of Pentecost? (Feasts, #6)

Pentecost: the Feast of Weeks.  The Feast of Pentecost (Lev 23:15-21) is the fourth mô‘ēd on the Hebrew calendar and is also known as the Feast of Weeks (i.e. Shavout), the Day of Firstfruits, and the Feast of Harvest. This festival constituted not only one of “the three major yearly festivals of Israel” when “all males had to appear before Yahweh with a gift” but also one of Israel’s special Sabbaths.[1] The Jews would count fifty days (the so-called ‘counting of the omer’) from the Feast of Firstfruits (Lev. 23:9-14). The Feast of Pentecost was celebrated on the fiftieth day, hence the name ‘Pentecost’ from the Greek for ‘fifty’. For this particular feast, the Jews would bring to the Temple the firstfruits of their wheat harvest. From this offering, the Jewish priests would make “two loaves of bread to be waved…of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as first fruits to the LORD” (Lev. 23:17). A priest would subsequently present the two loaves before the Lord as a wave offering, in addition to making a burnt offering, a sin offering, and a peace offering to God (Lev 23:18-20).

The Significance of Pentecost.  What is the significance of the two wheat loaves baked with leaven which were presented before the Lord as a wave offering? First, wheat is often a symbol for believers in Scripture (cf. Matt. 13:25-30, 36-43). Second, recall that the Bible often uses leaven (but not always, cf. Lev. 7:13; Matt. 13:33ff) as a symbol for sin (e.g. Exod. 12:15-19; Deut. 16:3-4; Hos. 7:4; 1 Cor. 5:6-8). Third, the two loaves likely symbolize elect Jews and elect Gentiles. Understood in this manner, the two loaves made from the same sheaves of wheat appear to symbolize believing Jews and believing Gentiles who have been incorporated into the same spiritual body, that is, the Church. The fact that both loaves are leavened likely symbolizes the presence of sin from which believers will be progressively sanctified by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:13; 1 Cor. 5:6-8; Phil. 2:12-13). Bruce Scott states:

Even though two loaves were waved before the Lord on the day of Pentecost, they were considered one offering. They were presented in a state of unity, their particles having been baked and joined together to form a new whole. In the same way, the church is composed of two separate groups of people- Jews and Gentiles- joined together to make one new entity” (Eph. 2:13-18).…just as the two loaves on Shavout [i.e. Pentecost] were baked with leaven, symbolic of the presence of sin, so too the church contains leaven or sin from which it will not be completely purified until Jesus returns.[2]

The ultimate fulfillment of the Feast of Pentecost occurred when Christ poured out of the Holy Spirit resulting in the formation of the Church, “the eschatological temple which God now indwells by His Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16…Eph. 2:22, etc.).”[3]

The Firstfruits-Pentecost Connection.  Recall that the Feast of Firstfruits was fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection from the tomb. Recall also that Pentecost is the fiftieth day after Firstfruits. The New Testament addresses the spiritual significance of this connection between these two feasts. First, Christ is the Firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20-23), and His resurrection is the guarantee that believers too will be resurrected at the end of the age. Second, the Holy Spirit, who was poured out by the Lord Jesus at Pentecost, is “the pledge” of the believer’s “inheritance” (Eph. 1:13-14). What is the inheritance of believers? It is their resurrection in glory. Romans 8:23 declares: “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Second, McFall notes: “Passover and Pentecost are inseparably joined by a fixed space between them; what was promised by Christ on Passover night (John 14:16-20; 16:7-14) was fulfilled at Pentecost with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.”[4] In other words, the fulfillment of all that Christ had taught His disciples concerning the Holy Spirit and future His ministry (e.g. John 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:13-14) was inaugurated at Pentecost.

The First ‘Pentecost’ versus the Eschatological Pentecost.  The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost is the eschatological fulfillment of the first ‘Pentecost,’ that is to say, the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai (cf. 2 Cor. 2:14 to 4:6; Heb. 12:18-24).[5] How so? First, both events occurred on/about the same day of the Hebrew calendar: the sixth day of the third month (Sivan). For example, the people of Israel arrived at Sinai “in the third new moon…on that day” (Exod. 19:1). Upon their arrival, the Lord commanded Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments 11and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people” (Exod. 19:10-11). Thus, it was about the sixth day of the third month when the Lord descended upon Sinai, three days after Israel reached the mountain, the very day established for the future celebration of Pentecost.[6] Second, fire is associated with the theophany at Sinai and that at Pentecost. Regarding Sinai, Exodus 19:18 declares: “Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly” [emphasis mine]. Regarding Pentecost, Acts 2:3 states that “tongues as of fire distributing themselves…rested on each one of them” (NASB, cf. Isa. 5:24-25) [emphasis mine]. Interestingly, Philo, the Jewish philosopher, understood the fire of the Sinai theophany as “flame being endowed with articulate speech [i.e. tongues of fire]” in light of Psalm 29:7 (“The voice of the LORD divideth the flames of fire,” KJV).[7]

Third, the events at Sinai typologically parallel those of Pentecost. Just as Moses the Prophet ascended to the summit of Mount Sinai (Exod. 19:20) to receive the Ten Commandments (Exod. 34:28), Jesus Christ, the Prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15; cf. Acts 3:22; 7:37), ascended to the heavenly Mount Zion (Heb. 12:22) to ‘receive’ the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33).[8] Whereas the Decalogue was written by the finger of God (Exod. 31:18) on tablets of stone (Exod. 24:12; 2 Cor. 3:7), God’s law was ‘written’ upon believers’ hearts (Jer. 31:33; 2 Cor. 3:3; Heb. 8:10) by the Spirit of God (Ezek. 11:19-20; 36:26-27).[9] Just as Moses interceded for Israel before God (Exod. 32:11-18; 33:12-23), Christ Jesus, our παράκλητον (paraklēton – “advocate;” cf. 1 John 2:1), intercedes for us before His Father (Rom 8:34; 1 John 2:1). Whereas as Moses descended Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments (Exod. 32:15; 34:29) and placed them within the Tabernacle (Exod. 40:20-21), the Holy Spirit, our other παράκλητος (paraklētos – cf. John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7) who also intercedes for us (cf. Rom. 8:26-27), ‘descended’ the heavenly Mount Zion and ‘wrote’ God’s law upon the heart of believers (Jer. 31:33), whose bodies are now temples for the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:19). Just as the Tabernacle was constructed (Exod. 36:1-40:33) after the giving of the Law by the Spirit-filled Bezalel and Oholiab (Exod. 35:30-35) and also served as a location in which Yahweh dwelt (Exod. 40:34-38), the Church was formed by the outpouring of the Spirit and serves as “God’s temple” (1 Cor. 3:16), “a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22).[10]

Fourth, just as the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai constituted the establishment of the Old Covenant, the outpouring of the Spirit constituted the establishment of the New Covenant. Fifth, a typological contrast exists between the Old and New Covenants with regard to their natures.[11] The Old Covenant was a “ministry of death, carved in letters on stone” (2 Cor. 3:6-7) and a “ministry of condemnation” (2 Cor. 3:9). Shortly after the Old Covenant was ratified, Israel committed spiritual harlotry via the golden calf, which resulted in the deaths of 3,000 Israelites at the hand of the Levites (Exod. 32:28).[12] Contrastingly, the New Covenant is “the ministry of righteousness” (2 Cor. 3:9) and “of the Spirit” who “gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). When the Spirit was poured out upon believing Jews at Pentecost, 3,000 souls were added to the Church in response to Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:41).[13] Sixth, whereas the enactment of the Old Covenant at Sinai formed national Israel as God’s special covenant people, the enactment of the New Covenant formed the Church as God’s special covenant people. Because Pentecost is the eschatological fulfillment of Mount Sinai, the Church, by virtue of her union to Christ Jesus– the True Israel, stands as the eschatological fulfillment of Israel as the people of God.


Footnotes:

[1]Leslie McFall, “Sacred Meals,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. by T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 750-1. See also Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal, The Feasts of the Lord (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 90-1; Elwood McQuaid, The Outpouring: Jesus in the Feasts of Israel (Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1990), 12; and Bruce Scott, The Feasts of Israel: Seasons of the Messiah (Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1997), 58.

[2]Scott, Feasts of Israel, 72-3. See also Merrill F. Unger, The Baptism & Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Chicago, Moody Press, 1974), 156.

[3]Max Turner, “Holy Spirit,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. by T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 557.

[4]Leslie McFall, “Sacred Meals,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. by T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 752.

[5]See Gregory K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 599-600; and Max Turner, “Holy Spirit,” 554. Although not the focus of this particular section, Pentecost is also a cosmic reversal of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. See also Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 610; David Brickner and Rich Robinson Christ in the Feast of Pentecost (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008), 119; and C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament. Volume I: The Pentateuch (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdsmans Publishing Company, 1973), 175-6.

[6]Richard Booker writes: “While the Feast of Passover marked the beginning of the barley harvest, the Feast of Pentecost was celebrated during the wheat harvest. Notice from the chart that it came on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan. This corresponds to the Gentile months of May-June. The feast lasted for one day….Jewish sages have traditionally taught that God gave the Torah to Moses on the day of Pentecost. We learn in Exodus 19 that the Jews arrived at Mount Sinai in the third month on the Hebrew calendar and possibly on the third day. Exodus 19:1 reads, “In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai.” The phrase “same day” is interpreted to refer to the phrase “third month.” The understanding is that they came to Sinai on the third day of the third month. Three days later, on the sixth of Sivan, God came down upon Mount Sinai and gave them the Torah (verse 11)….Because Pentecost is the eschatological fulfillment of Mount Sinai, the Church, the spiritual body created at Pentecost, is also the eschatological fulfillment of Israel, the national body created at Sinai.” Richard Booker, Celebrating Jesus in the Biblical Feasts: Discovering their Significance to You as a Christian (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 2009), 94-5. See also Edward Chumney, The Seven Festivals of the Messiah (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 1994), 75. Others writers argue that the giving of the Law occurred in the same general time frame as the future Feast of Pentecost but not on the exact same day. See Howard and Rosenthal, Feasts of the Lord, 95; and Jill Shannon, A Prophetic Calendar: The Feats of Israel (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 2009), 125.

[7]Philo, The Works of Philo, trans. C. D. Yonge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), 522. See also Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 295-6. In a similar manner, Waltke connects Psalm 29:7 with the appearance of the tongues of fire in Acts 2.

[8]See Chumney, Seven Festivals, 75.

[9]See Booker, Celebrating Jesus in the Biblical Feast, 97; Chumney, Seven Festivals, 75; and Batya R. Wootten, Israel’s Feasts and their Fullness (Saint Cloud, FL: Key of David Publishing, 2008), 174.

[10]See Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 634.

[11]When the Apostle Paul contrasts “the letter” with “the Spirit” in in 2 Corinthians 2:14-4:6, he is contrasting two distinct eras of redemptive history, the Old Covenant age (characterized by the Mosaic Law) and the New Covenant age (characterized by the Spirit). Regarding “the Spirit-letter contrast” in 2 Corinthians 3:6, Schreiner states that “the Spirit’s work represents the coming of the new era in Christ.” Thomas R. Schreiner, 40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2010), 144.

[12]See Booker, Celebrating Jesus in the Biblical Feast, 97; Chumney, Seven Festivals, 75; and Shannon, A Prophetic Calendar, 129.

[13]See Victor Buksbazen, The Gospel in the Feasts of Israel (Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 2004), 24; Chumney, Seven Festivals, 75; and Shannon, A Prophetic Calendar, 129.

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