Shavuot / Pentecost and Jesus being the Firstfruits from the Dead

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Many people seem surprised when they find out that Pentecost (Shavuot) is actually tied to the  Passover on the Jewish calendar.  Jesus being the firstfruits from the dead can be understood when one understands this feast.


Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) is a holiday which marks the completion of a seven-week counting period that began at Passover and is one of the three annual Pilgrim festivals (along with Passover / Pesach and Sukkot / Feast of Booths) on which every male Israelite was commanded in the Law to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. Shavuot is also referred to in the Torah as the Feast of Harvest (Exodus 23:16).

Shavuot has come to be associated with the giving of the Law to Moses at Sinai although this is not explicit in the Biblical text.  Shavuot (Pentecost) is also the day in which the Holy Spirit was given, as recorded in the New Testament book of Acts.

Since the Jewish calendar is lunar (354 days instead of 365 days as in a solar calendar) and a new month begins with the new moon, the timing of all Jewish holidays varies each year on the Western  (Gregorian) solar calendar. Shavuot does not even fall on the same day on the Jewish calendar because it is timed relative to the Feast of Unleavened Bread rather than on a specific day of the Jewish month, as do all other Jewish holidays.

Shavuot is celebrated at the end of a 50-day period known today as the Counting of the Omer. The start of this 50-day period (hence ‘Pentecost” meaning “50”) was marked during Temple times by the bringing of the Omer offering (also called “Firstfruits“) and ended on the 50th day with the festival of Shavuot.

The timing of these events are of consequence to the Church;  Jesus was crucified on what is called “Good Friday” (which fell on the first day of the Passover that year) and rose from the dead on what is called “Easter Sunday”; and the first Sunday after the Sabbath that fell during Passover / the Feast of Unleavened Bread that year.  The Sunday that Jesus rose from the dead was when the Omer offering (also called the “Firstfruit offering”) was brought to the Temple to be offered to the LORD.  This gives understanding to Paul referring to Jesus as the firstfruits from the dead (1 Cor 15:20-23).

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 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 15:20-23).

The date of when Shavuot / Pentecost fell was the focus of one of the fiercest of debates between the Pharisees and the Sadducees during the end of the Second Temple period, around the time of Jesus. Not only was there debate between the Pharisees and Sadducees as to when this holiday was to begin, the Essenes (the sect known for the Dead Sea Scrolls) had a third interpretation. Difference of opinion centered around the interpretation of the phrase “morrow of the Sabbath” i.e. the “day after the Sabbath”, in Leviticus 23:


“And you shall count from the morrow of the Sabbath from the day you bring the Omer [sheaf] of waving; seven complete Sabbaths shall you count… until the morrow of the seventh Sabbath shall you count fifty days… and you shall proclaim on this very day, it shall be a holy convocation for you.” (Leviticus 23:15-16,21).


The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes each arrived at a different understanding as to what the Hebrew phrase “morrow of the Sabbath” meant

טז  עַד מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת הַשְּׁבִיעִת, תִּסְפְּרוּ חֲמִשִּׁים יוֹם; וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם מִנְחָה חֲדָשָׁה, לַיהוָה

and as a result, there was disagreement amongst these three groups as to when Shavuot fell.  This is no small matter, since this is one of the three festivals in which Jewish males were commanded to come to Jerusalem.

The Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes  each agreed that the “morrow of the Sabbath” was associated with the Feast of Unleavened Bread and that Shavuot is counted as being “seven complete Sabbaths” (i.e. 49 days) plus “the morrow of the Sabbath”  but what is meant by the “morrow of the Sabbath” was what was in dispute among these three groups. Each arrived at a different conclusion and thus each arrived at a different date for when Shavuot was to be celebrated.

(1) The Pharisees (who wrote the Mishnah and the Talmud and from whom today’s Orthodox rabbis descended) argued that Shavuot is to be counted from the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which they designated a “Sabbath.” According to the Pharisees, “morrow of the Sabbath” means the “morrow of the 1st day of Unleavened Bread.” The ancient Pharisees and their modern day successor the Orthodox rabbis begin the 50-day count to Shavuot on the second day of Unleavened Bread, which is always the 16th day of Nisan (on the Hebrew lunar calendar).  As a result, the Pharisee Shavuot always fell from the 5th to the 7th day of the third Hebrew month of Sivan.  After the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE, the Pharisees became the predominant surviving faction among the Jewish leadership and their interpretation is followed by most Jews until this very day. In 359 CE, the Pharisee leader Hillel II established a pre-calculated calendar and ever since the Pharisee Shavuot has always been observed on the 6th of Sivan.

(2) The Essenes who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls began the 50-day count to Shavuot on a different Sabbath from the Pharisees. Unlike the Pharisees (and today’s Orthodox Jews who follow a lunar calendar), the Essenes had a 364-day solar calendar which began every year on a Wednesday and had fixed lengths for each month.  Based on the Essene calendar, Shavuot always fell out on the 15th day of the third Hebrew month.  In their reckoning, the Omer offering was to be brought on the ‘morrow of the weekly Sabbath‘.  Since Sabbath is always on Saturday (beginning on Friday night at sundown), the morrow of the weekly Sabbath would be what we call Sunday.  The Essenes began their count as to when Shavuot started on the Sunday after the seven-days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, i.e. on the 26th day of the first Hebrew month. The Essenes are presumed to have been wiped out when the Romans invaded Judea in 66-74 CE and only their documents survive today.

(3) The Sadducees made up the Temple Priesthood.  The Sadducees agreed with the Essenes that Shavuot is to be counted from a weekly Sabbath, but disagreed as to which one. The Sadducees believed the 50-day count to Shavuot begins on the weekly Sabbath that falls during the seven-days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  According to their reckoning, the counting towards Shavuot could begin anywhere from the 15th to the 21st day of the month of Nisan, depending on what day of the week the Feast of Unleavened Bread began.  If Unleavened Bread began on a Sunday, the count would begin on the 15th day of the month. If Unleavened Bread began on a Saturday, the count would begin on the 16th day of the month, and so on. Based on this counting, Shavuot could fall from the 4th to the 12th of the third Hebrew month of Sivan.

We know from Josephus that the Pharisees interpretation was the one that prevailed as he writes that “all prayers and sacred rites of divine worship are performed according to their [the Pharisees’] exposition” (Antiquities 18:15), and that the Sadducees “submit to the formulas of the Pharisees, since otherwise the masses would not tolerate them” (Antiquities 18:17).

Orthodox Jews today also count the Omer starting on the second day of Passover, whereas Kairate Jews (a very small sect) that do not recognize the authority of the Talmud or Mishnah and follow only the Tenakh (Old Testament) count the Omer is accordance with the understanding of the Sadducees.


The Challenge of the Pharisee Reckoning of Shavuot


The Pharisees (and today’s Orthodox rabbis) believed the 50-day count must begin with an annual “Sabbath” rather than the weekly Sabbath.  The problem with this is while the 1st day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (and the 7th day of Unleavened Bread) is a day on which no work was to take place, it is never referred to in the Tenakh (Old Testament) as a “Sabbath”.  The only annual feast day to ever be referred to in the Tenakh (Old Testament) as a ‘Sabbath’ is the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) which falls on the tenth day of the seventh Hebrew month. Work is forbidden on six other annual feast days, but the days are never referred to in the Tanakh as “Sabbaths”.

The bigger problem with the Pharisee interpretation of “Sabbath” is when it comes to the end of the 50-day count.

Leviticus 23:16 says,

“…until the morrow of the seventh Sabbath shall you count fifty days.”

The 1st day day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread could theoretically be called “Sabbath” even though the Hebrew Bible never uses this terminology, however, the 49th day of the Pharisee counting is not a Sabbath, unless it just happens to fall on a weekly Sabbath (i.e. on the 7th day of the week).   As a result, the Pharisee Shavuot rarely falls on the “morrow of the seventh Sabbath” as required by Leviticus 23:16. Only once every seven years, the Pharisee Shavuot falls on the “morrow of the seventh Sabbath.”  In most years, Shavuot according to the Pharisee reckoning is actually the morrow of seventh Monday, the morrow of seventh Tuesday, etc.

The only way for Shavuot to consistently be the “morrow of the seventh Sabbath” is for the counting to begin on the morrow of a weekly Sabbath (what we now call “Sunday”); which is how the Sadducees reckoned it.


The Best Reckoning of When Shavuot Falls


The Hebrew word for “morrow” is מִמָּחֳרַת (pronounced ‘mi-mocharat’) which refers to “the morning after”.  In the passage;

“And you shall count from the morrow of the Sabbath from the day you bring the Omer [sheaf] of waving; seven complete Sabbaths shall you count… until the morrow of the seventh Sabbath shall you count fifty days… and you shall proclaim on this very day, it shall be a holy convocation for you.” (Leviticus 23:15-16,21).

the most straight-forward understanding of the phrase “morrow of the Sabbath” describes Sunday, the morning after the 24-hour Sabbath.

Of the three interpretations of when Shavuot falls, the Sadducee reckoning for beginning the 50-day counting of the Omer to Shavuot of referring to the weekly Sabbath that falls during the seven-days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, is the most natural understanding.

Based on this understanding, Shavuot falls each year from the 4th to the 12th of the third Hebrew month of Sivan and always fall on the seventh Sunday after Passover.


This Year; Shavuot & Pentecost Sunday


This year (2015 / 5775) as it did the year Jesus was crucified, “Good Friday” on the Western calendar coincided with the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (“Passover”) on the Jewish lunar calendar and as a result, this year Shavuot falls on the same day as Pentecost Sunday.

Happy Shavuot / Pentecost!

“A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in”

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The question is often asked “has God rejected the Jews (the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) because they have rejected Jesus as the Messiah?” In this Note, I will look at Romans 11, especially the phrase “A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in”.

The Apostle Paul has much to say about whether God has rejected the Jews and speaks directly to Gentiles specifically in this regard in Romans 11:14–25. Speaking about the unbelief of much of physical Israel Paul exhorts the Gentile Christians not to brag (:18), not to be arrogant (:20), not to be conceited (:25) and not to be unaware (:25) of God’s plans of redemption.

Those are pretty powerful words – words that often get overlooked today. Paul elaborates what he means:

Speaking to Gentiles he tells them not to brag that the Jews “were broken off and you Gentiles, even though a wild olive branch, were grafted in among them and have come to share in the rich root of the cultivated olive tree”.  The cultivated olive tree is Israel and is referred to again in Mark 12 in the Parable of the Tenants (Israel is the vineyard and God is the Vineyard-keeper). While the Gentiles have salvation while much of physical Israel does not, Paul reminds them that they are not “better” than the Jews for it. He exhorts them not to brag and reminds them that they “do not sustain the root, but the root sustains you”.

Paul exhorts the Gentiles “do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches [the Jews], He will not spare you either” and exhorts them to “remain in His kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.”

Paul then goes on to say “if they [the Jews] do not remain in unbelief, will be grafted in, because God has the power to graft them in again. For if you [Gentiles] were cut off from your native wild olive and against nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree [Jews], how much more will these—the natural branches [unbelieving Jews]—be grafted into their own olive tree [Israel]?”

He then exhorts the Gentiles to “not be conceited” and that they should “not be unaware of this mystery: A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.

“Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. In view of the fact that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if I can somehow make my own people [the Jews] jealous and save some of them.  For if their rejection brings reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?

Now if the firstfruits offered up are holy, so is the whole batch. And if the root is holy, so are the branches.

Now if some of the branches were broken off [the Jews] and you [Gentiles], though a wild olive branch, were grafted in among them and have come to share in the rich root of the cultivated olive tree [i.e. the commonwealth of Israel], do not brag that you are better than those [Jewish] branches. But if you do brag—you do not sustain the root, but the root sustains you.

Then you will say, “Branches [Jewish] were broken off so that I, [a Gentile] might be grafted in.”  True enough; they were broken off by unbelief, but you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches [the Jews], He will not spare you either.

Therefore, consider God’s kindness and severity: severity toward those who have fallen but God’s kindness toward you [as Gentiles] —if you remain in His kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.

And even if they [the Jews], do not remain in unbelief, will be grafted in, because God has the power to graft them in again.

For if you [Gentiles] were cut off from your native wild olive and against nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree [Jews], how much more will these—the natural branches [unbelieving Jews]—be grafted into their own olive tree [Israel]?

So that you will not be conceited, brothers, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery:

partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.

~ Romans 11:14–25

partial hardening has come to Israel for a time and for a purpose; and that is, “until the full number of the Gentiles has come in”.

It should be humbling, not reason for bragging or arrogance that the Jews partial hardening is for the Gentile’s salvation.

Another question that often comes up is “what does the Old Testament have to say about the Jews eventual recognition of their Messiah?” Zechariah 12 speaks of this quite clearly!

“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the house of David [the Jews] and the residents of Jerusalem and they will look upon Me whom they pierced. They will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child and weep bitterly for Him as one weeps for a firstborn.”

~ Zechariah 12:10

Literally; they will look upon Me, Elohim their God whom they have pierced and mourn for Him, my Son.

The Jews will have their eyes opened and they will look upon Jesus whom we have pierced and mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child.

People will often say “oh, the Jews broke the Covenant with God therefore God is no longer obligated to them”.  Yes, we broke the Covenant but two things ought not to be overlooked.  The Covenant God made with the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob in which He promised them to be a people and to have a very specific land is described as an everlasting covenant and the land as their eternal possession (Genesis 17:7-8).


“I will keep My covenant between Me and you, and your future offspring throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant to be your God and the God of your offspring after you.   And to you and your future offspring I will give the land where you are residing—all the land of Canaan—as an eternal possession, and I will be their God.”

~ Genesis 17:7-8


While the covenant God made with the Jews is an everlasting covenant and the land eternally belongs to the Jews, God was also very clear what would happen if the Jews did not obey His commands and broke the covenant.  He would scatter them from the land;

“I will reject you. I will reduce your cities to ruins and devastate your sanctuaries. I will not smell the pleasing aroma of your sacrifices. I also will devastate the land, so that your enemies who come to live there will be appalled by it. But I will scatter you among the nations, and I will draw a sword to chase after you. So your land will become desolate, and your cities will become ruins.”

~Leviticus 26: 30-33

The Jews breaking their covenant with God would result in God scattering them from the land in exile and true to His Word, He exiled the Jews from the Land twice.

While God did say He would scatter us for our disobedience, He also said He would gather us again.

When all these things happen to you—the blessings and curses I have set before you—and you come to your senses while you are in all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and all your soul by doing everything I am giving you today,  then He will restore your fortunes,[b] have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. Even if your exiles are at the ends of the earth, He will gather you and bring you back from there. The Lord your God will bring you into the land your fathers possessed, and you will take possession of it. He will cause you to prosper and multiply you more than He did your fathers.

~ Deuteronomy 30:1-5

God has always acted on behalf of the “faithful remnant”; even when the Jewish people as a nation were in apostasy.  That is still the case; but that is a topic for a future blog.


[For more on God scattering the Jews twice for their disobedience please read: www.jewishrootsofchristianity.ca/return-of-the-jews-to-the-land-of-israel-both-times/]


When two people make a covenant, usually both parties ‘sign’ the agreement.  In Old Testament times, when a covenant was made between two people, both parties would split animals in half and walk between the cut halves and by doing so saying ‘if I break this covenant then what happens to these animals happen to me”.  This is where the term ‘cutting an agreement’ comes from.  Of importance, when God ratified the Covenant with Abraham He was the only One to pass between the two halves of the sacrifice, meaning He alone will pay the penalty if it is broken.

Furthermore, knowing that we would break the Covenant, God promises in the Old Testament that He will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah not like the covenant which He made with our fathers in the day He took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of EgyptHis covenant which they broke, although He was a husband to them, declared the LORD.” (Jeremiah 33:31-33)

The New Covenant is made with the Jewish people in the Old Testament!!

Listen to the words of Jeremiah;

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of EgyptMy covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.

But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people”

~ Jeremiah 31: 31-33

Hebrews 8 clearly states that Jesus is the mediator of this New Covenant.

Bringing this full circle back to Paul, has God rejected the Jews because they have rejected the Messiah? No. In the same manner as the covenant God ‘cut’ with Abraham by along passing between the halves of cut animals, Jesus alone ratified the New Covenant.

Speaking to Gentile Christians in Romans 11: 1-7

“I ask, then, has God rejected His people?Absolutely not*!

The term in Greek is “me genoito” the strongest negative in the Greek, however as a Jew and a Pharisee, Paul may have been alluding to an equivalent term in Judaism “ha lilla!”, which you can read about here: http://www.jewishrootsofchristianity.ca/paul-mean-may-never/

For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin

[i.e. a Jew and proof God has not rejected the Jews!]

God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.

Or don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he pleads with God against Israel?

Lord, they have killed Your prophets

and torn down Your altars.

I am the only one left,

and they are trying to take my life!

But what was God’s reply to him?

I have left 7,000 men for Myself who have not bowed down to Baal.

In the same way, then, there is also at the present time a remnant chosen by grace.

Now if by grace, then it is not by works; otherwise grace ceases to be grace.

What then?

Israel did not find what it was looking for, but the elect did find it. The rest were hardened, as it is written

[Deut 29:4, Is 29:10, Ps 69:22-23].

Yes, the Jewish people’s partial hardening was spoken of beforehand and specifically noted to be temporary “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in”.

“Has God done away with the Old Testament?”

We know from Hebrews 8:13 that the Old Covenant is “old and aging and about to disappear”(:13) but not yet. For Jesus says in Matthew 5:17-19 that “none of the Law would pass away until it is all fulfilled” which it has not happened yet, for He still has to bring His ancient people back as He said He would.  My people have yet “to look on Him whom we have pierced and mourn from Him as one mourns for an only son” (Zechariah 12:10).

Soon and very soon…

Why did God allow this partial hardening to happen to the Jews?  Romans 9:23 says specifically that it was to allow the Gentiles to come to faith (i.e. until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled). God has done as He said He would;

“to make known the riches of His glory on objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory on us, the ones He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles.

~Romans 9:23

…which He spoke of beforehand in Hosea when He said He would call Not My People, My People [the Gentiles] and she who is Unloved, Beloved [see Hos 2:23, Hos 1:10].

Our partial hardening is so that “those who were not a people [Gentiles] could become His people”.

He is still gathering the Gentiles, but there will come a day “when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” and the eyes of my people will be opened and “they will look on Me who they have pierced and mourn for Him as one mourns for an only son”.

That day will come because God is faithful to His word, to accomplish everything He speaks.

God spoke of beforehand in Deut 32:21 and affirmed it again through Paul in Romans 10:19, that He would make the Jews jealous “by those who are not a nation” (i.e. the Gentiles, a people who are “Not My People” cf Romans 9:23);

 “I will make you jealous

of those who are not a nation;

I will make you angry by a nation

that lacks understanding”

~Romans 10:19

Paul says in Romans 10:20, it was prophesied beforehand (Isaiah 65:1) that He would be found by those not looking for Him [the Gentiles].

“And Isaiah says boldly:

I was found

by those who were not looking for Me;

I revealed Myself

to those who were not asking for Me”.

~Romans 10:20

Bringing this back to the very beginning, it is in this context, that Paul addresses the future salvation of Israel in Romans 11:1-25;

I ask, then, has God rejected His people? Absolutely not!.

For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.

God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.

Or don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he pleads with God against Israel?

Lord, they have killed Your prophets

and torn down Your altars.

I am the only one left,

and they are trying to take my life!

But what was God’s reply to him?

I have left 7,000 men for Myself who have not bowed down to Baal.

In the same way, then, there is also at the present time a remnant chosen by grace. Now if by grace, then it is not by works; otherwise grace ceases to be grace.

What then?

Israel did not find what it was looking for, but the elect did find it. The rest were hardened, as it is written.

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. In view of the fact that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if I can somehow make my own people [the Jews] jealous and save some of them.

For if their rejection brings reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?

Now if the firstfruits offered up are holy, so is the whole batch. And if the root is holy, so are the branches.

Now if some of the branches were broken off [the Jews] and you [Gentiles], though a wild olive branch, were grafted in among them and have come to share in the rich root of the cultivated olive tree, do not brag that you are better than those [Jewish] branches. But if you do brag—you do not sustain the root, but the root sustains you.

Then you will say, “Branches [Jewish] were broken off so that I, [a Gentile] might be grafted in.”  True enough; they were broken off by unbelief, but you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches [the Jews], He will not spare you either.

Therefore, consider God’s kindness and severity: severity toward those who have fallen but God’s kindness toward you [as Gentiles] —if you remain in His kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.

And even they, if they do not remain in unbelief, will be grafted in, because God has the power to graft them in again.

For if you [Gentiles] were cut off from your native wild olive and against nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree [Jews], how much more will these—the natural branches [unbelieving Jews]—be grafted into their own olive tree [Israel]?

So that you will not be conceited, brothers, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery:

partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.