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Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Feasts of the Lord #7: The Feast of Firstfruits (Part 2) --1 Corinthians 15:20-24

If you will recall, the Feast of Passover is a picture of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, dying as our substitute for sin. Jesus went to the cross on Passover. The Feast of Unleavened Bread is picture of Jesus’ sinless body not undergoing decay while in the grave. And, last Sunday, I introduced the Feast of Firstfruits and illustrated how this feast is a picture of Jesus rising from the dead. Jesus rose again on the exact day of the Feast of Firstfruits.

The Apostle Paul wrote of the Feast of Firstfruits in 1 Corinthians 15:20-24:

20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming,
24 then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.

First things are an important and oft-repeated theme of Scripture. God declared that, in general, the firstfruits of all agricultural produce belonged to Him—grain, wine, oil, and even fleece. In fact, all seven of the major crops grown in ancient Israel were included: barley, wheat, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.

According to Mosaic Law, each firstborn son was to be presented to the priest at one month of age (Num. 18:16). In His mercy, the Lord made provision so that the firstborn could be redeemed from a lifetime of service in the Temple. At this dedication ceremony, called a Pidyon Haben (Heb. “Redemption of the Son”), it was possible to redeem the son out of full-time service through the payment of five shekels (pieces of silver) to the priest (Num. 18:16). The Pidyon Haben held true for all except the firstborn of the priests and the Levites. They were obligated to serve in the Temple and, therefore, could not be exempted.

At one month of age, Jesus was taken to the Temple for His Pidyon Haben. Mary and Joseph presented Him to the Lord: “As it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’” (Luke 2:23).

It was on this occasion that Jesus was first publicly declared to be the Messiah. The godly Simeon took the child in his arms and blessed God: “For my eyes have seen Your salvation” (Luke 2:30). As a second witness, the godly Anna, declared His messiahship “to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

The meaning of the Pidyon Haben ceremony was given by the Lord in Numbers 3:13, “For all the firstborn are Mine; on the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the firstborn in Israel, from man to beast. They shall be Mine; I am the Lord.”

When God redeemed Israel out of Egyptian bondage, He did so through the blood of the Passover lamb. All firstborn were under the curse of death and judgment. Escape was possible only by exhibiting faith in God through the blood of the innocent Passover lamb (Ex. 12:12-13).

So, too, in the spiritual sense, all of mankind is firstborn. All are sinners just as Adam and, therefore, are under the curse of death and in need of redemption (Rom. 5:17, 19; 1 Cor. 15:22). Escape is possible only by exhibiting faith in God through the redemptive blood of the Messiah, the true Passover Lamb, sacrificed as our substitute. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:7, “…For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.”

Seven Examples of Firstfruits in the New Testament

Although Firstfruits is not as strongly emphasized in the Hebrew Scriptures as the other Levitical feasts, the Feast of Firstfruits forms an important backdrop to New Testament teaching. It is directly mentioned on seven occasions in the New Testament.

First, Paul spoke of Epaenetus as “the firstfruits of Achaia” (Rom. 16:5).

Second, Paul later spoke of the household of Stephanas as the “the firstfruits of Achaia” (1 Cor. 16:15). These were some of the first believers in the large harvest that followed in that part of ancient Greece.

Third, Paul used the concept of the firstfruits pinched from the dough to teach: “For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy” (Rom. 11:16). By this he meant, if God chose and accepted the patriarchs, then the whole lump of dough (Israel) belonged to Him. Therefore, “God has not cast away His people” (Rom. 11:2).

Fourth, speaking of believers as set apart to the Lord, James taught in James 1:18: “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”

Fifth, Paul again used this imagery when he spoke of salvation as the “firstfruits of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:23). By this he meant that the indwelling of the Spirit of God is the guarantee, or pledge, that there will be a final redemption. Our bodies will be glorified and the creation redeemed from the curse. The present reality of the indwelling of believers by the Holy Spirit assures, or guarantees (is the firstfruits of), the future promise of Heaven!

Sixth, in the Book of Revelation, John described a special group of 144,000 Jewish men who will be sealed just prior to the opening of the seventh seal (Rev. 7:1-8). There will be 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel, sealed and protected from God’s wrath at the commencement of the Day of the Lord. Later, John describes these 144,000 as “the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” (Rev. 14:4).

But how are these 144,000 considered firstfruits? Immediately after the Rapture of the Church, the 144,000 will be God’s first working with the nation of Israel. They will be the proof, guarantee, or pledge (the firstfruits) of a future harvest within the nation of Israel. God will burn away the chaff and impurities in the fiery blast furnace of His wrath to bring the remnant of Israel to repentance at the end of Daniel’s seventieth week. Paul summarizes the result in Romans 11:26, “And so all Israel will be saved.”

Paul longed for Israel’s final harvest and spoke of himself as “one born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:8). The imagery was that of a fig tree which would occasionally yield prematurely ripened figs out of season. These early figs were few and rare. Paul viewed himself as one of these whom God had graciously saved before the final harvest.

The seventh reference to Firstfruits in the New Testament is the most significant because it tells us of its fulfillment. Like Israel’s other spring feasts, the Feast of Firstfruits found its fulfillment in the first coming of Jesus Christ. Paul gloriously declared in 1 Corinthians 15:20, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.” Revelation 1:5 refers to Jesus as “first born” from the dead.

How was Jesus our firstfruits? Jesus rose again on the third day (literally, the third day of the Passover season, Nisan 16), on the day of Firstfruits. But His resurrection had far greater implications beyond himself. Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”  The resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee and the beginning (firstfruits) of the final harvest, or resurrection, of mankind! Jesus fulfilled the prophetic meaning of this holy day by rising from the dead to become the firstfruits of the resurrection, and He did it on the exact day of Firstfruits!

The Bible clearly teaches that there is life after death. The human soul does not cease to exist, nor does it float aimlessly as part of some “cosmic consciousness,” nor is it reincarnated. All will be resurrected. Only the quality of that eternal existence remains in question. The Hebrew prophet, Daniel, prophesied in Daniel 12:2, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.”

Jesus further explained in John 5:28-29, “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” 

Just as there are two parts to the harvest, the wheat and the chaff, there will be two parts to the final harvest. Some will inherit eternal life and dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Those who do not give their hearts to Christ will inherit separation from God and be confined to the Lake of Fire—forever.

If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, you will be resurrected to life at His coming. Jesus provided the ironclad guarantee when He rose from the dead. It will happen, of that we are sure, because “…Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.”

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