I Corinthians 15:20-23:
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
Jesus is called “the firstfruits of them that slept” because he was the first to rise from the dead —never to die again. All who have ever arisen from the dead, died subsequently in later years. Jesus could accurately be called “the firstfruits” of the dead because “Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him” (Romans 6:9). All others who were raised at any time before Jesus have died again. They are among those who “sleep” and continue to wait for the bodily resurrection from the dead. Only Jesus has truly conquered death. In this sense, Christ is “the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5; Acts 26:23). Such is the power and impact of Christ the firstfruits. It guarantees our victory over death, too. Because Christ conquered death, so will we.
The use of the word “firstfruits,” aparchē, in I Corinthians 15:20 & 23 can be understood in how it has been used before in the Old Testament. The firstfruits referred to either the earliest gathered grains, fruits, and vegetables (Numbers 13:20; Ezekiel 44:30) or to the portion that is best (Numbers 15:20; II Chronicles 31:5). In either case they were dedicated to God in recognition of His faithfulness for providing for His people (Exodus 23:18; 34:26). The “firstfruits” were the first to come in time and/or quality, a pledge or hope of the greater harvest to follow and specially dedicated to God. The Israelites were to offer to God a sheaf of the first grain that was harvested on the day after the Sabbath following the Passover feast (Leviticus 23:9-14).
Paul used the term “firstfruits” in this letter to the Corinthian church to document and reinforce the certainty of the resurrection. Just as the term “firstfruits” indicates that “the first sheaf of the forthcoming grain harvest will be followed by the rest of the sheaves, Christ, the firstfruits raised from the dead, is the guarantee for all those who belong to him that they also will share in his resurrection” (Kistemaker, 1993, p. 548). Jesus is God’s “firstfruits” of the resurrection. And, like the Israelites, God will gather the rest of the harvest at the final resurrection. Paul established for the Corinthians (by way of this metaphor) that Christ’s resurrection is a pledge of our resurrection. It is inevitable —guaranteed by God Himself.
A firstfruits ceremony is described in detail in Deuteronomy 26:1-11. Note that the “first born,” whether human or beast, was also considered as God’s special possession and can be considered a type of first fruit (Exodus 22:29; Exodus 34:19). Proverbs 3:9 instructs us to “Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase.” Romans 8:23 also speaks of the gift of holy spirit as the firstfruits as we await the redemption of our bodies. Paul also speaks of the first converts in an area as the firstfruits as they are often distinguished as being first in time and quality.
Part of the practical benefit of understanding Christ the firstfruits is the assurance it gives us. In I Corinthians 15, Paul wrote at length concerning the resurrection of the dead. There were some in Corinth who taught “that there is no resurrection of the dead” (15:12). As one of his proofs for the Christian’s eventual resurrection, Paul pointed to the fact of the resurrection of Christ and showed that one without the other was not possible, saying, “For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised, and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. (15:16-17)! However Christ has risen, and thus made the resurrection of the dead inevitable for all.
By Wayne Clapp