Who are the first fruits of creation?
Feb 29, 2012
As we keep in mind that James was writing to the twelve tribes, his discussion of temptation or trials takes on some nuances that many do not see today. There is no doubt that James well knew the story of Israel in the wilderness and how God tried them by various means. Trial is particularly applicable to the wilderness, because it is associated with the feast of Pentecost, whose first fruit offering was wheat that was tried by fire (Lev. 23:17).
Because the Israelites had been scattered by the Assyrians and others, they were in another great wilderness period. In fact, Hosea 2:14 prophesies to Israel,
(14) Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness, and speak kindly to her.
So Israel's dispersion was a wilderness experience, a place of trial at the hands of the nations. God Himself took credit for bringing her into that wilderness, as Hosea tells us, but essentially, James' point is that the trial was taking place at the hands of the nations, rather than God's direct action.
The divine judgment was designed to show Israel that the worship of false gods would only lead to bondage. Each nation had its own gods and thought that they were the "chosen people" of those gods. This viewpoint made them believe they had the right to enslave all others, if possible. Other nations were to be used for selfish purposes. So God put Israel into the midst of that kind of thinking, in order to show them by personal experience the fallacy of such thinking.
For this reason, James emphasizes those agents by whom the divine judgment was being carried out. God was not mistreating the Israelites directly, but He had given Israel into the hands of ungodly men to bring judgment upon them.
James then concludes in 1:16, 17 saying,
(16) Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (17) Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.
The appeal here is for the Israelites to turn to Jesus Christ, who, by His goodness and mercy, had purchased them by His blood, so that their captivity may come to an end. Through Christ, they would be regathered to Him into the Kingdom of God. Through Christ, they could join with those brethren of Judah who had believed the gospel as well. As I have explained in my books, Judah was divided into two sets of people, described by Jeremiah as "good figs" and "evil figs" (Jer. 24). The good figs were those who believed in Christ and followed His instructions. These continued the tribe or nation of Judah, while the others were cut off as evil figs.
James was the leader of the church in Jerusalem, the core of the good fig company. He thus appeals to the Israelites of all twelve tribes to turn to God through Christ, so that they might be regathered unto Him. In this way, Hosea 1:10 would be fulfilled, saying,
(11) And the sons of Judah and the sons of Israel will be gathered together, and they will appoint for themselves one Leader, and they will go up from the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.
This is obviously a Messianic prophecy. There is no genuine regathering of Israel and Judah apart from the people appointing Jesus Christ as their Leader. The Israeli state is not the fulfillment of this prophecy. The Zionist Jews did not follow Jesus to Palestine. They did not fulfill the requirement of the Laws of Tribulation (Lev. 26:40-42), wherein they first would have to confess their hostility against Yahweh, who appeared on earth as Yeshua (Jesus). Only after fulfilling this requirement would God end their judgment and tribulation.
No, the fulfillment of Hosea 1:11 can come only by recognizing Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Leader of this regathering. Only then can the captivity of either Judah or Israel come to an end. And so, as we showed earlier, when Peter wrote to the tribes in dispersion, he told them of their right in Christ to no longer act as slaves, but as free men in Christ (1 Peter 2:16). They had this right only as repentant Israelites who had accepted the New Covenant mediated by Jesus Christ.
James continues in verse 18,
(18) In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures [ktisma, "created things, or Creation"].
Who are these first fruits? They are obviously believers. James recognizes that Israel itself was called to be the first fruit of creation. However, the Old Covenant plan had failed in its purpose, because, as we know, the old Adamic nature was incapable of fulfilling its vows of obedience. It is only through the New Covenant that the plan can succeed, for this is based upon the will of God, rather than the will of man. The New Covenant puts the requirement upon God, rather than man (Heb. 8:8-12).
Though the New Covenant (like the Old) was specifically addressed to Judah and Israel, it was always God's intent that the twelve tribes should be the first fruits of a greater harvest. Creation is that greater harvest. The first fruits sanctify the harvest. Paul speaks of this in Romans 11:16,
(16) And if the first piece of dough be holy, the lump is also; and if the root be holy, the branches are too.
There were three first fruits offerings in the law, each being given on a different feast day. Barley was the first fruits of Passover; wheat was for Pentecost; and grapes (wine) was for Tabernacles. In each case, the acceptance of the first fruits sanctified the whole harvest of grain or wine. God's intent was not to limit Himself to the first fruits, but to use them to signal the start of the harvest season.
Hence, the believers among the twelve tribes--really beginning with the good figs of Judah in Jerusalem--were the first fruits that God would use to bring the rest of creation into the Kingdom of God. In this manner, the calling of Abraham would be fulfilled, in being a blessing to all the families of the earth. In this manner, God could reclaim all that was lost in Adam, using the seed of Abraham to accomplish that purpose.
The seed of Abraham, Paul says, is broader than just his natural descendants. In fact, most of his natural descendants have been unbelievers, as Scripture portrays by the prophets. The children of the flesh are really not the "seed" of Abraham in the eyes of God in the fullest sense of the word. Fleshly seed are only Ishmaels from Hagar, the bondwoman, and Paul says in Gal. 4:22-31 that none of her seed are inheritors of the promise. One can only inherit through Sarah, whose children include all who come into a New Covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ, regardless of one's fleshly genealogy.
In the end, those who depend upon the flesh will find themselves cast out, for Paul quotes the Scripture in Gal. 4:30, saying, "Cast out the bondwoman and her son." Those who depend upon the Old Covenant for their salvation or their "chosen" status with God will find themselves cast out. Those who think their genealogy from Adam, Abraham, Israel, or Judah automatically puts them into a covenant relationship with God will be disappointed in the end. Such things may put them under the Old Covenant--which was broken and became "obsolete" (Heb. 8:13)--but it will never suffice for the New Covenant.
There are some today who advocate "Dual Covenant Theology," which claims that Jews are saved by the Old Covenant, while non-Jews are saved by the New Covenant. Do not fall for such teaching. If a Jew is to be saved by his works, then no Jew can be saved, for all have sinned.