LCN Article
From Passover to Pentecost: Lessons for the Christian Journey

May / June 2011

John H. Ogwyn (1949-2005)

The first two of the three festival seasons that God gave to His people are connected in a special way. Pentecost is the only festival that is not celebrated on a specific day of the month. Rather, its date can only be calculated by counting from the day of the Wavesheaf—the Sunday that falls within the Days of Unleavened Bread. Why did God connect these two spring festivals in this way? Are there spiritual lessons that He wants His people to learn by focusing on this count?

When God established the congregation of Israel, He introduced His festivals in the year of the Exodus. The circumstances of the original Passover and Unleavened Bread season were tied in with God’s redemption of His people from Egyptian slavery. On the night that began the 14th day of the first month, Abib, God passed through the land of Egypt at midnight, killing the firstborn males. The only firstborn spared from death were those in houses that had the blood of a lamb smeared on the lintel and doorposts (Exodus 12:22). This, of course, pointed forward to Jesus Christ— the Lamb of God—who came to pay the penalty for sin by shedding His blood in our stead (John 1:29).

During the daylight period following the Passover, as they prepared to gather at the treasure city of Rameses and begin their journey out of Egypt, the Israelites had gifts thrust upon them by the frightened Egyptians. Beginning on the night after the Passover, the Israelites started on their journey toward freedom. Throughout the seven Days of Unleavened Bread that followed, the Israelites journeyed until they finally came to the Red Sea. There they appeared trapped between the sea, the mountains and Pharaoh’s rapidly approaching army. With Pharaoh’s pursuing army held back by a divinely appointed pillar of fire, the Israelites crossed between the divided waters of the Red Sea through the night that began the seventh and final Day of Unleavened Bread. When the Egyptians tried to follow the next morning, they were all drowned in the attempt.

Over the next six weeks, the Israelites continued their journey until they came to Horeb (Mount Sinai), the mountain of God (cf. Exodus 3:1). Here God communed with Moses and proposed a covenant with the fledgling nation of Israel. The day on which God thundered the words of the Ten Commandments and made the Sinai Covenant was the day we know as Pentecost. When God gave Moses the Leviticus 23 information about His annual festivals, He explained how to determine the date of Pentecost. It was to be counted each year, rather than celebrated on the same calendar date. The count began from a special celebration first carried out when the Israelites actually entered the Promised Land (Leviticus 23:10–11). During the years in the Sinai wilderness, Israel was fed with manna because the people could not raise crops or otherwise provide themselves with food. However, when they entered the land of promise, there would be crops to harvest.

God told the priesthood that on the Sunday during the Days of Unleavened Bread, they were to begin the harvest cycle by waving before Him the first omer (about a quart) of grain, taken from a sheaf they had cut at sunset the previous evening. Once this ceremony was completed, the people could commence their harvest and begin eating of the new crop. The priests were instructed that beginning with the day of the Wavesheaf they were to count forward seven Sabbaths. The day after the seventh Sabbath they were to consecrate as the Feast of Firstfruits Harvest, otherwise known in the Old Testament as the Feast of Weeks and in the New Testament as Pentecost (cf. Leviticus 23:6–21).

During the year of the Exodus, the approximately seven weeks between Passover and Pentecost were marked by a journey, as the Israelites moved toward the mountain of God and entered into a covenant with their Creator. After Israel’s entrance into the land, the time between these two festivals was marked by the countdown of 50 days. There are vital lessons we can learn by focusing our attention on this intervening period. It is the journey from redemption to covenant. It is the countdown from the beginning of the first harvest until its completion. Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread focus on Jesus Christ and His role in salvation. Passover pictures His atoning sacrifice, and emphasizes His role as our Redeemer. During the Days of Unleavened Bread, we are to focus on feeding on Jesus Christ as the Bread of Life. The day of the Wavesheaf, always coming during Unleavened Bread, puts attention on Jesus Christ as the firstborn from the dead—the firstfruits of God’s spiritual harvest.wheat

The day of Pentecost puts a focus on the Church, God’s firstfruits harvest. This was emphasized even in the Levitical offering made on that day: two leavened loaves of bread that represented the entirety of the firstfruits grain harvest. The Church consists of those individuals who have entered into a covenant with their Creator. Under the New Covenant, begun on the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2, God’s Holy Spirit is imparted to true believers to let us share in God’s very nature (2 Peter 1:4) and to write His laws in our hearts and minds (Hebrews 8:10).

From the Red Sea to Sinai

We can learn vital lessons from the account of Israel’s journey to Sinai. Israel confronted several points of crisis in its journey from redemption to covenant. It is important that we examine this journey and the lessons that God would have us draw from it.

Though the Israelites came out of Egypt with “boldness” (Exodus 14:8; Numbers 33:3), they did not need to go very far in their journey to confront discouragement. The celebratory song recorded in Exodus 15 shows the people’s excitement and exuberance after God had saved them miraculously at the Red Sea. Yet, after just three days’ journey into the wilderness, the people had not found any fresh water to replenish their supply. Then, when they finally came upon a pool of water, they found that it was undrinkable. At this point, their discouragement came to the fore and they began to murmur and complain. The location was named Marah, meaning “bitter.” Moses, at God’s instruction, cast a tree into the pool, and its water became sweet and drinkable. At this point in the journey, God introduced Himself to His people as their healer (Exodus 15:23–26).

One month into their journey, the children of Israel entered the Wilderness of Sin and found their food supply running out—with no way to get more. Once again, they began to murmur and complain—disregarding the pattern of love and compassion God was showing by meeting all their needs and redeeming them from slavery and death. God commanded Moses to tell the Israelites that—beginning that evening—they would be fed. From the next day onward, God sent manna every morning except the Sabbath, to provide sustenance during their time of wandering. The manna not only nourished them; it was also designed to teach them to remember God’s Sabbath (cf. Exodus 16).

As the people continued their journey, they again found their water supply depleted—with no wells or rivers anywhere to be found. Once again, they complained. This time, they began to accuse and blame Moses for their plight. When Moses went to God for guidance about the problem, the Creator told him to strike the rock with his rod, after which water sufficient for all of the people’s needs would gush forth. Again, God supplied the needs of His people (Exodus 17:1–7).

Shortly afterward, the Israelites confronted a hostile army of Amalekites coming to attack them. Moses quickly organized an army under Joshua and stood upon a hilltop to watch the progress of the battle. Whenever Moses held up his arms in supplication to God, the Israelites prevailed. After a while, however, he grew tired and was no longer able to hold up his arms. At this point, the tide of battle began to turn in favor of the Amalekites. Aaron and Hur came to his aid by holding up his arms throughout the afternoon, and by sunset Israel had triumphed (Exodus 17:8–13).

In 1 Corinthians 10, the Apostle Paul alluded to this period of the ancient Exodus, pointing out that it contains important lessons and examples for Christians. “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (vv.1–4).

God’s people today are reminded annually—at the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread—that it all begins with recognizing our Redeemer. However, we must proceed through a series of personal encounters with God as we journey toward the mountain of God and the covenant relationship with our Creator. These encounters will introduce us to God as our healer and as our sustainer. We learn that He is our provider and our protector. Unless we truly come to know Him and to rely on Him in these ways, how will we enter into a covenant with Him and remain faithful to that covenant? Israel had encounter after encounter with God, but never learned to believe and trust Him. Their example of unbelief is recorded for us so that we might learn from their failure. The journey from Passover to Pentecost is one in which we have opportunities to truly come to know God and to develop the trust and dependence that is to be the basis of our ongoing relationship.

Seven Lessons for Meditation

There are seven weeks from the day of the Wavesheaf during the Days of Unleavened Bread until Pentecost. Let us look briefly at seven lessons that would be good to meditate on during this period of counting. Those who learn these lessons will succeed where Israel of old failed. While they made the journey physically, they never made it spiritually! While they came to the mountain of God in a physical sense, in their hearts and minds most had never left Egypt. Our acceptance as part of the firstfruits harvest will, in great measure, depend upon whether we put into practice in our own lives the lessons that the Apostle Paul outlined to the Church at Colosse. The seven weeks between Passover and Pentecost will provide us with a good opportunity to meditate and focus on these lessons.

The first lesson is necessary for the success of everything that follows. Without it, we will never achieve anything else of lasting value. Colossians 3:1–2 tells us to “seek those things which are above… set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (KJV). What is important to us, and what do we love? What are we spending our time, effort, and energy seeking? The answer to these questions holds the key to virtually everything else. What we love and cherish we will hold on to and guard. If our affections are truly set on the things of God, then we will seek those things—and we are promised that we will appear with Jesus Christ in glory at His return (v. 4).

The second lesson is brought out in verse 5: “Then put to death those parts of you which belong to the earth—fornication, indecency, lust, foul cravings, and the ruthless greed which is nothing less than idolatry” (NEB). When we were baptized, we symbolically died (Romans 6:3–4). Here in Colossians, Paul admonished his readers to make this death to the old life real in their day-to-day practices. Notice what the Expositor’s Bible Commentary brings out concerning this verse: “The verb nekrosate, meaning literally ‘to make dead,’ is very strong. It suggests that we are not simply to suppress or control evil acts and attitudes. We are to wipe them out, completely exterminate the old way of life. ‘Slay utterly’ may express its force.… Both the meaning of the verb and the force of the tense suggest a vigorous, painful act of personal determination” (vol. 11, p. 211). The very opposite of slaying these ungodly desires is to feed and nourish them. When we watch the wrong kind of movies and television, for instance, we are feeding rather than starving our immoral impulses. In what other ways do we allow these carnal tendencies to remain part of our lives?

Paul exhorts his readers to “put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds” (Colossians 3:8–9). “Put off” is a metaphor from dress, and refers to taking off dirty clothes. In addition to slaying the life-controlling passions of the old man, as Christians we are to put off certain types of conduct and behavior, recognizing that they are inappropriate “garb” for a Christian to wear! This is the third lesson.

When we get rid of the “old clothes,” what are we then to do? The answer to that question provides a fourth lesson, found in Paul’s admonition that we must “put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (v. 10).woman praying

Our “new clothes” are the result of an ongoing renewal of the mind that brings us closer and closer to the image of Jesus Christ. The new self is not intended to grow old and decay. Rather, by constant renewal, it is to take on more and more the image of the Creator. In 2 Corinthians 4:16, Paul emphasized that the inward man, the new spiritual nature, is to be renewed day by day. We do this through daily prayer, meditation and Bible study, and occasional fasting. What will this continual feeding of the inner man allow us to put on and wear? “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering” (Colossians 3:12).

How will this affect our relationships with one another? In verse 13, Paul defines the results of the new attitudes we have put on in our life—this is our fifth lesson. We are admonished to bear with one another and to forgive one another. Rather than being quick to get our feelings hurt and to hold grudges, we will have a desire to extend to others the very qualities we seek from Christ. Undoubtedly, we all have our little irritating ways—yet God reminds us to bear with one another and to be very quick to forgive.

What should be the controlling inner attitudes of a mature Christian? This sixth lesson bears meditating upon. In verse 15, Paul explained that peace and thankfulness are to rule in our hearts. This peace comes from God, not from the world around us. Our life of faith and trust in the Creator makes us thankful and generates a true inner peace. Among the greatest benefits that flow from a close relationship with God are the quiet confidence and trust that bring peace of mind in the midst of turmoil.

Verse 16 brings out the seventh lesson on which we should focus. Here we are told to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom. The “word of Christ” refers to His teachings. Christ’s message must be so deeply implanted in us that it comes to control our thoughts and responses in every situation. Our whole life is to be guided by God’s word, and is to be a credit to our Savior, whose name we now bear as Christians.

At the Passover season, we are deeply reminded of God’s great love for us and of the redemptive act of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Yet, this is not a stopping point. Passover is inextricably tied to Pentecost, and we are to count the seven weeks in between. As we do, let us reflect on our Christian journey and the lessons that we must incorporate into our lives. These lessons are necessary if we are to approach the mountain of God and enter into a covenant with our Creator that will endure forever.