The first Easter occurred at the time of Passover, which is when the first fruits of the barley crop were presented to the Lord. Pentecost, soon to follow, is when the first fruits of the wheat harvest were presented. As we consider the importance of the resurrection, we need to think of it in the right fashion, which means that we have to reflect on the meaning of first fruits.
“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. 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. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:20-26).
Christ came back from the grave, and He did so in a glorified, physical body, the same (but transformed) body that had been laid in the tomb. (v. 20). He did this as the firstfruits (v. 20), meaning that His resurrection was one small, tiny part of the general resurrection. Adam introduced death into the world, and the last Adam introduced resurrection life into the world (v. 21). All shall die in the world because of Adam, and so all shall live in the world because of Christ (v. 22). But get the order right—the fruitfruits come first, and then the general harvest which occurs at Christ’s coming (v. 23). When Christ comes again, the kingdom which He has established (with all rule and all authority and all power) will be delivered up to the Father (v. 24). For Christ must reign (at the right hand of the Father) until all His enemies are subdued (v. 25). The last enemy in this process to be subdued will be death (v. 26), after which Christ will come again and render all things back to His Father.
Getting the Image Right:
One of the things we have to resist is a false image of human history, however orthodox we might believe we are on the historicity of Christ’s resurrection. This false image works this way—we think that human history is basically the same, at least from the Fall to the Second Coming. Things go on pretty much as they have always done. In the middle of this grim history, God placed the cross and resurrection, that resurrection being a completely anomalous event in an unchanged world. This cross and resurrection are “the gospel,” which means we can be “saved,” which means in turn that we will go to heaven when we die.
Try this image instead. At the Fall, human history became a movie we are watching in grainy and scratchy black and white. When Christ rose from the grave, a point of blinding light appeared at that place, and from that place, odd things started to happen—not in the plot lines of the story necessarily, but rather in the nature of the story itself. Color started to slowly spread out from that resurrection point, and the graininess started to slowly disappear and is gradually transformed into some kind of HDTV. Of course, over time, the story itself is affected. You have seen this kind of thing numerous times. When Aslan breathes on the stone statues and they all begin coming back to life, that is the kind of image we should have. And when that kind of thing starts to happen, we look at the screen intently, staring expectantly.
This means that the resurrection was not an odd event in the first century, with all “normal” things staying the same. The resurrection was the central event of all history, but we have to take this as the central event for all history. It defines history; it establishes the trajectory of the remaining story.
Distracted by the Interim State:
We have missed this, in part, because we have been distracted by a conclusion drawn from our individualistic premises. Because we start with “our own stalk of wheat,” we find ourselves leaving out the story of the harvest. If we started with the harvest, our own stalk would not be left out. Here is how it works.
When we die, before the harvest of all history, what happens to us? We go to be with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). But over time, this intermediate state, this very temporary state of affairs, has somehow become for us our central hope, something we call “going to heaven.” We have drifted into a very Hellenistic idea of the immortality of the soul, up in another heavenly dimension somewhere, and we have lost the Hebraic truth of the resurrection of the dead.
The Bible doesn’t generally speak in our popular way of “going to heaven when we die”—not that it is technically wrong. The problem is that the interim state has become the overarching paradigm, replacing the biblical hope. The biblical hope is heaven coming here. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5). We look to heaven, not so much because that is where we are going in order to be saved, but because that is where our salvation is coming from (Phil. 3:20-21).
The New Ordinary:
So the resurrection is not simply a peculiar event in an old and decaying world. It is rather the defining event of the new creation, the new heavens and the new earth. It is harbinger of all things made new. We therefore cannot know the resurrection with an unresurrected epistemology (way of knowing). Resurrection life is the new ordinary.
This is why the materialism that came from the Enlightenment was a concerted way to get us back to the old way of knowing, the old way of relating to the authorities, the old way of dying. But Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not. This new order been established in the resurrection. If the dead are not raised, then rulers can rule in the old- fashioned way—“off with his head,” which is an argument that (as it seemed for a time) that had no proper answer. But the dead are raised, and moreover, the dead are raised in the middle of human history. The harvest has begun, and the firstfruits have been presented. What could be more unsettling to tyrants? Marx was right about a certain kind of religion—pie in the sky when we die religion is an opiate for the masses. But resurrection life is a nightmare for the principalities and powers, and their only device is to persuade the churches to stop talking about it. But we believe, and therefore we speak.
Now this means that if the firstfruits happened two thousand years ago, and the general harvest is sometime in the future, this historical interim is not a time in which “nothing is happening.” Rather, to return to our text, it is the time in which we, through the authority of the resurrection gospel, put down all rule and authority and power, bringing every thought captive.