“Firstfruits” were important in the Old Testament. “Firstfruits” were, of course, “first fruits.” The first apples off the tree. The first grapes off the vine. The first sheaf of wheat from a field of grain. There were also “firstripe,” “firstlings,” and “firstborn.”
And God said that they were His, Exodus 23:16, 19.
This was a reminder of where they came from. The Israelite indeed had to sow the seed, but he was dependent on God for the rain and sunshine necessary to bring the seed to fruition and then to harvest.
They were also a promise of more to come.
I’m not so much interested in the Old Testament references to them as I am to the fact that the New Testament also has some things to say about “firstfruits.”
In the order, more or less, in which they appear in the New Testament, because I haven’t worked out a “logical” sequence for them, they are:
1. Romans 8:23, …we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, [NKJV]
Romans 8 is a chapter on the Holy Spirit and His relationship to the Christian. The section from vs. 18-25 deal with the earnest expectation of…creation as it looks forward to the time when it, too, shall be delivered from the curse brought on it by Adam.
In Ephesians 1:13, 14, Paul wrote that the Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession,… [emphasis added]. The word translated “guarantee” means “earnest money.” We might think of it as a down payment. When my wife and I bought our present home, we had to put down some money as “earnest money.” This secured to us the right to move into the house, but it also led to an obligation of 30 years of payments to the lender who financed the purchase.
Without wishing to demean the ways of God in any way, or to teach that they are comparable to the way man does things, cf. Isaiah 55:8, 9, God has only given us the beginning or “down payment” of what it will take Him eternity to reveal to us, Ephesians 2:7, the exceeding riches of His grace. It also, if I may be so bold, obligates Him to finish the transaction. We have the Spirit until the redemption of the purchased possession. In other words, once God has truly saved a person and given him or her “the earnest of the Spirit,” He can never take the Spirit away or “unsave” the person. There will be no “foreclosures” in the real estate of heaven. (That will be because the full price has already been paid. There’s nothing left of the debt.)
2. Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:15, firstfruits of Achaia.
These respectively are, the beloved Epaenetus, about whom nothing else is said in the New Testament, and the household of Stephanas, who are also mentioned in 1:16 as one of the very few households Paul personally baptized, and who, Paul said in 16:15, had devoted [“addicted”, KJV] themselves to the ministry of the saints. A good “addiction” to have. Stephanas was also apparently Paul’s secretary in writing 1 Corinthians.
3. 1 Corinthians 15;20, 23, Christ the firstfruits of the resurrection.
In this defense of resurrection answering those who denied it, Paul asserts that Christ has indeed risen from the dead, and, furthermore, is only the “firstfruits” of it. As the firstfruits in the Old Testament were a harbinger of things to come, so also is Christ the promise of resurrection, each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Death isn’t the end of everything. It’s just the “planting” from which will spring the harvest of eternal life and blessing for those who are Christ’s, those who have “the earnest of the Spirit.”
If I were to choose the epitaph for my tombstone, it would read, “This, too, shall pass.”
4. James 1:18, Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
I believe James is here referring to all those Old Testament verses which promise a restoration of creation, mainly by the removal of the Adamic curse. When that happens, the OT tells us that the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as waters cover the sea, Isaiah 11:6-9. Life will also be greatly extended, so that a child will still be considered a child at 100 years old, Isaiah 65:20.
I think it does a great disservice to Christians, and removes the Old Testament from any intelligible understanding, to say that all this is “fulfilled in Jesus” and the church is “the kingdom.” I know that many will disagree with me, and without wanting to get further into that discussion here, just let me say this. That Jesus will indeed be instrumental in the actual fulfillment of these and similar verses should go without saying, but I believe we may also say that “the church” – believers – is “the firstfruits” of that worldwide kingdom the OT prophesies so often and so eloquently. We are a “kind of firstfruits” of that harvest, but we’re not the whole harvest.
5. Revelation 14:4, These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.
I realize there is considerable discussion about Revelation and what it all means. What one believes about that will determine what one thinks about this verse. As I understand Revelation, these 144,000, also see 7:1-8, are “the firstfruits” of that nationwide conversion of Israel that will take place at the Second Coming of Christ, Romans 11:25-27; Zechariah 12:10-14.
This world is not heaven. Nor, for that matter is it hell. It’s just the preface, if you will, to eternity. The blessings we have as believers, and they are without number, are nothing compared with what waits for us “over there.” In Romans 8:18, Paul wrote, For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. Not “to us,” as some read it, but IN US.