Firstfruits and Pentecost
“You shall eat neither bread nor grain parched or fresh until this same day, until you have brought the offering of your God: it is a statue forever throughout your generations” (v. 14).- Leviticus 23:9–22
Passover was not the only spring festival celebrated under the covenant, for the Israelites also commemorated the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost. The Feast of Firstfruits actually took place during the week-long Passover celebration (Lev. 23:4–8), on the first day after the Sabbath that occurred in the midst of the week (vv. 9–11). Pentecost occurred fifty days after that Sabbath (vv. 15–16) and marked the culmination of what started at the Feast of Firstfruits.
As its name indicates, the Feast of Firstfruits marked thanksgiving to God for the firstfruits of the harvest — in this case, the grain and cereal harvested in the spring in ancient Palestine. At this festival, the Israelites offered the very first sheaf of the harvest and were not allowed to eat anything from the crop until they gave its initial portion to the Lord (vv. 9–14). This required a great deal of faith on the part of the Israelites, as they would be giving the offering of firstfruits at a time when not much was ready to be harvested. They had to trust God that He would indeed provide the fullness of grain that had yet to come forth, something that from a human perspective was far from certain given the people’s utter dependence on the right amount of rainfall and so forth to give the best crop.
Somewhere around AD 30, the firstfruits of an even greater harvest issued forth, for it was on the first day after the Sabbath that occurred in the midst of the Passover celebration that Jesus rose from the dead (Matt. 28:1–10). Lest there be any doubt that His resurrection fulfilled the Feast of Firstfruits, Paul tells us explicitly that Christ is the firstfruits of those who will be raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20–23). Just as the firstfruits offered to God under the old covenant anticipated the fuller harvest to come, the resurrection of Jesus anticipates the bodily resurrection of His people first promised under the old covenant (Job 19:25–27).
Fifty days after the Feast of Firstfruits was the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost (from the Greek term pentekostos, or fiftieth), which was the grand celebration at the end of the grain harvest. On this occasion, the offerings of food and animals to the Lord were more lavish (Lev. 23:15–22), an appropriate way to thank Him for the tremendous bounty He had provided. Tomorrow we will look at Pentecost in more detail.
Paul says Jesus was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25), and so we often celebrate Jesus’ resurrection as proof that our sins have been fully atoned for and that we are now declared righteous in God’s sight. This is entirely appropriate, but we should also remember that our Lord’s resurrection is proof positive that we who trust in Him will be raised in like manner at the last day and dwell with Him bodily in a new heaven and earth.
Passages for Further Study
2 Thessalonians 2:13
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