Feast 3: First Fruits (Leviticus 23:9-14):
Look at verse 10,
- “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you enter the land which I am going to give to you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest.” (Leviticus 23:10 NASB)
This is referring to the barley harvest – the first crop planted in the winter is now, in the spring, beginning to ripen. The first sheaf of the harvest is cut and, in a carefully prescribed and meticulous ceremony, presented to Yahweh. The Lord’s acceptance of the First Fruits is an “earnest,” or pledge, on His part of a full harvest.
No grain was to be harvested at all until the First Fruits offering was brought to the Lord (Leviticus 23:14). The offering was made in remembrance of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt, Yahweh’s delivering them from slavery, and their possession of “a land flowing with milk and honey.” So First Fruits was the first portion of a larger harvest.
What date is this Feast to take place on? Passover was to take place on the 14th of Abib/Nisan. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was to take place on the 15th of Abib/Nisan. What date is First Fruits? There is no date given! The inspired text says that this third feast occurs “…on the day after the Sabbath…”! Many scholars say the Feast of First Fruits took place on the 16th of Abib/Nisan. They take the Sabbath here to be the Sabbath of the first day of Unleavened Bread. If that was true, why not just say, on the 16th? I believe the biblical evidence is that the Sabbath referred to here is the weekly Sabbath, the seventh day of the week. Let me try to explain why: if “First Fruits” occurs on the 16th of Abib/Nisan, and it pictures Christ’s resurrection, this only allows Christ to be in the grave for a day and a half at best:
- “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet;” (Matthew 12:38-39 NASB)
The word translated “sign” is Greek semeion, which means: “a sign or distinguishing mark whereby something is known, sign, token, or indication.” It can also mean: “an event that is an indication or confirmation of intervention by transcendent powers, a miracle.” So they are saying, show us a miracle!
- “for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40 NASB)
- Mark 8:31 is quite clear that Yeshua was to fulfill this antitype exactly, “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (NASB)(See also Matt. 27:63)
I take this to mean 3 full days, or 72 hours. We know that Jesus was buried at the end of the 14th of Abib/Nisan, just before the sun went down (Matt. 27:57-58, 62; Luke 23:50-54; Mark 15:42; John 19:14, 30-31). He was in the tomb on the 15th of Abib/Nisan and would have remained in the tomb until the 18th of Abib/Nisan. There is no date given in Scripture for the Feast of First Fruits, because it is “…on the day after the Sabbath…”! It is always on a Sunday! So, the date would change from year to year, but it is always on a Sunday – the first day of the week. What is interesting is that on the year that Christ was crucified, there had to be three days between the 14th and the first day of the week. And it just so happens that there was. Another coincidence?
If Christ spent the full 3 days and 3 nights in the grave, this would mean that the traditional idea of Christ being crucified on Friday is incorrect. I believe that Jesus was crucified on Wednesday and was buried by the end of the day (before 6 pm Wednesday evening, which would be the start of Thursday for the Hebrews). He was in the grave by the start of the Hebrew Thursday (6 pm Wednesday for us) at sundown until Saturday at sundown, which is 3 days, and 3 nights, or 72 hours. He rose from the dead on Sunday – sometime after sundown on Saturday evening (after 6 pm Saturday, which is the start of Sunday for the Hebrews).
Here is a time line: Passover the 14th of Abib/Nisan (Wednesday) Jesus was tried early morning and declared faultless by Pilate. He was hung on the Cross from 9:00 AM until 3:00 PM. Jesus dies the same time the final Passover lamb is being slaughtered in the Temple. He is prepared for burial and placed in tomb just before sunset (before 6 pm Wednesday).
Unleavened Bread the 15th of Abib/Nisan (Thursday – starts 6 pm Wednesday for the Hebrews) – the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (which was a High Sabbath), Jesus is in the tomb (1st night and 1st day). The 16th of Abib/Nisan (Friday) Jesus spends the 2nd night and 2nd day in the tomb (this is the day after the Thursday “annual High” Sabbath that the women bought the spices to anoint Jesus, and then rested on the “weekly” Sabbath according to the commandment, before heading to the tomb on the 1st day of the week à Compare Mark 16:1; Luke 23:56 – 24:1; Matt. 28:1). The 17th of Abib/Nisan (Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath) Jesus spends the 3rd night and 3rd day in the tomb. The 18th of Abib/Nisan (Sunday – after 6 pm Saturday night for the Hebrews) Jesus is resurrected at the close of the Sabbath, beginning the first day of the week. This is the day of First Fruits. Jesus’s body could not be found when the women come to the tomb early Sunday morning, the tomb was empty.
The confusion about Jesus being crucified on Friday may come from:
- “The Jews therefore, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” (John 19:31 NASB)
Remember that the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is a special High Sabbath and no work is to be done. Many have assumed they had to get Jesus’s body in the tomb before the weekly Sabbath, but it wasn’t the weekly Sabbath, it was the High Sabbath of Unleavened Bread.
So, Passover occurs on the 14th; Unleavened Bread occurs on the 15th (and lasts until the 22nd); and “First Fruits” occurs on the day after the weekly Sabbath, or Sunday, the first day of the week. So First Fruits is ALWAYS on a SUNDAY. As to the significance of the Feast of First Fruits, as with the other feasts, there is no room for doubt or speculation; it represents Christ’s resurrection:
- “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming,” (1 Cor. 15:20-23 NASB)
On one particular morning, on the first day of the week, the Feast of First Fruits of the harvest were being waved before the alter in the Temple in Jerusalem, and on that same particular morning some women were heading to an empty tomb.
The crops that were gathered at the beginning of the harvest season were called “first fruits” (Exod. 23:16). These are the first fruits of the barley harvest, which represents Jesus Christ and His resurrection. The First Fruits consecrates the harvest. Jesus is really the first of the First Fruits. The First Fruits were transferred to the Lord as an assurance of Divine blessing on the harvest. That is reiterated in:
- “If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.” (Romans 11:16 NASB)
Then fifty days later at Pentecost there are the first fruits of the wheat harvest, which is the Church. We read in Romans 8:23,
- “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” (Rom. 8:23 NASB. First Fruits à See also Jam 1:18; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 14:1, 3-4)
In Romans 8:23 Paul writes, “…We ourselves” – this is the New Covenant saints (Paul is including himself in with these 1st century Roman believers). Paul says that they have “the First Fruits” of the Spirit. The Spirit was given as a “pledge,” which is the Greek word arrhabon. Arrhabon means: “a pledge, i.e. part of the purchase – money or property given in advance as security for the rest: earnest or guarantee.” (See also Eph. 1:13-14)
* It is important that we get this correct understanding of the first fruits; as there are these two different sets of first fruits (Barley = Christ; Wheat = first Christian believers – church. (We will look more at this “wheat” offering in our next Feast of Shavuot/Pentecost)).
* (Side note: These first fruits are different from the crops gathered at the end of the harvest season, which were known as the summer fruit:
- “Thus the Lord GOD showed me, and behold, there was a basket of summer fruit. He said, “What do you see, Amos?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come for My people Israel. I will spare them no longer. “The songs of the palace will turn to wailing in that day,” declares the Lord GOD. “Many will be the corpses; in every place they will cast them forth in silence.” (Amos 8:1-3. NASB)
The Hebrew word for “summer fruit” is qets (ky-its) which means: “end.” It was the last harvest in Palestine. It has the idea of completeness. This vision of a basket of summer fruit is symbolic of Israel’s end. These Fall Feasts picture the end of physical Israel at the end of the forty year second exodus.
First Fruits: God commanded the Israelites to present a portion of their harvest that ripened first as an offering to Him (Exod. 23:19; Neh. 10:35). This offering acknowledged that the whole harvest was from Him and was really His. It was an offering that the Israelites made in faith, confident that the rest of the harvest would follow. Similarly, God’s gift of the Spirit to the first century believers is His pledge/guarantee that He will complete His redemptive promise and they will inherit eternal life with Him in the afterlife.
Fifteen hundred years before Christ’s resurrection, Yahweh predicted in type and shadow that Jesus would be crucified on the 14th of Abib/Nisan and would rise from the dead three days later on the first day of the week, and it happened exactly as God said it would. Prophecy proves the truthfulness of the Bible. God said certain things would happen, and they happened. No other book in the world contains the kind of specific prophecies found all throughout the pages of the Bible.
In the study of the Feasts, we see that every single piece of the Christian Bible falls right into the framework of the Hebrew world. The whole Christian message is in the feasts that Yahweh gave to the Hebrews.
So hundreds of years before Christ was ever born, God was teaching His people that their Messiah would come, and He would die for them on Passover, the 14th of Abib/Nisan. Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. God was teaching His people that for three days Jesus body would be in the tomb, and His soul in Hades/Sheol (Abraham’s Bosom/Paradise), and that He would arise from the dead on the first day of the week – the very day that Israel celebrated the Feast of First Fruits. Jesus became the first to be raised out from among the dead ones in Hades/Sheol to never die again and have to return there.
FIRST FRUITS pictures the RESURRECTION of the Messiah. This Feast took place after the first weekly Sabbath, or Sunday, after the start of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week after the first weekly Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Are these just coincidence, or was God teaching us the history of redemption?
Do you remember what happened after the resurrection at the tomb?
- “Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” (John 20:16-17 KJV)
“Touch me not…” Touch is from the Greek word haptou, which is the normal word for touch. Why was she not allowed to touch the risen Jesus? Let me give you a little tradition that just may answer this question.
Jewish Tradition says: As the lambs were taken off the Temple Mount and put in the ovens by the people, the high priest and his entourage would take their lambs into their chamber inside the Temple Mount (Mt. Moriah) and put them into the ovens. Then just before sunset, the high priest would lead his entourage over the Kidron Valley bridge on the side of the Mount Of Olives, where the priests had previously planted the barley for the First Fruit offering. The Levites would then bind ten stocks of barley together (still rooted in the ground). Then the high priest and Levites would go back to their chambers and eat the Passover lamb. The high priest would stay in the mountain in seclusion until the end of the weekly Sabbath, which was three days the year Christ was killed.
At the end of the weekly Sabbath, the high priest and his entourage would then leave their chamber with baskets and sickles. Once they were sure the sun had set, in front of thousands of on looking Israelites, they would cut the standing stocks of barley they had previously bound in the light, but now cut in the darkness. The high priest and Levites would then take the barley in their baskets to the Temple and grind the barley to make loaves of bread. Then the high priest would take them and offer them as a First Fruits offering to Yahweh on the morning of the first day of the week. Until this is done, no one may eat of the First Fruits of the barley.
It is said that the high priest had to remain in seclusion on the Temple Mount for the entire time between the sacrifice of the Passover lamb and the presentation of the First Fruits offering, lest he be defiled. Jesus was also in seclusion for this time; which may be why He said to Mary, “Don’t touch Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” But later He tells Thomas to put his fingers into the nail prints and his hand into the wound in His side. Why did He tell Mary, “Don’t touch Me,” but told Thomas to touch Him?
The answer may lie in the First Fruits offering. As the High Priest He had to offer the First Fruits of the resurrection “harvest” (Barley harvest) before the throne of God in heaven, before returning that afternoon to talk with the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
That Jesus is the antitypical High Priest is abundantly shown in Scripture:
- “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession;” (Hebrews 3:1 NASB)
- “being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:10 NASB)
- “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation;” (Hebrews 9:11 NASB)
Jesus did just as the high priests had done for centuries, because He was the antitype (Fulfillment) of the Old Covenant high priest.
Let’s look at another text that may have some light shed on it by understanding First Fruits:
- “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.” (Matthew 27:50-53 NASB)
When were these tombs opened? At the death of Christ on Passover. When did the bodies come out of the tombs? After the resurrection of Christ on the Feast of First Fruits.
The earth quaked and graves were opened on Passover, but none of the people in them had risen yet. Could this be the marking out of the First Fruits as the priests did on Passover? Then three days later after Christ rose from the dead after sundown at the end of weekly Sabbath, He took those whose graves had been marked and raised them from the dead, effectively “harvesting” them for the First Fruits offering the next morning.
So, summarizing so far, hundreds of years before Christ was ever born, God was teaching His people that their Messiah would come, and He would die for them on Passover, the 14th of Abib/Nisan. Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. God was teaching His people that for three days Jesus body would be in the tomb, and His soul in Hades/Sheol (Abraham’s Bosom/Paradise), and that He would arise out from among the dead ones on the first day of the week – the very day that Israel celebrated the Feast of First Fruits. Jesus became the first to be raised out from among the dead ones in Hades/Sheol.
Passover pictures the substitutionary DEATH of Jesus as the Passover Lamb. The Feast of Unleavened Bread pictures the REDEMPTION that death had purchased. First Fruits pictures the RESURRECTION of the Messiah. This Feast took place on the third day after Passover. Jesus rose the third day. Are these just coincidences, or was God not teaching us the history of redemption?
See also related “Topic Studies & Terms”:
Related full “Study Series” (available upon request if not hyperlinked):
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 8 Lesson 1 God’s Festal Calendar (Spring Feasts)”]
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 8 Lesson 2 God’s Festal Calendar (Fall Feasts)”]