Firstfruits was a Jewish feast held in the early spring at the beginning of the grain harvest. It was observed on Nissan 16, which was the third day after Passover and the second day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Firstfruits was a time of thanksgiving for God’s provision.
Leviticus 23:9-14 institutes the firstfruits offering. The people were to bring a sheaf of grain to the priest, who would wave it before the Lord. A burnt offering, a meal offering, and a drink offering were also required at that time. Deuteronomy 26:1-10 gives even more detail on the procedure of firstfruits.
No grain was to be harvested at all until the firstfruits offering was brought to the Lord (Leviticus 23:14). The offering was made in remembrance of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt, the Lord’s deliverance from slavery, and their possession of “a land that floweth with milk and honey.” The day of the firstfruits offering was also used to calculate the proper time of the Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23:15-16).
In the New Testament, the firstfruits offering is mentioned seven times, always symbolically. Paul calls Epaenetus and the household of Stephanas “the firstfruits of Achaia” (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:15). His meaning is that, just as the firstfruits offering was the first portion of a larger harvest, these individuals were the first of many converts in that region. James calls believers “a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:18). Just like the sheaf of grain was set apart for the Lord, so are believers set apart for God’s glory.
The firstfruits offering found its fulfillment in Jesus. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Jesus’ resurrection has paved the way for our resurrection. Significantly, if Jesus was killed at Passover, then His resurrection on the third day would have fallen on Nissan 16—the Feast of Firstfruits.
The firstfruits offering is never directly applied to Christian giving in the New Testament. However, Paul taught the Corinthian believers to set aside a collection “on the first day of the week” (1 Corinthians 16:2). And, just as the offering of firstfruits was an occasion of thanksgiving, so the Christian is to give with gladness.
In summary, firstfruits symbolizes God’s harvest of souls, it illustrates giving to God from a grateful heart, and it sets a pattern of giving back to Him the first (and the best) of what He has given us. Not being under the Old Testament Law, the Christian is under no further obligation than to give cheerfully and liberally (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).