Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). After receiving the gift of eternal life, what could possibly be involved in having more abundant life? Perhaps, insight is found in a little-known Jewish festival called Shavuot.
Shavuot is the fourth of seven observances in Leviticus 23. The actual term Shavuot means “weeks.” Its Greek name is Pentecost, meaning “50th day,” or seven weeks after Passover, around late May or early June. Originally it was an agricultural observance, only kept when the Jewish people were in their land and the Temple was present. So, what exactly is the Shavuot connection with “life” and its “abundance”?
It Was an Experience
Jewish men were expected to make three pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem: Passover, Shavuot, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Exodus 23:15–17). The ancient rabbis issued three prerequisites for the observance of Shavuot. The first, based on Exodus 23:19, was that the produce of the land may not be brought before Shavuot. Second, based on Deuteronomy 8:8 and 26:2, the seven specific types of fruit had to come from one’s own land. Finally, based on Deuteronomy 26:11, when the festival ends, the people can continue to bring their first harvested crops as late as Hanukkah in the winter (Mishnah tractate Bikkurim).
The ceremony was quite festive. Farmers throughout Israel cut and bundled their first fruits, which consisted of two grains and five fruits, from the description, “a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey” (Deuteronomy 8:8). The bundles were then placed in decorated baskets for the trip to Jerusalem.
An ox with its horns overlaid with a gold wreath and olive leaves headed the joyful procession. Later the ox was offered with other animals as a sacrifice at the Temple (Leviticus 23:18–20). Farmers and their entourage passed through villages and towns, singing the pilgrim songs of ascents, the “going up” (Psalm 120—134). One familiar verse was, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lᴏʀᴅ’” (122:1). As the procession entered through the gates of Jerusalem they declared, “Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!” (v. 2).
Finally, they focused on the Lord alone for being their source of endless rejoicing. The abundant life Jesus spoke about is primarily a personal, ongoing relationship.
Upon entering the Temple court, the Levites joyfully met them, playing on their instruments and singing Psalm 30. Then everyone sang Psalm 150, closing with verse 6, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lᴏʀᴅ.” The faithful held up their baskets and prayed out loud in thanks for their blessings as recorded in Deuteronomy 26:5–11, acknowledging God’s goodness for their deliverance from their Egyptian bondage. Then for the blessing of the first fruits, which anticipated a bountiful harvest to come from the rich land. Finally, they focused on the Lord alone for being their source of endless rejoicing. When the prayers and worship ended, two leavened loaves were offered as a wave offering (v. 11, cf. Leviticus 23:17). The loaves represented the Levites and the strangers (non-Israelites) who owned no land to produce first fruits; therefore, the loaves were offered in their behalf, symbolic that the blessings associated with Shavuot are accessible for everyone.
The ceremony ended when the high priest recited the priestly benediction, “The Lᴏʀᴅ bless you and keep you; the Lᴏʀᴅ make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lᴏʀᴅ lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24–26). Everyone returned home with a renewed gratitude for the Lord.
It’s an Event
Today Shavuot is observed with rabbinic traditions. Although not explicit in Scripture, the event became a remembrance of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. Reading the Ten Commandments, the book of Ruth, and various Davidic psalms is customary. Homes and synagogues are decorated with fresh flowers and other green foliage. Since most Jewish festivals are associated with some food, like matzohs for Passover and potato pancakes (latkes) for Hanukkah, it is customary during Shavuot to eat various dairy products—blintzes and cheesecakes are most popular.
In modern Israel, children dress in white and wear floral wreaths. Many join parades carrying baskets of a variety of produce from their local villages and kibbutzim (communal farms). They seek to recreate some semblance of the great pageantry of ancient Shavuot.
It Was an Example
During their last meal together, Jesus assured His disciples He would not forsake them and the Holy Spirit would come and remain with them forever (John 14:16). It was after Christ’s ascension that the promise of the Holy Spirit descended upon the believers.
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 (Acts 2:1–4).
Those sitting in the house when the Spirit came may have suddenly realized the Messianic fulfillment and ministry mandate expressed in the three ancient prerequisites for observing Shavuot. Recall that the first fruits of Shavuot could not be brought to the Temple before the feast day. All the feasts of the Lord had to be followed in succession (Leviticus 23:4). Therefore, it begins with Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, followed by Shavuot. The first three were fulfilled in Messiah’s First Coming. He was the sinless, unleavened Passover Lamb of God, who died on the cross and triumphantly rose from the grave as the first fruits of those who will be raised to life (1 Corinthians 5:7; 15:20). Receiving the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit as related with Shavuot/Pentecost can only occur after accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior. The second mention was about the specific first fruits that had to come from one’s own land. A former Pharisee named Paul wrote the kinds of distinct fruits that yielding to the Spirit produces. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22–25). Finally, the third notice was that first fruits can be brought from the time of Shavuot and beyond. The significance of Shavuot/Pentecost is a reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit. It teaches us to proclaim the gospel continually and worldwide and to live a life that testifies to others that we serve a risen Savior.
The abundant life Jesus spoke about is primarily a personal, ongoing relationship. It is our communion with Christ through the Spirit for an overflowing, meaningful life. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).