The Feast of Firstfruits. The third major feast of the Hebrew calendar is Firstfruits occurring during the seven-day long Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Hebrew word translated as ‘firstfruits’ (בִּכּוּרִים – bikkûrîm) is derived from the verb בָּכַר (bākar), meaning “bear early fruit” or “treat as first-born.” Harris, Archer, and Waltke define bikkûrîm in the following manner: “Only appears in masculine plural and refers especially to the first products of grain and fruit, (bread, Exod. 23:16; grapes, Num. 13:20; figs, Nah. 3:12), a portion of which were to be given to the Lord as a thank offering and for the support of the priesthood (cf. Lev. 2:14; Num. 18:12-13)” This feast is particularly associated with the first fruits of the barley harvest which were offered to the Lord in thankfulness for His provision.
The Feast of Firstfruits in the Old Testament. This third festival was celebrated “on the day after the sabbath” (Lev. 23:11). However, there is a significant debate as to which Sabbath day is in view. The Sadducees understood the Sabbath day to be the nearest weekly Sabbath after the start of Unleavened Bread, whereas the Pharisees argued that it was the first day of Unleavened Bread which was a special Sabbath. That being said, when the people of Israel entered the Promised Land, they were to present a sheaf of the firstfruits of the barley harvest to the priests (Lev. 23:10). The priest, in turn, would wave the sheaf before the Lord (Lev. 23:11). In addition to the offering of the barley firstfruits, the people were required to make both a burnt offering and a grain offering (Lev. 23:12-13). Furthermore, until the Israelites offered the barley firstfruits to Yahweh, they were forbidden to eat the grain of the new harvest. (Lev 23:14).
So, what is the significance of the Feast of Firstfruits? Kevin Howard writes:
Firstfruits marked the beginning of the cereal grain harvests in Israel. Barley was the first grain to ripen of those sown in the winter months. For Firstfruits, a sheaf of barley was harvested and brought to the Temple as a thanksgiving offering to the Lord for the harvest. It was representative of the barley harvest as a whole and served as a pledge or guarantee that the remainder of the harvest would be realized in the days that followed.
Elsewhere, he notes that “[t]he Lord’s acceptance of the firstfruits” was “an ‘earnest,’ or pledge, on His part of a full harvest.” Similarly, Richard Gaffin states that the wave offerings at this particular Jewish feast were “representative of the total harvest.” He continues:
They are a token expression of recognition and thanksgiving that the whole has been given by God. Thus “firstfruits” does bring into view the initial portion of the harvest, but only as it is part of the whole….‘Firstfruits’ expresses the notion of organic connection and unity, the inseparability of the initial quantity from the whole. It is particularly this aspect which gives these sacrifices their significance.
Thus, the offering of the Firstfruits was both a thank offering to Yahweh and a demonstration of faith on Israel’s part (provided the offering was accepted) that the Lord would graciously bless the rest of the harvest.
Christ: The Firstfruits of the Resurrection. Like Passover and Unleavened Bread, the Lord Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all the Jewish feast days, new moons, and Sabbaths (cf. Col. 2:16-17). So, how does He fulfill the Feast of Firstfruits? Paul describes Christ as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20), “the firstfruits” of those who “shall be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22-23), and “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18). Thus, Christ is the Firstfruits of the future harvest of the resurrection of the righteous. Coulson Shepherd writes, “Notice, Israel was to bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of the harvest on the first day of the week and wave it before the Lord. Christ arose on the first day of the week. That one sheaf represented the whole harvest. The harvest is at the end of this age of sowing and planting. ‘Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming,’ the end of the harvest.” In like manner, Merrill Unger states, “Joseph’s empty tomb [i.e. Joseph of Arimathea’s empty tomb] proclaimed that the great first fruit sheaf had been reaped and waved in the heavenly Temple.”
The truth that Christ is the Firstfruits of the resurrection forms the crux of Paul’s argument against the Corinthians’ mistaken view of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. The future bodily resurrection of believers is guaranteed by God’s acceptance of Christ as the Firstfruits of the resurrection. Therefore, if there is no bodily resurrection of believers, then Christ Himself has not been raised, since these two resurrections are inseparably united to one another. Concerning this, Anthony Hoekema writes:
In 1 Corinthians 15:20 we read, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The word firstfruits (aparchē) means the first part of a harvest, which guarantees its eventual completion; thus Christ’s resurrection is the proof and guarantee that we who are in Christ shall also arise from the dead. In Colossians 1:18 we read that Christ is “the first-born (prōtotokos) from the dead.” The fact that Christ is here called the first-born implies that those who are his brothers and sisters will arise from the dead, so that, as we learn from Romans 8:29, Christ might be “the first-born among many brethren.” In John 14:19, in fact, Christ specifically says to his disciples, “Because I live, you will live also.”
Gaffin also declares:
His resurrection is the representative beginning of the resurrection of believers. In other words, the term seems deliberately chosen to make evident the organic connection between the two resurrections….His resurrection is not simply a guarantee; it is a pledge in the sense that it is the actual beginning of the general event. In fact, on the basis of this verse it can be said that Paul views the two resurrections not so much as two events but as two episodes of the same event.
Christ’s resurrection, therefore, is the firstfruits or pledge that Yahweh will bring about the future bodily resurrection of His people.
R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr. and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 1 (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1980), 109.
Barney Kasdan, God’s Appointed Times: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Celebrating the Biblical Holidays (Clarksville, MD: Messianic Jewish Publishers, 1993), 41. See also Howard and Rosenthal, Feasts of the Lord, 76.
Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal, The Feasts of the Lord (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 75.
Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology (Phillipsburg: Baker Book House, 1978), 34.
Coulson Shepherd, Jewish Holy Days: Their Prophetic and Christian Significance (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1974), 33.
Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 423.
Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1979), 246.
Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption, 34-5.