The Resurrection of Yeshua and the Festivals of Firstfruits.
Part I - A Biblical Overview.

Yeshua was raised from the dead at the Festival of the Firstfruits of the Barley Harvest. This was on the "first day of the week", according to the popular translation of a Greek jargon phrase which could have a number of other meanings. The Church was born seven weeks later at the Festival of the Firstfruits of the Wheat Harvest, otherwise known as Pentecost.

This is the first of a three-part series.
For a discussion of the Jewish Literature and the Greek New Testament, see Part II.
For a view of the censor's amendments to the Talmud, which substitutes "Sadducees" for "Jewish-Christians", seePart III.

The Festival of Passover commemorates the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Shortly afterwards, there is the Festival of the Firstfruits of the Barley Harvest, more commonly known as the "First Day of the Omer" . An omer is a measure of grain, and on the First Day of the Omer the priest would wave a sheaf of barley, equivalent to an omer, before the Lord. This festival is known as "First of Weeks" in the New Testament, although it is commonly translated as "first day of the week". It is important to understand the significance of this festival, because it is the day when Yeshua rose from the dead.

Seven weeks later, when the wheat harvest is ready, there is the Festival of the Firstfruits of the Wheat Harvest, otherwise known as the "Feast of Weeks" or Pentecost. This festival is not just an agricultural festival. It also commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai because it occurs at about the same time of the year according to Exodus 19:1.

The First of Omer, the Feast of Weeks, and the interval between them are described in Leviticus 23:10-17 as follows:

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 ... 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. Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the Lord.

Deut. 16:9-10 says "weeks" rather than "sabbaths" as follows:

Seven weeks shalt thou number unto thee: begin to number the seven weeks from such time as thou beginnest to put the sickle to the corn. And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks [Pentecost] unto the Lord thy God with a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto the Lord thy God, according as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee.

In modern-day Judaism, the First Day of the Omer is always 16th Nisan, the day after Passover, so that Pentecost (50th Day of the Omer) is on 6th Sivan. However, at the time of Yeshua there was a debate going on between the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees interpreted "the morrow after the sabbath" in Lev. 23:15 to be the day after Passover, since any non-working day is considered to be a Sabbath. The Sadducees interpreted it literally to mean the day after the first weekly Sabbath after Passover.

By comparing the New Testament accounts with the Jewish traditions as described in the Talmud, Mishnah and Midrash Rabbah, it is possible to establish the following:

  • Yeshua was executed on 14th Nisan which was either a Thursday or Friday, and he rose again the following Sunday which was either 16th or 17th Nisan.
  • The "First of Weeks", described in Matt. 28:1 and various other passages, is the First Day of the Omer according to the Sadducees.
  • If the crucifixion was on Friday, the "First of Weeks" would also be the First Day of the Omer according to the Pharisees.

For details of this discussion, together with some notes on the Greek text of the New Testament, see Part II.

First of Weeks

On a number of occasions the New Testament translates "mian sabbaton" and other similar phrases as "first day of the week" when it should be one of the following, depending on the context:

  • "First of Weeks", meaning the First Day of the Omer.
  • "One of the Sabbaths", meaning any of the weekly Sabbaths that are counted from Passover to Pentecost.
  • "First of the Sabbaths", meaning the first weekly Sabbath that is counted from Passover and Pentecost, although there are no circumstances in which this translation needs to be used.

The translation "first day of the week", which appears in most Bible versions, has the word "day" italicised because it is not in the Greek and has been added to fit what is thought to be the context. It is common practice to add words in italics wherever they are needed, to give a meaningful translation. There is nothing in the Greek New Testament that states literally and specifically that Yeshua rose from the dead on the first day of the week, although it can be verified from various other early church sources (see my article entitled Three Days and Three Nights). The Greek term "mian sabbaton" has been treated rather like a jargon phrase and made to conform to known early church beliefs.

The verses affected, if they are translated literally, become as follows:

Matt. 28:1. After the sabbaths, at the dawning into the First of Weeks, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the grave.

Mark 16:2. And very early on the First of Weeks, the sun having risen, they came upon the tomb.

Luke 24:1. But on the First of Weeks, while still very early, they came on the tomb, carrying spices which they prepared; and some were with them.

John 20:1. But on the First of Weeks Mary Magdelene came early to the tomb, darkness yet being on it.

John 20:19. Then it being evening on that day, the First of Weeks, and the doors having been locked where the disciples were assembled, because of fear of the Jews, Yeshua came and stood in the midst, and said to them, Peace to you.

Acts 20:6-16. But we sailed along after the days of unleavened bread from Phillipi, and came to them at Troas in five days, where we stayed seven days. And on one of the sabbaths, the disciples having been assembled to break bread, being about to depart on the morrow, Paul reasoned to them. And he continued his speech till midnight..... For Paul had decided to sail by Ephesus, so as it might not happen to him to spend time in Asia; for he hastened if it were possible for him to be in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.

1 Cor. 16:2-8. On the First of Weeks, let each of you put by himself, storing up whatever he is prospered, that there not be then collections when I come....But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost.

Comments on the Translations

If the crucifixion was on Thursday, the phrase "after the sabbaths" in Matt 28:1 means the Passover Sabbath which was on a Friday, and the regular weekly Sabbath which was Saturday. Any non-working Festival day is considered to be a Sabbath. If the crucifixion was on Friday, it is not clear what the phrase means. The Passover Sabbath would be the same day as the regular weekly Sabbath, so there would be only one day. However, it's possible that people took an additional day off, at some time during the Passover preparation, to avoid being deprived of a holiday.

The event described in Acts 20:6-16 is too late to be "First of Weeks", therefore the alternative translation "one of the sabbaths" is used.

1 Cor. 16:2-8 suggests that money and goods had to be "stored up" over a period of time, rather than taking a weekly collection. The period of accumulation would be from the First of Weeks until shortly after Pentecost, when Paul was expected to arrive.

Resurrection of Yeshua at the Firstfruits of the Barley Harvest

The "First of Weeks", when Yeshua was raised from the dead, is referenced not only in the Gospels, but also in 1 Cor. 15:20-23 using the alternative name "Firstfruits".

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.

This has the clear meaning that Yeshua rose from the dead on the Festival of Firstfruits when the priest waved the sheaf of barley before the Lord on the First day of the Omer. The Church was born on next Festival of Firstfruits, at Pentecost, when the priest waved the two loaves of bread, baked from the fine flour of the wheat crop. Yeshua was the firstfruit, and then more fruit would come. He alluded to the same thing in John 12:24.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.

Shavuot (Pentecost) at the Ingathering of the Wheat Harvest

Shavuot is a double celebration, based on the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai and the gathering of the wheat harvest in the Spring. In Israel the warm climate enables them to have two harvests, one in the Spring and the other in the Autumn, each with different crops being harvested at different times.

Approximately seven weeks after the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai and were given the Ten Commandments. This was accompanied by spectacular signs, described in Exodus 19:16 - 20:22 as follows:

And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice ... and all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near into the thick darkness where God was. And the Lord said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.

When the Jews were gathered together in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, shortly after the resurrection of Yeshua, they witnessed some similar signs, as described in Acts 2:1-6.

And when the day of Pentecost was 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 all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.

Peter stood up and told them this was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel:

And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: and I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke. (Acts 2:18-19)

The visitors to Jerusalem were obviously astonished by this event. They must have believed that God was visiting them again at Pentecost and re-stating the Law, but on this occasion they witnessed the work of the Holy Spirit, speaking through Peter and the other Apostles in many languages, telling them about Yeshua. With signs like these, it is hardly surprising that 3,000 people believed and were immersed in a single day (Acts 2:41).

For believers in Yeshua, Shavuot is a triple celebration, commemorating all of the following:

  • The giving of the Law at Mount Sinai;
  • The outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Messianic Community;
  • The ingathering of the early wheat harvest in Israel.

The Jews have a tradition of staying up all night on the eve of Shavuot, discussing the Torah, as a way of remembering how the Israelites waited for the Law to be given, as it says in Exodus 19:10-11.

And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes, and be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.

The disciples of Yeshua also had to wait for the Holy Spirit, according to Acts 1:4-5.

And, being assembled together with them, [Jesus] commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.

Many Christians today, particularly of a Charismatic persuasion, have special meetings at Pentecost where they expect to receive the Holy Spirit. These type of meetings have no Biblical foundation, because the Holy Spirit is already given, just as the Law is already given. The Jews do not expect to receive the Torah at Shavuot. They already have the Torah, and they remember how their ancestors had to wait for it in the desert. Believers in Yeshua might also want to remember how the early Apostles waited for the Holy Spirit, but we do not need to wait for the Holy Spirit ourselves, because He is already with us, and we just need to get on with the work of ministering to people about Yeshua.

For details of the Jewish Literature that is used in support of this article, and notes on the translation of the Greek New Testament, see Part II.

See also:

Three Days and Three Nights
Passover in the New Testament

Copyright 1997 Updated December 1999

Mike Gascoigne
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