A TIME OF REFLECTION & ANTICIPATION
Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost as it is called in the New Covenant, is a late spring holiday that is observed on the Hebrew calendar date Sivan 6. While most Christians know of the powerful events of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2, very few are aware of the historical yearly observance that pointed toward it. It is important to understand the Old Covenant observance of Shavuot and its historical meaning to fully appreciate its New Covenant fulfillment. This feast, once thought of as only a Church holiday, is actually one of the biblical mo’adim—appointments with God—and is rich with meaning and significance.
Shavuot falls on the fiftieth day after the Passover Sabbath, or the day after “seven Sabbaths,” hence the Greek word “Pentecost” or “fifty.” The period between the Passover Sabbath and Shavuot is the time of the “counting of the Omer” (Leviticus 23:15,16). This is a period of transition from the exodus from slavery in Egypt to the receiving of the Torah at Sinai, and from the time of Yeshua’s death and resurrection to the receiving of the Ruach Hakodesh, or Holy Spirit. It is a period of reflection, and a time of building anticipation.
FIRST FRUITS OF THE WHEAT HARVEST & PROPHECY
According to Leviticus 23:15–17 and Exodus 34:22, Shavuot was an agricultural holiday, marking the reaping of the first fruits of the wheat harvest. The Israelites were commanded to offer the first fruits to the Lord in thanksgiving for His abundant provision. Just as all the Biblical feasts are prophetic shadows of things to come, the gathering of the first wheat harvest hints of the first harvest of the first followers of Yeshua.
In the New Testament, wheat is symbolic of souls. Yeshua’s parables are rich with illustrations comparing the gathering of wheat with the salvation of souls. Just as Yeshua was the “first fruits of resurrection,” so His first followers were the “first fruits” of the “Kingdom of God.”
ONE OF THE THREE PILGRIMAGE FEASTS
Along with Passover and Sukkot (Tabernacles), Shavuot is one of the three pilgrimage feasts in which all the men of Israel were required to travel to Jerusalem to rejoice together “in the place where God chose for His dwelling.” It was a time of celebration with great spectacle and pageantry. Shavuot was and still is a special Sabbath day in which no one is to work, and all are to celebrate! It was with this joy that the disciples and believers in Yeshua gathered together at the Temple in Jerusalem on that first Shavuot following Yeshua’s death and resurrection.
GIVING OF THE LAW—ESTABLISHMENT OF A NATION
According to traditional Jewish calculations, it was during Shavuot that Moses was given the commandments on Mt. Sinai. God delivered a people out of Egypt, but it was through the commandments that He established a nation, a community set apart unto Himself through whom the world would see the one true God.
GIVING OF THE SPIRIT
Just as the Jewish people were birthed as a nation on the first Shavuot, the Church was essentially birthed on the first Shavuot after Yeshua’s death and resurrection. It was not at random that God chose Shavuot to pour out His Spirit and empower the first followers of Yeshua. The tongues of fire and the great sounds described were not unheard of—they directly related to the events of the first Shavuot. The miracles described in the Book of Acts were actually a powerful fulfillment of thousands of years of prophecy and expectation.
On this day pilgrims from far and wide were assembled together in Jerusalem—in one place, in one accord. Acts 2:7-11 records that there were Jewish men gathered in Jerusalem from great distances such as Egypt, Libya, Rome, Media, and Mesopotamia. These Jewish men came together to worship God with expectation, and once empowered, would return to their homes with God’s power to bring the message of hope in the Messiah.
In this we see fulfillment of the promises through Jeremiah 31:33 and Ezekiel 36:27— a promise of replacing the Law on tablets of stone to inscribing the Law inwardly on tablets of flesh (our hearts) through the Holy Spirit!
TWO LOAVES WITH YEAST?
“From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of fine flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of first fruits to the Lord” (Lev. 23:17). At Passover, we are commanded to eat bread without leaven or yeast, because the bread represents the sinless body of Yeshua. But at Shavuot we are now to bake bread with leaven.
Why? These two loaves represent the Body of Messiah, which has sin. Why two loaves? The Body of Messiah is comprised of Jew and Gentile together, which is the fulfillment of Shavuot.
An interesting tradition of the Jewish people is to read the book of Ruth at Shavuot. The most significant message of the book of Ruth is its prophetic shadowing of Gentiles choosing to follow the God of Israel—which is also the most significant event following the Shavuot celebration recorded in the book of Acts. Joel 2:28 promises that God will pour out His Spirit on all mankind. On that first Shavuot, the power to fulfill this promise came into the world.
A REMINDER TO DEPEND ON GOD FOR ALL OUR NEEDS
Clearly an important aspect of Shavuot is that of a thanksgiving celebration. As an agricultural holiday, all Israel was to stop work and come before the Lord, giving thanks and acknowledging Him as the provider. As a spiritual holiday, Israel recognized the God who made them a people, and gave them His commandments that they may live as a people chosen by God for His glory. Today, we are thankful, for He not only called us to be His people, but He also gave us His Spirit to enable us to live as His people and bring the Good News of Messiah to a lost and dying world.
Rabbi Jonathan Bernis serves as President and CEO of Jewish Voice Ministries International (JVMI), and also serves as the Chairman of the MJBI Board of Directors. Rabbi Bernis has been a leader in Messianic Jewish ministry for more than 30 years. He and wife Elisangela reside in Phoenix, AZ with their two daughters.