When the Apostle Paul was making his defense before King Agrippa, he made a fascinating statement in Acts 26:23, “That Christ should suffer, and that He should be the first that should rise from the dead.” What did Paul mean by this? Certainly there had been people who were raised from the dead prior to the resurrection of Christ. Instances of individuals rising from the dead before Christ, are strewn throughout Scripture: the son of the widow of Nain, Luke 7:11-15; the daughter of Jairus, Luke 8:49-55; Lazarus, John 11:1-44; the dead man lowered onto the bones of Elisha, II Kings 13:20-21; to name just a few. What did Paul mean that Jesus was the first to rise from the dead? The answer to that question is intertwined in a feast day often overlooked, Leviticus 23, the feast of early firstfruits.
In Leviticus 23:10-11, the Eternal told Moses: “When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest: And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.”
This ceremony is also briefly mentioned in Exodus 23:19: “The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the Lord thy God.”
The Hebrew word for “firstfruits” in Leviticus 23:10 and for “first” in Exodus 23:19 is reshiyth, meaning the first in order, rank, or preeminence. “What,” or more properly, “Who” is represented by the sheaf of the firstfruits, and what does this ceremony of waving the sheaf before the Lord represent?
A sheaf of grain is sometimes used in Scripture to represent a person. Notice in Genesis 37:7-8, where Joseph and his brothers are represented by sheaves of grain in Joseph’s dream. Who then is represented by the sheaf of firstfruits? The Bible gives the answer in I Corinthians 15:20, 22-23: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept . . . . For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits.” Christ is also called “the firstborn from the dead,” Colossians 1:18; and, “the first begotten of the dead,” Revelation 1:5; and, “the firstborn among many brethren,” Romans 8:29. There is no question that the risen Christ is represented by the wave sheaf of the firstfruits in Leviticus 23:10-11. Remember that the Hebrew word for sheaf is reshiyth, which means first in order, and or preeminence. Paul says that Christ is “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence”!
What is meant then by this ceremony of waving the sheaf before the Lord “to be accepted for you”? Leviticus 23:11. Notice the timing of this ceremony. It took place after the Passover (Leviticus 23:5) on the morrow after the Sabbath, i.e., on the first day of the week. In addition, the Eternal instructed Moses that the Israelites were to count from this day fifty days, to the next feast day (Leviticus 23:15-16) which is referred to as the feast of weeks (Deuteronomy 16:10), because the Israelites had counted seven weeks from the day of the wave sheaf offering and this festival.
All of the Gospel records recount that the women found the empty tomb of Christ, early on the first day of the week, Matthew 28:1, 5-6; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1. You will notice, however, in each verse mentioned above, the word day is in italics — that means it was added by the King James translators and does not appear in the original Green manuscripts. In addition, the word week in the original Greek is plural, i.e. weeks. What the text should read is “the first of the weeks” or the first day of the weeks counting toward the next festival — “The Feast of Weeks,” also known as Pentecost in the New Testament, Acts 2:1. This day then, “the first of the weeks,” mentioned by the Gospel writers, is the very day the priest was to wave the sheaf of the firstfruits before the Lord!
Notice John 20:16-17, when Mary Magdalene sees the risen Christ! “Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father; but go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father, and to My God, and your God.”
We know, later on that same day, Jesus allowed the women to hold him by the feet and worship Him, Matthew 28:9; and He told His disciples, “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have,” Luke 24:39.
Why then did Jesus tell Mary Magdalene in John 20:17 not to touch him? Jesus gives the answer — He had not yet ascended to the Father! He had not yet presented His body as the perfect sacrifice “to be accepted for you” as the wave sheaf was waved before the Lord on this very day!
Notice Hebrews 9:12-14: “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood He [Christ] entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Also Hebrews 10:10, 14, “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all . . . . For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”
On the very day the priest waved the sheaf of the firstfruits before the Lord “to be accepted for you,” our High Priest and Savior ascended to the Father, to present His body as the perfect sacrifice so that we may be redeemed from our sins and sanctified for the Father’s use.
Notice how perfectly our Messiah, Jesus Christ, fulfilled this feast of firstfruits to the most minute of details. In Leviticus 2:14-16, the Lord said: “And if thou offer a meat offering of thy firstfruits unto the Lord, thou shalt offer for the meat offering of thy firstfruits green ears of corn dried by the fire, even corn beaten out of full ears. And thou shalt put oil upon it, and lay frankincense thereon: it is a meat offering. And the priest shall burn the memorial of it, part of the beaten corn thereof, part of the oil thereof . . . it is an offering made by fire unto the Lord.” This meat or grain offering of the firstfruits was to be “of a sweet savour unto the Lord,” Leviticus 2:9.
How perfectly is Christ represented by this offering of the firstfruits. The offering was to be made of green ears of corn dried by the fire. Was not our Lord tried in the fire, tempted in all points like we are, yet without sin? Hebrews 4:15. The corn of the firstfruits offering was to be beaten out of full ears. “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him: and with His stripes we are healed,” Isaiah 53:5. Oil was poured upon the firstfruits offering. Oil is often used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit in Scripture. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power,” Acts 10:38. Jesus, reading a prophecy of Himself from the scroll of Isaiah said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor,” Luke 4:18. Frankincense was among the gifts offered to the Christ-child by the wise men, Matthew 1:11.
Finally, a memorial portion of the firstfruits offering was burned on the altar as a sweet savour unto the Lord. Paul used this imagery in speaking of the offering of the Messiah in Ephesians 5:2: “And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour.”
To return to the original question asked at the beginning, how can Christ be the first to rise from the dead? He was the first to rise in a spiritual resurrection, a resurrection to immortality. He is the first in rank, order, and preeminence of all those, who would be made alive in Him forever, the firstborn of many brethren! All the resurrections prior to His were physical resurrections, and those individuals ultimately died again. But Christ’s was a spiritual resurrection, a resurrection to life eternal, I Corinthians 15:45. And because of His resurrection, all those who believe in Him shall rise, and never die again! John 11:25-26. That is the cornerstone of our Christian faith, I Corinthians 15:13-14. And the fact that Christ, the firstfruit, perfectly fulfilled the feast of firstfruits, by entering into the holy place to present His body as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, we can now have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which He had consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh,” Hebrews 10:19-20.
— written by David Miller Ω