What’s the first thing you think about when you think of Jesus’ resurrection?
Proof of his divine identity as the Son of God? An affirmation that the cross has ‘worked’? God’s ability to turnaround even the worst of situations for good? Or maybe you’re more sceptical: surely it’s nothing more than a con-trick to kick-start a religion?
The apostle Paul, in a letter to the church in the city of Corinth, highlights something different, something that he thinks should in turn revolutionise the way we think about ourselves, our future, and what God is doing in his world. When it comes to Jesus’ resurrection we should think firstfruits.
‘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
The language is meant to make us think of the patient farmer, waiting for his crop. And then one morning, as he surveys his fields, he sees that the first grain has ripened. He is overjoyed because he knows this grain is the firstfruits; the crop is turning and the harvest will soon follow.
According to Paul, this is how we’re to think of Jesus’ resurrection. As surely as the first fruit tells of the yield to come, so Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee for us that all Christians will one day rise as part of God’s resurrection ‘crop’. In fact Paul is so certain of this reality on that final day when Jesus’ returns, that he chooses to describe death for the Christian as simply being ‘asleep’ (15:20).
The reason why Paul felt the need to write about this was that some in the church in Corinth had succumbed to no longer believing there was a future resurrection of the dead (15:12). But not only did this not really make sense (given that they were happily confessing Jesus himself had risen as set out in 15:1-11), but it also displayed a failure to properly grasp the significance of Jesus’ resurrection for them.
Maybe we too struggle to think that anything beyond the grave is a reality? Maybe we have some vague concept of a ‘heaven‘, but it rarely has much of an impact upon our day-to-day living or thinking? Just like it was for the Corinthians, part of the remedy is for us to start believing that Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits.
We declare our belief in an empty cross and an empty grave, we joyfully sing ‘bursting forth in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again’, yet maybe our lack of future-thinking is an indication we have detached the glory of the resurrection from its implications for us. We have lost sight of the Christ’s resurrection as the firstfruits of a physical resurrection crop of which we will be part. Christ’s resurrection declares something about us and our future; it declares that all ‘who belong to Christ’ will be made alive again, after death. It declares both the certainty of this and the glory of it.
The rest of the chapter is a glorious description of the Christian hope, a physical resurrection with the Lord Jesus. It is also a chapter full of important challenge as Paul explains how this future should move us to give ourselves to the ‘work of the Lord’ in this life (15:58).
But the certainty of this hope and therefore the readiness with which we will heed the challenge to ‘die every day’ in Christ’s service, both crucially rest upon understanding that Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits of ours. As Christ bursted from the ground two thousand years ago, there is now no doubt for us that the harvest will follow.