Shavuot is described in Leviticus 23, The Feast of Weeks which is the second of the three “solemn feasts” that all Jewish males were required to travel to Jerusalem to attend (Exodus 23:14–17; 34:22–23; Deuteronomy 16:16). This important feast gets its name from the fact that it starts seven full weeks, or exactly 50 days, after the Feast of Firstfruits. Since it takes place exactly 50 days after the previous feast, this feast is also known as “Pentecost” (Acts 2:1), which means “fifty.”
Each of three “solemn feasts”—Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles—required that all able-bodied Jewish males travel to Jerusalem to attend the feast and offer sacrifices. All three of these feasts required that “firstfruit” offerings be made at the temple as a way of expressing thanksgiving for God’s provision. The Feast of Firstfruits celebrated at the time of the Passover included the first fruits of the barley harvest. The Feast of Weeks was in celebration of the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Tabernacles involved offerings of the first fruits of the olive and grape harvests.
Since the Feast of Weeks was one of the “harvest feasts,” the Jews were commanded to “present an offering of new grain to the Lord” (Leviticus 23:16). This offering was to be “two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah” which were made “of fine flour . . . baked with leaven.” The offerings were to be made of the first fruits of that harvest (Leviticus 23:17). Along with the “wave offerings” they were also to offer seven first-year lambsthat were without blemish along with one young bull and two rams. Additional offerings are also prescribed in Leviticus and the other passages that outline how this feast was to be observed. Another important requirement of this feast is that, when the Jews harvested their fields, they were required to leave the corners of the field untouched and not gather “any gleanings” from the harvest as a way of providing for the poor and strangers (Leviticus 23:22).
To the Jews, this time of celebration is known as Shavuot, which is the Hebrew word meaning “weeks.” This is one of three separate names that are used in Scripture to refer to this important Jewish feast. Each name emphasizes an important aspect of the feast as well as its religious and cultural significance to both Jews and Christians. Besides being called the Feast of Weeks in Leviticus 23, this special feast celebration is called the “Day of the Firstfruits” in Numbers 28:26 and the “Feast of Harvest” inExodus 23:16.
The Feast of Weeks takes place exactly 50 days after the Feast of First fruits. It normally occurs in late spring, either the last part of May or the beginning of June. Unlike other feasts that began on a specific day of the Hebrew calendar, this one is calculated as being “fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath” (Leviticus 23:15–16; Deuteronomy 16:9–10).
Like other Jewish feasts, the Feast of Weeks is important in that it foreshadows the coming Messiah and His ministry. Each and every one of the seven Jewish Feasts signifies an important aspect of God’s plan of redemption through Jesus the Christ.
Jesus was crucified as the “Passover Lamb” and rose from the grave at the Feast of Firstfruits. Following His resurrection, Jesus spent the next 40 days teaching His disciples before ascending to heaven (Acts 1). Fifty days after His resurrection and after ascending to heaven to sit at the right hand of God, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit as promised (John 14:16–17) to indwell the disciples and empower them for ministry. The promised Holy Spirit arrived on the Day of Pentecost, which is another name for the Feast of Weeks.
The spiritual significances of the Feast of Weeks are many. Some see the two loaves of leavened bread that were to be a wave offering as foreshadowing the time when the Messiah would make both Jew and Gentile to be one in Him (Ephesians 2:14–15). This is also the only feast where leavened bread is used. Leaven in Scripture is often used symbolically of sin, and the leavened bread used in the Feast of Weeks is thought to be representative of the fact that there is still sin within the church (body of Christ) and will be until Christ returns again.
On the Day of Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks, the “firstfruits” of the church were gathered by Christ as some 3,000 people heard Peter present the gospel after the Holy Spirit had empowered and indwelt the disciples as promised. With the promised indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the first fruits of God’s spiritual harvest under the New Covenant began. Today that harvest continues as people continue to be saved, but there is also another coming harvest whereby God will again turn His attention back to Israel so that “all of Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).