Statement of Fundamental Beliefs -
THE FEAST OF FIRSTFRUITS (PENTECOST)
The Significance of Firstfruits
What are firstfruits? Do they have spiritual significance in God's plans? Let us understand more clearly the physical harvest patterns of ancient Israel.
In early November, the early rains began in the land of Israel. This softened the ground and allowed an early plowing that was followed by sowing barley and wheat. The latter rains, normally in February to early March, enabled the grain to complete its growth. Several weeks later the priests cut the first-ripened sheaf of the barley in a field near Jerusalem. This ceremony occurred during the Days of Unleavened Bread as the first day of the week began. On the following morning, in the temple, the priest waved the omer (about two quarts) of grain to be accepted by God and an unleaved loaf made from it was offered upon the altar.
Later that morning the Israelites began harvesting their grain fields. The Day of Pentecost, known also as the Feast of Weeks and as the Feast of Firstfruits, occurred in late May or early June at the end of this harvest cycle. On through the summer, other crops were harvested as they matured. The end of summer, saw the harvest of two of the land's major crops, olives and grapes. All of the summer harvest was then gathered into barns for storage prior to the people traveling up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, also called the Feast of Ingathering.
The firstfruits (meaning that which was first ripe) were the beginning of the harvest. God claimed it in a special way. Honoring God with the firstfruits was a way of acknowledging Him as the Creator and the One who gives all gifts. The grain crop represented the firstfruits of the land's bounty that was gathered out of the fields during the spring and summer. The first sheaf of the newly ripened grain was presented to God before the remainder of the crop was harvested.
Jesus Christ is the "firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). He was resurrected during the Days of Unleavened Bread and presented to the Father at the time the first omer of grain would have been presented in the temple. This is illustrated by a comparison of two gospel accounts that describe events after the resurrection. In John 20:17, Jesus would not allow Mary Magdalene to touch Him because He was "not yet ascended" to the Father. Matthew 28:9 shows that later the same day He permitted Himself to be embraced. Clearly, He was presented and accepted during the interim.
The grain harvest represented the start of Israel's harvest season, just as Christians today are the firstfruits of God's spiritual harvest (James 1:18). It will be in the future, a time pictured by the fall festival season, that God will "gather in" the vast majority of mankind, each in his own order (1 Corinthians 15:22-24).
Pentecost is the festival that pictures the Church Age. It reminds us that, as firstfruits, we are set aside for God and that we are consecrated to His service. It also keeps us in mind of the fact that we represent only the beginning of those who will ultimately be in God's great family. The time of salvation for the vast majority of mankind is yet future.
What is a Covenant?
Pentecost can be called the day of the covenants. The Hebrew word berit is used throughout the Old Testament to describe a legal relationship between two parties based upon a solemn promise. It is a word used to describe treaty arrangements between nations, a suzerainty relationship between a Great King and his vassals and tributaries, as well as the legal relationship between a husband and wife. It is the word that God inspired to be used to describe the formal relationships into which He entered with individuals such as Noah and Abraham, as well as with the nation of Israel at Sinai.
The solemn agreement entered into at Mount Sinai occurred on the Day of Pentecost during the year of Exodus. It was a formal agreement that spelled out the terms of Israel's relationship with the Creator God. Obedience to the Ten Commandments was at the core of this covenant relationship (Deuteronomy 4:13). However, God understood that while the Israelites had been given His law, as well as promises of blessings for obedience, they simply lacked a heart to truly obey (Deuteronomy 5:28-29). The Old Testament record of Israel's relationship with God evidenced that something more was needed than the law, the promises, and a covenant agreement. What was ultimately needed was a new heart for the people. In Ezekiel 36:26, God prophesied of a time when the people would be given a new heart and a new spirit. Their hard stony heart would be replaced with a soft heart of flesh.
The prophet Jeremiah was also inspired to write of the future time when God would make a new covenant with His people. This new covenant would involve God's laws being inscribed in the inner man rather than merely being externally recorded on tablets of stone (Jeremiah 31:31-33). The Apostle Paul quoted Jeremiah's prophecy in Hebrews 8:8-12 and went on to explain in the following chapter that Jesus Christ came as the mediator of a new covenant, the very covenant of which the prophets spoke when they lamented Israel's failure. Under the New Covenant, the law would be inscribed in the hearts and minds of the people, their sins would be forgiven, and each would know God in a real and personal way. This is made possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Just as God made the Sinai Covenant with Israel on the Day of Pentecost, it was on another Day of Pentecost many centuries later that He first poured out the Holy Spirit upon believers, extending the promise of the Spirit to all who would turn to their Creator with faith in the gospel and repentance from sin (Acts 2:1-4, 38-39). This was the beginning of the New Covenant, which Jesus Christ came announcing, being made with believers. Pentecost is truly the day of covenants!
The covenant relationship between God and ancient Israel was also likened to a marriage, with God in the role of the husband and Israel in the role of the wife (Jeremiah 31:32; Ezekiel 16:8). Ultimately, God had to put Israel away as His wife, because of her repeated unfaithfulness (Jeremiah 3:1-2,6-8). Yet even that was not the end of the story. So great was His love that the God of Israel - called in John 1 the Logos or the Word - became flesh and died to pay for the sins of all mankind (John 1:14, 29). Raised from the dead after three days and three nights, Jesus Christ is now in Heaven with the Father, soon to return to this earth. When He returns, He will marry the Church, the affianced bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7-9). The relationship of the Church with Christ under the New Covenant is also a marriage relationship (Ephesians 5:22-32).
One other clarification needs to be made concerning "covenant". In the New Testament the word for covenant is diatheke. This term not only means covenant in the same sense as its Old Testament equivalent, but is also a legal term referring to the last will and testament. The word is used in the New Testament in both senses. In Hebrews 9:15-17 Paul uses diatheke in the sense of a testament or will. Here we are told that Christ has willed us an eternal inheritance and that this testament has now come into force and effect in the aftermath of death. While the Old Covenant is simply a covenant - a solemn agreement - the New Covenant is both a covenant and a testament. It represents a solemn agreement, into which we enter with our Creator at baptism, and also the last will and testament of our Savior. When we partake of the cup of wine at Passover, we are reminded of His shed blood, which was necessary to bring the New Covenant into being (Matthew 26:28).
The Day of Pentecost celebrates the special covenant relationship that the firstfruits have with their Savior and Creator. Right now a New Covenant, based upon the receipt of God's Holy Spirit that imparts to us God's very nature, is available to all who respond to God's calling. Collectively, God's called-out ones represent the bride of Christ, which He will marry at His return.
If you would like to receive more information or have any questions please call our Canadian Regional Office toll free at 1-800-932-4264, or (905)814-1094 within Toronto, and ask to speak with a minister.