Q: What did James/Yaacov mean when he wrote in his epistle that we should be a “kind of first-fruits of his creatures?”
A: To understand what James/Yaacov meant by “a kind of first-fruits of his creatures”, we need to understand the holy day of Shavuot. The Feast of Shavout, or Weeks, is the fourth holy season in the Jewish calendar. Among most Gentile believers today, this same festival is known as the Feast of Pentecost.
It is called the Feast of Weeks because it took place seven weeks plus one day after the Feast of First- fruits. Its New Testament Greek name is the “Day of Pentecost” (Acts 2:1, 20:16; I Corinthians 16:8). Pentecost comes from the Greek word meaning “fifty.” Because this feast came fifty days after the Feast of Passover, it became known as the Feast of Pentecost. It was on this occasion that the Church was born.
And when the day of Pentecost was now come, they were all together in one place. (Acts 2:1)
According to this verse, the occasion was the day of Pentecost. When it states: the day, with a definite article, it shows that the Feast of Pentecost was now to be fulfilled by the events occurring in this particular chapter. The Greek word translated was now come means “in the being fulfilled completely.” The point Luke is trying to make in using this particular term is to show that the Feast of Pentecost is about to be fulfilled by these events. If this was observed on a Sunday in keeping with the Mosaic Law, then this day was also a Sunday and the Church was born on a Sunday.
...and the feast of harvest, the first-fruits of thy labors, which thou sowest in the field: and the feast of ingathering, at the end of the year, when thou gatherest in thy labors out of the field. (Exodus 23:16)
The Feast of Pentecost was one of the three pilgrimage festivals that every Jewish male had to travel to Jerusalem to observe. It is to be the feast of harvest, an agricultural observance marking the harvest of the spring season. Furthermore, it was to be an observance of the first-fruits of [their] labors in the field; this was the time of the first-fruits of the summer harvest. Deuteronomy 16:11 points out that this was to be a time of rejoicing for the entire family and the servants; everyone was to rejoice before God.
In the Old Testament, two loaves of bread were to be offered on a single sheet and waved before the Lord. The Feast of Pentecost was fulfilled by the birthday of the Church, which is composed of both Jewish and Gentile believers united into one Body. One loaf represents the Jews, one loaf represents the Gentiles, and the single sheet represents the fact that Jewish and Gentile believers are united into one Body. This is brought out clearly by Paul in Ephesians 2:11-16.
Another thing learned from the Old Testament observance of this feast is that these loaves were to be leavened (Leviticus 23:17). Leaven, when used symbolically in Scripture, is a symbol of sin. It is Jewish and Gentile sinners who are saved by grace through faith and are brought into this one Body, the Church.
Furthermore, these loaves were to be made of wheat. Wheat and harvest are common symbols of evangelism and salvation in the Gospels. In Matthew 3:11-12, the concepts of wheat and harvest are also connected with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which began on the Feast of Pentecost, thereby bringing the Church into existence.
The first-fruits concept in the Old Testament observance of the Feast of Pentecost was the first-fruits of the wheat and barley harvest. The first-fruits concept is fulfilled by the first believers who were Jewish believers. Acts 2:41-42 states:
They then that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers.
The first several thousands of believers were Jewish since Gentile believers do not come into the picture until Acts 10. In a very special way, these Jewish believers were the first-fruits fulfillment of the Feast of Pentecost.
This is brought out again in James 1:18. According to verse 1 of this chapter, James/Yaacov wrote his epistle specifically to Jewish believers: to the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion. He was not writing to the Church in general, but to Jewish believers in particular. This makes sense since he was the head of the Jerusalem Church. Then James stated in verse 18:
Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.
These Jewish believers are a kind of first-fruits of his creatures. So the first-fruits aspect of the Feast of Pentecost was fulfilled by the Jewish believers who were the first believers of this new entity born on this occasion: the Church.