John 3:17 tells us, "God did not send His Son… to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." If that is the case, why do we live in a world where injustice and immorality abound? Hundreds die every day and millions have never heard the name of Jesus Christ or even seen a Bible.
The answer to these questions begins with understanding the significance of a festival called the Feast of Firstfruits, also known as Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks. This observance, along with the rest of God's annual Holy Days, is commanded in Leviticus 23. On the Feast of Firstfruits, the Israelites offered two loaves of bread taken from the new grain of the harvest. These loaves were called "the firstfruits to the Lord" (Leviticus 23:16-21).
God timed His annual feasts to coincide with the two major harvest periods in the Holy Land—one in spring and the other at the end of summer—to teach an important lesson.
The Feast of Firstfruits coincided with the spring wheat harvest. The name ‘Feast of Firstfruits’ foreshadows God's intention to first of all reap a small harvest of people for salvation (called "firstfruits" in the Scriptures), and then to call a vastly greater number to salvation, symbolised by the festival at the end of summer.
The Feast of Firstfruits represents the calling of the Church in this age -- the early phase of the spiritual harvest. The later spiritual harvest will take place in the age to come, when Jesus Christ will bring His Kingdom to earth. The festival, looking forward to this great event, coincided with the conclusion of the later harvest and is known as the Feast of Tabernacles or Ingathering (Exodus 34:22).
The spiritual significance of the ‘Feast of Firstfruits, the first harvest period, is made clear in Scripture, "Now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep . . . For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming" (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).
At that time, God will resurrect the dead who have been faithful to Christ, and also change to immortality those who are still alive and have been faithful (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). This miraculous event is described as "the first resurrection" in Revelation 20:6.
During the reign of Jesus Christ and the resurrected saints on earth (Revelation 5:10) the later harvest of humanity will begin. At that time, when the knowledge of God will at last be widely available (Habakkuk 2:14), another resurrection of the dead will take place after the 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ and His resurrected firstfruits (Revelation 20:5).
All who have ever lived, but did not have the opportunity to learn of God's ways or hear of Jesus Christ's atoning sacrifice, will have their opportunity for salvation. This resurrection of countless millions to a physical life is described in Ezekiel 37:1-11 and Revelation 20:5. These people will then be given the opportunity—for the first time—to repent and receive God's Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; 3:19). God's desire is for "all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).
There is a wonderful reason why God required ancient Israel to keep His festivals and for the New Testament Church to do the same. Through these observances, He reveals His plan of salvation for all humanity and the Feast of Firstfruits, which marked the firstfruits of the wheat harvest in ancient Israel, symbolises one of the major phases of this plan.
The Good News Magazine