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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 15:20-21 Christ has been raised

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, July 14, 2023

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death was by a man, so also by a man is the resurrection of the dead.

Paul doesn’t have any more “if… then” propositions. The “some of them” who were claiming that there is no resurrection are wrong. There is indeed a resurrection. Paul begins with a marvelous, comforting, “But in fact!” declaration. Christ has been raised from the dead. Here is the great unwritten Christian call and response that has continued down from the very earliest church: “He is risen!” “He is risen indeed!”

Paul turns us to the word “firstfruits” to describe Christ’s resurrection. In the Old Testament, there were many things that were dedicated to the Lord. “The first offspring of every womb” belonged to the Lord, whether livestock or human beings; they were to be redeemed with lambs; even unclean animals like donkeys were included (Exodus 13:12-13). The first production of grain, wine, olive oil, sheared wool, honey, and other things were to be given to the Lord. Even the first year’s produce from fruit trees belonged to the Lord (Leviticus 19:23-25). These firstfruits were not only an offering and holy to the Lord, but they were also to be a reminder that there was more to come. The harvest would be enough for everyone, but the Lord should receive his portion.

So it is with the grave. Jesus was the first to rise from the dead, but there is a bigger harvest to come. All who have put their faith in Christ will rise and be brought into the harvest of Judgment Day (Revelation 14:15-16). Professor Becker explains this verse with the quick, powerful words of a man who swung a sickle himself in his youth, slipping quickly from the illustration of the wheat harvest to the application for mankind: “When the harvest is ripe and the stems and kernels of the grain are dried, nothing can be gained by waiting longer. All that the farmer can realize from that field is there for the taking. In fact, any delay beyond that point only runs the risk of loss… All the elect have been won, and the earth is no longer to be a place where men have an opportunity to come to faith. The time has come.”

The second point of our text is the opposition Paul makes between the first man and the second man. The first man, Adam, brought death, and is the source of death to us all through sin. The second man, Christ, brought life, and is the source of life to all through grace. Paul will continue this in verse 22, so we will leave the subject for now and allow Paul’s use of the names of the two men to make the point more clearly.

It might help some readers to know about the grammar of verse 21, since English translations vary somewhat. There is no verb in the verse at all; “(The verb) can be readily dispensed with when both subject and the real predicate are present” and in “any kind of sentence which is free from abiguity” (A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament p. 395). The two (nominative) subjects are death (thanatos, θάνατος) and resurrection (anastasis, ἀνάστασις). Both death and the resurrection are modified by “through a man” (δι’ ἀνθρώπου), and that phrase is identical in both halves of the verse. If we supply a verb, it can only be a helping verb (is, was) or a verb of movement such as coming or going. Translators usually feel the need to supply something, otherwise the verse will look like this:

  “For since death through a man,
  so also the resurrection of the dead through a man.”

Death was the penalty for the first sin (Genesis 2:17). That death included physical death, but it meant more than that: it meant eternal death in hell. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), but not only the death of the body, for Paul finishes that passage by saying, “but the gift of God is eternal life.” Therefore the death that results from sin is the penalty of eternal death; hell. And the sin of the first man brought both kinds of death into the world. We, the children of the first sinner, inherit mortality and damnation through our parents. But by the grace of God, we receive the resurrection of the dead through a man as well, the man Jesus Christ our Lord.

Jesus our priest received from us what he also offers to us. He received flesh from us, and in that flesh he became the Victim offered in our place. He was the sacrifice, the burnt offering, the guilt offering, and the Passover lamb. In the resurrection he brought to life what has died; he renewed what was cut down and slain, and he gave this to God as the firstfruits. This is the promise of the greater harvest to come. Christ the firstfruits, and later (but soon; the day will be soon), you and me.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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