Key Scriptures: Leviticus 23:9-14, Deuteronomy 26:1-10; I Corinthians 15:20-23
Theme: Resurrection [ the promise of more to come ]
Names of the Feast
This feast to the Lord really has two names:
Yom HaBikkurim - or Day of the First Fruits
- The first products of the grain harvest
- The beginning of the production of the harvest season
- It can be viewed as "the promise of more to come" - which will be a key to our understanding of this feast day as we go on.
- This means counting the omer (or Sheaf)
- The omer - is a unit of measurement
- Counting - is literally counting the days to the final period of harvest - some 50 days later.
The feast was to be celebrated on "the day after the Sabbath..." This will be important as we look at how this applies to Messiah and resurrection day. They were to reap the harvest - and then bring "the sheaf of the First Fruits of your harvest to the priest" - notice here it does not say - "a sheaf" but rather - "the sheaf" - it is one marked off as the First Fruits of the harvest. This too will come into play as we relate this to Messiah and His resurrection. The priest would then - "wave it" before the Lord. Torah also stipulated that when Israel entered the land - no fruit was to be gathered from newly-planted trees for the first three years, and that the Firstfruits of the fourth year were consecrated to the Lord (Leviticus. 19:23-25). This too has Messianic implications.
Traditional Jewish Observance
Modern Jewish observance excludes the elements of the ceremony which were dependent on the existence of the Temple:
The rabbis state that the counting of the seven weeks is still to be performed even if the waving of the offering cannot take place at the Temple.
The contemporary celebration involves:
- Prayers and blessings from special prayer books.
- Reflecting on the symbolic meaning of the day.
- Counting the days from the barley to the wheat harvest at Shavuot (Pentecost) some fifty days later. In essence, Sfirat Haomer is not a countdown, but a count-up in anticipation of the next great work of God at Shavuot.
- Many congregations read from - Psalm 67 because it consists of seven verses and forty-nine words, to correspond to the 7 weeks, and fifty days of Sfirat Haomer
Messianic Significance of First Fruits
First Fruits - Occurs on the 17th of Nisan - a number of other events of redemptive nature took place on that date:
- Noah's ark safely came to rest on Mt. Ararat - Gen 8:4
- Moses led the Israelites through the parting of the Red Sea - Ex 3:18; 5:3
- Walls of Jericho fell - Joshua 5:13
- Hebrews delivered from Hamman's plot to destroy all Jewish people in the book of Esther - 3:12; 5:1
The odds of all these events occurring on the same date have been calculated to be : 783 quadrillion, 864 trillion, 876 billion, 960 million to: 1
Let us see how some of the Biblical instructions give us clues to the Messianic themes of this feast
Clue #1 - Let us start with the stipulation in – Leviticus 19:23
- In this passage we see Israel was told they must not eat of the fruit of the trees for the first three years
- Now is there anything to this other than an environmental concern?
- Jesus' ministry on earth if we look at the gospel accounts took how long? Three years! Why that specific length of time? Could it be God is trying to get our attention - in pointing out the symbolic nature of the Feast of First Fruits - that possibly First Fruits is not simply about giving thanks to God for the grain harvest?
Clue #2 - Jesus' Parable in John 12:23-24
- The instructions for the feast of First Fruits stipulated that a sheaf of grain be waved by the priest before the Lord as a testimony of God's provision.
- We can think of this as the grain which had come from the earth now being lifted high for all to see. Jesus alluded to His own death and resurrection in similar terms in the parable He told in (John. 12:23-24)
- Is the timing of His telling this parable just a coincidence, or is He seeking to make a point here?
- The parable is spoken just as the disciples have come to celebrate the Passover; and as such is just prior to the Feast of First Fruits (John. 21:1;20).
- Could it be that Jesus is pointing to the fact that His resurrection is the fulfillment of First Fruits?
Clue #3 - The Sheaf of the First Fruits
- This may seem as rather insignificant - but the way this is phrased is very important.
- The passage could have read -"bring a sheaf " - but it says - "bring the sheaf."
- According to the Mishnah - a Jewish Commentary of Scripture - we read; "when a man goes down to his field and sees for the first time ripe grain, he binds it with reed-grass and says, 'This is the First Fruits' ."
- The idea being that this sheaf is set apart from all the rest - it is singled out and it becomes the First Fruit.
is this important? It helps us to
understand just what Paul is talking
about in (I
He is not just stating that Jesus was the first to rise from the dead, but by so doing, He is the direct fulfillment of the Feast of First Fruits, and as such points to the fact that this festival should be important for all believers in Messiah.
- The theme of this passage is also that of part of the meaning of First Fruits, "it is the promise of more to come", summed up by Paul in (I Corinthains15:53-58).
Clue # 4 - The timing of the Feast
- This is our last clue in the Messianic significance of the feast
- This is the only feast in Scripture which gives the time of celebration as such; "on the day after the Sabbath..." Some have interpreted the "day after the Sabbath" as being the day after the Sabbath of Nisan 15, which is the day of Unleavened Bread that could occur on any day of the week. However, the Scriptures reveal that the Feast of First Fruits must also align 50 days forward to the Feast of Seven Weeks (50th day), the day of Pentecost according to Leviticus 23:15-16. The Feast of Seven Weeks must also happen on the "day after the Sabbath", which is the first day of the week or (Sunday). In the seventh week, there is no possibility of a Sabbath to occur on a weekday. The only possible Sabbath day during the seventh week is the seventh day Sabbath, Saturday. Therefore, the Feast of First Fruits always occurs on "the first day of the week", a Sunday according to Scripture.
- Now how is this a clue? This feast always follows the pattern: Passover/ Sabbath/ First Fruits. But what does that tell us?
- Jesus is called in (I Corinthians 5:7-8) our Passover lamb, as such He died for our redemption - He died on Passover. After this He rested - that is the meaning of the word - Sabbath - in the tomb.
- Then on the first day of the week - Sunday - "on the day after the Sabbath", He was resurrected, and as such He is The First Fruits - the fulfillment of the Feast, and the promise that all who believe in Him would be raised again on the last day.
- Is it any wonder that this feast with its singular importance should be the only one specifically laid out in terms of when it is celebrated?
But it also plays a key role in the symbolism of what God is trying to teach each of us with the four spring feasts:
- Passover - Jesus the Passover Lamb, died for our sins. When we put our trust in Him as the Israelites did in Egypt, we are redeemed.
- Unleavened Bread - teaches us to put off the old nature, ruled by sin (Ephesians 4:22-25).
- First Fruits - teaches us to put on the new nature (Ephesians 4:24) to live the victorious life empowered by the power the resurrection. Also the promise of our resurrection on the last day.
- Shavuot - finally the feast of weeks - when the omer is finished being counted - Pentecost - the way in which we can live the new life, by the power of the Holy Spirit (Galatians.2:20).