Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot in Hebrew) is the time for celebration of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, as well as a celebration of the offering of the firstfruits of the wheat harvest in agrarian Israelite society.
This festival was celebrated seven weeks or fifty days after the Passover, hence its name in Hebrew, Shavuot (weeks), and Greek, Pentecost (fiftieth). Actually, Shavuot is the longest of the biblical festivals, lasting fifty days. It began on the morning after the Sabbath after Passover and concluded on the morning after seven additional Sabbaths had passed, or fifty days later.
The day of Pentecost (the fiftieth day) was “fully come” (Acts 2:1). It was a festival of celebration for the wheat harvest, which featured a firstfruits offering of two loaves of bread that were waved before the Lord.
Pentecost has been historically celebrated by the Israelites as the anniversary of the giving of the law. This festival is the only one that shortly occurred after Passover; therefore, it must have been the feast that God referenced when he had Moses to tell Pharaoh, “Let my people go so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the desert” (Exodus 5:1). It was approximately fifty days after Passover that Moses ascended up into the mountain and received the tablets of the law.
Since the people of Israel so loved the Torah of the Lord, Pentecost became a time for rejoicing in the covenantal provision of God for their order and well being. It was at this time that God himself thundered the Ten Commandments and gave the code for living to the Israelites, the Torah that has kept the Jewish people as a covenant people for the centuries that have ensued since that momentous event.
It was only fitting, then, that when another of the great events in the lives of the Jewish believers in Jesus occurred, it coincided with the day of Pentecost. “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come . . . they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1, 4). Just like the Torah had been given at Pentecost, so the Holy Spirit which was to empower the believers for service both as witnesses to the Messiah and as overcomers and fulfillers of the law of God was given to the church on the day of Pentecost.
The law of the Spirit of life in the Messiah came on the anniversary of the giving of the Torah law. The purpose of the Holy Spirit was to empower the believers to gather disciples to form the church. This gathering of believers is seen in the rich symbolism of the loaves of bread that were offered as firstfruits of Pentecost and the fact that the apostles recognized the church as being one bread (1 Corinthians 10:17), millions of particles of flour baked together into one loaf. The fact that there were two identical loaves in the offering of Pentecost suggests that God would make the one offering of the church from two people, Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 3:6).
When is Shavout?
There is much controversy as to the date of the celebration of the Feast of Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of Harvest. The Sadducean party maintained a literal rendering of the Torah references to Pentecost by saying that the first day of the Feast of Weeks was the morning after the weekly Sabbath that followed Passover (Leviticus 23:11).
The Pharisees, who were the founders of Rabbinic Judaism, believed that the first day of the fifty days was on the morning after the first day of Unleavened Bread or the morning after the annual Sabbath of the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Others (notably the Samaritans) believed that the first day of Pentecost should be on the morning after the last day of Unleavened Bread. Still others believed that it should occur on the morning after the weekly Sabbath after the entire Feast of Unleavened Bread. In all likelihood, the position of the Sadducees was more accurate scripturally, so that the day when “Pentecost was fully come” (Acts 2:1), was always on Sunday.
The earliest church continued to observe the Feast of Pentecost. This is seen in the determination of Paul to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost (Acts 20:16) and in his reckoning his travel schedule by Pentecost (1 Corinthians 16:8). No doubt, this was a celebration of the great events that had occurred on that first Pentecost when God gave his Word to his people and on the first New Covenant Pentecost when God gave his Spirit to the community of believers.
Pentecost (Shavuot) celebration can be among the most festive of times for both Jews and Christians. Remembering the great event of the giving of the Torah is important for both communities, for without the Torah there would be no standard for righteous living. Likewise, for Christians, Pentecost is an annual time for renewing the Spirit and the calling to be witnesses to the Messiah in all the world. Various symbols and elements of biblical and Jewish history are helpful in accenting the celebration of Pentecost, including Torah scrolls, shofars, menorahs, timbrels (tambourines), tallits (prayer shawl), and banners.
For More Information
See Our Lost Legacy: Christianity’s Hebrew Heritage by Dr. John D. Garr or go to www.HebraicCommunity.org to connect with the Stability series and other teaching materials about virtually any subject relating to Christian celebrations of biblical festivals and Christian use of biblical and Jewish symbols.