Three times a year Israelite families travelled to the temple in Jerusalem for a religious festival (Ex. 23:14-17; 34:23-24; Dt. 16:16). The first of these was the Passover, when they remembered how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt. The second was the Harvest Festival (Ex. 23:16), which was near the end of the wheat harvest in Canaan. It was also called the “Festival of weeks” (Ex. 34:22; Dt. 16:10), because it was seven weeks (or 50 days) after the Festival of Firstfruits (which was when they dedicated the barley harvest to the Lord on the Sunday after the Passover). Later it became known as Pentecost, which is the Greek word for 50th. It was also called “the day of firstfruits” (Num. 28:26) because farmers offered the firstfruits (the beginning) of their wheat harvest to God (Ex. 34:22). And they gave other offerings to God as well. At this festival they dedicated the wheat harvest to the Lord and gave back to God some of what He had provided for them. The offering of firstfruits was an acknowledgment that the harvest was from the Lord and belonged to Him.
The Israelites weren’t saved from slavery to live in the desert. In the Pentateuch (the five books of the Bible written by Moses), Canaan is described 15 times as “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:8 to Dt. 31:20NIV). It was a fertile and productive land. That was their new home. It was described as: “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills” (Dt. 8:7-9). There was abundant water, abundant crops of grains and fruit, and abundant minerals. So God promised and gave them many physical blessings in Canaan.
Jesus was crucified at Passover (and rose from the grave at the Festival of Firstfruits). Fifty days after His resurrection, the Holy Spirit came to indwell believers and empower them for ministry. Thousands of people were in Jerusalem at this time because it was the Harvest Festival. On this day 3,000 people believed and were the firstfruits of the church. The day of Pentecost is remembered by Christians as the start of the church. Just as the first sheath of the harvest was an indication of the harvest to follow, the early Christians were an indication that many more would become Christians (2 Th. 2:13; Jas. 1:18). And the harvest continues today.
God promised the Israelites that they would be blessed physically. In a similar way, He has promised Christians spiritual blessings such as forgiveness (salvation), the presence of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:3-14), the blessed (prosperous) hope of the certainty of Christ’s coming when our bodies will be resurrected and we will be freed from sin, and have an eternal inheritance in heaven (1 Pt. 1:2).
Jesus Christ was the firstfruits: the first person to rise from the dead into a resurrected body (1 Cor. 15:20-23). As the firstfruits of the harvest were the first installment of the harvest to come, His resurrection is the guarantee that all believers will also be resurrected to have eternal life in new bodies.
Regarding the Lord’s supper, Paul said, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving (or blessing) for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?” (1 Cor. 16:10). The “cup of blessing” was a common Jewish expression for the last cup of wine drunk at a festive meal. It was a toast to God for His goodness. It didn’t convey a blessing, but it aroused praise and thanksgiving towards God for all His blessings to them. Likewise, Christians give thanks to God because of their forgiveness of sin and common salvation through Christ’s death.
Just like the Israelites thanked God at the Harvest Festival for bringing them to the promised land and for providing abundantly for them there, let’s thank God for our spiritual blessings. For all that God has done for us through Jesus Christ. How through Christ’s sacrificial death He provides abundant forgiveness and peace with God. The main point is that the resurrection of our bodies and other benefits come through Christ’s sacrifice.