Had Christ not been raised from the dead, we would be in a sorry state indeed. We would have no effective atonement for our sins, and thus we and all who believe in Christ would be in our sins and subject to divine wrath (1 Cor. 15:17–19). Thanks be to God, however, that our Lord’s resurrection did occur, and with it come many benefits, including the bodily resurrection of believers. In today’s passage, the Apostle Paul prepares to set out the order of the resurrection of believers in light of Jesus’ rising again by explaining how Christ’s resurrection and ours are connected.
Paul says that the resurrection of Jesus was “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v. 20). The firstfruits are the initial yield of a particular crop that indicates the entire crop will come to maturity for a full harvest. Under the old covenant, there was a feast to celebrate the firstfruits wherein the Israelites presented a portion of the firstfruits of the grain harvest as a sacrifice to God. This signaled their faith that He would soon bless them with a bountiful harvest (Lev. 23:9–14). Paul’s reference to Christ as the firstfruits means that Jesus fulfills this old covenant feast and that what happened to Him in His resurrection is a sign similar in meaning to the firstfruits of a harvest. His resurrection ensures the resurrection of His people. Charles Hodge comments, “As the first sheaf off the harvest presented to God as a thank-offering, was the pledge and assurance of the ingathering of the whole harvest, so the resurrection of Christ is a pledge and proof of the resurrection of his people.”
The resurrection of a man to secure the resurrection of believers is necessary because the sin of a man introduced death into creation and into human nature. Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, where he notes that just “as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be alive.” When it comes to biblical anthropology, the Bible’s doctrine of man, the most fundamental division between people is between those who are in Adam and those who are in Christ. When Adam sinned, we sinned and fell. All people were made liable to sin and the miseries of this life because Adam represented all people (except Jesus; Rom. 5:12–21). Jesus came as the new Adam to represent all those who trust in Him alone for salvation. He obeyed, died, and was resurrected for His people. He represents those of us who put our faith in Him, and thus He brings us new life that will culminate in the resurrection of our bodies.