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.
The time between Passover and Pentecost seems like a long time, especially since one has to wonder why it took so long before Jesus sent the Holy Spirit after his resurrection. Jesus taught his disciples during 40 of the 50 days between his resurrection and Pentecost. Wouldn’t it have been easier on both Jesus and the disciples if they had the advantage of the Holy Spirit right from the resurrection?
For a long time I believed that the disciples received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost because of the fiery demonstration recorded in Acts 2. A long time later I noticed that when Jesus appeared to the disciples the evening of the resurrection he seems to “breathe” the Spirit into them and tells them they now have authority to forgive sins (John 20:22-23). It is only later, at Pentecost, that they receive the visible evidence and the power to preach.
According to Matthew 28:10, 16, Jesus immediately sends the disciples to Galilee, where he teaches them about himself and what the Bible tells about him and the Kingdom of God for forty days (Acts 1:3). From Galilee they move to Bethany, where Jesus is taken up into heaven in their sight (Luke 24:50-51). They go to Jerusalem and wait there until Pentecost, when the sound of a loud wind and tongues of fire announce that God’s Presence has moved from the Temple to an unlikely group of Galilean disciples of an executed Rabbi (Acts 2) who claimed equality with God (John 5:18).
I theorize that on Monday after the resurrection the disciples took the three-day journey to Galilee to escape the authorities in Jerusalem, who were plotting to keep Jesus’ resurrection a secret. They would surely have been executed for “robbing” the grave had they been caught. They would have arrived by the last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (now known as the last day of Passover Week).
I believe that the forty days of teaching that Luke records took place in the vicinity of Galilee, with perhaps (though not necessarily) the final three days of teaching taking place on a journey back into Judea for a stay in Bethany. That would have given them somewhere between 3-7 days after Jesus’ ascension to remain in the vicinity of Jerusalem to wait for the day of Pentecost. My preference is for 40 days in Galilee (a “wilderness,” compared to Jerusalem) followed by a three-day journey to Bethany and an ascension from the Mount of Olives.
The 40 days of training by Jesus seem to echo the 40 days Jesus was tested in the wilderness, which itself was an echo of Israel’s 40 years of testing in the wilderness. Jesus was making sure they were prepared for their ministry. Jesus had told them the night before he died that there was a great deal that he needed to tell them, but that they could not yet understand. He finishes that conversation with them over that 40 days.
Jesus had also told them that the Holy Spirit would bring to their minds what he had taught them. I suspect that this teaching session is what he had in mind. Many of their apparently strange interpretations of the Old testament probably have their origins in that marathon session in Galilee.
Somehow it was important to Jesus for the empowerment of the Spirit to take place at 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.
The 50 days between Passover and Pentecost also signal the beginning and end of the two major grain harvest seasons in ancient Israel. Barley is the first to ripen, and the harvest begins after the Firstfruits ceremony on Sunday during Passover week. Pentecost signals the beginning of the wheat harvest. The empowerment of the disciples to preach in order to bring people to Christ seems to be also a type of “firstfruits” offering to God for the larger harvest.
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.
Jesus by analogy was the firstfruits of the early barley harvest, which continues in the 40 day training and commissioning of his disciples before his ascension. At Pentecost we have the firstfruits of the larger harvest through the disciples by the Holy Spirit. This much larger harvest continues to this day in what we often call the church age.
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).
In that sense the number 50 may symbolize maturity or completion of a cycle or an era.
After Pentecost comes another harvest festival season in the fall, concluding with the Feast of Tabernacles. This one is a celebration of a completed harvest season.
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? Will we use it for the purpose Jesus sent his church for?