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III. 

(I Corinthians 15:20-28

a. 

The passage on which we will write this time is really too rich in content and too wide in scope to be properly explained in one essay. Here, it seems to us, Paul surely does more than simply remind his readers of what he had instructed them in, while he was in their midst when he brought forth to Christ a pure bride. It is in this passage, no doubt, that we see something of the great and deep thoughts of God to glorify His Son, so that he says to Him in the unfolding of His Counsel, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee; ask of Me and I will give Thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” Psalm 2:7-8. Here we will see some of the implications of “Yet I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” Idem, 6. 

This passage reads as follows, in part : “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterwards they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God even the Father . . . . For he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death . . . . And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall also the Son himself be subject unto him that did put all things under him that God may be all and in all?Verses 20-28. 

The attentive reader will have noticed that we have italicized only a part of this quotation. We did this intentionally. It is our purpose to write twice on this section in this series of essays, and, therefore, we wish to call attention in this essay chiefly to those elements in the text which I italicized. It is our opinion that it will serve the cause of lucidness and clarity to write two essays instead of one. 

There are really two chief and distinct elements in this entire section of I Corinthians 15. The one element, which is possibly the more apparent element in the text is that Christ is “the firstfruits of them that slept.” Vs. 20. The other element, although not explicitly stated, is very really the fundamental truth that “Christ is the firstborn of all creation.” See Col. 1:15.

It is our purpose to call attention to this second and more fundamental aspect of Christ’s resurrection in this present essay. That Christ is the “firstborn of all creation” is abundantly evident in such expressions from Paul in this passage as “‘Each in his own order.” And that “He must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.” Verses 23, 25. And, last but not least, from the very meaningful expression, “in order thatGod be all in all.” Verse 28. 

Permit us to call attention to the following elements here in the text, and the general teaching of Scripture on these points. 

In the first place, it should be noticed, that most emphatically Christ is the one who is raised from the dead. You ask: who is he? He is none other but the person of the Son of God in human flesh, like unto us in all things sin excepted. He came in the likeness of sinful flesh. Rom. 8:3Hebrews 2:17-18. He is the true God and eternal life, I John 5:20. He is co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He is God-with-us, Immanuel. He is the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of peace. 

As the Son in our human nature, he is emphatically theMessiah, the Anointed of God. He is appointed to the task of dying for our sins and of rising again the third day for our justification. Hereto was he sent. And this element must not be lost sight of in the jubilant and triumphant outcry of Paul in verse 20: “But now isChrist risen, the firstfruits of them that slept.” The Anointed of God is risen from the dead. Incidentally we have the same emphasis in Romans 8:33. Who is it that shall condemn? God is the one justifying us . . . Christdied, yea, rather, is risen, who is even at the right hand of God! God’s Christ, His Messiah is king in Zion! 

Thus it is in the decree! 

And this decree God declares in history. He realizes this “decree” in the death and resurrection of His Son. It is alone in Christ that the decree is declared: Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. Psalm 2:7b. And this is declared by God in Christ’s resurrection! Small wonder that we read the jubilant note here: “But now is Christ raised, the firstfruits of them that slept”! God has declared the decree

It should be observed that the Scriptures are rather explicit on this point. A good deal of instruction is had in Scripture concerning God’s declaring the decree in the death and resurrection of Christ. 

This is touched upon by Paul when speaking of the resurrection he says, “each in his own order”! No, the term “order” in the text does not simply mean temporal order, or succession of events. Rather the term “order” (tagma in the Greek text) is a military term. It refers to the order of rank, of pre-eminence. It refers to the position of honor which is due to each in the plan of salvation. And in that plan Christ has his own “tagma,” his own “order.” He is the Firstborn of all creaturesCol. 1:18-19

It is important to notice the teaching of Scripture on this important point of Christ’s pre-eminence as the Firstborn. Various clear and rich passages of Scripture underscore this truth. There is, of course, that very well-known passage in Col. 1:18-19 where we read: “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead: that in all things he might have the pre-eminence. For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fulness dwell, and through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross, through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in heaven.” 

Such is Christ’s order

His is the place of pre-eminence. And He comes to this place of pre-eminence in His dying for our sins according to the Scriptures and in his being raised again the third day according to the Scriptures. 

Hence, Christ is the beginning! 

It becomes evident, that he is the beginning, the Firstfruits of all creation, in His resurrection from the dead. 

Let it be understood rightly. Christ is the firstborn out of the dead because in the counsel of God, Christ is the firstborn of all creation. Thus we read in Col. 1:15-17: “who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers: all things have been created through him and unto him; and he is before all things, and in him all things consist” (held together). 

We repeat: Christ is the firstborn out of the dead; he could only be such in his “order,” since in the counsel of God He is the firstborn of all creation! 

This honor and prerogative could never be that of the angels. In the womb of God’s counsel, the counsel of his will, God determined that Christ would be the firstborn. He is first. He leads the way. All things were created by Him and unto Him. This honor of Christ is very beautifully described to us in. Hebrews 1:5-6, where we read: “For to which of the angels said he at any time: Thou art my Son, This day have I begotten thee? and again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?” Here the writer to the Hebrews quotes Psalm 2:7and II Sam. 7:14

Thus the “order” of Christ is contrasted with that of the angels, with all the angels without an exception. Must not the Son, because he is the firstborn, receive all glory and worship, even when he enters into this our inhabited world? In Hebrews 1:8-9 (Psalm 45:6-7) we read: “And of the angels he saith: Who maketh his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire, but of the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever.” Yea, in Psalm 97:7: “And let all the angels of God worship him.” 

It is because of this order of Christ, his pre-eminence, that the resurrection is so wonderful. 

For He, that came forth from the grave, had power to lay his life down and had power to take it up again. Life must come forth from the dead. He is the resurrection and the life. And, therefore, the grave gives birth to a Son, the firstborn Son of God! The grave has birthpangs! Hallelujah! 

Do we not read in Acts 2:22-23; “Ye men of Israel hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did in the midst of you, even as ye yourselves know: him being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay: whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.” 

Thus Christ, as the firstborn of God, comes forth from the counsel of God, he comes forth from the womb of the grave!

Shall we not here stop and worship him? 

He is: my Lord and my God! 

And thus God declared here of the decree: Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. Thus we read inActs 13:33 : “And we bring you good tidings of the promise made unto the fathers, that God hath fulfilled the same unto our children, in that he raised up Jesus: as also it is written in the second Psalm: “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” 

Certainly the Son is eternally the begotten of God in the bosom of the Father. The Father generates the Son. But in Psalm 2:7 reference is to the only begotten Son of God, as he is the Firstborn of all creation, and that, too, as he is the firstborn out of the dead! 

Of him we read here in I Cor. 15:25: “For he must reign.” It is the divine “must” which is implicit in Christ’s being the Anointed Son, the firstborn! And he must reign so that he subdues all the enemies of him. Thus the Holy Spirit speaks of Him in Psalm 2:8-9: “Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 

And since Christ is thus the firstborn He will put all things under His feet, and will raise his church with him in glory. 

For as the Firstborn, he is also the “firstfruits.” He is the firstfruits of them that slept. 

G.L.