20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. 24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. 25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. 27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith, all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. 28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:20–28)
In this passage, we find a description of God’s resurrection program. What do I mean by a program? I mean that there are a series of things that have happened and that will happen.
Maybe you have gone to a play before, perhaps a school one. What did you receive at the door? A program. The program told you the order of events in the play—Act I, Act II, Act III and so on.
That’s what this passage is for God’s resurrection program. The resurrection is not just limited to that Sunday morning two thousand years ago. That wasn’t even Act I. The program of the resurrection began with Adam and the Fall of man in the Garden.
The program continues until the day that all enemies of God are defeated and the eternal state begins—that will be the final act.
What we will see in this description of God’s resurrection program is:
1) the need of the resurrection;
2) the order of the resurrection; and
3) the completion of the resurrection.
I. THE NEED OF THE RESURRECTION
1. Christ Is The Firstfruits Of Them That Die
1 Corinthians 15:20
But now is Christ risen from the dead,
and become the firstfruits of them that slept [died].
What does he mean by “firstfruits” (ἀπαρχὴ, ἀπαρχή NNSF)? Back in the Old Testament, the Israelites would bring a sample of their crops to the priests as an offering to the Lord (Leviticus 23:10). This was called the “firstfruits.”
Christ, likewise, is the first of the resurrections that God has planned. Yes, others, like Lazarus, were raised from the dead, but they died again. Christ is the first to die and then be raised to life forever. He is the “firstfruits” of all the believers who have died.
But why do people die? Why does Christ need to be the firstfruits?
1 Corinthians 15:21
For since by man came death,
by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
1 Corinthians 15:22
For as in Adam all die,
even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
Back in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating of the tree that they were told not to eat from. As a result, death entered into the world.
12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (Romans 5:12)
It seems like a silly, little thing. So what if they ate a fruit they weren’t supposed to eat? Didn’t God overreact just a little?
You must understand that sin, even a tiny sin, is a rebellion against an infinite and holy God—so it deserves a infinite punishment—“the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Adam and Eve were sentenced to die, and their descendants would also suffer the same fate. That’s why the verse says, “in Adam all die.” Because we are all descended from Adam we suffer death. We are spiritually dead at birth (Ephesians 2:2) and we will die physically.
2. Children’s Lesson
What is sin?It is doing what I want to do, not what God wants me to do. It’s the same when your mom or dad says, “Eat your brussels sprouts,” and you say, “I don’t want to.” That’s what sin is—doing what you want to do and not what God wants you to do.
Does everyone sin? Yes, they do. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
If you sin, you can’t go to Heaven. But God made a way to forgive our sin so we can go to Heaven. What is the way that God made for us?
Jesus came and died on the cross to pay for our sins. He rose again from the dead to show that He conquered death and sin and Satan.
Now, if you trust in Jesus, He will forgive your sin and make you able to go to Heaven someday. Do you believe in Jesus?
3. Christ Versus Adam
In our passage, a contrast is being made here—one man, Adam, brought death. Another man, however, brings “the resurrection of the dead.” It says at the end of verse 22, “…in Christ shall all be made alive.”
Now, this does not mean that “all” people will be made alive. This verse does not support the false doctrine of universal salvation. The old saying, “all always means all” is not a good one. It’s better, but less fun, to say “‘all’ means whatever the context determines ‘all’ to mean.”
In this case, what does the context determine “all” to mean? It means that all those who are “in Christ” will be made alive. In verse 23, we find that this “all” refers to those who “are Christ’s at his coming.” So the “all” refers only to believers in Christ, not to everyone.
In Adam, all die. But Christ came to break that cycle. Since Christ rose from the dead, He has become the “firstfruits” of those who die in Christ. We’ve already explained this means He was the first one to rise from the dead never to die again.
But “firstfruits” means more. When the Israelites brought the sample of the firstfruits to the priest as a offering, they were giving thanks to the Lord for the whole harvest they had brought in, or were about to bring in. It was like the first installment, or an assurance of the whole harvest.
Farmers today do something similar. They will take a sample of the harvest and send it in to be tested. That sample then gives them an assurance of what their price will be for the whole bin of grain.
Christ is the first installment on God’s whole harvest of resurrections. It’s an assurance that we also will be resurrected.When does this harvest of resurrections take place? Let’s look next at…
II. THE ORDER OF THE RESURRECTION
1 Corinthians 15:23
But every man in his own order:
Christ the firstfruits;
afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
First, as we’ve seen, Christ was raised from the dead. After that, Paul gives us the first of four resurrections of believers.
1. The Resurrection Of The Church
The resurrection of the church—“they that are Christ’s at his coming.” What coming? This is the rapture of the church.
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:16–18)
Every believer since the day of Pentecost will be included in this resurrection. We are sad that we’ve lost loved ones, but if they are in Christ, we will see them again—in the air!
Don’t miss the command in verse 18. We can comfort ourselves with these words. You may have to recite the words to yourself every single day, but no matter—obey the command given here and comfort yourself and “one another with these words.”
2. The Resurrection Of The Tribulation Believers
The seven-year great tribulation will be a time of great ungodliness and great judgment on ungodliness. But there will be people who turn to the Lord during that time. They will suffer great persecution and many, if not all, will be martyred for their faith.
When the apostle John saw the vision that is recorded for us in Revelation, he saw white-robed saints. An elder explained that…
14 …These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:14)
When are these believers resurrected? They are resurrected at the end of the great tribulation, at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom:
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)
3. The Resurrection Of Old Testament Believers
At the same time as the Tribulation believers are resurrected, the Old Testament believers will also be resurrected. The Old Testament, by the way, does teach a resurrection of the dead:
2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2)
So, as we come into the Millennial Kingdom, every believer will have been raised and given resurrection bodies. There is one more resurrection of believers left:
4. The Resurrection Of Millennial Kingdom Believers
The Millennial Kingdom will be a unique period of history. One very unique thing is that there will be people in “normal” bodies living alongside believers in resurrected bodies.
Some of those people in “normal” bodies will be believers. Others will not believe and will eventually be led by Satan in a final great battle at the end of the thousand years.
According to Isaiah 66:20, there will be long lives in the Millennium (especially for believers), but it seems that those born in the Millennium will eventually die.
So what happens to those believers in “normal” bodies who die?
We’re not told specifically, but John MacArthur pointed out that it could be that they are immediately resurrected in their new body. There will be no need for funerals or graves of Millennial believers!
5. The Resurrection Of The Unrighteous
The last resurrection will be of the unrighteous. This will happen at the end of the Millennium. They will be raised to live forever in torment.
8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)
Does this punishment seem harsh to you?
Remember, the greater the person that you offend, the greater the penalty. The consequences are greater if you threaten a king than if you threaten your next-door neighbor.
Sin is an offense against an infinite and holy God, so no amount of punishment could ever be enough—the punishment has to be infinite.
That brings us to the end of all things…
III. THE COMPLETION OF THE RESURRECTION
1 Corinthians 15:24
Then cometh the end,
when he shall have delivered up the kingdom
to God, even the Father;
when he shall have put down all rule
and all authority
and power [everyone who stands against God].
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is about more than saving us from our sins, it is saving all of Creation from Satan and sin and evil. God’s resurrection program will be completed when Christ has “delivered up the kingdom to God” and set everything right again.
1 Corinthians 15:25
For he must reign,
till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
Even though Jesus is reigning now, His enemies are still active. He does not eliminate His enemies instantly.
Even when we get to the Millennium, for reasons that God in His wisdom knows, Satan’s defeat is not final. He is bound for a thousand years, perhaps to show that, even with Satan out of the picture, people will still struggle with sin. You can’t say, “The devil made me do it.”
As the thousand years progresses, people will start rebelling against Christ. Oh, they probably won’t openly declare their rebellion, not with Christ reigning on earth; but the unrighteousness will smolder in their hearts until one day, Satan is released from his bondage.
8 And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. (Revelation 20:8)
I don’t think it will be hard to deceive these people, they will see Satan as a savior…as someone to set them free from the oppressive reign of Jesus Christ. Of course, that’s not true—but they will be deceived into thinking it is.
Then will come the end of ends, and Christ will be completely victorious over every enemy.
1 Corinthians 15:26
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
Death, of course, is even now defeated. The Christian will die physically, but death cannot keep us in the grave anymore than it could keep Christ in the grave. But at the end, death will be completely destroyed and the memory of death will fade away.
1 Corinthians 15:27
For he hath put all things under his feet.
But when he saith [Psalm 8:6, 110:1],
all things are put under him,
it is manifest [clear] that he [God] is excepted,
which did put all things under him.
1 Corinthians 15:28
And when all things shall be
subdued unto him,
then shall the Son also himself
be subject unto him that
put all things under him,
that God may be all in all.
The “Son” is equal with the Father, but He always is in submission to the Father. In this age, all authority has been given to the Son to complete God’s resurrection program and restore order to Creation (Matthew 28:18).
It’s like a Roman general, returning victorious from a battle. While the general is out at war, his authority over his men is absolute. But once the mission is complete, he returns to Rome and shows his submission to the emperor.
Once God’s resurrection program is complete, the Son’s mission that the Father had sent Him on will be accomplished.
Where are you in God’s resurrection program?
If you are today a believer in Christ, your resurrection will happen at the rapture.
You might be alive when this happens, or you might not be, but it’s no matter—we will all be “caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
If you aren’t a believer, then there are two additional possibilities:
First, you might make it alive to the great tribulation—that could start any day now. If you do, and you become a believer during that time, you can look forward to intense persecution and being martyred. Then, after the tribulation, you will receive your resurrection.
Of course, if you refuse to believe in Christ, then the only resurrection left for you is a resurrection to be thrown into the lake of burning fire forever.
Which resurrection will you be involved in? Will we see each other in the air as we go to meet the Lord?