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Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14, 15,
14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover, we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.
The doctrine of the resurrection in general is so foundational to Christianity that if it were not true, then all Christian witnesses are bearing false witness. If God did not raise Christ from the dead, then we bear witness against God Himself when we claim that He did indeed raise Him from the dead.
Our faith stands or falls on the veracity of a resurrection idea generally and Christ’s resurrection specifically. Why? Paul gives us the answer in 1 Cor. 15:16,
16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.
Take note that Paul is arguing for the truth of our own resurrection. He is proving that WE will be raised by showing the example of Christ’s resurrection. The resurrection is our hope. Because He was raised from the dead, so shall we all be raised.
The link between the two events is clear. Therefore, no one can reasonably say that Paul was speaking of two different kinds of resurrection. They cannot say that Christ was raised in one way, but we in another. Specifically, one cannot say that Christ was raised bodily, but we are raised spiritually when we accept Christ by faith, thus denying our own bodily resurrection.
Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19,
17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
The resurrection of Christ is what justifies us (Rom. 4:25). Apart from Christ’s resurrection, there is no justification from sin. Those who deny His resurrection are not genuine believers, nor have they been justified from sin. In other words, to become a genuine believer, a Greek or Greek-minded man was required to change his belief that matter was inherently evil and believe instead in a bodily resurrection.
Putting it all together, we see that Christ’s bodily resurrection defines our own resurrection. Our own resurrection is the hope of every believer. And as Paul says elsewhere in Rom. 8:23, the believers’ hope is “the redemption of our body.” Without this hope, “we are of all men most to be pitied.”
So let us not adopt the mindset of the Greeks or the beliefs of the Gnostics, both of whom abhorred the idea that spirit and matter could be compatible. The idea that God could manifest Himself in human flesh when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) was abhorrent to Greek thought. The idea that the Holy Spirit would indwell human flesh in a feast called Pentecost was anathema to Greek thought. The idea that the solution to the problem of evil in the world was for the glory of God to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea was a strange absurdity to those who assumed that matter was inherently evil.
In other words, the foundation of hope for a believer in Christ is radically different from other belief systems. One cannot import those other ideas into Christianity and try to add Jesus to the mix, as the Gnostics did in the early church—and which they are still trying to do today as a powerful not-so-secret Gnostic faction within the Vatican.
Having laid the foundation of resurrection as an essential element of faith in Christ, Paul then turns to the consequences, or results, of this teaching. He says in 1 Cor. 15:20,
20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
Jesus was raised on the day after Passover, according to the law, in order to be identified with the sheaf of barley first fruits that the high priest was to wave in the temple on that day. The law is found in Lev. 23:10, 11,
10 Speak to the sons of Israel, and say to them, “When you enter the land which I am going to give you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. 11 And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord for you to be accepted; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.
The context shows that this sheaf was to be waved shortly after the day of Passover, which was after the barley had ripened. (Wheat took longer to ripen, so it was used in the second first fruits offering at Pentecost seven weeks later.) The text says that this sheaf of barley was to be waved “on the day after the sabbath.”
The Sadducees interpreted this to mean that the sheaf was to be waved on the day after the weekly sabbath—the day which we today call Sunday. The Pharisees disputed this interpretation, saying that this “sabbath” was actually the day of Passover, which was to be a sabbath, regardless of the day of the week on which it fell. They insisted that the sheaf of barley should be waved on Abib 16, the day after Passover.
Jesus’ resurrection did not resolve this dispute, for in that year (33 A.D.) the day of Passover fell on a Saturday, and so the sheaf of barley was waved on Sunday morning—Abib 16. Since Abib 16 fell on a Sunday, both the Sadducees and Pharisees were in agreement as to the day of the wave-sheaf offering.
Some dispute the year of Christ’s death and resurrection. Let me just say that if Jesus had been raised in some year other than 33 A.D., then the sheaf would have been waved according to the belief of the Sadducees, because they were in control of the temple at that time. In other words, the barley sheaf would have been waved on the first Sunday after Passover, according to Sadducee practice, rather than on the fixed day of the month, Abib 16, as the Pharisees would have done.
The “first of the first fruits” (Exodus 34:26, KJV) was barley (Passover), the second first fruits offering was wheat (Pentecost), and the third was the new wine (Tabernacles). Each represents a different group of people. Christ was the first of the first fruits; the church will be the second offering of first fruits; the rest of creation is the third offering of first fruits. Each is raised from the dead at different times to be presented to God.
The first fruits of barley and wheat in succession prophesied of a greater harvest yet to come. Furthermore, each first fruits offering was a tiny forerunner that sanctified the rest of the harvest. So Paul writes in Rom. 11:16 (KJV), “If the firstfruit be holy, the lump [i.e., the mass or the rest of the harvest] is also holy.”
The principle of first fruits shows a beginning point for a greater harvest. Christ, then, was the first fruits of barley, whose presentation to the Father sanctified a greater harvest of overcomers. (See my book, The Barley Overcomers.) In this case, Christ is the Head of the Body of overcomers. Barley first fruits are being fulfilled in two stages: first in Christ’s resurrection and secondly in His body at the time of the “first resurrection” (Rev. 20:4-6).
The barley first fruits stand distinct from the wheat company, which is the church in general. (See my book, The Wheat and Asses of Pentecost.) Barley and wheat constitute different crops, and each has its own first fruits offering at different feasts.
This, in fact, is the foundation of John’s teaching in Revelation 20, where he speaks of two resurrections a thousand years apart. The first is for the overcomers, the greater harvest which was sanctified when Jesus was presented to the Father shortly after His resurrection.
The wheat offering of Pentecost prophesies of the general (second) resurrection that will include the church in general, that is, the wheat company. But although they alone will receive “life” (immortality) at that time, they will not be the only ones raised from the dead. This second resurrection will include both believers and unbelievers, as Jesus said in John 5:28, 29,
28 Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, 29 and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
Hence, that resurrection will give the church “a resurrection of life,” while at the same time the rest of the dead (unbelievers) will be given “a resurrection of judgment.” That Paul understood this is made clear in his testimony to Felix, where he says in Acts 24:14, 15,
14 But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets; 15 having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.
This resurrection is not the first resurrection, but the second, because John tells us that the first resurrection will be limited to believers only. Rev. 20:5 says,
5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.
The first resurrection is a limited to a few. The second resurrection (in Rev. 20:11, 12) is for all of the dead—that is, all who were not included in the first resurrection. Yet only the believers will be given immortality at that time. The rest will be raised for judgment, and at that time, every knee will bow to Christ and every tongue will confess (profess) Him as Lord (Isaiah 45:23; Phil. 2:10, 11).
The distinctions between the various first fruits offerings speak prophetically about the resurrection. Both John and Paul understood this, having been schooled in the law, which prophesied of these things. Yet we are most indebted to John for clearly distinguishing the two resurrections in Revelation 20.