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Biblical Feasts, Jesus in the Old Testament

The messianic meaning of Shavuot

On Shavuot, the biblical Feast of Weeks, we celebrate the Giving of the Law on Mt Sinai and the covenant God made with Israel in the wilderness. Roughly 800 years later, the Prophet Jeremiah revealed the messianic meaning of Shavuot, when he announced that God would make a new covenant with the house of Israel (Jeremiah 31:31).

That promise was fulfilled 2000 years ago, with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost which makes Shavuot the fourth Old Testament feast that was fulfilled in the New Testament.

Shavuot in the Bible

Shavuot is celebrated on the 50th day after the Feast of Firstfruits (the Greek “Pentecost” means “fiftieth”). Together with Passover and Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles), Shavuot is one of the three annual pilgrimage festivals when every male Israelite had to come up to Jerusalem and present himself before the Lord (Exodus 23:14-17).

On Shavuot, Israel marked the beginning of the wheat harvest and brought the firstfruit of their harvest to God’s Sanctuary (the Tabernacle and later on the Temple).

To better understand the messianic meaning of Shavuot, we need to look at how this feast of the Lord was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.

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Similarities between Pentecost and Shavuot

Shavuot: Giving of the Law at Mt Sinai

The very first Shavuot, which took place about 3,400 years ago, on the fiftieth day after Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt, coincided with the Giving of the Law on Mt Sinai the Torah (Exodus 19:1).

On that day, God came down on Mt Sinai and entered into a covenant with Israel. Israel, the Jewish people, became the first – and remains until today the only – nation which God calls his very own people, his “special treasure”, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6).

In Exodus 32 we read that while Moses was on the mountain with God and received the tablets on which God had inscribed his commandments, the Israelites made a golden calf and began to worship it. When Moses returned from the mountain, he had those who engaged in idol worship killed – roughly 3000 men (Exodus 32:28).

Shavuot was a shadow of the New Covenant

Shavuot, as many other events in the Old Testament, had a messianic meaning. It was a shadow of what was to come and be fulfilled by the Messiah, Yeshua (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5).

After the Giving of the Law on Shavuot, the Israelites made one discovery: they were unable to live by the Mosaic Law. Generation after generation, they sinned and failed to live up to God’s standards.

That was not because the Mosaic Law was flawed – the Law certainly was perfect! (Romans 7:12). But, as Paul put it in Romans 8:3, “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature.” (NLT) Because of our sinful human nature, we cannot fulfil the Law and cannot become righteous by our own works.

That’s why the Mosaic Law was not God’s final word. Centuries after the Giving of the Law at Mt Sinai, God promised He would make a New Covenant and impart His Law in a new, more substantial way. He declared through the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers…, my covenant that they broke,…. I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:31-33, ESV)

I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:27, ESV)

The Coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

God began to fulfil these prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel on exactly that feast of Shavuot that was celebrated 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection: God poured out his Holy Spirit on the 120 disciples who had gathered in the Upper Room (Acts 2:1-21).

It was by the Coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Shavuot) that God inscribed his Law in their hearts. From then onward, the disciples were to follow and obey the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit.

Day by day, slowly but surely, they had to learn to listen to the Holy Spirit and walk in God’s eternal statutes. This was the seal of God’s New Covenant with Israel and Judah.

When the Law was given at Mt Sinai, 3000 died. It is no coincidence that on the day of Pentecost, when Peter preached his first sermon, that 3000 men were saved.

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Shavuot in light of the New Testament

The messianic meaning of Shavuot

Shavuot points to the Coming of the Holy Spirit

The messianic meaning of Shavuot also applies to our personal walk with God. We too need to experience the outpouring of the Holy Spirit personally. The Holy Spirit is the law inscribed in our hearts – he leads us into God’s truth.

We are called to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading and obey him in all areas of our life. From the inside out, he changes us into the likeness of Christ – if we submit and obey him.

The Holy Spirit is also called the Spirit of adoption who witnesses to our spirit that we indeed have left our pagan past behind and instead now have a new identity as children of God (Romans 8:15f).

Shavuot: Salvation for the Gentiles

The Coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was not limited to Israel and the Jewish people. The prophet Joel promised that the Holy Spirit will be poured out on the Gentiles also:

“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people…before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance….” (Joel 2:28-32, NIV)

“All people” means Jews and Gentiles alike will receive the Holy Spirit – and therefore partake in this new covenant. And “everyone” who calls on the Lord will be saved, means everyone, also the Gentiles, will find salvation on Mount Zion – that is the Jewish Messiah Yeshua!

Shavuot is followed by a time for growth

Shavuot, fifty days after Passover, usually falls on the months of May or June and is followed by the hot summer months. In Israel, the summer heat makes the fruits of the land grow and mature – ready for harvest time during the feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot).

The messianic meaning of that aspect is, that we as believers also go through seasons of waiting, intense heat and uncomfortable pressure (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4). If we want to follow Christ wholeheartedly, things need to change! We need to change.

Just like the fruit of the land, difficult seasons, heat and dryness are a means to produce the Fruit of the Spirit in our life. Our character is shaped and our faith grows and is strengthened.

After Shavuot comes Judgment Day

Joel prophesied that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit would precede the “great and awesome Day of the LORD” (Joel 2:31) – which is Judgement Day. In the Biblical calendar, the summer months end abruptly with the sound of the shofar on Yom Teruah. (Today, the Day of Trumpets coincides with Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year).

Yom Teruah (also called Yom HaDin – Day of Judgement) points towards the day at the end of the age, when at the trumpet’s sound “the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:52, NKJV)

Nine days after the Day of Trumpet is the solemn day of Yom Kippur, Atonement Day, when God announces his verdict. This again is followed by the joyful Feast called Sukkot – the final harvest feast of the biblical year, when all the final fruits were brought in.

The messianic meaning of the Biblical feasts, as well as their annual order, can hardly be missed: After God has poured out his Spirit and made a Covenant with us on Shavuot, we enter a season of heat and dryness. This points to our life here on earth, our challenges, the testing of our faith, but also our maturing.

God shapes and grows us until we are ready to appear before him on Judgement Day (Yom Teruah) which is followed Sukkot, when God’s Tabernacle will be with us here on earth! (Revelation 21:3)

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