Part 2. Firstfruit and Firstborn
In part 1 we saw that the New Testament speaks of a threefold classification of those who attain to a celestial resurrection, and a fourfold classification of those who partake of a terrestrial resurrection. Clearly there is more to be gleaned from this seven-fold grouping, but we shall have to leave it for the moment, to attend to another matter, as given in the heading of Part 2.
1 Cor.15:22-23. “Every man in his own order; Christ the Firstfruit.”
A lot has been written about the phrase “Christ the Firstfruit.” I have seen in one exposition the assertion that the translation should be “The Anointed Firstfruit,” making the word Christ an adjective, rather than a noun, so as to include others apart from Jesus. Of course, this is technically allowable, because CHRISTOS, CHRISTÉ, CHRISTON is the adjective meaning “Anointed”, with masculine, feminine, and neuter endings. However, the Greek word for Firstfruit is APARCHÉ, which is feminine, and therefore if in Greek one should wish to write “The Anointed Firstfruit” it would have to be APARCHÉ CHRISTÉ, and not as it is written in Corinthians, APARCHÉ CHRISTOS.
Having disposed of that, we are left with the clear assertion that the Firstfruit is the Lord Jesus Himself. This brings us to the quest for further understanding of the word Firstfruit, and how it fits in with revealed truth in the Scriptures.
Leviticus 23:10-11. “Say to the people of Israel, when you come into the land which I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, that you may find acceptance. On the morrow after the Sabbath shall the priest wave it.”
The morning after the Passover Sabbath was the very Sunday that Jesus rose from the dead, and this is why Paul refers to Him as the Firstfruit. In Colossians 1:18 Paul then refers to Christ as “the firstborn from among the dead.”(which John repeats in Revelation 1:5) Hence we have two words to ponder in connection with this subject.
In a nutshell, the waving of the firstfruit enabled the Israelites to commence harvesting. Until then, no one was allowed to put in the sickle. Furthermore, the firstfruit was the guarantee that the rest of the year’s harvest would be acceptable to the Lord. In Romans 11:16 Paul made this quite clear when he said, “If the firstfruit is holy, so also is the lump.” (The “lump” refers to the dough, mentioned in Numbers 15:20, the firstfruit of which had to be offered.)
Now this is vastly important to our theme. If Jesus, as the Firstfruit, was “waved” before His Father on that resurrection morning, and was holy and acceptable, then all further harvesting would also be holy and acceptable unto the Lord.
In Israel there are three distinct times of harvest, the first being the barley harvest that followed the waving of the firstfruit sheaf; the second being at Pentecost, when the corn was gathered; and finally at Tabernacles there would be the ingathering of the rest of the harvest, mainly the fruit crop. It is because of this threefold division that we read of three distinct times of resurrection.
In the 14th chapter of Revelation John was shown the application of this. The first five verses tell us about 144,000, redeemed from the earth . . . redeemed from mankind, being the firstfruit to God and to the Lamb. Then in verse 16 an Angel is told to thrust in his sickle because the hour has come, and the harvest of the earth is ripe. This is the corn harvest of Pentecost. Finally, another Angel is told to thrust in his sickle and reap the clusters of the vine. (Verse 18) This is the Tabernacles fruit harvest.
A problem now arises. Having already shown that APARCHÉ CHRISTOS can only refer to the Lord Himself, we are now confronted with the news that another 144,000 bear the title of firstfruit to God and to the Lamb. And what is more, in Rev.14:1 we read that the Lamb stood on Mount Zion with these 144,000, and in Hebrews 12:22-23 they are spoken of again, “You are come to Mount Zion, the City of the Living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, . . . and to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, written in heaven . . . to the spirits of just men made perfect.”
And so, although the exegesis of the Greek does not allow “Anointed Firstfruit”, yet according to further reading in the N.T. we are forced to accept the concept as correct. How is this? I can only assume that it is because the word CHRISTOS is not the same as IESOUS. The latter word speaks of our Lord Himself, whereas CHRISTOS is a corporate term to describe HEAD and BODY. Thus we see how careful we need be in establishing theological truth.
Turning now to the word firstborn, used in the Hebrews passage just quoted, our Lexicon tells us that it is PROTO-TOKOS. The first part comes from PROTOS, which in terms of rank or degree means first, foremost, most important,most prominent. Hence firstborn means the one who is not just first but who is also foremost, most important of a company. In Romans 8:29 Paul tells us this important fact – that some have been predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, that He should be Firstborn among many brothers. Here again we find the concept of the Christ as Head and Body.
Paul insists that Jesus is the Firstborn from among the dead. (Col.1:18) Just as the whole land of Israel was consecrated to God by the consecration of the firstfruits, so also the whole nation was consecrated to God by the consecration of the firstborn. In each case a fulness is implied, by which we may rejoice in the fact that eventually all will be raised from the dead. And this does not mean that the wicked dead will be raised, only to be punished eternally, but raised to times of severe judgment, through which the Lord will bring them to bow the knee to Jesus, that He may be all in all. That is the meaning of the Lake of Fire, which may burn for ever, even as our Lord is an everlasting consuming fire, but it does not hold its prisoners for ever. It does its job, and then Jesus, who has the keys of death and hell, brings them forth progressively to terrestrial life.
For those of us who believe, we rejoice in Hebrew 1:6, “When He brings the Firstborn again into the inhabited earth, He says, ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him.'” Even so come, Lord Jesus, and we shall worship with the angels.