Last Monday, as you’ll recall, this study of 1 Corinthians 15 took us through a rather dismal passage as the apostle Paul listed implications of a Christianity without belief in the doctrine of resurrection. Happily, today we turn a corner with the joyful proclamation that resurrection is guaranteed because Christ indeed has risen! Let’s look at the passage we’ll study for the next two or three weeks, and then we can dig into verses 20-22 in detail.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. ~~1 Corinthians 15:20-28 (ESV)
Verse 20 vanquishes all the hopelessness of verses 12-19. Praise the Lord, Christ is really risen from the dead! As we saw in verses 5-8, Paul had appealed to multiple instances of eyewitness testimony, which would easily establish Christ’s resurrection as legal fact. With this legal fact, Paul now assures the Corinthians that they haven’t believed in vain after all.
Since Christ has risen, He is the firstfruits of those who have died as believers. Paul’s use of the term firstfruits may refer back to the offering of firstfruits, which occurred the day after the sabbath (Leviticus 23:10-11). As you’ll recall, Jesus rose on the day after the Passover sabbath, indicating Paul’s view of Jesus as our Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). At least, that’s how one of the commentators I consulted understood the reference; do you think it applies, or is he stretching it? I can’t decide.
I definitely agree with another commentator that firstfruits indicate that farmers will have a harvest. Paul uses this term as his final refutation of the idea that the dead aren’t raised. As Jesus Christ rose from the dead, so His resurrection guarantees that He will raise us! See John 14:19, where Christ explicitly makes the connection between His resurrection and ours.
The term also reminds us that, although Elisha and Jesus caused others to rise from the dead, those resurrections were temporary, and the people raised did not receive glorified bodies. Jesus, therefore, is the first to experience glorified humanity, and is the first to never die again. His resurrected body assures believers of our future state.
Paul explains, beginning in verse 21, that Christ is a firstfruit because He is a Man, just as we are. Thus Paul can trace how humanity inherited sin through Adam (Genesis 2:17) and redeemed humanity inherits resurrection through Christ (John 11:25). Alluding to Romans 5:12, Paul states that death came by a man. To put it plainly, Adam’s sin of disobedience in the garden condemned all humanity to suffer physical death. One solidarity man altered all of human history, robbing us of the immortality that God created us to experience.
Yet a second Man, Christ Jesus, reversed the consequences of Adam’s sin through His atoning death on the cross and, as Paul emphasizes here, His resurrection. His resurrection assures believers that He will raise us up to live eternally with Him. Paul details this principle in Romans 5:12-19.
Although I have neither time nor space to delve into Romans 5 at this particular moment, I appreciate Paul’s elaboration on this point in verse 22. Here, he reminds the Corinthian Christians that God pronounced Adam’s death sentence in Genesis 3:19. This death sentence extends to all humanity.
Barnes wisely brings up the probability that people could misuse this verse as a proof-text for universal salvation. He therefore clarifies that, although all will experience physical resurrection at the return of Christ, only the elect will be raised to salvation (John 5:28-29). The Believers Bible Commentary, however, offers a slightly different nuance by emphasizing the phrase “in Christ,” indicating that believers will receive eternal life because we are “in Christ.” Either way, this verse certainly doesn’t contradict the overall Biblical teaching that God restricts salvation to those who believe in Jesus Christ.
These three verses give us a beginning grasp on the practical significance of Christ’s resurrection. Gals, this significance gets so ignored in the present evangelical culture, so we desperately need to study this foundational Christian doctrine. Consequently, I really urge you to take advantage of my Comments Section or The Outspoken TULIP Facebook Page to ask questions and/or add insights in regard to this Bible Study. I look forward to continuing next Monday.