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Reflecting on Pentecost

A J.R. Church Classic from the May 2013 Prophecy in the News Magazine

Editor’s Note: “The Feast of Shavuot, or Pentecost, was observed from sundown on Tuesday, June 11 until sunrise on Thursday, June 13, 2024. What is the history and prophetic significance of this Jewish feast? Could it be linked to the rapture of the church? Rev. J. R. Church answered these questions in a May 2013 Prophecy in the News magazine article by exploring Scripture, ancient history, and Jewish tradition.” —Staff Evangelist Josh Davis


 

Since this is the month to celebrate Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks, we thought you might enjoy reading a comprehensive review of our research on the subject over the years. We are publishing three articles in this magazine to help you enjoy and better understand the celebration of Pentecost – the birthday of the Church.

Many theologians regard the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh HaShanah) as the prophetic statement of rapture and resurrection. After all, the “trump of God” mentioned in I Thessalonians 4:16 suggests that this might well be the very day of the rapture.

Certainly, we look forward to that day, when we will be rejoined with family and friends. But there is another way to look at this question. Will the resurrection occur on a future Rosh HaShanah, or will it come on a future Pentecost? Let’s examine this question. I think we shouldn’t “put all our eggs in one basket.” Let us not forget that “of that day and hour knoweth no man” (Matt. 24:36).

Rosh HaShanah is not the only Jewish feast day that forms a prophetic statement on the Resurrection. There are at least three harvest festivals that do this. At these three festivals, all Jewish men were required to travel to Jerusalem and “appear before the Lord:

Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, [Passover week] and in the feast of weeks, [Pentecost] and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the LORD empty” (Deut. 16:16).

Any one of these festivals could represent Resurrection Day when we rise to meet our Bridegroom. They are all harvest festivals. In the New Testament, the Festival of Weeks (Shavuot) was called Pentecost – from the Greek word for “fiftieth.” It was celebrated fifty days after Firstfruits. The observance of the Omer (waving stalks of grain) reminds us of Christ. He is the first of all those who will ultimately rise in resurrection. The two loaves of bread made from the harvested grain and waved before the Lord on the day of Pentecost prophetically represent both Old Testament Judaism and New Testament Christianity.

Two Wave Loaves of Bread – Shavuot was long considered to be a minor festival. It was thought to be little more than a continuation of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. Its location in the festival cycle depended on the date of Passover, plus a count of seven weeks after offering the Omer. This counting of days linked it with the major festival of Firstfruits.

To conclude the seven weeks, another wave offering was given. It was made up of two loaves of bread, but this time the bread was made with leavening. It appears to be a prophetic picture of the New Testament Christianity. At least one of the loaves seems to indicate Christianity, and the leaven in the loaf, is the presence of sin. (The other may be sanctified Israel).

We must admit that New Testament Christianity consists of an imperfect group of people who are saved, not by their own goodness, but only by the grace of God. That which was begun on the Feast of Firstfruits with the resurrection of Christ will someday be presented to God at the conclusion of the great spiritual harvest of souls, just as the two loaves were presented at Pentecost. This is yet another reason why some future Pentecost could be a good day for the Rapture and our Resurrection.

The Omer was a specific offering of new grain, harvested on the second evening of Passover and brought to the Temple. It represented the firstfruits of the harvest. As mentioned earlier the Omer, or Firstfruits, symbolizes the resurrection of Christ.

The Earnest of Our Inheritance – Pentecost is regarded as the day when life and power was given to the Church. Most theologians consider it to be the birthday of New Testament Christianity. But could it be more than just the day when the Holy Spirit came? Could it also be a prophecy of that future day when the Holy Spirit completes His work in the Church Age? After all, He is “… the earnest [downpayment] of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:14). It makes perfect sense that He will fulfill His downpayment with the rest of the payment – Resurrection and Rapture. Pentecost perfectly describes the culmination of the Lord’s work.

The First Trumpet – The remarkable thing about God’s descent to the summit of Mt. Sinai to give the Law, is that the people heard the first trumpet ever recorded in the Bible. It gave a terrifying sound. This event is believed to have occurred on the very day that was later established as Pentecost. Writing in his book, The Jewish Holidays, a Guide & Commentary [Harper & Row, New York, 1985], Michael Strassfeld writes: “At some point in the rabbinical period, connections began to be made with the Revelation at Sinai, which as the biblical text tells us, took place in the third month – that is, during Sivan (see Ex. 19:1). The exact date of Sinai is not given, and in fact there is a disagreement in the Talmudover whether the Revelation took place on the sixth or seventh of Sivan!” (p. 71)

According to Jewish tradition, God took the two horns from the ram given to Abraham as a sacrifice in the place of Isaac. From them, he made two shofars. The left horn was called the “first trumpet” and was blown at Sinai. The right horn is called the “last trumpet” and will be blown on the day of Resurrection.

The question is, will the last trumpet be sounded on Pentecost or on Rosh HaShanah? This early Jewish tradition was perhaps the origin of Paul’s use of the term “last trump” in 1 Cor. 15:51-53.

Ruth Was a Gentile Bride – Of all the festivals, Shavout (Pentecost) is the most mysterious. As a harvest festival, it is perhaps best remembered as the story of Ruth – read in all synagogues on Pentecost.

It is here that we learn about the marriage of the Kinsman Redeemer to His Gentile Bride. It was at Pentecost that Boaz married Ruth. Writing on the theme of Shavuot, Strassfeld says: “One of the most beautiful images of Shavuot is that of the marriage between God (the groom) and Israel (the bride). Developing this image, [Passover] is the period of God’s courtship of Israel, and Shavuot celebrates the actual marriage … “Even the Midrash’s problematic imagery of God holding the mountain of Sinai over the Israelites’ heads while saying ‘accept my Torah or else!’ is transformed in this romantic symbolism as the mountain becomes a huppah – a wedding canopy for the marriage. According to this view, Moses smashes the tablets because they are God’s ketubah – marriage contract – to Israel, and Moses, as messenger, chooses to smash them rather than deliver them to Israel and thereby complete the marriage of Israel and God. To complete the marriage would have meant that the Israelites, who were worshipping the golden calf, were in fact being unfaithful in their marriage.”

On the first day of Elul until the tenth of Tishri, a series of trumpet blowings commemorate the Pentecost trumpet. That heavenly trumpet at the first Pentecost should have marked Israel’s happy marriage to Jehovah. For thousands of years now, on every Rosh HaShanah, Israel blows a series of mournful and alarming notes on their shofar trumpets. Instead of becoming a June bride, Israel became a September bride.

Some day, at the sound of another heavenly trumpet, the Church (the Bride of Christ) will be taken out of this world. No man knows the “day nor the hour” of this great event. Will it occur on a future Pentecost – or on a Rosh HaShanah? Will we be a June bride, like Ruth, or a September bride, like Israel?

The Battle of Leviathan and Behemoth – According to Jewish legend, Pentecost also represents the day of the dragon’s conflict. Hayyim Schauss, writing in The Jewish Festivals, [Union of American Hebrew Congregation, 1938] tells of the glorious picture that the Jews associate with Pentecost: “They see golden thrones, approached by seven stairs; seated on the thrones are the saints, gleaming and shining like the stars of heaven. Above them are spread canopies of light, and below ripple streams of fragrant balsam. There is no end to the joy and happiness of the saints. They dance in Paradise, arm-in-arm with God himself; He entertains them with a mammoth spectacle, arranged especially for them, the combat between the Leviathan and the Behemoth.

“The teacher tells of the feast which God will prepare after the coming of the Messiah, and his imagination makes it more vivid and colorful even than its description in ‘Akdomus.’ He pictures the saints seated around a table made of precious stones, eating the flesh of the Leviathan and the Behemoth.”

Once again, we find within the complex observance of Pentecost a reference to prophetic fulfillment. Here, Leviathan and Behemoth are seen in a final battle. Note that the struggle is being witnessed by the saints who are safely seated in Heaven around a table made of precious stones. What a picture of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb! Amazingly, the Jewish observance of Pentecost includes this picture of the saints seated with the Messiah. But it also includes a view of the climatic battle, of which we read in Rev. 19:19,20: And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.”

This description, depicting the events that will occur when Christ returns in glory with His saints, immediately follows the account of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb! This is the battle of Leviathan and Behemoth witnessed by the saints. God seems to have placed this future prophetic fulfillment in the context of the Jewish Pentecost. Year after year, as the rabbis recount the story of the saints in heaven watching the battle of the beasts, they are planting the seeds of recognition in the minds of their people.

When the time comes, the Jews will recognize the event. Leviathan and Behemoth seem to be the subjects of Revelation 13:1 and 11: “And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy … And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.

These beasts are empowered by Satan, the dragon. And though for a time, they enrapture and captivate the whole world, their doom is certain as they finally clash with the armies of heaven. The beast rising from the sea is that evil force which supports Old Testament, this monster is given the name “Rahab:” “I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me: behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this man was born there” (Ps. 87:4).

According to Unger’s Bible Dictionary, the term Rahab as used in this passage refers also to a “sea monster.” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Encyclopedia calls it “Rahab the Dragon” – an allegorical sea monster or dragon representing the evil forces of chaos.

The Old Testament usage compares perfectly with MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT who is seen by John as the harlot riding upon a seven-headed dragon (Rev. 17:3-5). Isaiah also described the occasion: “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?”(Isa. 51:9).

The terms “Rahab and Babylon” in Psalm 87 correspond to the revived world empire predicted to dominate the world under the leadership of the antichrist during the Tribulation Period. The mystery city will be destroyed – as related in Psalm 89! It completes the picture of God’s judgment upon the harlot city: “Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm. The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them” (Ps. 89:10, 11).

This Jewish story about the battle of the beasts is a part of the observance of Pentecost. The prophecies behind Pentecost were not completed when the Holy Spirit descended 2,000 years ago. There are still some prophecies about the festival yet to be fulfilled.

A strange story is related by the first-century historian, Flavius Josephus, recounting what occurred a few years before the destruction of Herod’s Temple in AD 70. It could have happened as much as seven years before the Temple was burned: “… At that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner court of the Temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, ‘Let us remove hence.’ ” (Wars, VI. V. iii)

This sound could be viewed as a prophetic reference to the Rapture. Some day, at the Rapture we will indeed “remove hence!” Could that future event occur on a Pentecost? Was the quaking, the noise, and the shout indicative of the Rapture? Even now, strange sounds have been reported in the heavens by people all over the world.

Pentecost: The All-Night Vigil – To better understand the events of Pentecost, let us review the Jewish ritual that has been performed year after year for centuries. It is not detailed in the Bible, but is well-known to observant Jews and rabbinical scholars. For help, let’s turn to The Three Festivals [Mesorah Publications, Brooklyn, 1993] a book written by Rabbi Yosef Stern.

What most Christians do not realize is that the coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell in the bodies of believers was an event predicted in the Jewish ritual of Pentecost – and is still observed to this day. Jews stay up all night awaiting the daybreak of Pentecost. On page 203, Stern writes: “Throughout the world, Jews observe the centuries-old custom of conducting an all night vigil dedicated to Torah learning on the first night of Shavuot.”

A careful reading of the account in Acts 2:1, reveals that the Holy Spirit descended around daybreak – “when the day of Pentecost was fully come.” Over the next three hours, word of the phenomenon spread across the city and people crowded in to hear Peter say, “For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day” (Acts 2:15). Peter delivered his sermon at nine o’clock in the morning! Logic would have us assume that those 120
believers had stayed up all night – a ritual observed by all Torah-practicing Jews.

The Holy Spirit – Jews regard the 49 days from the festival of Firstfruits until Pentecost as a time of “… spiritual purification (taharah) that grows in intensity during the seven weeks of sefirah until it reaches a climax on the night of [Pentecost].” (Stern, p. 203) These 49 days are observed as 49 levels of purity – each day an impurity drops away, until at last, the initiate is free from earthly contaminants.

Rabbi Stern writes: “During these days and weeks, our personal efforts to cleanse ourselves of spiritual impurities are critical. However, if we make sincere efforts during sefirah [the forty-nine days], we can be assured that [God] will shower us with an outpouring of taharah on the night of [Pentecost], as the Sages said (Shabbos 104a) someone who comes to purify himself will receive [Divine] help.”

This promised “Divine help” is described as an “outpouring of taharah” — what we call the Holy Spirit! The result of the all-night vigil comes at daybreak as the Jew recites the Ten Commandments. At that moment, it is believed that the Jew receives the “outpouring.” Rabbi Stern writes: “King David alludes to the relationship between our efforts at discussing the Torah on [Pentecost] night and reciting the Ten Commandments the next morning … we merit to commune with [God’s] Presence the following morning through the Ten Commandments.”

To the Jew, this outpouring of God’s presence is a fleeting thing. Rabbi Stern explains: “The Zohar also reminds us that the taharah that descends on those who immerse themselves in Torah study on this night is a fragile thing. Unless we take active steps to preserve it throughout the year we cannot be assured that it will remain with us … Through our efforts during the seven weeks of sefirah we merit the creation of a “pure heart” for ourselves. However, it takes the all-night vigilance of [Pentecost] to give it permanence and turn it into a “steadfast spirit” that will endure throughout the year.

Now we learn that Rabbi Stern’s “Divine Presence” (also called taharah) is associated with a “spirit” – which he calls a “steadfast spirit.” Luke, writer of the book of Acts calls this “steadfast spirit” by his now familiar name – the Holy Ghost. It should not be surprising to us that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the second chapter of Acts was a fulfillment of the Pentecost ritual. To this day, Jews observe the ritual. We observe the ever-present fact!

Languages of Fire – The phenomenon which resulted from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit has been the talk of Christianity in every succeeding generation. Just what was it all about? Rabbi Stern attempts an explanation. He refers to the ritual of reciting the Ten Commandments at daybreak following the all- night vigil. The Hebrew term for speech is dibbur – a form of dabar, meaning “word.” Stern writes: “The form of dibbur that originated at Sinai can be separated into two components: one characterized by the rough sounds of speech that emerge from the mouth, and the articulate speech that emanates from the tongue. The first is more of a surface phenomenon, while the second originates from a deeper, not readily evident source.”

Even to the Jew, the effect of the all-night vigil should express itself in an elevation of speech – from the “rough sounds” that emerge from the mouth, to the “articulate speech … that originates from a deeper … source.” In other words, the purified initiate, who has been studying the Mosaic books for 49 days, should experience an elevation in his ability to speak. This expected miracle reflects back upon the story in Exodus 19, in which God spoke audibly and gave the Ten Commandments.

Rabbinical sources say that as God began to utter each commandment, a fire emerged from His mouth. The fire immediately separated itself into the seventy languages and quickly moved throughout the world so that all people could hear each commandment in their native tongues. The amazed Israelites watched as the Hebrew portion of that fiery language descended and stood before each person. The fiery tongue said, “Do you understand this commandment?” The reply was affirmative. Then the tongue would say, “Do you promise to keep this commandment?” After each acknowledgment, the fiery language would return to the top of the summit and engrave the commandments into the tablets of stone.

Now, we do not know if this is exactly the way it happened, but have no valid reason to believe otherwise. Though it was not described in this manner in Holy Scripture, the fiery tongues in Acts 2 lend credibility to the Jewish account of that first Pentecost in Exodus 19. Ever since then, Jews have observed the all-night vigil with the expectation that a heavenly dibbur(speech) will attend their recitation of the Ten Commandments at daybreak.

Reading the Book of Ruth – Following the intense study of the five Mosaic books, during the all-night vigil, the morning session includes reading the entire book of Ruth out loud. Prophetically, Ruth points toward Gentile conversion. Rabbi Stern writes: “The custom of reading the Book of Ruth – the moving story of a Moabite woman’s odyssey to Judaism – on [Pentecost} is first mentioned in Mesechtas Sofrim, a source dating back to the era of the Gaonim. … Since Ruth was the founder of the Davidic dynasty and the root of the Messiah, reading her story also exemplifies our indomitable belief that the arrival of Messiah will usher in a glorious era to rival the splendor of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Ruth is
not merely a book to be read, but serves as an essential supplement to the Torah.”

Gentile Conversion – Rabbi Stern tells his constituency of observant Jews that Ruth, a Gentile, completes the message of the five books of Moses. Without her story the Torah would be incomplete. She is a “supplement to the Torah.” This teaching, though not yet understood by Jews, underscores what happened on the day of Pentecost. That day (Acts 2) began a dispensation in which millions upon millions of Gentiles have been brought into faith and fellowship with God. What a dramatic conclusion to the old Mosaic Covenant! Peter emphasized that Joel had predicted the pouring out of God’s Spirit upon “all flesh” (Acts 2:17), including all Gentiles.

Note the way Rabbi Stern describes Ruth’s personification of righteousness: “Ruth dramatizes the theme expressed in the Mishnah (Avos 1:17) ‘Not study but practice is the main thing.’ She, being a Gentile, does not just follow the Torah, but actually possesses it in her soul.” Stern continues: “Torah is compared to an inner light (cf. Tehillim [Psalm] 97:11), light is sown for the righteous, the light of Torah is sown in the soul of the tzaddik.” (p. 212). The Hebrew term tzaddik refers to a righteous person.

The rabbi is saying that Ruth, unlike the ordinary Torah-practicing Jew, actually possessed eternal life. She did not just study the five books of Moses, but personified righteousness. Rabbi Stern writes: “Similarly, the blessing recited after reading the Torah who implanted eternal life within us …” implies that eternal life is a subject associated with Pentecost. Furthermore, Jews believe that Ruth exemplifies the day when all nations will do as she did – receive eternal life through faith in the Messiah: “Just as Ruth made an important contribution to Judaism, so can anyone from any origin. Indeed, [God] actively waits for strangers to emerge from the clutches of the non-Jewish world.”

Resurrection Day – Ruth is an important and essential part of the Pentecost ritual. Rabbi Stern tells his Jewish followers that she is a prophetic type of all Gentiles who will be invited to receive eternal life. Hewrites that the reading of Ruth “… also reminds us of the final Revelation Day, a day as glorious as that on which the Torah was given, when Messiah ben David will appear … If [Pentecost] marked the onset of Jewish history, then Messiah’s arrival will be its splendid climax, when all of humankind will flock to [God].” (p. 218).

What the rabbi does not understand is that the “splendid climax” to the Pentecost ritual actually came to pass 2,000 years ago and was recorded in the second chapter of Acts. Each generation after that has witnessed more and more Ruths until, today, the Gentile bride numbers into the millions. We are all awaiting the conclusion of what Rabbi Josef Stern wrote about Ruth’s association with Pentecost – the resurrection: “… the reading of Ruth reminds us of Techiyas HaMeisim(resurrection of the dead).” (p. 219) He writes that Boaz’s redemption of the property of his relative Elimelech and his sons, and the ceremony he performed with Ruth, evokes Jewish faith in the “resurrection.” By marrying Ruth, Stern says that Boaz “restored the name of her late husband” and presents the concept of a “redeemer.” In reality, all this was set forth in the second chapter of Acts and will be concluded when our Kinsman Redeemer, the  Lord Jesus Christ, returns to resurrect and rapture all believers for the heavenly marriage.

Reading about Jewish rituals during their all-night vigil of Pentecost causes me to wonder why Jews have not seen these truths in Christianity. It seems clear to me that every detail of Jewish practice was fulfilled there. I am certain that someday, Jewish eyes will be opened to the truth. Then they will realize that what they practice as ritual, we observe as fact.

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J.R. Church

In November of 1979, Prophecy in the News launched its worldwide ministry from Oklahoma City, founded by J.R. Church, a Texas pastor with a heart and a vision for Bible prophecy, as well as reaching the world with the Gospel. Church’s colleagues in the ministry, Noah Hutchings and Dr. David Webber at Southwest Radio Church, helped introduce J.R. Church to the fans of their far-reaching radio ministry and provided support as he built his prophecy ministry from its Oklahoma City base.

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