Feast of First Fruits in Old and New Testament

Except from God’s Festivals in Scripture and History: Part 2 – The Fall Festivals by Samuel Bacchiocchi available for download here. For an in-depth study of the Feast of First Fruits by Samuel Bacchiocchi, please read God’s Festivals in Scripture and History: Part 1 – The Spring Festivals by Samuel Bacchiocchi available for download here.

The Offering of First-Fruits in the Old Testament

On the day after Passover the first barley sheaf (known as omer) was waved by the priest before the Lord (Lev 23:11). The ceremony marked the countdown of the fifty days to Pentecost. The purpose of the wave-sheaf offering was to consecrate and inaugurate the Spring grain harvest which lasted about seven weeks until Pentecost (Lev 23:9-14). The first sheaf of the barley harvest was waved before the Lord as a pledge of the full harvest that was to follow. Before the wave-sheaf offering, no reaping of the harvest for personal use could be done (Lev 23:14). A portion of the wave-sheaf was placed on the altar and the rest was eaten by the priest. A male lamb was sacrificed as a burnt offering (Lev 23:12).

The offering of the first fruits represented a human expression of thanksgiving to divine generosity. This meaning is clear in Deuteronomy 26:10 where the Israelites are instructed to bring some of the first fruits of the harvest to the priest and publicly to confess: “Behold, now I bring the first of the fruits of the ground, which thou, O Lord, has given me.” The gift from God calls for a gift from His people.

The Bible attaches special significance to the offering of the first fruits or firstborn. Everything on the earth, including man and beast, was to be presented before the Lord as first fruits to Him (Ex 13:2; 22:29). The consecration of the first fruits sanctifies the whole harvest, since the part stands for the whole. As Paul puts it, “If the dough offered as first fruits is holy, so is the whole lump” (Rom 11:16). By the symbolic gesture of consecrating the first fruits, the whole of the harvest was consecrated to God. The same principle applies to the consecration of the Sabbath time, which represents the consecration of our total life to Him.

The First-Fruits in the New Testament

In the New Testament, the typology of the wave-sheaf offering has a Christological, ecclesiological, and eschatological fulfillment. Or, we might say that the wave-sheaf offering is related to Christ, the church, and the End.

Christologically, Christ’s resurrection is seen as the antitypical fulfillment of the wave-sheaf offering because He rose as the first fruits of redeemed humanity on the very day when the first sheaf of barley was presented at the Temple. Paul alludes to the connection between the two events when he writes:

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Cor 15:20-23).[1]

In this passage, Paul speaks of Christ twice as “the first fruits,” not only to indicate that He was the first to rise bodily from the grave, but also that by so doing He fulfilled the offering of the first fruits. Eschatologically, that is, in relation to the End, the New Testament sees the ultimate fulfillment of the first fruits typology in the resurrection of the redeemed at Christ’s Return. As the first sheaf of the barley harvest was waved before the Lord by the priest as a pledge of the full harvest to follow, so Christ’s resurrection is the ‘first fruits,’ or pledge, of the great harvest that will follow when all the righteous dead are raised at the second coming of Jesus (see 1 Cor 15:23; 1 Thess 4:14-16). “Each in his own order,” (1 Cor 15:23), explains Paul. First, there is the fulfillment of the first fruits of Christ’s resurrection and then of all the believers.

It is noteworthy that the priest did not present before the Lord just one head of grain, but a whole sheaf of barley. Similarly, Christ did not come forth from the grave alone, for “many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” (Matt 27:52). Paul tells us that when Christ “ascended on high he led a host of captives” (Eph 4:8). Those who were raised at Christ’s death (Matt 27:53) ascended with Christ to heaven as trophies of His power to resurrect all who sleep in the grave.

As the offering of the first sheaf of barley was a pledge of the coming harvest, so the saints that Christ raised at the time of His death are a pledge of the countless multitude that Christ will awaken from the dust of the earth at His Second Advent. The 144,000 saints who follow the Lamb are “the first fruits for God and the Lamb” (Rev 14:4) because they represent the glorious destiny that awaits the redeemed of all ages. Ecclesiologically, that is, in relation to the church, the first fruits typify our present privilege to receive the first fruits of the Spirit while we await the resurrection harvest.

“We ourselves,” Paul says, “who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23). This typological meaning of the offering of the first fruits can be lived out every day in our life as our inward being is renewed daily by God’s Spirit (2 Cor 4:16).

As we receive the fruits of the Spirit, we bring forth the fruits of the Spirit in our life, namely, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22). These, in turn, enable us to become the first fruits of God. When we respond to the Gospel’s invitation, we become God’s first fruits. James brings out this truth, saying: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures” (Ja 1:18).

The various applications of the first fruits typology to Christ’s resurrection, the reception of the Holy Spirit, the fruits of the Spirit in the life of the believer, the Christian calling to be God’s first fruits in this world, and the redeemed as the first fruits of mankind show the importance of this Old Testament type in Christian thought and practice.

Endnote:

[1] Emphasis supplied.

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