How Is the Day of Firstfruits Related to Every Believer's Personal Resurrection?

Photo by  Maja Petric  on  Unsplash

Photo by Maja Petric on Unsplash

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. — 1 Corinthians 15:20-23

Resurrection is supposed to be happy news, a celebration of joyful victory and sweet reunion. Yet, you can’t reach the shores of the resurrection without passing through the bitter trenches of death. So it was when Jesus raised Lazarus. Before he could call his friend from the tomb, Jesus was brought to tears with Lazarus’s two distraught sisters. And so it is with Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. As he displays the glory of the resurrection before us, he does so mindful of our grief and with the aim to comfort.

Some saints in Corinth were skeptical of Christ’s own resurrection.

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul is dealing with an issue that some of the saints of Corinth had—they were saying there is no resurrection. Some of them may have been skeptical of Christ’s own resurrection, but the chief sticking point seems to be our own resurrection. Surely, the average Christian is not raised from the dead. And it is definitely not a bodily resurrection.

Paul makes the point that if there is no resurrection, if those who died have perished forever, if we hope in Christ only in this life, then we are the most pitiful people ever. If there is no resurrection, then the whole Christian religion is pointless, a hoax, a waste. This is how important the resurrection is to our faith.

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hopein this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:16-19)

Next, Paul transitions to make a positive point. He declares a factual assertion: “But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20a). Paul states as a fact of history that Christ was resurrected. Jesus was once dead; he was laid in the ground and covered with the stone door of death.  

But he did not stay dead; he did not remain under the power of death like every human before him. Jesus was raised—it is a fact of history, an actual event of our physical world. The popular religions in Corinth within the Roman world believed all sorts of things and stories about the gods and goddesses. 

The problem, though, was that these religious sagas were just that, stories. They were fiction, make-believe fantasy novels. They didn’t actually happen. Not so with Christ and his resurrection. 

Christ is indeed risen from the dead.

Beloved saints, your faith is not based on a nice, emotional story that gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling; it is not founded upon a myth, on fake news, on a conspiracy story, or upon wishful thinking. Rather, your faith is established on a true fact. Jesus Christ has been raised. God acted marvelously in history to raise Jesus Christ from the dead to be alive forevermore. 

After stating this fact boldly, Paul adds a line of description:

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

Christ was raised as the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Paul labels and characterizes Jesus’ resurrection as the firstfruits. But how is Jesus’ resurrection a firstfruit? And what is meant by firstfruit? 

What is meant by the word “firstfruit”? 

This idea of firstfruit comes from the Old Testament. Now, the basic idea of firstfruit is just like it sounds: it referred to the first ripe/processed fruit of the harvest. Let’s say that you are living during the time of the old (Mosaic) covenant administration and have an acre of fig trees, and from your first picking you get a bushel (firstfruit). Or perhaps you have a plot of grapes, and the first jug of wine finished is your firstfruit.  

Firstfruits were often considered some of the best of a harvest—they were to be given to God as an offering. That first bushel of figs had to be handed over to the Lord. Yet, aside from this general idea of firstfruits, there was actually a special day of firstfruits on Israel’s calendar.  

Israel had a special day called “the day of firstfruits.”

Generally, firstfruits could be brought at any time, but one day on the sacred calendar of Israel received the label of “the day of firstfruits” (Num. 28:26). And because this is a calendar day, Paul’s first point is one of history. Jesus was raised not just as a firstfruit, but on the day of firstfruits. Yet, when did this day fall on Israel’s calendar?

The day of firstfruits came in the first month, during a festive season. First, there was Passover on the fourteenth day of the month. The next day, the fifteenth, was the first day of Unleavened Bread, which was a special day of convocation that could be called a sabbath. Then, on the next day of the sixteenth fell the Day of Firstfruits. So the order was Passover, Unleavened Bread, Day of Firstfruits—the 14th, 15th, 16th—1,2,3.

Jesus was raised on the third day.

You can see how Leviticus 23:9-14 is an Old Testament text that pointed to Jesus’s resurrection on the third day. In 1 Corinthians 15:4, Paul writes that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures. Yet, what Old Testament text predicted a third day resurrection?  Well, by calling Christ’s resurrection a firstfruit, Paul echoes Leviticus 23. 

Indeed, think of your history. Jesus died on Passover, the fourteenth day, as the true Passover lamb. The next day, the fifteenth, was a high Sabbath, meaning the weekly Sabbath aligned with the festival convocation of the Unleavened Bread. This is when Jesus lay in the tomb and the disciples waited at home. Then, on the sixteenth, the day of firstfruits, the women ran to the tomb and found it empty.

This means that Sunday is both the Day of Resurrection and the Day of Firstfruits. Just as God linked Jesus’ death to the fulfillment of Passover, so he tied his resurrection to the fulfillment of the day of firstfruits. Our Lord’s resurrection is both an event of history and the fulfillment of one of the Old Testament’s ancient promises.

Our Lord’s resurrection is not a firstfruit just for its historical value, but also for its meaning.

Here you have further evidence for your faith that you should not doubt, but rest confidently and joyfully in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul labels our Lord’s resurrection as a firstfruit not just for its historical value, but also for its meaning. Firstfruit describes the nature and character of his resurrection.

So, what was the day of firstfruits all about? Again we see how the Lord worked out the truth of our redemption within the realities of the lives of his people. Passover fell right at the beginning of the barley harvest, and the offering brought on the day of firstfruits was a sheaf or bundle of barley.  

And this barley offering did two things. First, it opened up the harvest season for food. Before this day, the Lord prohibited Israel from eating any of the new harvest; they could only eat last year’s crop. Yet, with the day of firstfruits and the barley sheaf, the harvest could officially begin; they could now taste the sweetness of fresh new grain.  

This is as though, after months of eating frozen or canned fruit, you get to walk up and pick a fresh berry on the vine—delicious! The second part of firstfruits was that the barley sheaf was offered so that Israel may be accepted. The offering of barley firstfruit obtained favor and acceptance for Israel from the Lord.

The Lord’s acceptance of the firstfruits was a seal that he would protect his people to safely bring in the full harvest.  

And this acceptance was a guarantee, representation, and seal that the Lord would protect his people to safely bring in the full harvest. Without a full harvest, the people would starve. And the spring harvest season for Israel was a scary time, coated in apprehension and uncertainty. For during the barley harvest, April to May, it is the season of the sirocco.

Like California’s Santa Ana winds, the sirocco is a scorching east wind that sweeps in off the high desert to burn up and destroy every blade of standing grain. A sirocco can blow in dust storms (80 mph) that jump the temperature thirty degrees in a matter of minutes and reduce visibility down to a few yards. The sirocco can sizzle your entire crop and livelihood in no time.

This danger and fear also align with Israel coming out of Egypt when Pharaoh’s army was chasing after them. Thus, the barley sheaf for Israel’s acceptance was God’s assurance that he would watch over them during this scary season and bring them to his full harvest. The barley sheaf represented the whole harvest, and it is this significance that Paul explains. 

The first sheaf of barley represented and was the avenue for the entire harvest.

First, Paul underscores the representation: The first sheaf of barley stood for and was the avenue for the entire harvest. So, for this representation, he brings up the two federal heads. By a man came death for all. In Adam, all die. Human death is an inevitable reality of our existence. It is all we know—people are born and people die.

They say death and taxes are the two certainties of life, but with accounting gymnastics, you can evade taxes. Devious people can avoid taxes, but the most brilliant and nefarious person has never evaded death. Since the heritage of Adam and Eve belongs to you, then you will die. Adam is the captain for team death. In Adam, the grim reaper is our mascot.

Yet, there is an opposing team: another team captain arose in Christ. He stands as the representative for team resurrection. By the man Jesus Christ comes resurrection from the dead. All those in Christ will be made alive. Jesus is the firstfruit for all who have died. Jesus is the head and representative for all who will be raised through him. 

Order is another important aspect of firstfruit.

By this two-Adam scheme, Paul explains what it means that Christ was raised as the firstfruits. Still, there is another aspect of firstfruit that Paul stresses, which is order. By definition, firstfruits come first. There is the Day of Firstfruits, then the full harvest, and finally, when the entire harvest is finished, there is a celebration. 

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Cor. 15:21-22)

Of course, Paul is not dealing with barley, wheat, and figs, but rather he is working with the realities of death and new life. He is focused on Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection. Hence, he says, “each in his own order.” As the firstfruits, Christ’s resurrection must be temporally prior to our resurrection.  

Waiting for our resurrection challenges our faith.

Part of the issue with the Corinthians was this order, this waiting: “Okay, maybe Christ was raised, but why not us? Where is our resurrection? If we are not like Christ now, then it is not going to happen! Doesn’t the waiting negate our chances of resurrection?” We have to admit that the waiting also can trip up our faith.

History records Jesus’ resurrection, but no other humans have been eternally raised yet, so maybe it is not going to happen. Thus, Paul states that Jesus’ resurrection was a firstfruit, which includes the very order of delay and waiting. Each in its own order: firstfruits, then the harvest; Christ, then us. Indeed, Paul shows himself to only be concerned with the resurrection of believers.

For you who believe in Christ, Jesus is the firstfruit of your own personal resurrection.

Jesus is the firstfruit of those who have fallen asleep, which parallels those who will be made alive in Christ and further aligns with those who belong to him at this coming. For you who believe in Christ, who rest in him, Jesus is the firstfruit of your own personal resurrection.

The resurrection of the saints, Jesus’ second coming, and the subduing of all things under Christ and the Father, all add up to the end. In these complex series of events, the end will break into history. And Paul clearly underscores the end of this age in order to make clear we are not yet there.  

Our resurrection, Christ’s coming, and the subjection of everything have not happened.

Right now we are in the time between the firstfruits and the harvest. We live between Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection. And what is the season like between the Day of Firstfruits and the final harvest? First, Paul tells us that Jesus is presently reigning:

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 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. 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 Cor. 15:24-28)

Before the end springs, Jesus reigns. Right now Christ Jesus is at the right hand ruling. The chaotic tragedies of our lives and histories may seem like no one is behind the wheel. Is anyone steering this ship called life? Yes, Jesus Christ the Resurrected Son of God, is ruling from heaven. And what is he doing?

Jesus is in the process of subduing authorities and hostile forces.

One by one, Jesus is knocking pieces off the chess board. When Jesus brings you or another saint to faith, what else is he doing? By saving you, Jesus subdues you from being a hostile to being a servant, a child, and a friend.  In our redemption, Jesus turns enemies into devoted loved ones. Yet, not all of Christ’s subduing is so transformative.

Some enemies will not be transformed but destroyed. Some enemies will not be raised to Christ’s side, but will be subjected under his feet. And Paul mentions one adversary that will be kicking and striving until the end. One chess piece from the opposing team will stand until the end.  And this final foe is death.

The combatant death yet wages war; it still takes victims. The sword of the grave still drinks blood and consumes flesh. The grim reaper works his business of turning wives into widows. Death steals babies from cribs and buries young people in the spring of life. Death robs dads from their teenagers and turns the warm touch of love to cold.

Yes, in stating that our final adversary is death, Paul is acknowledging and substantiating your grief. The sirocco danger was real in Old Testament times; it gusted upon their lives fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. A sirocco storm was something to lament. Indeed, by calling death the last enemy, Paul confirms the evilness of death, that it is not something we should merely make light of.

Death is still an evil for God’s saints.

Even for us saints, when in death we go to be with the Lord, death is still an evil. Death kills a life created good and valuable by the Lord. Death kidnaps those we love. Death traffics humans away from us. Death murders the beautiful into the ugly; it darkens light, turns off all audio, and putrefies the pleasant into the disgusting.

Life as we know it is touching, talking, listening, eating with, and enjoying other people. But death erases all of this. This is why Mary and Martha were stricken with anger and anguish at the death of Lazarus. And this is why in compassion Jesus wept with these two sisters. With the same compassion, Paul confirms Jesus’ resurrection as the firstfruits.

In Christ, you also will be raised up.

As a firstfruit resurrection, Jesus is your representative and paradigm. In Christ, you also will be raised up. And your resurrection body will be like the glorified flesh of Christ. Yet, most poignantly here, the firstfruit offering was for acceptance; it was a seal of guarantee for the full harvest.

As surely as Christ was raised as the firstfruits, so you also must be raised. The resurrection of Christ doesn’t make your resurrection just possible or probable or likely. It makes your resurrection necessary. Since Christ was raised as your firstfruit, you have to be raised. It is like a law of new creation—it cannot happen any other way.

Furthermore, to harvest grain is corporate activity; it is not about one single grain but rather all the grain being brought in together. Your resurrection isn’t just about a new body, but about reunion with all those in Christ that death stole from you. Where death kidnaps our beloved saints, the resurrection is Christ’s family reunion. 

And this is your comfort and assurance every Lord’s Day, as each Lord’s Day is the day of resurrection, a fulfillment of that Day of Firstfruits. The anxiety of death is yet felt within us, but sure consolation of your Savior is that he was raised as firstfruits. And it is this consolation that solidifies and strengthens your faith in life, especially in death.  

The burden of death is far outweighed by the sweet glory of Christ’s resurrection.

We will still feel the agony of death, but death is not the victory. The grief of death is still heavy upon us, but the sweet glory of Christ’s resurrection far outweighs the burden of death. Christ is our strength and song whose burden is light and whose joy is eternal. Indeed, the sweet reunion we await in the resurrection is especially about us being reunited with our Holy God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As Paul says, at the end Christ will offer everything, even us, up to the Father so that God will be all in all. This is the greatest wonder and good of all—God being all in all. So, may we praise God as our all until this final day. May we sing Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day of Christ’s glories. And may we ever praise him as the Resurrected One, the firstfruits of our resurrection.

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