A little-understood festival commanded in the Bible helps us understand a key aspect of God's plan and why most of the world doesn't know or understand Him.
God has a plan. But when sceptics look at the sorry state of world conditions, many of them doubt the existence of God. After all, they reason, how can you have a God who created the heavens and earth, put man on the earth and then left the human race to fend for itself?
Is there any truth in this?
God is doing more than what people suppose. As we'll see, He has an ordered, step-by-step plan to bring peace to the world and at the same time offer salvation to mankind in the most extraordinary way—a way that will give each person who has ever lived the best opportunity to fulfill that purpose.
It may not look like that now, but the Feast of Firstfruits, or Pentecost as it's called in the New Testament, has a meaning that transcends anything you might have ever thought about.
Contrary to a popular belief, God is involved in human affairs—and a lot more than you might think. This ancient festival God gave Israel helps us to understand just what it is that He's doing—and why it seems to many that He is doing little or nothing to save humanity right now.
Origins of the Festival of Firstfruits
Shortly after giving the Ten Commandments, God gave Israel another command: "Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year: You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread . . . and the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labours which you have sown in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year . . ." (Exodus:23:14-16).
At this Feast of Harvest, also called the Feast of Firstfruits or Weeks, the Israelites were to offer the firstfruits of the late spring wheat harvest in the Holy Land (Numbers:28:26; Exodus:34:22). Months later they celebrated another festival, called the Feast of Ingathering or the Feast of Tabernacles. This came at "the end of the year"—the end of the agricultural cycle of the year at summer's end in the Holy Land—when the people gathered in all the harvest.
These festivals were commanded. And because of what God intends for us to learn from His festivals, they are still to be celebrated by God's people today. We should also understand that when a person observes the festivals of God today, he is not just commemorating God's blessings in the agricultural harvests of the Holy Land. He is celebrating and learning about something far more important—God's very purpose and plan for the salvation of mankind!
A spiritual harvest and spiritual firstfruits
God's Word speaks of two kinds of harvests. One is the agricultural harvest mentioned above. But that represents another harvest—the far more important spiritual harvest.
Notice Jesus Christ's words in Luke:10:1-2: "After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, 'The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.'"
Jesus is likening the spiritual harvest to an actual grain harvest. In John:4:35-36 He said to His disciples: "Lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life . . ."
The harvests surrounding the biblical feasts of God were in fact designed to teach us about the spiritual harvest that Jesus came to earth to sow the seeds of and that He and His disciples began to reap. As there was an earlier and later harvest in the Middle East, so too are there two phases of the spiritual harvest.
The apostle James says that God's people are "a kind of firstfruits of all he created" (James:1:18, New International Version, emphasis added throughout). This helps us see that those with whom God is working now are understood to be "firstfruits." Firstfruits are the first of what is being produced. This implies there are other fruits to be harvested later.
This isn't God's world or God's time
Have you ever wondered why the Christian religion has not resolved the world's problems? Why hasn't it prevailed over other great world religions and false philosophies?
One would expect the work of Jesus Christ, coming from God, would bring in an era where the great movement of Christianity would prevail and usher in a time of peace. After all, it is a teaching of the Christian Church that the Kingdom of God would expand from that small beginning and that the power of God would be manifest to the world in His disciples that followed.
So why hasn't that happened?
There is a simple answer in the concept of "firstfruits." You see, God's intention was never to convert the world to Him during "this present evil age," as the apostle Paul refers to our time (Galatians:1:4). Have you ever considered that if that's what God had intended, He would certainly have succeeded in doing so?
The fact is, God intends to convert the world at large at a later time. That time, foretold by the prophets, is when Jesus Christ will return to the earth and establish His Kingdom. Notice how different it will be: "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.
"Many people shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isaiah:2:2-3).
This isn't a picture of today's world! Our world is a place where the nations ignore the great Creator God who made them. Our world is a world where we go to war because we can't resolve our problems any other way.
Notice what Isaiah prophesies next of the world under Jesus Christ's reign: "He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isaiah:2:4).
Again, this is not a description of the world today. This is a description of a world ruled by Jesus Christ, having received His Kingdom and administering it with the assistance of his saints. Here is a future world where all nations will seek the true God. The religions of the world and the best efforts of man have failed to produce anything remotely like this picture. This vision for mankind is clearly yet future!
God isn't converting the world now
This brings us to the firstfruits. The whole concept of firstfruits is that God is not converting the world now. We are in an age where the world is still being ruled by Satan the devil. Paul even calls the devil "the god of this age" who has spiritually blinded the minds of most of humankind at this time (2 Corinthians:4:4; Revelation:12:9).
Let's be clear. Jesus Christ is not going to change the world in the time in which we live now. He did not establish His Church to turn the world to Him today.
There is a period of time between His first coming, in which He established His Church, and His future return to the earth. When He returns, He will resurrect His saints to immortality. He will return at the seventh trumpet as noted in Revelation:11:15: "Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever'" (English Standard Version).
Only when Jesus comes back will the world turn to Him—and then only after the world has endured untold suffering. It seems it will take terrible, earthshaking events to bring people to the point where they will willingly turn to their Creator on a large scale.
The world will not destroy Christ's Church
But God leads a relative few to turn to Him today—in the present age. It is during this period between Jesus' first and second comings that He has been building His Church, made up of the firstfruits. Jesus said, "I will build My church, and the gates of Hades [the grave] will not prevail against it" (Matthew:16:18).
Since this is not God's world, His Church has come under attack since its inception—including by governmental and religious persecution from without and by wolves and false teachers from within. But because Jesus is the Head of His Church, it would nonetheless prevail.
Those in His Church are helped by Christ to overcome the world as He overcame the world. That is, in the face of pressure exerted by the world, they are helped to faithfully hold to Christ's teachings. His Church has brought to the world the same gospel Jesus brought—the gospel of the Kingdom of God. But His Church, while it was to exist during this age, was not meant to be a prominent religious or political force over the centuries.
Those God calls for His great purpose through the teachings of Christ will spiritually prepare themselves for His coming. God's great purpose for those of His Church, also called firstfruits, is that they attain entrance into the Kingdom of God. His Church exists now for the key purposes of proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom and to prepare those whom God places in His Church for their roles in that Kingdom.
Understanding the firstfruits
Once more, those who are being prepared for the great purpose of reigning with Jesus Christ are the firstfruits. The firstfruits are the first of God's great harvest of those being brought to salvation.
Note that Jesus' parable of the talents tells of those entrusted with their master's goods and the responsibility to make good use of them—producing a profit or increase. This corresponds to those who are called now—given God's blessings, particularly His Word and His Spirit, which grow in the lives of those to whom they are given.
At one point after teaching, Jesus said, "I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes" (Matthew:11:25).
Consider this meaningful statement (and compare Luke:8:10). God has clearly hidden His truths from some people. Not everyone is given this precious truth during this age. The vast majority of people—even many who claim to be Christians—don't understand God's great purpose.
It's generally not understood by most sincere churchgoing Christians that they are not going to heaven as disembodied souls when they die. The reality is that the dead are not conscious and await a resurrection (Ecclesiastes:9:5, Revelation:9:10; Daniel:12:2). Jesus Christ will come a second time and resurrect those who "sleep in Jesus" (1 Thessalonians:4:14), the true Christians who die in this age, and they will assist Him in a 1,000-year reign on the earth (Revelation:20:4, Revelation:20:6). It is through His righteous rule that peace will come, and all people will then come to know God. The world does not know the true God now.
The rest are not lost
God can certainly make His message known if He so chooses. So why would people believe that most are lost if they are not "saved" now during this age?
The fact of the matter is simple: God is not calling everyone now. But just because they haven't been called in this age doesn't mean that they are excluded from an opportunity to achieve the great salvation God offers.
God is dealing with those Scripture calls His "elect" in this age (Matthew:24:22, Matthew:24:24, Matthew:24:31; Romans:8:33; Romans:11:7). They are called during this age of the devil's rule. This is why they have to overcome or prevail.
Jesus says to them, "He who overcomes, and keep my works until the end, to him will I give power over the nations" (Revelation:2:26) and "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne" (Revelation:3:21). They must also endure to the end to be saved (Matthew:10:22; Matthew:24:13).
The great 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ and His saints on earth will be a time when all mortal human beings then living will receive the opportunity for salvation in a world where the devil is locked away (Revelation:20:1-4, Revelation:20:6). These will include those who live on after the terrible events at the end of this age into the next age, the age when Christ and His saints, the firstfruits, will bring God's way of life through the administration of His law to the entire world.
People's lives will be so affected by Christ's reign over this earth that, as Jeremiah prophesies: "No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more" (Jeremiah:31:34). Unlike today, this will clearly be a time of salvation for everyone.
What about "the rest of the dead"?
The rest of the dead (Revelation:20:5, Revelation:20:12) will be resurrected after the 1,000 years are over. This also takes place in a world in which Satan has no influence, having been removed for good. They will "stand before God" and for the first time will have the opportunity to be properly instructed in God's wonderful truth. Led to following God's ways that they were ignorant of or didn't understand during the age in which they lived prior to Christ's second coming, they will at last find true forgiveness of their sins through Jesus Christ. This is not a second chance for them. It is their first opportunity to be saved. The wonderful and gracious truth of the matter is that they are not lost.
Let's make this as plain as we can. Those who have been blinded during this age, which includes the vast majority of humanity throughout history, are not lost . They have never had their first opportunity to be saved.
This answers a question that deeply troubles so many: How can God condemn the billions of people—including babies and children who have died before they matured—who never so much as heard the name of Jesus Christ or even knew about the true God?
Again, the answer is simple. God isn't calling everyone now, and neither has He condemned them. Everyone will have a fair and generous opportunity to turn to their Creator who gave them life and who also paid a high price for them in Christ's sacrifice.
At this time God is calling only the firstfruits—those who are called first—those who attain to salvation in a world ruled by the devil. Because they are called now, God has a special duty for them to serve with Him to bring the truth of salvation to all people in later ages.
What you should do
You ought to ask yourself: "How much do I know about all this?" If you say, "I am not blinded," then you have some decisions to seriously consider. You are faced with the question: "What will I do with God's generous offer to be part of His firstfruits?"
You won't hear this in mainstream Christian churches. Only the true Church of God has taught how God's great plan unfolds to include all people. Very few even understand what salvation really means. Fewer yet understand the concept of firstfruits. And it is impossible to attain to a salvation you know very little about.
But if you understand that God is calling and preparing His firstfruits, you need to look into God's great purpose for you and all mankind. We are a special creation, made to have a relationship with God that will extend for all eternity.
God has no interest in leaving anyone out. God is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter:3:9). But the opportunity to become part of the firstfruits of God's harvest is special. It's not easy, to be sure, but when something like this comes along you wouldn't expect it to be easy.
You ought to also first take a good look at the Feast of Firstfruits or Pentecost. The Church of God, in obedience to His instruction, will be observing this day as well as each of the festivals God commanded. All of them explain vital steps in His plan of salvation for mankind.
Think about the calling of God. Ask yourself: Am I being called to something special? Do I have a purpose? Is there something truly great about my existence that the world has failed to tell me about?
The answer to all three questions is a resounding Yes!