In the days between Passover and  Shavuot in 32 AD, the city of Jerusalem must have been abuzz with excitement, confusion, and caution.  The memory of Passover and the crucifixion of Jesus were still on the minds and in the hearts of many.

Jerusalem was under the firm grip of Rome who was watching for signs of Jewish insurrection and rebellion. Crucifixions continued and often the streets were lined with those whom Rome feared the most. How the people must have longed for a deliverer like Moses or Judah Maccabee. And what about Jesus and His followers?  So many of the travelling pilgrims had only heard the stories of His miracles and claims, but others had seen Him dead and then alive.  But now His followers were “holed up” and hidden from sight. Despite it all, the people were counting the “omer”[1] anticipating the harvest festival of Shavuot. Shavuot was a holiday of thanksgiving, gratitude and praise.  Despite circumstances, there was still much to be grateful for; God had given them another harvest.  Above all, God was always worthy of praise and thanksgiving. The observance of Shavuot began as it had for hundreds of years. Worshipping pilgrims came to Jerusalem from distant lands.  While there might have been fewer pilgrims than at Passover, tens of thousands took advantage of the better weather that made traveling much easier.

Acts 2:5, 9-11 And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs.

The pilgrims needed time to prepare their offerings and sacrifices.  Of course it was easier for the locals, but for the weary travelers, they needed to go to the Temple courts and begin the Middle Eastern negotiation. Once again we turn to Edersheim who paints the scene so beautifully.

As the stars shone out in the deep blue sky with the brilliancy peculiar to an Easter clime, the blasts of the priest’ trumpets, announcing the commencement of the feast, sounded from the Temple mount through the delicious stillness of the summer night.  Already in the first watch the great altar was cleansed, and immediately after midnight the Temple gates were thrown open.  For before the morning sacrifice all burnt-and-peace offerings which the people proposed to bring at the feast had to be examined by the officiating priesthood.  Great as their number was, it must have been a busy time, till the announcement that the morning glow extended to Hebron put an end to all such preparations, by giving the signal for the regular morning sacrifice.

After the festive offerings prescribed in Numbers 28:26-30 were brought…The Levites were now chanting the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) to the accompanying music of a single flute, which began and ended the song, so as to give it a sort of soft sweetness. The round, ringing treble of the selected voices from the children of Levites, who stood below their fathers, gave richness and melody to the hymn while the people either repeated or responded, as on the evening of the Passover sacrifice.

Then came the peculiar offering of the day –that of the two wave-loaves, with their accompanying sacrifices. [2]

What was so peculiar about this offering?  The wave-loaves were made with leaven, the only such grain offering.  Leaven is the biblical symbol for sin.  Since every offering to a holy God, the offering itself needed to be considered holy.   God will not tolerate impurity, not in His worshippers nor in their offerings.  In Israel’s rebellion she compromised her worship (Malachi 1:7-9). Not surprisingly there is no consensus explaining the reason for this offering – two loaves of bread presented to the Lord on one platter.  However I believe it was a prophetic act that would be explained on that Shavuot of 32 AD. As worshippers were experiencing the sights, smells and sounds of the Temple, there were other sights and sounds coming from the Upper Room where 120 Jewish followers of Jesus were praying. The Apostle Luke describes what happened:

Acts 2:1-4:When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 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….

Can you imagine the uproar?  Did many of the pilgrims and perhaps even some of the priests, drop everything and run to see and to hear? What did they see?  Divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. What did they hear:  “In our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” With the aroma of the sacrifices filling the air, I wonder how many of them remembered the smells of the Passover sacrifices, even the sight of Jesus carrying His cross to Golgotha. As God had promised through the Hebrew prophets, He was now giving to Israel and through Israel to the Gentiles:

  • a better Torah,
  • a better covenant,
  • a better mediator.

As there have always been mockers of God so then there was confusion, doubts and scoffing.  In response, Peter stood up

Acts 2: 14-16, 40-41: …with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what the prophet Joel spoke about…

And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. Of course that wasn’t the total fulfillment of the two loaves wave-offering.  About seven years later, Peter had a vision and a call from the Lord to go and preach Jesus to the Gentiles.

Acts 10:34-35, 44-45: Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.

 The final explanation comes from the Apostle Paul:

Ephesians 2:14-18: For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.

The unique wave offering of two loaves of bread on one platter is an illustration of God’s plan was through the sacrifice of Jesus, to create out of Jews and Gentiles a Kingdom of priests who would love, trust, worship and serve Him forever.

 Exodus 12:49: And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you.”

Let’s now consider Peter’s message in the context of Shavuot. First he had to give a quick lesson to those who had come from so far away.  To them Jesus was probably still a source of confusion and emotional conflict

Acts 2:22-24 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.

Then he had to connect Jesus to David, thus giving Him credibility to the Jews.  We do not know when the religious started reading the Book of Ruth on Shavuot, but clearly the connection with David was not lost on the pilgrims.

Acts 2:25-31 For David says concerning Him:  ‘I foresaw the Lord always before my face, 
for He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken...’ And Peter finishes with the exhortation and invitation so appropriate when proclaiming the Gospel:

Acts 2:32-36 This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.

 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

The people responded (faith comes by hearing the Word of God) and the true harvest of Shavuot began. One last comment.  Shavuot is the second harvest of Israel’s agricultural season.  Jesus’ rose on the first harvest and is called “firstfruit of the dead (1 Corinthians 1:20).” It has been said that the “church” was born on Shavuot, the second harvest.  Could this be what James was thinking when he said,

James 1:18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

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[1] The omer is a unit of measure. According to Leviticus the people were to count the days starting on the second day of Passover until Shavuot.  On the first day after the Sabbath of Passover, an omer of barley was cut down and brought to the Temple as an offering.  This offering was known as the Omer. Each successive day was considered another omer, ie the 16th day, would be two weeks and two days of the Omer.”
[2] Edersheim, Alfred, The Temple, Its Ministry and Services, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 1994) Pg 208.

 

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