Pentecost—Why Count 50 Days?

Pentecost differs from the other Holy Days. Rather than being given a fixed day of the calendar for its observance, we are instructed to count 50 days. We rightly associate the day of Pentecost with the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19) and the receipt of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). Yet the name Pentecost means “the fiftieth”—or to use the biblical injunction, “count 50.” Is there anything we can learn in the observance of that Festival by counting 50 days? Why do we need to wait 50 days for Pentecost? Should it not immediately follow the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread? Pentecost pictures the giving of God’s Spirit, which we desperately need, once we have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as our Passover and seek to put sin behind us. When we baptize a person into the body of Christ, do we tell them, after laying hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit, “50 days from now you will receive it”? No. We pray that they receive it at that very moment and time—and they do! And yet, in terms of the Holy Days, God says, effectively, “You’re going to wait 50 days.” There’s a 50-day break between the Days of Unleavened Bread and Pentecost.

loaves of bread

So why count 50?

While any answer we may find will fall in the realm of speculation, at the same time, numbers are important to God! And that includes the number 50. So consider this article a meditation on 50 and Scripture, prompted by God’s curious Pentecost command.

Is There Anything Special About 50?

Some may say that 50 days was the time it took to walk from Egypt to Sinai. That could be a possibility. Obviously, the journey took about 50 days. But still, why 50 days instead of 49? Alternatively, others suggest 50 days were needed to finish the first harvest each year. But then, why not 49 or 55 days, just in case it was a bad year and more time was needed for the harvest?

Many commentators pass off the need to count 50 days as something Israel learned from the Babylonians. But, unable to find anything from the Babylonians relating to the number 50, they then dismiss the matter as having no consequence. Yet each of God’s Holy Days are designed to teach multiple lessons in their depiction of God’s plan. With Pentecost, we understand about being firstfruits, about God’s Law, about God’s Spirit, and about the importance of and relationships among each of these concepts.

So then, is there anything we can learn from having to count 50 days? The Eternal’s instruction in Leviticus 23:15–16 about the counting of this Festival was not just a casual comment. It forms a major part of the instruction. What lesson might be learned from the Eternal’s choice of timing? Of all the books on “biblical numerology” that can be consulted, not one of them has any useful comment about the number 50. It is as though no one has given it any thought.

There are two other occasions in the Bible in which the number 50 is directly used as part of the Eternal’s instructions to Israel. So, there are three separate occasions, including Pentecost, for which the number 50 is used by God. What can we learn meditating on them with Pentecost in mind? Let’s examine them.

The Jubilee—Release After an Appointed Time

In Leviticus 25 we find the number 50 being used. This chapter deals with the sabbatical year and with another very important occasion, known as the Jubilee. When seven sabbaticals were completed, a span of 49 years, there was another year to be set aside, the fiftieth year, known as the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8–15).

And you shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each one of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family. That fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee to you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of its own accord, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine. For it is the Jubilee; it shall be holy to you; you shall eat its produce from the field. In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession. And if you sell anything to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor’s hand, you shall not oppress one another. According to the number of years after the Jubilee you shall buy from your neighbor, and according to the number of years of crops, he shall sell to you (Leviticus 25:8–15).

The Eternal was setting up a system of land ownership, whereby land was never alienated from a family. If a landowner fell upon hard times and needed to “sell” the land, it was never permanently sold. Today we would call it a lease. The value of that lease was based upon the number of years left until the Jubilee, when it would return to the original family’s ownership. That lease value would depend upon what the person buying the lease could expect to make from the land, in terms of harvests, before the Jubilee. The Jubilee was to be a means whereby oppression was avoided within the land (vv. 12–15). Even after years of hard times, a family could always count on the eventual return of their land to them.

Notice the instruction in Leviticus 25:8 in light of what we have read about counting the Day of Pentecost (which you can compare in Leviticus 23:15–16): “Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath”—that is what we do at Pentecost. But on this occasion, it is a Sabbaths of years. “Seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years” (Leviticus 25:8–9). And then, we are to consecrate the fiftieth. Three elements are stated that are common to Pentecost and the Jubilee—you have to count. Seven Sabbaths must pass for it to be complete; and then, on the fiftieth, the time is consecrated to the Eternal. In terms of the Jubilee, it’s a year—not just one day, as on Pentecost. So then, 50 is used of Pentecost in a manner complementary to that of the Jubilee.

Sadly, the last Jubilee that is believed by some to have been kept was at the time of Josiah and Jeremiah. But here was the instruction that the Eternal gave. Of course, none of our nations are a divine theocracy as Israel was, and no Jubilee years are kept nationally today. But it is the word of God, and such years will be a feature of the Millennium under the reign of Jesus Christ.

But Moses hadn’t finished the Eternal’s instruction about the Jubilee. As we carry on in this chapter, we will find how the God family has talked about the land and how it is to be taken care of, as well as the way in which the people would be provided for during the Sabbatical year and the Jubilee year.

Redemption Before the Time

The Eternal establishes that the land is His (v. 23) and that we are only strangers and sojourners. If leased, the land can be redeemed ahead of time by the action of a relative or a redeemer (vv. 24–25). Thus, the God of Israel made a provision whereby a person didn’t have to wait for the end of the 50 years. Something could happen in the interim that could restore them to their divinely given inheritance. If a person had no one to redeem it for him, then he could, if able, redeem it himself. The price of redemption had to be based on the remaining years until the Jubilee. The Eternal’s desire was that people be able to return to their possession (vv. 27–28).

It doesn’t take us very long to realize that the Holy Days picture a plan that involves a Redeemer. Notice how the Apostle Peter addresses our calling:

Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in allyour conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:13–16).

Peter has just stated the theme of the book of Leviticus: being holy, or how to be God’s holy people (Leviticus 11:4445; 19:2; 20:7).

 He continues:

And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear [remember: we are sojourners in this land]; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers (1 Peter 1:17–18).

You and I have been redeemed from the “aimless conduct received” from our fathers. A person who lost his land because of the aimless or negligent conduct of his fathers could have his land redeemed. In the case of our redemption, we are not redeemed with silver or gold:

…but with the precious blood of Christ, as a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (vv. 19–21).

So, Peter brings in other ideas here, right out of Leviticus 25. He talks about our being sojourners, redeemed by the blood of Christ. If you’re redeemed, that means you don’t have to wait till the end of the 50 years, as it were. Is it too much to say that there appears to be a parallel in Leviticus 25 between those who were redeemed ahead of time and the firstfruits of God’s Family? Those firstfruits have an opportunity to move into a relationship with the Eternal ahead of time, rather than waiting until the end, when the Jubilee would take place.

The Apostle Paul understood this aspect of redemption as well (Ephesians 1:3–11).

In Hebrews 9, the aspect of the redemption provided through the sacrifice of Christ is connected directly to our ability to have an eternal inheritance—or eternal life (Hebrews 9:11–15).

If we go back to Genesis 3:22–24, we find that humanity was cut off from eternal life. They could no longer have access to that which was necessary for eternal life, or an eternal inheritance. So, humanity no longer had access to the Tree of Life and the eternal life it represented.

But the Apostles speak in terms of us having access to eternal life because of our redemption by Christ (see Romans 8:8–14).

The book of Ruth is traditionally read on Pentecost. Probably the most important word used throughout the book of Ruth is the Hebrew word goel, which means “redeemer.” It refers to Boaz and his relatives, who had the privilege of being able to redeem Elimelech’s land, rather than waiting for the Jubilee. Boaz acted out the type of Jesus Christ as a redeemer, intervening on behalf of his relatives. This aspect of “redeeming” has a direct link to the Day of Pentecost, because we’ve been redeemed—to have eternal life, which will be given at the return of Jesus Christ to those who built godly character through the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit.

If we go back to Leviticus 25:19–22, we can see the keeping of the Jubilee in terms of the way in which the land would operate. The result of obedience is safety, ample food supplies and blessings from God. In providing these promises, the Eternal is pointing us back to the blessing that He would have provided to humanity if they had eaten from the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, rather than from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. What the Eternal is describing concerning the land during the Jubilee is the opposite of the curse that came upon mankind because of eating the wrong tree (Genesis 3:17–19).

This passage in Leviticus speaks of a changed condition. It talks of a relationship between humanity and the earth that has been modified by God in a very profound way. Why? Because the Jubilee represents the time of humanity’s return to the right foundation for life. When Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they decided for themselves and their descendants the foundation upon which they would build their lives.

And so, the Jubilee and its possibility of redemption within those 50 years represents the opportunity to return to the right foundation. Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, interpreted by God through Daniel, presents a picture of this change, with the heavenly stone “cut out without hands” (Daniel 2:34). God wants to place us on the right foundation. Those called as firstfruits have the opportunity to be redeemed early and to build their lives on the right foundation.

Connecting “50” to the Temple—and Us!

The third occasion on which the number 50 is used is found in relation to the building of the Tabernacle. How might this tie in?

Exodus 26 and 36 give the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle. The Eternal spends chapters dealing with the details of the design of the Tabernacle and then repeats it again with the construction. To most readers, it is absolutely arcane or irrelevant. But is it?

There were layers of curtains or coverings: five of fine linen and then five of goat hair. Each curtain was joined to the next of its type by 50 loops and 50 clasps (Exodus 36:8–12).

Upon what were the curtains placed? Later in the chapter, we learn of the structure of the Tabernacle, and verses 20 and 21 tell us about the size of the uprights that provided the structure. There were to be twenty boards on each side, and then ten across the end—thus, fifty uprights. So, we see the number 50 becoming a very relevant number in terms of the Tabernacle: A portable temple or dwelling place for God was supported on 50 uprights, and it was covered with curtains held together by 50 clasps on each curtain. You might say the fabric of the Tabernacle was defined by the use of 50. (The same holds true for the future temple that Ezekiel saw in vision. The use of 50 cubits or a multiple thereof is a defining feature in Ezekiel 40–47.)

Hebrews 9:11 states that Jesus Christ came not in terms of a tabernacle of man’s making, but of God’s making. And as Paul states in the book of Hebrews, Moses was instructed to be very careful about the work of creating the Tabernacle, because what they were building at Mount Sinai was modeled on God’s throne. So, there was no room for artistic license, so to speak. In fact, as we read through the instructions about the Tabernacle, we find that the Eternal used His Holy Spirit to guide and direct those who had the oversight of the building of the Tabernacle to accomplish His purpose (Exodus 31:1–6).

In what way was the heavenly tabernacle more perfect? It wasn’t in the design aspects. It was rather that it was not made by human hands.

Paul addresses the subject of the temple to the church in Ephesus. He stated: “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). How do we come into this relationship? We have already been told in the first chapter that it is because of the redemption of Christ. We have been freed—redeemed—from the bondage of the prince of the power of the air, the spirit which works in the children of disobedience. We now have the opportunity of being part of the household of God, which means we are built as part of God’s temple (Ephesians 2:19–22).

With the building of the Tabernacle, the Eternal instructed that the people give an offering for its creation (Exodus 35:4–19). The people gave very willingly and were so generous that Moses had to say enough, and no more (vv. 21–29; 36:4–7). Why did the Eternal want Israel to give an offering for the Tabernacle? It seems reasonable to believe that He wanted them to see themselves as being part of the fabric of God’s dwelling place. In other words, a man could say to his children and family, “We gave so much gold or other commodity for that tabernacle. We are a part of that.” Or a granddaughter could say, “My grandmother helped weave those curtains. I’m part of it. My identity is bound up with that tabernacle.”

God says we are to be part of His temple. We as the Church are to be the household of God. We are to be like a building. But we are built by the action of God’s Holy Spirit, working with our minds. That building has to be built upon a specific foundation, that of the prophets and the apostles, with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19–20).

So, when Paul speaks of this in Ephesians, he’s talking about God’s word. This is the foundation God has provided upon which our lives are to be built. So once again the number 50 brings us back to the aspect of right foundations on which God wants our lives to be built—not just individually, but collectively. That foundation affects and speaks to every part of our lives. Since we are now the building God is creating, we were, in a sense, foreshadowed by the Tabernacle and the Temple, which were characterized by “50” in various aspects.

So, we have an interesting situation. We keep Pentecost by counting 50 days, just as 50 years are counted for the Jubilee. The Eternal commanded that they both had to be counted in a similar manner, which suggests a connection worth considering. The 50 years of the Jubilee existed so that people could be redeemed and go back to the right starting place, this time building on the right foundation. You and I have been redeemed before the “50-year period,” so to speak, is completed. You and I are part of the firstfruits, and we’re redeemed—not to do our own thing, but to build and to be built upon that right foundation. Why? Because we have been called to be part of the building our Father is creating: His Temple, built on a very specific foundation that gives us an opportunity to seek life rather than death. Pentecost clearly portrays God’s Holy Spirit being given so that we can have that life. So, we are, in a sense, taken back to the Garden of Eden and given the opportunity to eat of the Tree of Life, which symbolized God’s Holy Spirit.

The counting of 50 days can provide us with much food for thought

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