By Doug Redford
Today (Sunday, June 5) is Pentecost Sunday, celebrating the beginning of the church on the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. In the Old Testament, Pentecost was one of the three most significant feasts observed annually by the Israelites (Passover and Tabernacles were the others).
Pentecost as instituted in the Law of Moses was primarily a harvest festival, coming seven weeks, or 50 days, after the Passover celebration (thus the name Pentecost, derived from the Greek for fiftieth). It was also known as the day of firstfruits (Numbers 28:26) because the first loaves made from the newly harvested grain were offered to the Lord (Leviticus 23:15-17).
Jesus used harvest terminology in describing the impact of his ministry and of those who would carry on his work.
He described the “fields,” referring to spiritually needy people, as “ripe for harvest” (John 4:35). He referred to the harvest of such people as “plentiful” and urged his disciples to “ask the Lord of the harvest” for more workers in the field (Matthew 9:37-38). As his crucifixion drew near, Jesus described how a kernel of wheat produces a crop only if it goes into the ground and dies (John 12:24), a clear reference to the impact of his death. No harvest, such as what would be reaped on the Day of Pentecost, would occur without his death for the sins of humanity.
On the Day of Pentecost, when Peter preached the first gospel message, a bountiful crop of new disciples of Jesus was harvested (Acts 2:41). While the New Testament refers to Jesus as the “firstfruits” of those who have risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23), the term is applied to Christians as well (2 Thessalonians 2:13; James 1:18). Pentecost was just the beginning of a heavenly harvest; in fact, the early church “reaped” a harvest daily as more and more people were continually added (Acts 2:47).
Communion uses two items that have been “harvested”—bread and the fruit of the vine—to remember Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. His body was “planted” in death, then raised to life so that a crop of Christians could follow.
To take Communion on Pentecost Sunday reminds us that we are part of a harvest of untold numbers that began on that historic day shortly after Jesus’ ascension. And there are more to be harvested until the Lord of the harvest declares our work finished.
Doug Redford has served in the preaching ministry, as an editor of adult Sunday school curriculum, and as a Bible college professor. Currently he is the minister at Highview Christian Church in Cincinnati.