(Updated for 2023)
The Feast of First Fruits as a common designation among Messianic followers of Yeshua for a day described only in Leviticus 23:10-11.
Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, “When you enter the land which I am going to give to you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall wave the sheaf before the LORD for you to be accepted; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.”
Also called the Day of the Wave Sheaf, it is not given a specific calendar date in Scripture. There is disagreement as to exactly when it is. Those following the traditional Jewish (Hillel) calendar will observe this day on 16 Aviv or Friday, April 7, the day following the “High Sabbath.” Others will observe it on the day after the weekly Sabbath that falls during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Sunday, April 9.
First Fruits, the Day of the Wave Sheaf, is not one of the annual Sabbaths among the Appointed Times listed in the Torah. Though it is an important observance, it is also a regular work day.
First Fruits in the Tanakh
This ceremony is mentioned only once in Torah and never anywhere else in either the Old or New Testaments.
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you enter the land which I am going to give to you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall wave the sheaf before the LORD for you to be accepted; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. Now on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb one year old without defect for a burnt offering to the LORD. Its grain offering shall then be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering by fire to the LORD for a soothing aroma, with its drink offering, a fourth of a hin of wine. Until this same day, until you have brought in the offering of your God, you shall eat neither bread nor roasted grain nor new growth. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places.'”
There are other instances of brining the first of various harvests as an offering. This particular ceremony is traditionally understood as being the first of the barley harvest, though not explicitly mentioned. One might assume this to be a one-time event, “when you enter the land,” except that it is also the beginning of the count to Shavuot, one of the annual pilgrimage festivals commanded in Torah. Therefore, it must be an annual observance.
You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete sabbaths.
According to Barney Kasdan in God’s Appointed Times:
The Talmud states that a priest would meet a group of Jewish pilgrims on the edge of the city and, from there, would lead them up to the Temple Mount. As they carried their offering of the first fruits, the priest would lead a praise service with music, praise songs and dance.
As the group of worshipers arrived at the Temple compound, the priest would take the sheaves, lift some in the air and wave them in every direction. By so doing, the whole crowd would be acknowledging God’s provision and sovereignty over all of the earth (see Edersheim, The Temple, page 256 and following pages).
Edersheim in The Temple goes into great detail describing the ceremony of cutting the sheaf and presenting it. Clearly my copy, which has only 131 pages, is a different printing than Kasdan references. Suffice it to say that this is all found in Chapter 13, whatever pages that may fall on. It is interesting to note that Edersheim always refers to this being on the “second day of Passover.”
This ceremony is also described in the Mishna, Menachot 10.
Today this ceremony is not observed for a variety of reasons, including the absence of a Temple and priests. In a society that is primarily not agrarian, most Jewish congregations only recognize this day as the beginning of the Counting of the Omer. For more on Counting the Omer, read my post here.
First or First Fruits?
The sheaf described in Leviticus 23:10 is literally called “a sheaf of the first of your harvest,” in Hebrew, “‘omer reshit qe’tziyrachem.” Reshit (Strong’s #7225 meaning first part or first in order) is the same word translated in Genesis 1:1 as “beginning.” The word “fruits” has been added by the translators to make the compound word “firstfruits.”
Sometimes we hear this feast referred to as “bikkurim” (Strong’s #H1061 meaning first fruits), but that word is not used to describe the day of the Wave Sheaf. It is, however, used to describe the day of Shavuot, fifty days after the day of the Wave Sheaf.
You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete sabbaths. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the LORD. You shall bring in from your dwelling places two loaves of bread for a wave offering, made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of a fine flour, baked with leaven as first fruits to the LORD.
Perhaps this is a good example of how we sometimes allow tradition and common modern usage to effectively change what Scripture actually says. It’s something to think about.
First Fruits in the New Testament
For followers of Yeshua, this is a day of great prophetic significance. Although the specific ceremony is never mentioned in the New Testament, Paul does refer to Yeshua as the “first fruits” of those resurrected from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). As First Fruits, the Day of the Wave Sheaf, follows the day of Passover, so also did the resurrection of Yeshua follow his death, which he, identified with in the Passover matzah and wine (Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-20).
Just as the sheaf of the first fruits is presented by the priest to the Father as an offering, so Yeshua presented himself before the Father after his resurrection.
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'”
We need to make this important distinction: First Fruits, the day of the Wave Sheaf, is NOT “Easter.” The day most Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus is only loosely associated with the Biblical Appointed Times because of the Spring season. Easter Sunday is the first Sunday following the first full moon following the spring equinox. It may or may not be near Passover, and it may or may not coincide with the day of the Wave Sheaf. In 2016, Easter was a full month before Passover (read my post here). That will happen again in 2024, when Easter will be on March 21 and Passover is on the evening of April 22, making “First Fruits” on April 24 (or April 28 for those always observing it on Sunday).
Easter, as most of us know, is chock full of pagan customs and symbolism. And while many Christians are sincere in their celebration of the Resurrection of the Messiah, they often get caught up in these trappings. As important as the resurrection is, which must never be downplayed, Yeshua never told us to memorialize it. And he most certainly never intended for a memorial of his resurrection to put an end to and replace the Sabbath. He did, however, tell us to remember his death as we keep Passover (Luke 22:19). We can also celebrate his resurrection as we observe First Fruits, the Day of the Wave Sheaf, and begin counting up to the day of Shavuot.
Additional Posts about First Fruits
Unless marked otherwise, Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation