Saturday, January 5, 2013
Resurrection: God's Harvest
Here, the apostle Paul reveals some insight that would startle nearly every modern churchgoer who would take the time to carefully read his words. These short two verses disprove several orthodox doctrines that are accepted without question by nearly all Christians. The first sentence proves the salvation of all, and the second disproves the orthodox view of death as well as the trinity. Each of these topics could easily be discussed at great length on its own, but in this article I will focus exclusively on one topic of this passage: the order of resurrection.
The order Paul gives of resurrection is as follows: the Firstfruit, Christ, then those who are Christ's in His presence, and, finally, those who remain at the consummation. In order to understand this order, it helps to understand several other key truths. First, we must understand what resurrection is. The common definition of resurrection is "being brought back to life," but Christ was, in fact, not the first person to have ever been brought back to life. In fact, the Bible recounts several people who were raised from the dead prior to Jesus. Elijah raised the son of Zarephath's widow (1 Kings 17), Elisha raised Shunamite's son (2 Kings 4), an unnamed man was brought back to life after his body touched Elisha's corpse, and Jesus Himself raised Jairus's daughter (Mark 5), the son of Nain's widow (Luke 7), and Lazarus (John 11).
For Christ to be the first in the resurrection order, the definition of resurrection has to consist of more than being brought back to life alone. What, then, sets Jesus apart as the first to be truly resurrected? The answer: each other person who was raised from the dead died yet again and is still dead. Resurrection, therefore, involves being raised from the dead and being made immortal. Indeed, all who remain at the consummation will be held accountable at the Great White Throne judgment and cast into the Lake of Fire as the "second death" (Rev. 20:14); but they too will eventually enjoy immortality as death is destroyed as the last enemy (1 Cor. 15:26) and God reconciles all things in creation back to Himself (1 Cor. 15:28).
In order to understand Jesus' title as the "Firstfruit," we must refer to the law in the Old Testament. The law established seven annual feasts, which the nation of Israel was required to follow every year. Each of these feasts pointed to and celebrated the future glory of Christ. The third of these feasts, which took place shortly after Passover, was Firstfruits. Leviticus 23:9-10 provides the instructions for this feast: "And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, 'Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When Ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest unto the priest: And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you.'" Further instruction is set forth in Leviticus 19:9-10 where we read, "And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not reap wholly the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest... thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger."
The feast of Firstfruits contained three phases for harvesting. A single sheaf (bundle) was gathered just before the barley was fully ready to be harvested and was then given to the priest who would offer it to God on behalf of the people. Next, the good crop was harvested, and, finally, the outer corners of the field were left for those in need to be harvested at a later date. These three phases, then, coincide with the order of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Christ, as the "Firstfruit" is resurrected before the rest of the crop (believers and unbelievers) are ready to be harvested (resurrected), followed by the faithful (main crop), and lastly the unfaithful (outer corners).
In Matthew 13, Jesus likens the kingdom of the heavens unto a man who went forth to sow seeds for harvest, and in Luke 10 He references evangelism as a type of harvest. The agricultural process begins with the planting of the seeds for a crop. The second phase involves great care as the crop grows to maturity. Once ready, the crop is harvested and used for its ultimate purpose. Thus, the comparison of resurrection to a harvest is a perfect analogy. God begins with creation (planting), then lovingly shapes us as we grow to maturity, and finally harvests (resurrects) us to be used for our ultimate purpose.
If Jesus is the first in the order and unbelievers are the last, then believers clearly make up the second phase. Paul refers to believers as "those who are Christ's in His presence." These believers consist of members of the Body of Christ as well as the faithful of Israel. Members of the Body are resurrected first (1 Thess. 4:16), followed by the faithful of Israel at the former resurrection (Rev. 20:5). The second phase of resurrection, therefore, contains two phases itself: one for the Body and another for the saints of Israel.
Many who recognize Paul's comparison of resurrection to the Feast of Firstfruits understand the third phase of outer corners to consist of the faithful of Israel. They believe that Christ is the Firstfruit, the members of the Body make up the second, and the faithful of Israel make up the third. This chronology conveniently allows for the distinction between the resurrection of the Body members and the later resurrection of the saints of Israel. This understanding prohibits the eventual resurrection of unbelievers and, thus, fits their flawed theology. We need go no further than Paul's words in the passage to recognize that the third and final group consists of the unfaithful, not the faithful of Israel as many assume. When describing the timing of the third phase, Paul explicitly states, "Thereafter the consummation." The resurrection of the saints of Israel (the "former resurrection") occurs long before the consummation, leaving unbelievers as the only possible group to which Paul can be referring.
Unlike the phases of the Firstfruits feast, the phases of resurrection take a great deal of time. Days or weeks separated the feast phases, but the resurrection phases are separated by thousands of years. Just as the time from Christ's resurrection to the resurrection of believers will at least be over 2,000 years, so too the resurrection of unbelievers will not take place until long after the saints have been resurrected. The unfaithful will not be resurrected until after the saints have enjoyed their allotment of eonian life in the coming eons.
A key distinction between the first two harvests and the third (last) is that the first two belonged exclusively to Israel while the third belonged to strangers. Ultimately, the third group was harvested as well, but not in the peak season and not for the same purpose as the first two. In the same way, unbelievers of the last resurrection are not part of the faithful who will enjoy their allotment in the peak season. Rather, they will be harvested (resurrected) after the peak season (eonian life) is complete.
When we understand the order of resurrection, we understand the beauty of God's resurrection plan. He is the great Cultivator Who plants us all, the Caretaker Who nourishes our growth, and the Harvester Who gathers us at completion. The great Harvester has already gathered His Son, Christ, as the Firstfruit of the harvest and the acceptable offering on behalf of all creation. He will soon gather His faithful for the main harvest in the peak season. Ultimately, He will complete His work by harvesting the outer corners of His crop when He resurrects the unfaithful. Once the harvest is complete, He will become All in all, and all will experience the inevitable result of their resurrection - immortality.
© 2013 by Stephen Hill