Dr. Richard Gaffin on the Resurrection of Christ

The center of Paul's theology is the resurrection of Christ. Dr. Gaffin is going to lecture today on the soteriological significance of Christ's resurrection and its connection therefore to our bodily resurrections. Paul rarely concieves of the resurrection of Christ apart from the resurrection of believers. Everywhere he expounds the tremendous solidarity between the resurrection of Christ and of believers. The solidarity is nowhere presented as clearly and vividly as in 1 Corinthians 15, an epochal chapter on the resurrection.

"Firstfruits" is an agricultural terms with an Old Testament background, ordinarily used of those sacrifices brought at the beginning of harvest time (Exod.23:19; Lev.23:10-11) which brings into view the initial portion of the harvest, the first installment and in so doing indicates not only temporal priority, but organic connection.

All of this begs the question, to what does the firstfruits in Corinthians 15 refer? The reference here is the firstfruits of the resurrection harvest. The resurrection of unbelievers is not in Paul's purview here. In fact there is no reference to the resurrection of unbelievers in Paul's writings, though he does mention this reality in a speech in Acts.

Often it's been said that Christ's resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection. That's true, but here we have to see that it doesn't go far enough. It's a guarantee in the sense that it is actually the beginning of the general epochal event. Paul is affirming, in other words, that the general resurrection event begins with the resurrection of Christ. In the resurrection of Christ, the harvest has arrived and is visible.

We see here the eschatological significance of Jesus's resurrection. It has taken place in the past, in all of its full-bodied historicity three days after the cross, but as Paul looks at things here, it is not an isolated event in the past, but belongs to the future. That future has entered history and has become a present reality. The coming aeon is now present; the new creation has dawned; the eschaton has been realized or inaugurated.

The two resurrection, Christ's bodily resurrection and our's, are not so much two events as they are two episodes, temporarly distinct to be sure, of the same event; two installments of the same harvest.

Likewise, Colossians 1:18. "Firstborn" is not the same as firstfruits in that it doesn't necessarily bring out organic connection, for example, though the thought here again is plainly that of solidarity of Christ with the dead believers (firstborn from the dead) who are to be raised. The term here has derivative sense, as in the Old Testament, indicating special dignity or exalted status, as in Exodus 4:22, where Israel is called God's firstborn, meaning the elect people of God. Psalm 89:27 calls David the firstborn. This is corroborated in the context where in verse 15 we find the phrase, "firstborn of all creation," not meaning "first creature" (as JWs assert), but as supremacy over creation, i.e. firstborn over creation. Firstborn can also denote source or origin, as in Gen. 49:3. The general resurrection begins with the resurrection of Christ who is the head of the church in solidarity with that church. Firstborn emphasizes uniqueness of Christ's resurrection, but it's a uniqueness in solidarity with believers.

Likewise, Romans 8:29. The goal of God's entire electing purposes can be seen in his predestination of those foreknown to be confirmed to the image of Christ that he might be "firstborn among many brothers." "Firstborn from the dead" and "firstborn among many brothers" are clearly correlative. The resurrected Christ is the firstborn of many brothers.

Other passages to consider: 2 Corinthians 4:14 and1 Thessalonians 4:14; Colossians 2:12-13; Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:2ff.

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