Summary: 4th in series on what Pentecost means. It was also called the Day of Firstfruits, and this shows that we become the offering to God.
Acts 1:12-14, 2:1-4 – Firstfruits
Today we are continuing to look at the festival of Pentecost, from the eyes of a 1st-century Jewish Christian. The Acts 2 Pentecost changed the world, but since all the early converts were Jewish, what did the holiday mean to them?
We looked at the idea that it was a pilgrim festival – that is, all Jewish men were required to go to worship God. But the good news about the Acts 2 Pentecost is that God has come to meet us and find us. Then we looked at the fact that Pentecost was a memorial of God giving the Law to Moses on Mt.Sinai. But the good news of the Acts 2 Pentecost is that God writes the Law on our hearts, and changes us from the inside out. Last week we compared Pentecost to Babel in Genesis 11. At Babel God confused people, but at Pentecost he helped them understand each other. Babel was a curse, and Pentecost reversed it. Pentecost was a time of showing mercy.
This week I want to look at the agricultural significance of Pentecost. After all, it was originally called the Feast of Harvest in Exodus 23. Let me read to you v14-17 from that chapter: “Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me. Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in that month you came out of Egypt. No one is to appear before me empty-handed. Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field. Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD.”
The 1st of the 3 times was Passover, or the Feast of Unleavened Bread, held in the spring. The 3rd was Succot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, or the Feast of Ingathering, held in the fall. The 2nd, Pentecost, was held 50 days after Passover, in mid-to-late spring. Pentecost was held at the end of the barley harvest, and at the very beginning of the wheat harvest. The very 1st crops of wheat were just coming in, and the aim of Pentecost was to bring these crops to God as an offering and sacrifice.
What they would do was make 2 loaves of the very best wheat to bring to the Temple. They would gather in large towns in each district, and would set out together on foot in a joyful procession to the Temple, and would be welcomed by the Levites, a group of priests. At the Temple, the 2 loaves, as well as animal sacrifices, were given to the Lord. The animals were burned, the bread was given to the priests. This was the annual festival of Pentecost.
Now, what makes this festival significant is what they offered to the Lord. It wasn’t just that it was wheat. It’s that it was the first of the crops. The word the Bible uses is “firstfruits”. This wheat was the firstfruits of the season. In fact, Numbers 28:26 actually calls it the Day of the Firstfruits. It was a celebration of God’s faithfulness for giving a new season of crops, and the first of those crops were given back to Him.
The term “firstfruits” itself means more than either “first” or “fruits”. As for fruits, it can mean crops or livestock. And as for first, it doesn’t necessarily mean earliest. Although “earliest” is the common understanding, the deeper meaning of firstfruits is that it is the best, the finest, the purest, the most important. Exodus 34:26 gives us the idea: “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God.”
Jeremiah 2:3 says that Israel was the firstfruits of the Lord’s harvest. They weren’t the first in schedule, but they were the first in importance. Though the Israelites were not always the best example or the most stable, they still got the best God had to offer. The Jews were the method that God would use to bless the world. They were His firstfruits.
The word “firstfruits” takes on a new meaning in the New Testament. It comes to be more symbolic, figurative, expressing a slightly different idea. The NT uses the word a number of times, and only once in connection with the harvest, in Romans 11:16. And even then, it was a comparison, not a literal meaning. Paul compared the early Jewish patriarchs and forefathers to good yeast, which makes the whole bread good. But all the other references point to something else.
Let me explain. 1 Corinthians 15 says twice that Christ is the firstfruits. In v20, Christ is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, or died. Well, obviously, Jesus wasn’t the first person to die. Let’s read that whole passage, though, starting in 1 Cor.15:20: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.”