[This is a revised edition of an item I first posted in 2010.]
After years of worshipping the Lord Jesus at Passover and Pentecost (times drawn from the Old Testament), it finally occurred to me that the best thing to talk about in the time between festivals is: the time between the festivals. Jesus even taught his disciples during 40 of the 50 days between his resurrection and Pentecost. Since Passover and Pentecost are uniquely tied together with a 50-day interval between two “wave offerings”, it might be a good time to talk about harvests and time intervals.
Jesus did. Note in John 4:34-38 that Jesus describes his own mission in terms of a harvest that is already begun, yet unseen by the world. He calls himself the vine and us the branches in John 15:1-5 in another harvest metaphor. In this case there is pruning for further growth and the bearing of more fruit later.
Sooner or later it occurs to the reader that harvests, by nature, spread out over time. There must be a sowing or planting, followed by growth, followed by flowering, followed by bearing the fruit or seed, followed by harvest. It takes time.
I had a conversation about ministry to children with a pastor who was complaining that his outreach programs to children had taken huge resources, yet were not returning much in terms of generating new believers. I asked him when the best time to harvest is: when the plant is small or when it is hunched over bearing mature fruit? He was delighted. He responded, “Of course! Harvest wheat when the head is full! Not when it is still empty!” He determined that it is best to teach the Bible to the young, but wait until mature adulthood to seek a full committment to Christ.
The number 50 had great symbolism. In ancient Israel, a man was considered an adult for purposes of census at the age of 20, and life expectancy was about 70 years (at least according to the Psalms). The expectation of adult maturity was the same as the number of days between these harvest first-fruit offerings. 50 years was the number of years from Jubilee to Jubilee, when debt was forgiven and land returned to the family (rebooting the economy).
Jesus was referring to this Jubilee during his first recorded sermon in Luke 4:16-19. He was quoting Isaiah 61:1-2, which was based on a proclamation in Leviticus 25:8-10. His mission was a proclamation of the Jubilee of God: freedom from the oppression of sin and human greed. Again, this involves an interval of time.
After all this, should it be surprising that it takes time to mature in Jesus Christ? Should it be surprising that Jesus’ mission is begun – but not over yet? Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:20), but there is a harvest to be completed yet (v. 21-24). Christ, those who are his at his coming, then comes the end. (Does the last phrase suggest a final harvest of later-redeemed people? I like to hope so.)
What matters is that the end is not yet. We still have time. We have time to grow in Christ. We have time to do what He has called us to do. The holy interval of redemption is not over yet, either personally or collectively for the world. What will we do with the interval we have been granted?
At any rate, the symbolism of the Jubilee is not that life is over at that time, but rather that it is a new beginning without a debt hanging over our heads. The Jubilee has begun, but its completion will bring about a whole new fresh start for everyone and everything!
Jesus said it best, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev. 21:5)