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Pentecost and the Law

by David Palmer

Pentecost. The Feast of Firstfruits. Feast of Weeks. There are many beautiful applications to this Feast. It symbolizes God’s first harvest of those called in this age, as a ‘kind of firstfruits.’ Christ is called the first of the firstfruits.

It represents a seven-week harvest period, the early harvest, and so is sometimes also referred to as the Feast of Weeks.

But the Holy Day we call Pentecost also has a deep significance to the law of God, both in the Old Testament and in the New.

As we follow the story of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, we see that God provides the miracle of bread from Heaven (manna) in the second month (Exodus 16) after the Israelites had observed the Passover in Egypt. In Exodus 17 we find the miracle of water that came forth from the rock.

In the New Testament analogy, we learn that Christ is that true Bread from heaven and that Rock that quenches our thirst.

Christ was, in fact, the Old Testament lawgiver and the New Testament magnification of that Law.

So, by the time the Israelites reached the wilderness of Sinai, they were in the third month, since they kept the Passover before departing from Egypt. “In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai” (Exodus 19:1).

Then God prepared the people to receive the greatest set of laws the world has ever known. He told Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people” (Exodus 19:10-11). “Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly” (Exodus 19:18). This is similar to when tongues of fire descended on the apostles as recorded in Acts chapter 2.

As the story unfolds, we come to one of the most powerful and most poignant of all biblical chapters, Exodus chapter 20, and the giving of the Ten Commandments.

Some biblical writers and scholars have speculated that the Ten Commandments were given to Israel on the same day the New Testament calls Pentecost.

These ten laws are at the very heart and core of God’s revelation to mankind, the fundamental teaching of Christianity.

From Alfred Edersheim’s commentary, Old Testament Bible History, we read:

“The revelation of God’s will, which Israel heard from Mount Sinai, is contained in the ten commandments, or as they are called in the Hebrew original ‘The Ten Words’.

“These Ten Words were written on TWO tables of stone, which were to be kept within the ark of the covenant.

“It is not easy to say how the commandments were arranged on the two stone tables but we can conclude the first four were on one table, the second six on the other. We do know for certain that the law was written on both sides of each stone.

“Considering more closely these Ten Words of the covenant, we notice first their number ten written on two stones showing love to God and love to neighbour, but also showing the physical application, and the spiritual as magnified by Christ.

“Next we see the fifth commandment forms a transition from the first to the second table. We are to honour our parents, a duty given greater emphasis than our duty to love our fellow man.

“Indeed, this fifth command, our relationship to our earthly father symbolizes our relationship to our Father in Heaven.

“And we note almost all the commands are in negative form implying that ‘transgression’ not ‘obedience’ is natural to us.”

“The first word not only forbids idolatry in thought, word and deed, but enjoins to love, fear, serve and cleave to the Lord.

“The second shows the manner in which the Lord will be served, not under any image or outward representation.

“The third forbids the profaning of the name. The forth word implies previous knowledge of the Sabbath (Remember) and enjoins personal, domestic, and public rest from all manner of labour.

“The fifth directs honour to parents, and implies reverence, to our Heavenly Father.

“The Second Table then moves from ‘outward deeds’ through the sixth, seventh, and eighth commands (murder, adultery, stealing), to ‘speech’ in the ninth, (false witness) and finally ‘thought’ in the tenth.

“The final command sounds the innermost depths of our hearts and forbids all wrong and inordinate desires in reference to anything that belongs to our neighbour.

“Such law was never given by man; never dreamed of in his highest conceptions. Had man only been able to observe it, happiness and joy would have come with it.

“Instead it brought us knowledge of sin which is transgression of the Law but just as the commandments were placed in the mercy seat, we have salvation through the forgiveness of transgressing the law by the grace of God, who gave his only son to save the world” (Alfred Edersheim).

Ancient Israel’s priests were instructed to take a small sheaf of the early harvest and wave it before God. it was a ceremony that allowed God to accept the Wave Sheaf offering, the very first of the first fruits of the spring harvest. The same ceremony took place when the risen Christ, the firstborn from the dead, was presented before God the Father.

“Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb” (John 20:1).

The phrase, “first day of the week,” in the original Greek (Temiaton Sabbaton) could be rendered, “On the first of the Sabbaths.” While it was indeed the first day of the week, it was, in fact, the first day for the reckoning of seven Sabbaths to Pentecost (Dr. Bullinger’s Companion Bible). “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God” (John 20:17). Christ our wave sheaf was presented to His Father as the first of the firstfruits, on the morrow after the Sabbath during Passover season.

“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:22-23).

God gave ancient Israel Ten Commandments, His perfect law. Then years later God gave His Holy Spirit to those firstfruits who were called to keep and observe the law given at Sinai. A risen Jesus told His disciples “Teach all nations to observe all things I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).

The power to do that came on the Day of Pentecost. The account is recorded in Acts 2. It was the day the gift of the Holy Spirit was given in full measure. “Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:3-4).

As the story goes on, we are told of a miracle both in the speaking and hearing, that people of different languages heard and understood in their own language “the wonderful works of God’”(verse 11). When Jesus promised the Comforter (the Holy Spirit), that promise was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost.

God’s wonderful plan of salvation is portrayed in the seven Holy Days of the year, and Jesus Christ is the focus of each of those Days.

In receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ lives in us. “...it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me...” (Galatians 2:20).

That is Pentecost.

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