I’m writing this in early spring, when I am starting to see the beginning of buds growing on the peach tree in my yard. Maybe you have fruit trees, and you’ve seen this growth process underway. As the buds eventually flower, the tiny fruit will begin to grow. Frequently, some fruit ripens early and we call those the first-fruits. The majority of the fruit will be picked later. Resurrection, the Apostle Paul writes, is like first-fruits. Specifically, he is talking about Jesus’ resurrection.
This week we’ve been studying 1 Corinthians 15:12-34 in which, as I mentioned in the previous post, Paul makes the serious claim that if resurrection as a concept is impossible, then Jesus did not rise from the dead, and thus Christianity is false. So is resurrection true or false? Can we Christians hope in our faith in Jesus, or not? Paul continues. Look at verses 20-28.
He starts off by talking about first-fruits. Paul is giving us an image of that early ripening fruit on a fruit tree. He says Jesus’ resurrection is the first fruits; that he, Jesus, is the first of many others who will also rise again. You might ask, “But didn’t Jesus himself raise people from the dead? And didn’t that happen before his own resurrection?” Yes, Jesus rose a couple people from the dead in his ministry, but they eventually died again. Paul is not talking about those temporary resurrections. Instead he is talking here about resurrection to eternal life. Jesus was the first to do that. After Jesus, Paul says, many more will follow. Jesus’ own resurrection is the authentication of this future resurrection.
To explain this further, Paul goes back to the gospel. In the previous post, I said that when Jesus died, though he did not have to, God declared the sin of humanity to be paid for. Look at verses 21-22, where Paul describes this.
In those verses, the phrase “in Christ” is key. If we are in Christ, we will one day be resurrected. Paul is not saying all people will be made alive because of Christ. This is not universalism. Paul is saying that those who are in Christ will be made alive. So what does it mean to be in Christ? Peek back to what Paul says earlier in the chapter, in verse 2. In that verse Paul writes that to be a true Christian a person must believe in the content of the Gospel and act on their commitment to it. That’s what it means to be in Christ. Believe, and show that your belief is genuine by acting on that belief. Those who believe and live out their faith can have confidence that they are true disciples of Jesus so that when they die in Christ, they will one day be made alive, resurrected to new eternal life.
Does it seem like the details of this resurrection are vague? It does to me. I wish Paul would have told us in crystal clear detail what how death and resurrection works. But he doesn’t, does he? Paul’s main point here is not to describe in precise detail what happens at the moment of death, or when and how the resurrection will take place. Instead, look at verses 24-28 and what you see is a beautiful outpouring of praise, where Paul affirms over and over again that God, in the end, will win the victory.
It reminds me of the book of Revelation. That book of the Bible is loaded with imagery that is difficult to decipher, including copious amounts of death and destruction, but the message we hear over and over is that God wins in end!!! Praise the Lord!
Jesus’ resurrection victory is a first-fruits! A signal that there is a whole lot more resurrection victory coming for those who are truly in Christ!
But again, while all of this sounds wonderful, we Christians have to admit that our future hope is entirely dependent on not only the possibility of resurrection, but especially on the authenticity of Jesus’ resurrection. Check back in to the next post, as we continue following Paul’s argument about how Jesus’ resurrection has solid evidence for its authenticity.