As Easter Approaches: Christ’s Resurrection as “Firstfruits”

I have been doing some reading on the resurrection in preparing our church’s newsletter and came across this nice quote from Richard B. Gaffin’s book, Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology.

Though many writers have described the fruits of the resurrection for believers, Gaffin goes a bit deeper and has some thoughtful and stimulating observations about the doctrine in Paul.  I especially like his comments on the meaning and implication of the “firstfruits” language in 1 Cor 15:20:

The notion of unity [between Christ and believers in the experience of bodily resurrection] is expressed most clearly and graphically in 1 Corinthians 15:20, where Christ by virtue of his resurrection is described as “the firstfruits of those who are asleep” (cf. v. 23).  The word “firstfruits” in this expression is our particular concern…. There can be little question that the Septuagint provides the background for its use here.  There, with few exceptions, “firstfruits” has a specifically cultic significance.  It refers to the “firstfruits” offerings of grain, wine, cattle, and the like, appointed by Moses.  The point to these sacrifices is that they are not offered up for their own sake, as it were, but as representative of the total harvest, the entire flock, and so forth.  They are a token expression of recognition and thanksgiving that the whole has been given by God.  Thus “firstfruits” does not simply have a temporal force.  It does bring into view the initial portion of the harvest, but only as it is part of the whole; it focuses on the first of the newborn lambs only as they belong to the entire flock.  “Firstfruits” expresses the notion of organic connection and unity, the inseparability of the initial quantity from the whole.  It is particularly this aspect which gives these sacrifices their significance.

These ideas of representation and organic unity – apart from the specifically cultic connotations of the Septuagint usage – find expression in the use of “firstfruits” in 1 Corinthians 15:20.  The word is not simply an indication of temporal priority.  Rather it brings into view Christ’s resurrection as the “firstfruits” of the resurrection-harvest, the initial portion of the whole.  His resurrection is the representative beginning of the resurrection of believers.  In other words, the term seems deliberately chosen to make evident the organic connection between the two resurrections…. His resurrection is not simply a guarantee; it is a pledge in the sense that it is the actual beginning of the general event.

Resurrection and Redemption, pgs. 34-35.

While I don’t share all the tenets of this book’s critique of the ordo salutis (even though I do see the importance of a more eschatologically-enriched discussion of the ordo salutis), I really appreciate this nice study of the resurrection and its implications for believers.

Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church
Anaheim, CA