by Rev. Ken Overby
Mark it on your calendars now. The Feast of First Fruits is April, 19-20. But don’t get your hopes up that the local party store will be stocked up for the celebration. I doubt your neighborhood Judaica store will either. But if you have the “chutzpah” to ask them why they have no supplies for one of the three required pilgrimages to Jerusalem for Jewish males, or why this holiday is the least emphasized feast in Judaism, brace yourself for a weird look and don’t expect to be referred to a Rabbi for answers. If you are still not to be deterred, try the modern tree of knowledge – the mega book store. Not that you will find anything but an awkward response when you ask one of their, twenty something “associates” to download a volume about first fruits to your “Kindle”. They may think you are speaking Hebrew. Do yourself a favor. Just buy one of their designer coffees and move on to the Bible section, because that’s where the origin, symbolism and the fulfillment is explained. But even there in Leviticus, only a few verses are to be found. So where else have we learned to turn for information in this smart phone world? Google it. But not even “Wickipedia,” which is American for “plethora” of information, has much on the subject. But to top it off, the one paragraph describing this festival concluded that it was the basis for the modern “African American Holiday, Kwanzaa.” Seriously!? Finally I clicked on a Wikipedia tab labeled Hebrew Perspective. That’s what we are looking for. Now the Internet may be the source of truth for many low information Bible students, but we have to look back a little farther than Kwanzaa 1966 for a genuine Hebrew perspective.
Before we delve into Leviticus chapter 23, let’s look at modern Judaism’s lack of emphasis on this feast. The vast majority of information that I found barely mentioned it and moved on to Shavuot. Pentecost, as Christians call Shavuot, is often called the Feast of Weeks because they were instructed to have a harvest festival seven weeks after the Feast of First Fruits. Pentecost simply indicates a period of fifty days. Why is First Fruits almost non-extant when it comes to modern Jewish observance? The answer can be found in the Jewish context of the conflict that developed between the first century Jewish believers and Jewish unbelievers.
A close look at Leviticus 23 gives a clue as to why this feast had an uphill battle for recognition. To begin with, it lacked visibility due to its proximity to Passover, the most widely observed family oriented feast in Jewish history. Its placement on the next day made it rather anticlimactic. In addition to being placed the day after the Passover Lamb was killed, First Fruits was on the first day of the 7 day Feast of Unleavened Bread. It was sandwiched between two widely observed events in the Mosaic calendar of Judaism. There was also a delayed inauguration of this feast. From the time the instructions about this feast were written until it was observed in the promised land more than 40 years expired. Farm land, planting, sprouting, then harvest are all requirements that couldn’t be met in the desert. Once in the land they were to offer to the Lord the first green heads of barley that had sprouted equaling about two quarts. A lamb was to be offered as a whole burnt offering. About two pints of wine were to be poured out before the Lord. Also flour mingled with oil was to be burned as a sweet incense to the Lord, and then, and only then, could they eat new parched grain. This consecrated the entire harvest yet to come to the Lord. It was kind of a faith promise offering, giving Him the first and trusting Him to supply the rest.
But the main reason for the insignificance of this Feast is not that heaven over booked holidays. We are wont to say when we find ourselves burning the candle at both ends, “Who planned this?” God did. Then why? He must have had a reason for back to back feasts. But double lamb sacrifices? That’s right. The day after slain and roast Paschal Lamb was the entree’ they were told to bring a “he lamb without blemish of the first year for a burnt offering unto the LORD,” Leviticus 23:12. Rather than being consumed at a feast, this lamb was to be totally consumed in the fire. But since the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, neither can a lamb be eaten at Passover nor can one be offered as a burnt offering. With no temple, altar, priesthood, or state of Israel for almost 1900 years, there was also no harvesting the land. Nationally and agriculturally the feast all but disappeared. It has been reduced to a mere starting date that begins a count down to Shavuot in modern Judaism. But did it diminish before 70 AD and for what reasons?
Was there another reason that First Fruits went out of vogue in the first century? I believe there is. It has much to with what this festival was a type of. This feast was ordained by God to be a type of the greatest victory of His story in the future battle of the “seed”. Just three chapters into Genesis we read of the prophecy of the seed of the woman who would defeat Satan as one would crush the head of a serpent. In the process, the seed of the woman, according to Isaiah, would be “wounded”, “bruised” and “cut off” indicating suffering and death. Messiah would die with the wicked, yet prolong His life, Isaiah 53:9-11. Passover was to be immediately followed by the symbol of new life – First Fruits. Jesus was born as the seed of a virgin in Bethlehem and died on a cross. They buried Him on the eve of Passover. Like First Fruits follows Passover, His resurrection followed His death as the Lamb of God. Fifty days later on the Feast Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter preached the gospel of Jesus and 3000 accepted Jesus as their Messiah.
In rapid succession three feasts in seven weeks during the spring of 30 AD, became dominated by a mass movement of Jewish disciples of the resurrected Jesus. The Apostles were called before the panicked Sanhedrin, and were threatened, beaten and forbidden time and again from preaching Jesus as the Messiah, Acts 4:10-22; 5:40-42. Yet as they were threatened the movement grew exponentially. The elders said “you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us,” Acts 5:28.
One of the great Rabbis of the first Century, Saul of Tarsus, later codified what this burgeoning movement had been proclaiming. After meeting the Messiah Jesus and after studying the Tenach – Hebrew Scriptures – for two years, Saul, also known as Paul the Apostle wrote; “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept…Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming,” 1 Corinthians 15:20-23. Jesus alone fulfilled messianic prophecy and rose from the dead as proof that a greater harvest of resurrection is in store for all those who receive forgiveness of sin and eternal life through faith in Him. By the time He penned these words the New Testament records that over 8000 thousand Jews in Jerusalem had believed on Jesus as Messiah Savior, Acts 2:41: 4:4, including a great company of Priests who believed on Jesus, Acts 6:7. By the ninth chapter of Acts there were multiple assemblies of believers throughout Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. Can you imagine the scenario in the Jewish communities the next year when these triple holy days rolled around? Great multitudes of Israelites who had believed the gospel of the resurrected Jesus now celebrated these Jewish feasts declaring Him as the Passover lamb, the First Fruit of their resurrection, and the giver of the Holy Spirit to a harvest of souls at Pentecost. No more did those feasts foreshadow a lamb to atone for sins or a first grain offering to project a coming harvest or a Pentecost to symbolize an ingathering of agriculture. All of those types were fulfilled by Jesus. Could the waving of the barley sheaves in celebration of Jesus victory over death and the demonstration of their joyous expectation of their resurrection have been a sore reminder? Every year unbelieving Jewish relatives and neighbors were reminded that Jesus of Nazareth was handed over to the Romans for death by Israel’s leaders. Every year it was a reminder that Jesus arose in a glorified body. As they watched their Jewish friends, sons and daughters wave their sheaves of grain in praise to God, declaring that Jesus is the First Fruit of eternal life. The implication of this inconvenient proof was undeniable. We read of the elders prohibiting the disciples from speaking in Jesus’ name, Acts 5:25-28. It would not be out of the realm of possibility that the celebration of the Feast was censored by the elders, John 9:22; 12:42. These object lessons, supernaturally fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth, presented an inconvenient proof annually to the Jewish feast goers who heard the proclamation of His followers accompanied by undeniable miracles of the Holy Spirit.
Many times we have seen a football team just feet from the goal line fumble the ball only to have victory snatched away by the opposing team. But in this case the ball that was fumbled by the elders of Israel was recovered by their own teammates. Unlearned fishermen, converted tax collectors, and sinners picked up the message of salvation through Jesus and passed it on to thousands of their Jewish brethren in the stands. They in turn passed the ball on to Jews and Gentiles alike. Now we Gentile beneficiaries of the Jewish Messiah must not forfeit the opportunity to pass the ball back to Jewish people as we approach the goal line of Christ’s return in the Rapture. The end zone of the Tribulation foretold by Daniel the prophet will mean almost complete destruction of the inhabitants of Israel by the Anti-Christ before Jesus comes down to earth. We must reach them with the gospel because many will not survive that time. Jesus will deliver the small Jewish remnant that remains by grace. They will then rule and reign with Jesus their Messiah as He sits on the throne of David in Jerusalem bringing peace on earth. We who are saved in this age of Grace will be resurrected and enjoy the Kingdom of Heaven on earth with our Lord and His brethren!
We need to pray for and communicate these God ordained object lessons in the feasts of Israel. Because there is a Passover Lamb and a first born of resurrection, there can be an ingathering of souls if we will be His witnesses to them of the Jewish Messiah who is Jesus the Lord. In the Tribulation period due to the preaching of this gospel by two Jewish prophets and the 144,000 Jewish evangelists, an innumerable multitude will respond in faith. We may be witnessing to the very ones who will later be saved and be the first fruits of that great final harvest. “These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb,” Revelation 14:4.