What is the meaning of the two loaves, mentioned in Leviticus 23 regarding the observance of Pentecost?
Here is the specific reference in question: “‘You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the LORD'” (Leviticus 23:17). The vital key found in this Scripture that will lead to understanding what (or more specifically, who) is being represented by these two loaves appears in the last sentence: “‘They are the FIRSTFRUITS to the LORD.'”
As God introduced the observance of this Feast Day to the children of Israel, we note that several different names were used in explanation: “‘…the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors which you have sown in the field'” (Exodus 23:16); “‘And You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvests…'” (Exodus 34:22); “‘Also on the day of the firstfruits, when you bring a new grain offering to the LORD at your Feast of Weeks…'” (Numbers 28:26). (Compare, also, Deuteronomy 16:9-12.)
Following His resurrection, Jesus Christ carefully instructed His disciples “…not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father ‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me'” (Acts 1:4). Continuing in Acts 2:1-4, we read that this waiting period culminated on the Day of Pentecost–the transliterated Greek name for the Feast of Weeks, meaning fiftieth:
(1) “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. (2) And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. (3) Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. (4) And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
When the New Testament Church was founded, all Church members were Israelites. One of the two loaves in Leviticus 23 pictured, identified or foreshadowed–as part of the firstfruits–converted Israelites (including those few righteous people in Old Testament times, who had been called and converted by God). Acts 2 contains the record of a partial fulfillment of the meaning of Pentecost; however, consider, also, what Peter was inspired to say by way of explanation. He quoted from the prophet Joel (Compare Acts 2:17-21; Joel 2:28-32). Note, in particular, the broadly inclusive statement found in Acts 2:21: “‘And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved.'”
As we continue to read this account in Acts 2, Peter preaches about repentance, baptism and the promise of God’s Holy Spirit. Verse 39 again opens up the scope of the opportunity that God is presenting: “‘For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.'”
Peter addressed “…all the house of Israel” (Acts 2:36) on this momentous Day of Pentecost, but God would soon send him to preach the same message of salvation to another representative group of people. The circumstances of this occurrence are found in Acts 10. Through remarkable revelations, God caused Peter to go to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile. Here is what Peter said: “Then Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him'” (Acts 10:34-35). Peter continued to explain the message of salvation to those assembled, and “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word” (Acts 10:44).
Note this reaction: “And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also” (Acts 10:45). However, this development was not readily accepted by those of the circumcision–that is, those of Israelite descent who were believers. We find that Peter carefully explained what had happened, and we find this statement in Acts 11:18: “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.'”
The Bible reveals that God is not calling everyone, now! Rather, He is calling some to be firstfruits, and that includes those who are descendants of Israel and those who come from among Gentiles. These are being offered an opportunity for salvation in the first resurrection, and they are called firstfruits:
James 1:18: “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures”; Romans 8:23: “…we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption [better: sonship], the redemption of our body”; Revelation 14:4: “These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.”
In Leviticus 23:17, speaking of the two loaves, it is said that “‘They are the firstfruits to the LORD.'” Again, in verse 20, the bread is called “‘…the bread of the firstfruits.'”
The second of the two loaves in Leviticus 23 refers, then, to the other part of the firstfruits–converted Gentiles.
We find in Luke’s account that Jesus specifically chose men during His lifetime on earth to be apostles (Compare Luke 6:13). Following His return to the Father, Jesus Christ continued to choose individuals to assist in building and administering the Church of God. Speaking to Ananias about the man called Saul (later named Paul), Jesus said, “‘…for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel'” (Acts 9:15). Later on, Paul makes this statement in explaining his own calling: “But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised [Gentiles] had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised [Israelites] was to Peter” (Galatians 2:7).
In this context, let us consider the remarkable statement found in Romans 15:16, Authorized Version: “That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost [Spirit].” In addition, other translations support this understanding of Paul’s testimony:
“…so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God” (NIV); “…so that gentiles might become an acceptable offering” (New Jerusalem Bible); “…to offer the Gentiles to him as an acceptable sacrifice” (Revised English Bible); “…so that the Gentiles, when offered before him, may be an acceptable sacrifice” (Century Translations in Modern English).
Speaking of the sacrifices associated with the Feast of Weeks, God says: “‘The priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the LORD for the priest'” (Leviticus 23:20).
Verse 22 of Leviticus 23 is, at first glance, seemingly out of place. However, this verse unlocks the understanding of the Gentile role in the promises that God made to Abraham and his descendants. Here is the verse: “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the LORD your God.'”
The story of Ruth, the Moabitess and a Gentile, is part of God’s Word. You can read the very interesting details in this short book, but the particular events surrounding Ruth’s gleaning in the field of Boaz are of particular significance (Compare Ruth 1:22; 2:1-2). Ruth was the mother of Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David and in the lineage of Jesus Christ! Through the provision of God’s law, this faithful Gentile woman was accepted as a part of God’s chosen people. It is interesting to note that Jews specifically read from the Book of Ruth on the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot).
Now consider another very revealing account regarding this concept of gleaning. When Jesus was asked by a woman from Canaan to heal her daughter, Jesus replied: “‘I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel'” (Matthew 15:24). Also, He said: “‘…It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs'” (verse 26). Note this remarkable statement from the woman in response: “And she said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table'” (verse 27). At this, Jesus said to her: “‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire'” (verse 28).
Further proof that firstfruits from among the Gentiles are represented by one of the two loaves may be found by examining more about Jesus Christ’s role. Shortly following His birth, this testimony about Jesus was given by Simeon: “‘A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel'” (Luke 2:32). Jesus, knowing the unfolding plan of God, stated: “‘And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd'” (John 10:16).
In one of the Messianic prophecies, the all-encompassing role Jesus was to fulfill for the totality of mankind is revealed: “Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth'” (Isaiah 49:6).
Paul offers this compelling overview of God’s plan of salvation–starting with the firstfruits and including both those of Israel and of the Gentiles (that is, the rest of the nations): “Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh–who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands–that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:11-13).
Then, in Galatians 3, we find this summary–a kind of capstone for us to understand that God will accept both the loaves represented in Leviticus 23, that is, not only the firstfruits of Israel, but the firstfruits of other nations as well:
“(26) For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (27) For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (28) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (29) And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Thus, we can see that the two loaves represent the firstfruits of all of mankind called and chosen by God the Father to be included in the first resurrection at Christ’s coming. The waving of the two loaves on the Day of Pentecost pictured this harvesting of God’s firstfruits.
As God’s great master plan is revealed in His Holy Days, we find that an even greater harvest of all of the rest of humanity will follow! For more information about the Feast Days of God, please read our free booklet, “God’s Commanded Holy Days.”