OT First Day Festivals in Leviticus 23 Foreshadow Sunday Worship

Two key OT Festivals were held on the first day of the week

This year I have started reading through the Bible again using the New International Version.  I was impressed as I was reading in Leviticus this time in a way that I had not been before as I noticed that two of the key festivals of the Old Testament were not held on the Sabbath.  One thinks off-hand of Jewish celebrations as on Sabbath.  But many were not.  Both of these key feasts were held on the day after the Sabbath, our Sunday.  These two festivals are very significant in their relationship to the New Testament and to our practice of worship on Sunday today.

The Festival of Firstfruits

The first of these festivals is the festival of Firstfruits described in Leviticus 23:9 – 14. 

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to 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.  On the day you wave the sheaf, you must sacrifice as a burnt offering to the Lord a lamb a year old without defect, together with its grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with olive oil—a food offering presented to the Lord, a pleasing aroma—and its drink offering of a quarter of a hin of wine.  You must not eat any bread, or roasted or new grain, until the very day you bring this offering to your God. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. Lev. 23:9-14   NIV

The purpose of the firstfruits festival was to recognize God at the beginning of the harvest by offering him the first sheaf of grain of the harvest.

The resurrected Christ was the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

I recall what Paul said about Jesus being the firstfruits from the dead.

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 turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 1 Cor. 15:20-24 NIV

Then a strong connection occurred to me.   The main reason we worship Jesus on Sunday instead of on Saturday is because Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday.   So as I read this passage on the offering of the firstfruits festival in the Old Testament, I could not help but think that God had already in OT times put in motion our Thanksgiving to God celebrating of the resurrection of Jesus.  He placed the Festival of Firstfruits on the first day of the week, the day we now call Sunday!

The Festival of Pentecost

Now I might have considered this connection between a OT First day festival and the resurrection day of Jesus  a random observation had it not been for the fact that I read later in the same chapter that the festival of Pentecost was also not a Sabbath festival.  And it was also a first day of the week festival, held on the day we now call Sunday.   

 From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.  Lev 23:15-16 NIV

The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost

Now it is clear from the book of Acts that it is on the day of the Festival of Pentecost that the Holy Spirit came with power and with miraculous signs upon the gathered disciples (Acts 2:1-4).   So the Pentecost event of the book of Acts also happened on the first day of the week, on Sunday.  If the church needed a second reason to worship on Sunday, rather than Saturday, it would be that Pentecost, sometimes called the birthday of the church, happened on Sunday.  My interesting observation here is that again, we discover that God had already set up in the Old Testament a foreshadowing of Christian worship on Sunday.  The Jews were celebrating the festival of Pentecost on the First Day of the week for centuries before the Holy Spirit fell on that one particular Festival Day that Christians refer to as Pentecost, the day which launched the Christian church!