What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
As we study the meaning of God's holy days, a logical pattern surfaces that unlocks truths that remain a mystery to the vast majority of the world's people. The day of Pentecost symbolizes a major key to spiritual understanding because upon this day God sent His Holy Spirit to His church, providing Christ's disciples with the power, love, and understanding to carry out the work of the church. This regeneration by the Holy Spirit, the key to understanding the spiritual principles of God's Word, opens our understanding of the plan that God is working out among humanity.
God established His holy days around the two major harvests of the year, a small one in the spring and a larger one in the fall. These harvest seasons typify two spiritual harvests. Pentecost, occurring in late spring, symbolizes the first spiritual harvest and reveals that this is not the only day of salvation. Those whom God calls now are merely a "pilot group" that He has specifically selected to be His "firstfruits." This day is also the anniversary of God's church—the beginning of the portion of God's master plan in which He calls people out of this evil world to create in them His holy, perfect, spiritual character.
Holy Days: Pentecost
Why does Luke 12:32 say, "Do not fear, little flock . . ."? How big does the church need to be?
If God planned to save hundreds of thousands or millions of people in the first resurrection, Acts 2 would have been a wonderful place to start. Christ had died less than two months before; an earthquake had rattled Jerusalem; people physically rose from their graves and walked into town; the veil of the Temple had rent in two, exposing the Holy of Holies; and darkness fell at noon! Then came Pentecost: Tongues of fire appeared, the apostles spoke and people heard in dozens of languages. One would think the whole city would have heard and believed—yet the "best day ever" in the church produced a mere 3,000 converts!
This fledgling church "multiplied greatly" (Acts 6:7; 9:31; 18:10), but Acts 21:20 (KJV) still describes "how many thousands of Jews there are which believe." The church did not need huge auditoriums, for they met in private homes (Romans 16:5, Colossians 4:15, Philemon 2), and they were served worldwide by twelve apostles and a small number of elders. Even considering these small numbers, many fell away from the truth (I John 2:18-20; II Thessalonians 2:3, 7), and many followed false apostles (II Peter 2:1)!
Before the fall of Jerusalem, the true believers who had not yet migrated north fled to Pella. When the curtain came up after the first century, false apostles had syncretized paganism with the truth of God, forming a new and different church. The "little flock" of true Christians had disappeared. Most of those considered to be "Christians"—including many who died as martyrs—must have been syncretized pagans who believed a false gospel.
How many of those God will save are "firstfruits," and where do they fit? Paul includes himself and the congregation at Rome as firstfruits (Romans 8:23), as does James and the converted Israelites scattered abroad (James 1:18). In Romans 11:4-5, Paul refers to the 7,000 in Elijah's time who had not bowed their knee to Baal, and he uses this number to refer to his own time, saying, "Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace." Perhaps he did not mean exactly 7,000, but his quotation is consistent with the "thousands" we saw earlier.
There is a curious passage in Deuteronomy 33:2, 17:
The Lord came from Sinai, and dawned on them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran, and He came with ten thousands of saints; from His right hand came a fiery law for them. . . . He [Joseph] shall push the peoples to the ends of the earth; they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.
We know God gave the law to millions of Israelites. This prophetic passage about the futures of the tribes of Israel may not "prove" anything about "church" numbers of and by itself. It becomes more interesting, however, when we notice a few clearer passages. Jude, quoting Enoch, writes, "Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints" (verse 14), meaning that the saints are numbered in the tens of thousands. Song of Songs 5:10 describes the Beloved, a type of Christ, as "chief among ten thousand." These numbers become very significant when we combine them with I Thessalonians 3:13, where Paul says Christ will return with "all His saints."
Who Are the 144,000?
The bride of Christ is also exactly 144,000. Revelation 21:2 describes the bride as "the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God." At this point, she has risen to meet Jesus Christ, married Him and is coming back to rule on the earth with Him (Revelation 5:10). She will always be with Him from this time on (I Thessalonians 4:17). This occurs at the last trumpet (I Corinthians 15:50-52), the time of the resurrection of the "dead in Christ" along with those who are "alive and remain." (I Thessalonians 4:16-17)
Revelation 21 goes on to describe the bride further, beginning in verse 9: "Then one of the seven angels . . . talked with me, saying, 'Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife.'" The angel refers to her as "the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God" (verse 10).
He then describes her dimensions: Her wall is pierced by twelve gates—each a great pearl—having the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed on them and twelve angels at them (verses 12, 21). Her twelve foundations, adorned with precious stones, are each named after the twelve apostles (verses 14, 19-20). New Jerusalem is 12,000 furlongs in length, breadth and height (verse 16). Her wall measures 144 cubits (verse 17).
Twelve tribes times 12,000 each is 144,000, just as John describes the sealed servants of God in Revelation 7! Twelve and the square of twelve is New Jerusalem's description! The bride is exactly 144,000, and the firstfruits are exactly 144,000 (Revelation 14:4).
Who Are the 144,000?
In our culture, because we do not deal with patriarchal inheritances, it is difficult to understand "birthright." Since we live in an individual-oriented society, perhaps we can grasp the concept of "opportunity" more readily.
Advertisers inundate us with offers to learn about a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." It usually ends up in a meeting where a motivational speaker tries to recruit us for another network-marketing "opportunity." Or, it may be a chance to buy a franchise of a promising new chain of restaurants or stores. After a few of such pitches, we can become jaded to the fact that God truly offers us an incredible "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to end all others.
Indeed, most of humanity from the days of Adam will never be given the opportunities God offers us. Our birthright is a once-in-eternity opportunity, offered by One who cannot lie!
What is our fantastic opportunity? Not many will rise in the first resurrection, the small first harvest of God's children. Yet, those who attain to this resurrection will receive promises never again to be offered or repeated. We could be the very Bride of Christ, if we do not despise our calling. We could work intimately with the King of Kings as a leader and ruler of several cities of our own in a glorious Millennial world, if we do not sell out for our "bowl of lentils." We could be crowned with a diadem designed by the Master Designer with our new name inscribed on it, if we do not become blotted out of the Book of Life because of rebellion against God. God has called us to eternal life full of joyful, pleasurable experiences for all eternity (Psalm 16:11).
God says, "The meek inherit the whole earth" (Psalm 37:11; Matthew 5:5), but He does not stop there. He has already told us that we are not to inherit just some land here on earth, but we are co-heirs with Jesus, slated to inherit and rule over everything (Hebrews 2:8)! Drive out into the country one clear night and get far away from city lights. Now look at the starry expanse above. Those stars, nebulae, and galaxies could be ours—or we could give them up for the temporary pleasure of sin that lasts for a moment now.
We could hear our Master announce, "Well done, good and faithful servant," or we could hear, "Depart from Me, I have never known you." The choice is largely ours at this point. God calls us His children, and therefore we are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ of everything God has and everything God is (Romans 8:16-17)!
So how are we doing with God's once-in-an-eternity offer? Are we showing by our actions that we are treasuring it or despising it?
When people recognize a true opportunity, they give up everything else to be sure they get it. Jesus says a man would give up everything he has to obtain a pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46). Paul says many run the race, but most are not doing what it takes to win. He says he is racing after an incorruptible crown, keeping his passions well controlled, lest in the end, he be just another castaway and lose out (I Corinthians 9:24-27).
Inheriting birthrights sometimes means having to sacrifice profoundly and give up the pleasures and desires of the here and now, as Moses did (Hebrews 11:24-27). Moses took the long view, "for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible" (verse 27). We have to see God in all this and recognize what He is handing to us. Then, we humbly accept it and hang on to it for all its worth!
What is Your Bowl of Lentil Stew?
Notice in verse 3 that on the tenth day each person was to take a lamb for himself. In verse 5, the lamb must be without blemish and a male of the first year.
Think of Jesus in reference to these instructions. The meat could be either from the sheep or the goats. Jesus is a type of both sheep and goat.
Verses 6-8 show that the innocent lamb bled to death. Scripture also says that the bones were not to be broken, and it must be roasted whole. Jesus' bones were not broken either.
Through these verses, we see that Jesus was the perfect antitype of this lamb that was slain at the Passover service. By means of the blood that was smeared on the lintel and the doorposts, Israel was saved from the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn. The blood of the lamb redeemed, bought back, the firstborn of Israel. Otherwise, they too would have been killed.
Jesus' ghastly death and the terrible scourging He endured do the same for us; it redeems us, buys us back. Some Protestants say He died of a broken heart, but that is not true. Like the Passover lamb, He bled to death; His blood spilled onto the earth, and He expired an innocent and pure man. He had never sinned, just like the lamb without blemish and without spot.
Therefore, we call Him our Savior and Redeemer. Once we accept Him as our Savior, because He was sinless and He died for us, His blood covers our sins. He redeems us from the second death—from the death angel.
He is the firstborn among many brethren, and we are called the firstfruits. We are the firstfruits of spiritual Israel that are protected from that death angel, the second death.
God often works in dual stages, as shown here. The first is the type of the lamb slain at Passover, and the second is the antitype or the perfect fulfillment in Jesus Christ. For the type of the Passover lamb to be fulfilled perfectly and completely in the antitype of Jesus Christ, His crucifixion and death had to occur on Nisan 14. There is no other day in which the type would have been fulfilled because that is the day of the Passover.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Christ's Death, Resurrection, and Ascension
The wavesheaf offering is an easily overlooked offering. Only those aware of the counting required to observe Pentecost notice it because the count for Pentecost begins with the day of the wave-sheaf offering. Possibly many of us were once unaware of the wavesheaf offering because the church supplied us with a calendar showing the holy day dates for many years in advance. Since the date of Pentecost had already been determined for us, we were unaware that the count began with the day the ancient Israelites made the obscure wavesheaf offering.
Occurring on only one day each year, the day of the wavesheaf offering is not designated a holy day by God. But it is far from minor or obscure in its meaning to salvation. In fact, we could say that, without what it means to our salvation, there would be no salvation!
The wavesheaf consisted of an omer of barley, still on the stalk, cut at the beginning of the spring harvest. Since it came from the very beginning of the harvest of the firstfruits, it can be called the first of the firstfruits (Exodus 23:19). A comparison of Exodus 23:14-19; 34:22-26; Leviticus 23:10-11 and Nehemiah 12:44 confirms that each Israelite possessing a harvest was required to give an offering. A priest then lifted or "waved" each sheaf before God for acceptance. However, while the individual Israelite farmers did bring a firstfruits offering to the priests, the standard, recorded practice during the Second Temple period (the time of Christ) was to perform only one official waving of a sheaf by a priest in Jerusalem. This one sheaf and its waving represented all the others brought by individual farmers.
In its setting in the Old Testament, the wavesheaf offering represents a thankful acknowledgment to God as the Giver of the harvest, while dedicating or consecrating it to Him. Its waving set the stage for the rest of the harvest to proceed. In fact, the work of harvesting could not begin until the wavesheaf offering occurred.
Though Scripture specifies the day the wavesheaf was to be cut, it gives no specific time of day to cut it. Jewish history from the Second Temple period gives an interesting insight. The second-century Mishnah affirms that, when the Sadducees controlled the Temple, the sickle was put to the grain just as the sun was going down on the weekly Sabbath (Menahot 10:1-4, Jacob Neusner translation, pp. 753-754). The book, Biblical Calendars, states, "The Boethusians [Temple priests] reaped [the firstfruits sheaf] at the going out of the Sabbath" (p. 218. Additional information can be found in the section titled "Temple Service," p. 280, as well as in The Temple: Its Ministry and Services by Alfred Edersheim, 1994, pp. 203-205). The New Testament's silence on this Sadducean practice—along with its agreement with the ritual's fulfillment in Christ—must be construed as acceptance of its validity.
The priests began to make the first cutting right at the end of the Sabbath, continuing over into the first day of the week, when the bulk of the work would be done. The ritual, however, was not complete until the sheaf was offered (waved) before God the following morning, or more precisely, between 9:00 a.m. and noon. Some might object to the reaping of the sheaf in the closing minutes of the Sabbath because it is a day of rest when no work is to be done. After one understands the full reason for it, as well as Jesus' direct statement that a priest is blameless in the performance of his required duties (Matthew 12:5), any objections to the practice disappear.
The spiritual reason is supplied in the New Testament, when a major step in God's plan begins to unfold. The Old Testament situates the festivals of God within the agricultural harvests, but in the New Testament, these agricultural harvests become types of God's spiritual harvests of souls into His Kingdom. The New Testament uses this imagery extensively (e.g. John 4:35-36; Matthew 9:36-38).
Another clear reference to a spiritual harvest is the Parable of the Wheat and Tares:
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat. . . . [The owner said,] "Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, 'First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.'" (Matthew 13:24-25, 30)
In His explanation of this parable, Jesus says, "The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. . . . Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" (Matthew 13:39, 43). It is so plain! A harvest symbolizes a resurrection. More specifically and positively, a harvest is a type of a resurrection to eternal life—birth into the Kingdom of God!
The resurrected Jesus Christ fits into this picture as the archetypical Wavesheaf. He was crucified "in the middle of the week" (Daniel 9:27), a Wednesday, and put into the grave near sunset (John 19:31, 38-42). Mark confirms this: "Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath [an annual Sabbath, the first day of Unleavened Bread]" (Mark 15:42). The holy day fell on a Thursday, followed by a second preparation day, then the weekly Sabbath (Luke 23:54-56).
Jesus explains in Matthew 12:39-40 that the length of time He would be in the tomb is the sign of His Messiahship. Counting three days and three nights from Jesus' burial in the tomb on Wednesday evening near sunset brings us to Saturday evening near sunset. As the Sabbath was ending, the Father burst the bonds of Christ's death by the power of His Holy Spirit and resurrected Him as very God.
He was now prepared to be accepted before the Father. But John 20:1 and John 20:17 show that His ascension did not occur until sometime Sunday morning.
The Bible nowhere indicates that the priests understood the ritual they were performing on Saturday evening when Jesus Christ, the archetypical Wavesheaf, was "harvested" from the material world by being resurrected from the dead. On Sunday morning, as the firstborn of many brethren, He was lifted into and through the heavens to God's throne to be accepted by Him as the sacrifice for our sins and as our High Priest.
God's plan had just taken a momentous step toward its completion. The Redeemer of mankind had triumphed and been glorified. "For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Romans 5:10). Now the payment for our sins had been secured and a sinless and dynamic High Priest installed as our Mediator before the Father. Our salvation had now been assured and death conquered, preparing the way for many, many more to follow.
On the surface, the wavesheaf offering may seem an insignificant event lost in the more visible activities of Passover and Unleavened Bread. Though it may be lost on this world's "Christianity," it memorializes the most significant spiritual event that has yet taken place on earth: the resurrection and ascension of our Savior Jesus Christ! Thank God that He has given us understanding of it! We can be even more thankful when we understand that it signifies the real beginning of the spiritual work of harvesting human souls, culminating with us being resurrected and changed to spirit as Jesus' brothers and sisters at His return!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wavesheaf Offering
If we study these passages together, we will see that the waving of the sheaf occurred on the day after the weekly Sabbath that fell during the Days of Unleavened Bread. The Bible does not say, specifically, when the wavesheaf was cut, but it obviously must have happened sometime before it was waved.
We have long understood that Jesus fulfilled the waving of the sheaf at His ascension. However, it has not been emphasized that He also fulfilled the type of the cutting of the wavesheaf upon being resurrected.
During the Second Temple period, when Jesus died, the sheaf was reaped from the field as the Sabbath ended and Sunday began. This is the period of the day called ben ha arbayim. It was the time at dusk when one day was ending and the other was beginning.
We know this from the Mishna (a record of all the services and small observances that the Jews did and the directions for doing them), which says: "Rabbi Hananiah, prefect of the priests, says it [meaning the barley sheaf ] was reaped on the Sabbath. He [that is, the priest] says to them, 'Shall I reap on this Sabbath?' And they [a kind of chorus that had gathered around: the other priests, the Levites, and other spectators] shall say, 'Yes.' "
He repeated this three times. "Shall I reap on this Sabbath?" "Yes!" "Shall I reap on this Sabbath?" "Yes!" "Shall I reap on this Sabbath?" Yes!"
"With this sickle?" "Yes!" "With this sickle?" "Yes!" "With this sickle?" "Yes!"—and so forth. So what we see is that, during Jesus' lifetime, at the end of the Sabbath, at dusk, the priests put the sickle to the grain, as it says in Deuteronomy 16:9.
Now the reaping of the sheaf symbolizes Israel giving the firstfruits, the very best of their produce, to God, and this is exactly the symbolism that Jesus fulfilled (I Corinthians 15:20-23). Christians are also called the firstfruits of God.
So as the weekly Sabbath was ending, exactly seventy-two hours from His burial, God resurrected His Son from the dead. He became the perfect wavesheaf offering that would be waved the next day. He was the first and perfect Firstfruit. In a very real sense, God reaped the best and the first of His spiritual harvest.
One might wonder why this happened on the Sabbath. What is the significance of this being done on the Sabbath? It is the Sabbath that commemorates God as Creator. This same God rested on the seventh day of creation. This is Jesus Christ—the Word of God!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Christ's Death, Resurrection, and Ascension
God causes us to "come near"; we do not go to Him on our own. If He did not do what He does, we would never draw near to God—ever (John 6:44)! His work enables us to come into His presence.
Coming near to God is a priest's calling. A priest's work is essentially mediatorial. He stands much like a bridge between God and the people. This is keying us in to what our job is. We are to stand between God and the world. We have an awesome responsibility!
The English term priest comes from a root meaning "first," as in firstborn. A priest is one who comes first or goes first. He goes and then others follow. Our High Priest, Christ, is the first One in the presence of God eternally, never to leave.
We can draw near, but with our kind of character, as variable as it is, we come and go. We are like a ping-pong ball bouncing back and forth across a table. However, we still have the responsibility and the privilege of drawing close to God. He shows in the Old Testament ceremonies that we are supposed to go in prayer at least every morning and every evening, as pictured by the incense offering. David said he went before God "morning, noon, and evening."
"Priest"—or "first" (its root)—indicates a leadership position. Christ is our High Priest. He led us into the presence of God. We follow Him there, and we are, symbolically, very close to Him there. But we are leading others; they will someday follow us into God's presence. Even as Christ's work made it possible for us to get into the presence of God, so—in the future—Christ's work and our work will lead the rest of mankind into His presence. They, too, will have the same privilege that we do. So the whole church of the firstfruits goes first before God in behalf of the people who will follow at a later time.
When the priests in Israel drew near to God, they took with them the thanksgiving, the entreaties, and the sacrifices of themselves and of the people. However, this is a two-way street—or a bridge. They also brought back with them the gifts—namely things like reconciliation, understanding of God's will, and all kinds of other blessings of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
New Covenant Priesthood (Part One)
God connects the basket of summer fruit (Amos 8:2) with its lesson of remembrance in Deuteronomy 26:1-10. We should note several factors.
The Setting: The Israelites, having endured decades of Egyptian slavery and wilderness wanderings, are poised on the threshold of the Promised Land. Moses instructs them: "And it shall be, when you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it, that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground . . . and put it in a basket" (verses 1-2).
The Symbol: a basket of the woven, wicker sort, filled with summer produce. We might visualize a cornucopia. God instructs the Israelite to bring the basket "to the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide" (verse 2b), and there he is to make two declarations, the first to the priest, the second to God.
The Ritual: To the priest, the offerer briefly declares, "I have come to the country which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us" (verse 3). The declaration succinctly affirms that God has honored His promise to the patriarchs. After handing the basket to the priest, who places it before the altar (verse 4), the offerer makes his second declaration, this one to God. This affirmation recognizes God's faithfulness to carry out what He has promised: "My father was a Syrian about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous" (verse 5).
The declaration also rehearses Israel's "affliction and our labor and our oppression" (verse 7) in Egypt, and mentions God's deliverance "with great terror and with signs and wonders" (verse 8). Then comes that timeless characterization of the Promised Land:
"He has brought us to this place and has given us this land,'a land flowing with milk and honey': and now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land which you, O LORD, have given me." Then you shall set it before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD your God. (verse 9-10)
The basket of summer fruit served as tangible evidence of God's faithfulness to deliver them. Its existence stood firm proof that He was "able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20). Remember, God promised the patriarchs land (Genesis 12:7; 13:14-15; 15:18-21; 17:8). But what He actually gave His people was so special, so grand, that only "a land flowing with milk and honey" could properly describe it.
The "worship" mentioned in Deuteronomy 26:10 was praise and thanksgiving to God for His works "exceedingly abundantly above all that [Israel could] ask or think." Yesterday or today, the basket of summer fruit teaches the same lesson: Remember your God in the midst of His blessings to you. Do not neglect Him.
A Basket of Summer Fruit
"First-ripe" (bikkoor, bikkoorah, or bakkoorah) is a variant of the word firstfruits. A first-ripe fig is a delicacy begging for attention now. When one sees such a "fruit to maturity" (Luke 8:14), dripping white sweet through splitting skin, he should eat it promptly. It does not remain long in one's hand because it is at its peak; it will never taste better. Thus, Ephraim's fall will be at "noontime"; her enemies will pluck her at her zenith of power and glory and suddenly devour her.
A Basket of Summer Fruit
Isaiah begins with "the voice of one crying in the wilderness." The voice prophesied was that of John the Baptist, which Scripture confirms in Malachi 3:1; Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:2-3; Luke 3:4; and John 1:23. Who would John be speaking to, proclaiming his message of repentance? To all who would "hear" him! Those "who have ears to hear" (see Matthew 13:9, 43, etc.), which would be all those with whom God is working, His firstfruits!
What did that "voice" say? What did he call on his audience to do? "[P]repare the way of the LORD." The instruction becomes more specific: ". . . make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low, the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth." Filling up valleys and removing the tops of mountains seems like a lot of work for one man. This is where the firstfruits come in. Why are we to do this? So that "the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together."
Albert Barnes, in his commentary on Isaiah written in 1851, remarks on these verses:
The idea is taken from the practice of Eastern monarchs, who, whenever they entered on a journey or an expedition, especially through a barren and unfrequented or inhospitable country, sent harbingers [forerunners] or heralds before them to prepare the way. To do this, it was necessary for them to provide supplies, and make bridges, or find fording places over the streams; to level hills, and construct causeways over valleys, or fill them up; and to make a way through the forest which might lie in their intended line of march.
Those who went before, to mark and improve the route, were the forerunners. They were "the scouts, the pioneers, the ones sent before a king to prepare the way," as forerunner is defined. Recall Daniel Boone and his party of thirty expert woodsmen laying out a 200-mile-long route. Over time, as more people came over the trail, it was improved, widened, and smoothed. It all began, however, with one man. That man then led others, and it multiplied from there.
John the Baptist was one man "crying in the wilderness," yet he prepared the way for the Son of God. Each of us, in our daily lives, interacts with family, coworkers, neighbors, and others who may know little or nothing of God and His Word. Our words and deeds could well pave the way for any of them to answer God's call at another time. Each of us has opportunities to set an example that will affect their lives, hopefully in a positive way. In this way, each of us is a forerunner, marking and improving the trail through the conduct of our lives.
Blazing a Trail Through the Wilderness
The Seventy Weeks Prophecy is perhaps best known for its descriptions of the future Beast. However, because of the poetic, non-linear style in which it is written, many are erroneously waiting for the Antichrist to make a peace treaty with the Jews for seven years. This misunderstanding results from the fact that the descriptions of the Messiah and the Beast are interwoven in verses 26-27. The Messiah is described in the first halves of verses 26 and 27, while "the prince who is to come" (the figure commonly known as "the Beast," "vile person," and "little horn") is described in the latter parts of the same verses (see "Seventy Weeks Are Determined . . ." Forerunner, December 1994.)
But in the first half of verse 27, it is the Messiah who is prophesied to "confirm a covenant with many for one week." Recall that Jesus told His disciples, "This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many," and Hebrews 9:28 confirms this connection: "Christ was offered . . . to bear the sins of many." So, even though it is not specifically called the new, eternal, or perpetual covenant in Daniel 9:27, as it is in other places, this is the covenant that is being described. This covenant radically alters the lives of those making it, for under its terms sin is forgiven, the Holy Spirit is given, God's laws are internalized, eternal life is granted (because it gives us personal, experiential knowledge of the Father and the Son; see John 17:3), and there are more instances of divine grace than can be counted.
A large controversy in the early church dealt with the fact that Jews and Gentiles were on equal terms under the New Covenant, since it made salvation available to anyone who is called and responds in faith. In fact, when the Messiah began confirming this covenant, Israelites in general did not want to have anything to do with Him. He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him (John 1:11-12).
After the leaders within Israel rejected Christ, the apostles began to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Then, on the road to Damascus, Saul, renamed Paul, was appointed as the apostle to the Gentiles. Clearly, the prophecies regarding salvation for the Gentiles were coming to pass, showing that they were included in the New Covenant.
This is where we in the church are now. It matters not whether we are Israelite or Gentile—we are the firstfruits of God's spiritual harvest and already beneficiaries of a superior covenant with extraordinary promises.
David C. Grabbe
Finishing the Week
God foreknew us and determined to call us before He ever made His summons known to us. By doing so, He was making a prognosis. We are in this elite group, the called, only because the great God of heaven and earth specifically and personally summoned us by forcibly bringing the good news to our attention so we would be motivated to choose to respond freely to it.
He then led us to repentance, to a personal understanding of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and to an acceptance of it. Then He gave us His Holy Spirit to enable us to obey the obligations of the New Covenant. It is in this combination of factors, plus a few more, that we can begin to understand the possibilities of human life. We see in Christ the pattern of what we ought to be, and the motivation to be in His image begins to arise in us. But this occurs only because God has summoned us to be in this elite group, the firstfruits, to run for this awesome goal.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Five): Who We Are
1 Corinthians 15:23
Only the just, the righteous, will rise at Christ's second coming. God will raise the martyred saints to eternal life, but the unjust dead will not be resurrected until the end of this period. If we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us when we die, we will be resurrected through the power of that same Spirit at that time (Romans 8:9, 11, 14). In addition to the dead in Christ, those who are true Christians at His coming will rise in the first resurrection. The Feast of Trumpets celebrates the second coming of Jesus Christ to intervene in world affairs, resurrect the firstfruits, and establish God's Kingdom on earth (Matthew 24:30-31; Revelation 11:15).
Martin G. Collins
Basic Doctrines: The First Resurrection
It is evident that a specific descendent was implied: that one of Abraham's "seed" had the same promise made. The promises entailed so much more than justification by faith. If that were the main or only promise, it had already been given to multiple characters throughout the Old Testament (Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, the prophets, etc.). Even Noah, living before Abraham, "became an heir of the righteousness which is by faith" (Hebrews 11:7)—yet none of these received the promises (Hebrews 11:13)! The promises made to Abraham cannot be limited to justification because all of these "men of faith" mentioned in Hebrews 11 did receive that. The promises entail eternal life, inheritance of the earth (Matthew 5:5, not heaven), and being born into the Family of God.
These promises were made to Abraham and Christ. Abraham died without receiving them (Hebrews 11:13), which means he must live again in order for the promises to be fulfilled. Christ came to earth to confirm that those promises were still in existence and to set in process a means by which true Christians could inherit them. This will be fulfilled at the first resurrection, when the firstfruits are changed into immortal beings, given a full measure of God's Spirit, and begin reigning on the earth with Christ (Revelation 5:10; 20:4-6).
David C. Grabbe
This word "forerunner" is the Greek prodromos, used in Scripture only this one time. It means "scout," "guide," or "one sent before a king to prepare the way." The Greeks also used prodromos to mean "firstfruits."
In the story of Daniel Boone, he went first to scout out Kentucky, then later took a party of thirty woodsmen to improve the trail, and after that, even more people followed. Boone was the forerunner, but so were those who went with him to develop the route. That first small group was the firstfruits. Spiritually, Christ has gone ahead, showing us the way, and we, as the firstfruits, improve the trail so that others will someday walk it more easily.
The concept of a forerunner runs throughout the Bible. We could say that Adam was a forerunner, as well as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, and of course, Christ. Notice that each of these forerunners had followers—their firstfruits. Adam had Eve and their sons and daughters that followed them. Noah had his wife and family. Abraham had Sarah and Lot, and later were added Ishmael and Isaac, and then Jacob and his children. Moses had Aaron and Miriam and then all the children of Israel. Elijah led to Elisha. John the Baptist proclaimed the coming of Christ, who called His disciples—us.
In other words, we have a part to play as well. It is not the leading role but a supporting one. Nonetheless, it is a necessary part. There is no call for a "big head" here: God could have called someone else or raised up stones, as John the Baptist says in Matthew 3:9. However, He did not; He called us specifically (John 6:44). Therefore, we should not waste our opportunity.
Blazing a Trail Through the Wilderness
1 John 5:19-20
The very fact that we know these things—that we are of God, that Satan is the unseen ruler of this world, and that we know God and His Son Jesus Christ—is evidence that we have been given an understanding. This knowledge is not something we have determined on our own; the sovereign God has given it to us to fulfill His purpose in us. And in His sovereignty He has withheld it from others.
Other passages, in more specific areas of our profession, show the uniqueness of our calling to an even greater extent. For example, Paul writes in II Thessalonians 3:1-2, "Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have [the] faith." From our own experiences we know his statement is true. Not everyone has faith. It is obvious that some believe and others do not. Even within the church we are at different stages of faith.
Acts 13:48 adds important ramifications to this subject of God's sovereignty, our calling, and faith: "Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." The implications of Luke's words are rather startling. Only those whom God appointed or predestined to eternal life believe the preaching of Paul and Barnabas! The rest, though they also hear the word of the Lord, persecute and expel them from the region. They do not believe what they hear, and it angers rather than converts them. We must conclude that God triggers something in the minds of those He calls, making the Lord's words agreeable, so they will believe what they are hearing.
This agrees perfectly with Ephesians 1:5—"[God] predestined us to adoption as sons by [through] Jesus Christ"—and Romans 8:29-30, which explicitly states the whole panorama of His purpose:
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
God has the whole process planned out, and He is so confident of His ability to accomplish it that He perceives it as already done! He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Six
Some contend that there are two groups of 144,000, one in Revelation 14, the other in chapter 7. Apparently, the idea is that the ones in chapter 7 are physical Israelites that are the seed of physical government for the Millennium, and the 144,000 in chapter 14 are the bride, the firstfruits, the elect of God.
First, we must ask why God would see a need for physical rulers when He has prepared 144,000 humans-turned-spirit beings to rule as kings and priests? Isaiah 30:21 shows that they will be visible and audible to humans.
We can ascertain the truth of the matter simply by defining the "sealing" of those in Revelation 7. We will see that sealing has to do with protecting and setting aside for special use.
In II Corinthians 1:22, Paul describes himself and the spiritual Israelites, the church, as being "sealed . . . and given . . . the spirit in our hearts as a deposit" (see also II Corinthians 5:5). In a real estate transaction, earnest or "sincerity and serious intent" money is put down ahead of time. If the buyer fails to finish the purchase, he loses the money. Spiritually, God gives us "earnest money" in the form of the Holy Spirit. He buys, redeems, or purchases us with Christ?s blood, which seals us or designates us as His. The Holy Spirit and the mind of Christ in us are the evidence of this, recognizable to Him and others. God completes the transaction when He returns and changes us into spirit as members of the God Family and co-heirs with Christ (John 3:6; I Corinthians 15:42-55).
Ephesians 1:13-14 combines sealing, as in Revelation 7, with redemption, a characteristic of the 144,000 of Revelation 14:
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the guarantee [earnest, KJV, NKJV margin] of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
Here, "sealed," "earnest," "redemption," and "purchase" are all included in one passage, showing they are inseparable! There is only one group of 144,000!
Ephesians 4:30 makes the same connection, showing we are "sealed [protected, set aside or apart] for the day of redemption" by the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 9:11-15 shows the redemption from our sins is of Christ so that we can "receive the promise of eternal inheritance," which occurs at the return of Christ (Luke 21:27-28).
The time element of Revelation 7 is the sixth seal and the day of Christ?s wrath (Revelation 6:12-17). The angels are instructed to hold back opening the seventh seal and seven last plagues until the sealing of the 144,000 is complete (Revelation 7:1-3). The last two to be sealed, set aside, given the final stamp of approval may be the Two Witnesses, who die only three-and-a-half days before Christ returns. God resurrects them to meet Christ in the air with the 143,998 others who form the bride and government of Christ, the mother for the rest of humanity, who will then have the opportunity for salvation in their order.
The sealing is not just physical protection of 144,000 physical Israelites. The Bible clearly defines sealing as being of the Holy Spirit of promise toward inheritance of the promises. This includes the patriarchs and all true Christians right until Christ returns. Notice they are called "the servants of our God" (Revelation 7:3). God does not use this term lightly in the Bible. Could we legitimately classify 144,000 people who had just endured the Tribulation because of sin, barely surviving and not yet converted, "servants of our God?"
Those who survive into the Millennium will be humbled and ready to become converted, not already converted and ready to rule. That opportunity is reserved for those who have already proved themselves worthy to rule, servants of God, the firstfruits.
Why are they numbered by tribe? Because the apostles rule over the twelve tribes (Matthew 19:28), and as we see in Revelation 21, twelve is the governmental number of the bride. Whether we are physically of Judah, Gad, Asher, or whatever tribe is not important. Very likely, God places us spiritually in those tribes as He organizes His government.
We know this because the twelve apostles were not all physically from the tribes they will rule! They were apparently mostly of Judah, Levi, or Benjamin. Since there were several sets of brothers among the Twelve, it is impossible that all twelve tribes could physically be represented, so Christ will place them over whichever tribe He chooses. He will do the same with us.
Who Are the 144,000?
This verse states unequivocally that these 144,000 are "firstfruits to God and to the Lamb." Can God count? If these 144,000 are God?s firstfruits, then no one else is included. The firstfruits are exactly 144,000, not one person less or one more! These numbers are consistent with the "thousands" and "tens of thousands" added together from the Old and New Testaments (Deuteronomy 33:17; Song of Songs 5:10; Acts 21:20). As Christ says, "Many are called, but few chosen" (Matthew 20:16).
Who Are the 144,000?
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