1 Corinthians 15:20-24 WELS Year of Jubilee Christ the King, November 23, 2008 p. 1
1 Corinthians 15:20-24 (NIV)
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21
For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For
as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits;
then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the
kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.
[Show a head of wheat] There are a bunch of little seeds in this head of wheat. The seeds get
ground so that can use it to make bread. Each of these heads grows on a stalk that is like a tall straw
[show a straw and put the head on top]. When the people in the Bible lived, a farmer would cut a
handful of stalks and fasten them together in a bundle sort of like this [use a rubber band to hold a
dozen straws in a bundle]. These bundles were taken to the place where the seeds would be
God asked his believers in the Old Testament to bring the first bundle they made to him. This
is called the “first-fruits” [have the children repeat the word]. They would bring the bundle to the altar
at the Temple, wave the bundle in front of the alter, and then give it to the people who worked at the
Temple. By giving the first-fruits to God, the person was giving thanks to God for blessing them. The
person also was showing that he trusted in God to continue giving all the food his family would need.
When we die, what do people do with our body? They bury it. When Jesus comes again what
will he do with our body that is in the grave? He will raise it. God gave Jesus as the “first-fruits.” He
raised Jesus from the dead so that we can trust that he also will raise us from the dead and bring us
Fellow redeemed who rejoice in life under Christ the King,
Can you understand why the people at Corinth to whom Paul is writing have fears and
misgivings? Why the apostle devotes all 58 verses in this chapter to the one subject, the
resurrection? The people at Corinth were struggling with the whole idea of someone who was “dead
and buried” coming back to life. You can imagine them saying, “Don’t you know that dead people
don’t do that sort of thing.” So the Holy Spirit moved Paul to write this chapter in which the apostle
affirms the truth that: OUR LORD JESUS IS RISEN AND REIGNS! 1. He Has Literally Been
Raised from the Dead, 20a. 2. He Now Assures Us of Our Resurrection, 20b-22. 3. He Has
Ushered in a Whole New Era, 23-24.
What precedes our verses is what we might call “the awful alternative to Easter.” “Some
among you say, ‘There is no resurrection of the dead.’” If this were true, the consequences are so
awful that the minute Paul starts discussing that, you want to cover your ears and blot out what he
has to say. If there is no resurrection, then Christ isn’t raised either. We would actually be lying when
we preach about Easter. We would believe in a “dead and still buried” Jesus. But worst of all, every
one of those deadly, damning sins you and I commit continually would still clinging to us. And our
loved ones who have already died believing in Jesus would now be suffering the consequences of
their sins in the eternal torment of hell.
But that’s not the situation we’re in, because Paul tells us “Christ has indeed been raised
from the dead.” What a simple, but incredibly powerful statement this is. The Corinthians and our
human nature may tell us that people just don’t rise from the dead; but the reality is something far, far
different—now Christ is risen from the dead. Your mind may stagger at this thought and raise all sorts
of objections. But Paul brushes all the objections aside with this undisputable glorious truth of the
gospel: “Right now, at this very moment, He, who was literally dead and buried, is now risen from the
dead and is truly alive. We have a living Savior!”
Do we always live in the joy of our Lord’s resurrection? Do we always reflect that in our daily
1 Corinthians 15:20-24 WELS Year of Jubilee Christ the King, November 23, 2008 p. 2
lives? Or do we sometimes have our moments of weakness and doubt? Even the staunchest of
believers can lose sight of this glorious comfort if our focus is consumed by the pains, frustrations and
worries of our life on earth. Perhaps we need the periodic reminder that now, right now, at this very
moment, Christ is risen from the dead. 2. And that makes all the difference in our lives, as Paul says
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For
since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For as in
Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive again.”
Paul uses a picture that speaks comfort to our hearts in a very memorable way. The apostle
tells us that our risen Savior “has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The picture
is from the harvest. When the farmer harvested that first bundle of grain, he brought it to the Lord
and offered it by waving it before the Lord. He gladly gave this offering to his God, because he knew
how generous God is. He had absolute confidence that there would be so many other bundles to
follow. And that’s the confidence we have because Jesus is risen. Our risen Lord is the firstfruit, the
first of countless millions who will follow him in his resurrection.
Let this picture sink into your heart and comfort you anew. Because Jesus is the firstfruit, you, I
and all believers will be raised as well. Better yet, we will be awakened from the “sleep” of death, to
use Paul’s words. For us death is not a terrible, dreaded state, something we fight against to the very
last and resist with everything in us. Rather, for us Christians, death is being “asleep in Jesus, [which
is a] blessed sleep” (CW 605). And in a very short time, when it will seem that we just closed our eyes
to take a brief “nap,” Jesus will awaken us to life everlasting. His resurrection guarantees this
because he is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in him.
History reminds us why this is such a blessing. When Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, his sin
resulted in that we “all die.” He and Eve passed on their sinful nature to each one of us. The instant
we were conceived we were sentenced to eternal death. But now another “Man…Christ,” has undone
what the first man did. Through Jesus “the resurrection of the dead” came. By his resurrection Christ
the King has destroyed death’s power over us. All who believe in him “shall be made alive” because
Jesus forces death to let us go forever.
It’s instructive to see how God is straight forward with us. He uses the words “Sin” and “death”
and “hell” Today’s society doesn’t like to use those words. Culture today tries to lessen the
seriousness of sin or soften its consequences. Our world has replaced such ugly words as “sin” with
medical or mental health terms such as someone is “disturbed,” or with words that only have social
significance like the person “has problems relating to others”. We don’t hear much about people
rebelling against God or violating his holy will. That’s too harsh and unfeeling. But Paul speaks the
law clearly and specifically, pointing out that sin has brought “death” into the world—eternal
separation from God’s blessings.
Paul can face sin and its consequences so directly, because our Lord has. That’s the gospel.
“Death” is replaced with “the resurrection of the dead,” and “die” is supplanted with “made alive.” We,
who started dying the unending death the moment we took our first breath, have had our immortality
restored when Jesus rose from the dead. On the cross our Savior satisfied the demands of divine
justice. And when he rose, he rolled away the stones in front of our graves and opened the door to
heaven to all believers.
How do we celebrate the glorious news that because Jesus lives, we shall live also?
Remember that Jesus is “the firstfruits.” He gave himself to God in praise by rising from the dead to
give us righteousness and sacrifice so we have eternal life. He gave himself so that the gracious,
generous God would continue to enrich or lives. Wouldn’t it be a fitting way for us to respond to our
Lord’s grace as well by bringing a special, firstfruits offering to our God to reflect the joy and delight
we have in the Firstfruit, our Lord Jesus? We are having a Jubilee, a celebration of the Lord’s favor,
and how appropriate that as part of that celebration we bring the Lord our firstfruits.
3. How different from the world you and I look at life, including the end of life, because Christ
has risen and rules from his heavenly throne all things for our benefit. Temporal death still affects our
1 Corinthians 15:20-24 WELS Year of Jubilee Christ the King, November 23, 2008 p. 3
body. It doesn’t affect our soul, which immediately goes to be with our Lord when that separation of
soul and body that we call “death” takes place. But even our body itself will not be in the grave long,
because Jesus is risen from the dead and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Our Lord has ushered in a whole new reign for his people. Paul tells us “But each in his own turn:
Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when
he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and
Very soon, when our Lord returns, the first thing our Lord will do when he returns on the last
day will be to awaken all those who fell asleep trusting in him. [All people will be raised, of course,
unbelievers as well as believers. Paul doesn’t mention the unbelievers here because his purpose is to
comfort us, “who are in Christ,” that is, who recognize him as our triumphant Savior.] And when we
are raised, “then comes the end” of the world in which we live and the end of life here on earth as we
now know it. Any kind of power or authority, whether among governments or in the spirit world will
come to an end. There will only be the rule of victorious Lord Jesus, and He will hand over to the
Father his rule of grace.
What a blessed day that will be, when every eye will see our Lord usher in a whole new era. It
will truly be glorious when Jesus returns in his full majesty and shows us that “salvation and strength
and the kingdom of our God and the power of his Christ has come” (Rev 12:10). And you know what
will be the best part of that day? You and I will be among those who are singing that joyful song
“Crown him with many crowns!” Let our song of celebration and joy never stop until our Lord returns
and we sing it with even greater delight before his throne. No heart will know more joy on that day
than yours or mine. We will be thrilled to sing, “Our Lord Jesus is risen and reigns—and we, who
have been raised, will now reign with him for all eternity.” Amen.