Monday, May 29, 2017

Pentecost - Firstfruits - New Testament and Old

I was not even considering the fact that it will soon be Pentecost Sunday when I began thinking about doing a blog post about the Feast of Firstfruits, or as Christians say, Pentecost. Perhaps it is a coincidence. Christians do not call this time "Firstfruits" but "Pentecost" since it happened fifty days after the resurrection. The first Easter, or Resurrection, Sunday was when Jesus was raised from the dead. Right before Jesus ascended into Heaven, He instructed His followers to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them. On the Jewish feast of Pentecost, or Firstfruits, the Holy Spirit came down from Heaven to baptize the disciples. They were filled with the Spirit and spoke with other tongues. (Acts 2:1-4) That is what we Christians think of when we talk about Pentecost. As important as that event was, we cannot get a full understanding of the concept of firstfruits as it is used in either Testament without further study.

The Jews, of course, celebrated Passover and then the Feast of Firstfruits fifty days later. Since Passover was not always on Sunday, they do not always celebrate Firstfruits on a Sunday but on the same day of the week that Passover is, seven weeks later. The offering of Firstfruits may go back even further than when the Law was given. Many believe that Abel was offering firstfruits soon after mankind was created when he brought his offering to God. That may or may not be so. The offerings of Abel and Cain are still shrouded in a little mystery. What did God tell them to do and why was Abel's offering accepted and Cain's rejected? We do not fully understand.

I used to not understand the offerings of firstfruits as it is revealed in the Old Testament. I had pretty much followed what I had heard others say. And I had a teaching on it that I was really quite proud of. It was a teaching on tithing based on Proverbs 3:9-10, "Honor the Lord with your possessions, And with the firstfruits of all your increase; So your barns will be filled with plenty, And your vats will overflow with new wine." See, I thought that tithes and firstfruits were the same thing. I knew that there was blessings associated with tithing based on Malachi 3:10-12. This seemed to be the same. Besides, I had always heard that tithes and firstfruits were the same.

Then I listened to some tape recordings (remember cassettes?) from a class taught at Rhema Bible Training Center. The teacher clearly showed that tithes and firstfruits in the Old Testament were two different offerings. You can read about both offerings in Deuteronomy 26. You will see there that the two offerings are handled a bit differently. Also, if you read Proverbs 3:9-10, you will notice that the offering of the firstfruits occurs at the beginning of the harvest season. Different crops are harvested at different times. The earliest harvested crops along with the animals born in the spring would be offered at the time of the Firstfruits. There was no specified amount that one had to offer unlike the "tithe" which means 'a tenth'. According to this passage, the Israelites were guaranteed a good harvest when they brought their firstfruits. After the whole harvest was in, then they would bring the tithe. One could hardly tithe at the time of the Firstfruits because one would not know how much 10% of the harvest would be. The offering of the Firstfruits was an act of faith. They offered it believing that God would bless them if they did. This idea of a guaranteed future blessing as a result of the offering of the firstfruits is very important for understanding how this concept is used in the New Testament.

As with all the OT feasts, Firstfruits is transformed by the coming of Jesus Christ, perhaps more than any other of the feasts. On the Day of Pentecost, as we have seen, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples to empower them for service. Nothing that happened on Pentecost seems to guarantee anything about a future blessing. However, we read in Ephesians 1:13 "In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory." It says that the promised Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our future inheritance from God. WOW! That is a lot better than just getting a good harvest.

As well, we read this in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23: "But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming." Jesus' resurrection is the firstfruits guarantee that we, too, will be resurrected. He offered Himself and became a firstfruits for us. Our future is guaranteed!

There is one more NT passage I want to consider here. It is James 1:18: "God chose to give us new birth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of the new creation." (Mixed translations) I am going out on a limb a little bit here, but I think it fits in with what we have seen so far. Along with, and because of, Jesus, we are the firstfruits of the new creation. Our spirits have been re-created in God's image and likeness. We are His children. But we still live in a fallen world and in the flesh. The fact of this new creation within us is evidence and guarantee that the new creation will be manifested in our bodies (resurrection) and in the New Heavens and the New Earth. "Behold, I make all things new!" (Revelation 21:5) Our redemption, which Jesus has accomplished, is guarantee of the redemption of our bodies and of the whole creation: "The creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body." (Romans 8:21-23) Notice that the "Firstfruits of the Spirit" guarantees the redemption of our bodies, our resurrection. But it also says that the creation awaits the release from the bondage of corruption that came with the Fall of Adam. That release will come about when the creation enters into the same glorious liberty that we have as God's born-again children. Once again, we can see a link between the New Birth, new bodies, and the New Heavens and New Earth. And, of course, it all really goes back to Jesus and what He has done for us.

One last thing I want to note. One of the biggest differences between the Old Testament offering of the Firstfruits and the theme of firstfruits in the New Testament is the difference between works and grace. In the OT, it was the Israelite who offered the firstfruits. It the NT, it is Jesus who does the work and we who freely receive it. There is nothing for us to do but enjoy the benefits of it. So let's do that. Let's celebrate Pentecost, not just by wearing red, but by remembering what Firstfruits means to us today.

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