PART III:  THIRD SPRING FESTIVAL (FIRSTFRUITS)

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the Exodus

As stated before, after midnight on Aviv 15, when the firstborn of every Egyptian family and animal was killed, (Exo. 12:29), Pharaoh allowed—even encouraged—Moses and the children of Israel to leave Egypt (12:31,32).  Prior to the ten plagues, God had told Moses to request of Pharaoh a leave of three days for the children of Israel to offer sacrifices to the Lord and to worship Him (Exo. 3:18bc, 7:16a).  When Pharaoh told Moses, “Go, worship the Lord as you have requested” (12:31c), presumably he still had the understanding that they would be gone at most three days.  (The phrase “three days” did not necessarily imply three complete days but, rather, any parts of three consecutive 24-hour periods).

The children of Israel left Ramses in Egypt sometime after midnight on Aviv 15 (which had begun at sunset); their first stop was Succoth (Num. 33:5).  Here they camped, probably for just a few hours (possibly sunrise to noon, still the 15th) while Moses retrieved the bones of Joseph to take with them (Exo. 13:19).  They left Succoth and continued on to Etham, where they camped again (Exo. 13:20; Num. 33:6) for the night of the 16th (which began at sunset after the 15th).  Then they journeyed (still the 16th) on to Pi Hahiroth by the Red Sea (Exo. 14:2), setting up camp for the night, the 17th.  As they traveled, the Lord was present with them, guiding them in a pillar of cloud by day and shedding light ahead of them in a pillar of fire by night (13:21,22).

Now, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened again after the departure of the children of Israel.  He realized that if they did not return, their services to the Egyptians would be lost (Exo. 14:5,8).  Additionally, he could have been thinking about the three-day leave that Moses originally had requested, and Pharaoh wanted to hold him to that.  So he gathered his army and pursued the children of Israel (14:6-9).  As the Egyptians approached the children of Israel that night, God’s pillar came between them and kept them apart all night long (14:19,20).

salvation and deliverance

During the night of Aviv 17, God drove back the water of the sea; while the children of Israel crossed on dry ground, the Egyptians pursued them (Exo. 14:21-23).  During the morning watch (the last third of the night before dawn, or possibly the time from 4:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.), God threw the Egyptian army into confusion.  God also told Moses to stretch out his hand; and, at daybreak, the water went back to its place, covering and drowning all of the Egyptian forces (14:24-28).  But the children of Israel had emerged from the sea—having been saved from the Egyptians, released from Pharaoh’s ownership, and delivered from bondage (14:29,30).  This was a symbolic foreshadowing of water baptism (1 Cor. 10:1,2—see “water baptism”: C-6, P-IV).  Joseph Good believes, according to the calculations of the Rabbinin, that the Exodus from Egypt began on a Friday (Aviv 15) and that the crossing of the sea was on a Sunday (Aviv 17). (6)

Let me point out something here to those who choose to think that the children of Israel’s crossing of the sea was not miraculous, preferring instead to believe that the water was “shallow” and that they simply “waded” across.  Note that Pharaoh’s army consisted of “...six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them” (Exo. 14:7), as well as “...all Pharaoh’s horses..., horsemen and troops” (14:9a).  If the Red Sea at the point of crossing were not very deep, then I question how, after the children of Israel emerged unscathed, the “...water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the children of Israel into the sea.  Not one of them survived” (14:28).

Feast of Firstfruits

At some time later, God commanded that, after they entered the land which God had promised to them, the children of Israel would mark a special day acknowledging that God had provided them fertile land on which to grow their crops.  This day would be the Feast of Firstfruits (Lev. 23:9-14), because they were to offer to God the first grain (typically barley) of the first spring harvest.  This was to take place during the week of the Feast of Unleavened Bread on the day after the regular weekly Sabbath (23:11b).  Therefore, this always would occur on the first day of the week (or, more specifically, our sunset Saturday to sunset Sunday).

Jesus, the firstfruit from the dead

On the first day of the week (Aviv 17) after Passover, two angels, appearing as men (Luke 24:4), arrived at the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid.  One angel rolled away the entrance stone and sat on it (Matt. 28:2b), frightening the guards who were there (28:4).  Some women came to the tomb in which the slain Jesus had been placed to anoint His body with spices (Mark 16:1,2; Luke 24:1).  Finding the stone rolled away (Mark 16:4; Luke 24:2), they entered and saw the other angel sitting to the side (Mark 16:5).  Not seeing the body of Jesus, they wondered where it might be; but the angels stood beside the women and asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24:3-6a).  Indeed, Jesus had risen from the dead and had left the tomb prior to sunrise that morning.  (He exited the tomb before the stone was rolled away, the latter which was done to enable the women to enter.  Therefore, Jesus passed through the stone wall of the tomb to leave it.)  Incidentally, Jesus made a physical, flesh-and-bones appearance to well over five hundred people after He was resurrected (1 Cor. 15:5-7), many of whom, no doubt, were skeptics up to that point.

Jesus was not the first one ever to rise from the dead (1 Kng. 17:17-22; John 11:32-44); however, He was the first one to return to life who would never die again.  His resurrection was the third “mo’ed” (appointment) that He was to keep, in fulfillment of the seven Hebrew festivals.  Jesus was resurrected on the Feast of Firstfruits (Aviv 17), because He was the firstfruit of all who, subsequently, would arise from death, never to die again.  Paul said,

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. ...  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits, then, when he comes, those who belong to him (1 Cor. 15:20,22,23).

(In these passages, the word “firstfruits” should be translated as “firstfruit.”)  Zola Levitt’s perspective on these verses points out one of the fundamentals of true Christian faith—the resurrection of believers:

Paul makes very clear the real point of the feast.  The resurrection of the Lord Himself is happy news indeed, and worthy of a celebration, but we are not so surprised by it.  After all, the Lord could raise the dead Himself; He walked on water.  He is God’s Son.  The real miracle is that each of us ordinary mortal sinners will experience this resurrection! (7)

“Easter” vs. “Resurrection Day”

The Hebrew Feast of Firstfruits commonly is known by Christians as “Easter.”  Since Easter probably is named after the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, the pagan goddess of fertility (or, possibly, after Eostre, the German goddess of Spring), the name fails to reflect the genuine significance of the day.  As a result, I prefer to call this day “Resurrection Day.”  Either designation, Feast of Firstfruits or Resurrection Day, properly conveys the importance of the day on which Jesus arose from the grave, never to die again—the first of multitudes who will do the same.

Each year, Easter (at least for Protestant denominations) falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the day of the vernal equinox, March 20.  Generally, Easter is the first Sunday after Passover, since Passover usually occurs on the first full moon following the Spring equinox.  However, this is not always the case.

The Hebrew calendar is based on the lunar cycle (29½ days); but a lunar year—354 days—is short of a solar year—365¼ days—by a little over 11 days.  In ancient times, to compensate, an entire “leap” month was added in the early spring every two or three years.  (The timing of this each time was decided after examining the physiology of the fruit trees in various parts of Israel.)

About 1,500 years ago, the Patriarch Hillel II established a system of calculations which stipulated seven leap years within each 19-year cycle, a system valid until today.  If Passover begins more than a couple of weeks after Easter, a “leap” month has been added for that year.  In such a case, Passover is on the second full moon following the Spring equinox; and the Feast of Firstfruits and Easter do not coincide.

imperishable and immortal

The children of Israel emerged from the Red Sea on Aviv 17, free from the bitter bondage they had endured for centuries in Egypt.  Likewise, Jesus emerged from the grave on Aviv 17, free from death forever.  All who view Him as Savior and Redeemer will, in turn, one day (within the next few years, I believe) emerge from graves or from mortal, perishable bodies into immortal, imperishable bodies in which to exist for eternity; physical or spiritual death no longer will be a threat to them (1 Cor. 15:51-55; 1 Ths. 4:14-17—see “changed bodies” and “caught up”: C-12, P-V, S-1).  For these, victory over death will be complete.

Aviv 17—date of deliverance

Numerous types of deliverance have occurred on Aviv 17.  The children of Israel emerged unharmed from the Red Sea, saved from the Egyptian army on Aviv 17 (see “the Exodus” and “salvation and deliverance” earlier in this part).  Jesus, rising from the dead on Aviv 17 (see “Jesus, the firstfruit from the dead” earlier in this part), provided believers with complete assuredness that, one day, they will be delivered from temptations and sin and will be liberated from their mortal bodies.

When Noah, his family, and the animals were in the ark, it rained for forty days and nights (Gen. 7:12); and the flood of water remained for one hundred fifty days (7:24).  Then God caused the waters to recede (8:1b); and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month, the ark came to rest upon Mount Ararat (8:4).  Since this was the seventh month of the civil calendar (see “civil and religious calendars”: P-I), the date on which Noah and the other inhabitants of the ark finally were delivered from the turbulent flood water to stable, solid ground was Aviv 17.

Another fascinating story involves the lovely Queen Esther (Esth. 2:7b—see “pride in our appearance”: C-9, P-II).  Ahasuerus, King of the Medo-Persian Empire, made her his wife (2:17).  Esther was Jewish (2:5-7), but Ahasuerus was unaware of this (2:10a,20a).  A prominent nobleman, Haman, hated Esther’s cousin and guardian, Mordecai.  Haman wished to destroy Mordecai, as well as all of his people, the Jews (3:6).  So Haman made a request to the king to exterminate the Jews, and the king gave his approval (3:8-11)—not realizing, of course, that his queen was a Jewess.

On Aviv 13, the plans to annihilate the Jews were written up as an official edict and sealed with the king’s ring by Haman (Esth. 3:12).  (Interestingly, this probably was the same date that Judas Iscariot conspired with the chief priests to betray Jesus and hand Him over to them—Matt. 26:14-16; see “final five days”: P-I.)  For portions of three days and nights, the distressed Queen Esther fasted (Esth. 4:16c); and, on the third day (Aviv 16), she approached the king (5:1,2).  She invited him and Haman to a banquet that very day (5:4).  At the banquet, Esther invited them to yet another banquet the next day (5:6-8).

The following day (Aviv 17), during the second banquet, Queen Esther revealed to the king (in Haman’s presence) the plan for the destruction, slaughter, and annihilation of her people, the Jews; and she exposed Haman as the instigator of the plan (Esth. 7:1-6).  That very day, Haman was hanged on the same gallows he had had built to hang Mordecai (7:10a).  The Jews were delivered victoriously from their primary enemy on Aviv 17.  It is noteworthy that the same words, “adversary” and “enemy” (7:6), used to describe Haman, also are used to describe Satan (see C-7), from whose “edict of death” all believers have been saved as a result of Jesus the Messiah’s resurrection on Aviv 17.

Adar 14 and 15 (Purim)—celebration of deliverance

One more thing is interesting to note at this point, even though it has nothing to do with the Feast of Firstfruits.  The edict to destroy the Jews, described in the previous section in the account of Queen Esther, was to be enforced on the thirteenth of the month of Adar (Esth. 3:13).  On that date, instead, the Jews defeated 75,000 of their enemies; and they celebrated with feasting on the following two days, Adar 14 and 15 (9:20,21), referred to as “Purim” (9:26a).

In 1991, the Persian Gulf War ended on Adar 13; and Israel had a double reason to celebrate Purim on Adar 14 and 15, as Iraq had fired scud missiles upon Israel during the war.  I vividly recall the scenes of the Israelites celebrating during Purim, being able to put away their gas masks and unboard their windows, knowing they had been delivered, for a time, from their “Haman” (Sadam Hussein).  I do not view this as an “accidental coincidence” on God’s timetable; rather, it may have been a culmination of all of the Purim’s celebrated in the past—or possibly a notable rehearsal for an even larger Purim celebration in the future.

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Copyright © 1998– by Ted M. Montgomery, O.D.  Most rights reserved.