20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man,the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
1 Corinthians 15:20-23
What in the world is “firstfruits” and why does it matter? First of all, it should matter to all of us. NO OTHER DAY (EXCEPT PASSOVER) IS MENTIONED AS MANY TIMES IN THE BIBLE. This celebration of the harvest was important, no essential, to the existence of the entire Jewish nation.
When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, 2 take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name 3 and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4 The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 26:1-4
19 “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God. Exodus 23:19
Under the new covenant of modern Christianity, we are not expected to bring the first of our harvest before the altar of the Lord. But, understanding what this act of giving our firstfruits, gives a deeper understanding to the sacrifice Jesus made for us.
The choice of the day
In the spring, Jews celebrate several feasts, times of celebration and remembrance. The first one we are all familiar with– Passover. Passover is feast that requires all people to travel to Jerusalem to commemorate God’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. It is celebrated in conjunction with lots of animal sacrifices including the slaughter of perfect lambs that were raised in Bethlehem. Hence the reason one needed to be near the Temple. This is a one day celebration followed by a seven day celebration known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It is a time when one does not eat any bread made with yeast. The yeast is a picture of sin in the Bible and it is a remembrance of the Passover story of the bread made in haste with no time to rise. The Feast of Firstfuits is a day that is mandated to be celebrated the day after the Sabbath after Passover. So if Passover is celebrated on a Wednesday night, the Sabbath is Saturday, and Sunday is Firstfruits. It all gets a little more confusing when you remember that Jewish days actually begin at sunset.
How they celebrated
As people would grow their crops (typically barley), a small amount called an omer, approximately 2.2 liters, was set aside as their firstfruit offering. Men would consider the crops, looking for the best part and tie off a section to use as this offering so as not to damage it. Then on the day of the feast, it alone would be harvested and brought to the priests in the Temple. The priest would wave it before the altar, up and down, and left to right. A small amount of the grain would be thrown into the fire and the rest used to feed the Levites. No produce was eaten until this offering had been given.
Significance for us in Christ
In 1 Corinthians 15 (see above), Paul makes a statement about Jesus being the firstfruit for those who have fallen asleep (died). What does that mean? Well, first we need to look at the day that Jesus rose from the dead. Do you remember which day it was? Yes, it was a Sunday morning. I was raised Southern Baptist and they take pride in celebrating Jesus on that day of the week because that is when Jesus rose from the dead. The hidden message behind why Jesus rose on that day lies in the fact that it coincided with the celebration of the Feast of Firstfuits. See, Jesus died on Passover, at the exact time the lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple. He remained in the grave for those couple of days to wait for the Feast of Firstfruits and then rise! He is the firstfruit, a promise for us of what is to come– life beyond the grave!
15 The first offspring of every womb, both human and animal, that is offered to the Lord is yours. But you must redeem every firstborn son and every firstborn male of unclean animals. 16 When they are a month old, you must redeem them at the redemption price set at five shekels of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. Numbers 18:15-16
But it gets better because there is more to this connection between Jesus and firstfruits. In the Old Testament, Mosaic Law commanded that every firstborn as well as the first of the crops (grain, oil, wine, etc.), belonged to Him. Yes, the firstborn of every Israelite family belonged to God. But, there was a way to ransom this child back. It was a ceremony known as Pidyon Haben, Redemption of the Son. It was possible to redeem the firstborn son out of full-time service to God by paying 5 pieces of silver to the priest. If you recall, it was during this Redemption of the Son ceremony that Jesus was first hailed as Messiah. Read this passage from Luke 2.
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”[b]), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”[c]
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss[d] your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Pidyon Haben, an act that is probably new to most of you, has such deep meaning.
Numbers 3:13 says, ” for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether human or animal. They are to be mine. I am the Lord.”
If you recall, the only way to redeem those first born was…through faith in the covering of the lamb’s blood that was placed on their doorposts. We are all firstborn, all sinners under the curse of Adam, in need of redemption. Redemption can only be found through faith in the sacrifice of our Passover Lamb, Jesus, the firstfruits of eternal life.
The Feasts of the Lord by Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal
A Family Guide to Biblical Holidays by Robin Scarlata and Linda Pierce