A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
In 2011 Passover was celebrated beginning at sunset on April 18. On the Hebrew calendar sunset marked the beginning of the 14th day of Nisan. No matter what day of the week it happens to be, Passover always comes on the 14th of Nisan. It’s like Christmas in that regard, which always comes on the 25th of December no matter what day of the week. “What’s that got to do with Pentecost?” you ask.
Well, Leviticus 23:11 says the day after the next Sabbath is the Feast of First Fruits, always a Sunday. In 2011 that was the 24th of April on our calendar, which happened to be Easter Sunday.
And according to Leviticus 23:15 Pentecost (Shavuot in Hebrew) is to be celebrated seven full weeks later. Verse 16 confirms this by saying that Pentecost would be 50 days after the Sabbath that follows Passover.
Which Day Is Correct?
A disagreement between the Pharisees and the Sadducees arose late in the 2nd Temple period as to whether the phrase “day after the Sabbath” in Leviticus 23:16 really referred to the weekly Sabbath that followed Passover, as claimed by the Sadducees. Their method of counting would always place Pentecost on a Sunday, exactly seven weeks after the Feast of First Fruits.
The Pharisees argued that the count was supposed to begin with the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was called a “special Sabbath” (John 19:31). Since the first day of unleavened Bread always came on the 15th of Nisan it meant Pentecost would always be celebrated on the 6th of Sivan (May-June) no matter what day of the week it was.
Leviticus 23:16 says “Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath.” Taking this literally lends support to the Sadducean method. The Sabbath is a specific day of the week, and the day after the Sabbath is always Sunday. Because of this some Jews will celebrate Pentecost on Sunday June 12 in 2011. Most modern Jews have adopted the Pharisees’ interpretation and celebrated it on June 8, but I’m going to vote with the Saducees on this one and say it should be the 12th.
All the Feasts of Israel have both an historical and a prophetic fulfillment. The historical fulfillment of Pentecost was the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. Some believe that the hidden agenda behind this argument over interpretation was an attempt to discredit the claim that its prophetic fulfillment was the giving of the Holy Spirit resulting in the birth of the Church. While this charge can’t be proven conclusively it is interesting that the Pharisaical interpretation of Leviticus 23:16 only emerged “late in the Second Temple period”, which could refer to the time after the Resurrection but before the Temple’s destruction.
Can You Blame Them?
If this is true, I can’t say I blame them. There’s sufficient circumstantial evidence that the Church was the prophetic fulfillment of Pentecost to be convincing. For example, Pentecost is the only Levitical feast that required bread baked with yeast (Lev. 23:17). Yeast is a model of sin, in that it causes the dough to spoil, like sin spoiled mankind. If you agree with my view that the parables of Matthew 13 describe the church on Earth and that the parable of the yeast predicts there will be sin in the church, you’re beginning to get the idea.
But there’s more. In synagogues, the Book of Ruth is read on Pentecost. The story of Ruth has been called “The Romance of Redemption”. It’s about Naomi, a Jewish woman from Bethlehem whose family lost their land and position and were forced into exile in Moab because of a famine in Israel. Shortly thereafter her husband passed away leaving her penniless and alone. When the famine ended, she returned to Bethlehem accompanied by Ruth, a Moabite woman who had married one of Naomi’s sons (who had also died) making her Naomi’s daughter-in-law and a destitute widow as well.
Once back in Bethlehem Ruth went to work in the fields and wound up in one belonging to Naomi’s close relative, a prominent Jewish man named Boaz. Boaz was immediately attracted to Ruth and after a time agreed to marry her as part of the process of redeeming Naomi’s land. Both these events were accomplished according to the Law. For Naomi it was the law of redemption (Lev 25:25), and for Ruth it was the law of leverite marriage (Deut. 25:5-6).
The modeling here is dramatic, with Naomi in the role of Israel, destitute and alone; Ruth as the Church, the gentile bride; Boaz as the Kinsman Redeemer (the Messiah) and the story a prediction of the relationship between them. In the process of redeeming Israel, the Messiah takes a gentile bride. In doing so, He saves both from destitution and restores Israel’s land. The identification of the Church with Pentecost began in the prophecies of Ruth.
By tradition Enoch, one of the patriarchs from Genesis 5, was born on the day later to be known as Pentecost. Enoch’s name means “teaching”, a primary function of the Church (Matt. 28:19-20). For this reason many scholars see him as a “type” of the church as well. Genesis 5:21-23 indicates that Enoch was very close to God and was actually taken live (raptured) into Heaven before the Great Flood. Pre-Trib scholars see this event as one of several Old Testament hints that the Church will disappear from Earth before the Great Tribulation.
These same traditions also hold that Enoch was taken on his birthday. So here’s a model in Genesis 5 of a man identified with the church being born and raptured on the day that would become Pentecost, the day the church was also born. Does this mean the Church will be raptured on our birthday too?
Personally I don’t believe the Rapture of the Church will be the prophetic fulfillment of any of Israel’s Holy Days, and Pentecost has already had both historical and prophetic fulfillments. As you probably know, I believe the reason no one on Earth can accurately predict the day of the Rapture in advance is because it’s a number specific event, not a date specific one.
In Romans 11:25 Paul implied the church has a “full number”, when its ranks will be considered complete. When that number is reached the Church will “come in” which means it will arrive at its scheduled destination, like when a ship “comes in.” Jesus said the destination of the Church is His Father’s house (John 14:2). Put it together and I believe it means we’ll be raptured as soon as the predetermined number of Christians has been born again, no matter what day of the week it is. June 12, 2011 (the real Pentecost) would be a great day for the Church to be raptured, but it’s no more likely to happen then, than on any other day.
But Wait, There’s More!
While we’re on the subject, there are other interesting similarities between the giving of the Law and the rapture of the Church that should capture our interest as well. You can compare Exodus 19:10-25 with 1 Thes 4:16-17 to see this, but here’s a summary.
The trumpet of God and an audible voice are present at both events and both events create a kingdom. At Mt. Sinai the Israelites were redeemed from slavery, at the Rapture the Church will be redeemed from sin. They were consecrated, we’ll be perfected. They washed their clothes, we’ll be given clean clothes. God came to the mountain top, Jesus will come to the air. At Mt. Sinai Moses and Aaron went up, at the rapture we’ll go up. At Mt. Sinai Israel was wed to God. At the Rapture the Church will be wed to Jesus. At Mt. Sinai God dwelt with Israel and at the rapture the Church will dwell with Jesus.
Since many Biblical models are necessarily incomplete, there are also some obvious differences. Only Moses and Aaron could ascend the mountain. Anyone else going up passed from life to death. At the rapture we all go up and the dead in Christ will pass from death to life. God promised to dwell with Israel if they obeyed. We will dwell with Jesus because He obeyed. They changed themselves temporarily, He’ll change us permanently. Theirs was an event accompanied by great fear, ours is an event anticipated with great joy. After all Mt. Sinai was the presentation of God’s Law, and the Rapture will begin the ultimate manifestation of His grace. You can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah. 06-11-11