1 Corinthians 15:20
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.
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(20) But now . . .—From the hopeless and ghastly conclusion in which the hypothetical propositions of the previous verse would logically land us, the Apostle turns, with the consciousness of truth, to the hopeful faith to which a belief in the resurrection leads. It cannot be so. Now is Christ risen from the dead. And that is no isolated fact. As the firstfruits were typical of the whole harvest (Leviticus 23:10-11), so is Christ. He rose, not to the exclusion but to the inclusion of all Humanity. If St. Paul wrote this Epistle about the time of Passover (see Introduction, and 1Corinthians 5:6; 1Corinthians 16:8), the fact that the Paschal Sabbath was immediately followed by the day of offering of firstfruits may have suggested this thought.

1 Corinthians



1 Corinthians 15:20

The Apostle has been contemplating the long train of dismal consequences which he sees would arise if we only had a dead Christ. He thinks that he, the Apostle, would have nothing to preach, and we, nothing to believe. He thinks that all hope of deliverance from sin would fade away. He thinks that the one fact which gives assurance of immortality having vanished, the dead who had nurtured the assurance have perished. And he thinks that if things were so, then Christian men, who had believed a false gospel, and nourished an empty faith, and died clinging to a baseless hope, were far more to be pitied than men who had had less splendid dreams and less utter illusions.

Then, with a swift revulsion of feeling, he turns away from that dreary picture, and with a change of key, which the dullest ear can appreciate, from the wailing minors of the preceding verses, he breaks into this burst of triumph. ‘Now’-things being as they are, for it is the logical ‘now,’ and not the temporal one-things being as they are, ‘Christ is risen from the dead, and that as the first fruits of them that slept.’

Part of the ceremonial of the Passover was the presentation in the Temple of a barley sheaf, the first of the harvest, waved before the Lord in dedication to Him, and in sign of thankful confidence that all the fields would be reaped and their blessing gathered. There may be some allusion to that ceremony, which coincided in time with the Resurrection of our Lord, in the words here, which regard that one solitary Resurrection as the early ripe and early reaped sheaf, the pledge and the prophecy of the whole ingathering.

Now there seem to me, in these words, to ring out mainly two things-an expression of absolute certainty in the fact, and an expression of unbounded triumph in the certainty of the fact.

And if we look at these two things, I think we shall get the main thoughts that the Apostle would impress upon our minds.

I. The certainty of Christ’s Resurrection.

‘Now is Christ risen,’ says he, defying, as it were, doubt and negation, and basing himself upon the firm assurance which he possesses of that historical fact. ‘Ah!’ you say, ‘seeing is believing; and he had evidence such as we can never have.’ Well! let us see. Is it possible for us, nineteen centuries nearly after that day, to catch some echo of this assured confidence, and in the face of modern doubts and disbeliefs, to reiterate with as unfaltering assurance as that with which they came from his glowing lips, the great words of my text? Can we, logically and reasonably, as men who are guided by evidence and not by feeling, stand up before the world, and take for ours the ancient confession: ‘I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. The third day He rose again from the dead’ ? I think we can.

The way to prove a fact is by the evidence of witnesses. You cannot argue that it would be very convenient, if such and such a thing should be true; that great moral effects would follow if we believed it was true, and so on. The way to do is to put people who have seen it into the witness-box, and to make sure that their evidence is worth accepting.

And at the beginning of my remarks I wish to protest, in a sentence, against confusing the issues about this question of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in that fashion which is popular nowadays, when we are told that miracle is impossible, and therefore there has been no Resurrection, or that death is the end of human existence, and that therefore there has been no Resurrection. That is not the way to go about ascertaining the truth as to asserted facts. Let us hear the evidence. The men who brush aside the testimony of the New Testament writers, in obedience to a theory, either about the impossibility of the supernatural, or about the fatal and final issues of human death, are victims of prejudice, in the strictest meaning of the word; and are no more logical than the well-known and proverbial reasoner who, when told that facts were against him, with sublime confidence in his own infallibility, is reported to have said, ‘So much the worse for the facts.’ Let us deal with evidence, and not with theory, when we are talking about alleged facts of history.

So then, let me remind you that, in this chapter from which my text is taken, we have a record of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, older than, and altogether independent of, the records contained in the gospels, which are all subsequent in date to it; that this Epistle to the Corinthians is one of the four undisputed Epistles of the Apostle, which not the most advanced school of modern criticism has a word to say against; that, therefore, this chapter, written, at the latest, some seven and twenty years after the date of the Crucifixion, carries us up very close to that event; that it shows that the Resurrection was universally believed all over the Church, and therefore must have then been long believed; that it enables us to trace the same belief as universal, and in undisputed possession of the field among the churches, at the time of Paul’s conversion, which cannot be put down at much more than five or six years after the Crucifixion, and that so we are standing in the presence of absolutely contemporaneous testimony. This is not a case in which a belief slowly and gradually grew up. Whether we accept the evidence or not, we are bound to admit that it is strictly contemporaneous testimony to the fact of Christ’s Resurrection.

And the witnesses are reliable and competent, as well as contemporaneous. The old belief that their testimony was imposture is dead long ago; as, indeed, how could it live? It would be an anomaly, far greater than the Resurrection, to believe that these people, Mary, Peter, John, Paul, and all the rest of them, were conspirators in a lie, and that the fairest system of morality and the noblest consecration that the world has ever seen, grew up out of a fraud, like flowers upon a dunghill. That theory will not hold water; and even those who will not accept the testimony have long since confessed that it will not. But the Apostle, in my context, seems to think that that is the only tenable alternative to the other theory that the witnesses were veracious, and I am disposed to believe that he is right. He says, ‘If Christ be not risen, then, are we’ the utterly impossible thing of ‘false witnesses to God,’ devout perjurers, as the phrase might be paraphrased: men who are lying to please God. If Christ be not risen, they have sworn to a thing that they know to be untrue, in order to advance His cause and His kingdom. If that theory be not accepted, there is no other about these men and their message that will hold water for a minute, except the admission of its truth.

The fashionable modern one, that it was hallucination, is preposterous. Hallucinations that five hundred people at once shared! Hallucinations that lasted all through long talks, spread at intervals over more than a month! Hallucinations that included eating and drinking, speech and answer; the clasp of the hand and the feeling of the breath! Hallucinations that brought instruction! Hallucinations that culminated in the fancy that a gathered multitude of them saw Him going up into heaven! The hallucination is on the other side, I think. They have got the saddle on the wrong horse when they talk about the Apostolic witnesses being the victims of hallucination. It is the people who believe it possible that they should be who are so. The old argument against miracles used to say that it is more consonant with experience that testimony should be false, than that a miracle should be true. I venture to say it is a much greater strain on a man’s credulity, to believe that such evidence is false than that such a miracle, so attested, is true. And I, for my part, venture to think that the reasonable men are the men who listen to these eye-witnesses when they say, ‘We saw Him rise’; and echo back in answer the triumphant certitude, ‘Christ is risen indeed!’

There is another consideration that I might put briefly. A very valuable way of establishing facts is to point to the existence of other facts, which indispensably require the previous ones for their explanation. Let me give you an illustration of what I mean. I believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, amongst other reasons, because I do not understand how it was possible for the Church to exist for a week after the Crucifixion, unless Jesus Christ rose again. Why was it that they did not all scatter? Why was it that the spirit of despondency and the tendency to separation, which were beginning to creep over them when they were saying: ‘Ah! it is all up! We trusted that this had been He,’ did not go on to their natural issue? How came it that these people, with their Master taken away from the midst of them, and the bond of union between them removed, and all their hopes crushed did not say: ‘We have made a mistake, let us go back to Gennesareth and take to our fishing again, and try and forget our bright illusions’ ? That is what John the Baptist’s followers did when he died. Why did not Christ’s do the same? Because Christ rose again and re-knit them together. When the Shepherd was smitten, the flock would have been scattered, and never drawn together any more, unless there had been just such a thing as the Resurrection asserts there was, to reunite the dispersed and to encourage the depressed. And so I say, Christianity with a dead Christ, and a Church gathered round a grave from which the stone has not been rolled away, is more unbelievable than the miracle, for it is an absurdity.

Then there is another thing that I would say in a word. Let me put an illustration to explain what I mean. Suppose, after the execution of King Charles I., in some corner of the country a Pretender had sprung up and said, ‘I am the King!’ the way to end that would have been for the Puritan leaders to have taken people to St. George’s Chapel, and said, ‘Look! there is the coffin, there is the body, is that the king, or is it not?’ Jesus Christ was said to have risen again, within a week of the time of His death. The rulers of the nation had the grave, the watch, the stone, the seal. They could have put an end to the pestilent nonsense in two minutes, if it had been nonsense, by the simple process of saying, ‘Go and look at the tomb, and you will see Him there.’ But this question has never been answered, and never will be-What became of that sacred corpse if Jesus Christ did not rise again from the dead? The clumsy lie that the rulers told, that the disciples had stolen away the body, was only their acknowledgment that the grave was empty. If the grave were empty, either His servants were impostors, which we have seen it is incredible that they were, or the Christ was risen again.

And so, dear brethren, for many other reasons besides this handful that I have ventured to gather and put before you, and in spite of the prejudices of modern theories, I lift up here once more, with unfaltering certitude, the glad message which I beseech you to accept: ‘Christ is risen, the first fruits of them that slept.’

II. So much, then, for the first point in this passage. A word or two about the second-the triumph in the certitude of that Resurrection.

As I remarked at a previous point of this discourse, the Apostle has been speaking about the consequences which would follow from the fact that Christ was not raised. If we take all these consequences and reverse them, we get the glad issues of His Resurrection, and understand why it was that this great burst of triumph comes from the Apostle’s lips. And though I must necessarily treat this part of my subject very inadequately, let me try to gather together the various points on which, as I think, our Easter gladness ought to be built.

First, then, I say, the risen Christ gives us a complete Gospel. A dead Christ annihilates the Gospel. ‘If Christ be not risen,’ says the Apostle, ‘our preaching,’ by which he means not the act but the substance of his preaching, ‘is vain.’ Or, as the word might be more accurately rendered, ‘empty.’ There is nothing in it; no contents. It is a blown bladder; nothing in it but wind.

What was Paul’s ‘preaching’ ? It all turned upon these points-that Jesus Christ was the Son of God; that He was Incarnate in the flesh for us men; that He died on the Cross for our offences; that He was raised again, and had ascended into Heaven, ruling the world and breathing His presence into believing hearts; and that He would come again to be our Judge. These were the elements of what Paul called ‘his Gospel.’ He faces the supposition of a dead Christ, and he says, ‘It is all gone! It is all vanished into thin air. I have nothing to preach if I have not a Cross to preach which is man’s deliverance from sin, because on it the Son of God hath died, and I only know that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice is accepted and sufficient, because I have it attested to me in His rising again from the dead.’

Dear brethren, on the fact of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is suspended everything which makes the Gospel a gospel. Strike that out, and what have you left? Some beautiful bits of moral teaching, a lovely life, marred by tremendous mistakes about Himself and His own importance and His relation to men and to God; but you have got nothing left that is worth calling a gospel. You have the cross rising there, gaunt, black, solitary; but, unless on the other side of the river you have the Resurrection, no bridge will ever be thrown across the black gulf, and the Cross remains ‘dead, being alone.’ You must have a Resurrection to explain the Cross, and then the Life and the Death tower up into the manifestation of God in the flesh and the propitiation for our sins. Without it we have nothing to preach which is worth calling a gospel.

Again, a living Christ gives faith something to lay hold of. The Apostle here in the context twice says, according to the Authorised Version, that a dead Christ makes our faith ‘vain.’ But he really uses two different words, the former of which is applied to ‘preaching,’ and means literally ‘empty,’ while the latter means ‘of none effect’ or ‘powerless.’ So there are two ideas suggested here which I can only touch with the lightest hand.

The risen Christ puts some contents, so to speak, into my faith; He gives me something for it to lay hold of.

Who can trust a dead Christ, or who can trust a human Christ? That would be as much a blasphemy as trusting any other man. It is only when we recognise Him as declared to be the Son of God, and that by the Resurrection from the dead, that our faith has anything round which it can twine, and to which it can cleave. That living Saviour will stretch out His hand to us if we look to Him, and if I put my poor, trembling little hand up towards Him, He will bend to me and clasp it. You cannot exercise faith unless you have a risen Saviour, and unless you exercise faith in Him your lives are marred and sad.

Again, if Christ be dead, our faith, if it could exist, would be as devoid of effect as it would be empty of substance. For such a faith would be like an infant seeking nourishment at a dead mother’s breast, or men trying to kindle their torches at an extinguished lamp. And chiefly would it fail to bring the first blessing which the believing soul receives through and from a risen Christ, namely, deliverance from sin. If He whom we believed to be our sacrifice by His death and our sanctification by His life has not risen, then, as we have seen, all which makes His death other than a martyr’s vanishes, and with it vanish forgiveness and purifying. Only when we recognise that in His Cross explained by His Resurrection, we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, and by the communication of the risen life from the risen Lord possess that new nature which sets us free from the dominion of our evil, is faith operative in setting us free from our sins.

So, dear friends, the risen Christ gives us something for faith to lay hold of, and will make it the hand by which we grasp His strong hand, which lifts us ‘out of the horrible pit and the miry clay, and sets our feet upon a rock.’ But if He lie dead in the grave your faith is vain, because it grasps nothing but a shadow; and it is vain as being purposeless; you are yet in your sins.

The last thought is that the risen Christ gives us the certitude of our Resurrection. I do not for a moment mean to say that, apart from the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the thought, be it a wish or a dread, of immortality, has not been found in men, but there is all the difference in the world between forebodings, aspirations, wishes it were so, fears that it might be so, and the calm certitude that it is so. Many men talked about a western continent, but Columbus went there and came back again, and that ended doubt. Many men before, and apart from Jesus, have cherished thoughts of an immortal life beyond the grave, but He has been there and returned. And that, and, as I believe, that only puts the doctrine of immortality upon an irrefragable foundation; and we can say, ‘Now, I know that there is that land beyond.’ They tell us that death ends everything. Modern materialism, in all its forms, asserts that it is the extinction of the personality. Jesus Christ died, and went through it, and came out of it the same, and I will trust Him. Brethren, the set of opinion amongst the educated and cultured classes in England, and all over Europe, at this moment, proves to anybody who has eyes to see, that for this generation, rejection of immortality will follow certainly on the rejection of Jesus Christ. And for England to-day, as for Greece when Paul sent his letter to Corinth, the one light of certitude in the great darkness is the fact that Jesus Christ hath died, and is risen again.

If you will let Him, He will make you partakers of His own immortal life. ‘The first fruits of them that slept’ is the pledge and the prophecy of all the waving abundance of golden grain that shall be gathered into the great husbandman’s barns. The Apostle goes on to represent the resurrection of ‘them that are Christ’s’ as a consequence of their union to Jesus. He has conquered for us all. He has entered the prison-house and come forth bearing its iron gates on His shoulders, and henceforth it is not possible that we should be holden of it. There are two resurrections-one, that of Christ’s servants, one that of others. They are not the same in principle-and, alas, they are awfully different in issue. ‘Some shall wake to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.’

Let me beseech you to make Jesus Christ the life of your dead souls, by humble, penitent trust in Him. And then, in due time, He will be the life of your transformed bodies, changing these into the likeness of the body of His glory, ‘according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.’1 Corinthians 15:20-22. But now is Christ risen — Here the apostle declares that Christians have hope not in this life only. His proof of the resurrection lies in a narrow compass, 1 Corinthians 15:12-19. Almost all the rest of the chapter is taken up in illustrating, vindicating, and applying it. The proof is short, but solid and convincing, namely, that which arose from Christ’s resurrection. Now this not only proved a resurrection possible, but, as it proved him to be a divine teacher, it proved also the certainty of a general resurrection, which he so expressly taught. The first-fruits of them that slept — The pledge, earnest, and assurance of the resurrection of those who sleep in him, even of all the righteous, of the resurrection of whom, at least chiefly, if not only, the apostle speaks throughout the chapter. As to the term first- fruits, in explanation thereof it may be proper to observe, that “the Israelites were commanded to bring on the morrow after the sabbath, with which the passover week began, a sheaf of the first-fruits of their harvest to the priest, to be waved before the Lord, who, by accepting it, made it an example and a pledge of the future harvest. In allusion to that rite, Christ, who arose on the very day on which the first-fruits were offered, is called the first-fruits of them who slept, because he is the first who was raised from the dead to die no more, and because his resurrection is an example and an earnest of the resurrection of the righteous.” For since by man came death — Since death came on the whole human race by means of one man, who brought mortality on all his posterity in consequence of one great and wilful transgression; by man came also, &c. — That is, by means of another man came likewise the resurrection of the dead — And our happy relation to him abundantly repairs the damage we sustain by our fatal relation to the former. For as in Adam all — Even the righteous; die, so in — Or through; Christ shall all these be made alive — He does not say shall revive, (as naturally as they die,) but shall be made alive, namely, by a power not their own. See on Romans 5:18, a passage which is a good comment on this verse.15:20-34 All that are by faith united to Christ, are by his resurrection assured of their own. As through the sin of the first Adam, all men became mortal, because all had from him the same sinful nature, so, through the resurrection of Christ, shall all who are made to partake of the Spirit, and the spiritual nature, revive, and live for ever. There will be an order in the resurrection. Christ himself has been the first-fruits; at his coming, his redeemed people will be raised before others; at the last the wicked will rise also. Then will be the end of this present state of things. Would we triumph in that solemn and important season, we must now submit to his rule, accept his salvation, and live to his glory. Then shall we rejoice in the completion of his undertaking, that God may receive the whole glory of our salvation, that we may for ever serve him, and enjoy his favour. What shall those do, who are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Perhaps baptism is used here in a figure, for afflictions, sufferings, and martyrdom, as Mt 20:22,23. What is, or will become of those who have suffered many and great injuries, and have even lost their lives, for this doctrine of the resurrection, if the dead rise not at all? Whatever the meaning may be, doubtless the apostle's argument was understood by the Corinthians. And it is as plain to us that Christianity would be a foolish profession, if it proposed advantage to themselves by their faithfulness to God; and to have our fruit to holiness, that our end may be everlasting life. But we must not live like beasts, as we do not die like them. It must be ignorance of God that leads any to disbelieve the resurrection and future life. Those who own a God and a providence, and observe how unequal things are in the present life, how frequently the best men fare worst, cannot doubt as to an after-state, where every thing will be set to rights. Let us not be joined with ungodly men; but warn all around us, especially children and young persons, to shun them as a pestilence. Let us awake to righteousness, and not sin.But now is Christ risen ... - This language is the bursting forth of a full heart and of overpowering conviction. It would seem as if Paul were impatient of the slow process of argument; weary of meeting objections, and of stating the consequences of a denial of the doctrine; and longing to give utterance to "what he knew," that Christ was risen from the dead. That was a point on which he was certain. He had seen him after he was risen; and he could no more doubt this "fact" than he could any other which he had witnessed with his own eyes. He makes, therefore, this strong affirmation; and in doing it, he at the same time affirms that the dead will also rise, since he had shown 1 Corinthians 15:12-18 that all the objection to the doctrine of the resurrection was removed by the fact that Christ had risen, and had shown that his resurrection involved the certainty that his people also would rise. There is special force in the word "now" in this verse. The meaning may be thus expressed: "I have showed the consequences which would follow from the supposition that Christ was not raised up. I have shown how it would destroy all our hopes, plunge us into grief, annihilate our faith, make our preaching vain, and involve us in the belief that our pious friends have perished, and that we are yet in our sins. I have shown how it would produce the deepest disappointment and misery. But all this was mere supposition. There is no reason to apprehend any such consequences, or to be thus alarmed. "Christ" is "risen." Of that there is no doubt. That is not to be called in question. It is established by irrefragable testimony; and consequently our hopes are not vain, our faith is not useless, our pious friends have not perished, and we shall not be disappointed."

And become the first-fruits - The word rendered "first-fruits" (ἀπαρχὴ aparchē) occurs in the New Testament in the following places; Romans 8:23 (see the note on this place); Romans 11:16; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 15:20, 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Corinthians 16:15; James 1:18; Revelation 14:4. It occurs often in the Septuagint as the translations of חלב cheleb, "fat," or "fatness" Numbers 18:12, Numbers 18:29-30, Numbers 18:32; as the translation of מצשׂרה ma‛asrah, "the tenth" or "the tithe" Deuteronomy 12:6; of צוון ‛awon, "iniquity" Numbers 18:1; of ראשׁית rē'shiyt, "the beginning, the commencement, the first" (Exodus 23:19; Leviticus 23:1; Numbers 15:18-19, etc.): of תּרמה teruwmah, "oblation, offering; lifting up; of that which is lifted up or waved as the first sheaf of the harvest," etc. Exodus 25:2-3; Exodus 35:5; Numbers 5:9; Numbers 18:8, etc. The first-fruits, or the first sheaf of ripe grain was required to be offered to the Lord, and was waved before him by the priest, as expressing the sense of gratitude by the husbandman, and his recognition of the fact that God had a right to all that he had; Leviticus 23:10-14. The word, therefore, comes to have two:

(1) That which is "first," the beginning, or that which has the priority of time; and,

(2) That which is apart and portion of the whole which is to follow, and which is the earnest or pledge of that; as the "first" sheaf of ripe grain was not only the first in order of time, but was the earnest or pledge of the entire harvest which was soon to succeed.

In allusion to this, Paul uses the word here. It was not merely or mainly that Christ was the first in order of time that rose from the dead, for Lazarus and the widow's son had been raised before him; but it was that he was chief in regard to the dignity, value, and importance of his rising; he was connected with all that should rise, as the first sheaf of the harvest was with the crop; he was a "part" of the mighty harvest of the resurrection, and his rising was a "portion" of that great rising, as the sheaf was a portion of the harvest itself; and he was so connected with them all, and their rising so depended on his, that his resurrection was a demonstration that they would rise. It may also be implied here, as Grotius and Schoettgen have remarked, that he is the first of those who were raised so as not to die again; and that, therefore, those raised by Elisha and by the Saviour himself do not come into the account. They all died again; but the Saviour will not die, nor will those whom he will raise up in the resurrection die any more. He is, therefore, the first of those that thus rise, and a portion of that great host which shall be raised to die no more. May there not be another idea? The first sheaf of the harvest was consecrated to God, and then all the harvest was regarded as consecrated to him. May it not be implied that, by the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, all those of whom he speaks are regarded as sacred to God, and as consecrated and accepted by the resurrection and acceptance of him who was the first-fruits?

Of them that slept - Of the pious dead; see the note on 1 Corinthians 15:6.

20. now—as the case really is.

and become—omitted in the oldest manuscripts.

the first-fruits—the earnest or pledge, that the whole resurrection harvest will follow, so that our faith is not vain, nor our hope limited to this life. The time of writing this Epistle was probably about the Passover (1Co 5:7); the day after the Passover sabbath was that for offering the first-fruits (Le 23:10, 11), and the same was the day of Christ's resurrection: whence appears the appropriateness of the image.

The apostle returneth to his former argument, to discourse concerning the resurrection of Christ, who is by him called the

first-fruits of them that slept; not of all that shall rise, (as some think), for it will be hard to prove, that any benefit of Christ’s death or resurrection, after this life, belongs to wicked men: nor is it usual for the penmen of holy writ to express the death of unbelievers under the gentle notion of a sleep; and, Colossians 1:18, Christ is called the first-born from the dead, as he is the Head of the church. It is rather spoken with reference to believers; the resurrection of wicked men, flowing rather from God’s providence, in order to the manifestation of his justice in the last judgment, than from the mediation of Christ. But here a question ariseth: How Christ is said to be the first-fruits of those that sleep, whenas we read of divers in Scripture that were raised from the dead before Christ was so raised?


1. Christ was the first that rose again by his own power and virtue.

2. He was the first who rose again, and died no more.

3. He was the first in respect of dignity.

4. He was the first-fruits of them that sleep, by his resurrection making a way for the resurrection of others, even of all such as were members of him; as the offering of the first-fruits, under the law, sanctified the whole crop. But now is Christ risen from the dead,.... As was before proved by ocular testimonies, and before preached and asserted; and now reassumed and concluded, from the glaring contradictions, and dreadful absurdities that follow the denial of it:

and became the firstfruits of them that slept; who were already fallen asleep; respecting chiefly the saints that died before the resurrection of Christ; and if Christ was the firstfruit of them, there is no difficulty of conceiving how he is the firstfruits of those that die since. The allusion is to the firstfruits of the earth, which were offered to the Lord: and especially to the sheaf of the firstfruits, which was waved by the priest before him, Deuteronomy 26:2 and to which Christ, in his resurrection from the dead, is here compared. The firstfruits were what first sprung out of the earth, were soonest ripe, and were first reaped and gathered in, and then offered unto the Lord; so Christ first rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven, and presented himself to God; as the representative of his people; for though there were others that were raised before him, as the widow of Sarepta's son by Elijah, the Shunammite's son by Elisha, and the man that touched the prophet's bones when put into his grave, and Jairus's daughter, the widow of Naam's son, and Lazarus by Christ; yet as these did not rise by their own power, so only to a mortal life: but Christ, as he raised himself by his own power, so he rose again to an immortal life, and was the first that ever did so; he was the first to whom God showed, and who first trod this path of life. The firstfruits were the best, what was then ripest, and so most valuable; Christ is the first, and rose the first in dignity, as well as in time; he rose as the head of the body, as the firstborn, the beginning, that in all things he might have, and appear to have, as he ought to have, the pre-eminence. The firstfruits sanctified the rest of the harvest, represented the whole, gave right to the ingathering of it, and ensured it; Christ by lying in the grave, and rising out of it, sanctified it for his people, and in his resurrection represented them; they rose with him, and in him; and their resurrection is secured by his; because he lives, they shall live also. The firstfruits were only such, and all this to the fruits of the earth, that were of the same kind with them, not to tares and chaff, to briers and thorns; so Christ, in rising from the dead, is only the firstfruits of the saints; of such as are the fruits of his death and of his grace, who have the fruits of his Spirit in them, and are filled with the fruits of righteousness by him; just as he is the firstborn from the dead, with respect to the many brethren, whom he stands in the relation of a firstborn: once more, as the allusion is particularly to the sheaf of the firstfruits, it is to be observed, that that was waved before the Lord, the morrow after the sabbath, Leviticus 23:11 which, as the Jews (f) interpret, was the morrow after the first good day, or festival of the passover; the passover was on the fourteenth day of the month; the festival, or Chagiga, on the fifteenth, and which, in the year that Christ suffered, was a sabbath day also; and the morrow after that, the sheaf of the firstfruits was waved; now Christ suffered on the passover, rested in the grave on the seventh day sabbath, and on the morrow after that, rose from the dead, the very day that the first fruits were offered to the Lord: so that the allusion and phrase are very appropriately used by the apostle.

(f) Targum & Jarchi in Leviticus 23.11.

{10} But now is Christ risen from the dead, {11} and become the {f} firstfruits of them that slept.

(10) A conclusion of the former argument: therefore Christ is risen again.

(11) He puts the last conclusion for the first proposition of the argument that follows. Christ is risen again: therefore will we the faithful (for of them he speaks) rise again. Then follows the first reason of this conclusion: for Christ is set forth to us to be considered of, not as a private man apart and by himself, but as the firstfruits: and he takes that which was known to all men, that is, that the whole heap is sanctified in the firstfruits.

(f) He alludes to the firstfruits of grain, the offering of which sanctified the rest of the fruits.

1 Corinthians 15:20. No, we Christians are not in this unhappy condition; Christ is risen, καὶ τὴν τοῦ ἡμετέρου σωτῆρος ἀνάστασιν ἐχέγγυον (guarantee) τῆς ἡμετέρας ἔχομεν ἀναστάσεως, Theodoret. Several interpreters (Flatt, comp. Calvin on 1 Corinthians 15:29) have wrongly regarded 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 as an episode. See on 1 Corinthians 15:29.

νυνὶ δέ] jam vero, but now, as the case really stands. Comp. 1 Corinthians 13:13, 1 Corinthians 14:6, al.

ἀπαρχὴ τῶν κεκοιμ.] as first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep, predicative more precise definition to Χριστός, inasmuch as He is risen from the dead. Comp. as regards ἀπαρχή used of persons, 1 Corinthians 16:15; Romans 16:5; Jam 1:18; Plutarch, Thes. 16. The meaning is: “Christ is risen, so that thereby He has made the holy beginning of the general resurrection of those who have fallen asleep” (comp. 1 Corinthians 15:23; Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5; Clement, Cor. 1 Corinthians 1:24). Whether in connection with ἀπαρχή Paul was thinking precisely of a definite offering of first-fruits as the concrete foil to his conception (comp. Romans 11:16), in particular of the sheaves of the Paschal feast, Leviticus 23:10 (Bengel, Osiander, and others), must, since he indicates nothing more minutely, remain undecided. The genitive is partitive. See on Romans 8:23.

That by τῶν κεκοιμ. we are to understand believers, is to be inferred both from the word itself, which in the New Testament is always used only of the death of the saints, and also from the fellowship with Christ denoted by ἀπαρχή. And in truth what is conceived of is the totality of departed believers, including, therefore, those too who shall still fall asleep up to the Parousia, and then belong also to the κεκοιμήμενοι (the sleeping); see 1 Corinthians 15:23. This does not exclude the fact that Christ is the raiser of the dead also for the unbelieving; He is not, however, their ἀπαρχή; but see on 1 Corinthians 15:22. That those, moreover, who were raised before Christ and by Christ Himself (as Lazarus), also those raised by apostles, do not make the ἀπαρχὴ τῶν κεκοιμ. untrue, is clear from the consideration that no one previously was raised to immortal life (to ἀφθαρσία); while Enoch and Elias (Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11) did not die at all. Christ thus remains πρῶτος ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν, Acts 26:23. But the ἀπαρχή allows us to look from the dawn of the eschatological order of salvation, as having taken place already, to the certainty of its future completion. Luthardt says well: “The risen Christ is the beginning of the history of the end.”1 Corinthians 15:20-28. § 52. THE FIRSTFRUIT OF THE RESURRECTION AND THE HARVEST. Paul has proved the actuality of Christ’s personal resurrection by the abundant and truthful testimony to the fact (1 Corinthians 15:5-15), and by the experimental reality of its effects (1 Corinthians 15:17). In 1 Corinthians 15:20 a he therefore amrms it unconditionally, having overthrown the contrary assertion that “there is no resurrection of the dead.” But Christ never stands alone; He forms “a body” with “many members” (1 Corinthians 12:12); He is “firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29, Colossians 1:18, John 15:5, etc.). His rising shows that bodily resurrection is possible; nay, it is inevitable for those who are in Him (1 Corinthians 15:18; 1 Corinthians 15:20 b, 1 Corinthians 15:23). In truth, the universal redemption of Christ’s people from the grave is indispensable for the realisation of human destiny and for the assured triumph of God’s kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). The Ap. thus advances from the experimental (§ 51) to the theological proof of his theorem, much as in Romans 5:1-21.20. But now is Christ risen from the dead] St Paul considers it needless to argue the point further. He appeals not so much to the reason—on points like this (see ch. 1 Corinthians 2:14) it is likely to deceive us—as to the moral instincts of every human being. Of course a man has power to stifle them, but they tell him plainly enough that love of purity and truth, desire of immortality, belief in the love and justice of God, are no vain dreams, as they would be if the ‘wise man died as the fool’ (Ecclesiastes 2:16). Accordingly, the Apostle now (1 Corinthians 15:20-28) proceeds to unfold the laws of God’s spiritual kingdom as facts which cannot be gainsaid. He may appeal (as in 1 Corinthians 15:29-32) to his own practice and that of others as a confirmation of what he says. But from henceforth he speaks with authority. He wastes no more time in discussion.

and become the firstfruits of them that slept] The firstfruits (Leviticus 23:10) were the first ripe corn, under the Law, solemnly offered to God, a fit type of Him Who first presented our ripened humanity before the Throne of God, an earnest of the mighty harvest hereafter to be gathered.1 Corinthians 15:20. Νυνί, now) Paul declares, that his preaching is not in vain, that their faith is not worthless, that their sins are taken away, that the dead in Christ are not annihilated, that the hope of Christians does not terminate with this life.—ἀπαρχὴ, the first fruit) viz. οὗσα or ὤν being. The mention of the first fruits admirably agrees with the time of the passover, at which, as we have observed above, this epistle was written; nay more, with the very day of Christ’s resurrection, which was likewise the day after the Sabbath, Leviticus 23:10-11.Verses 20-28. - Results to be deduced from the fact of Christ's resurrection. Verse 20. - But now. Since the supposition that Christ has not risen involves so many suppositions which you will rightly reject as absurd, we may assume the eternal fact that Christ has been raised. And become the firstfruits of them that slept. As the wave sheaf (Leviticus 23:10), which was the firstfruits of the harvest, is also a pledge of the harvest, so Christ is the firstfruits and pledge of the resurrection of all mankind. The first-fruits (ἀπαρχὴ)

See on James 1:18. Omit become. Compare Colossians 1:18, and see on Revelation 1:5.

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