Menu Keys

On-Going Mini-Series

Bible Studies

Codes & Descriptions

Class Codes
[a] = summary lessons
[b] = exegetical analysis
[c] = topical doctrinal studies
What is a Mini-Series?
A Mini-Series is a small subset of lessons from a major series which covers a particular subject or book. The class numbers will be in reference to the major series rather than the mini-series.
1 Corinthians 15:20-23 by Robert Dean
Series:1st Corinthians (2002)
Duration:57 mins 59 secs

Firstfruits of Resurrection; First Resurrection; 1 Cor. 15:20-2

1 Corinthians 15:20 NASB "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep."

Having taken the argument apart logically, looking at it from their assumptions that resurrection is not possible, he begins in verse 20 by saying "But now." This is a strong contrast to what has gone before. The point of verses 22-28 is to express a vital doctrinal principle. That is, that the reality of the resurrection is related to the redeemer who must bring resolution to the angelic conflict. This isn't a simple point but the reason he is making this is to go beyond the fact that some may say, well the resurrection was nice but the physical bodily resurrection doesn't accomplish much, what was really accomplished was Christ's substitutionary atonement on the cross. But the resurrection is vital, it is a part of the entire victorious strategy of the Lord Jesus Christ at the cross. In fact, you can't separate His substitutionary atonement when He paid the penalty for sin from the resurrection, or even from the ascension. All three elements, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension work together in bringing about Christ's strategic victory at the first advent. So Paul is going to take the reality of the resurrection here and go beyond the simple fact that Christ rose from the dead to show how it fits within the overall framework of the resolution of the angelic conflict in human history. "But now Christ has been raised from the dead." Notice the contrast. He has been arguing from the negative, the assumption of their premise that there is no resurrection of the dead, and now he draws the contrast. "…the first fruits of those who are asleep." This is the topical sentence for the next three verses.

"Now" is the Greek phrase nuni de [nuni de] which is used to introduce a real situation in contrast to the unreal conditional clauses and sentences that have preceded this. In other words, Paul is saying that what we have talked about before was simply your false assumptions but now we are going to talk about the reality: "Christ has been raised out from the source of the dead." It is a plural genitive indicating the dead ones. He has been resurrected from among the dead ones, and that was a phrase that referenced where the dead ones are: the grave yard. This again is evidence that Jesus Christ didn't just pass out on the cross, carried off somewhere and revived, He was placed in a tomb in an area where there were other graves and He was from all of the evidence clearly dead physically. And three days later He rose from the dead.

Then Paul says, He is "the first fruits of those who are asleep." This is the basic message of the apostles. This is clear from Acts 3:15 NASB "but put to death the Prince of life, {the one} whom God raised from the dead, {a fact} to which we are witnesses." In Acts 26:23 Paul says: NASB "that the Christ was to suffer, {and} that by reason of {His} resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the {Jewish} people and to the Gentiles." He is the firstfruits, and this is the Greek word aparche [a)parxh], feminine singular nominative noun meaning to offer the first of something, the first things that come forth, and it became a technical term for the firstlings of firtsfruits. It is used in the LXX to refer to the offering of the firstfruits which would come forth every spring as the indication of a further harvest. Under the Mosaic Law there was an initial gathering of the barely harvest in the early part of the spring. The sheaves of barley would be reaped from a common field and taken into the temple. There it would be threshed with soft canes in order to keep from bruising it, and it was parched over a fire in a perforated pan so that the grain would be gently roasted. Then they would blow away the chaff from the grain, grind it, and then they would bring that flour into the temple and offer it to God on the first day after the Sabbath following the Passover. So Passover would occur, and that was when Christ was crucified; then there is the Sabbath (Saturday), then the first day after that Sabbath, the Sunday after the Passover, was the day the priest would offer the flour for the feast of firstfruits. That was a picture in the Old Testament, the typology or shadow imagery, depicting the resurrection of Christ. So Christ was raised from the dead exactly on the feast day which was designed to depict that event.

Then seven weeks later (49 days), the next Sunday being 50 days, was Pentecost, and a new grain offering was to be presented, according to Leviticus 23:15-17; Deuteronomy 26:1-11. So the principle is that firstfruits implies that there is a subsequent harvest, it is not the only event, it is not a unique event, but firstfruits is the initial offering and indicates the promise and the hope of a further harvest. Firstfruits is a down-payment of something to come. In the same way, Christ's resurrection is a down-payment, a guarantee of what will follow for all believers. The fact is that He had to be raised from the dead, that Christ's physical bodily resurrection had to take place, as a preparation for our resurrection. The implication is that there would be no resurrection of anyone else unless there was this first resurrection. So His resurrection is a pioneer event, He is the one who must accomplish that victory over death before there can be subsequent victory over physical death. "…the first fruits of those who are asleep." If you were a Jew reading this you would immediately understand that the implication there that this is a guarantee of future resurrection. Paul uses the phrase "those who are asleep" and it is the verb koimao [koimaw] used with an article which indicates that it is a participle used as a relative clause, and it means to sleep. This is a euphemism for the sleep on the believer's body in the grave. It is not talking about soul sleep. Paul is clear that when we die physically we are absent from the body and are face to face with the Lord.

1 Corinthians 15:21 NASB "For since by a man [by the agency of a human being] {came} death, by a man also {came} the resurrection of the dead." What kind of death are we talking about here? Are we talking about spiritual death or physical death? What is meant by spiritual death? In Genesis 2:17 when God created Adam and placed him in the garden, God told Adam that from all of the fruit in the garden he could eat, but there was one tree from which he could not eat. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden was prohibited, and God said: "in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." The Hebrew construction there is one of absolute certainty. When Adam ate of the fruit of the tree he did not die physically, he lived for 930 years. But something did happen when he ate from the tree: he died spiritually. That is the penalty for sin, and we have to distinguish between the penalty for sin and the consequences of the penalty for sin. Physical death is a consequence of the penalty for sin, the judicial penalty was separation from God. That is what death is, it is separation. Instantly Adam and the woman were separated from God so that when God came to walk in the garden with Him later that day, they ran and hid. That was the sign that they were spiritually dead. But a consequence of that was going to be physical death, along with many other things that are outlined in the curse or the fall of Adam in Genesis 3:14ff. The last thing that God states to Adam as a consequence of their spiritual death is: NASB "By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return." That is the first mention of physical death in the Genesis 3 episode.

So what are we talking about when we get into 1 Corinthians 15? Is this physical death or spiritual death? Obviously it is a true statement that it is through a man that spiritual death came, but is that what this is? No, it is not. This is talking about physical death. The reason we know it has to be talking about physical death is the subject matter. What is the subject of 1 Corinthians 15? Spiritual resurrection? No, physical bodily resurrection. The subject is physical resurrection, therefore the concept of death in this passage can't be reduced to spiritual death otherwise we'd be comparing apples to oranges. We have to keep our categories in line. If we are talking about physical resurrection we must also be talking about physical death. "…by a man also {came} the resurrection of the dead." By the first Adam came death; by the second Adam came resurrection from the dead. This is the Greek anastasis [a)nastasij] plus the genitive of nekron [nekrwn] without the definite article, so it is an anarthrous noun indicating the principle of resurrection from the dead. So the emphasis that Paul gives in v. 21 is that since a man brought physical death into the human race it is also necessary for a man, a human being, be resurrected from the dead and to conquer physical death. So it was necessary for the second person of the Trinity to become a true human being. Then Paul advances the argument in v. 22.

1 Corinthians 15:22 NASB "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive." Here we have an introduction of a conclusion and a comparison. "For" is the Greek gar [gar], indicating an explanation, and the word "as" is the Greek hosper [w(sper] which indicates a comparison, so he is continuing the comparison between Adam and Christ. He states: "all die." That is en [e)n] plus the dative of adam [A)dam] and using the definite article, indicating a specific individual. Adam is the federal head of the human race, he is the one who represented the entire human race in his decision in the garden, so that Adam's sin is our sin. So all of us are in Adam, we are all his physical progeny, we are genetically related to Adam, and in his decision to eat the fruit we all suffer spiritual death and we all die physically. In contrast, those in Christ will all be made alive. How do we get "in Christ"? By faith alone in Christ alone, by simply trusting in what Jesus Christ did on the cross for our sins.

Revelation 20:12 NASB "And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is {the book} of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds." This is the final resurrection. This describes the great white throne judgment which is the final judgment for all unbelievers and they are evaluated according to their deeds, not their sins because their sins were paid for at the cross. But that is not enough to get a person saved, they have to have perfect righteousness in order to be saved. The only way to receive perfect righteousness is to trust in Christ and we are instantly imputed or given or granted the perfect righteousness of Christ. That is the basis for our justification. Unbelievers are going to show up at the great white throne judgment and all they are going to have is their own personal good deeds or works for righteousness, and that will not add up to the perfect righteousness that God demands.

1 Corinthians 15:23 NASB "But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming." The point is that Christ had to be raised physically from the dead in order to set the precedent and the pattern for what would come next. But is doesn't stop with resurrection, with the fact that Christ had to be raised from the dead so that we could be raised from the dead; there is something broader going on here in terms of the role that Jesus Christ is playing in the angelic conflict. This is what Paul explains in the next five verses.

1 Corinthians 15:24 NASB "then {comes} the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power." The terms "rule, authority and power" are terms that refer to the different rankings of fallen angels. So v. 24 shifts from the resurrection of believers to the end. Suddenly we are talking about God's resolution of human history at the end when Jesus Christ will deliver the kingdom to God. This occurs after the great white throne judgment. He delivers the kingdom to God the Father and puts an end to all Satanic attempts to rule and destroys Satan and all of the demons. What does that have to do with resurrection? This opens up a whole new dimension to what is accomplished through the resurrection is setting the stage for the ultimate victory over Satan's rebellion in the angelic conflict which comes at the conclusion of history. This is what Paul begins to develop in the next few verses.