By Wilbur Malone and Stephen Flurry
Many people know why we keep the day of Pentecost. But can we prove when we should keep it? It is the only holy day in the Bible that does not occur on a specific date each year. This article explains how we are to “count” for this unique holy day.
God has given the weekly Sabbath as an identifying sign to show who are His people. We are also identified as God’s people when we keep the holy days. “Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you” (Exodus 31:13). Only God can make a day holy. The Church that properly keeps the holy days at the right times is identified as being the true Church of God.
Each holy day pictures a step in God’s great master plan. Keeping the feast of Pentecost on the right day is extremely important.
Pentecost Not on a Given Date
The feast of Pentecost is the only annual holy day that does not fall on a fixed date according to God’s calendar. Instead, God has given us instructions to count a certain number of days. Determining the precise time of observance requires that we answer two questions: 1) How long do we count? And, 2) When do we begin counting? Both of these questions are revealed in God’s inspired word—the Bible. We must look to the Bible—not man—to properly understand when and how we should observe God’s annual holy days.
The first question, how long we should count, is answered clearly in Leviticus 23:16, where it says you shall “number fifty days.” This can also be proven by the very term Pentecost, which means, “fifty” or “count fifty.” The word Pentecost is actually a New Testament (Greek) word (Acts 2:1; 20:16; 1 Corinthians 16:8). In the Old Testament, this holy day is referred to by different names: feast of weeks (Deuteronomy 16:16), feast of harvest (Exodus 23:16) and the day of the firstfruits (Numbers 28:26). Regardless of the name used, it remains clear that we are to count 50 days. The question remains: When do we begin counting?
The Wave Sheaf Offering
Notice Leviticus 23:15-16: “And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the Lord.” So we are to begin counting on the day of the wave sheaf offering.
The wave sheaf was a special offering administered by the high priest. This event began the 50-day spring harvest which ended on the day of Pentecost. Notice the special instructions God gave for this particular offering: “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest: And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it” (Leviticus 23:10-11). This offering officially began the spring harvest.
We have determined that we are to count 50 days beginning at the wave sheaf offering. But when was the wave sheaf? It was always during the Days of Unleavened Bread, which is a seven day festival (Leviticus 23:6-8).
Let’s again notice verse 15 of Leviticus 23: “And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete.” They were to count beginning the morrow after the Sabbath. But which Sabbath is this referring to? There is an annual Sabbath on the first and last day of Unleavened Bread. And in most cases, there is a separate weekly Sabbath in the middle of the seven-day festival. Is it referring to one of the two annual Sabbaths or the weekly Sabbath? There is an easy answer for this question. Keep in mind that the first day of Unleavened Bread falls on an exact date (the 15th of the month; see Leviticus 23:6). That means the seventh day of the festival falls on the 21st of the month. If the wave sheaf always occurred after one of these Sabbaths, there would be no need to count 50 because the wave sheaf would always fall on the same day. In that case, God would have given us the specific date to observe Pentecost just like He did for all the other holy days. But He didn’t. It has to be the weekly Sabbath from which we determine when the wave sheaf is offered. The date for that Sabbath varies each year.
At the same time, if God intended for us to count after one of the annual Sabbaths, there would be no way for us to determine which one—the first day of Unleavened Bread, or the last—for the Bible does not specify a particular annual Sabbath. That is because God was referring to the weekly Sabbath.
“On the Morrow”
We are to begin counting the “morrow after” the weekly Sabbath (which almost always falls within the holy days). Some who have been called to the truth in the last few years may not be familiar with the confusion God’s Church once had over Leviticus 23:15-16. The Hebrew prepositional phrase for “from the morrow” is mi-mohorat. It is used 28 times in the Old Testament. In 26 of those usages, it is translated “on the morrow” (see verse 11). Only here, in verses 15 and 16, is it translated incorrectly, “from the morrow” and “unto the morrow.”
The morrow after the weekly Sabbath is Sunday on our modern-day calendars. As it should be properly translated, “ON the morrow” means we are to begin counting on the Sunday after the weekly Sabbath. Many years ago, Mr. Armstrong began counting the day after Sunday because that’s what he thought “from the morrow” meant. This led the Church to keep Pentecost on a Monday every year, instead of Sunday, as it should be properly kept. Once this error in the translation was brought to Mr. Armstrong’s attention, he changed the observance of Pentecost to its proper day.
Spiritual Duality Adds Clarity
Understanding the spiritual parallels between the wave sheaf and Christ makes this subject even more clear.
As our Passover, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7) was crucified on the same day the Old Testament lamb was killed (14th of Nisan). In actual history, this occurred late Wednesday afternoon in a.d. 31. Most in this world assume Christ was crucified on Friday afternoon, because the Scriptures refer to a Sabbath following the day Christ was killed. The following day, however, was an annual holy day (see John 19:31). This was the first day of Unleavened Bread.
Jesus died Wednesday afternoon and was buried just before sunset (Luke 23:52-54). He had to be in the grave for three full days and nights to fulfill the prophecy He stated in Matthew 12:39-40. Three full days and nights from late Wednesday afternoon leads us to late Saturday afternoon, which is actually when Jesus Christ was resurrected. Early Sunday morning, when Mary and her companions came to the sepulcher where Christ was buried, Jesus had already risen (see Mark 16:2, 6).
Shortly after that, Mary began to cry because she thought someone took Christ’s body (John 20:11). Then Christ appeared before her and before she could touch Him, He said, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father” (verse 17). So while Christ was resurrected late Saturday afternoon, He had not yet ascended to His Father when Mary saw Him early Sunday morning. Comparing this verse in John with Matthew 28:9 (when the disciples were allowed to touch Jesus) shows that Christ ascended to God’s throne later that day, on Sunday.
This is all very important because spiritually, Jesus Christ is that wave sheaf offering! Christ is the first of the firstfruits (1 Corinthians 15:23). He was the first human to actually be born again by a resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). He ascended before God the Father and was accepted as the firstfruit of the spiritual harvest precisely on the morrow after the weekly Sabbath! God’s people called out of this world will make up the rest of that spring harvest, which is pictured by the day of Pentecost. The latter harvest, which occurs in the fall, pictures a time when all of mankind will have the opportunity to be saved. But before that is the firstfruits. And before the firstfruits is the first of the firstfruits—or the wave sheaf offering. The spiritual wave sheaf offering (Jesus Christ) occurred during the Days of Unleavened Bread in a.d. 31.
Old Testament history and the example of Jesus Christ prove that the wave sheaf Sunday always occurs during the Days of Unleavened Bread and after a weekly Sabbath.
Apostles Observed Pentecost
On the day of the wave sheaf offering, which always occurs on a Sunday within the Days of Unleavened Bread, we begin counting (including that first Sunday) 50 days. Seven Sabbaths shall be complete and then the day after that seventh Sabbath (Leviticus 23:15-16) is Pentecost.
The apostles were in Jerusalem observing this day in a.d. 31. “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1). This was the day Peter preached an inspiring sermon after which 3,000 people were baptized. The Bible shows that Paul also kept this feast (Acts 20:16).
Pentecost This Year
Jesus Christ was accepted by the Father on a Sunday, fulfilling the wave sheaf offering as the first of the firstfruits. He was accepted on the morrow after the Sabbath and that “morrow after” fell during the Days of Unleavened Bread.
As we do in all things, we follow after the example of Jesus Christ our High Priest and soon coming King. So in keeping with Christ’s example Pentecost will correctly be observed on May 19 this year.