Your rich uncle dies. You know you were left something in his will. Now what? You wait. Until the will is probated you can’t touch that gold watch or Rolls Royce, or whatever he left you. You may not even know what he left you until a formal reading of the will or a letter from the lawyer.
Jesus died around Passover. He left a will, but there was a period of time when that will was still in probate. It lasted for fifty days. And we think lawyers are slow today. Seven weeks of probate before Shavuos (Pentecost). Granted this was an unusual probate, since the deceased was alive and could be consulted about the intent of his will, but God still held off the reading of the will for fifty days.
Why fifty days? The simple answer is that God had built in the fifty day probate period hundreds of years before. Nobody knew until Jesus died that this was God’s intent those many years before. Nor was it the only time God had worked this way. It is believed that the great fish that swallowed Jonah was created at the beginning of the world just for that specific event. But why had God chosen fifty days so long ago. We cannot know the mind of God fully, but he leaves us some hints.
The people of Israel had been allowed to leave Egypt. They headed eastward, not knowing what was going to happen. Up to this point they had been given two laws: circumcision (which was actually a much older law) and Passover. A million people wandering in the desert with only these two laws, and a pillar of cloud/fire to follow. Why did God wait until Sinai to give them the tablets of the Law? Fifty days of wandering without even knowing what their purpose was, just that they were free (whatever that meant). During that fifty days God was preparing them for the giving of the Law, in essence the reading of the will. Within that seven weeks He took them to the brink of death, and then walked them through the Red Sea. He fed them with quails and with manna. God made bitter water sweet. And with Jethro’s help God convinced Moses that a little delegation was a good thing. Had God given the Law when the Egyptians were still chasing the Israelites, they would not have been ready to say “we will do, and we will hear.” The people needed a period of time to prepare and adjust their thinking from a slave mentality to the concept of a nation.
When Jesus died, even his closest companions were confused. They did not go about teaching the coming of the kingdom; they went fishing. They were not ready for the reading of the will, because they weren’t even aware there was a will. Peter was depressed about denying his teacher three times in one night. John was busy getting Miriam, Jesus’ mother, moved into his household. Thomas thought it was the end of the Grand Adventure. The other Simon was probably casting about for another Zionist leader to follow. Even after they realized that Jesus had risen from the dead, they were not ready. It took forty days to “open their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures.” (Lk 24:25) This was followed by another ten days of uncertainty and prayer. Only then were they ready to read the will.
Pentecost celebrates the giving of the Law on Sinai. What better time to reveal the new and better covenant? Peter’s depression had become boldness. Thomas was confident. Simon had a new cause of freedom. They had received final instructions from the testator, and were now ready to execute the will
And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood. (Heb 9:15-18)
(Pentecost/Shavuos falls on May 27 in 2012.)