1 Corinthians 15:20–23

“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” (vv. 20–21).

The resurrection of Jesus secures our justification and sanctification, but there remains one more benefit we receive because Christ rose from the dead. According to the Heidelberg Catechism, this benefit is tied to our final estate: Jesus’ resurrection is “a sure pledge to us of our blessed resurrection” (A. 45).

Today’s passage supports this answer, revealing that Jesus rose from the dead as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). Paul’s agricultural metaphor in this text addresses errors that some Corinthians were promoting, and it makes a positive case for our physical resurrection. Apparently, many Corinthians held to an “over-realized eschatology” — they believed that most, if not all, of the final events in God’s plan had already happened in their day. Some believed there would be “no resurrection of the dead” (v. 12), teaching that the physical resurrection had already happened or that resurrection is merely spiritual and does not involve physical restoration. Both views are heretical. The first denies the literal bodily return of Jesus at the end of the age to judge the world (Acts 1:6–11). The second view is at odds with the Bible’s teaching that redemption will be consummated in a renewal of all creation. Though our spirits dwell with Christ when we die, they will be reunited with our glorified physical bodies on the last day, and we will dwell in a new heaven and earth (Dan. 12:1–2; Rev. 21:1–4).

The firstfruits are the first crops that farmers can gather from a harvest. These fruits are a foretaste and sure sign of the full harvest to come. Obviously, the full harvest is more abundant, but the firstfruits are not radically different than the fruit of the completed harvest. For example, if pears are the firstfruits, there will be a full harvest of pears, not corn. In describing Jesus’ resurrection as firstfruits (1 Cor. 15:20, 23), Paul indicates that our resurrection will be of the same kind as our Lord’s. Like Jesus, each of us will have a resurrected physical body. Like Jesus, each of us will possess this body forever. Both the firstfruits and the final harvest, then, are physical, bodily resurrections. Moreover, just as firstfruits reveal the harvest’s certainty, Christ’s resurrection proves that we, too, will be raised if we are in Him.

Coram Deo

John Calvin writes, “As . . . Adam did not die for himself alone, but for us all, it follows, that Christ in like manner, who is the antitype, did not rise for himself alone; for he came, that he might restore everything that had been ruined in Adam.” Redemption involves the rescue and renewal of our souls and our bodies. God cares enough about the physical world to redeem it, so we must care enough about His world to meet the physical needs of hurting people.

For Further Study