The Feast of Pentecost
Most Christians have heard of Pentecost, but they think of it solely as a New Testament event that occurred in the book of Acts. Because of this, few Christians really comprehend the significance of Pentecost, or see how it played a major role in the Old Testament as well as the New. Few understand that there were “Old Testament pentecostals” whose lives and deeds manifested the character of Pentecost itself. If we study the lives of these Old Testament pentecostals, along with those in the New, we may obtain a balanced view of the nature of Pentecost.
This is a very important study, because it puts Pentecost into a more realistic light. Those who think Pentecost is the final capstone of Christianity will learn through this study the limitations of Pentecost. Those who think Pentecost is to be ignored or avoided will learn the benefits and strengths of Pentecost.
Wheat Baked With Leaven
The feast of Pentecost must, of course, be taken in the context of the other feast days of Israel. There were three main feast days: Passover, Pentecost, and the eight days of Tabernacles.
Passover was held on the 14th day of the first month (Abib) in the Spring (Lev. 23:5). In mid-afternoon the people killed a lamb and prepared it for the evening meal. This commemorated that first Passover, when Israel prepared to leave Egypt the next day under Moses. Years later, it was also the day Jesus was crucified.
The priest then waited for the next Sabbath before waving the sheaf of barley “on the day after the Sabbath” (Lev. 23:11). This wave-sheaf offering commemorated Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea, and it was also the day Jesus rose from the dead.
The wave-sheaf offering always fell on a day later known as Sunday by the Roman calendar. It was the first day of a 50-day countdown toward Pentecost. We find this feast described carefully in Moses’ words to Israel in Leviticus 23:15-17.
15 You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete Sabbaths. 16 You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the Lord. 17 You shall bring in from your dwelling places two loaves of bread for a wave offering. . . they shall be of a fine flour, baked with leaven as first fruits to the Lord.
At the feast of Pentecost, the high priest was to offer to God the first fruits of the wheat harvest (Ex. 34:22). He took a specific measure of wheat and baked two loaves of bread with leaven (yeast). This little detail sets the stage for understanding the nature of Pentecost, particularly its limitations in our own lives.
By way of contrast, the Passover had been kept as the first day of “unleavened bread,” wherein all Israelites took the leaven out of their houses for a week. On the Sunday after Passover, the barley wave-sheaf offering was offered to God without leaven. This signifies that those who are justified by faith in the blood of the lamb are imputed righteous, for the righteousness of Christ makes them legally perfect.
But seven weeks later, at Pentecost, the pentecostal offering was to contain leaven in order to show us a very important truth about the pentecostal anointing which the New Testament calls, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It tells us that sanctification is a process in which we are still “leavened.” In our actual lives, we are yet imperfect, even though we have been imputed righteous by the blood of the Lamb.
Leaven was specifically forbidden in all sacrifices. Lev. 2:11 says,
11 No grain offering, which you bring to the Lord, shall be made with leaven, for you shall not offer up in smoke any leaven or any honey as an offering by fire to the Lord.
The only reason that the leavened offering of Pentecost could be offered to God was because it had already been baked in the fire to stop the action of the leaven. Likewise, in order for our leavened offering experience to be acceptable to God is if we present our bodies as “living sacrifices” to God (Rom. 12:1). If we avoid the fire of God, we are unacceptable to God as Pentecostal offerings.
The Earnest of the Spirit
When the day of Pentecost arrived in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the 120 disciples in the upper room. Such a fantastic experience had never occurred in history. They were, no doubt, overwhelmed by it. If someone had asked them on that day about it, they might have thought they had been brought fully into perfection. But this did not happen. Some years later, after they had had time to ponder the nature of Pentecost and see how it had actually worked out in their own lives in practice, Paul said they had only received “the pledge,” that is, the earnest of the Spirit. Eph. 1:13, 14 says:
13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
Pentecost has given us only the “pledge” of our inheritance promised to us UNTIL the full “redemption of God’s own possession.” Romans 8:23 tells us that this is referring to “the redemption of our body.” This comes either by raising the dead or by the transfiguration of those who are and remain unto His coming. Paul tells the Corinthians the same thing in 2 Cor. 1:22, saying,
22 Who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.
Again, he tells them in 2 Cor. 5:5,
5 Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.
By these plain statements it should be clear that we have not received the fullness of His Spirit, but only a portion. It should be clear that there is more yet to come, a final outpouring of the Spirit that will indeed bring us into perfection. We must understand that the present anointing of Pentecost is still leavened, that Sanctification is an on-going process of Christian growth. For this reason Paul found it necessary to pray that the Ephesian believers would go beyond Pentecost into Tabernacles. In his well-known prayer in Eph. 3:14-19, he concludes with the words, “that you might be filled up to all the fullness [pleroma] of God.”
Leaven is a Symbol of Sin
Leaven is a biblical symbol of sin. That is why the Passover was to be observed without leaven. It pictured Jesus, the perfect Sacrifice, the Lamb of God without spot or blemish, who was to die for the sin of the world. And because His perfection is imputed to the believer, God sees us as part of His body.
As we saw earlier in Lev. 2:11, no blood sacrifice or meal offering to God was to be offered with leaven. Why? Because offerings to God were to picture perfection, and leaven was a symbol of sin. However, the exception is the Pentecost offering where the instructions were to bake the bread with leaven. At Pentecost, the antitype is not Christ, but the church.
When Israel was in sin, the prophet Amos used a bit of sarcasm, telling them to offer a sacrifice with leaven, because this was typical of them in their sinful state (Amos 4:5).
This symbol carried into the New Testament era as well. Jesus said to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees (Mt. 16:6) and the leaven of Herod (Mark 8:15). When Paul discussed the Passover feast with the Corinthian church, he scolded them in 1 Cor. 5:6-8, saying,
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? 7 Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
This being the case, it must have seemed strange to Moses and Aaron that God would require them to observe Pentecost with leaven. If the religion had been of their own invention, certainly they would have banned leaven all the more on Pentecost. But they were following a revelation of God Whose wisdom and knowledge passes all understanding. Only God Himself could have foreknown the fulfillment of Pentecost that would occur nearly 1500 years later.
God told the high priest to use leaven at Pentecost precisely so that we would know that we cannot be perfected under the pentecostal anointing. Pentecost was so overwhelming to the people that they might easily have mistaken this for the fullness. They might easily have fallen into the misunderstanding that they could be perfected by it. So God took pains to prophesy to us in the law that Pentecost had limitations in its ability to perfect us.