Who Are the "Firstfruits"?

And What About The "Latter-Fruits"? Are There Any?

Are All of Those Outside of the Church on a One-Way Ticket to Hell?

I was recently asked: "Can you explain the Bible teaching of 'Firstfruits'? You have touched on the subject once or twice in your writings but always left me wanting to have more knowledge about this. Can you go deeper?"

Okay, let us look at this.

The Bible mentions the 'firstfruits' on only about twenty occasions. In the Old Testament the term usually refers to the need to be generous toward God after crops have been gathered. Proverbs 3 is typical here:

Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. (Proverbs 3:9-10).

God's people were always expected to support whichever ministry of the Lord was active in their day. After Israel became an established nation at Mount Sinai the support was to go to the Levites, of course. In the New Testament the term 'firstfruits' continues, but the meaning now seems to change.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Verse 23 of 1 Corinthians also mentions the 'firstfruits.' So now our Saviour is described as the 'firstfruits' of those who have risen from the dead. However, this is later broadened out. James writes:

Don't be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:16-18).

So Christ is the very first of the firstfruits, one might even say the 'pioneer firstfruit,' but now Christians during this age of the Church are also to think of themselves as 'firstfruits.' But now let us go to Romans which mentions this word twice:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:22-23).

Christians are now spoken of as those having "the firstfruits of the Spirit" (verse 23).

Finally we must look at Romans 11:

If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. (Romans 11:16).

"...The teaching that the countless millions of human creation beyond and outside of the elect were simply "fashioned for destruction" is erroneous.

This unbiblical teaching went straight into western Catholicism (the Church of Rome), as well as into much of modern evangelicalism. Augustine even taught that little babies went straight to hell if dying before baptism!"

In Romans 11 Paul is discussing the seeming rejection of the physical peoples of Israel in favour of the spiritual peoples of Israel (the church). He insists that there remains hope for physical Israel, strongly hinting of a very late and successful work of evangelization among them just before the end. He insists that sanctification (firstfruits status) can spread, even into the branches and roots.

Putting all of the above together, what is the New Testament teaching on the firstfruits?

1. Christ is the very first of the firstfruits. (1 Corinthians 15:20).

2. Christians during this church age are also "firstfruits," since they have the "firstfruits of the Spirit." (Romans 8:22-23; James 1:18).

But there is still more to this and it is fascinating - let us go just a bit deeper!

Resurrection and the First Sheaf Offering

Jesus was the first to rise from the dead, never to die again. All who have ever arisen from the dead, including the sons of both the widow of Zarephath and the Shunammite (2 Kings 4:8-37), the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:35-43), and, of course, Lazarus, plus any others raised from the dead, certainly died again in later years. So Jesus is accurately called "the firstfruits" of the dead because, "Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him" (Romans 6:9). Jesus - and Jesus alone - has truly conquered death, so Christ legitimately becomes "the firstborn from the dead" - those who are raised from the state of death and thereafter go on to Eternal Life (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5; Acts 26:23).

But now please continue with me here a little longer! Under the Old Covenant, the Israelites were to offer to God a sheaf of the first grain that was harvested on the day after the Sabbath (Sunday) following the First Day of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:9-14). Paul may well have used the term "firstfruits" in his letter to the Corinthians to reinforce the certainty of the resurrection, especially since this feast would turn into Easter, representing the resurrection of our Lord. Moreover, just as the term "firstfruits" indicates that the first sheaf of the forthcoming grain harvest will be followed by the rest of the sheaves, then Christ, the firstfruits raised from the dead, is the guarantee for all those who belong to him that they also will share in his resurrection. Yet we too are called the firstfruits, those called and chosen right now are in this most prestigious Christian group.

Latter-Fruits To Come?

But there is even more to this! The "latter-fruits" must surely follow. Whilst we must accept that 'latter-fruits' is apparently not a biblical expression, the concept is inferred from several biblical verses (similarly, the term "the Holy Trinity" never actually occurs in Scripture, yet the truth that God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are all God is plainly to be found from many biblical statements). In the farming/growing cycle, there never was a "firstfruits" (of very high quality) without a much bigger "latter fruits" (lower overall quality) to follow. God will finally gather the rest of His harvest at the end of time. Very possibly these are those who will simply receive God's bounteous mercy at the seat of judgement at that time. Romans 2:14-16 strongly hints of the final salvation of 'good people' who were not specifically called, yet nevertheless obeyed their consciences and did good wherever they could, there are millions of such people who will not finally be rejected by a God of all-encompassing mercy. After the 144,000 (symbolic of the Elect and the specifically called), are dealt with (Revelation 7:1-8; Revelation 14:1-5), Revelation goes on to mention another larger group of people who receive mercy at the end of time:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!" Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes - who are they, and where did they come from?" I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (Revelation 7:9-14).

Notice the very interesting slight element of surprise in verse 13: "...who are they, and where did they come from?" - many called and chosen Christians are convinced that only they can be saved, this is despite many Scriptures which reveal a final broadness of those who will finally be saved. We should never confuse the teaching of the "little flock" of the church in an alien world at the present time, with Christ's intention to finally have a complete triumph over evil on this earth at the end of time. See Matthew 6:10!

'Open Calvinist' Herman Bavinck wrote this in the 1996 John Vriend translation of his superb 'The Last Things':

In Abraham, all generations of the earth are blessed (Gen. 12:3). The salvation that will one day be granted to Israel profits all the Gentiles. Jesus says that he will give his life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28) and that many will come from east and west to sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 8:11). The grace that appeared in Christ is much more abundant than the trespass of Adam; it comes to all people for justification and life (Rom. 5:12-20 ; 1 Cor. 15:22). In this dispensation all things in heaven and on earth will be gathered up under Christ (Eph. 1:10). And one day at the end every knee will bow before Christ and every tongue will confess him as Lord (Phil. 2:10,11). Then a great multitude that no one can number will stand before the throne and the Lamb (Rev. 7:9; 19:1,6). Nations will be saved and walk in the light of the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:24, 26; 22:2). And God will then be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).
(p163-164, 'The Last Things.' Bavinck, Herman, translation by John Vriend. Paternoster Press, UK. 1996 paperback edition).

The teaching of this wider, more universal application of the Gospel - aside from the church - was strong in the early church (it can be found in the 'church fathers' writings) but eventually became lost through the gloomy Manichaeism which had influenced Augustine of Hippo; eventually, hyper-Calvinism came to teach that salvation was completely impossible outside of the church who now became a very small elitist group - meanwhile the countless millions of human creation beyond that were simply "fashioned for destruction." This unbiblical teaching went straight into western Catholicism (the Church of Rome), as well as into much of modern evangelicalism. Augustine even taught that little babies went straight to hell if dying before baptism!

So it is true that God calls and equips His Church; it is not true that all those beyond that are on a one-way ticket to hell and completely separated from any prospect of the mercy of God. Your Bible and my Bible teach otherwise.

Robin A. Brace, January 30th, 2016.