History of Covenantide

Focus of the Season.  This season, which stretches from Resurrection Sunday until Pentecost, is intended to be a time of reflection upon the Law and the standard to which God calls His people now that they have been saved.

History of the Season.  After the Israelites had been saved in the Exodus, God led them to Sinai and gave them His Law (Exod. chs. 20-24).  Coming as it did after the great salvation event of the Old Testament–the Exodus–the Law was never intended to be a means of salvation, nor was it intended solely to convict God’s people of their sins.  The Apostle Paul notes as much in his letter to the Galatians (Gal. 3:15-4:11).  Rather, it was intended to reflect the character of the God with whom Israel was in covenant and the standard to which His people were called to reflect His image.  Within the Law, God specified the observance of three annual feasts: the Feast of Unleavened Bread (i.e. Passover, Exod. 23:14-15; Lev. 23:4-8; Num. 9:1-14; Deut. 16:1-9); the Feast of Weeks or Firstfruits (i.e. Pentecost, Exod. 23:16; Lev. 23:9-22; Deut. 16:9-12); and the Feast of Ingathering (i.e. Tabernacles, Exod. 23:16; Lev. 23:33-44; Deut. 16:13-15).  Jewish tradition held that God gave the Law fifty days after the Exodus, on what subsequently would be the Feast of Weeks.  In the New Testament, the Feast of Weeks was called Pentecost. 

This parallelism is significant.  Under the Old Covenant, the Feast of Weeks commemorated the Lord’s giving the Law to His people at Sinai, whereas at Pentecost, God poured out the fulness of the Holy Spirit upon His people.  This is a fulfillment of the prophecy given to Jeremiah (Jer. 31:34) where the LORD promises that “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”  The Apostle Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?  So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor. 2:11-12).  How is it that God’s law is written on the hearts of His people?  It is through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit–and this came at Pentecost.  In this regard, Pentecost is the new Feast of Weeks, the New Covenant analog to the giving of the Old Covenant at Sinai.

Contrary to some claims that there is no apostolic precedent for observing either Resurrection Sunday or Pentecost, we do see indications that the Apostle Paul observed both holy days in Acts.  Luke, an associate of Paul and the writer of the Gospel bearing his name and the book of Acts, recorded that at the end of Paul’s Third Missionary Journey, Paul did not leave Philippi for Troas until after “the days of unleavened bread” (Acts 20:6), and he intended to bypass stopping at Ephesus because he was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem by the day of Pentecost (Acts 20:16).  Given the criticism Paul’s critics lodged against him for not observing the Law, Luke’s scrupulousness in recording these particular dates probably has more than an incidental significance; Luke is showing that Paul actually kept the feasts.  That said, Paul did not make it a requirement that others, especially the Gentiles must follow.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike.  Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.  He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it” (Rom. 14:5-6a).

Traditionally this season is called Eastertide, and is a season for reflecting on the resurrection of the Christ, but given the parallelism between the Old and New Covenants suggested by the coincidence of the Feast of Weeks and Pentecost, I have instead called it Covenantide.