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The Jewish roots of Christianity

Home » July 1995

Volume 17, Number 7

How to Avoid the Messiah

Zola Levitt

In avoiding biblical evidence of the Messiahship of Jesus, some Jewish scholars have created biblical confusion. One such instance is a recent article in the June 3rd issue of the Jerusalem Post International Edition by Moshe Kohn, who teaches Jewish law and history and, once in a while Scripture. His scriptural teaching on the feasts of Israel made me a bit suspicious, particularly his use of dots (ellipses) in quoting the Bible. I want to take this opportunity to point out how the rearrangement of the schedule of Jewish festivals has resulted in obscuring their obvious fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ.

You may perhaps wonder how this matter is relevant to us, as Christians, in today’s world. It is one evidence of how the Jewish people have been led to depend on a source outside of Scripture (in this case, the Talmudic Sages) to determine God’s instructions for their lives. Over the ages, scholars and sages have molded Judaism to exclude the idea of Jesus as Messiah, even to the extent of altering their own festivals.

First of all, we should briefly review the very meaningful first four feasts of Israel given in Leviticus 23. Passover occurs on the fourteenth day of the first month and Unleavened Bread during the next seven days. The Sunday of that week is First Fruits, and fifty days after First Fruits is Pentecost. Christians are familiar with this schedule and especially thrill to the fact that our Lord fulfilled each feast in the appropriate manner: He was crucified on Passover, buried on Unleavened Bread, raised on First Fruits, and sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. (The Lord will go on fulfilling the feasts with the Rapture on the Feast of Trumpets, the Second Coming on the Day of Atonement, and the setting up of the kingdom on the Feast of Tabernacles. This elegant and important Bible study is available in our book The Seven Feasts of Israel.)

Early on, in the first century, the Jewish people must have seen these amazing coincidences, and evidently great numbers were won to the Lord. After all, on the Sunday of First Fruits the unsaved Jews and the Messianic Jews must have virtually passed each other on the sidewalks as they went to their various festival worship services. Surely a Messianic Jew would point out how the Sunday of First Fruits so perfectly represented the resurrection of Jesus. (But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept. I Corinthians 15:20)

The rabbis must have been in consternation trying to answer the very persuasive arguments of believers in the Lord. Scripture is Scripture, after all. Torah is Torah. (The Torah equals the first five books of the Bible and is deeply respected by the rabbis.) The first task in avoiding those embarrassing questions was to find an escape from First Fruits and Pentecost. That’s not easy, because scriptural directions for First Fruits are very precise. The Masoretic text by the Jewish Publication Society of America says that when the Israelites are in the land, they need to bring the first fruits of their harvest to the priest at the temple, and then he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord for acceptance in your behalf; the priest shall wave it on the day after the Sabbath. (Lev. 23:11) Although the day after the Sabbath is Sunday, if we would somehow muddle that and change the day, we could avoid the resurrection. Even though the immediate and obvious meaning of Sabbath is Saturday, it can also connote a day of rest. Since Jewish festivals are also known as days of rest, maybe we could say that the Shabbat referred to is really Passover and not the Saturday of the week in question. Eureka! Now Sunday has just about disappeared, since Passover can happen any day of the week and the next day could as well be Tuesday or Thursday or whatever.

But then we run into problems with Pentecost. It’s exactly fifty days later and Scripture specifies again the day after Sabbath Sunday. If we happen to start counting on Wednesday, then we’d end on a Wednesday.

Having that knowledge, let us sample the writing of the teacher Moshe Kohn:

It is strange that of all the festivals the Torah ordains, Shavuot [Pentecost] alone the anniversary of the event that marks the birth of the Jewish people is given no specific date.

The Torah only tells us that at a vaguely specified time during Pessah [Passover], from the day after the shabbat [Sabbath]… there shall be seven full weeks. Till the day after the seventh shabbat you shall count 50 days (Leviticus 23:15-16).

It is strange, says the teacher, that Pentecost is given no specific date. Actually, what is strange is that Jewish scholars would purposefully obfuscate the Scripture, like some lawyers at their lucrative work of undermining the law. The final touch in manipulating the two festivals today amounts to this: First Fruits is omitted completely and Pentecost, or Shavuot, is said to be the day of the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, which in turn is known as the birth of the Jewish people. (Interestingly, its true meaning is the birth of the church.) Scripture only specifies that the Jews were at Mount Sinai in the third month of the year, which would be Sivan, the month of Pentecost, but the day is not given and the true scriptural meaning of the feast is of a great harvest (which is appropriate to the salvation of the 3,000 when the Spirit came). God is a very good bookkeeper. If Pentecost was really the day the Law was given, then 3,000 who worshipped the golden calf were killed that day, according to Exodus 32:28. Thus, when Peter spoke at Pentecost, God returned them 3,000 souls (Acts 2:41). The letter kills, the Spirit gives life.

The Jerusalem Post teacher, confounded by tradition, is mystified at the Torah missing the engineered reason for Pentecost:

No less strange is that the Torah doesn’t name this 50th day as the day of the Mount Sinai event. Again it is the talmudic Sages who ruled that the date is Sivan 6. (Shabbat 6b, Pessahim 68b).

Watch Those Dots!

The whole sham festival schedule was accomplished by pretending that it was unclear what day the counting began. And now we come to those infamous dots. In Kohn’s first scriptural quotation, he omitted the crucial phrase the day that you bring the sheaf of wave offering, replacing it with dots. (From the day after the Sabbath, the day that you bring the sheaf of wave offering, you shall keep count [until] seven full weeks have elapsed. Leviticus 23:15 as quoted from the Masoretic text.) In verse 11 of Leviticus 23 (quoted earlier), this wave offering clearly occurs after the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, so that the counting of the fifty days to Pentecost does not begin at a vaguely specified time as Moshe Kohn states. If that day is confused with the second day of Passover, then the two festivals (First Fruits and Unleavened Bread) would fall on the same day. A close examination of the Scripture itself (and we have used only Kohn’s and the Jewish Publication Society’s translations) shows that such a rendition is simply impossible.

The Jewish people must return to an understanding of Scripture. If they knew Scripture, then they would know their Messiah, the true First Fruits that we celebrate. And Christians, also, should take care to base their lives on the Word of God alone, lest error creep in and rob them of God’s light and leading.

The Mystery of the Date of Pentecost

By Thomas S. McCall, Th.D.
Tom McCall
Thomas McCall

For believers in Jesus the Messiah, the dating of Pentecost is one of the most exquisite examples of type and fulfillment in the Scriptures. Pentecost means fifty, and is actually fifty days from another feast, First Fruits. These calculations are explained in Leviticus 23:10–11, 15–17. The feast of First Fruits was to occur on the day after the Sabbath (verse 11), which was always the Sunday of Passover week. Pentecost, then, was the day after the seventh following Sabbath (verses 15–16), which would be the fiftieth day after First Fruits and also on a Sunday.

The fulfillment of these feasts is striking. Jesus died the Friday of Passover week and had to be buried hastily before sunset, which was when the Sabbath began. His body remained in the borrowed sepulchre throughout the Sabbath day, but on that Sunday morning, when the priest was to offer the First Fruits offering in the Temple, Christ arose from the dead, the first fruits of them that slept (I Cor. 15:20).

For forty ensuing days, the Lord appeared to His disciples in His resurrection body, and then ascended into Heaven. Ten days later, the Sunday of the Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the believers in Jerusalem and created the ekklesia, the called out body of Christ, the church. These fulfillments were obviously no coincidence, but were part of the overall plan and purpose of God in verifying the powerful meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ, and the establishment of the new body of believers.

From then on, the Jewish believers in Christ must have repeatedly informed the people of Israel about the nature of the fulfillment of Passover, First Fruits and Pentecost. It must have made a great impact on the Jewish people who lived between the resurrection of Christ and the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, a span of about forty years.

The Rabbis’ Problem with Vagueness

This brings us to the explanation of First Fruits and Pentecost offered in a recent article by Moshe Kohn in the Jerusalem Post. Students of the New Testament might well be mystified over the tortured reasoning concerning what he perceives as the singular vagueness in the Torah about these two feasts:

It is strange that of all the festivals the Torah ordains, Shavuot [Weeks, Pentecost] alone the anniversary of the event that marks the birth of the Jewish people is given no specific date. The Torah only tells us that at a vaguely specified time during Pessah, from the day after the shabbat … there shall be seven full weeks. Till the day after the seventh shabbat you shall count 50 days (Leviticus 23:15–16).

Why is the day after the Sabbath considered vague? It seems pretty definite to us! It means the day after Saturday, that is, Sunday. This is the way the Sadducees and the later Jewish sect of the Karaites understood the Scriptures, as Kohn explains:

This vague formulation was in dispute between Jewish sectarians and the Sages. The Sadducees maintained that shabbat in this passage is a proper noun referring to the weekly Shabbat.

According to this understanding, accepted by the Karaites and Samaritans, the omer count begins the first Sunday after the first Shabbat of Pessah, so that Shavuot always falls on Sunday seven weeks later (as it happens to fall this year).

The normal Saturday meaning of the Sabbath in this passage was the view of the Sadducees. They were the priestly party and had control of the Temple, where the feasts were focused until the Temple was destroyed. The view of the Sadducees appears to be supported by the Septuagint, which was the translation from Hebrew to Greek by Jewish scholars in Egypt around 180 BC. In rendering the two Hebrew words mimmacharat hashabbat (on the morrow after the Sabbath) in Lev. 23:11, they used the Greek word protos (first). This would indicate the first day of the week, or Sunday. Thus, the Septuagint suggests that the Sunday First Fruits and Pentecost was observed throughout the centuries before the First Coming of the Messiah.

However, Kohn explains that the Sages, the rabbis who compiled the Talmud after the destruction of the Temple, had a very different interpretation of the term Sabbath in this passage:

The Sages’ view … was that this shabbat is the generic for day of rest, referring to the first day of Pessah. Accordingly, the count begins the second day of Pessah rather the night before and Shavuot always falls on Sivan 6.

No less strange is that the Torah doesn’t name this 50th day as the day of the Mount Sinai event. Again it is the talmudic Sages who ruled that the date is Sivan 6. (Shabbat 6b, Pessahim 68b)

Now, this is strange! The rabbis decided that in this case the term Sabbath did not mean Saturday, but something else: the first day of Passover, or, more precisely, the first day of Unleavened Bread (the second day of Passover). What justification do they have for changing the meaning of Sabbath that way? Kohn does not say, but there must have been a very strong motive to cause the Sages to interpret Sabbath as something other than the regular sacred Saturday Sabbath.

We have no proof, but suggest that the change came some time after the resurrection of Christ and before the destruction of the Temple. Think of the impact the Jewish believers must have had as they described the Lord’s resurrection on the Sunday of Passover week at First Fruits and the coming of the Spirit seven Sundays later on Pentecost. The leaders must have been hard pressed to explain away the relevance of the feasts and their fulfillment in the Messiah.

The solution they came up with was to obfuscate the calendar in such a way as to make the connection less clear between the feasts and their fulfillment in Christ and the Holy Spirit. The strategy apparently worked because most Jewish people today see no connection whatever between the Feasts and the Messiah. By the time Josephus wrote his history about the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Jewish authorities had established the concept that First Fruits was always on Nisan 16, and Pentecost on Sivan 6. Josephus went through a rather lengthy explanation that the Sabbath of Lev. 23:11 meant the first day of Unleavened Bread, not Saturday. Thus, apparently some time before the destruction of the Temple, the practice of observing First Fruits and Pentecost on Nisan 16 and Sivan 6 was in place.

Instead of causing Jewish leaders to marvel over the relationship between the Feasts and the Messiah, the current festival schedule leaves scholars like Moshe Kohn scratching their heads. They are perplexed over the vagueness of the dates of First Fruits and Pentecost, and why there is no clear statement in the Torah that Pentecost is the day Moses received the Law, which is the teaching of the Sages. Such appears to be part of the veil over the eyes of the majority of Jewish people that so tragically obscures the truth about the Messiah in the Law.

Nevertheless, many Jews today and a lot of Gentiles who have no background in these matters are being graciously enlightened and are receiving the Lord.

The Case for Sunday for First Fruits and Pentecost

There are strong arguments for the Sunday interpretation for First Fruits and Pentecost in the Leviticus passage:

  1. The basic meaning of the term Shabbat in the Torah is Saturday. There are some rare exceptions to this rule, but the context usually clarifies the meaning when there is an exception. It would appear that the burden of proof would be with anyone who claims that Shabbat means anything other than Saturday. Thus, the morrow after the Sabbath must mean Sunday unless there are compelling reasons for understanding otherwise.
  2. Even if the Sages could make a case for the first day of Unleavened Bread (the second day of Passover) to be considered a Sabbath, how could the seven succeeding Sabbaths be considered anything other than Saturdays? In order for Pentecost to fall always on Sivan 6, the seventh Sabbath after First Fruits has to be understood as something other than a Saturday. If it was difficult to consider the first day of Unleavened Bread as a Sabbath, it would appear almost impossible to consider Sivan 5 (seven weeks later) to be a Sabbath, no matter what day of the week on which it fell. Yet this is what the Sages are asking us to believe in order to accept what they have ruled.
  3. All the other Mosaic feasts are given specific dates, such as Nisan 14, Tishri 1, Tishri 10, and so forth. If the Lord intended for First Fruits and Pentecost always to fall on Nisan 16 and Sivan 6, why did He not so specify as He did with the other feasts? Why go through the elaborate process of counting the seven Sabbaths, unless it was clear that these two feasts were moveable, and would fall on different days of the month each year? It seems that the emphasis in these two feasts is that they would always fall on the same day of the week (Sunday) every year, rather than on the same numerical day of the month.
  4. As indicated above, the Septuagint appears to confirm the Saturday meaning of Sabbath in Lev. 23:11 because it used protos to translate the phrase on the morrow after the Sabbath. The testimony of the Septuagint is important because it represents the thinking of Jewish authorities long before the first coming of Christ and the development of the Talmudic positions on controversial matters.

Thus, the great weight of evidence is that First Fruits and Pentecost were always intended to fall on Sundays, without regard to the day of the month they occurred. As for the New Testament record, it is clear that Jesus arose from the dead on Sunday, the First Day of the Week, the day after the Sabbath, as the fulfillment of the feast of First Fruits. What day of the month was this that year? We believe that Thursday was Nisan 14, the day the Passover lambs were sacrificed. Jesus ate the traditional Passover and died on Friday, Nisan 15, and arose from the dead on Sunday, Nisan 17. This would mean Pentecost fell that year on Sivan 7.

A Note From Zola

Dear Friends,

I am always grateful to you for your kind donations to this ministry, which allow me and my friends to do this wonderful work on your behalf. I am especially grateful when the assignment calls me to a delightful and highly spiritual experience in a particularly marvelous place to visit. I refer to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and its wonderful Passion Play.

In our House of David series, we presented two programs made at the full-scale model of the Tabernacle at that unique site. The Passion Play includes a huge area of very authentic biblical exhibitions in addition to the Tabernacle: a watchtower, a threshing floor, an olive press, and many other full-size Bible artifacts. We filmed at several of those sites in order to complete our upcoming series The First Christians.

This time I also watched the Passion Play itself, which depicts the final week of our Lord, including His crucifixion and ascension to heaven. (You actually do see Him rise up into the sky!) I sat down with the cast and discussed certain issues about King Herod and the high priest, and they agreed to bring the script closer to the Gospel. With those corrections, I can heartily recommend this play as one of the great spiritual experiences to be found in America. We are excited about the work on our newest series, The First Christians, which is well into post-production. This is the most complex and costly part of the process, and I want to encourage your continued support for this project. The First Christians will explore the background of the customs and manners of Jesus’ day, unearthing the Jewish roots of Christianity. We look forward to putting these fine spiritual and educational programs on the air this fall.

We are also looking forward to celebrating our 50th pilgrimage to Israel with our 1995 Fall Festival Tour. The 14-day Grand Tour includes a spectacular cruise of the Greek islands, as well as all the major biblical sites in Israel. It departs September 27 and returns October 1. Our Deluxe Israel Tour runs from October 1 to October 10, and for the first time will include a tour of Athens, with the Acropolis and Mars Hill. Please join us as we experience the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles in the land of their fulfillment. Call Cynthia at 214-690-1874 or 1-800-WONDERS for a free brochure.

Your messenger,

Letters to Zola

Dear Zola,

T. and I continue to enjoy our pictures and our memories of the special Holy Land tour we enjoyed with your group in May. It was a trip that had such special significance for us and was a deeply spiritual experience, as well as a wonderful travel experience. We appreciate the itinerary of special places that you chose to include and the experiences you made possible for us. We particularly appreciated the opportunities there were for you to share with the group, including some of the Jewish background that enriches our understanding of Scripture and the communion service in the garden.

Another real blessing to us was our guide Zvi. I am including a copy of a letter I wrote to him that expresses our appreciation of his ministry to us. It was special to have a believer who could interpret what we were seeing and hearing from the Christian perspective. He enriched the experience greatly. We can certainly recommend your tours to others who want a rich spiritual experience as well as a pleasant and well-planned travel experience.


Dear Zola,

We are so grateful to the Lord for taking us to Israel, for allowing us to walk over His land and to see what He is doing among His people. And we thank Him especially for your ministry where we first began to understand and to love the roots of our faith, the Jewish people.

We had heard people who returned from Israel say, You’ll never be the same…, and we now know: we are not the same! We knew we served a risen Lord, Jesus Christ, alive among His people. Now we see with our eyes the reality of His work to bring Israel to life. All the strange winds of doctrine Satan uses here in the church to divert our attention from the joy and excitement of God’s work among the Jews are powerfully distracting! Few people are really excited to hear us talk about our tour or what the Lord is doing in Israel.

We had never been out of the country and had never been on a tour. Your letters and suggestions for travel were a great help as we obtained passports and prepared to travel. If the Lord provides again, we will be with you on another tour to Israel. Thank you and the Lord again for a grand tour!

T. K.P.

To All the Levitt Team,

I would like to thank your ministry team for assisting me with a recent request. Several weeks ago I was completing a graduate term paper on the history of Christendom in the Middle East after 1800. While writing the paper, I read an article by Zola in the Levitt Letter that referenced a Jerusalem Post article that dealt with Messianic Judaism in present day Israel. I placed a phone call to your office requesting the date of the Jerusalem Post publication cited in Zola’s article. Your staff was terrific in their endeavors to assist me. I received four phone calls over the next 24 hours that led me to locate the needed material. Your staff truly went out of their way to help me.

I have been a follower of your ministry since I was a teenager. I have enjoyed reading the Levitt Letter, watching your television shows and listening to the wonderfully orchestrated music your ministry produces. I owe much to you and the Levitt Team. Your efforts have led me to discover much of the importance of our faith’s rich heritage.


How to Avoid Wretched Refuse

Talmudic Sages and their apologists are not the only ones to utilize those famous three dots for political purposes. In the preceding article, we saw the teacher omit the critical point that would have clarified his misunderstandings, replacing it with dots. Read the poem below, with which you are probably familiar. It is the famous Emma Lazarus verse that appears on the Statue of Liberty and has been adapted for use at Kennedy Airport in New York as printed below:

Give me your tired,
Your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning
To breathe free

Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tost to me.
I lift my lamp
Beside the golden door!

Notice anything missing? The dots replace the stirring line The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. It seems that, like Teacher Kohn, the folks at Kennedy Airport would not like to face their more inconvenient responsibilities. Just as the First Fruits was discarded (and the Messiah along with it), so are the least desirable of incoming immigrants to these United States.

The poem doesn’t read right now, since those dots spoil the rhythm. It also no longer rhymes as intended, since the word shore is needed to match with door in the last line.

And as to the wretched refuse, well, they need not apply.

The Jewish Messiah turned away no one, and a country like ours, ostensibly founded on biblical principles, ought to do no less. It is a sin against our Lord, who had time for the blind, the lame and the lepers by the road, for us to discriminate in this manner. And the wages of our sin will break us. Some of that wretched refuse we would have missed in the past includes Albert Einstein, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, William Steinberg, Irving Berlin, Henry Kissinger and thousands upon thousands of scientists, doctors, musicians, artists, professors, entertainers, and just plain immigrant workers who helped build this country. Including my father.

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