Paul well understood that those called and converted in this age between man's creation and Christ's second coming are the firstfruits of God's plan for the salvation of humanity.
He referred to several first-century Christians as the firstfruits of God's calling in specific locations (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:15).
Looking ahead to the resurrection of those who remain faithful to their calling, he said, "We also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption [that is, full rights of sonship], the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:23).
However, the firstfruits of God's plan, those who are called now, find themselves in a vastly different situation from that of those who will follow in the later spiritual harvest period.
Jesus said that those who are His followers in this age are not to be "of the world, just as I am not of the world" (John 17:16). They are called out of the world and are expected to develop the character of Christ, while the rest of mankind is deceived (Revelation 12:9) and following values abhorrent to Christ (1 John 2:15-17).
The present evil age
The firstfruits—God's people—are called and strive to obey God while living in "this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4), of which Satan is the actual ruler (2 Corinthians 4:4). The harvest of firstfruits is small, for at this time relatively few will accept God's calling, repent, be converted and remain faithful to His way of life. That is why Jesus said, "Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:14).
After Christ's return, which will usher in a new age, the world—society as a whole—will learn to live by the laws and values of God. In that age, God will bind Satan and no longer allow him to deceive the nations (Revelation 20:2-3). Without Satan's influence, the world will at last come to know peace. Everyone will know the Lord (Hebrews 8:11).
Those who have not conformed to the world (Romans 12:2) will be those who assist Christ in bringing all nations to His truth (Revelation 20:4). They will have overcome the world just as Jesus overcame the world, and Christ will use them in bringing all other people to serve Him (Revelation 2:26; Revelation 3:21).
Gift of the Holy SpiritGod enables His people to fulfill His purpose for them. But how?
Significantly, God chose the Day of Pentecost to begin His Church in an important sense by sending the Holy Spirit to His few faithful disciples (Acts 1:15; Acts 2:1-4). Many think of a church as a building.
But the word translated "church" in the New Testament is ekklesia, meaning "called out (ones)." This Greek word was typically used to denote an assembly of people—those called out to meet together. The Church is the collective body of people who are called out of the world to serve God.
Through the Holy Spirit, which God gives to those who are part of His Church, members are empowered to overcome the world. It is through God's Holy Spirit that the Church can preach the gospel to the world and make disciples of all nations (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19-20). It is this Spirit that enables a person to belong to Jesus Christ and be a part of the Church (Romans 8:9).
For the New Testament Church to exist, it was necessary for God to send His Holy Spirit.
The firstfruits of God's plan for salvation are those called to be in God's Church in this age. The Church, also spoken of as "the body of Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:27), is made up of individuals in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. They have repented of their sins and turned to Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. They have committed themselves to obedience to His holy and righteous laws. They are willing to give up everything to remain faithful to Jesus Christ (Luke 14:33).
Firstfruits follow Jesus Christ
revelation 14:4 speaks of God's people who are "firstfruits to God and to the Lamb." The preceding and succeeding verses provide insight into the character of those who are the firstfruits and why they accompany Jesus Christ.
Why are they so valued by God? They are described as having the Father's name written in their foreheads (verse 1); God is foremost in their mind and thoughts. These have not been seduced by a false religious system (Revelation 14:4), which is depicted as an immoral woman seducing humanity (Revelation 2:20-22; Revelation 17:1-6).
The firstfruits have come out of and avoided the political and religious system that has dominated the world (see Revelation 17:1-6). When they were called by Jesus Christ, they understood that they were to come out of this system (see Revelation 18:3-4).
In addition, the firstfruits "follow the Lamb wherever he goes" (Revelation 14:4). They are faithfully devoted to Jesus Christ. They will allow nothing to entice them from their personal loyalty to Him. Since Jesus will use them to assist Him in teaching His ways to the world, it is vital that His firstfruits will forever be true to Him.
They "have been redeemed from among men" (same verse). They have been purchased by God with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). Having been bought by God, they know that their lives no longer belong to them, but rather to Jesus Christ, whom they are to turn their lives over to completely, body and spirit (see Galatians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 6:20).
Also, "in their mouth was found no deceit" (Revelation 14:5). They have learned to deal with the malice commonly found in the hearts of men. There is no deception, plotting or feigning in their actions or words. They have learned about the genuineness, sincerity and simplicity of Christ. They have, in short, come to grips with the deceit of their own hearts and have fully submitted to the pure and undefiled life of Christ dwelling in them. Forgiven of sins and having grown in godly character, "they are without fault before the throne of God" (verse 5).
Picturing the plan of God
This most important step in God's plan for the salvation of mankind is revealed in the observing of His Holy Days. Naturally, those who are of the firstfruits will be observing the very day that pictures the calling and harvest of the firstfruits of God's plan, the Day of Pentecost.
They will gratefully observe the very day that celebrates another milestone in God's great plan, the founding of the Church through the granting of God's Holy Spirit.
We now live in the age of the firstfruits, the time during which God is preparing a special, chosen people to reign with Christ in His Kingdom (1 Peter 2:9). Are you part of that group? You will be if you heed the counsel of the apostle Peter when he admonished us in 2 Peter 1:10 to "be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure"!
The firstfruits” is a common expression found in both Old and New Testaments. It is used in Scripture with both literal and figurative meanings. So when Paul said Christ was “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20), he was using terminology and imagery rich in history and meaning.
At least five kinds of firstfruits can be identified in Scripture:
1. THE FIRST HARVEST
In the Old Testament, God commanded His people to give the first and best portions of the harvest as an offering to Him (Ex. 23:16; Neh. 10:35). This included grain (Ex. 23:16; 34:22), olive oil (Num. 18:12; Deut. 18:4), new wine (Num. 18:12; Deut. 18:4), honey (2 Chron. 31:5), sheep wool (Deut. 18:4), fruit (Neh. 10:35), and even their herds and flocks (Deut. 15:19).
By giving the firstfruits as an offering to God, the Israelites acknowledged that all the harvest—in fact, everything they had—came from God and belonged to Him. The offering of firstfruits was likewise an expression of faith that something else—the harvest of the rest of the crop—would come later. Therefore, the firstfruits offering acknowledged God’s ownership of everything, expressed thankfulness for His provision, and anticipated what was to come.
Firstfruits were given at the Feast of Harvest (Ex. 23:16), the second of three annual festivals. This feast is also known as the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost (Ex. 34:22; Num. 28:26). It was normally celebrated seven complete weeks or fifty days after the Passover (Lev 23:16). In the New Testament it is known simply as Pentecost.
In a symbolic use of the term, Jeremiah called Israel the firstfruits of God’s harvest. “Israel was holy to the Lord, the firstfruits of his harvest” (Jer. 2:3). Just as the first and choicest crops were devoted to God, Israel was God’s chosen and set apart people. But the fact that Israel was God’s firstfruits, not His only fruit, also anticipated other peoples and nations coming to the Lord.
In Romans 16:5 and 1 Corinthians 16:15, the first converts of a particular area were called “the firstfruits.” Some translations use the term “first converts,” but literally it is “firstfruits” (KJV), the same word used in 1 Corinthians 15:20.
James 1:18 uses the term with reference to believers: “By his choice, he gave us birth by the word of truth so that we would be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” The new birth we have experienced is only a preview of the day to come when He will make all things new in a new heaven and a new earth.
4. THE HOLY SPIRIT
Paul said we “have the Spirit as the firstfruits” (Rom. 8:23). The Holy Spirit is a foretaste, the first installment of our future glory. He is God’s the pledge of more to come in our resurrection life.
When Paul said Jesus is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20), he was drawing an analogy between the Old Testament offering and Jesus’ resurrection. As the Old Testament firstfruits symbolized and consecrated the entire harvest that was to follow, Christ’s resurrection was the foretaste of the resurrection of all believers yet to come. His resurrection is our assurance that one day all believers will be raised from the dead and will receive new, resurrected bodies.
“Where, death, is your victory?
Where, death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55)