We shall now continue our discussion which we began in our essay in the former issue of The Standard Bearer on the verses 20-28 of the Chapter under consideration.
We noticed in the former essay on this passage particularly that it is the clear and indisputable teaching of Scripture that Christ is the First-born of all creatures. This, we indicated, is the more basic truth when compared with the Scriptural teaching that Christ is also the “first-fruits.” It was for that reason that we first signaled the implicit truth of Scripture, as also taught here in this passage, that Christ is the “First-born” Son of God!
We will now call attention to the truth of the Word of God that Christ is the “first-fruits of them that have slept.”
It may be beneficial at this point of the discussion to point out what, to our mind, is the relationship and distinction between the truth that Christ is the First-born and that He is the First-fruits. It appears to us most likely, the distinction between these two truths should be stated as follows:
1. When Scripture speaks of Christ being the “Firstborn” emphasis is laid upon the fact that Christ is the preeminent Son amongst all the sons of God, in His relationship and the relationship of all the adopted sons to God. In the truth that he is the First-born we see that it was the Father’s good-pleasure that all the fullness should dwell in Him. As the First-born Son, in our human nature, He is exalted above every name that is named, both in this age and in the ages to come. He is the Lord of lords and the King of kings.
2. However, when Scripture speaks of Christ as the “First-fruits” the same preeminence of the Son of God in the flesh is taught from a slightly different viewpoint. He is still the Son in Whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily; He is still the One whom all the angels of God are to worship. However, now the Scriptures speak of this same Son of God, Immanuel, God-with-us, as He stands in relationship to the full harvest, which shall become a reality in His Parousia, when He shall have come to dwell with us forever more. Then shall the tabernacle of God be with men.
Thus briefly we would state the relationship and the distinction in Scripture between the truth that Christ is the First-born and that He is the First fruits!
For a proper and correct understanding of what is meant in the text in verses 20 and 23 it will be well to take notice of some selected passages, from both the Old Testament and from the New Testament Scriptures.
The idea of the “first-fruits” is a very prevalent one in the Old Testament of God with His people. Thus we read in Exodus 23:19: “The first of the first-fruits of thy ground shalt thou bring into the house of Jehovah thy God.” The phrase “first of thy first-fruits” evidently refers to the very first fruits, and the first and the best of them. It seems that even in the plant life the best fruits are generally those which are ripe first. That these must be brought into the house of the Lord, into the tabernacle indicates that the entire harvest belonged to the Lord. The entire land and all that is therein belongs to him, so that what we have here is a part for the whole, and that, too, the first and the best! Thus also we read in Numbers 15:20: “Of the first of your dough ye shall offer up a cake for a heave-offering; as the heave-offering of the threshing floor so shall ye heave it. Of the first of your dough ye shall give unto Jehovah a heave-offering throughout your generations.” Also here we have the idea of a part for the whole. By heaving the heave offering it was sanctified. This meant that a little of the dough was taken and a little cake was baked and given to the priests, and so the entire lump of dough from which the little was taken was considered as holy as the heave-offering itself.
It is instructive to notice that the offering of the first-fruits had also a definite place in the Sabbatic calendar of Israel in the Old Testament. Thus we read in Lev. 23:9-11: “And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, when ye are come into the land which I give unto you, and shalt reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring the sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest unto the priest; and he shall wave the sheaf before Jehovah, to be accepted for you; on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.” From this it is evident that the “first-fruits” must, (1) follow upon the feast of the unleavened bread, the Passover; (2) must be brought to the Lord on the day after the Sabbath, that is on the first day of the week. It really belongs to the things that are new; the old is passed away and the new is come, and is now set in the service of the Lord. The “first-fruits” proclaim that presently all things shall be made new. Christ our Passover has been slain, and now we have the first-fruits of the full harvest. Thus it was typified in the Old Testament ritual and worship.
This point is also brought out by Paul in Romans 11:16: “And if the first-fruit is holy, so is the lump; and if the root is holy so are the branches.” Paul is here discussing the so-called “Jewish-question.” He discusses the place of Israel as a nation in God’s covenant, and their rejection as a nation in the New Testament dispensation. Now the Gentiles are saved. And these Gentiles are holy. Why? Because they were engrafted into the tree of the Jews. And this tree is holy. And to illustrate this Paul says: if the root (the Jews) are holy so are the branches (the Gentiles). We Gentiles are simply engrafted into the holy root, the root of Jesse. This is just as with the little bit of the first-fruit cake in relationship to the dough from which it is taken. Israel is that “first-fruit” cake and we are as Gentiles the dough. And if the former is holy so are the latter. Confer Numbers 15:20.
There are other and more instructive passages in the New Testament Scriptures from which we could quote to demonstrate this truth and idea of the first-fruits. We shall call attention to just one more instance. We refer to Rev. 14:4: “These are they that were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they that follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were purchased from among men to be the first-fruits unto God and unto the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no lie; they are without blemish.” On the very surface of this passage it is clear that “first-fruits” is fruits of the redemptive work of Christ, and consist in a life of sanctification. It refers to children of God as they are distinct from the world. They are the (144,000) hundred and forty-four thousand, having the name of the Lamb and of the Father written upon their foreheads. And these sing a new song, worshipping God in newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. And thus they are even now in this life some “first-fruits” of God’s creation. Compare James 1:18.
From the foregoing survey of the truth of the Scriptures concerning the “first-fruits” it is quite evident:
1. That the term “fruits” in this term refers to the fruits of the land of Israel, as they are a holy people. It refers to the fruits of holiness, positively in the service of God.
2. That the term “first” refers to first in time but also in quality and excellence. It is a part for the whole, a guarantee that the entire harvest too will follow.
3. That applied to the salvation which we now have in faith, it refers to this as being “first-fruits” of the Spirit in our hearts. We have a small beginning of the eternal joy in our hearts. Presently the full joy of the full harvest time.
4. That when applied to Christ’s resurrection it is very understandable that Paul would speak of this as the first-fruits of those who slept.
Now concerning the latter the text speaks. Christ is become the first-fruits of them. In the phrase “first-fruits of them that have slept” it is evident that we are dealing with a part of the whole. The whole is when all the dead in Christ shall rise in his Parousia! The part is Christ’s resurrection, inclusive of his glorious ascension and sitting at the right hand of God. And the latter is the guarantee that the former shall surely be accomplished.
However, it should be borne in mind that in this case we are not dealing with the harvest-time in the natural seasons but are dealing with the work of God in Christ by the quickening Spirit. Here we are dealing with the harvest of life out of death, and the final overcoming of the last “enemy,” namely, death.
Death is an enemy!
Death is not natural. Death as such cannot bear fruit. Fruit can only be born when death is destroyed. It is the wages of sin. It proclaims that there is no fruit. And it is ranked with many other enemies. There are the principalities and powers, Satan and all his hosts. Then too there are the hordes of those who do not believe in the Lord, nor do they fall asleep in him. They are all enemies which must be subjected to the feet of Christ the King. And they shall be dashed to pieces like a potter’s vessel.
But should these all be destroyed, and not death, then we still would not yet have conquered our greatest enemy!
The greatest enemy is death. And Christ reserves this “enemy” for the last. It is the greatest demonstration that all things are subjected to Him. And it shows more than aught else that His is the preeminence. It is the demonstration of the great power of God, powerfully revealed to be the Son of God!
Death must be destroyed. It must be wholly abolished. And in its stead must come life. And therefore corruption, and the fading away must cease. Death must be wholly swallowed up in victory! And when this is come to pass then all things shall be subject to the Christ.
Forsooth, then shall all things be torn from the prince of this world and from the dominion of death, and the entire Cosmos will be set in the service of God. And when the entire Cosmos shall be set in the service of God, by the resurrected saints, then shall God be all in all. God only shall then be served in the entire new heaven and new earth.
Now this has been preached by Paul to the Corinthians! And thus it has been received. And, therefore, let no one say that there is no resurrection. Let none say that the preaching is empty and that faith is empty. Nor let any say that those who die in the Lord are still in their sins. Neither let it be said that those who believe in Christ believe only for this life; that they are of all men most pitiable.
For Christ is the risen Lord, now at the right hand of God, and, at this very moment, reigns over the nations.
He shall triumph gloriously.
Death shall be no more. And all tears shall be wiped from our eyes.
For through man came death, and through man is also the resurrection.
Yes, the fact of death by one man is a universal experience for every man. Be, it so. Howbeit, the fact of Christ’s resurrection is a glorious reality for all who believe in Christ.
I think of the song: You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart!