The Apple Of God's Eye

June 7, 2011

What You Need to Know About the New Testament Pentecost

mountjoybible.blogspot.com

Pentecost for 2011 is almost upon us. This year it falls upon Sunday, June 12, according to God’s sacred calendar. As I observe it this year, I will again marvel at how this commanded Feast of God’s  has somehow become buried in modern Christianity.

Why did Christ and the apostles observe this important feast, called the “day of firstfruits”? What does it picture in the plan of God? Should Christians observe this feast today? If so, on what day should Pentecost be observed?

You may be surprised to know that Jesus Christ kept the Feast of Pentecost. So did the apostles, disciples and the New Testament Church. Why, then, do so few “Christians” keep this important feast? When and where did professing Christians stop following the footsteps of Jesus and the apostles?

Today, most professing Christians know very little about Pentecost. Yet many have heard of “Whitsunday” (or “Whitsuntide”), which is not even so much as mentioned in the Bible.

What exactly is Whitsunday? In the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1973 edition, article “Whitsunday”), we read:

“Whitsunday (Pentecost), one of the three major festivals of the Christian Church, celebrated on the Sunday that marks the 50th day after Easter, to commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples at the Jewish Pentecost following Jesus’ passion, resurrection and ascension (Acts 2) ….”

Whitsunday has usurped the place of Pentecost and obscured its true meaning. But Christ and His followers did not observe Whitsunday. This day is a mere invention of men — which, sad to say, has been instrumental in turning away the minds of believers from the all-important, God-ordained festival of Pentecost.

Notice how “Whitsunday” obscured and supplanted the original Feast of Pentecost which Christ and the New Testament Church kept:

“Whitsuntide is the week beginning with Whitsunday or Pentecost (the seventh Sunday after Easter) …. The name (Anglo-Saxon hwita sunnandaeg, white Sunday) derives from the white garments worn by those baptized on the vigil” (“Whitsuntide,” Collier’s Encyclopedia, 1972 edition).

But Whitsunday is not synonymous with Pentecost. Rather, Whitsunday is a counterfeit of the Day of Pentecost which God originally gave to His Church in the wilderness, and later to His New Testament Church (Acts 7:38).

It is certain that the early New Testament Church kept the Feast of Pentecost, for it was on that very day that God first chose to send the great outpouring of His Holy Spirit (see Acts 2). Had the disciples not been keeping Pentecost, they would not have been there to receive the “firstfruits” of the Holy Spirit which was given on that feast day.

“Peter preached his first sermon, converting and baptizing three thousand in the faith of Christ on this occasion. For this reason it [Pentecost] has been regarded from earliest times as the birthday of the Christian church” (“Pentecost,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1973 edition).

But why has this important feast, the very “birthday” of the New Testament Church of God, been obscured? Why do many Christians not keep this feast today?

 Meaning of God’s Sabbaths

Much of the world’s blindness, ignorance, superstition and misunderstanding is the direct result of its rejection of God’s annual festivals and His Sabbaths — including Pentecost!

God gave His Sabbaths to be a “sign” between Him and His people:

“Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you” (Ex. 31:13).

Most Christians utterly fail to understand that it was both the weekly and the annual Sabbaths which were to be a “sign” between God and His people.

Remember, in Old Testament times the Gentiles were totally cut off from God. The Eternal had chosen Israel to be His people — to understand His purpose which He is working out here below on planet Earth:

“Now therefore, if ye [Israel] will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Ex. 19:5, 6).

Had the nation of Israel obeyed God, they would have been used by Him to bring the knowledge of the true Creator to the far-flung ends of the earth (Deut. 6:6-8) — till the whole world would have been filled with the glorious understanding of the great Creator-Ruler God.

Furthermore, God gave Israel His “sabbaths” to be that identifying “sign” between Him and His people. God’s Sabbaths (both weekly and annual) would have identified the true God and would have kept His people in the knowledge of God’s ways.

Just as the weekly Sabbath was designed to keep man in remembrance of God as Creator (see Ex. 20:8, 11), so the annual Sabbaths were designed to unfold before mankind the great master plan which the Creator devised for the purpose of working out His will here on earth.

 The Feast of Firstfruits

All of God’s Sabbaths (weekly and annual) are given in the 23rd chapter of Leviticus. The third annual Sabbath listed is the Feast of Firstfruits (Feast of Weeks or Pentecost). It was the first harvest feast (see Lev. 23:9-22).

The second annual harvest feast was called the “feast of tabernacles” (Lev. 23:33-44), or the “feast of ingathering” (Ex. 23:16).

These two harvest festivals, the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Ingathering, were both based on the annual harvests in Palestine.

The Feast of Firstfruits occurred at the end of a 50-day harvest period which commenced on the wave-sheaf Sunday during the Days of Unleavened Bread.

This fiftieth day ended the grain harvest in Palestine. It came at the close of the spring harvest of the “firstfruits.” But the Feast of Ingathering occurred later — at the end of the great late summer and early autumn harvest.

What do these two feasts picture in the plan of God? We shall see the answer to this later, but let us first notice how we are commanded to count Pentecost.

The Eternal commanded Moses: “When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest: and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath [Hebrew, mi-mohorat ha shabbat] the priest shall wave it” (Lev. 23:10, 11).

The high priest waved this first-fruits of grain (probably barley) on the morrow after the weekly Sabbath. This wave sheaf was always waved on what we call a Sunday during the Days of Unleavened Bread.

Notice what happened next: “And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath [mimohorat ha shabbat], from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath [mi-mohorat ha shabbat] shall ye number fifty days …” (verses 15, 16).

The New American Bible translates this more accurately:

“Beginning with the day after the sabbath, the day on which you bring the wave-offering sheaf, you shall count seven full weeks, and then on the day after the seventh week, the fiftieth day, you shall present the new cereal offering to the Lord” (verses 15, 16).

Then the priest was to take “two wave loaves.” “They shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the Lord” (verses 17).

What did the high priest do with them? He waved the various offerings, including “the bread of the firstfruits,” as a wave offering. “And ye shall proclaim on the selfsame day [Pentecost], that it may be an holy convocation unto you: ye shall do no servile work therein: it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations” (verses 20, 21).

This commanded holy convocation was held on what in New Testament times was called the Day of Pentecost. And remember that this fifty-day harvest of firstfruits began on the day of the waving of the wave-sheaf firstfruits and ended with the waving of the two (leavened) loaves of firstfruits. Can you now see why Pentecost was called the “day of the firstfruits”? “Also in the day of the firstfruits … after your [seven] weeks be out, ye shall have an holy convocation …” (Num. 28:26).

The second annual harvest festival was called the “feast of ingathering.” “And [thou shalt keep] the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field” (Ex. 23:16).

These were the two great annual harvests in Palestine. The first annual harvest began with the offering up of the wave sheaf (the first of the firstfruits) during Unleavened Bread, and ended with the offering up of the two loaves made from the firstfruits grain — on the “day of the firstfruits” (Pentecost).

The second annual harvest festival, called the “feast of ingathering,” occurred in the late summer or early autumn — near the end of the harvest year — at the time of the great gathering in of the summer fruits.

Both of these annual harvests contain great symbolic meaning. Christ spoke of Himself as being a “sower,” and the people who were ready to receive that word and act upon it were likened to a “harvest.” In Matthew 9:37, 38, we read: “Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.”

Who is the “Lord of the harvest”? None other than Jesus Christ.

 The Master Plan of Salvation

Few realize that God has a great master plan of salvation. And still fewer realize just what that plan is.

The majority of Christians assume that God is now trying to save the whole world. Nothing could be further from the truth! God is not now desperately trying to save all mankind. He is not engaged in a fierce contest with a sinister devil, who is constantly striving to deceive and destroy humanity.

If a great contest is on between God and Satan, then who do you think is winning that struggle?

God is now leaving man to his own devices, under the sway of the devil — so that man might learn that Satan’s way of deceit, sin and greed will only produce a bumper crop of woe, misery and death.

One reason so many think God is now trying to save the world is that they have lost sight of God’s annual feasts; they don’t understand what these festivals picture in God’s master plan of salvation. It is only by keeping God’s commanded festivals, which were intimately connected with the two annual harvests in Palestine, that we can understand this plan of God.

Also, before we can understand that plan we need to get a few facts straight.

 Salvation Not Offered to All in Old Testament

First, God did not offer salvation either to Israel or to the Gentiles during the Old Testament period. True, God prophesied that the time would come when salvation would be offered. But you will search the entire Old Testament in vain to find one promise of eternal life given either to Israel or to the Gentiles. God’s promises to Israel were primarily material, physical — rain in due season, plenty of corn and wine, physical health, material wealth — and, in addition, peace and happiness.

It is true, however, that God did grant salvation to a very few during the Old Testament dispensation — to such men as Abel, Enoch, Noah, the patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. But salvation was not offered to the masses. It was, however, prophesied to come later.

Who first brought immortality to light? “… Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (II Tim. 1:10).

Second, Jesus Christ did not try to save the vast multitudes while upon this earth — shocking as that may sound. He cast out demons, healed the sick, preached the gospel and went about “doing good.” Christ plainly said that He spoke many of the parables in order to hide the true meaning from the multitudes whom He was not calling at that time (Matt. 13:10-15).

Furthermore, Christ showed that He did not come to send “peace” on the earth at His first coming (Matt. 10:34). The Prince of Peace will bring peace to all mankind at His second coming in the not-too-distant future.

The eleventh chapter of Romans clearly shows that God is not now trying to save “all Israel.” “God hath given them [Israel] the spirit of slumber … unto this day” (Rom. 11:8).

The Apostle Paul said “that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be [future] saved …” (verses 25, 26).

During Jesus Christ’s three-and-one-half-year ministry on this earth countless thousands heard Him speak, but very few really believed His message.

At the time of Christ’s ascension into heaven, there were only “about one hundred and twenty” disciples (Acts 1:15).

Why were there so few faithful believers at that time — after Christ’s entire ministry of three-and-a-half years?

The answer is revealed only in the annual feasts — and in the Feast of Pentecost in particular.

God had ordained that the very first real “harvest of human souls” would occur after He sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within the believers. And remember that while Jesus walked on this earth as a mortal human being “the Holy Ghost [Spirit] was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).

God had decreed, according to His great master plan of salvation, that the first real harvest of humans would begin on the Day of Pentecost, exactly fifty days after Jesus’ ascension to heaven after His resurrection.

In ancient Israel, the Israelites could not “touch” or use any grain until the wave-sheaf firstfruits were offered up to God (Lev. 23:9-14). In fulfillment of this Old Testament type, no human could “touch” Christ until after His ascension and acceptance by the Father as the “firstfruits” of all humanity.

Christ told Mary: “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father” (John 20:17). This important event occurred on the wave-sheaf Sunday during the Days of Unleavened Bread. Before a single human could be saved (or reaped), Christ, as the first human wave sheaf, had to ascend to heaven in order to be accepted as the “firstfruits” of humanity by the Father.

Notice that Christ’s disciples kept the Feast of Pentecost:

“And when the day of Pentecost [the Feast of Firstfruits] was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place …. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues [languages], as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1, 4).

Christ had previously commanded the disciples:

“… But tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). They were to “wait for the promise of the Father,” which was that Jesus would send the Spirit of God (“the Comforter”) to guide them into all truth (John 16:7, 13).

 The Firstfruits

What does the Feast of Firstfruits (Pentecost) picture in the plan of God? It portrays this present New Testament Church age in which God is only calling out the “firstfruits” — a comparatively few in number. The vast majority of humans are still “blinded” — still deceived by Satan into following his way of deceit, hypocrisy, sin and death.

And so it was that on the Day of Pentecost (A.D. 31) the “firstfruits of the Spirit” came to dwell within the believers, transforming their lives from within so they could become the divinely begotten sons of God.

The period of time from Pentecost in A.D. 31 until the second coming of Jesus will constitute the “harvest of the firstfruits” unto God.

This is clearly taught throughout the entire New Testament. The Apostle Paul revealed that true Christians have received “the firstfruits of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:23).

When Christ returns to this earth, the living and revived dead are to be caught up to meet Jesus in the air (I Thess. 4:13-18; I Cor. 15:51-54). When will this occur? At the seventh or “last trump” (I Cor. 15:52).

This same momentous event is described in Revelation 11:15-18. When the “seventh angel” sounds, God will give “reward [eternal life] unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great …” (verse 18).

These saints, given immortality at the second coming of Jesus Christ, are the very first to receive glorification as sons of God. They will comprise the “firstfruits” — the very first to be glorified with eternal life in God’s everlasting Kingdom.

Among those who will comprise the firstfruits are the 144,000 mentioned in the book of Revelation: “These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb” (Rev. 14:4).

But who was to be the “first” of the “firstfruits” of all humans — the first to be raised from the dead to receive immortality?

“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming” (I Cor. 15:22, 23).

Christ is called the “firstfruits” because He was the very first human to be “reaped” — to be changed from mortal to immortal, from human to divine.

We have seen that the 144,000 are also referred to as “the firstfruits unto God.” During this Church age Christians receive freely of the “firstfruits of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:23).

Notice James’ confirmation of this important truth: “Of his [the Father’s] own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18).

All converted believers during this New Testament Church age comprise the “firstfruits unto God.”

Jesus Christ is called “the firstfruits of them that slept” (I Cor. 15:20). He is also called “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18), “the firstborn of every creature” (verse 15), and “the firstborn among MANY BRETHREN” (Rom. 8:29). This shows that others are to be born later. God’s Church is called the “church of the firstborn” (Heb. 12:23).

If today’s churches observed Pentecost (just as did Christ and the apostles), they would understand God’s plan of salvation. They would realize that God is not now trying to save the world. He is merely calling out the “firstfruits” so they can be used by Him to rule this earth during the 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ.

 The Only Day of Salvation

Some believe, erroneously, that this is the only day when salvation will be offered. “Probation” will soon be over, and all who have not accepted Christ, according to this teaching, will be forever lost. What a colossal error!

“Behold, now is the day of salvation” (II Cor. 6:2). This verse is quoted from Isaiah 49:8, where it is rendered as “a day of salvation.”

Now is certainly not the only day of salvation! Now is a day of salvation for the “firstfruits” — those who are called now to be the very first to receive salvation and to be changed from mortal to immortal at the second coming of Jesus.

The second great harvest feast, the Feast of Ingathering (or Feast of Tabernacles), which occurs in the late summer and early autumn, pictures the time during the millennium (1000-year reign of Christ on earth) and a short period afterward. It is then that the whole world will receive their opportunity to learn of God — to repent of their sins and grow in grace and knowledge. And after a sufficient period of time, they, like the “firstfruits” of this New Testament Church age, will finally be clothed with immortality and eternal glory.

That is God’s true plan of redemption, as taught from Genesis to Revelation! And how contrary to the popular teachings of this world! But it is the plan, nevertheless, pictured in God’s annual holy days. And had the churches continued to keep these holy days, they would never have lost sight of this plan, and come under the deception of false religionists!

 Follow Christ’s Example

Unfortunately, many have looked on the Feast of Pentecost as “Jewish,” and have therefore assumed they should not observe this important festival.

But Pentecost is not “Jewish.” It is God’s festival. God calls these commanded festivals “feasts of the Lord”; and He also says, “even these are my feasts” (Lev. 23:2).

Christ and the New Testament disciples and apostles understood that Pentecost was one of God’s commanded feasts; and they kept it. Had they not kept it, they would have missed out — would not have received the “firstfruits” of the Holy Spirit on the “day of the firstfruits” — just fifty days after Christ’s ascension to His Father after His resurrection.

Think about that for a moment. We are commanded to follow Christ’s “example” (John 13:15) — to “follow his steps” (I Pet. 2:21).

Source: The Good News, June 1974

 

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