“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
When the Day of Pentecost had 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 the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?”
Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.”
But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above and signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved.’
In our first post on the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost), we looked at the agricultural and marital background associated with the remembrance and celebration of this important event. In part two, we examined how the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai is also a vital aspect of the Feast of Shavuot as it symbolizes the betrothal marriage between God and Israel. In this final post on the Feast of Shavuot, we are going to look at how Shavuot was fulfilled in large part in Acts 2 and what it means for us today. Some common assumptions will also be examined for their validity based on the background we have established for what the Feast of Shavuot was all about, most importantly, a time when God and His people exchanged wedding vows.
The prophecy found in Jeremiah 31:31-34 carries great significance for the Feast of Shavuot, specifically as we get to exploring the events found in Acts 2. As we noted in the previous post, celebrating the giving of the law is a major function of the Feast of Shavuot. Additionally, the law was the marriage contract or ketubah between God and His people noting the relational expectations that constituted the manner in which God expected His bride to adhere to. Essentially, the giving of the law was the “I do’s” of the betrothal ceremony. Notice how in Jeremiah 31:32, God describes Himself as a husband further noting the way His bride (Israel), broke the terms of the ketubah. Despite their unfaithfulness, God promised something very important, that of renewing His marriage covenant with Israel and Judah so that the terms of the marriage contract would be written on their hearts in order that they might be a light to the Gentiles.
Another interesting element of the Jeremiah 31 prophecy is found in the description of God’s people knowing Him versus knowing Him. This is an easy element to overlook as it must be understood in terms of a marital relationship. The Hebrew word used for “know” in Jeremiah 31:34 is yada, a word that has a rather wide semantic range of meaning. In this particular passage, God is drawing a distinct contrast between knowing in a mere cognitive sense and knowing in a marital, relational point of view. God was literally promising that when His Spirit was poured out on His people, His law, the marriage contract, would be something more than just a verbal acknowledgement. Conversely, it would be written on their minds and hearts, representative of being part of all they do, a requirement that was planned from the beginning as noted in Deut. 11:18 which declared “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.”
If we fast forward to the events of Acts 2, we can begin to see how the promise found in Jeremiah 31 was fulfilled. It is important to remain focused on the betrothal element of the Feast of Shavuot contained in that covenant agreement. Many attribute the events of Pentecost to be the birth of the “Church,” the time when a “new” covenant was established. In reality, the explosion of assemblies of people, both Jew and Gentile that came about following the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Shavuot was merely the result of God keeping His covenant promises. What do I mean by that? If we keep in mind the promise of Jeremiah 31, it is imperative to note on whom the outpouring the Spirit of God was at least initially to take place. Jeremiah 31:31 specifically states “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” The Hebrew word translated as “new” used in this particular passage is chadash. This is an interesting word that comes from a root word that carries the meaning of something being renewed. That of course begs the question as to what was being renewed and with whom. What was being renewed was God’s marriage contract/covenant made with Israel and Judah. Furthermore, the “betrothal at Sinai foreshadowed the coming betrothal of Renewed Covenant participants with Messiah. Those who follow him have entered into the betrothal stage of marriage to Him. In Hebrews 8:6, we find that the Renewed Covenant, like the covenant at Sinai, was established as Torah. In this New Covenant, God writes his ketubah on our hearts and gives us His Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) as a guarantee of His coming to us (2 Cor. 5:5; Eph. 1:14) and of His taking us to Himself to be his special treasure. Revelation 19:7-9 provides a picture of the eventual consummation of the marriage between Messiah and his bride, the kahal. There we find the great marriage supper of the Lamb, and everyone who follows Yeshua is invited to participate.”
This brings us then to another important aspect of understanding the relation between the Feast of Shavuot, Jeremiah 31, and Acts 2, that of the mission given by God to His people from the outset. Israel was to be a “a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth”, as noted in Isaiah 49:6. What was that light or better yet, what was the message they were to proclaim? To answer that question, we have to go back a bit further to God’s covenant with Abraham. In Genesis 22, which is ironically replete with symbolism that hearkens forward to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, God promised to Abraham the following:
“By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only [son], blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which [is] on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” (Gen. 22:16-18)
So who was the seed through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed? Both the seed promised by God to be a blessing to all people and the light that would shine forth to the Gentiles and to the ends of the earth is the Messiah, the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. So what does this have to do with the fulfillment of the Feast of Shavuot? Let’s begin to put this all together.
As we have seen in Genesis 22, God’s plan all along was to bless all the nations of the earth through the incarnation, death, burial, resurrection and finally the second coming of the Messiah. This was an event planned in eternity past to address the broken relationship between a holy God and sinful man. God chose Abraham to be the father of a people through whom this message of salvation would be declared to all the nations of the earth. Isaiah prophesied that God’s people would be a light to the Gentiles so that all the people of the earth may hear of God’s offer of salvation. Jeremiah prophesied God would pour out His Spirit on Israel and Judah so they might have His marriage contract written on their minds and hearts. When we get to Acts 2, we have God’s people gathered in Jerusalem as mandated in God’s instructions for the observance of the Feast of Shavuot. Acts 2 clearly describes in direct fulfillment of Jeremiah 31, God’s Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) being poured out on His people. With all that in place, we can begin to better understand what was taking place in Acts 2.
The events of and following Acts 2 reveal not the birth of something new but the fulfillment of God’s promises made to Abraham long ago, namely the pouring out of the message of salvation to the ends of the earth. God, by renewing His marriage covenant with His people provided the Holy Spirit as a firstfruits whereby His law, instructions, and marriage proposal might be declared to all people. Rather than this event being the beginning of something new, conversely, it was the extension of the offer of marriage through the sacrifice of the Messiah to all people as planned all along. God’s betrothal offer of relationship was being proclaimed through God’s people in fulfillment of Isaiah 49:6, that of Israel being a light to the nations, the light being the message of salvation.
It is further interesting to note what the meaning of the word used for church actually means in relation to this topic. The Greek word ecclesia literally means “an assembly of people.” What does that have to do with the Feast of Shavuot or God’s people? If we remember our previous discussions concerning the Feasts of the Lord, each feast was declared by God to be a holy convocation or assembly of the people. Each feast was a time when Israel would assemble, whether at home or in Jerusalem, to remember what God had done for them. Many have interpreted statements such as found in Matthew 16:18, namely Jesus’ statement “build my church” to mean there would be an entirely new organization or group of people that would be established. In light of what we have discovered thus far concerning the Feast of Shavuot being a time of remembering God’s marriage contract with His people and Acts 2 being the renewal of that marriage contract to include the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to enable the promise of salvation to be declared to all people, was there really a new organization that was birthed at Pentecost in Acts 2? Or was there rather a renewal of relationship, a recommitment to marriage vows so the offer of salvation and betrothal might now be more widely declared as promised by God long ago? The latter is the more theologically consistent approach.
Another important meaning of ecclesia beyond that of “an assembly of people” is the idea of those people being called out for a special purpose. What is that special purpose? We once again must return to the idea of betrothal that runs throughout the Feast of Shavuot. Given this feast is in large part a remembrance of the giving of a marriage contract, God’s law (Torah), God was calling out a people to be a special possession, specifically a people to be wedded to Him, a people who would be devoted to Him. In the renewal of this covenant at Mt. Sinai, God not only renewed His wedding vows with Israel and Judah in fulfillment of Jeremiah 31, He also fulfilled the promises made to Abraham and through the prophecies of Isaiah, the promise of salvation. The flow of these feasts is important to notice. Passover leads up to Shavuot, Passover being a time of salvation and Shavuot being a time of marriage as well as the adoption of the Gentiles into the family of God. Notice Paul’s statement in Romans 8:23: “we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.” In this passage, we have a connection being made to the firstfruits of the Spirit that was fulfilled in Acts 2. In Romans 11, Paul speaks of Gentiles being grafted in, “a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree” with the olive tree being Israel.
If we put this all together, the events of Acts 2 constitute not the creation of something new, but rather the expansion of God’s marriage offering, the grafting in of the Gentiles as part of God’s holy assembly, His bride, His chosen people. When we assemble together as the people of God, when we partake of communion as a time of commitment to our marriage vows, when we read and wash ourselves in God’s word which is His marriage covenant with His people, we are acknowledging being His bride, His called out ones, His assembly of people called for a purpose. That purpose is to continue to declare the message of salvation, the light to the world that can be found through the cross of Christ. Just as God rescued Israel long ago from physical bondage and set them apart to be His people, so too can we experience salvation from sin and we too can be part of His bride, His ecclesia, the grand assembly of God’s people. When we declare Christ as Lord, we are declaring just as Israel did at Mt. Sinai, our commitment to this marriage contract. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are able to have God’s law, the ketubah, written on our hearts so that we might be a faithful, sanctified bride who longs to bring glory to the bridegroom.
When we celebrate the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost), it is truly a time of renewing wedding vows and of giving thanks to God for being faithful to His promise long ago to provide salvation through the Messiah so that we might be His special people, the assembly of those called by His name. The Holy Spirit, as promised, was poured out on the Feast of Shavuot for the purpose of continuing to draw men to salvation and to write God’s law on the hearts of His chosen people, making the bride sanctified and holy for the day when the wedding ceremony will take place, a day when the finality of the betrothal process will be completed.
We must follow in the path of Peter and John, declaring the message of salvation and the offer of this marriage relationship with God. Furthermore, when we gather together in our local assemblies, let us remember that we are a holy Assembly of God’s people, set apart as His bride. As the bride, we should desire to magnify the name of our Lord and Savior, our bridegroom who shed his blood as the bride price on our behalf so that we might have salvation from bondage to sin. As the ecclesia, let us recommit ourselves minute by minute, day by day to our marriage contract with our Lord, allowing the Holy Spirit that was sent on Shavuot to write that contractual agreement of God’s Holy Word on our hearts. God longs to draw near to us so that as His bride, we might know Him in the marital sense. We serve a God who loves us and longs to have relationship with His bride, the assembly, the called out ones, the ecclesia. Understanding God’s covenant with us in this manner, that of a marriage contract, will only serve to prevent the bifurcation of Scripture into two unrelated parts that so often constitutes our approach to Scripture.
Do you desire to be the ecclesia and to understand the beautiful implications of what it means to be the bride of Christ? Are you willing to declare to a world wallowing in darkness there is a light that shines in the darkness? Are you willing as the bride to share with others the delight of being married to your Creator? Are you committed to your marriage vows? Are you reading your marriage vows daily? Do you understand our bridegroom, Jesus Christ, has fulfilled on our behalf the righteous requirement of the marriage contracts so that we “not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” as declared in Romans 8? That is the foundation of the Feast of Shavuot and why we should understand it as outlined in Scripture, a time of the renewal of wedding vows and the extension of this offer of marriage to a lost and hurting world.