After testifying to the reality of Christ’s resurrection (v. 20), the second thing Paul address in 1 Corinthians 15 is the kingdom that Jesus inaugurated by his resurrection. Verse 20 says that the Jesus who was raised from the dead is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
The Feast of Firstfruits
The word “firstfruits” is a harvest term. It is the produce that first arises from the ground. In Israel it was to be dedicated to the Lord, as an offering of thanksgiving. For instance, Leviticus 23 commanded Israel to bring an offering of firstfruits in a festival that followed Passover and preceded Pentecost (vv. 9-14).
Historically, the feast which occurred on the “day after the Sabbath” after the Passover (v. 11) corresponded to the day when Israel was brought out of Egypt as God’s firstborn. Notably, this timing indicates part of the significance of this festival and the meaning of “firstfruits.” One old commentator writes,
The offering unto God . . . commemorated Israel’s separation from the nations, as a firstfruits of redemption. [It] symbolically signified the consecration of Israel unto God as the first-born unto Him from the nations, the beginning of the world’s great harvest. (S. H, Kellogg, Studies in Leviticus, 468)
In Israel’s history, this feast was meant to remind Israel of the Exodus and how that event confirmed their status as the firstborn son of Yahweh (Exod 4:22). That Christ would be called the “firstfruits” in 1 Corinthians 15:20 corresponds to this reality. He is the Son of God; not only in his divinity but in his humanity. His resurrection designates him the firstborn among many brethren (Rom 1:3-4; 8:29-30). Continue reading