The ancient priests of Jerusalem had a ritual. One in which — astonishingly — the entire secret of the death-resurrection-mission of Christ the Messiah, and the birth, life and destiny of the true Christian Church was acted out.
It was no accident that multitudes of first-century Jews, knowing as they did the facts of this ritual, were convinced of the authenticity of Jesus and His message, and that they eagerly accepted the new name of Christian: "... The number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7).
The long previous existence of the ritual — and its known and established provenance from God, the God of Israel and the God of the universe — was proof positive to their minds that this new development in the religion of Israel indeed was the unfolding and revelation of the truth of God the Creator.
Looking at that same ritual and its perfect, detailed fulfillment in Christ and the Church, we on this end of a 2000-year time tunnel still find it equally impressive and convincing. And to us, it is not only a tremendous testimony to the divinity and authenticity of Christ but to the accuracy and authority of the Old Testament Scriptures as well.
The ritual was prophecy — which came to pass!
Given Through Moses The original command was given back in the wilderness — thirty-nine years before the Israelites came into the Promised Land and had a harvest to which it could apply. It was given by the God of the Old Testament, who was to become the very Jesus Christ of the New Testament to whom the ritual pointed.
"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 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" (Lev. 23:9-11).
You will notice that the "wavesheaf' was to be lifted up and waved toward heaven, as a symbol of something actually being transferred to heaven to be presented and accepted by the One who sits on the throne of the universe.
The sheaf had to be of the "firstfruits" — the first of the harvest to be reaped. "And ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, until the selfsame day that ye have brought an offering unto your God: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings" (verse 14).
Why did the sheaf have to be offered first — before the rest of the harvest could be used? Because it represented Christ: "Christ [is] risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept" (I Cor. 15:20). "... Every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his corning" (verse 23). "Christ... the first that should rise from the dead"; "... that he might be the firstborn among many brethren"; "... the firstborn from the dead"; "the first begotten" (Acts 26:23; Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:18; Heb. 1:6).
The ritual was to be repeated each year as the harvest season arrived. It was closely tied in with the annual cycle of holy days which picture God's plan of His spiritual harvest.
"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 [that is, until Pentecost, which means "fiftieth day"].... [Then] 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.... And the priest shall wave... the bread of the firstfruits for a wave offering before the Lord..." (Lev. 23:15-16, 17, 20).
Here is a time period — represented by 50 days — to elapse after the offering and acceptance of Christ, after which something or someone (represented by two loaves, in which preparation leaven had a part!) become eligible to also be lifted and waved toward the heavens.
The meaning of the latter symbolism will become obvious when we thoroughly understand the earlier part of the ritual.
More to the Ritual in Practice There was more to the way the Jews actually handled the wavesheaf than we have yet noticed. More than was actually commanded in the Bible.
Did some or someone among the — prophets and priests of Israel, perhaps centuries before, truly understand the events and circumstances surrounding the first coming and departure of the Messiah? Or did God in some way simply reveal it to the priests that the wavesheaf should be handled in the detailed way they did it? We do not know. But we can see the reason, as we examine those perhaps even manmade and man-added details, why thousands of fir t-century Jews came to see Jesus was Christ.
Christ was a chosen one — chosen by the Father before the foundation of the world (I Peter 1:19-20; Eph. 1:4; Rev. 13:8), chosen by the high priest and the leaders of the Jews (John 11:49-52), chosen by the people (Mark 11:7-10). Not just any sheaf carelessly grabbed on a Sunday morning out of all the barley which was then beginning to be reaped could represent Him. Nor could just any sheaf have fittingly demonstrated the extreme preeminence of Christ's firstfruithood as regards time since then — already now nearly twenty centuries.
The Mishnah, a collection of Jewish law and traditions, describes the ceremony of cutting, preparing and waving the wavesheaf. Since the Mishnah is generally thought to have been put into writing only about A.D. 200, some of the information about events before the destruction of the Temple (A.D. 70) may not always be totally accurate. But the general picture of the wavesheaf ceremony is borne out by other sources and what we know of the situation at the time. Here is the traditional ceremony as handed down through the Mishnah:
"How was it done? The messengers of the court went out... and bound the standing grain into sheaves so that it would be easy for cutting" (Menahoth 10, 3; our own translation).
Following the above-quoted passage, the Mishna dramatically describes the cutting loose of the stalks of grain from the ground. Standing in the field, over the chosen and bound sheaf, sickle in hand and surrounded by others who were there to make sure all was done exactly right, the priest asked: "Is the sun set?" They answered "Yes!" "Shall I reap?" And they answered, "Reap!" He then cut the bound grain.
Having chosen and eventually reaped the sheaf, the priests went even further to make it a wholly suitable representation of Christ (though probably not themselves fully apprehending just what they were illustrating). What they obviously could not do while the grain was standing, they now did. "They used to parch it with fire.... They used to beat it with reeds and the stems of plants that the grains should not be crushed [before the parching]" (Menahoth 10, 4).
Surely here is more than a hint of the physical beating — scourging — Christ underwent at the hands of the Romans, yet done in the type carefully enough not to crush the grain. Why? Because not a bone of Him was to be broken (Ex. 12:46; Num. 9:12; Ps. 34:20; John 19:36). Then the grain was parched, symbolic of the scorching reception this world gave the Son of God throughout His entire human life, and especially in His final hours.
Then, as if this were not enough, the priests "put it in a grist-mill and took therefrom a tenth [of an ephah of flour] which was sifted through thirteen sieves..: they put in oil, and the frankincense thereof..." (ibid.). Here again they pictured Christ's trials and testings (siftings), His Holy Spirit (the oil), His prayers and the sweet savor to God of His holiness (frankincense — Rev. 8:3).
Thus were the aspects of Christ's life and death represented by ritual. God had not had all these details written into the Bible in the first place. But He nevertheless used them in the working out of His plan to identify His Son and Messiah, so that a tremendous witness was borne to the Jews concerning Jesus of Nazareth.
The Passover Itself a Similar Example God did a similar thing with Jewish practice in the events leading up to and culminating in the actual death of Christ as Passover Lamb. The Jews in Jesus' time were killing their lambs almost 24 hours late, perhaps about 3 p.m. on the afternoon of Nisan 14 (see box on next page). In the later years (before Jerusalem and the second Temple were destroyed by the Romans), because of the sheer multitude of the lambs which were brought into the Temple courts for slaughter, the priests had to begin to kill them even as early as noon.
And to further identify and authenticate His divine, anointed Passover Lamb as the bearer away of the sins of the world, God honored their way!
Yes, He did. Even so far as to darken the earth about noon as Christ hung on the cross and began to die, and to actually let Him expire by about 3 p.m. (Luke 23:44-46; Mark 15:33-34; Matt. 27:45-46).
The time the Jews thus set actually pictured the hour Christ our Passover did die. For the unbelieving of the Jews, the limited view this gave of the sacrifice of Christ was sufficient. It was a witness. It was enough they could have believed.
As it was, they did picture for themselves, for the time when they shall have the perception to see and believe, the death of their Savior, as their Passover as well as ours. Only the Christians needed — and now need — to understand and keep the Passover ordinance after the example of Jesus at the beginning of. Nisan 14. Because only they perceive their future need• of prior protection when God will slay more than firstborn, and throughout the world will "pass over" only those over whom is the blood of the Christ who let Himself at midnight be seized in their stead by the "death angel" mob in Gethsemane.
Back to the Wavesheaf In the time of Jesus the wavesheaf was offered on the Sunday during Passover week. This is clear since the priests — who were mostly Sadducees — were in charge of the Temple and all the Temple ceremony (Acts 4:1-6; 5:17). The timing and symbolism of this ceremony would have been overwhelming to those who knew the events of Jesus' death and resurrection.
The wave sheaf had been chosen in advance, as Christ was. It was tied in a bundle, symbolizing his captivity. It was cut loose from the ground just at sunset — just the time at which Christ rose from the dead after three days and three nights in the tomb. The cutting of the grain symbolized Christ's actual resurrection. Like the sheaf now loosed from the soil, the resurrected Christ became free from any physical dependence on air, water or sustenance that had tied Him, as it has tied all other humans, to this earth out of which we grow.
Thus, in the ritual, Christ was slain and resurrected. But He had not yet ascended into heaven.
So finally the priests waved the product of their (mis?)treatment of the wavesheaf toward heaven and the Father. And in like manner as the "sheaf" was raised and let down, Christ ascended to heaven to His Father, and returned on that same day (John 20:17; Matt. 28:9).
The barley and wheat harvest continued from the day of the wavesheaf to Pentecost. It was a type of the spiritual harvest which has been underway in the Church ever since. But no more of it was waved till the fiftieth day. Then two wave loaves were made of flour brought of the habitations of the people. The priest raised them, waved them toward heaven and lowered them. What of these two loaves? Obviously they represented the many additional firstfruits to be given eternal life from both Old Testament and New Testament periods (James 1:18; Rom. 16:5; Rev. 14:1-4). The loaves were baked with leaven, which represented sin (I Cor. 5:7), for none of us — as Christ — have never sinned.
No specific point in the ritual seems designed to show our actual cutting loose from the earth, the end of our dependence on the physical, because our resurrection and ascension into the air to meet Christ are all one event. Some will yet be living at that time and will not be resurrected at all, but "changed in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye" (I Cor. 15:51-52; I Thess. 4:13-18). But just as the priest raised the loaves up and let them down, so shall we all ascend into the clouds before returning almost immediately to earth with Christ, as His feet stand in that day on the mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4).
To us the general analogy of I Corinthians 15:35-44, 49 primarily refers. But the ritual of Leviticus 23, with all its added features, primarily and vividly describes and identifies Christ.
No wonder that tens of thousands of first-century Jews — the people who knew the most about Bible prophecies (and the Exodus and about Leviticus 23) — believed. Was it all just coincidence that had come to pass in their day? Ridiculous!
Can it all help you too to believe?
The Jews' Passover When God gave the Israelites a law to kill and eat the Passover on the 14th day of Nisan (Exodus 12), he did not tell them to kill the lamb late in the afternoon and finally get it roasted to eat after the sundown beginning the 15th — after the Passover day was ended. (Remember that a biblical day begins with a dark half, then concludes with a light half — see Leviticus 23:32; Genesis 1:5, 8, 13). He told them: "In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the Lord's passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread..." (Lev. 23:5-6).
The Jews for many centuries have made the eating of the lamb the same as the feast of unleavened bread (how can it be feast of "unleavened bread" when it is the feast of "lamb"?). Thus they have confused the two festivals, making them one. But it is obvious, from Christ's own "last supper" example, that the originally commanded time to slay the lamb was early in the beginning of the 14th — as Exodus 12:6 puts it, "between the two evenings" — between sunset and darkness.
As God of the Old Testament, Christ foreknew He would change the emblems of the Passover to the bread and wine, and He knew what day •and hour He wanted it to occur. Therefore He told the Israelites to slay the lamb in the evening, put its blood on the doorposts, roast and eat it and stay indoors till morning (Ex. 12:6-8, 22). Why? Because only those firstborn humans who were within such already marked and protected houses would be spared at midnight. The Lord would "pass over" that house — at midnight, still in the first and dark half of the 24-hour day — and that "passing over" was to give that day — the 14th — its name, Passover (verses 12, 23, 29).
If the death angel (representing the Lord Himself) had not "passed over" until the night part of the 15th, that day — the 15th — would have been the Passover, and not the 14th.
If they had slain and eaten the Passover lamb at the same time of day as the Jews later came to do, their firstborn would not have been spared!