A name used in the Christian Greek Scriptures to denote the Festival of Harvest (Ex 23:16) or Festival of Weeks (Ex 34:22), called also “the day of the first ripe fruits.” (Nu 28:26) Instructions for this festival are found at Leviticus 23:15-21; Numbers 28:26-31; Deuteronomy 16:9-12. It was to be celebrated on the 50th day (Pentecost means “Fiftieth [Day]”) from Nisan 16, the day that the barley sheaf was offered. (Le 23:15, 16) In the Jewish calendar it falls on Sivan 6. It was after the barley harvest and the beginning of the harvest of wheat, which ripened later than the barley.
The Israelites were not allowed to begin the harvest until the firstfruits of the barley had been presented to Jehovah on Nisan 16. Therefore, in Deuteronomy 16:9, 10 the instructions are: “From when the sickle is first put to the standing grain you will start to count seven weeks. Then you must celebrate the festival of weeks to Jehovah your God.” Every male was required to attend, and it is also stated in connection with this festival: “You must rejoice before Jehovah your God, you and your son and your daughter and your man slave and your slave girl and the Levite who is inside your gates and the alien resident and the fatherless boy and the widow, who are in your midst, in the place that Jehovah your God will choose to have his name reside there.” (De 16:11) The Passover was a close family observance. The Festival of Harvest, or Pentecost, called for a more open and hospitable liberality, in this sense resembling the Festival of Booths.
The firstfruits of the wheat harvest were to be treated differently from the barley firstfruits. Two tenths of an ephah of fine wheat flour (4.4 L; 4 dry qt) along with leaven was to be baked into two loaves. They were to be “out of your dwelling places,” which meant that they were to be loaves like those made for the daily use of the household and not expressly for holy purposes. (Le 23:17) Burnt offerings and a sin offering went along with this, and as a communion offering two male lambs. The priest waved the loaves and the lambs before Jehovah by putting his hands underneath the loaves and the pieces of the lambs and waving them back and forth, signifying that they were presented before Jehovah. After the loaves and the lambs were offered, they became the priest’s for him to eat as a communion offering.
There is a slight difference in description of the other offerings (aside from the communion offering) in the account at Numbers 28:27-30. Instead of seven lambs, one young bull, two rams, and one kid of the goats, as at Leviticus 23:18, 19, it calls for seven lambs, two young bulls, one ram, and one kid of the goats. Jewish commentators say that the passage in Leviticus refers to the sacrifice to accompany the wave loaves, and the one in Numbers to the properly appointed sacrifice of the festival, so that both were offered. Supporting this, Josephus, in describing the sacrifices on Pentecost day, first mentions the two lambs of the communion offering, then combines the remaining offerings, enumerating three calves, two rams (evidently a transcriber’s error for three), 14 lambs, and two kids. (Jewish Antiquities, III, 253 [x, 6]) The day was a holy convention, a sabbath day.
The Festival of Pentecost came at the end of the barley harvest and was a time of rejoicing, as is indicated by the communion offering that was presented by the congregation and was given to the priest. This offering would also denote peaceful fellowship with Jehovah. At the same time the sin offering reminded the Israelites of sin on their part and was a petition to God for forgiveness and cleansing. The increased burnt offering served as a practical expression of their gratitude for His bountifulness as well as a symbol of their wholeheartedness in carrying out their covenant relationship with God.
Not only was it specially appropriate for Israel to offer thanks to Jehovah on this day but they also were not to forget their poor brothers. After giving instructions on the festival, Jehovah commanded: “And when you people reap the harvest of your land, you must not do completely the edge of your field when you are reaping, and the gleaning of your harvest you must not pick up. You should leave them for the afflicted one and the alien resident. I am Jehovah your God.” (Le 23:22) Thus, the poor would have real incentive for thanking the Lord and enjoying the festival along with all others. There would also be many personal offerings of the firstfruits of the harvest during this festival.
According to rabbinic sources, after the exile the participants in the festival customarily went up to Jerusalem the day previous to its commencement and there prepared everything necessary for its observance. In the evening the blasts of the trumpets announced the approach of the festival day. (Nu 10:10) The altar of burnt sacrifice was cleansed, and the gates of the temple were opened immediately after midnight for the priests and so that the people who brought the sacrifices for burnt offerings and for thanksgiving offerings to the court could have them examined by the priests. Alfred Edersheim comments: “Before the morning sacrifice all burnt- and peace-offerings which the people proposed to bring at the feast had to be examined by the officiating priesthood. Great as their number was, it must have been a busy time, till the announcement that the morning glow extended to Hebron put an end to all such preparations, by giving the signal for the regular morning sacrifice.”
After the regular daily morning sacrifice was offered, the festive sacrifices described in Numbers 28:26-30 were brought. Afterward came the offering peculiar to Pentecost
Symbolic Significance of the Festival. It was on the day of Pentecost that the holy spirit was poured out by Jesus Christ on the group of about 120 disciples in the upper room at Jerusalem in the year 33 C.E. (Ac 1:13-15) Jesus had been resurrected on Nisan 16, the day of the offering of the barley sheaf by the high priest. He was, in a figurative sense, without leaven, which represents sin. (Heb 7:26) At Pentecost, as the great High Priest, he could present to his Father Jehovah additional spiritual sons, Jesus’ footstep followers, who were taken from sinful mankind and who accepted his sacrifice. The approval by God of Jesus’ own human sacrifice and of Jesus’ presentation of his disciples (although born in sin) to be spiritual sons of God was manifested by the pouring out of God’s spirit upon them. The fact that there were two loaves of newly ripened grain that were presented to Jehovah at Pentecost indicates that more than one person would be involved in the fulfillment. It may also point to the fact that those who become spirit-begotten followers of Jesus Christ would be taken from two groups on earth: First from the natural circumcised Jews, and later from all the other nations of the world, the Gentiles.
The Jews traditionally hold that Pentecost corresponded to the time of the giving of the Law at Sinai, when Israel became a distinguished people. It was early in the third month (Sivan) that the Israelites gathered at Sinai and received the Law. (Ex 19:1) Just as Moses as mediator was used to introduce Israel into the Law covenant, so Jesus Christ as Mediator of spiritual Israel now brought that new nation into the new covenant. The apostle Paul draws a comparison from these two events, saying that Christians are gathered to a far greater assemblage at “a Mount Zion and a city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem,” under new covenant arrangements.
Jesus had announced the new covenant to his disciples on the evening of his last Passover and, just before his ascension, had instructed them to wait at Jerusalem for the promised holy spirit. Now, as the apostle Peter explained, “because he was exalted to the right hand of God and received the promised holy spirit from the Father, he has poured out this which you see and hear.” (Lu 22:20; Ac 2:33) The presence of God’s spirit was manifested in that some 120 disciples were miraculously speaking in different tongues. By this means, the multitudes of Jews and proselytes from all parts of the Roman Empire could hear with intelligibility “the magnificent things of God.” (Ac 2:7-11) First at this time, by means of Peter, baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and holy spirit was preached, as Jesus had commanded at Matthew 28:19. (Ac 2:21, 36, 38, 39) Having gone into the heavens with the value of his sacrifice, Jesus was able to bring his followers into the new covenant.
These followers, then, with the 3,000 added that day (Ac 2:41) and others later, were not the very first firstfruits to God, for this was Jesus Christ himself, resurrected on Nisan 16 of 33 C.E. (1Co 15:23), when the barley sheaves were waved. Rather, they were like the firstfruits of the wheat, a second crop, “certain firstfruits” to God. (Jas 1:18) They now became God’s new nation, God’s “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession.”