The Feast of Weeks is known by several names associated with counting and with harvest. What does this countdown to a spiritual harvest mean for us today?
The seven festivals of the Bible are appointments to meet with God and worship Him (Leviticus 23:2). So He tells us in Leviticus 23 when these “appointed times” are (verse 4).
Six of the festivals always fall on the same date on the Hebrew calendar each year, but according to the Bible, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) is counted. (Learn more about this in our article “What Does Pentecost Mean?”)
Counting the Feast of Weeks
It was called the Feast of Weeks because seven weeks were counted to determine its date.
The count is to start during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, beginning with “the day after the Sabbath” (verse 15). This was the day of a ceremony when the priests presented the first grain of the year to God. After this sheaf of grain was waved, the rest of the harvest could begin (verses 10-11, 14).
This ceremony was in anticipation of the day when the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ ascended to His Father, on the day after the Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. (See “Chronology of Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection Infographic.”)
The Bible gives the details of the count:
“And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath [in other words “beginning with” the day after the Sabbath], from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD” (verses 15-16).
Based on this, the “day after the seventh Sabbath” is always a Sunday, but the day of the month is not set.
Why is it important to count and figure the right date? Because we don’t want to miss our appointment with God. This is how “the Sadducees and the literalistic Karaites” counted, but other Jewish leaders interpreted the Sabbath to be the first day of Unleavened Bread (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 1962, “Weeks, Feast of”). This led them to set the sixth day of the third month as the festival of Shavuot (“weeks” in Hebrew).
This fixed date does not require counting and does not usually fall on “the day after the seventh Sabbath.” So we do not consider it to be biblically accurate.
Why is it important to count and figure the right date? Because we don’t want to miss our appointment with God. We want to follow the example Christ’s followers set 50 days after His ascension to the Father:
“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1).
On that day, God poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit on the 3,000 who were baptized, launching the Church of God. Through the Church, God began a new spiritual harvest of people He called firstfruits (Luke 10:2; James 1:18).
The Feast of Weeks, also called the Feast of Harvest
The Feast of Weeks is also called “the Feast of Harvest” in Exodus 23:16: “And the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors which you have sown in the field.”
It was called the Feast of Harvest because it was associated with the grain harvest, which was the early harvest in the Holy Land.
In the New Testament context, this refers to the first spiritual harvest. The laborers called to this harvest are also preparing to help with a larger harvest. See more about the harvest analogy in our article “Biblical Festivals: Does God Want Us to Celebrate Them? Why?”
The Feast of Weeks and firstfruits
People called into the Church of God are firstfruits (James 1:18), and firstfruits are intrinsic to the Feast of Weeks.
However, several modern Bible resources confuse things by mislabeling the wave-sheaf offering as the “Feast of Firstfruits” (even though that is not what the passage says) in Leviticus 23:10-11. But it wasn’t a separate festival—it was a ceremony during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
The Bible itself uses the term firstfruits in association with the Feast of Weeks.
As Numbers 28:26 says, “Also on the day of the firstfruits, when you bring a new grain offering to the LORD at your Feast of Weeks, you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work.” See also Exodus 23:16; 34:22; and Leviticus 23:15-21.
The Feast of Weeks and Pentecost
In the New Testament, the Feast of Weeks is called Pentecost, meaning “the fiftieth day” (Thayer’s Greek Definitions). This focused on the 50-day count that the seven weeks also pointed to.
In addition to the Pentecost that marked the beginning of the Church, the Bible also mentions the Feast of Pentecost a couple of times in connection with Paul, the apostle to the gentiles.
- “For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost” (Acts 20:16).
- “But I will tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost” (1 Corinthians 16:8).
Obviously, this appointment to worship God continued to be an important festival for the New Testament Church. Study more about the festivals observed by the early New Testament Church in our article “Christian Festivals.”
The Feast of Weeks, a pilgrimage festival
The Feast of Weeks was also categorized as a pilgrimage festival, one of the three seasons of the year when God’s people were to travel to “appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses” (Deuteronomy 16:16).
These seasons were the Feast of Unleavened Bread (which would have included the Passover), the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles (which would have included the adjacent fall festivals).
Eventually, Jerusalem became the central location for these pilgrimage festivals during the time the temple stood there.
“Historical texts and archeological evidence indicate that in late antiquity, during the Hellenistic and Roman eras, the pilgrimage festivals were a profoundly significant social and religious institution, bringing Jews from all over the ancient world of the Mediterranean to Jerusalem. Thousands upon thousands of Jews made these pilgrimages . . .
“While there are no verifiable numbers of yearly pilgrims, by the end of the first century B.C.E., King Herod the Great, the Roman-appointed ruler of the vassal kingdom of Judea, apparently responded to the pilgrimage needs of the city and built a vast esplanade, or courtyard, surrounding the Temple. This dramatically increased the space of the Temple environs making it possible for thousands more pilgrims to attend religious ceremonies in the sacred precincts of the Temple” (“What Are Pilgrimage Festivals?” MyJewishLearning.com).
This is reflected in the wide range of languages spoken by visitors to Jerusalem at the Feast of Weeks in Acts 2:5-11.
How to celebrate the Feast of Weeks today
The Church of God, a Worldwide Association, continues to observe all seven of the Feasts of the Lord, including what is usually called Pentecost today.
In order to be like the early disciples in Acts 2:1—“all with one accord” “when the Day of Pentecost [has] fully come”—the Church counts “fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath” (Leviticus 23:16). That 50th day is the day on which Pentecost is to be observed. This is the way the Church determines the observance of Pentecost.
You can find the festival dates on our “Festival Calendar” and in our booklet From Holidays to Holy Days: God’s Plan for You.
The Feast of Weeks is both a festival and a holy day. God commands, “You shall do no customary work on it” (Leviticus 23:21). It is also a “holy convocation”—a sacred assembly or meeting. As on the other Sabbaths and holy days, Church members meet together to worship God and learn about the meaning of these holy times.
A typical meeting includes congregational singing, an opening prayer, a short spiritual message, followed by another song, announcements and, on each holy day, the collection of an offering (Deuteronomy 16:16-17). A longer sermon comes next, followed by a concluding song and a closing prayer.
On holy days like Pentecost there are usually two services, but an offering is taken up only in the first service.
Messages focus on the meaning of Pentecost. Here is a brief summary from our article “Festival Meaning”:
“Pentecost, which is the 50th day counted beginning with the first day of the week (Sunday) during the Days of Unleavened Bread, represents the day upon which the New Testament Church—referred to as ‘firstfruits’ (James 1:18; Revelation 14:4)—began with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). After understanding that Jesus died for our sins, we must repent of our sins in order to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:32). The festival meaning also reminds us that once baptized, we must allow God’s Spirit to lead us (Romans 8:8-9).”
Church members enjoy feasting on the spiritual food, but also on delicious physical food. Holy days also provide more time for meaningful fellowship that helps bond the members together.
If you would like to know more about the Church that sponsors this website and observes the seventh-day Sabbath and seven annual festivals, see our “Who We Are” page.