It’s a big but (no jokes, only one “t”).   Paul, after pointing to the logical consequences of the Corinthians’ nobody-gets-resurrected notion (1 Corinthians 15:12-19), writes the big good news “but” . . .

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20).

“[I]ndeed” translates the Greek nuni, a word that adds force to what follows.  It puts “Christ has . . . been raised from the dead” in bold-face type, underlined and yellow-marker highlighted.  Enough entertaining “no resurrection”.  Christ has been raised!  He was and continues to be (what the perfect tense of egneretai means) raised.

What, though, does “firstfruits” mean?  Decades ago my father grew tomatoes.  When little green ones appeared on the vine, and then when one or two grew large and turned red, we knew those vines in that small garden would soon produce a harvest of juicy, red New Jersey tomatoes.  The first little ones were “firstfruits”.

“Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field” { Ex. 23:16).  The first feast was to be celebrated “with the firstfruits”–both a thanksgiving for the harvest begun and a faith-celebration for the harvest to be fulfilled.  The second feat was a celebration of that fulfillment.

So Paul proclaims:  not only has Christ been raised, he’s been raised as “the firstfruits” of all having-died-believers in him.

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:21,22).

Okay, let’s say Christ has been raised.  It’s a bit of a stretch to say that his resurrection guarantees ours.  Here’s Paul’s reasoning–and it, too, stretches our faith.  “For since death came through a man . . . For as in Adam all die”.  The apostle’s answer to “Why death?” is Adam, father of us all.

Now I don’t want to get mired in the question of “the first human”.  But, unless we’re willing to accept that a bunch of us all appeared at once, it’s reasonable to say there was a first.  Later in Romans 5:12, Paul will explain, ” . . . sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned”.  That is, drawing from the Genesis 3 narrative, Paul explains “Why death?”  Answer:  Adam sinned.  Therefore, dust-made-Adam would return to dust.  And since we are all Adam’s descendants, we will sin and death comes to us all.

Unfair?  Maybe.  But this is Scripture’s explanation for death’s existence.  Adam represented us all, and his disobedience to God doomed us all.

But ” . . . the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man . . . in Christ all will be made alive.”  Like Adam, Christ is the believer’s representative.  His resurrection means those “in Christ will be made alive”.  My body will die.  But, because of Christ, it will be raised.

“But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:23,24).

There’s a God-ordained sequence.  As with agricultural firstfruits, so with resurrection firstfruits.  Christ, “then when he comes, those who belong to him”.  Literally, the Greek say “those who are His”.  How does one come to belong to Christ?  By receiving in faith this gospel:  “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures . . . was buried . . . was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures . . . and appeared . . . ” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).

The resurrection of those belonging to Christ will mark “the end” with two accompanying, shattering events.  One, Christ will destroy “all dominion, authority and power”.  Here Paul means the dominion, authority and power of death, but surely includes all dominion, authority and power opposed to him.

Secondly, then, Christ will “[hand] over the kingdom to God the Father”.  Here is a mind-stretching reference to the Trinity with the Son (who is God) eternally subject to the Father (though both are God)!  Paul explains in the next verses . . .

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.  For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ.  When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:25-28).

There is no question in Paul’s mind:  having been resurrection, Christ now reigns.  In line with that, Jesus-resurrected told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me . . . ” (Matthew 28:18).  At the same time, his enemies remain–until he puts them all under his feet.  He will destroy them all.  “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  Those belonging to Christ will never die again, because death itself will be destroyed.

C.K. Barrett comments, “The Son has been entrusted with a mission on behalf of the Father, whose sovereignty has been challenged, and at least to some extent usurped by rebellious powers.  It is for him to reclaim this sovereignty by overcoming the powers, overthrowing his enemies, and recovering the submission of creation as a whole.  This mission he will in due course execute, death being the last adversary to hold out, and when it is completed he will hand the government of the universe back to his Father” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 360).

The ultimate purpose of Christ’s mission (carried out in his incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and return) is “that God may be all in all”.  In other words,  God reigning unopposed in all his goodness forever.

* * *

My father’s tomato “firstfruits” didn’t come with trumpet blasts.  Silently, the  process of tomato-ripening progressed.  I hardly noticed.  I went to school, played my games, ate my meals and slept in my bed.  Meanwhile, out in the backyard, “firstfruits” grew on toward harvest.

Christ’s “firstfruits” resurrection didn’t come with trumpet blasts.either.  It  set in motion an inaudible,  irrevocable, incredible harvest:  Christ’s return, the resurrection-harvest  of all believers from all times and places, the death of death and God all in all.  We hardly notice what’s happening.  The process doesn’t show up on our smartphones or military technology.  But it’s in motion now! 

It’s moving toward something bigger and better than we can even imagine.

And, in Christ, we’re caught up in it.

 

 

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