“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. John 15:26-27
When Jesus spoke these words to the Apostles, His crucifixion was imminent. Within twenty-four hours He would die for mankind’s sins and three days after His death He would rise to life. How then would this information—and more importantly this salvation—be given to fallen mankind? In these verses the Savior answers this question as He outlines the next stage in mankind’s salvation: He summarizes the Christian Pentecost event which would initiate God’s harvest, a harvest to last to the end of time.
For the Jews there were seven “feasts” set aside for special temple-related worship. Of these seven feasts, two were harvest oriented. They were the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Pentecost. The Feast of Firstfruits was celebrated in the spring to recognize the beginning of the barley harvest (Barley grew through the winter and was harvested in the spring.). God directed that it be celebrated on the day after the Sabbath after the Passover celebration (Lev 23:9-11). On the very Sunday when Christ rose from the dead (the day after the Sabbath after the Passover), the Jewish priests were presenting to God the firstfruits of the barley harvest! It is not mere clever wording when St. Paul describes Christ’s resurrection with firstfruits terminology: But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep [1 Co 15:20]. Jesus’ resurrection, occurring literally on the day of the Feast of Firstfruits, is the beginning of the harvest, which finds its ultimate expression in the resurrection to everlasting life; He is the “first” and others will follow in this Firstfruits harvest.
“Pentecost” basically means “fifty”. Fifty days after the Feast of Firstfruits, the Jews celebrated the Feast of Pentecost. This Feast, like that of the Feast of Firstfruits, was a harvest celebration. Whereas the Feast of Firstfruits celebrated the beginning of the barley harvest, The Feast of Pentecost celebrated the beginning of the wheat harvest. Jesus had compared the work of the kingdom to harvesting: Then he said to his disciples, The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest [Mt 9:37-38]. Jewish festivals intentionally directed God’s people to the work of the Messiah. For instance, Passover pointed to the death of the ultimate Passover Lamb; Firstfruits pointed to the ultimate Seed rising from the earth; and Pentecost pointed to the sowing and harvesting of the Gospel-Seed that would occur until the end of time.
In John 15:26-27, Jesus is actually explaining the fulfillment of the Jewish Feast of Pentecost: But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. Our Lord here predicts the “witnesses” to His saving work. These witnesses, testifying about Jesus, will create God’s harvest throughout the world. The primary witness—the witness essential to saving faith in Christ—is the third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit: But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. Appropriately on that Jewish celebration of Pentecost which occurred fifty days after Christ’s resurrection, the Lord sent the Spirit of truth from the Father. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate witness, giving the essential testimony to the Savior. He creates God’s harvest.
The secondary witnesses are those men through whom the Spirit would create the harvest into Christ’s kingdom. Jesus spoke to these foundational men: And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. These men are the Apostles, and through the witness of their Christ-generated, Spirit-empowered word and Sacraments, God’s harvest would continue to the end of time.