Pentecost and Firstfruits?

Have you ever noticed that there are two firstfruits feasts in the Old Testament? There's the one just after Passover at the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:9-14), and then there's another 50 days later at Pentecost (Numbers 28:26). And the two Firstfruits festivals are tied together very closely in a number of ways. Not only are they the first day and last day of this fifty day period after Passover, but they also both involve offering wave offerings before the Lord. At the first Feast of Firstfruits, the priest was to wave a sheaf of the firstfruits of the harvest before the Lord (Lev. 23:10-11), and at the Pentecost Firstfruits feast two loaves made from the firstfruits of the harvest were to be waved before the Lord (Lev. 23:20). 

Logistically this was possible because the wheat harvest happened a bit later than the barley harvest, so there were firstfruits being gathered in at both these times. But the Bible doesn't emphasise which crop was being harvested at all. It simply emphasises the firstfruits, presented first as a sheaf and then as a loaf — first as the raw material, and then as its result. 

The first Feast of Firstfruits very clearly points us to the resurrection of Christ as the Firstfruits from among the dead (cf. 1 Cor. 15:20). Jesus is the grain of wheat who fell down into the ground and died, only to rise up in newness of life to bring forth much fruit (cf. John 12:23-24). His resurrection is the firstfruits of an abundant harvest to come, as through His resurrection we are born again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3). 

But what about the second Day of Firstfruits — the one we know better by the name of Pentecost? It can be tempting to forget about the 'firstfruits' aspect of Pentecost. We want to associate it with fullness: Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit in the fullness of power and as a result a full harvest is brought in as people from every tribe and tongue come to know Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Pentecost is glorious, and so we're tempted to think that this is now the completion of the harvest. But it's not. It's still the firstfruits (Numbers 28:26). 

And we need to remember that in a few different ways. 

First, the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 saw a wonderful harvest from all over the Roman world. But as glorious as that was, it was still only a foretaste of what was to come. Israelites from all over the world came to know Jesus that day and were baptised in water. But before long non-Israelites from all those countries and more would be coming to Jesus for salvation and be added to His Church as well. And the 3,000 people added to the church on that day pales in comparison to the billions of people who have been added to Christ's church since then. The Day of Pentecost was a glorious day. But it was only the firstfruits of the harvest to come.

Second, glorious as the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit is, it's only a foretaste of what's to come. Here and now we can 'taste the powers of the age to come' as we partake of the Spirit (Hebrews 6:4-5), but as wonderful as that is, it's only the beginning of what's to come. The fullness of the Spirit in heaven will be much more heavenly. When we are raised with our bodies so transformed that they can be called 'spiritual' bodies (1 Corinthians 15:44) we'll be able to know and enjoy much more of the fullness of the Holy Spirit than we could ever imagine here and now. For now, we have 'the firstfruits of the Spirit' (Rom. 8:23), but in the resurrection we will rejoice in the Spirit's fullness. The gift of Pentecost is glorious. But is is only the firstfruits of the fullness to come. 

Third, the two firstfruits go together. Even though they were two different harvests in Israel, the timing of the Pentecost Day of Firstfruits depended entirely on the timing of the first Feast of Firstfruits (which depended on the Passover). You couldn't have the Day of Firstfruits without the Feast of Firstfruits. You couldn't have Pentecost without Passover. And the same is true of the New Testament reality to which these feasts point. The firstfruits of the Spirit and of the harvest depend on the Christ's resurrection as the firstfruits from among the dead. You can't have the Day of Pentecost, the evangelistic harvest of the church, or the present-day outpouring of the Holy Spirit without the resurrection of the crucified Saviour.  Yes, Pentecost is only the beginning of things that will become much greater. But it's not a complete beginning. Because Pentecost relies on the cross and empty tomb. The power of Pentecost flows from the cross and the empty tomb. Because at Pentecost it's Jesus, the Lamb of God who was slain for the sins of the world and yet now lives, who baptises His people in the Holy Spirit.