1 Corinthians 15:20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. (NASB)
Yesterday we outlined the entirety of 1 Corinthians 15 to prepare our hearts for today. We noted the theme of 1 Corinthians 15 to be: "The Living Gospel - The Biggest and Best News!" Paul had just finished demonstrating how central the truth of Christ's resurrection is to Biblical Christianity in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19. Paul puts down the shield of defense and takes up the sword of scripture and proclaims - "But now Christ has been raised from the dead...". What follows is a demonstration of why Christ's resurrection from the dead makes the Gospel the Biggest and Best News.
To see the beauty and scope of 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, we will offer a fresh translation of the text from the Greek to behold the glory of the Resurrected Christ. Endnotes will be included in the translation for the reader who desires to dig deeper into the implications of Paul's words. After the the translation, we will then consider in outline form why Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead is the biggest and best news.
A fresh translation of 1 Corinthians 15:20-28
1 Corinthians 15:20 But now behold! Christ has risen from the dead, as the first fruits (i.e first one to do so) from those who have otherwise remained dead! 21 It is a known fact that through a man came death, and through a man comes the resurrection from the dead. 22 To be more specific - all who are in association with Adam1 die2, consequently then, all who are in association with Christ3 will live. 23 You see, each occurs in a specific order: Christ the first fruits, then secondly, those who will be with Christ at His Personal Return4 24 then thirdly, The End5, that is, whenever He hands over the kingdom to God the Father following the time after every ruler and every authority and every power is abolished. 25 To clarify, it is necessary for Him to reign until He has placed all enemies under His feet. 26 The one called ‘Death’ is of course the last enemy to be abolished. 27 For He placed all things under His feet of authority. When He states: ‘all things have already be placed under His authority’, He is excluded from the category ‘all things’, since He is the One under whom all things have been placed. 28 But whenever the condition of all things is fulfilled in relationship to the Son’s reign, then the Son Himself will voluntarily submit all things to Him so that God may be all supreme in all things.”
a. "Adam" = refers to creation
b. "die" = refers to the curse
c. "Christ" = the focal point of scripture, and the One who raised from the dead
d. "Personal Return" = translated in other translations as "coming". This speaks of Christ's Personal, Visible, Physical return at the end of this age
e. "The End" = This refers to the conclusion of all things when Christ hands over everything He has submitted under His reign to God the Father.
So with those five terms: creation, curse, Christ, coming and conclusion, we can see why Christ's resurrection is such big news in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28. Christ's resurrection demonstrates that creation will be redeemed, the curse has been reversed for believers in Christ and that Christ is central to understanding history and eternity. Furthermore, Christ's resurrection also demonstrates what Christ will accomplish in His second coming as well as how He will bring all things to their appropriate conclusion.
Why Christ's Resurrection is also the Best News
The more you read and study 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, the more amazed you become at the range of ground touched by the resurrection. But let's not forget that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is as much personal as it is profound. 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 serves to demonstrate the personal importance of Christ's resurrection to the Gospel asserted in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: "Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand. (2) by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. (3) For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (4) and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." (NASB)
Did you catch how many times the personal pronouns (you, our) were mentioned in the text? Paul emphasizes the personal pronouns ten times in a span of four verses to communicate how the Gospel is the Best News around. Personally it gains you access to God, to Jesus, to His forgiveness, to all His rich graces and to the hope of an eternal home. Not only that, but since the pronouns in the original Greek are plural, that means you and I who believe on the resurrected Jesus get to enjoy all of His saving benefits together!
Truly the Resurrection of Jesus Christ makes the Gospel both the Biggest News and the Best News. "Big" because of all the doctrines and events that it has either affected or will ever affect. "Best" because you who by grace through faith believe on Him are personally and eternally saved from wrath, saved unto Him and saved to live forever with Him. That's the Biggest and Best News you will ever hear!
2. Curse: This second word summarizes what Paul says when he mentions in 15:22 how all born into Adam "die". We know from Genesis 3 that after Adam and his wife had eaten the forbidden fruit, God consigned both they and their descendants to a curse. Whenever we consider these first two ideas: creation & curse, we begin to see God's aim in redeeming and restoring that which was lost as a result of sin and death. Romans 8:20-21 notes - "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope (21) that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God."
3. Christ: So the question is: "will creation ever be redeemed and will the curse ever be reversed?" As you read on down through 1 Corinthians 15:23ff, you get the answer to that question in one Person - Christ. Christ's resurrection from the dead demonstrated two vital truths: He has reversed the curse upon all who by grace through faith believe on Him and that the created order will be redeemed. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 presents creation and the curse - the problem, and 15:23 present the solution - Christ. For the remainder of 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, we will see how Christ will accomplish the Father's purposes. Remember, everything that Paul is writing hinges on the reality of Christ's resurrection - its that big! So we have seen creation, curse and Christ.
4. Coming: 1 Corinthians 15:23b states in the NASB "after that those who are Christ's at His coming". In the above translation I rendered this word "Personal Return" to underscore the nature of Christ's second coming. The Personal Return of Jesus Christ is captured by the Greek word "parousia" that speaks of a King returning to his home city or country after having won a battle or a war. The inhabitants come out to meet the King and to reconnect with their Ruler, and he with them.
5. Conclusion: 1 Corinthians 15:24 starts out with the simple but profound phrase: "then comes the end..." Christ's resurrection from the dead not only demonstrated the accomplishment of His first coming - redemption, but it also guarantees what He will accomplish when He come again - Rulership. As you go down through the remainder of 1 Corinthians 15:25-28, Paul details what he means by verse 24, as well as showing the relationship between "the coming" and "the end". We would advocate that there is an implied space of time between "His coming" in verse 23 and "the end" in verse 24. Furthermore, I personally see the implied "space" being explicitly 1,000 years as detailed in another scripture - Revelation 20. In 1 Corinthians 15:25 I included the term "to clarify", since verses 25-28 are a clarification of verse 24. Paul is proposing an actual ordering of major events outlined in Biblical prophecy or eschatology:
Christ's Christ's 2nd coming He must reign End
Resurrection-------Resurrection of saints--Millennium of--- of
(first fruits) (those with Christ) Rev 20 seems all
to fit here things
of the wicked
will occur at
the end of the
1,000 year reign
With that basic order, harmonized with other prophetic texts, we gain a sweeping understanding of history and prophecy. Following the end, Christ will have handed all things up to the Father, which will then take us into eternity.