Jesus Christ: The First Fruits – 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Download MP3

 If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click Here)

Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

April 8, 2007

Jesus Christ: The First Fruits

1 Corinthians 15:20-28


The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! That is the proper greeting for this day in celebration of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. I realize that today is commonly known as Easter Sunday and most people will greet you with “happy Easter.” I also realize that today is a day filled with many various traditions passed down over many generations that celebrate the coming of Spring. There will be a lot of traditional meals served with special dishes. Some will celebrate by wearing some new clothes. Many people, including professing Christians, will talk about the Easter Bunny and have Easter baskets filled with various candies and perhaps an Easter egg hunt later on. Some will even get chicks or young rabbits to include in the celebration.

Speaking of the Easter Bunny, I am reminded of a story I received this week that I heard some time ago but it was slightly modified in view of the season. It seems there was a man driving down a country road that came upon the Easter bunny who happened to be in the middle of the road just as he came around a curve. Though he tried to avoid him, the man ran over the Easter bunny. The basket went flying with all his colorful eggs scattered all over the place. The man immediately pulled over and went to see about the welfare of the famous rabbit, but it was too late. He had killed the Easter bunny. The man became distraught over what he had done. He was the sentimental type to begin with and was grieved that he had killed anything, but how much worse that he had now ruined Easter for countless children who would not get their Easter presents. He just stood by the side of road sobbing.

About that time a woman coming from the other direction saw him and pulled over to see what was going on. The man explained what had happened and then pointed out the dead Easter bunny now laying by the side of the road. The woman then told him to calm down and that it would be alright for she knew just what to do. She went over to her car and found something in her trunk. She then went to the dead rabbit and sprayed the entire contents of the can onto the bunny. Then a surprising thing happened. The Easter bunny got up and waved his paw at them. He then gathered up his eggs and then went hopping down the road for about 50 yard, turned around and waved at them again. He hopped another 50 yards, turned around and waved at them again. The bunny continued to do the same thing until he was no longer in sight.

The man was astounded and asked her what she had done. She then held the can out so he could read the label. “Hair spray. Restores life to dead hair. Adds permanent wave.”

What does all that have to do with today? I guess if you believe hair spray can resurrect a dead rabbit you are free to believe in the Easter Bunny. I don’t care to be a cultural humbug, but there is a serious problem with the Easter bunny and many of the traditions that have arisen over the centuries that are observed today. There is nothing wrong if people want to celebrate the coming of Spring in some manner, but that should not in anyway obscure the actual reason we celebrate today. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! My first challenge to you then today is to caution you to be careful about the traditions you practice lest they obscure for you, and more importantly confuse your children, about what today is about.

The Lord is risen!


Turn to 1 Corinthians 15. This morning I want to emphasize the hope that has been given to us because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. As your turning there, remember that Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is a book of corrections. There were many problems in this early church for many were proud and selfish, they were ignorant of many things, and they were led astray be false teachers. In chapter 15 Paul is correcting them concerning a false teaching that had been brought to them that there was no resurrection of the dead. Paul corrects them by reminding them of the gospel message, then demonstrates the necessity of the resurrection and then explains the order of the resurrection and its mystery of the transformation of our mortal bodies into immortal ones.

The Gospel Message

1Cor 15:1 (NASB) Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then [it was] I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

There are those that use this passage as the definition of the gospel message and therefore all that needs to be presented when witnessing to someone. However, while this is the essence of the gospel, it is not the whole message that we should proclaim to others in the effort to persuade them to become Christians. I say that for two reasons.

First, I must take what Paul is saying here in its proper context. In this passage Paul is speaking to those who have already professed faith in Jesus Christ in order to remind them of key truths related to the resurrection of the dead which is Paul’s subject in this chapter. Verse 12 tells us clearly that someone had been teaching them that there is no resurrection of the dead and Paul is correcting them. This passage is not meant to be a full explanation of the gospel.

Second, if I am to understand the whole gospel message that Paul proclaimed I need to go to the book of Romans for that is the purpose of that book. That book includes not only the facts presented here in 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus died for sinners, was buried and raised from the dead, but it also includes the facts that every man is sinful, under God’s wrath and in need of forgiveness, that Jesus is propitiation for sin that brings redemption and that the sinner is justified as a gift of God’s grace by the means of faith in Christ apart from the works of the law. Romans also contains the ramifications of being justified by faith including having peace with God, having the old self crucified and being raised to newness of life in Christ so that your are no longer a slave to sin but instead slaves of righteousness resulting in sanctification. You are no longer under condemnation because of being in Christ Jesus with the Holy Spirit indwelling you with a confidence assurance that nothing can separate you from God’s love and that His work in you will be completely accomplished concluding in glorification. If those facts are new to you or you do not understand them, then plan on staying after today’s service and talking with myself or one of our church leaders so that we can fully explain the good news of Jesus Christ to you lest you remain under God’s just condemnation.

Now Paul’s point here in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 is that Jesus Christ died for sin, was buried and was raised from the dead on the third day, a fact attested to by many eye witness which he names, including himself. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a fact that meets the legal and historical tests for truth for it is attested to by many diverse and credible witnesses and backed up by the fact that this truth radically changed lives of those same witnesses.

The Necessity of the Resurrection

In verses 12-19 Paul explains the necessity of the resurrection to those who might think it to be a point of little importance.

12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found [to be] false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

This section is a simple logical argument that is self-explanatory. If Jesus Christ has not been raised from the dead, then there is no resurrection, there is no hope and those that have placed their trust in Him are the most to be pitied of all people. What is more tragic than a false hope and especially one that concerns the very purpose of your life and your destiny after you die? But the hope of the Christian is not false, as Paul points out in the next section.

Our Hope in the Resurrection

20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man [came] death, by a man also [came] the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then [comes] the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all.

Paul goes on throughout the rest of the chapter to explain the mystery of the resurrection and the nature of the resurrection body, and I will point out some of what he says about those things, but for the rest of our time this morning I want us to concentrate on verses 20-28 and the hope we have in the future because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

The Reality of Resurrection (vs. 20)

Verse 20 is simply a statement of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Paul has already proven that to be true by citing the many eyewitnesses of that fact. Paul also points our here that Jesus is the “first fruits of those who are asleep,” a euphemism for those who have died. “First fruits” is a double reference indicating not only that Jesus was the first to be resurrected of many who will be resurrected in the future, but it is also a reference to the Old Testament requirement that the first of any harvested crops were to be brought to the Lord as an offering. Jesus was in fact that offering.

The reality of Jesus’ resurrection means that there will be a future reality of resurrection for those who have died. Now it is important to point out here that there were others that were resurrected before Jesus in the sense that they were restored to life after they had died. Old Testament examples include the son of the widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:22), the son of the Shunammite (2 Kings 4:20-37); and the man cast into the grave of Elisha (2 Kings 13:21). New Testament examples include the funeral procession Jesus stopped and then brought the dead man back to life (Luke 7:12-15), the daughter of the synagogue official (Luke 8:49-56), Lazarus (John 11:39-44). The difference between their resurrections and that of Jesus is that they were restored to life but they did not receive glorified bodies. They were still mortal and died again. Jesus was raised with an immortal and imperishable body that had new and different characteristics.

The Need & Hope of Resurrection (vs. 21-22)

In verses 21 & 22 Paul explains both the need and hope of resurrection. Adam’s sin affected all his descendants so that we too are all sinners under God’s just condemnation which includes death, both physical and spiritual. Apart from Jesus Christ we are spiritually separated from God which is spiritual death and apart from His return each of us will have our souls separated from our physical bodies which is physical death. Without a resurrection we will remain in that condition.

Our hope of resurrection is found in Jesus Christ who paid the sin penalty for us. His promise is regeneration by the Holy Spirit to all that believe in Him so that we are born again to a living hope and given the right to be called the children of God. We are no longer separated from Him and are restored to spiritual life. We are also given the promise of a future physical resurrection in which our souls will be joined to an immortal and imperishable body which Paul explains in verses 50-57. Physical death will have been conquered.

The Order of Resurrection (vs. 23)

In verse 23 Paul states the order of the resurrections and it is important to note that there is more than one. He again points out that Jesus is the first fruits. He precedes all that will happen in the future. Paul then points out that there will a resurrection of “those who are Christ’s at His coming.” The resurrection Paul is speaking about here in 1 Corinthians 15 is limited to those that belong to Jesus, and by that he is referring to those who are followers of Jesus, His disciples, true believers, genuine Christians. These are those who have been born again and adopted into God’s family. As Jesus pointed out in Matthew 7:21, it will not be everyone who says to Him, “Lord, lord,” but those who do the will of God the Father.

Paul describes this resurrection at His “coming” (parousia / parousia in both passages) in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18. “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of [the] archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.” This event is commonly referred to as the “rapture” based on the Latin translation of “caught up” (arpazw / harpazô) in verse 17. The nature of this change is described in the remaining verses of 1 Corinthians 15. It includes the fact that our transformed bodies will be imperishable, spiritual and immortal in nature, but raised in glory and power bearing the image of the heavenly (vs. 42-54). It will occur so that we can inherit the kingdom of God and will happen in the twinkling of an eye (vs. 5). Death is swallowed up in victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (vs. 54-57).

However, this is not the only resurrection. Revelation 20 describes at least three more. The first two of them will be the same as described here in 1 Corinthians 15. One will occur at the end of 70th week described in Daniel 9 and will include those martyred during that time period (Revelation 20:4). They “will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years (vs. 6). The second of these resurrections will occur at the end of the millennial reign of Jesus (Revelation 20:5). The second death has no power over any of these (vs. 6).

The third resurrection mentioned in Revelation 20, and the final resurrection of all time, will also occur after the millennial reign, but after Satan’s release and his final rebellion is crushed by God when He sends fire down from heaven to devour them. All the damned are then resurrected to stand before God’s great white throne and be judged according to their deeds which will condemn them. They are then thrown into the lake of fire along with death and Hades to join the devil, the false prophet and the beast who had already been cast there. That is the second death.

Is it any wonder that Scriptures says that those who are resurrected prior to the great white throne judgement are blessed? Are you ready for Christ’s coming? If you do not belong to Him, then you are not. You need to be and you can be today if you will turn from your sin and self-righteousness to believe in and follow the Savior.

The Future Kingdom (vs. 24-28)

In verses 24-28 Paul looks forward to give a brief snapshot of the culmination of the ages.

The Future Culmination (vs. 24)

Paul says in verse 24 that at some time after the resurrection spoken about in verse 23 Jesus will deliver up the kingdom to God the Father after He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. Paul explains more about Jesus doing that in verse 23-28.

The Reign of the Son (vs. 25-27)

There are those that deny that Jesus will reign physically on earth. There are even more that deny that He will do so on the throne of David in Jerusalem. Those that deny those truths must either neglect, negate or renounce the many promises God made to the nation of Israel about a future restoration and the covenant God made with David in 2 Samuel 7 that the throne of one of his decedents would be established forever. Among the many Scriptures in which God promises a future restoration of Israel are Isaiah 65 & 66; Jeremiah 31:27-37 and 32:36-44; Ezekiel 36-48; Joel 3:9-21; Amos 9; Micah 4 & 5; Zephaniah 3:8-20; and Zechariah 12-14.

Paul says specifically in verse 25 that Jesus will reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet and adds in verse 26 that the last enemy to be vanquished will be death. Revelation 20 says that will occur after the great white throne judgement which is after those who were part of the first resurrection will have reigned with Christ for a thousand years and Satan’s final rebellion is defeated. It will be at that point that Jesus will have subjected all things to Himself. The only exception will be God the Father who is the one that caused all other things to be subjected to Jesus (Philippians 2:9-11). This will then allow Jesus to fulfill what Paul says in verse 28.

The Final Subjection (vs. 28)

“And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all.

This is the final culmination of the ages when the God Man Jesus who is the second Adam has fulfilled all that was originally designed for man and will then turn over the reign of the kingdom back to Father that the triune God will again be “all in all.” That is the rule of God over His creation through a mediator will be replaced by direct rule since the need and purpose of a mediator will have been completely fulfilled.

What then is the hope that we celebrate this day? It is not the coming of Spring, though we rejoice in that. We celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and the guarantee it brings of all of God’s promises. There is the personal aspect of His promise to those of us who belong to Jesus of own future resurrection and being changed in the twinkling of an eye into a being that is imperishable, immortal, spiritual and holy before God. But even beyond that there are all the promises concerning Jesus’ future reign, His vanquishing of all His enemies including death and the culmination of it all in a direct relationship with God without mediation needed for we will have been finally conformed to the image of His son and therefore holy to be able to be in His very presence. The curse and all its remnants will be gone. I am looking forward to that! Are you?

The Lord is Risen!

Sermon Study Sheets


Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the Scripture references made. 2) Count how many times the word “resurrection” is used. Talk with your parents about what it means that Jesus was resurrected and what promises He has given to you based on His resurrection.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

What “Easter” traditions did you grow up with. What are your current practices? Do they accent or obscure the celebration of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ? Should you change any of them? What is the context of 1 Corinthians 15? What is Paul’s purpose in verses 1-11? What aspects of the gospel message does he leave out of those verses? Why is the resurrection of Jesus Christ so important to Christians? Compare your answer to Paul’s reasons in verses 12-19. How do we know for sure that Jesus Christ did rise from the dead? What evidence does Paul give? What is different about Jesus’ resurrection from those that occurred earlier? Why is there a need for a resurrection? What is the hope of the resurrection? What does it mean that Jesus is the “first fruits of those who are asleep” (vs. 20)? When will the first resurrection of the righteous occur? At what other times will there be a resurrection of the righteous? When will the unrighteous dead be raised? What will happen to them? Why? What is the evidence in 1 Corinthians 15 that there will be a future kingdom in which Jesus reigns on earth? What other evidence is there for this in the rest of the Bible? What will happen after Jesus places all of His enemies under His feet? Are you ready for Jesus’ return? Why or why not? How will you get ready?

Sermon Notes – April 8, 2007

Christ, The First Fruits – 1 Corinthians 15:20-28


Context – 1 Corinthians 15

The Gospel Message – 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

 The Necessity of the Resurrection – 1 Corinthians 15:12-19


Our Hope in the Resurrection – 1 Corinthians 15:20-28


The Reality of Resurrection (vs. 20)


The Need & Hope of Resurrection (vs. 21-22)


The Order of Resurrection (vs. 23)

The Future Kingdom (vs. 24-28)

The Future Culmination (vs. 24)

The Reign of the Son (vs. 25-27)

The Final Subjection (vs. 28)


 If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click Here)

Grace Bible Church Home Page || Sermon Archives

For comments, please e-mail  Church office