Question: "What was the Feast of Firstfruits?"
Answer: The Feast of Firstfruits was a festival commanded by the Lord that took place within the Passover celebration. One of seven feasts of the Lord, the Feast of Firstfruits was celebrated on the sixteenth day of the Jewish month Nisan, two days after the Passover festival began (roughly late March to early April). The Feast of Firstfruits served as a reminder to the Israelites of God’s provision in the Promised Land. Ultimately, the Israelites were to acknowledge that God had rescued them from slavery in Egypt and provided them a place to live and grow crops (Deuteronomy 26:1–11).
As its name suggests, the Feast of Firstfruits required the Israelites to bring “a sheaf of the first grain” they harvested each year to the priest (Leviticus 23:10). A sheaf is a bundle or a cluster of harvested grains. The priest would then take the sheaf and wave it before the Lord the day after the Sabbath. On the same day, all the Israelites were to sacrifice a year-old lamb without defect as a burnt offering and give a food offering of grain, oil, and wine (Leviticus 23:11–13). The Israelites were not allowed to eat any of the crop until the day the first portion was brought before the priest. The firstfruits belonged to God, and the people of Israel acknowledged God as the source of their crops and their provision overall (Leviticus 23:14).
Seven weeks after the Feast of Firstfruits, the Israelites celebrated the Feast of Weeks, one of the three “solemn feasts” that required all Jewish males to travel to Jerusalem (Exodus 23:14–17; 34:22–23; Deuteronomy 16:16). What’s interesting about these three major feasts is that each required the “firstfruits” to be offered at the temple, but for different crops. The Feast of Tabernacles involved offering the first of the olive and grape harvests. The Feast of Weeks involved offering the first of the wheat harvest. And the Feast of Firstfruits (within Passover) specifically involved offering the first of the barley harvest.
Because barley is a lighter grain that ripens more quickly than wheat, it was the “first of the firstfruit” offerings in the Jewish calendar. In other words, the Feast of Firstfruits marked the first harvest of the year, heightening the symbolism that reminded the Israelites of God’s provision. The first thing the Israelites did after a long and laborious season of growing crops was express their thankfulness to God for meeting their needs. And because ancient Israel was an agriculturally based society, the Israelites were acknowledging God’s provision for both their food and their income.
Like the other Jewish feasts in the Old Testament, the Feast of Firstfruits prophetically foreshadowed the coming Messiah and His ministry. In 1 Corinthians 15:20, Paul refers to Christ and His resurrection as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Just as the first portion of the harvest in the Old Testament anticipated the full harvest still to come, Jesus’ resurrection anticipated the full resurrection to come for all those who are in Christ. His resurrection signals the very beginning of a brand-new creation promised in the Old Testament (Isaiah 43:18–19; 65:17). Similarly, in Romans 8:23, Paul says that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the “firstfruits” of the redemption God will bring to His creation.
For the ancient Israelites, the Feast of Firstfruits during Passover was an opportunity to show thanksgiving to God for all the ways He provided for them. For believers today, it is a foreshadowing and reminder of what Christ has done in redeeming creation and what He will finally do when He returns.