When you combine the ancient holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost) with what happened from Passover 30 CE to Shavuot 30 CE, you will be blown away. First, a few details. Shavuot means weeks, as in seven weeks. Shavuot takes place on the next day—the 50th day. That is why it is called Pentecost in Greek.
First Fruits—Rashit haKatzir
It begins with the waving of the sheaf of grain at First Fruits. The sheaf is called the Omer, and it is a biblical measure for unthreshed stalks of grain. This is called the first fruits or Rashit haKatzir. But Shavuot itself is also often called the Feast of First Fruits — Bikkurim in Hebrew. What is the difference? They are both first fruit offerings, but the powerful thing is when the first one happens.
We read about this obscure but crucial offering in Leviticus.
When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest. He is to wave the sheaf before the Lord so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath…From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. (Lev. 23:9-11, 15-16)
There are a couple of things that typically go unnoticed. The counting of days between the first fruit wave and Shavuot is called the “Counting of the Omer.” Literally, you are counting days, not Omers. And the Bible is clear that this day would always be on the first day of the week—a Sunday. The waving of the sheaf takes place on the first Sunday after the first Shabbat after Passover.
Somewhere later in Jewish tradition, they began to start the counting of the Omer on the day after Passover. They assumed that the Sabbath that was referred to in the Scriptures was Passover itself. But originally, it was the first Sunday after the first Sabbath, which was the Saturday after Passover.
From technical to terrific!
But we know from v. 16 that it must be the day after a Sabbath. It’s understandable to assume that the first Sabbath is referring to Passover (because Jewish holidays are considered sabbaths even if they don’t fall on Saturday), but by referring to “the seventh Sabbath,” it is clear that it is Saturday to Saturday seven times. Now, if you think I’m getting too technical, please don’t stop reading. It’s going to go from technical to terrific pretty quick.
So, think about it, if you start counting on a Sunday and you go seven weeks, what day of the week do you land on? Obviously, a Shabbat—a Saturday. The 50th day would be a Sunday. Now, let’s fast forward to 30 CE. Yeshua is crucified on Friday (some argue for Thursday, but that is not important for this argument). What is the next day? It is the first Sabbath after Passover, which began Thursday night. So, the priest is to wave the Omer, which is called the first fruits or the head of the harvest, on the very next day, which is Sunday. What happened on Sunday? Yeshua rises from the dead!
Paul knows this! In speaking of the resurrection…
But the fact is that the Messiah has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have died. For since death came through a man, also the resurrection of the dead has come through a man. For just as in connection with Adam all die, so in connection with the Messiah all will be made alive. But each in his own order: the Messiah is the firstfruits; then those who belong to the Messiah, at the time of his coming. (1 Cor. 15:20-23 CEB)
Paul mentions this as well in Acts. He says that Messiah was prophesied to be “the first to rise from the dead” (Acts 26:23).
What is happening in the Spirit?
We have established that Yeshua was the fulfillment of the Lev. 23 first fruits offering. But don’t forget Yeshua is not only the sacrifice but the high priest as well. When do you think this happened?
For Messiah did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, Messiah would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Heb. 9:24-26)
I believe Yeshua presented his blood to the Father on the same day as the wave offering of the Omer. The priest waved these first fruits offerings before the Lord for centuries, not knowing the significance. They pointed to the fact that Yeshua was the first to rise amongst the dead. We think the ascension happened 10 days or so before Pentecost in Acts 1:9-11. Indeed, he did ascend as the two angels testify, but I maintain that he also ascended before this.
Remember this conversation with Mary (literarily, Miriam from Magdala)? Read it in the Complete Jewish Bible:
Yeshua said to her, “Miryam!” Turning, she cried out to him in Hebrew, “Rabbani!” (that is, “Teacher!”) “Stop holding onto me,” Yeshua said to her, “because I haven’t yet gone back to the Father. But go to my brothers, and tell them that I am going back to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20:16-17)
Scholars have wrestled with why he would not let her touch him. First, He didn’t say don’t touch me, but don’t hold on to me…or follow me. He is saying, “I am not done!” He doesn’t say, “I will ascend,” but “I am ascending” (NIV) as if he is in the act. But he honors Miriam by coming to her first, on the way to His Father, if you will.
This is early in the morning. It is in the evening that he visits his disciples. Why this delay? Now I understand that time does not work in eternity the way it does here on earth, but for our sakes, there is a delay. So, we will wonder about it.
Remember, He is a high priest, having been consecrated for a holy purpose…he could not be defiled. If the high priest on earth had special preparation and even special clothes, how much more the Messiah? The high priest had two sets of clothes, the golden garments, and the white linen ones. The white linen ones would only be worn on Yom Kippur. While Yeshua did not die or rise from the dead on Yom Kippur, he did fulfill Yom Kippur, which is why there is no more need for sacrifice.
From Matt. 17:2 and again in Rev. 1:14, we can see Yeshua dressed in white, so while we don’t know for sure what His clothing looked like on that Sunday, we can assume that as He approached the Father, He was dressed in white, the proper clothes for the high priest.
Lamb of God
Yeshua, as high priest, leaves Miriam and ascends to the Father where He presents Himself as the first fruit. But more than that, He presents the “the precious blood of Messiah, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Pet. 1:19) Why? Because “On the day you wave the sheaf, you must sacrifice as a burnt offering to the Lord a lamb a year old without defect” (Lev. 23:12).
This was a long time coming. John is the first to call him the Lamb of God in chapter 1. But as I have written elsewhere, the promise was made during the time of Abraham. Abraham and God made covenant together. As part of that ancient covenant, God could demand of Abraham, and Abraham of God, their most prized possession. God demands Isaac. Abraham tells Isaac that God would provide a lamb, unwilling to allow his son to know that he is the sacrifice. But in the end, it is a ram, not a baby lamb, that Abraham finds in the thicket. Just as Abraham gave his only son to God, God gives His only begotten Son to Israel and the nations. Yeshua plays the role of high priest by presenting His own blood, making atonement for us.
What about Israel?
Now, let’s fast forward. Yeshua has risen from the dead. He gives his disciples instructions.
Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:4, 8)
But first, they have a question. What about Israel? “Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6). They are students of the Bible. They’re sitting on the Mount of Olives. It wasn’t long ago that Yeshua was teaching on the End Times at this very spot (Matt. 24). what’s more, is that they know that when the Messiah set up His Kingdom, He arrives on the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14). They’re probably wondering if this is all happening in real-time.
He tells them that God will one day restore the kingdom to Israel (v. 7), but first, they have an assignment. They are to become witnesses of everything they have seen and heard and spread this message from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. And within a few moments, Yeshua ascends a second time to heaven.
They do what they are told. They go back to Jerusalem, and they wait. Understand, these are Galileans. They’re in a foreign city. They have no jobs there or family. But they obey the Master. About 10 days go by, and it is the day of Shavuot. It is commonly taught that they were in the Upper Room, but this does not make much sense. Indeed, they were together in one place, but the question is, where was that one place? I am sure they spent much time in the Upper Room, but this is one of the three great feast days of the year when every male must present himself. Clearly, they are at the Temple with everyone else.
The Torah and the Spirit
The rabbis believe that the Torah was given on Mount Sinai at Shavuot. There is some evidence for this. If you compare what happens in Acts chapter 2 with what happens in the Exodus narrative on Mount Sinai, there are some interesting similarities and contrasts.
- There is fire on Sinai, and tongues of fire appear in Acts 2.
2. There is the sound of the shofar in Exodus 19 and the sound of a mighty rushing wind on Shavuot 30 CE. Sometimes a fast wind can sound like a trumpet.
3. God gives the Torah on tablets of stone, and in Acts, He writes His Torah on the hearts of men, as Jeremiah prophesied (Jer. 31:31-33).
4. 3,000 people are judged after the golden calf incident, while 3,000 people receive new life and go into the waters of immersion in Acts 2.
Peter, who is prone to gaffes, touched by the Holy Spirit, looks at his fellow Jews. The man who not only cut the ear off of the high priest’s servant but denied the Lord three times stands up and gives the most eloquent of sermons. Jewish people and converts to Judaism have come from all over the world for this holiday (Acts 2:5-10).
Peter preaches with such power that the people cry out to him, “What must we do?!” He tells them to repent and be immersed in water. There’s a great revival in Jerusalem as the immersion tanks that were used in Temple worship (archaeologists have uncovered over 50 of them around the Temple mount) are now repurposed to symbolize dying and being raised from the dead. They go down into the water dead in their sin and come up in newness of life (Romans 6:1-4).
Shavuot is also called First Fruits because there is a first fruit offering. Yeshua is the first fruits from among the dead at His resurrection, but these are the first fruits of His labor as His movement grows from 120 to over 3,000.
The task is almost finished. We must take the gospel to the ends of the earth, and then the end will come (Matt. 24:14).
This article originally appeared on roncantor.com, June 5, 2022, and reposted with permission.