This month the Jewish observance of Shavuot – Pentecost – falls on Sunday, May 24th. In the Jewish calendar, this date corresponds to the 6th of Sivan of the year 5775, marking the first of two days of celebration. Since the Second Century A.D., this commemoration has been given two days, accommodating the natural fluidity of the calendar which, when counted from the lunar cycle, has no fixed date. In fact, Jews refer to its commemoration as “the festival without a date,” giving it an aura of deep mystery.
About this time every year, we are reminded afresh of Pentecost’s enormous significance in the panorama of biblical prophecy. Almost three decades ago, we first brought you its amazing prophetic truths. Better than any other ancient Jewish festival, it embodies the elements that we associate with the catching-away, or rapture, of the church. We repeat them here to refresh your memory concerning the joys of this season and to remind you that the Lord is near, even at the door.
As we move toward the halfway point of 2015, we find ourselves experiencing another wave of renewed excitement about the near possibility of the rapture of the church. With Russia on the move in Ukraine, and nuclear weapons being brandished by Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Middle-East war threat rises to the highest probability we’ve ever seen. Syria and Yemen are collapsing; Lebanon is falling as ISIS rises. A century after the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate, these groups (along with the Turks) hope to create a new one. As a result, interest in the prophesied culmination of the church age has risen to almost unprecedented anticipation.
We have demonstrated numerous remarkable connections between Pentecost and the prophetic conclusion of the church age. It is the fourth and central feast among the seven Feasts of Israel: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Tabernacles. The first three are spring festivals, representing the blood sacrifice and resurrection. The last three come in the fall, calling forth judgment and the establishment of the Kingdom. At the center – in the early summer – is Pentecost. In the Bible, it is represented by two loaves of leavened bread, held aloft by the High Priest. Today’s Jews celebrate it annually, in a ceremony called, “decorating the bride.” This reminds us of the church, the “bride of Christ.”
Pentecost is a harvest festival that marks the passage of seven weeks after Firstfruits:
“9 Seven weeks shalt thou number unto thee: begin to number the seven weeks from such time as thou beginnest to put the sickle into the corn. 10 And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the Lord thy God with a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto the Lord thy God, according as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee” (Deuteronomy 16:9 – 10).
Over the years we have repeatedly stressed that Pentecost is the most mysterious of all the Jewish festivals. Called by the Jews, the “Feast of Weeks” [“weeks,” or in Hebrew “Shavuot”], it is the festival of the early summer harvest. But its associated symbols and metaphors invoke meanings far beyond the mere harvesting of grain.
Among the Jews, this is the festival that celebrates the giving of the Torah, or Law. Shavuot (Pentecost) was the time, they say, when the Twelve Tribes gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai. There, they heard the actual voice of God, as He spoke the commandments. The Bible does not seem, at first glance, to make a clear connection between Sinai and Pentecost. Nevertheless, the link is there, if we take the time to look.
Furthermore, this festival presents the ceremony of the marriage between God and Israel. In this context, Passover (which precedes Pentecost by seven weeks) becomes the period of God’s courtship of His wife.
From its earliest days, Pentecost was known as a festival of the harvest. Long ago, the Omer was offered by the high priest, who stood before the Tabernacle, or later, the Temple. It was the token of the Festival of Firstfruits. In Leviticus 23:11, it is called, “the sheaf.” In its most common sense, an omer was a dry measure that amounted to a little over two quarts. The offering of the Omer marked the first day of a fifty-day countdown to Pentecost:
“15 And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf [omer] of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: 16 Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the Lord. 17 Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the Lord” (Leviticus 23:15-17).
The counting of fifty days (here seen as 49 + 1) from Firstfruits to Pentecost is typical of redemption in general. For the Jew, it has always represented the maturing relationship between God and Israel. In his book, Number in Scripture, E. W. Bullinger writes, “Fifty is the number of jubilee or deliverance. It is the issue of 7 X 7 (72), and points to deliverance and rest following on as the result of the perfect consummation of time.”
What a statement! Again, we find that Pentecost is connected with rapture and rest.
The Early Rain and the Latter Rain
Once the Holy Spirit was poured out in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, the prophecy of the “early rain” was fulfilled. Some day, the Holy Spirit will be poured out again in Jerusalem. It should fulfill the promise of a “latter rain.” Will it also occur on Pentecost? In Peter’s second sermon, he spoke of the ultimate outworking of the festival cycle. In Acts 3:19-21, he said:
“19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; 20 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: 19 Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”
The prophetic implications of the festival cycle lie in God’s promise to restore the earth to the state of glory that He originally intended. So that His people would always remember what He has in mind, He planted this prophetic scenario in their culture. At some future time known only to Him, the story will become a reality. The festival narrative is arranged around events in their calendar that foreshadow their future counterparts.
Judgment of the Fruit of Trees
Traditional Jewish belief holds that Pentecost is the day when the fruit of trees is judged in heaven. Christians throughout the Church Age have believed that the fruit of one’s life will be judged following the rapture. This, of course, is the picture given by the apostle Paul to the church at Corinth: “10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (II Cor. 5:10).
The resurrection of Jesus as the Omer or offering of Firstfruits began a countdown to the completion of the body of Christ. The good fruit of the righteous will be reviewed, then will come the judgment of the depraved world.
But there is more to add to this picture. Jewish families observe Pentecost by wearing bright and festive clothing. Homes are decorated with green plants and traditional foods of celebration are prepared.
According to Hayyim Schauss, writing in The Jewish Festivals:
“The custom of decorating the homes and synagogues with green plants is variously explained. One theory is that the day is marked in heaven as the day of judgment for the fruit of the trees.”
Here is the theme of fruit-bearing, which points to the Judgment Seat of Christ following the rapture and resurrection. In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus likened true versus false teaching to the fruit of trees:
“15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
Pentecost, the Festival Without a Date
As mentioned earlier, Pentecost is called Shavuot (or Weeks), in the Hebrew. It is so named to reflect the nature of its dating. It always falls seven weeks plus one day after the offering of the Omer.
Since it is based on counting the seven weeks following the Feast of Firstfruits, the date of Pentecost is fluid. Thus, when the Jewish calendar was still based upon visually marking the appearance of the new moon, Pentecost could fall on the fifth, sixth or seventh of Sivan. The final determination of the date would depend upon whether or not the months of Nisan and Iyar were full thirty-day months.
To this day, if one calculates the date of Pentecost as actually instructed in the Bible, its precise timing is always something of a mystery. Symbolically then, it becomes a perfect model for the rapture, since its date is also beyond reckoning.
According to author Hayyim Schauss, the date for Pentecost cannot be fixed. He calls it the “only Jewish festival for which there is no fixed date.” The Books of Moses do not state on which day of the month Pentecost is to be observed. It says only that it is to be celebrated fifty days after the offering of the Omer [Firstfruits], the first sheaf of the grain harvest, which was to be offered on “the morrow after the Sabbath,” as we have already seen in Leviticus 23:15-17.
Following the destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70, it became physically impossible to commemorate either the Festival of Firstfruits or the waving of the loaves at Pentecost. The calendar date for Pentecost then became fixed at the sixth of Sivan … the date upon which it is remembered to this day.
The Trumpet and the Bride
Around the same time, Jews adopted Pentecost as the time to commemorate the giving of the Law. The 19th chapter of Exodus relates that the giving of the Law at Sinai came in the third month, in the period following the third day of the month (5th, 6th and 7th). This places the event at the time of Pentecost. They call it, “the revelation at Sinai.” This revelation and the symbols of harvest are intertwined to give full significance to the observance of Pentecost.
In the festival, they also commemorate the symbolism of the marriage between God, the Groom, and Israel, the bride. They view Mt. Sinai as an enormous huppah, or wedding canopy. The two tablets of the Law that Moses brought down from the mountain represent the marriage contract.
As mentioned earlier, this image is developed at Passover, which becomes the time of God’s courtship with Israel, and Pentecost comes to represent the marriage itself. In its traditional aspects, Pentecost pictures the catching away of the bride more clearly than any other festival.
We have noted before that the blowing of the ram’s horn on Rosh Hashanah has been suggested as representing the final trumpet of resurrection:“24 In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:24).
But does it really? Is it possible that the trumpet blast on Rosh Hashanah represents instead, a “memorial” of the heavenly Pentecost trumpet? Perhaps, it may be thought of as an echo of God’s already-accomplished resurrection of the “body of Christ.”
Let us review the part Pentecost has played at the beginning of two dispensations – Law and Grace. The rabbis themselves say that the Dispensation of Law began on Pentecost. On that day, a heavenly trumpet was heard at Mount Sinai. The Jews remember this as a time when their national identity took a new direction.
“19 And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by a voice” (Exodus 19:19).
Many Jews say that this, the first mention of a trumpet blast in Exodus was regarded by the spiritual leaders of Israel as having occurred on Pentecost. Exodus 19:1 tells us that this event came about in Sivan, the third month.
Furthermore, the trumpet was sounded, not by man, but by a heavenly being. It was God’s own voice! Moses and the Chosen People had gathered at Mt. Sinai, on the third day of preparation, wherein they washed themselves, cleaned their clothes, and were forbidden to touch the mountain. When God came down, a trumpet sounded long and loud, filling the people with awe and terror. On that occasion, the fire of God’s glory descended and God gave the Ten Commandments. Here, we find the only heavenly trumpet recorded in the Old Testament. The next such trumpet should sound on the day of rapture and resurrection, making the day of Pentecost an interesting possibility for that event:
“16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first” (I Thess. 4:16).
In this verse, we are told of the “trump of God,” not a trumpet sounded by an angel.
The Order of the Resurrections
For the Gentile, it represents the relationship between Christ, the Bridegroom and His bride, the church. As mentioned earlier, the resurrection of Jesus was a literal Firstfruits offering that looked forward to the resurrection of all the faithful:
“20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection from the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. 24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power” (I Corinthians 15:20-24).
The early church thought that His coming might be somehow timed with Pentecost. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible offers the following comment:
“The Church Fathers highly regarded Pentecost. Easter was always on Sunday, so Pentecost was also. Between Easter and Pentecost, there was to be no fasting. Praying was done standing, rather than kneeling. During this time, catechumens [new converts] were baptized. Many expected, because the Ascension had taken place near Pentecost, that Christ would return in the same season.”
Pentecost was a time of expectation for the early Church. They felt that Christ might come for His own during this period. Why did they believe this? Was it because of its closeness to the time of the Ascension, or was it because of something else they had been taught? Remember, Christ’s actual Ascension took place forty days after His resurrection. Ten days later, the Holy Spirit empowered the church for its future role in the harvest of souls … the fifty days till Pentecost.
Prophecies of Summer
Biblically, the harvest of early summer is often seen to typify the “harvest” or catching-away of the church. As we have seen, this is the season when grain and fruit crops come to maturity. Fruit is judged and stored. Wheat is now safe in the graineries of the land. At Pentecost, a small sample is taken, ground into flour and baked into two loaves. They are the leavened “test loaves” of the new harvest. Scripturally, they typify the two bodies of the redeemed at the end of the age: Israel and the church.
Bread and fruit are the perfect picture of redemption, blessing and bounty. But to Israel, at the time of Jacob’s trouble, the harvest will not bring satisfaction. Instead, there will be the realization that something drastic has happened. This, we see in the words of Micah:
“1 Woe is me! for I am as when they have gathered the summer fruits, as the grapegleanings of the vintage: there is no cluster to eat: my soul desired the firstripe fruit. 2 The good man is perished out of the earth: and there is none upright among men: they all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net” (Mic. 7:1, 2).
Here, the prophet Micah speaks as the voice of Israel in the latter days. The time is set at the end of fruit harvest – late April through early June – the season that begins with Passover and ends with Pentecost.
The summer fruits have been “gathered,” or harvested. The Hebrew term asaph, means “to remove, or take away.” But one of its major meanings is, “to be gathered to one’s fathers at death.” This translation easily fits in the context of these verses. The good fruit of the righteous has been harvested and taken for inspection and storage. From Micah’s point of view, the friends of Israel have gone away.
As we continue, Micah’s distress becomes more clear. He has a deep desire for the fruit that has been removed. And what is this fruit? Verse 2, tells us that it is the “good man,” who has “perished” from the earth. This fits perfectly with the idea of the judgment of the fruit of trees.
“Perish” comes from the Hebrew verb avad, meaning, “to cause to vanish!” As the picture develops, it is easy to see that Micah’s vision perfectly describes the conditions that will prevail when righteous mankind is instantly transported from the earth at the catching-away of the church.
Jews Stay Up All Night
At this point, it is of great interest to note another element of this Jewish festival: The Jews stay up all night in their synagogue’s house of study, poring over “tikkun.” This consists of little sections from each book of the Torah and the Talmud, representing all of the most important texts of Judaism. But even this act of staying up all night sets forth the theme of resurrection. In The Jewish Holidays, Michael Strassfeld writes of this custom:
“A kabbalistic custom emanating from the mystics in Safed (sixteenth century) is to stay up the whole (first) night of Shavuot studying Torah. The tikkun – a set order of study – was composed of selections from the Bible, rabbinic literature, and even mystical literature such as the Zohar. In this fashion the kabbalists prepared for the momentous revelation of the following morning.
“This practice of staying up all night is in stark contrast to that of the Israelites at Sinai, who according to tradition slept late that morning and had to be awakened by Moses. In atonement for this, Jews nowadays stay awake all night. The sense of preparation for Sinai is heightened by a mystical tradition holding that the skies open up during this night for a brief instant. At that very moment, we are told, God will favorably answer any prayer. The kabbalists also regard Pentecost as the wedding of God and Israel. Therefore, we stay up all night to “decorate the bride.”
What an incredible picture of the rapture! The opening of the heavens “for a brief instant” corresponds with the message in I Corinthians 15:51:
“51 Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye …”
Here is the perfect picture of Christ coming to catch away His bride! And where does He take her? – to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb! This corresponds with Pentecost, when the Jews “stay up all night to decorate the bride,” then feast the next day. And all this, on the festival without a date!
No one knows when the church will be caught up in the rapture. But it could be soon, so keep watching!