The Israelites knew how to feast, that’s for sure. Each calendar year, Israel was commanded by God to partake in seven feasts (who said God doesn’t like fun?), each of which has lasting theological significance for Christians. We find details about these feasts in Leviticus 23, a chapter that deserves a closer reading. Why? Because each feast ultimately finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus.
This study is one that puts me in a posture of praise; I can hardly fathom how God ordained all of these to show his glory so perfectly. It’s my prayer that you’ll respond in praise as well as you see the wonder of God.
Let’s focus specifically on two feasts here, the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23:9-22).
Each spring, the Jews in the Promised Land would enjoy a time of harvest. In Jerusalem for the Passover, the Jews would take the first of the harvest and bring it to the priest. The priest would wave this grain before God, then offering a sacrifice to God. This feast was a celebration that looked forward to a greater harvest.
Then, 50 days later the Jews would celebrate the Feast of Weeks. They had recently been in Jerusalem for the Passover and now would gather there again. This feast would be similar to the one preceding it, as the Jews would offer to God the beginnings of a harvest as they looked forward to its totality.
If these feasts were only about expressing dependence on God for his provision, it would be something worth our attention. And yet, it’s so much more significant.
See, the timing of these feasts is crucial for us to understand their present significance as it relates to Christ. The Feast of Firstfruits was to take place the day after Sabbath during Passover week. In other words, this was the Sunday of the week when Jews celebrated Passover.
As we discussed in our study of Jesus as the Passover Lamb, Jesus was crucified during Passover. This means that Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, is also the day for the Feast of Firstfruits! Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of a greater harvest of resurrection, one that his followers experience as we are resurrected to eternal life.
Paul explains this to the church in Corinth: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
So what about the Feast of Weeks? Do you remember what happened after Jesus rose from the dead? He spent some time with his disciples before ascending to heaven, and he commanded his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for “the promise of the Father” (Luke 24:48-51).
The book of Acts recounts what happens next: “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).
Pentecost, fascinatingly, is a Greek word meaning “fiftieth.” It’s a day we’re familiar with, just by another name. It’s the same day as the Feast of Weeks, 50 days from the Feast of Firstfruits!
This means that all that took place in Acts 2 with the Holy Spirit is all within the framework of the Old Testament Jewish feasts. What once symbolized the dawn of a new harvest finds its fulfillment in the work of Jesus. 3,000 souls were saved and the church was in motion; consider this the firstfruits of the great harvest of souls in which we are still living.
Those first generations of Jews didn’t know all the reasons why God instructed them to celebrate the feasts when and how he commanded. Now, we see why. It is because centuries later, through the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, God would work within these feasts to highlight his unfathomable work of redemption.
As you reflect on these two feasts and study the others, meditate on God’s identity. He is everlasting; he knew how he would fulfill these feasts centuries after he instituted them. We can trust that God has good reasons for ordering things the way he has, even when they don’t make sense to us at the moment.
What a great, trustworthy, mighty God we serve!