03 – Firstfruits

The third feast of the Jewish calendar was the Yom HaBikkurim – the Firstfruits. It took place on the 17th day of the first month (Nisan) and was actually a three-day process:

  • On the day of Passover, the farmer would identify his most ripe wheat (or fruit) as it began to bud. A sheaf of that wheat was bundled, marked, and left standing in the wheat field. (If the wheat was not ready, the month was declared to be Adair II (the last month of the year) instead of Nisan (the first month of the year) and the whole process, including Passover, was delayed till the next month. This delay is how the Hebrews calculated their leap years.)
  • The next day, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the marked sheaf was harvested and prepared for offering.
  • On the third day, the day of the Feast of Firstfruits, the sheaf was given to the priest, and he would wave it before the Lord as an offering. Through this Firstfruit ceremony, God would bless the remainder of the harvest (Lev 23:9-14). The offering also included a lamb, a gallon of fine flour mixed with oil, a food offering, and wine to go with the food offering. The worshiper was not to eat any bread of grain product that day until he made his Firstfruit offering.

This day also marked the first day of a 50-day countdown to the Feast of Weeks (aka Pentecost – which is the Greek word for ‘Fifty’). Although Firstfruits is not normally celebrated by modern Jews, it is on this day that Jesus rose from the dead. Consequently, this day is the most important holy day of the Greek Orthodox calendar.

It is not accidental that Jesus rose on this day. In 1 Cor 15:20-23, Paul noted this feast and its association to the resurrection by declaring that “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Paul makes the point that Christ was the first to be raised from the dead (never to die again), and the rest of the harvest (believers) will also in like manner be raised from the dead, never to die again. Like the Firstfruit grain offering before the Lord, Christ is our resurrection Firstfruit. Note the specific correlation to Christ:

Day Firstfruit Christ
1 Sheaf marked and bound for harvest Lamb of God “marked” by Judas and bound for execution
2 Sheaf harvested and prepared Christ killed and placed in tomb
3 Sheaf presented to priest as offering Christ resurrected

History of the 17th of Nisan

Firstfruits was celebrated on the 17th of Nisan, three days after Passover. This date has more than a few Biblical events associated with it, all of them with a common theme of resurrection:

  • Noah’s ark survived the flood and came to rest on the mountains of Ararat on this day, wherein Noah and his family would start a new life. 1 Peter 3:20 tells us that this water symbolizes a baptism that now saves us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  (Gen 8:4. Note: Moses used the Civil calendar, not the Religious calendar (Ex 12:1), so the 17th day of the 7th month on the old calendar is actually the 17th day of the 2nd month of the new calendar).
  • The Children of Israel escaped certain death from the Egyptians, survived the Red Sea and reached the rock on the other side on this day. The Egyptian army lay devastated in their wake and they were finally free to start a new life. (We’re not told that the Red Sea crossing was three days after the Exodus, but considering the places where they stopped before reaching the Red Sea and the places they traveled to afterwards, three days is a very likely number. Exod 3:18; Num 33:1-8. See chart below.)
  • Feast of Firstfruits commanded to be celebrated on this day. The Firstfuits represented new life/harvest of crops. (Lev 23:9-14)
  • The Children of Israel crossed the Jordan river and, for the first time, ate fruit, produce, unleavened cakes and grain in the Promised Land. No longer was manna given from heaven to sustain them.  (Josh 5:10-11)
  • Jesus Christ, the Firstfruits of our resurrection, rose from the dead on this first day of the week.
    But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.   For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.   For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.   But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1Cor 15:20-23, ESV)

Chart for Exodus to Red Sea

The following chart shows the likely days and destinations from the Exodus to the Red Sea:

Day Event
14 Evening Passover
14 Day Set out from Ramsees
Day 1 15 Evening Camped at Succoth
15 Day Set out from Succoth to…
Day 2 16 Evening Camped at Etham
16 Day Set out from Etham to…
Day 3 17 Evening Camped at Migdol
17 Day Cross Red Sea