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First Corinthians 15--Our hope and the first fruits

Sep 15, 2017

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14, 15,

14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover, we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.

The doctrine of the resurrection in general is so foundational to Christianity that if it were not true, then all Christian witnesses are bearing false witness. If God did not raise Christ from the dead, then we bear witness against God Himself when we claim that He did indeed raise Him from the dead.

Our faith stands or falls on the veracity of a resurrection idea generally and Christ’s resurrection specifically. Why? Paul adds in 1 Corinthians 15:16,

16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.

Take note that Paul is arguing for the truth of our own resurrection. He is proving that WE will be raised by showing the example of Christ’s resurrection. The resurrection is our hope. Because He was raised from the dead, so shall we all be raised.

The link between the two events is clear. Therefore, no one can reasonably say that Paul was speaking of two different kinds of resurrection. They cannot say that Christ was raised in one way, but we in another. Specifically, one cannot say that Christ was raised bodily, but we are raised spiritually when we accepted Christ by faith, thus denying our own bodily resurrection.

The Believers’ Hope

Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19,

17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

The resurrection of Christ is what justified us (Romans 4:25). Apart from Christ’s resurrection, there is no justification from sin. Those who deny His resurrection are not genuine believers, nor have they been justified from sin. In other words, a Greek or Greek-minded man was required to change his entire cultural opposition to the idea of bodily resurrection in order to become a genuine believer.

If Christ’s resurrection had been a lie, then all believers in Christ have perished. Their spiritual soul has not gone to heaven, nor have any of the dead been reincarnated into another body to continue on their journey to self-perfection. Christians have placed their entire hope on this idea of resurrection.

Putting it all together, we see that Christ’s bodily resurrection defines our own resurrection. Our own resurrection is the hope of every believer. And as Paul says elsewhere in Romans 8:23, the believers’ hope is “the redemption of our body.” Without this hope, “we are of all men most to be pitied.”

So let us not adopt the mindset of the Greeks or the beliefs of the Gnostics, both of whom abhorred the idea that spirit and matter could be compatible. The idea that God could manifest Himself in human flesh when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) was abhorrent to Greek thought. The idea that the Holy Spirit would indwell human flesh in a feast called Pentecost was anathema to Greek thought. The idea that the solution to the problem of evil in the world was for the glory of God to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea was a strange absurdity to those who assumed that matter was inherently evil.

In other words, the foundation of hope for a believer in Christ is radically different from other belief systems. One cannot import those other ideas into Christianity and try to add Jesus to the mix, as the Gnostics did in the early church—and which they are still trying to do today as a powerful not-so-secret faction within the Vatican.

The First Fruits Offering

Having laid the foundation of resurrection as an essential element of faith in Christ, Paul then turns to the consequences, or results, of this teaching. He says in 1 Corinthians 15:20,

20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.

Jesus was raised on the day after Passover, according to the law, in order to be identified with the sheaf of barley first fruits that the high priest was to wave in the temple on that day. The law is found in Leviticus 23:10, 11,

10 Speak to the sons of Israel, and say to them, “When you enter the land which I am going to give you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. 11 And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord for you to be accepted; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.

The context shows that this sheaf was to be waved shortly after the day of Passover, which was after barley had ripened. (Wheat took longer to ripen, so it was used in the second first fruits offering at Pentecost seven weeks later.) The text says that this sheaf of barley was to be waved “on the day after the sabbath.”

The Sadducees interpreted this to mean that the sheaf was to be waved on the day after the weekly sabbath—the day which we today call Sunday. The Pharisees disputed this interpretation, saying that this “sabbath” was actually the day of Passover, which was to be a sabbath, regardless of the day of the week on which it fell. Jesus’ resurrection did not resolve this dispute, for in that year (33 A.D.) the day of Passover fell on a Saturday, and so the sheaf of barley was waved on Sunday morning—a few hours after Jesus’ resurrection.

I believe that Jesus’ tomb was opened by the angels about 3:00 a.m. and that the time coincided with the new shift of priests arriving at the temple to minister for the next week. When they knocked, the watchmen opened the huge iron gate to let them in, and at the same time the angels opened the tomb.

The priests then began to prepare for the morning sacrifice, and it was during this time that Mary Magdalene saw Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane (John 20:11-18). He would not allow her to touch Him yet, because He had “not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17). He could not ascend until the high priest waved the sheaf of barley in the temple at the third hour of the day, because He had to fulfill the law which the high priest was prophesying by his actions. He was, in fact, the true first fruits offering, and the timing of it, given in the law, was important, so that all righteousness would be fulfilled.

So Paul says that Christ was the first fruits offering. There were three first fruits offering each year, over and beyond individual first fruits offerings. The first offering of first fruits occurred on the day after the sabbath after Passover. Exodus 34:26 KJV says, “The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the Lord thy God.” This is repeated in Exodus 23:19 KJV.

The first of the first fruits was barley (Passover), the second was wheat (Pentecost), and the third was the new wine (Tabernacles). Each represents a different group of people. Christ was the first of the first fruits; the church was the second offering of first fruits; the rest of creation is the third offering of first fruits. Each is raised from the dead (at different times) to be presented to God.

Each of the first fruits represented a greater harvest yet to come. Each first fruits offering sanctified the rest of the harvest. So Paul writes in Romans 11:16 KJV, “If the firstfruit be holy, the lump [i.e., the mass or the rest of the harvest] is also holy.” The principle of first fruits shows a beginning point for a greater harvest. Christ, then, was the first fruits of barley, whose presentation to the Father sanctified a greater harvest of overcomers. (See my book, The Barley Overcomers.) In this case, Christ is the Head of the Body of overcomers.

These should be contrasted with the wheat company, which is the church in general. (See my book, The Wheat and Asses of Pentecost.) Barley and wheat constitute different crops, and each has its own first fruits offering at different feasts. This, in fact, is the foundation of John’s teaching in Revelation 20, where he speaks of two resurrections a thousand years apart. The first is for the overcomers, who were sanctified when Jesus was presented to the Father shortly after His resurrection. The second resurrection is for the church in general, that is, the wheat company, the second first fruits offering.

The second resurrection includes both believers and unbelievers, as Jesus said in John 5:28, 29,

28 Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, 29 and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

Hence, that resurrection will give the church “a resurrection of life,” while at the same time the rest of the dead (unbelievers) will be given “a resurrection of judgment.” That Paul understood this is made clear in his testimony to Felix, where he says in Acts 24:14, 15,

14 But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets; 15 having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.

This resurrection is not the first resurrection, but the second, because John tells us that the first resurrection will be limited to believers only. He says in Revelation 20:5,

5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.

The second resurrection (in Revelation 20:11, 12) is for all of the dead—that is, all who were not included in the first resurrection.

The distinctions between the various first fruits offerings form the prophecies about resurrection. Both John and Paul understood this, having been schooled in the law, which prophesied of these things. Yet we are most indebted to John for clearly distinguishing the two resurrections in Revelation 20.

This is part 102 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in First Corinthians

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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones