Jesus Christ Himself said He "did not come to judge the world but to save the world" (John 12:47 John 12:47And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.
American King James Version×). He also said that "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17 John 3:17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
American King James Version×). But in a world in which hundreds die every day from violence, starvation, disease and natural disasters, in which injustice, immorality and every godless act abounds, in which thousands die daily without having ever heard the name of Jesus Christ or even seen a Bible—can we truly say that Christ's mission was successful?
Was He mistaken? If Jesus intended to save the world, then has the world truly been saved? Is it logical to conclude, when we observe man's inhumanity to man on an unprecedented scale, that the world is saved?
These questions have always posed an enigma to those willing to face the facts. If the Christian Church had as its mission to take the message of Christ to the world so the world could be saved, why is the world in such religious disarray? Further, if the gospel Jesus Christ brought holds the answers to man's problems, why is the world in such terrible shape?
Did Christ fail to gain the cooperation of His own Church in carrying out this mission? Is He not able to inspire the faith among His professed followers to do greater works than He, as He promised? (See John 14:12 John 14:12Truly, truly, I say to you, He that believes on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to my Father.
American King James Version×.) Or are the opposing forces simply too powerful for faithless mankind?
The answer is none of the above.
However, there are answers to all these questions—and they are illustrated in a festival called the Feast of Firstfruits (Exodus 23:16 Exodus 23:16And the feast of harvest, the first fruits of your labors, which you have sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when you have gathered in your labors out of the field.
American King James Version×). This observance, along with the rest of God's annual Holy Days, is commanded by God in Leviticus 23:15-21 Leviticus 23:15-21  And you shall count to you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete:  Even to the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall you number fifty days; and you shall offer a new meat offering to the LORD.  You shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals; they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven; they are the first fruits to the LORD.  And you shall offer with the bread seven lambs without blemish of the first year, and one young bullock, and two rams: they shall be for a burnt offering to the LORD, with their meat offering, and their drink offerings, even an offering made by fire, of sweet smell to the LORD.  Then you shall sacrifice one kid of the goats for a sin offering, and two lambs of the first year for a sacrifice of peace offerings.  And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the first fruits for a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs: they shall be holy to the LORD for the priest.  And you shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be an holy convocation to you: you shall do no servile work therein: it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.
American King James Version×.
In describing these sacred observances, God said, "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts'" (Leviticus 23:2 Leviticus 23:2Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts.
American King James Version×).
Later, we find that the Church Jesus founded also observed this particular festival, known by Jesus' followers as the Feast of Pentecost. As a matter of fact, the New Testament Church began on this very day, accompanied by miraculous events (Acts 2:1-41 Acts 2:1-41  And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
 And there appeared to them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat on each of them.
 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
 And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?
 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,
 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,
 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What means this?
 Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.
 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said to them, You men of Judaea, and all you that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known to you, and listen to my words:
 For these are not drunken, as you suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.
 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;
 And it shall come to pass in the last days, said God, I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:
 And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke:
 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come:
 And it shall come to pass, that whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
 You men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the middle of you, as you yourselves also know:
 Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
 Whom God has raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be held of it.
 For David speaks concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved:
 Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope:
 Because you will not leave my soul in hell, neither will you suffer your Holy One to see corruption.
 You have made known to me the ways of life; you shall make me full of joy with your countenance.
 Men and brothers, let me freely speak to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us to this day.
 Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne;
 He seeing this before spoke of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.
 This Jesus has God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.
 Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he has shed forth this, which you now see and hear.
 For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he said himself, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit you on my right hand,
 Until I make your foes your footstool.
 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God has made the same Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brothers, what shall we do?
 Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
 For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call.
 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.
American King James Version×). The festival has great relevance and importance for Christians today.
God had a reason for Israel to keep His festivals and for His Church to do the same. Through these observances, God reveals the stages of His plan of salvation for humanity. In particular, this feast that celebrated the firstfruits of the wheat harvest in ancient Israel (Exodus 34:22 Exodus 34:22And you shall observe the feast of weeks, of the first fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.
American King James Version×) has a meaning that reveals one of the major phases of God's plan for salvation.
Common, but erroneous, assumptions
Most churches assume that God intended for everyone alive to hear the message of salvation, starting immediately after Jesus Christ's resurrection. Most also believe that every person hearing that message would then have his opportunity for salvation now, in this life. The mission of Christ's followers was thus understood to involve bringing this message to every living person, giving them the opportunity to accept Christ before it would be too late.
Thus many churches believe they must bring as many people as possible to accept Christ as Savior immediately, regardless of the depth of their interest or commitment.
But how many people have never accepted Christ—or never truly accepted Him? And how many millions over the centuries have never even heard of Him?
If salvation is only a matter of accepting Christ during this physical lifetime, what is the fate of the countless people who lived and died before He was born and for whom it was impossible to accept Him as Savior?
Faced with these questions, must we conclude that the power Jesus promised His disciples simply never translated into the saving work He envisioned? No, we should not doubt the saving power of Jesus Christ. Instead, perhaps we should examine our understanding of His intentions. Perhaps God has had something else in mind all along.
How this feast fits in God's plan
What does the Feast of Firstfruits have to do with these all-important questions?
There is great significance in the name Feast of Firstfruits. By its very name, this festival indicates some harvesting occurring before later harvesting. As we will see, this festival foreshadows God's intention to reap first a small harvest of people for salvation (called "firstfruits" in the Scriptures), and to later call a vastly greater number of people to salvation.
One might say that God put into use a systematic procedure to lead the vast majority of mankind to His light and salvation—bringing first the firstfruits, and later the greater harvest of humankind, to salvation.
Let's notice this amazing truth as demonstrated by the divinely revealed festivals of God. God timed His feasts to coincide with the agricultural cycle of the two major harvest periods in the Holy Land—one in spring and the other at the end of summer—to teach His people an important lesson.
The Feast of Firstfruits coincided with the spring wheat harvest in that area (Exodus 34:22 Exodus 34:22And you shall observe the feast of weeks, of the first fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.
American King James Version×). The Greek name for this feast is Pentecost, meaning "fiftieth," in this case implying "fiftieth day," so named because it was celebrated 50 days from the harvest of the first sheaf of grain. This period of seven weeks gives the festival yet another name—the Feast of Weeks (Deuteronomy 16:9-10 Deuteronomy 16:9-10  Seven weeks shall you number to you: begin to number the seven weeks from such time as you begin to put the sickle to the corn.  And you shall keep the feast of weeks to the LORD your God with a tribute of a freewill offering of your hand, which you shall give to the LORD your God, according as the LORD your God has blessed you:
American King James Version×).
On this day, the Israelites offered two loaves of bread made from flour taken from the new grain of the harvest. These loaves were called "the firstfruits to the Lord" (Leviticus 23:16-17 Leviticus 23:16-17  Even to the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall you number fifty days; and you shall offer a new meat offering to the LORD.
 You shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals; they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven; they are the first fruits to the LORD.
American King James Version×). The people were to "do no customary work" on this day and to gather for a sacred religious assembly (Leviticus 23:21 Leviticus 23:21And you shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be an holy convocation to you: you shall do no servile work therein: it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.
American King James Version×). This was a very significant occasion.
A festival that came later in the year, the Feast of Tabernacles or Ingathering (Exodus 34:22 Exodus 34:22And you shall observe the feast of weeks, of the first fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.
American King James Version×), coincided with the conclusion of the later harvest when other types of produce, including cucumbers, melons, lentils, chickpeas, nuts and especially dates, figs, olives and grapes had all been gathered in. This, too, was an event of great significance marked by sacred religious assemblies and cessation from work.
These two feasts both represent major stages in the spiritual harvest of mankind for salvation. The Feast of Firstfruits symbolizes the calling and preparing of the Church in this age. This is the early phase of the spiritual harvest.
The later part of the spiritual harvest will take place in the age to come. God's initial harvest of people occurs in preparation for that coming age when Jesus Christ will bring His Kingdom to the earth.
The physical depicts the spiritual
The spiritual significance of the first harvest period, celebrated by the Feast of Firstfruits, is made clear in the Scriptures. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 1 Corinthians 15:20-23  But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.
 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
 But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.
American King James Version×: "Now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep . . . For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming" (emphasis added throughout).
The wave sheaf offering, which began the barley harvest 50 days prior to Pentecost, pictured Jesus Christ being presented to His Father after His resurrection as the first of the firstfruits. The offering of the firstfruits of the wheat harvest on Pentecost (Leviticus 23:17 Leviticus 23:17You shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals; they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven; they are the first fruits to the LORD.
American King James Version×) was then symbolic of the other firstfruits that would follow in God's harvest of humankind for salvation. And these would be followed later by still other people.
Did you notice that Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 clearly states that God will resurrect the dead in a specific order? First was Jesus Christ, who was resurrected as "the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep," to be followed by others at His return.
Paul states that the resurrection of the saints at Christ's coming, when they will receive immortal, spirit bodies (1 Corinthians 15:44 1 Corinthians 15:44It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
American King James Version×, 1 Corinthians 15:53 1 Corinthians 15:53For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
American King James Version×), will take place "at the last trumpet" (1 Corinthians 15:52 1 Corinthians 15:52In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
American King James Version×)—the mighty, supernatural call that will announce the return of Jesus Christ to rule the earth (Revelation 11:15 Revelation 11:15And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
American King James Version×).
At that time, God will resurrect the dead who had previously been faithful to Christ, and also change to immortal children of God those who are still alive and have likewise been faithful (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17  For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
American King James Version×).
This miraculous event is described as "the first resurrection" in Revelation 20:6 Revelation 20:6Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
American King James Version×: "Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years."
The world under Christ's rule
During this reign of Jesus Christ and the resurrected saints on earth (Revelation 5:10 Revelation 5:10And have made us to our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
American King James Version×), the later harvesting of humanity for salvation will begin. God's knowledge will at last be widely available: "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Habakkuk 2:14 Habakkuk 2:14For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
American King James Version×). All people will experience firsthand the wonderful Kingdom of God, which Jesus Christ proclaimed during His earthly ministry (Matthew 4:17 Matthew 4:17From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
American King James Version×; Mark 1:14 Mark 1:14Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
American King James Version×; Luke 4:43 Luke 4:43And he said to them, I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent.
American King James Version×).
Isaiah 2:2-3 Isaiah 2:2-3  And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.
 And many people shall go and say, Come you, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
American King James Version×provides us a picture of the beginning of this latter and great harvest period: "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."
Humanity will then have the opportunity to learn and live according to God's ways: "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 Jeremiah 31:34And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, said the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
American King James Version×).
But what about those who have lived and died in the past, having never known anything of God the Father and Jesus Christ? Revelation 20:6 Revelation 20:6Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
American King James Version×, quoted above, shows that God's faithful saints are in "the first resurrection." But, if there is a first resurrection, there must be another!
And indeed there is. The book of Revelation makes it clear that there will be another resurrection of the dead. After the 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ and His resurrected followers from this age, "the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished" (Revelation 20:5 Revelation 20:5But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
American King James Version×).
This will continue God's great second harvest of humanity for salvation. At that time, all who have ever lived but did not have the opportunity to learn of God's ways or hear of Jesus Christ's atoning sacrifice will enjoy their opportunity for salvation.
This resurrection of countless millions of people to a physical, perishable life is described in Ezekiel 37:1-11 Ezekiel 37:1-11  The hand of the LORD was on me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the middle of the valley which was full of bones,
 And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, see, they were very dry.
 And he said to me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, you know.
 Again he said to me, Prophesy on these bones, and say to them, O you dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.
 Thus said the Lord GOD to these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live:
 And I will lay sinews on you, and will bring up flesh on you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.
 So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone.
 And when I beheld, see, the sinews and the flesh came up on them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them.
 Then said he to me, Prophesy to the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus said the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.
 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up on their feet, an exceeding great army.
 Then he said to me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.
American King James Version×, Matthew 12:41-42 Matthew 12:41-42  The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.  The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.
American King James Version×, Revelation 20:5 Revelation 20:5But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
American King James Version×and Revelation 20:13 Revelation 20:13And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
American King James Version×. These people will then be given the opportunity—for the first time—to repent and be converted through God's Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38 Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×; Acts 3:19 Acts 3:19Repent you therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.
American King James Version×). Then they, too, will inherit eternal life.
We see in this wonderful plan the fulfillment of God's desire for "all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4 1 Timothy 2:4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
American King James Version×).
God is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9 2 Peter 3:9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
American King James Version×), and through His plan all who have never had the real opportunity for salvation in this age can at last be saved!
[ Read the corresponding article: Who Are God's "Firstfruits"? ]