One of the great losses to the nominal Christian faith was the abandonment of the holy days of the Bible—their dismissal as merely
Jewish institutions. And surely, one of the greatest of the Christian holy days is Pentecost, because it was on this day that the church was empowered to do its work. Some even call Pentecost the birthday of the church.
But on that first Pentecost of the New Testament church, no one even thought of abandoning this festival. They were too high with the experience. Imagine yourself sitting in a room with 120 of the first disciples of Jesus. You have been through an emotional roller coaster the past two months, from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem of the Messiah, to his ignominious torture and death, to his resurrection. All of you saw him alive, some of you saw him ascend to heaven.
Suddenly, with no warning, the room is filled with a great roaring sound, and something very much like fire shimmers across the ceiling of the room, and a little stream of that fire descends upon each of you sitting in the room. Then each of you finds yourself with the ability to speak in a language you have never spoken before and bursting with a message about the wonderful works of God. They baptized 3000 people that day!
Once you look past the incredible experience of the day, what did it all mean? To the Jew, Pentecost was not a stand alone festival. It was the 50th day of the harvest that had begun seven weeks ago, with the presentation to God of the wave sheaf and bread of fine flour mixed with oil in the Temple. To the disciples of Jesus, Pentecost was the Feast of Firstfruits, and the baptism of 3000 souls on that day was a sharp reminder of what they were about.
But what is the Christian connection? The Apostle Paul made the connection to Christ in 1 Corinthians:
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 turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
The early Christians made the connection almost automatically.
And you shall eat neither bread, nor parched grain, nor fresh grain, until the same day that you have brought an offering unto your God: it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. And you shall count unto you from the day after the sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be completed[.]
Note this well. When Matthew says that Mary first saw Jesus on
the first day of the week, what he said in Greek (the language in which Matthew wrote, originally) is that Jesus appeared to Mary on the
first of the Sabbaths.
Matthew is referring to the first day of the weeks between the offering of the wave sheaf at the beginning of the harvest, and the offering on the Feast of Firstfruits, which occurred seven weeks later.
Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the Lord.
We know Jesus as the Bread of Life, the unleavened bread that was without sin. But on this day two loaves of leavened bread are presented to God as an offering of the firstfruits. The comparison to the Feast of Firstfruits is deliberate, and the Apostle James explains:
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
This holy day is not about the resurrection of Christ. It is about the resurrection of the saints. In a sense, Pentecost looks to the Day of the Lord—the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead when the firstfruits are presented to God. But doesn’t the term “firstfruits” imply there will be later fruits? In Palestine, there were two major harvests: grain in the spring, fruit in the fall. Consider how Jesus spoke of this.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
You don’t have to be a scholar to see what Jesus is talking about. He is talking about people, not grain. It was the people who were scattered and leaderless. There were so many of them, and so few to provide help and direction. The harvest of lives is out there in great abundance, Jesus told his disciples. Pray to God that he would send more workers out into the harvest. In the New Testament, the harvest is a repeated analogy for evangelizing the people of the world so they can be harvested as the firstfruits to God.
At Christian Educational Ministries, we are laborers in that harvest of people. Every one who helps us in our work is a laborer, too, as are all who teach others to do all things that Jesus commanded. Still, it is ever true that laborers are few. The work of the harvest remains. Will you help?
(An excerpt from The Thread: God’s Appointments with History)