The Future Resurrection of the Body: Part IV
Jesus: The Paradigm of Salvation
I. The Organic Relationship Between Jesus' Resurrection and the Future Resurrection of Believers.
"But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first
fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a
man has come also the resurrection of the dead." (1 Cor 15:20-21)
The key word I want to target in on is "first fruits." This is the most obvious place in the NT where we see a connection made between the two resurrections. Though the word has temporal connotations this by no means exhaust this particular phrase's meaning. Along with the temporal dimension, there is also an inherent organic meaning. Richard Gaffin explains further:
"There can be little question that the Septuagint provides the background for its use here. There, with few exceptions, 'firstfruits' has a specifically cultic significance. It refers to the 'firstfruits' offerings of grain, wine, cattle, and the like, appointed by Moses. The point to these sacrifices is that they are not offered up for their own sake, as it were, but representative of the total harvest, the entire flock, and so forth...it does not bring into view the initial portion of the harvest, but only as it is part of the whole...the word is not simply an indication of temporal priority. Rather it brings into view Christ's resurrection as the 'firstfruits' of the resurrection-harvest, the initial portion of the whole. His resurrection is the representative beginning of the resurrection of believers. In other words, the term seems deliberately chosen to make evident the organic connection betweeen the two resurrections." (Richard Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption, pp 34-35)
Gaffin's observation is that the concept of 'firstfruits', the initial portion of the harvest, was representative of the complete harvest that would follow the firstfruit offerings. Paul's use of the term in 1 Cor 15:20ff more than likely carries the same organic meaning. This organic relationship is made clear in the surrounding context in which the term is used:
"Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 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 for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead." (1 Cor 15:12-21)
Notice the interesting correlation(s) Paul makes here between the two resurrections. Paul argues in an inverse apologetic manner. Instead of predicating the future resurrection of the believer to Jesus' own resurrection Paul instead argues that if there is indeed no future resurrection of the dead then Christ could not have been raised. The reality of Jesus' resurrection (and, I would argue, its effective work) depends upon the future resurrection of the dead. But notice what Paul then says, "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead." Thus, because of this assurance that Christ has in fact been raised from the dead, the believer's future resurrection of the dead is likewise assured for "by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead." To summarize Paul's argument, if there is no future resurrection of the dead, then Christ was not raised. However, Christ has indeed been raised and so we know the dead will be raised in the future.
This clearly indicates that for Paul, the two resurrections are integrally related to one another. To express this relationship Paul, quite understandably, utilized the terminology that best described this relationship, namely, "first fruits." Next time we will look at the part resurrection plays in soteriology in regards to Jesus own redemption and how this connects with the relationship between his resurrection and our future one.