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).

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).

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, 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, 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).

What relationship do "firstfruits" have to God's great plan of salvation? Why does James 1:18 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).

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).

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).

Jesus died and was placed in a tomb just before sundown (Luke 23:50-56)—immediately before the beginning of the annual "high day" (John 19:31) 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, 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) 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). 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). He will forever be the preeminent Son of God within the family the Father is building (Ephesians 3:14-15).

This official acceptance of Jesus Christ as the first sheaf of the harvest, as the Captain or Author of our salvation (Hebrews 2:10), was necessary before the rest of the spiritual harvest could begin, just as in the physical parallel (see Leviticus 23:14).

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).

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, 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).

This count of 50 days brings us to another biblical festival, this one in late spring—the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:1), 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).

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). 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, 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: "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."


  • roboliva

    how eye-opening it is to "read and check for ourselves" what the scriptures REALLY say and not simply believe what the person at the pulit is saying.

  • asdaylia

    It's so neat to read something and suddenly have that 'Oh!' moment. Thank you for the informative article; I've gained more understanding to what I have been learning. It's wonderful to be learning more!

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