Tuesday, February 18, 2014
1 Corinthians 15:23 "But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming".
Introduction & review
Yesterday we did a flyover of the Bible's teaching called by Bible teachers and theologians: "the rapture". One of the clearest texts on this event is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17: "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. "1 In today's post we want to understand what relationship "the rapture" has to one of the central teachings of the Bible - Christ's resurrection.
Illustrating and connecting Christ's resurrection and the rapture
In Paul's sweeping overview of prophetic events or eschatology in 1 Corinthians 15:23-28, he ties in his entire discussion on the centrality of Christ's resurrection to all the major teachings of last things (eschatology), including the rapture. Paul defines Christ's resurrection from the dead as being the "first fruits", an agricultural imagery taken from the Jewish festival commemorating the ingathering of the first stalks of the barley harvest. (compare Leviticus 23:10-11).
To illustrate what Paul is talking about, I can recall one time a gentleman inviting my wife, children and I to a harvest gathering that he and his family had every year. They raised corn and their farmlands stretched as far as the eye could see. When we arrived, that farmer and his family were standing outside the front of their barn, where row upon row of paper bags lined the front entryway. As folks were pulling up from the community, the farmer and his family would simply hand out a bag full of corn for each family to take home and enjoy. What they were doing was sharing the "first-fruits" of their harvest. Now it would be a couple of months before the final big harvest would occur (More on that in a moment). But here is the point: those "first-fruits" gave a sample to people of what kind of corn was going to come from those fertile fields of corn.
The organic or logical connection between Christ's resurrection and yet-to-occur resurrections of various groups of saints
When Paul states Christ is the "first-fruits", he is logically and organically connecting Christ's resurrection from the dead to what will be the ingathering of his church at the rapture before the Tribulation period. Another event that shares this same logical or organic connection is the raising of tribulation martyrs and Jewish saints who believed upon Him at His return at the end of the tribulation period. Mark 4:28 confirms this interpretation of "organic connection" - "The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head." Though the stages in a plant's development may very well be separated by chronological time, yet organically speaking everyone recognizes the plant to be one and the same plant; whether seed, blade, head or mature head. What Paul is saying is that Christ's historical resurrection from the dead previews for us what will be those logically and organically connected resurrections that will occur in the future.
How "first-fruits" relates to "final harvest"
As I said earlier, our farmer friend above had invited people to come and partake of the first-fruits of his corn crop. But then there came another event that occurred a couple of months later where that same farmer celebrated harvest with his church. He would invite the people to come for an evening of games, good down-home Gospel music and a testimony from him of how faithful God had been to them in that year. Now over the weeks following that first-fruits celebration, the farmer and his sons went out to gather in that corn in stages. Hundreds upon hundreds of acres of corn needed to be gathered. It took time, but eventually the entire crop was brought into the silos.
How the rapture teaching fits under the larger umbrella of Christ's resurrection and the resurrection of the righteous
When Paul here writes of Jesus being the "first-fruits", he then says: "after that those who are Christ’s at His coming". That underlined word speaks of what we have been describing all along - an organic connection to the original event. Hence all those who by God's purposes of grace are called, convicted and who believe on Jesus as Savior and Lord are included in what the Bible calls by the umbrella term: "the resurrection of life" (John 5:29); or "the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:14; Acts 24:15). Just as the farmer and his sons above took several trips out to the fields to gather in that one big harvest, Christ too is described as either participating or overseeing the gathering in of all His chosen people in distinct stages.
We know that the rapture or "gather up" of the church is included in the larger event of "the resurrection of the righteous" because of the fact it is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, just several verses down stream from 1 Corinthians 15:23. Thus to see how scripture seems to lay this all out, we can use the below diagram to aid us in our understanding:
The Resurrection of the righteous
Christ's resurrection--------rapture-----------resurrection of Jewish
"first fruits" & of church believers & tribulation
raising of saints in martyrs
Mt 27:53. 33 A.D
Closing thoughts: The rapture is important due to its connection to Christ's resurrection
Even though the events of Christ's resurrection, the future rapture of the church and resurrection of believing Jews and tribulation martyrs are distinct events, yet they all fall under the umbrella term of "The resurrection of the righteous".2 This truth enables us to see then why the rapture of the church must never be separated from a discussion regarding Christ's resurrection nor His second coming. I close out today's post with the following statement from 1 Corinthians 15:19-22 "If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. 20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive."
1. The word translated "caught up" from the original Greek was rendered by the Latin Vulgate, the Bible version used by the church of the middle ages, with the Latin word "rapturo". Being that the earliest English translators and theologians were familiar with the Latin, the doctrinal name assigned to the Biblical teaching of Christ's "catching away" or "catching up" of his church came to be known as "the rapture".
2. Included in this resurrection of the righteous theme is the raising of the saints in Matthew 27:53, which we did not discuss in this post.