The two parts of this chapter (vv. 1-5 and 6-20) are unified by the fact that firstfruits (14:4) imply a harvest (14:15-16). In the Hebrew Bible every firstborn, human or animal, belonged to the Lord (Ex 13:2), so the "firstfruits," or initial yield of every crop, were set aside as a sacrificial offering (for example, Lev 2:9-14; Neh 10:35-37). God's portion of the harvest was given to God up front, as it were. In the New Testament, "firstfruits" is used as a metaphor for something given in advance, anticipating a greater benefit or "harvest" to come. This can be the resurrection of Jesus anticipating the resurrection of believers (1 Cor 15:23), the Spirit as a gift from God pointing to future resurrection (Rom 8:23), the first converts in a particular region holding out the promise of more converts to come (Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:15) or reborn Christians offering hope for the rebirth of God's creation (Jas 1:18).
Our passage is unique within the New Testament in that the 144,000 as sacrificial "firstfruits" anticipate a "harvest" seen not as blessing or salvation, but as judgment, a harvest rather like John the Baptist's, in which the Harvester was to "clear his threshing floor" and "gather the wheat into his barn," but "burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Lk 3:17). John's glimpse of the 144,000 on Mount Zion is but a brief respite between the wrath of the beasts against them in the preceding chapter and the wrath of God on their behalf in the harvest that follows.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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