May 30, 2020

Understanding Pentecost and the Feast of Weeks



Fifty days after the Savior had been resurrected, the disciples gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. This important feast commemorated when Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai. As the disciples celebrated with tens of thousands of other Jews from around the world, the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples as flames of fire. Today this is known as the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). As we better understand the historical background of the feasts, we can gain greater insight into the importance of Pentecost and our own worship of the Lord.

The Feast of Weeks was the second of the three major Jewish Feasts of Passover, Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23). Each of these Feasts were interconnected and designed to help ancient Israel remember their exodus from Egypt and ultimately teach them of true deliverance through the Messiah. These three feasts were also connected with the spring, summer, and fall harvests.

A woman offering the first fruits of the harvest for the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot
To better understand Pentecost, it will be helpful to first understand the story and timing of the exodus. For hundreds of years, Israel was in bondage in Egypt. The Lord sent Moses to free his people from slavery by sending plagues down upon the land. As part of the last plague, Israel was commanded to kill a lamb and place the blood on the doorposts. This was to be a token for the destroying angel to spare, or pass over, the first born of that home. (See Exodus 12). With this significant event of the Passover, Israel crossed through the Red Sea and began their journey to the promised land (see Exodus 14).

As God’s chosen people, Israel had been promised that they would receive many blessings, including the Promised Land. With these blessings also came great responsibilities. The Lord expected Israel to follow his commandments and to bless the nations of the earth. As Israel traveled for the next several weeks after leaving Egypt, they again were shown many miracles from the Lord including being fed by manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16) and receiving water from a rock that Moses had struck (Exodus 17:1-7). These miracles were to help prepare Israel to become the Lord’s people by showing them the power and majesty of their God.

Though we don’t know the exact timing of when they arrived at Mount Sinai, the scriptures indicate that it was only about a month and a half later (see Exodus 19:1). After climbing to the top of Mount Sinai, the Lord spoke unto Moses. “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then … ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” (Exodus 19:4-6). Having heard the voice of God, Moses came down to the people to ask if they would obey and they all proclaimed: “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8).

Moses again climbed the mount and was told by the Lord: “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. For on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” (Exodus 19:10-11 NKJV). Though we don’t know what this process of consecration entailed for Israel by Moses, we do know what the consecration process involved for the priests, who represented Israel. As part of the ritual, Moses was to take Aaron and his sons to the door of the Tabernacle and anoint them with oil and then place blood on their right ear, right thumb, and right toe (see Exodus 40:12-13 and Leviticus 8:23-24). The priests were also dressed in sacred priestly clothing. This ritual prepared the priests to act on behalf of Israel.

Moses anointing Aaron with a horn of oil as the high priest
After the Israelites had covenanted with the Lord and had been washed and changed their clothing, Moses again went up to Mt. Sinai. The scriptures state “that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.” (Exodus 19:16). The smoke and fire that came down from heaven to the mountain is called the Shekinah in Hebrew. It symbolizes that God’s presence was there among the people. The Lord then spoke the Law from the mountain, and according to Jewish tradition, each was able to hear God’s words in their own tongue.

Filled with fear, the people requested that instead Moses go into the presence of the Lord on their behalf, refusing the opportunity to enter themselves (Exodus 20:18-21). Because of their rejection of God, the Lord revealed what we now call the Law of Moses. The Law was a preparatory gospel to teach them and prepare them for the eventual higher law. (See D&C 84:17-27). The Law prescribed many rituals, including sacrifices of animals, that would point them to the coming Messiah who would provide true ultimate deliverance.

The high priest and priest hold the first harvested sheaf of wheat
With this understanding, let’s now study the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. The Lord commanded Israel to celebrate Shavuot, the Hebrew word for weeks, seven weeks or 50 days after Passover (see Deuteronomy 16:9-12). The word Pentecost means fiftieth. Many of the rituals of Shavuot are progressive in nature, seeming to connect Passover and the Feast of Weeks. For example, during Passover the people were to eat unleavened bread, a symbol of their haste in leaving slavery in Egypt, and offer the first fruits of the barley harvest, barley being a lesser quality of grain. In contrast, seven weeks later during Shavuot, Israel was now to offer two large leavened loaves of bread made from the first fruits of the wheat harvest, wheat being the far superior grain to barley (Leviticus 23:15-21).

The high priest holds the two loaves offered for Feast of Weeks or Shavuot
This offering of the leavened bread is unique since yeast is prohibited in all other temple rituals. No wheat from that year’s harvest can be eaten by Israel until these two loaves have been offered to the Lord. When the priest receives the two loaves of bread, he waves them in four directions representing north, south, east and west. He also waves them down and up signifying earth and heaven. The people were also to offer other first fruits of their harvest likewise waving them before the Lord and then placing the offering before God (Deuteronomy 26:1-11).

Offering the first fruits during the Feast of Weeks
Because Shavuot was celebrated seven weeks after Passover, the same time period Israel received the Law at Sinai, the feast later also became a celebration for this significant event. Even with this we can see a progression between Passover and the Feast of Weeks with Israel progressing from slaves in Egypt, going through the waters of the Red Sea, then proceeding until they arrive at Mount Sinai approximately seven weeks later. Here they are washed and clothed and then “go up to the mountain of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:3) to covenant with him and to receive his law.

Understanding this background let’s now examine the events leading up to the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2). During the ministry of the Savior, a small number of disciples believed in the Lord. They revered Jesus for his teachings and the miracles he performed, but they did not understand the true purpose of his mission. As Passover came and they witnessed the tragic events of the crucifixion of the Savior, many of the disciples fled and even denied knowing the Lord. After the Savior rose from the dead, he ministered to them, teaching for the next 40 days (Acts 1:3). This time became a period of preparation for the disciples, helping them to learn of the ultimate purpose of the Messiah.

As the Apostles gathered for the Feast of Weeks, fifty days after the Lord’s resurrection, they like ancient Israel, had now been prepared to receive the fulness of the law. The events that occurred on the day of Pentecost are reminiscent of the events commemorated on Shavuot. Like the Israelites gathering at Mt. Sinai, the people gathered in Jerusalem at the temple built atop Mt. Moriah to be instructed of the Lord. When the Jews saw the cloven tongues of fire, they must have wondered if the Shekinah had returned, except instead of the fire resting upon Mt. Sinai, the fire is now resting on the apostles (see Acts 2:3-4).

After hearing the fervent testimony of Peter of the risen Savior, the gathered Jews asked what they must do (see Acts 2:37). Peter told them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). With this, 3000 Jews requested to be baptized on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:41). With the nearest body of water, the Jordan river, about 20 miles away, the baptisms of such a large group very likely took place at the Pool of Bethesda, or the Pool of Siloam. Both of these pools were used for ritual washings, which would make perfect sense for their use for baptisms. On this day, set aside to commemorate the event of ancient Israel established as a covenant people, it is Christ’s church that is established through the covenant of baptism. By also receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, a member of the Godhead, they can now spiritually enter into God’s presence.

Like the children of Israel and the Jews during the time of Christ, we too can each have our own exodus and day of Pentecost. Christ’s death and resurrection made it possible for us to escape the bondage of sin and death. Like the Red Sea, we enter into our own waters, the waters of baptism. Like the manna that came from heaven, we too can be nourished by the Bread of Life. Like the water that flowed from the rock, we can drink of the Living Water. Just as the Lord’s words from Mt. Sinai could be understood in every language, each of us can likewise understand the universal language of the Holy Ghost. We all have the opportunity to come to the “mountain of the Lord” and receive the Law and feel the presence of the Lord dwell upon us. It is there that we can become a kingdom of priests and an holy nation.

1 comment:

  1. I do want to completely understand. I thank God you all blessings

    ReplyDelete