We’ve come unto the Feast of First Fruits. This feast was celebrated, as the text says, “the day after the Sabbath”. There is actually a long debate between the Pharisees and Sadducees about which Sabbath this is talking about. You see, in America, we count our days from morning until evening. But, in the ancient Hebrew world, as well as in modern day Israel, they count their days from the evenings coming into the morning (see Genesis 1:5 for where they got this idea). While we’re finishing Wednesday, the 14th of Nisan (preparation day) is beginning. During the day on Thursday, the Passover lambs were being sacrificed, and that evening began the first day of Unleavened Bread. This day was a special Sabbath – a High Sabbath. It would last until Friday evening, when the regular Sabbath would take place.
Now, the question is, do we celebrate First Fruits on Friday evening into Saturday, the day after the High Sabbath, or on Saturday evening into Sunday, the day after the weekly Sabbath? The Pharisees argued that it is to be celebrated on Saturday evening, while the Sadducees argued it should be on Friday evening.
The feast itself goes back to Exodus 12-14. In Exodus 12, the Passover lambs are sacrificed, and sometime in the morning Israel makes their escape from Egypt. Israel consecrates the firstborn males of every womb, whether man or animal. Then, they cross the Red Sea. Now, we find in chapter 13 that God leads them through a road that is not taken so heavily, so that they wouldn’t face war. At the beginning of chapter 14, we read about how the Israelites seem to be going every which way, as if lost, so that Pharaoh will pursue them. Pharaoh does rally the troops, and heads out to bring the Israelites back as slaves.
We read in 14:21 about “all night” the wind drove back the sea. This is the first mention of night, other than at the end of 13 (verse 22). Yet, because we see in 14:2 that Israel was to encamp near Pi Hahiroth, we can be certain of at least two nights. So, Israel left on Friday morning (according to our days), which was the first day of Unleavened Bread, and the day before the weekly sacrifice (Thursday would have been when they sacrificed the lambs, and Thursday evening the night that Pharaoh calls Moses and Aaron in to kick them out of Egypt). Then, we read of Israel encamping Friday night (the Sabbath) near Pi Hahiroth. Saturday morning (the continuation of the Sabbath), the people would have made it all the way to the Red Sea. Then, over the night of Saturday and into Sunday morning, the wind would have driven back the sea until dry land appears. At some time on Sunday day, Israel would have crossed the Red Sea, and Pharaoh and his army would have died trying.
This brings us back to the discussion of which day is First Fruits supposed to be celebrated on? We cannot say that it is on Friday, for Friday was the night that they would have encamped. Rather, Israel was delivered from Pharaoh and his army on Sunday, the day after the weekly Sabbath. So, this Feast of First Fruits is to celebrate how Israel was delivered from Egypt, not just on Passover, but even three days later when they crossed the Red Sea. Israel is the first fruit for God (see Jeremiah 2:3).
Now, this has tremendous importance. If First Fruits is celebrated on Saturday evening going into Sunday, and we read in our New Testaments of Jesus being raised on the third day, what exactly is that third day? Once again, we’re playing a numbers game. On the day that the lambs were slaughtered (Wednesday evening), Jesus dies. He is in the grave Wednesday night, Thursday, Thursday night, Friday, Friday night, and Saturday. That would be a full three days. Then, most probably when the people are celebrated First Fruits, Jesus would have risen from the dead, and on the next morning (Sunday), the women found the tomb empty.
With this, we find that Jesus is the fulfillment of First Fruit as the first to resurrect. In 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, we read, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.”
So, now that we have a better understanding of what this day is all about, what might it means when God says in Leviticus 23:14, “You must not eat any bread, or roasted or new grain, until the very day you bring this offering to your God”? What is it that is so wrong about eating the new grain before this?
Remember where we are calendar wise. We’re in the middle of the seven days of Unleavened Bread. The Feast of Unleavened Bread is about living in sincerity and truth. It is about purging the leaven of deception and wickedness. Where does this bread come from? Does it come from the ripening harvest? According to Leviticus 23:14, no it doesn’t. The bread comes from the old batch. Likewise, Christ has resurrected, and we’ve been raised in Him, but we still have our natural bodies and are waiting for our bodily resurrections.
So, just as much as the First Fruits is about Jesus’ resurrection, it is also about our resurrection in Him as we wait for the final day that He shall return. It is about how when we “were baptized into Christ Jesus,” we “were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised form the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”
Passover is about being released from Egypt. It is about how God has waged war against the demons that have bound us to sin and death, and has called us out from it. And we turn and we seek to be free, but there comes a moment when we rush unto that Red Sea (symbolic of salvation), and the enemy comes after us. God then fights for us again, and the wind itself blows upon the waters that keep us from being free, and finally after that dark night of the soul, we are given over to victory, and we cross the Red Sea on dry ground. We’ve been raised unto newness of life. It is regeneration that is being celebrated with First Fruits. We’re not simply “passed over” in judgment, but redeemed.
While the Israelites were outside of Egypt, until they had crossed that Red Sea and turned around to see the bodies, they were still entrapped by Egypt. There was still the fear that Egypt would be able to hunt them down and take them over again. But, when we have crossed that Sea, we too can look back and proclaim, “Our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” It is almost as if Israel turns around, and when they see those Egyptian bodies, they realize that there is no difference between those Egyptians and their old lives. But, now they live a new life.
You see, for us who are in Christ, who have been united with Him in His death and resurrection, just as it is true that “death no longer has mastery over Him”, and that “the life He lives, He lives unto God”, so too we “count [ourselves] dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” We’ve been set free, and therefore “sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” Either we are “slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness”. Thanks be to God! “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”
This is how we keep the Feast of First Fruits. We celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and the opportunity that that has opened to us to also be free from sin and death. We celebrate this by no longer allowing “sin reign in [our] mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” We no longer “offer the parts of our body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather… to God, as those who have been brought from death to life.” We are the first fruits unto God. We don’t offer a sheaf, or even a basket (see Deuteronomy 26:1-11). We offer our own bodies as living sacrifices.