Rev. 14:4 – These are the ones not defiled with women, for they have kept their virginity. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. They were redeemed from the human race as the firstfruits for God and the Lamb. (HCSB)
They were redeemed … as the firstfruits
We should note that John refers to the 144,000 as people “redeemed from the human race as the firstfruits for God and the Lamb.” In what way are they firstfruits?
In the Old Testament, the first sheaf of ripe grain is to be offered to the Lord, and is waved before Him by the priest, expressing gratitude to God and acknowledging that He – the Owner and Giver of all things – will grant a bountiful harvest. A lamb also is sacrificed as a burnt offering (see Lev. 23:10-14). In addition, the Lord requires the first of the Israelites’ flocks, and even their first-born children, although a redemption price is accepted in their stead. All of this is designed to teach God’s people that He is their sovereign Lord who demands their first and best, yet who watches over them as a gracious landowner, husbandman and shepherd.
In this respect, the word “firstfruits” involves two ideas: 1) that which is first, the beginning, or that which has the priority of time; and 2) that which is part of the whole to follow, and which is the earnest or pledge of the whole. The first sheaf of ripe grain therefore is not only the first in order of time, but is the earnest or pledge of the entire harvest that surely will come in.
Consider the feast of firstfruits, one of seven major Jewish festivals. The first and best of the barley crop is offered to the Lord in thankfulness and in faith that He will grant the rest of the harvest to be bountifully reaped. More importantly, it is a shadow of the coming Messiah.
The feasts of Israel are religious celebrations remembering God’s great acts of salvation in the history of His people. The term “feasts” in Hebrew literally means “appointed times” and in Scripture the feasts often are called “holy convocations.” They are times God has appointed for holy purposes – times in which the Lord meets with men and women.
While there are many religious celebrations in Jewish history and custom, seven are most significant: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles. God established the timing and sequence of these feasts to reveal to us a special story – most significantly, the work of the Messiah in the redemption of mankind and the establishment of His Kingdom on earth.
Why seven feasts? The number seven is significant in Scripture. It is tied to completeness or fullness. For example, God rested on the seventh day after creation, not because He was tired but because His work was complete and He was fully satisfied in it. The cycle of the seven-day week provided the basis for much of Israel’s worship. In addition, the seventh month features four of the seven feasts; the seventh year and the 50th year (the year of Jubilee, following seven cycles of seven years) also are significant.
There are several key truths to keep in mind as we study the feasts:
► The Lord established the feasts and gave them to Israel.
► The feasts were based on the Jewish lunar calendar (12 months of 29 or 30 days per month).
► The feasts relate to Israel’s spring and fall agricultural seasons; Israel was and still is, to a great extent, an agricultural nation.
► They picture the timing, sequence and significance of the Messiah’s redemptive work.
► Though the feasts were given to Israel, every person is invited to meet with God and receive His gracious blessings through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
► There is a binding relationship between Israel and the church even though they are distinct entities with distinct promises. God’s unconditional covenant with Abraham promised, “In thy (Abraham’s) seed shall all nations be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). “Every blessing which the true Church now enjoys and every hope she anticipates come out of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants which God made with Israel” (The Feasts of the Lord by Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal, p. 14).
► The number of feasts – seven – relates to the Biblical number for completion. The full work and revelation of Messiah/Christ is pictured in the seven feasts.
► All seven feasts are found in Leviticus 23; additional passages in the Old and New Testaments also address the feasts.
“To summarize, these seven feasts of the Lord are God’s appointed times during which He will meet with men for holy purposes. When completed, these seven special holidays will triumphantly bring an end to this age and usher in a glorious ‘Golden Age'” (www.christcenteredmall.com).
Why study the feasts? There are several good reasons to study the feasts: 1) to remember God’s goodness; 2) to understand more fully His divine revelation through “types;” 3) to increase our knowledge of God’s plan through the work of His eternal Son; 4) to more fully appreciate the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf; and 5) to joyfully anticipate the days in which Jesus will return and establish His Kingdom on earth.
Why do so many Jewish people observe the feasts but fail to see Jesus in them? The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. led to significant changes in the location, emphasis and practice of the feasts. It must be remembered that the destruction of the Temple itself, and the scattering of the Jewish people, was God’s judgment upon the nation for its rejection of Jesus as Messiah. The hardening of the Jewish heart, however, has provided opportunity for Gentile believers to be grafted into the true church, made up of those “from every nation, tribe, people, and language” who worship Jesus as Lord (Rev. 7:9; see also Rom. 11:11-12). All Christians should love the Jewish people. God does, and He is not finished with them yet. The fall feasts in particular point to the coming days when a remnant of believing Jews will “look on Me whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10), mourn over their unbelief, and turn to Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Israel’s four springtime feasts – Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits and Pentecost – were fulfilled in the first coming of the Messiah. The three fall festivals – Rosh Hashanah, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles – will be fulfilled at the Messiah’s second coming.
For Israel, the fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets will be a dark day. Just as Rosh Hashanah occurs at the new moon, when the sky is darkest, Israel’s prophets warn of a coming day of judgment for the nation. For example, Amos 5:18-20, Zeph. 1:14-16, and Joel 2:31 all speak of the day in which the Lord will turn off the heavenly lights, pour out His wrath on the wicked, and bring Israel to repentance and into the new covenant. Ancient Jewish tradition held that the resurrection of the dead would occur on Rosh Hashanah. As a result, many Jewish grave markers feature a shofar.
God’s last trump and the resurrection of the dead are tied to the rapture of the church in the New Testament. Consider these key passages:
- 1 Cor. 15:51-52 – “Listen! I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.”
- 1 Thess. 4:16-17 – “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord.”
Remember the reasons for trumpet blasts in the Old Testament? They will be the same in the days to come:
- To gather an assembly before the Lord (the rapture of the church).
- To sound a battle alarm (God will defeat Satan’s rebellious followers throughout the tribulation and at Christ’s return).
- To announce the coronation of a new king (Jesus the Messiah will sit on the throne of David as King of kings and Lord of lords).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips
Jesus rose from the dead on the third day of Passover season (Nisan 16), on the day of Firstfruits, completing the prophetic picture the spring feasts painted of His work of redemption: death (Passover), burial (Unleavened Bread), and resurrection (Firstfruits). Paul proclaims in 1 Cor. 15:20-22: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man [Adam], the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man [Jesus]. For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ will all be made alive.
As Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal point out, “The resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee and the beginning (firstfruits) of the final harvest, or resurrection, of all mankind. The Messiah fulfilled the prophetic meaning of this holy day by rising from the dead to become the firstfruits of the resurrection, and He did it on the very day of Firstfruits.” (The Feasts of the Lord: God’s Prophetic Calendar from Calvary to the Kingdom, p. 86)
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips
Firstfruits marks the beginning of the cereal grain harvests in Israel. Of the crops sown in winter, barley is the first grain to ripen. For the Feast of Firstfruits, a sheaf (a bundle of stalks tied together) of barley is harvested and brought to the Temple as a thanksgiving offering to the Lord. It represents the entire barley harvest and serves as a pledge that the rest of the harvest will be brought in. Keep in mind that Passover occurs on the 14th day of Nisan; Unleavened Bread begins on the 15th day of Nisan and goes for seven days; and Firstfruits takes place on the 16th day of Nisan.
Firstfruits is seen primarily as a time marker. It marks the beginning of the grain harvest in Israel. It also marks the countdown to the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), which is celebrated 50 days after Firstfruits. As a result, this period of time is known as the Sefirat Ha-Omer (“the counting of the omer”) because of the ritual of counting the days from Firstfruits to Pentecost.
Jesus rose from the dead on the third day of Passover season (Nisan 16), on the day of Firstfruits, completing the prophetic picture the spring feasts painted of His work of redemption: death (Passover), burial (Unleavened Bread) and resurrection (Firstfruits). Paul proclaims in 1 Cor. 15:20-22: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man [Adam], the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man [Jesus]. For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” As Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal point out, “The resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee and the beginning (firstfruits) of the final harvest, or resurrection, of all mankind. The Messiah fulfilled the prophetic meaning of this holy day by rising from the dead to become the firstfruits of the resurrection, and He did it on the very day of Firstfruits.” (The Feasts of the Lord: God’s Prophetic Calendar from Calvary to the Kingdom, p. 86)
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips