The Easter season marks the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus in the past, but there’s a sense in which Easter is just as much about the resurrection that will happen in the future.
That’s because, as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus is the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20).
Meaning of the Firstfruits
I love that analogy. Throughout history, people have brought the firstfruits of the harvest as an offering to the Lord, both as an expression of thanksgiving (“Thank You, Lord, for the initial harvest) and of trust (“We trust You, Lord, to sustain us with the rest of the harvest”).
By describing Jesus as the firstfruits, Paul is saying, You know the harvest that God has planned at the end of time, the ancient promise that God is going to make everything right again and restore the world and resurrect the bodies of the faithful from all the ages? Well, Jesus’s resurrection is the firstfruits. The resurrection has begun. The beginning of the end is upon us. We’ve got a foretaste of what’s coming. The harvest has begun, but instead of God raising all of his people at the end of history, he has chosen to give us the firstfruits, to raise one man in the middle of history.
The analogy of the firstfruits reminds us that there are two phases to God’s rescue plan. Instead of it happening all at the end, Easter marks the beginning of the end. First, Jesus was raised—the firstfruits. That’s the signal that the end of history is coming, when the promise will be fulfilled and all of God’s people will be raised. All of God’s people who have fallen asleep—all of our loved ones who loved and served and trusted Jesus, all of those who have gone before us, all of those who we’ve wept over and mourned—the day is coming when what was true of Jesus will be true of them and be true of us.
‘He Came Back’
The wages of sin is death, and death is everywhere around us—in the cemeteries and tombstones that haunt our memories and surround our cities. The Bible is filled with long long lists of names and with every one of them you see: “He lived this long, and then he died. He lived this long, and then he died.” He died. He died. He died. Echoing throughout time and history, a steady drumbeat of death. The times of man are chiseled onto our tombstones, a testament to the result of sin and the power of death. He died, he died, he died. Until we get to Jesus, and for the first time ever, there’s a tomb that says, He died, but he came back.
Paul says the resurrection of Jesus in the past can mean only one thing—that Jesus is the One appointed by God through whom everything will be made right again. He is the King who has come to fix everything! He is the King who has come to overturn the curse of death forever. He is the King who has come to sweep away all of our sin and sorrow. All of the painful consequences due to the sin of Adam are solved due to the righteousness of Jesus.
Death entered the world through one man, and like an infection it spread to everyone and everything, but now life has entered the world through the one Man, Jesus, and new creation has turned the tide. Life is spreading to the world. The kingdom of God is here. As Augustine wrote:
“Man indeed brought death to himself and to the Son of Man. But the Son of Man, by dying and rising again, brought life to man.”
Great Reversal of Death
So now, because of the resurrection of Jesus in the past, everything is turning around. Because of the earthquake of Easter, the river of death has stopped, has reversed, and is flowing the other way. The sun has pierced through the clouds of winter, and now, for the first time in ages, the ice is melting. The snow is melting. The first shoots of grass are popping up from the snow. The first sprouts are showing up on the trees and flowers. The world has changed.
Just as we see the initial signs of spring and know that the coming warmth will eventually overcome those last cold blasts of winter, just as we see the initial buds on a plant and know that the hills and trees and yards will remember green again, we look back to the resurrection and say: This is the beginning of the end of death’s cruel, cold reign. This is the firstfruits. There’s a harvest coming!