Firstfruits and the Resurrection
It seems apparent, that advocates of a future resurrection of the physical body have a bit of difficulty with the concept of the firstfruits spoken of in the New Testament. We are speaking of the term as used of both Christ, whom we shall designate as the “first of the firstfruits” and the New Testament saints or believers in Christ who are represented by the term firstfruits in their organic connection with him.
In a series of exchanges with writers for the Reign of Christ website, particularly Paul T. and Sam Frost, objections were raised to my use of the firstfruits as an agricultural metaphor to describe the spiritual, first-century imminent nature of the resurrection.
However, Frost and Paul T. cried foul claiming that my use of firstfruits was invalid. In particular, they referred to my use of James 1:18, Romans 8:23 and 1 Corinthians 15:20. The actual discussions are posted on the Reign of Christ website and I encourage anyone who wants to read the exchanges to visit their site or request copies from Sam Frost.
The Background For the Firstfruits
Leviticus 23, primarily sets the context for the firstfruits in relationship to the harvest which was divided into three major segments. They are:
- The barley harvest associated with the feast of Unleavened Bread in connection with the Passover, Leviticus 23:9-14.
- The wheat harvest 50 days later after Passover which brings us to Pentecost (Feast of Weeks), Leviticus 23:16-21.
- The Feast of Tabernacles at the completion of the harvest season, Leviticus 23:39-44.
This first ingathering of the firstfruits is separate in time to those which follow after, as it occurs at the time of the Passover. It is more specifically referred to as the “first of the firstfruits”, Exodus 23:19. That properly distinguishes it from the second ingathering of firstfruits which occurred at Pentecost some 50 days later. The third or final portion of the harvest marked the end of the harvest.
We suggested that the correlations in the New Testament follow this same pattern. Christ is our Passover, 1 Corinthians 5:7, and he is the “first of the firstfruits”, Romans 11:16; 1 Corinthians 15:20, Colossians 1:18. He was the first in the last days eschatological resurrection. This should also be kept in mind, even when the most technically correct designation is not stated.
In other words, when a text mentions Christ as the firstfruits, since he is first in order or rank and since his resurrection from Hades occurred in connection with the Passover Feast, we can easily see the connection and distinction. Note also that the firstfruits and the firstborn are similar in meaning. Both terms refer to the order of resurrection.
Secondly, some 50 days later at Pentecost, the second portion of the firstfruits occurred through the preaching and response to the gospel. These saints received the Holy Spirit as prophesied by Joel, 2:28-32; Acts 2:16-20. They are those designated in the scripture as the firstfruits. See James 1:18; Romans 8:23, 1 Corinthians 15:20, Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 14:4.
The Firstfruits of the Spirit
We received two basic objections to the above use of firstfruits. One, by Frost which was a diversionary attempt to discount the above by saying that firstfruits in the Old Testament referred to several things including people. We were not denying that. Sam Frost’s argument is not a valid objection to our use for firstfruits in the New Testament. It is his obligation to deny that the references we cited do not refer to the Christ, and the saints of the New Testament as firstfruits participants in the resurrection.
In his direct attempt to deny it, he offered that Revelation 14:4 described the elect of Israel and thereby implied they were not equivalent to the saints in Romans 8:23. Frost and company view this text as a future bodily resurrection. They realize that if it is connected to the concept of firstfruits first century saints, they have a tremendous problem in their exegetical paradigm. By claiming Revelation 14:4 referred to the elect of Israel, he sought to make a distinction between the saints of Romans 8:23, in an attempt to maintain his futurist yet-to-be-fulfilled physical body view of the text.
We responded by showing that the saints to whom Paul wrote in Romans were also the elect of Israel. In fact, Paul, writing to the Romans asked, “I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew…Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” (Romans 11:1-5)
The Firstfruits and the Elect
Now who are the Romans of whom Paul speaks? Are they not the elect of Israel? Now watch. In the same chapter, Paul refers to them as the firstfruits. How do we determine this? It is because of their connection to Christ and the Spirit. “For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. Is there anyone who doubts that these Romans were first century saints? No other saints can be called the firstfruits of Christ except the saints of the first century. No other saints could be first in being raised with Him except those of the first century. Is not Romans 11 discussing the resurrection of the dead?
“For if their [unbelieving Israel] being cast away is the reconciling of the world [all Israel, inclusive of Gentiles], what will their [unbelieving Israel] acceptance be but life from the dead? Note also the “life from the dead” in the context. It is the salvation which had come to the Gentiles, 11:11-12. This life from the dead was also the “salvation” Paul was seeking for his kinsmen in the flesh, 11:14. Frost and company know full well the Gentiles in Romans had not been raised from physical death. They are grasping at the wind. Paul’s ministry was about saving Israel as his preaching had saved the Gentiles which he calls “life from the dead.” That is the life of which Christ was the firstfruits (the first of the firstfruit) that made the rest of the lump holy, i.e. firstfruits in kind.
Who are they? The elect of Israel. “What then, Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded.” (Romans 11:7). Frost, thereby admits via the logical end of his argument, that he cannot separate the firstfruits of Revelation 14:4, which he calls the elect of Israel, from the saints in Romans. Paul also makes the point in Romans that the “unnatural branches,” i.e. the Gentiles became holy (elect) also when they accepted Christ. That’s the all Israel, i.e. Jew and Gentile united in the one body of Christ.
The Firstfruits of James 1:18
Frost admits that James 1:18 is a reference to the first century saints as firstfruits. To whom was James writing? Was it not to the same elect brethren to whom John wrote in Revelation? Consider:
“James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.” (James 1:1-2) Are the twelve tribes the elect of Israel? Or are they members of Frost’s reformed orthodoxy? Not! Aren’t they the same organic company of the elect as were the Romans? Does God have two elect groups of Israel in the one body of Christ?
Peter also writes to the dispersion of Israel who were scattered abroad calling them the elect of God. “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ…” 1 Peter 1:1-2. Aren’t these also first century saints who have the Spirit and are organically connected to the Christ through faith in his blood? Were they not the “born again” of Israel? (John 3:3-5; 1 Peter 1:23). Please don’t miss they were born of “incorruptible seed,” and every seed must produce after its kind. (Genesis 1:11-12). Does Frost deny these elect first fruits saints were incorruptible? We shall wait and see!
Further, the saints in Revelation 14:4, being the firstfruits, stand on Mt Zion (the new temple) with the Lord in celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, (Revelation 7:9). This clearly connects and identifies them with the saints in Israel who had fled Jerusalem according to Hebrews 12:22-23; 13:13-14.
Now between Romans, 1 Corinthians, 1 Peter, James, Hebrews and Revelation, we cover almost every church mentioned in the New Testament. Revelation is written to the seven churches in Asia, which includes Ephesus and Laodicea (which absorbed the Colossian church after the earthquake that destroyed it. Peter includes the churches in Galatia.
The FirstFruits and Romans 8:23
Frost and company attempted to dissect Romans 8:23 from the organic connection to Christ and the saints in the first century in order to peddle a cheap future yet-to-be-fulfilled biological bodily concept of resurrection. However, this text does not deny the firstfruits status of these saints as shown above, but confirms it. It is the Holy Spirit that determined the firstfruits. Those who had and followed the Spirit were firstfruits saints. They are not a different kind of firstfruits as Frost and company asserted. Those who did not have the Spirit separated themselves sensually or naturally, not having the Spirit, Jude 1:19.
The eschatological Spirit, firstfruits and resurrection are inseparably connected. What God has joined together, Frost and company cannot put asunder (according to the Scriptures), even with all their screaming and shouting of orthodoxy! They are Biblically unorthodox or heterodox when it comes to the eschatological resurrection in/at the end of the age.
The Receiving of the Firstfruits Signals the Beginning of the Harvest
God’s acceptance of the first of the firstfruits, i.e. Christ, signaled that the resurrection had in fact begun in the first century. That means the rest of the harvest had to follow shortly thereafter. This is why we see those on Pentecost which included Jews from Rome (and therefore who became the elect to whom Paul wrote in Romans) becoming the second portion of the firstfruits, who are raised in Christ.
Only their resurrection is not completed until the parousia, when the rest of the harvest joins them in their release from Hades in the end of the age, (Matthew 13:39-43; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Hebrews 9:15; 11:39-40), which occurred when the Deliverer came out of Zion and turned away ungodliness from Jacob. For this is my covenant to them when I take away their sins. Frost and company’s future physical body view inserts a gap-theory of almost 2000 years and counting into the firstfruits, first century Spirit-filled end-of-the-age mission, changes the law of sowing and reaping after-its-kind to get their physical body view which does nothing but lies helpless in the dust, never to rise from its ashes.
Jesus Resurrection From Hades as the Firstfruits
Peter defined the resurrection of Christ as his exit from Hades. “He, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.” (Acts 2:31).
It is important to note that verse 30 does not describe the resurrection of Christ but that he would be born according to the seed of David. This is what is meant by “of the fruit of his (David’s body) according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on this throne.” See a similar use of “raising up one from birth” in Matthew 22:24. “”Saying: Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.”
That is not a reference to the actual resurrection of a dead body, it is the act of giving birth. It may be called a metaphorical resurrection in that it raises a son out of the dead father by proxy.
Christ the Firstfruits From Sin-Death
Christ was not the firstfruits to be raised from physical death. Many Old Testament examples of physical resurrection before Christ are found in the Old Testament and the gospels before Jesus’ death. Futurists attempt to counter this by saying Christ is the first to rise from physical death to die no more and by that they mean physically. The problem is the Bible never uses this specific language to describe the flesh and bone body of Christ.
When it does mention that he rose from the dead to “die no more” it is spoken of in the context of sin-death and his release from Hades. “Knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that he lives, He lives to God.” (Romans 6:9, 10). In like manner, the saints were to reckon themselves to be dead to sin, [just as Christ was] but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Please do not read into these comments that we do not believe, affirm and vigorously teach that Jesus rose in a “flesh and bone” body as the Scriptures clearly demonstrate. To claim we do not is a red-herring debaters trick on the part of some. We affirm as Kurt Simmons wrote, that Jesus’ physical body was evidential proof of His resurrection from Hades. As John says, it was a “sign” of the spiritual reality, that men might believe, (John 20:30-31). Had Jesus not presented his body, we’d have more skeptics than exists today. As he stated in Luke 16, the ultimate proof or testimony is the Law and the Prophets, i.e. the word of God, and that’s why he stated that some are so hardened they wouldn’t believe if someone rose from the dead. His prediction came true.
Jesus proclaimed his victory over death as having the power over Hades. “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” (Revelation 1:18). It is the death connected with the sin, the Law and Hades over which we are given victory in the resurrection. “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the Law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-58) Christ is the first of the firstfruits to rise from Hades, Sin or the Law, never to return there again. Thus the saints never see that death. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on…” Revelation 14:13.
1 Corinthians 15 begins with Christ’s dying for our sins, based on the same theme from Hosea 6:1-4, and ends with victory over sin through his death as the first of the firstfruits. It is one continuous process from beginning firstfruits to the age-ending harvest. That is the work God began in the saints through the Spirit, of which Christ was the firstfruits (Galatians 3:2-5 and perfected or completed at the day of Christ, Philippians 1:5-6.