Immediately following Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread we have the ceremonial of the presentation of Omer, or “Sheaf of FirstFruits” of the barley harvest .
“And Jehovah spoke unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When you are come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then you shall bring the sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest unto the priest: and he shall wave the sheaf before Jehovah, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. And in the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a he-lamb without blemish a year old for a burnt-offering unto Jehovah. And the meal-offering thereof shall be two tenth parts of an ephah of fine flour mingled with oil, an offering made by fire unto Jehovah for a sweet savor; and the drink-offering thereof shall be of wine, the fourth part of a hin. And you shall eat neither bread, nor parched grain, nor fresh ears, until this selfsame day, until you have brought the oblation of your God: it is a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings” (Leviticus 23:9-14).
Historical and Typical
The expression “the morrow after the sabbath” has been the subject of some controversy historically. There are some who say that this means the first day of the week; that is, the day following the regular weekly sabbath and there are those who say it means the second day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is also a sabbath day of rest. The first view was that adopted by the Sadducees at the time of Christ and also by Karaite Jews in the present day. The Messianic Jewish author Alfred Edersheim, however, writes; “the testimony of Josephus, of Philo and of Jewish tradition leaves no room to doubt that in this instance we are to understand by the sabbath the 15th day of Nisan on whatever day of the week it might fall”.
So this feast day was celebrated on 16th Nisan, or the third day after the Passover lamb was slain. In Jewish practice at the time of Christ, the grain to be reaped for this harvest was sown 70 days before and actually selected on 14th Nisan by tying the barley together in bundles while still standing. On 15th Nisan, even though it was a sabbath (for the Feast of Unleavened Bread), just as the sun was going down, the grain was cut down, the ears were brought into the court of the temple and thrashed with canes or stalks so as not to damage the grain, before being ground in a barley mill, leaving the hulls whole. Though ten omers of barley were cut down, only one omer of flour was offered in the temple on the second paschal, or 16th Nisan. The omer of flour was mixed with a log of oil and a handful of frankincense put upon it then waved before the Lord and a handful taken out and burned on the altar. The remainder belonged to the priest.
To the Jews, this celebration was incorporated as a thanksgiving festival to acknowledge and give thanks for God’s bountifulness in the land of which the “first fruits” were representative, although the whole harvest was to be consecrated to Him.
Fulfilled in Christ
All of these Jewish festivals are connected to the seasons of the year but the earthly and visible activities are symbols of greater and deeper spiritual realities. There is another harvest field of which scripture speaks and the Lord of the Harvest still waits for the reaping to be completed. Of this harvest, Christ Himself is the first fruits and the whole of the redeemed family shall be the fullness, even as Paul wrote;
“Christ the firstfruits; then they that are Christ’s, at His coming.” (1 Corinthians 15:22-24).
For they that are Christ’s at His coming we must wait for the feast of Pentecost; this day, the feast of firstfruits is the day of Christ the firstfruits. And this day is celebrated on the third day of the paschal festival, on the first day of which the seed of grain was cast into the ground to die so that it would be able to bear this glorious harvest. On this third day, the day on which the Lamb of God rose again and stood forth as “the Branch of Jehovah for beauty and glory, and the Fruit of the Land for excellence and comeliness” (Isaiah 4:2) He came to His Father and our Father, to His God and our God, to “wave the sheaf before Jehovah, to be accepted for you”.
The priest waved the offering to be accepted for us; this is Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God submitting the holy offering of the perfect blood of the perfect lamb to the Father in heaven to propitiate His righteous anger at our sins. This is our Great High Priest who is appointed “now to appear before the face of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24) for “without shedding of blood there can become no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
In the observance of this feast there is, too a pledge, an earnest of our own resurrection.
“But now has Christ been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those having fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Others will follow this first fruit.
This day is about the resurrection of Christ from the dead, which was the first fruit of God’s offering of new life to the believer; the Lord of glory had to rise first. It is the final feast of the Passover festival, on the first of which, 14th Nisan, we commemorate the Blood of the Lamb of God shed for us. This is the divine invitation to be reconciled to God. On the second day of the festival 15th Nisan, we pledge ourselves to purge the leaven of sin from our lives; drawing on the power of God’s Holy Spirit without which man cannot do what must be done. On 16th Nisan, the Feast of Firstfruits, we commemorate the resurrection of Christ from the dead, which prefigures and guarantees our own resurrection. This is a critically important day in the life of a believer because it celebrates the seal of God on all His promises; “For if the dead are not raised, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:16-17). But He has been raised; this fact was described by one Lord Chancellor of England as the “best attested fact in history”. For those whose faith recognise this fact, He gives the assurance that “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those having fallen asleep; For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1Corinthians 15:20-22).
For a believer then, the Feast of Firstfruits is a prophetic type of the celebration of new life that we have in Christ Jesus. That is not an annual celebration, but a daily and even hourly one. He has the authority to bestow this gift because he was dead, paying the price for our sins in the process; He has the power to bestow the gift because He is alive, and when He arose it was as though every member of His Body, great and small, had risen along with Him.