The Wave Sheaf: How an Ancient Ceremony Foreshadowed Jesus' Role

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The Wave Sheaf

How an Ancient Ceremony Foreshadowed Jesus' Role

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On the first day of the week following Jesus’ death and resurrection, an unusual and significant event occurred.

As Mary Magdalene was standing by His empty tomb, Jesus appeared. He called her name and then, as she apparently went to take hold of him, said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God’ ” (John 20:17 John 20:17Jesus said to her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brothers, and say to them, I ascend to my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
American King James Version×
).

But later the same day, as she and the other Mary “went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them saying, ‘Rejoice!’ And they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him” (Matthew 28:9 Matthew 28:9And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.
American King James Version×
).

Many have probably read these words, but without paying that much attention to exactly what Christ said or the significance of what must have happened between these two episodes. For Jesus to later the same day allow His disciples to hold onto him, He must in the interval have ascended to the Father. What was the significance of this?

The answer is revealed in the comments of New Testament writers and in a little-understood Old Testament ceremony that prefigured the purpose of His ascension.

But before we examine that symbolic ceremony, we need to understand why the common belief that Jesus rose from the dead at sunrise on the first Sunday after He was crucified is inaccurate. Let’s notice the biblical account of what really happened that morning.

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’

“Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.

“Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed” (John 20:1-8 John 20:1-8 [1] The first day of the week comes Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, to the sepulcher, and sees the stone taken away from the sepulcher. [2] Then she runs, and comes to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, They have taken away the LORD out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid him. [3] Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulcher. [4] So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulcher. [5] And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. [6] Then comes Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulcher, and sees the linen clothes lie, [7] And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. [8] Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulcher, and he saw, and believed.
American King James Version×
, New Revised Standard Version).

Before sunrise came that Sunday morning, Jesus had already been resurrected! He was already gone from His tomb! His resurrection had actually occurred near or at sunset the previous day as the weekly Sabbath day was ending (for detailed proof, be sure to read “The Son of Man Will Be Three Days and Three Nights in the Heart of the Earth”). Therefore, the first day of the week (Sunday) is not the anniversary of His resurrection.

Jesus, the first of the “firstfruits”

But on that Sunday morning a significant event did occur. It was on that day that Jesus ascended to the Father to be accepted formally as the first to be raised from the dead in God’s spiritual harvest of humanity. In doing so He opened the way for all of us to have the opportunity for eternal life.

Paul understood this connection clearly: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 [20] But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. [21] For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. [22] For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. [23] But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
American King James Version×
, New International Version).

Jesus Christ’s preeminence as the first of a larger body of “firstfruits” is incredibly significant. The apostle John, referring to a particular segment of God’s faithful servants, describes them as “redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” (Revelation 14:4 Revelation 14:4These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits to God and to the Lamb.
American King James Version×
).

What relationship do “firstfruits” have to God’s great plan of salvation? Why does James 1:18 James 1:18Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
American King James Version×
say of those who are called to salvation in this present age, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures”? Why first? Especially, why is Jesus distinguished as the first of the firstfruits to be resurrected from the dead?

God teaches using harvest analogies

The Bible uses several analogies that compare salvation and God’s Kingdom to a harvest. For example, Jesus said, “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together” (John 4:35-36 John 4:35-36 [35] Say not you, There are yet four months, and then comes harvest? behold, I say to you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. [36] And he that reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit to life eternal: that both he that sows and he that reaps may rejoice together.
American King James Version×
).

The fruit that is important to God is that which is gathered for eternal life—those who become the children of God!

In explaining His parable of the wheat and the tares (i.e., weeds), Jesus said: “The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age” (Matthew 13:38-40 Matthew 13:38-40 [38] The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; [39] The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. [40] As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
American King James Version×
).

Only the good fruit of God’s spiritual harvest receives eternal life. This is the reason that all of the biblically ordained festivals are related to the harvest seasons in the Holy Land. Their purpose is to reveal to God’s faithful people the proper sequence of events and the key elements of His salvation plan—His “harvest” of human beings to eternal life.

In the early spring, God commanded two festivals that teach us about His plan for mankind. The first consists of the Passover—the same day on which Jesus Christ was put to death as a sacrifice for our sins. The second immediately follows, the Days of Unleavened Bread that represent His role in helping us remove sin from our lives (1 Corinthians 5:7-8 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 [7] Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: [8] Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus died and was placed in a tomb just before sundown (Luke 23:50-56 Luke 23:50-56 [50] And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counselor; and he was a good man, and a just: [51] (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. [52] This man went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. [53] And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulcher that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid. [54] And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. [55] And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulcher, and how his body was laid. [56] And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.
American King James Version×
)—immediately before the beginning of the annual “high day” (John 19:31 John 19:31The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) sought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
American King James Version×
) that commenced the Days of Unleavened Bread, which began at sunset.

Three days and three nights later—near sundown on the afternoon of the weekly Sabbath (Saturday)—Jesus was resurrected. The next day—on the first day of the week (Sunday)—He appeared to Mary and some of His disciples just before He ascended to the throne of the Father in heaven.

Let’s now examine a unique ceremony that was being carried out in the temple at the very time Jesus was ascending to the Father. It was a ceremony that God had instituted. It had been observed by the Jews for more than a thousand years. Remarkably, its explicit purpose was to symbolize the importance of Christ’s presentation of Himself to the Father at that exact time on that exact day to be accepted as the first of the “firstfruits” resurrected from the dead to eternal life.

The original “wave-sheaf” offering

Each year in the spring, ancient Israel was not allowed to eat any of the new grain harvest until the commanded wave-sheaf offering was offered during the Days of Unleavened Bread. It was to be offered in conjunction with the daily morning sacrifices for that day and a special unblemished sacrificial lamb “of the first year.” The timing of the regular morning sacrifice was at 9 a.m.—the third hour of the day.

At the time that the ancient Israelites first took possession of the land of Canaan, God told Moses to instruct them: “When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest. He is to wave the sheaf before the LORD so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath” (Leviticus 23:10-11 Leviticus 23:10-11 [10] Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, When you be come into the land which I give to you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then you shall bring a sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest: [11] 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.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

The particular “day after the Sabbath” referred to here is the Sunday that fell during the Days of Unleavened Bread. As we have seen, Jesus rose from the dead near sunset on the weekly Sabbath during the Days of Unleavened Bread and appeared to His disciples the next morning—the exact same Sunday mentioned here.

This passage describes the same offering that was being waved before God in the Jewish temple at the same hour on the same Sunday that Jesus ascended to the Father. Christ’s presentation of Himself to the Father as the real “wave sheaf” had been planned long before as a vital aspect of God’s plan of salvation.

The phrase “on your behalf” (Leviticus 23:11 Leviticus 23:11And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.
American King James Version×
) is striking in regard to what the wave-sheaf offering symbolized when it was lifted up and waved before God by Israel’s high priest. It represented Jesus Christ, offered up on our behalf.

The Father accepted Him as our perfect Sacrifice, declaring Him “the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4 Romans 1:4And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:
American King James Version×
). As our resurrected High Priest, He ascended to the Father to present Himself on our behalf, the perfect and unblemished Sacrifice for our sins.

At that time He was accepted by the Father as the first Son of all of the future sons and daughters of God (2 Corinthians 6:17-18 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 [17] Why come out from among them, and be you separate, said the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. [18] And will be a Father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, said the Lord Almighty.
American King James Version×
). He will forever be the preeminent Son of God within the family the Father is building (Ephesians 3:14-15 Ephesians 3:14-15 [14] For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, [15] Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
American King James Version×
).

This official acceptance of Jesus Christ as the first sheaf of the harvest, as the Captain or Author of our salvation (Hebrews 2:10 Hebrews 2:10For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
American King James Version×
), was necessary before the rest of the spiritual harvest could begin, just as in the physical parallel (see Leviticus 23:14 Leviticus 23:14And you shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, until the selfsame day that you have brought an offering to your God: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
American King James Version×
).

The other “firstfruits” in God’s harvest

All of the symbolism of the physical wave-sheaf offering was fulfilled in reality by Jesus “that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29 Romans 8:29For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
American King James Version×
).

Paul explained that “he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:18-20 Colossians 1:18-20 [18] And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. [19] For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; [20] And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things to himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

The Sunday on which the wave-sheaf offering was made is also the day on which a count of seven full weeks is to begin. “And you shall count for yourselves from 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” (Leviticus 23:15-16 Leviticus 23:15-16 [15] And you shall count to you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: [16] Even to the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall you number fifty days; and you shall offer a new meat offering to the LORD.
American King James Version×
).

This count of 50 days brings us to another biblical festival, this one in late spring—the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:1 Acts 2:1And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
American King James Version×
), which means “fiftieth” in the Greek language. One of the Hebrew names for this festival means the Feast of Weeks because it occurs after a full count of seven weeks, at the time when “the firstfruits of wheat harvest” gets fully underway (Exodus 34:22 Exodus 34:22And you shall observe the feast of weeks, of the first fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end.
American King James Version×
).

This spring harvest period is symbolic of all of those who are being called and prepared for entering the Kingdom of God in “this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4 Galatians 1:4Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:
American King James Version×
). They are the additional “firstfruits” that God is calling to salvation at this time by giving them His Holy Spirit.

As Paul explains, “We ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23 Romans 8:23And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
American King James Version×
, New American Standard Bible).

The richness of meaning found in the festivals of Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread and Pentecost far exceed the imagined meaning of the Easter sunrise service. These biblical festivals, when observed and rightly understood, have the advantage of reminding us at the right season every year of many essential details relating to God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ.

No wonder Paul wrote this instruction for Christians regarding Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 [7] Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: [8] Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
American King James Version×
: “Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

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