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Jesus: The First Fruits of the Resurrection- I Corinthians 15:23-28

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.

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Introduction: Jesus the First of Many Resurrections

Gary Thomas, in a magazine article in the Christian Times, once relayed this true story. He said:

As Vice President, George Bush represented the U.S. at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev's widow. She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev's wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed: She reached down and made the sign of the cross on her husband's chest. There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all hoped that her husband was wrong. She hoped that there was another life, and that that life was best represented by Jesus who died on the cross, and that the same Jesus might yet have mercy on her husband."

The Bible clearly teaches that there is indeed another life and Brezhnev, and others are indeed wrong in their belief that the grave is all that there is to existence. Scripture tells us that man has a soul that leaves the body after death. And because of man's sinfulness, those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior from that sin end up separated from God for eternity in hell and ultimately the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-15).

But those who have accepted Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, when they die, will be absent from the body and present with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:8). And later, when Jesus returns to take believers to be with Him, their bodies will rise up from the grave and they will receive a new body like that of the Lord's glorious, resurrected body (Philippians 3:20,21).

In I Corinthians 15, which is sometimes known as the great resurrection chapter of the Bible, we see Paul's very thorough teaching on the reality of the bodily resurrection from the dead. As we mentioned in our studies of the first 22 verses of this great passage, this chapter was written to a church who was being taught by a group of false teachers that there was no bodily resurrection of the dead, even though their faith in Jesus Christ was based upon the fact that Jesus died, was buried and rose again bodily from the dead 3 days later.

In the first 11 verses Paul gives various proofs of the resurrection of the dead. He first talked about the Scriptures that show, both in type and in actual prophecies hundreds of years before the occurrence, how Jesus would be raised from the dead. He went on to tell the Corinthians about eyewitness testimony including 500 brethren at once who saw the risen Christ. And he ended this section with his own eyewitness testimony in which He, a hater of Christianity became one of its biggest proponents.

In the next section, verses 12-22, Paul centers on the reality that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead to prove that rising from the dead is a fact which first took place with Christ and will happen again one day with believers in Jesus. The apostle proposes a nightmare scenario: "What if Jesus hadn't arisen from the dead?" He did this in order to give the Corinthians a glimpse of the full implications of their new worldview of no resurrection.

For one thing, our preaching and faith would be worthless (12-14). Further, the witnesses and preachers of the resurrection would be liars (15). And the worst thing of all is that we would still be in our sins and headed for a Christless eternity, separated from a holy God forever. (16-22).

At the end of this section, in verse 20-22, Paul introduces the concept of Christ as the First Fruits, which, if understood, gives us further reason to believe in the resurrection of the dead. For it tells us that Jesus' resurrection isn't just some anomaly, or fluke. By that I mean that it is not an odd occurrence that is unlikely to happen again. But it is rather, the first of many resurrections that will one day take place at the end of the world. And Jesus' resurrection is the proof that we too will be raised from the dead in the future. Here is what Paul says to the reader. He states:

"But now is Christ risen from the dead and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive." (20-22).

Paul elaborates on this concept of Jesus being the First Fruits in verses 23-28. However, in order to fully understand what the apostle is trying to tell us here, we have to have a better knowledge of what the Old Testament Scriptures have to say about the Jewish Feast of First Fruits.

I. Feast of First Fruits in Scripture

Remember that Paul said earlier that Jesus' death, burial and resurrection are talked about in the Scriptures and they serve as one of many witnesses that resurrection is indeed a reality. One of the ways that Scripture witnesses to the fact of Jesus' resurrection is by using types such as the Feast of First Fruits recorded in the Old Testament.

The ‘Feast of the first fruits’ dates from the time of Moses and is described in Leviticus 23. It was one of the seven ‘Feasts of the Lord’.

It took place annually, every Spring, on the day after the Sabbath following the Feast of the Passover. Passover, if you remember, is a holiday commemorating the Hebrews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt and the “passing over” of, or the sparing of the firstborn of the Israelites, when the Lord “smote the land of Egypt” on the eve of the Exodus.

During the last plague, God killed the firstborn of each Egyptian family, but “passed over” the houses of the Israelites (who had marked their doors with lamb’s blood), leaving their children unharmed. With this plague Pharaoh finally relented, and let the Israelites go. Jesus is our ultimate Passover lamb that takes away the sin of the world. It is by His blood, shed on the cross, that God's wrath for sin is appeased and we are saved by grace, through faith in His name. So, the Passover is a type which is picturing Christ's sacrifice and death.

That picture is followed by that of Christ's resurrection, the Feast of First Fruits. The Book of Leviticus gives us details of this celebration. It says:

‘And the Lord said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, when you come into the land which I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest; and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, that you may find acceptance; on the morrow after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it”.’ (Leviticus 23:9-11).

I like how Timothy Cross explains this feast in an article in Evangelical Times. He tells us this:

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The Feast of the first fruits was a harvest festival. At the very outset, before the grain was harvested, one sheaf of barley would be cut and waved before the Lord.

The sheaf was representative. It was a token of the whole harvest to come – a guarantee of the larger harvest to follow. The whole harvest was actually still in the fields, but as the first sheaf was waved – and dedicated to the Lord – the people of Israel knew that the whole harvest would surely soon be gathered.

In the Lord Jesus Christ, we have the final fulfilment of the Feast of the First Fruits. ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep’.

As Christ died on the cross for others, so also was his resurrection representative. The harvest of his people will surely follow! As God raised his Son, so likewise will He raise all who trust in Jesus to new life.

It has to be noted that, in a Spiritual sense we already share in the new life and the new humanity that Christ offered at His resurrection. In Ephesians 2:4-7, it says this:

"But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."

Thankfully, that which is spiritually true of each believer will be physically true one day when Jesus returns. Our bodies will be changed, and He will take us home to be with Him. For the believer in this dispensation in which we are living, (i.e., the Dispensation of Grace), that will happen in an event called the Rapture, or the catching up of the Church to meet the Lord in the air. Paul tells us about this in I Thessalonians 4:13-18.

Getting back to our passage, since I Corinthians 15:23-28 is all about the order of the resurrection harvest of God's people, let us spend the majority of the rest of our time discussing what Paul is attempting to teach us about it.

II. The Order of the Resurrection Harvest (23-28)

In verses 23-28 Paul tells us:

"But each one in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says, “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all."

Just like there is an order to a physical harvest, so will there be order to the spiritual harvest of the resurrection of the dead. Unbelievers might look at things as they are today and say of Jesus' resurrection: "What has changed? My friends and loved ones still get sick and they still die." And their bodies remain in the graves."

The answer to that question is: "Everything has changed!" The reason why people aren't rising from the dead is that it isn't their turn yet. It isn't yet time for the harvest to come in. Some things must happen first.

One might point out that Scripture has several examples of people before Jesus who were raised from the dead. One such person that Jesus Himself raised was Lazarus, just a short period before the Lord died on the cross and rose again. This is seen in John 11. Also, later, when Jesus rose from the dead, there is an interesting Scripture in Matthew 27:52-53 that says:

"And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many."

However, these are different in that they arose from the grave into the same perishable bodies that died in the first place. The First Fruits body of Christ is not a perishable body but one that is prepared for eternity. That is what will happen to believers in Him at the proper time.

So, what is the order of the Resurrection Harvest according to Scripture, following Jesus' First Fruits Resurrection? We already mentioned the first. The Rapture of the Church, known as the Body of Christ. This resurrection is made up of the saints, both living and dead, in this time period that we have been in for more than 2000 years now. They will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. And we will forever be with the Lord from that moment on, according to I Thessalonians 4:13-18. However, we won't be the last to be raised from the dead.

The Bible mentions another time known as the First Resurrection that, interestingly, will happen after the Rapture. The reason it is known as the First Resurrection is that it is the first resurrection of prophecy. This era in which we now live is an unprophesied period that wasn't talked about until it was revealed to the apostle Paul. Immediately after the rapture of the Body of Christ, this unprophesied period will end and a time called the Tribulation will begin. Here is what the website 'Godquestions.org has to say about this time:

The Tribulation is a future time period when the Lord will accomplish at least two aspects of His plan: 1) He will complete His discipline of the nation Israel (Daniel 9:24), and 2) He will judge the unbelieving, godless inhabitants of the earth (Revelation 6 - 18). The length of the Tribulation is seven years. This is determined by an understanding of the seventy weeks of Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27). The Great Tribulation is the last half of the Tribulation period, three and one-half years in length. It is distinguished from the Tribulation period because the Beast, or Antichrist, will be revealed, and the wrath of God will greatly intensify during this time. Thus, it is important at this point to emphasize that the Tribulation and the Great Tribulation are not synonymous terms. Within the study of future things, the Tribulation refers to the full seven-year period while the “Great Tribulation” refers to the second half of the Tribulation.

After all of this seven-year Tribulation comes the First Resurrection. This is the resurrection of all the martyrs that die for Christ during the horrible events of the Tribulation period. It is recorded in Revelation 20:4-6. These resurrected martyrs will enter the next phase of Christ's conquest of the universe when He reigns for a thousand years in the Millennial Kingdom.

After the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from the pit that he had been chained in for the whole thousand years and will try one last time to overthrow Jesus from His rightful throne (Revelation 20:7-11). He will fail and the Bible says that he will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. That is where the Beast, or the Anti-Christ and the False Prophet were thrown at the end of the Tribulation. They were the heads of the earthly government and the false church who had been empowered by Satan during that time. (Revelation 19:19-21).

This brings us to the Second Resurrection. This is the resurrection of the unbelieving dead. Found in Revelation 20:11-15, it is one of the saddest passages in the Bible. It tells us:

"Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire."

All of the enemies of Christ must be taken care of, and all of these resurrections must come in their time, before Jesus' takes His rightful place as King of Kings and Lord of Lords over the universe. He already was and is King. But then everyone will know it. All enemies will be destroyed, including death, the final enemy of the universe. The New Heaven and the New Earth are then ready for Christ to reign over forever, along with all those who love Him and follow Him (Revelation 21).

Then the Son will submit Himself to the Father and will show Himself subject to Him who put things under His feet in the first place, so that God the Father might be all in all (27,28).

All of this is because there is a resurrection of the dead, and none of it could ever have happened without Jesus, the First Fruits of the resurrection. These various resurrections are part of the great resurrection harvest to come.

Conclusion

The First Fruits Resurrection has already happened. Jesus has indeed arisen from the dead. The grave could never hold Him. All the power of sin, hell and death couldn't stop Jesus from His mission to redeem the universe from the rebellion of Satan and his followers.

Our resurrection is as certain as Jesus who is now sitting at the right hand of the Father waiting for the Father's signal to go and bring everything to its conclusion. If you are saved, you are on the right side of history. God's side. If not, you need to come to Christ today. No hesitations! No delays!

Christ is our First Fruits. What a powerful Old Testament illustration to a New Testament truth! May we never forget the power that brought our Savior back to life from the dead. It is the power of Almighty God! Thank the Lord that death doesn't have the final say in the universe. Our God does! And Jesus has proved it once and for all, by the empty tomb!

© 2022 Jeff Shirley

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