In part 1 we looked at the Old Testament holiday of Firstfruits, and now we’ll consider several references to firstfruits in the New Testament. This would have had more meaning to Jewish converts than to Gentile ones. Likewise today, we can better understand the New Testament by taking time to understand the Old.
An important reference to firstfruits is found in I Corinthians chapter 15. Here we find the most complete instruction in the New Testament on the doctrine of the resurrection. Apparently some of the Christians in Corinth thought that there was no resurrection from the dead. One of the proofs Paul pointed to was the resurrection of Christ, and Paul linked the future resurrection of Christian believers with the accomplished resurrection of Christ. Paul emphasizes in verses 16 and 17 that these two issues stand or fall together. Furthermore in verses 20-23, Paul states that:
“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming [emphasis added].”
As explained in part 1, the firstfruits were the first ripened grain from the harvest field before the harvest actually began. It was a pledge or foretaste of what was to follow. For the Jewish believer, this would have been a clear illustration or metaphor demonstrating that the resurrection of Christ made their future resurrection a certainty. Some may point out that Christ was not the first to rise from the dead, as others such as Lazarus or Jarius’ daughter rose from the dead. However, these people died a second time. The resurrection of Christ was unique. Christ became our firstfruits as He rose to endless life, never to die again, and completely conquered death.
The holiday of Firstfruits is ripe with messianic overtones, and many feel that it found its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. According to Leviticus 23:11, Firstfruits was to be observed on the first day after the Sabbath of Passover. If Jesus was killed on Friday at Passover, then His resurrection on the third day would have fallen on Nisan 16, the holiday of Firstfruits! However, the Pharisees and Sadducees had disagreements over which day was actually considered the Sabbath of Passover, and there are also scholarly debates over whether Jesus actually died on Friday. Regardless, it is certainly significant to note the links between the resurrection of Jesus and the holiday of Firstfruits.
Another use of firstfruits is found in James 1:18 which states that “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” James was written to the Jewish converts scattered abroad (James 1:1). They were among the first believers of their era, and were literally part of the firstfruits of the Christian harvest of souls. It was a pledge of the full harvest to come, as Christianity would continue to spread worldwide (Acts 1:8, Rev 7:9).
A third usage of firstfruits is in Romans 8:23, which says that we have “…the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” As Christians, we have received the Holy Spirit, which is a foretaste of the full blessings that will one day be ours in the resurrected state. Something I emphasize on my blog from time to time, is the “tension” that exists with our salvation. We are living in the “already, but not yet.” Yes, we have salvation and the Holy Spirit, but we are waiting for its consummation at the return of Christ. We are still sinful people living in a fallen world, yet living with a foretaste of what is to come.
Are we keeping this eternal perspective in mind, and living in light of our future hope? Are we trusting God as the harvester of souls as we plant seeds of faith in this world?
I also think there are some general Old Testament firstfruit principles that can apply to our lives today.
- Firstfruits set a pattern for giving back to God first out of the bounty that He had given them. The Israelites began the harvest with God and were acknowledging God as their provider. It encouraged gratitude for past, present, and future blessings.
- Do we have these underlying attitudes? Are we remembering what God has done for us? Do we have a grateful heart? Do we trust God enough to give first, with the confidence that He will provide for our future needs? Are we “beginning” with God – do we begin our days, meals, business, and family affairs with Him?
I hope this holiday has helped you see that Old Testament principles can apply today, and that New Testament passages can come to life. As JI Packer said,
“Those who neglect the Old Testament will
never make much of the New.”