“Count Fifty”: Pentecost & the Year of Jubilee
Fifty is an interesting number in the bible. Many significant numbers (such as seven or twelve) have common threads that show up throughout the entire bible and weave in and out, but there are only a few places where the number fifty is of great significance.
In general, fifty symbolizes complete perfection, the completing of a cycle, or the ending of an old cycle and beginning of a new one. The concept of firstborn or firstfruits is also associated with the number fifty. For instance, God redeemed the tribe of Levi as a substitute for the firstborn of the land of Israel, and consecrated them to serving Him in the tabernacle. Levites would begin service in the temple at age 30, and finish their service at the age of 50 (Num. 4:3, 39, 43, 47). The tabernacle itself, and later the temple, was measured off in various segments of fifty curtain loops, knobs, cubit lengths, etc. (Ex. 26, 27, 30, 36, 38).
And then there are two major events in the bible that revolve around the number fifty. The command for the first is found in Leviticus 23, where God outlines the Feast of Firstfruits, or Pentecost.
“And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath [during the Days of Unleavened Bread], 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. You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the Lord…they shall be holy to the Lord for the priest” (Lev. 23:15-17, 20).
The Israelites are told to count seven cycles of seven days (symbolizing perfect completeness), and on the next (eighth) day, to observe a holy convocation. This holy day also included a peace offering, which was a joyful celebration, symbolic of eating a meal with God.
The second event, the Year of Jubilee, was commanded only a few verses later:
“And you shall count seven Sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven Sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family” (Lev. 25:8-10).
Leviticus goes on to explain that the fiftieth year was to be a rest for the land (coming on the heels of a 49th year rest as well), “neither sow nor reap what grows of its own accord, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine” (Lev. 25:11). But more importantly, inherited land that had been lost or sold reverted back to the original family owners.
God, in His omnipotence, knew that despite all the measures He instituted in Israel to maintain economic and societal equality, some people would still get themselves in way over their heads—drowning in debt, without family to fall back on, unable to support their families. While all of Israel had received land as an inheritance in the Promised Land, some would give up or lose their inheritance through misfortune, ineptitude, or negligence and be forced to sell themselves into slavery or indentured servitude. The Year of Jubilee was the societal failsafe.
Why did God institute this command? “Therefore you shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God. So you shall observe My statutes and keep My judgments and perform them; and you will dwell in the land in safety…The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me” (Lev. 25:17-18, 23). The scripture goes on to explain how land could be bought back and people could be redeemed from slavery in the 49 intervening years, with a clear eye toward mercy and neighbor helping neighbor. But God makes clear at the end of the passage that all people and land are to be released in the Year of Jubilee no matter what. The Year of Jubilee was a reminder that the land and its people were God’s and that He alone provided their blessings, their freedom, and their inheritance.
Since the Year of Jubilee was proclaimed on the Day of Atonement, we don’t typically associate it with the Feast of Pentecost. However, God doesn’t do anything by accident, and the fact that these two significant commands are based on the number fifty and commanded almost one after the other indicates that we should at least look at what else they might have in common.
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God’s Promise: An Inheritance
Birthright and inheritance are a major theme throughout the entire bible. From the time of the patriarchs forward, the laws of inheritance were a huge cultural force, especially for the firstborn son, who received a double portion versus what his brothers received. God began making inheritance promises to Abraham, both physical (many descendants) and spiritual (that all the nations of the earth would be blessed in his Seed) (Gen. 22:16-18). He also promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He would give the Promised Land to their descendants (Gen. 15:18-21).
When the Israelites finally took possession of the Promised Land after crossing the Jordan, they first routed the inhabitants and then the land was divided up among them. Each tribe received a piece of the land, and then parceled it out to clans and families according to size. It’s important to note that, big or small, powerful or not, all the Israelites received a land inheritance. Only the Levites were set apart by God to serve Him as priests and take the place of the firstborn of Israel (which, by law, were His). They didn’t receive a land inheritance but rather were given the tithe of all Israel (Num. 18:20-24).
Paul tells us that “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29). As spiritual Israel, we have been promised “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (I Pet. 1:4). But what is this inheritance that we’ve been promised?
Forgiveness of sins
- Acts 26:18 – “[Christ called Paul] to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me”
A place in the kingdom of God
- James 2:5 – “Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?”
To have eternal life as children of God
- Rom. 8:29 – “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren [brothers and sisters]”
- I John 2:25-3:2 – “And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life…Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God…now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but …we shall be like Him”
To be kings and priests and reign with Christ
- Rev. 1:5 – “From Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father”
- Rev. 21:4-5 – “And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years”
When Christ lived a perfect, sinless life and sacrificed Himself to pay for our sins, He made it possible for us to be eligible to receive our inheritance (I Cor. 15:50). Then on the first Pentecost, just weeks after His death, the small church gathered in Jerusalem received the promised holy spirit. Paul says of the holy spirit, “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance…in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the holy spirit of promise, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (Eph. 1:11-14).
I believe that Pentecost, the feast of firstfruits, pictures the resurrection of Christ’s firstfruits to spirit beings, the resurrected firstfruits rising into the air to meet Christ, and going to stand before God to be accepted as His children and Christ’s bride (Lev. 23:17-20; I Thes. 4:13-17; Rev. 14:1-5; Rev. 19:7-9). It is the eighth day after seven “sevens” (weeks)—picturing total completeness—and represents the cessation of our physical state and the beginning of a new cycle. While Atonement pictures the ultimate fulfillment of Satan and sin being destroyed, for the firstfruits this is pictured by Pentecost, when we and Christ reclaim dominion over the earth take our place in the kingdom of God.
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Freedom from Slavery
It’s interesting that when Christ announced His ministry, He didn’t go to one of the many Messianic scriptures speaking of His power and wrath and judgment. Instead, He read from a prophecy in Isaiah that speaks of mercy, healing, comfort, and freedom:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn… I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Is. 61:1-10).
This scripture about proclaiming the “acceptable year of the Lord” has a strong association with the Year of Jubilee command, which also uses the phrase “proclaim liberty”. When Jesus quoted this scripture in Luke 4:18, the word that’s translated “liberty” in the Greek is also translated “forgiveness,” “remission,” and “deliverance” throughout the rest of the New Testament. The liberty Christ is talking about is spiritual, not just physical. Christ was announcing a time of reconciliation with God and freedom from the bondage and penalties of sin.
For those of us who are called and in covenant with God in this current world, that time of reconciliation is now. His sacrifice freed us from bondage to this world and wiped away the consequence of sin, eternal death. He then poured out God’s spirit—called the Comforter—on His church the first Pentecost after His death and on all who have been converted and been baptized since (John 15:26; Acts 2:38). It is only possible for us to receive our future inheritance because Christ’s sacrifice paid the penalty for our sins and redeemed us out of bondage to Satan (Heb. 9:15).
Man was given dominion over the earth at creation but quickly ceded control to Satan, and for the past 6,000 years man has been a slave to sin and under the penalty of the law, which is ultimately death. Like the Israelites entering the Promised Land, we have been promised an inheritance, but ours is even more amazing than fertile land and physical blessings—we were redeemed out of bondage and death to become spotless, eternal children of God in His kingdom. However, also like the Israelites, we can be negligent with, lose, and squander this purchased freedom, and sell ourselves back into slavery.
Paul cautions us to be careful of this very thing, telling the Galatians to “stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). By contrast, Christ says His yoke is easy and His burden light (Matt. 11:30). It’s our choice which yoke we want to take up, but Paul reminds us that whomever we obey, we are that one’s slaves, whether sin (which leads to death) or obedience to God (which leads to righteousness). And “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:16, 23).
When God redeemed the Levites to Himself as a substitute for the firstborn of Israel, this was a prototype of how He would later call, sanctify, and redeem a small group of firstfruits to become His firstborn children with Christ and priests in the kingdom of God. Paul gives us a vision of how awe-inspiring this calling is, and what we must do to obtain it, saying, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us …But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God…to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven to God the Judge of all” (Heb. 12:1-2, 22).
The Year of Jubilee was always proclaimed on the Day of Atonement, and Atonement does picture its ultimate fulfillment for the whole world—when Satan’s grip on the earth will be broken, Christ’s sacrifice will be applied to the whole world, and all nations will be free from the bondage of sin. However, for God’s firstfruits, Pentecost is the announcing of the Jubilee, when we reclaim dominion over the earth with Christ, are free of the world’s hold on us, and receive our inheritance as kings and priests and children of the eternal God in His kingdom.
“For as many as are led by the spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Rom. 8:14-17)