- The First Fruits (verses 20-22)
- The Harvest (verse 23)
- The End (verses 24-28)
We're looking primarily this evening at verses 20 through to 28, under the title 'God's Resurrection Programme', but we'll begin our reading from verse 1 so that we can follow the same thought that we have been studying in previous weeks - and even if you haven't been here this will just refresh your memory to the passage that we are dealing with tonight just before the verses that are for our particular concentration. So let us read from verse 1, but remembering that we are focusing particularly on verses 20 through to 28.
"Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed. Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. 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. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all".
It was Eric Sawyer (sp?), the great theologian, who in one of his writings spoke these words, he said: 'The present age is Easter time, it begins with the resurrection of the Redeemer, and it ends with the resurrection of the redeemed. Between those two lies the spiritual resurrection of those called into life through Christ'. He goes on: 'So we live today between two Easters, and in the power of the first Easter we go to meet the last Easter'. Let me read that again for you: 'The present age', for us as Christians, 'is Easter time, it begins with the resurrection of the Redeemer, and ends with the resurrection of the redeemed. Between those two Easters there is the spiritual resurrection of all those who are called into life through Christ. So therefore today we live between two Easters, and in the power of the first Easter we go soon to meet the last Easter'.
Of course the last Easter that Eric Sawyer is talking about is the bodily, literal resurrection of those who are saved - the believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, those whom the Bible calls saints. The resurrection of the saints within the word of God is also called the resurrection of the righteous, and on occasion it is called the first resurrection. Now that is very important as we begin our study tonight, whenever you find the first resurrection mentioned it always refers to the resurrection of the children of God. It is, when we read in the Gospels, the resurrection unto righteousness, or the resurrection of the righteous. The second resurrection that we read of within the Scriptures is what Jesus the Lord called the resurrection to unrighteousness, or the resurrection of the unrighteous unto damnation. That's important to make that distinction first of all: that there is the resurrection of the righteous, that is the first resurrection; and there is the resurrection of those who are unrighteous unto damnation, and the Bible calls that the second resurrection.
Now what Paul is chiefly concerned with in chapter 15 of his first epistle to the Corinthians is the first resurrection. Of course we have learned right throughout this whole epistle, particularly in chapter 1, that even though these Corinthians are extremely carnal in their spirituality, they are babes in Christ and Paul can't speak to them about deep spiritual matters, nevertheless they are Christians. They've been called in chapter 1 'saints' that are sanctified unto God, and therefore in this chapter he is speaking to them specifically concerning the resurrection of the saints, the resurrection of the righteous, the first resurrection. Of course we would know that as we have studied this chapter in verses 1 to 11, he has told them already of how they do believe that Jesus has risen from the grave, how they believe in Christ's resurrection. He took them one further after evidencing Christ's resurrection to them in the first 11 verses, to then show them logically that they must believe therefore in their own resurrection. We saw this last week too, that both the resurrection of our Lord and our own subsequent resurrection one day in the future are inextricably linked, you cannot divide the two. We'll see that again further this evening - but he does this for them by proving to them that there are some terrible repercussions if we do not believe in our own resurrection. We saw that in verses 12 to 19 last week - that if we do not rise again one day, it means that Christ has not risen from the dead; because if the two are linked together and you don't believe we're going to rise, it must mean logically that He did not rise from the dead. Then our preaching is in vain, and the apostle's preaching is in vain, and the evangelists, and the prophets of the Old Testament who prophesied that Christ, after His death, would rise again - it's all vain, because Christ is still in the grave and so we will remain in the grave one day. Our faith is in vain, because the message believed in is empty, it's not worth believing in!
We went on and saw how personally, not just theologically, but personal repercussions follow, that our own personal faith is fruitless - it doesn't make any difference how much faith you have if your faith is in a dead Saviour. It also means that you're still in your sins, the faith that you exercised to have your sins washed away it doesn't mean anything because Jesus is still in the grave and we don't know whether His sacrifice was enough to satisfy a holy God. I'm not going to give you last week's sermon, but we saw that there are terrible and ridiculous repercussions if we do not believe in our own resurrection, and if Christ is not risen from the grave.
Now what we are looking at specifically tonight is found in verses 20 to 28, and it is God's programme of resurrection. Perhaps some in their minds were asking: 'Well, when do all these resurrections take place, or when does our resurrection take place? Paul, you're trying to prove it to us, well: when will it happen? A bodily resurrection, you say - when will it happen, and how can we know the time of it?'. Well, let's look at this explanation of Paul's under these three headings - he talks first of all of a figure of speech, an illustration of the firstfruits; and then he talks to them about harvest, and then he talks to them about the end. Now this will seem a bit obscure to you at first, but hopefully - God willing - as we go down these verses this will be explained to you: God's resurrection programme.
Let's look at verse 20 first of all - now look at the change of emphasis here. Paul has been talking through all the negative implications and consequences that would result if Christ was not risen and we do not rise again, but now he changes his tone completely in verse 20: 'But now is Christ risen from the dead' - but now! If you look at verse 13, his language has been somewhat different: 'But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen', verse 14, 'And if Christ be not risen', verse 15, 'Yea, we are found false witnesses because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ, whom he did not raise up if so be that the dead rise not', verse 16, 'For if the dead rise not, then is Christ not raised', verse 17, 'And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins'. All of these suppositions of the implication is the resurrection has not happened - 'But now', he says! This is his conclusion: 'Now Christ is risen from the dead' - Hallelujah is right! Because if Christ is not risen from the dead we are of all men to be pitied.
Now your Authorised Version says: 'Now is Christ risen from the dead', and some may think that that might be a question, but it could literally be translated: 'Now Christ is', it is emphatic, it is declaring a truth, in fact it is a certainty. Christ is risen from the grave! And the apostle is saying: 'I am persuaded of that fact, and so ought you to be', and therefore what follows through from that is that you must also be certain that one day you will rise from the grave. You see, to be certain about Christ's resurrection is to be certain about your own future resurrection - that's Paul's whole point in this passage. You can't believe that Christ rose from the dead and you'll not; you can't believe that you'll rise from the dead and Christ hasn't - the two must come together! Now my question to you, especially if you're not a believer in this meeting, is: are you sure of your future resurrection in Christ? If you died this evening, when the Lord Jesus Christ returns and the trumpet blows would you be sure that you rose in Christ unto the resurrection of righteousness, which is the first resurrection, unto eternal life. Would you be among that great throng?
That is the question, is it not? But even if you're a believer, are you persuaded of this future that you have that rests upon the fact that Jesus is alive - 'Now Christ is risen from the dead'! He goes on and says: 'and become the firstfruits of them that slept'. One day during the French Revolution a man, a sceptical man, probably a socialist, said to one of the bishops of Christianity: 'The Christian religion, what is it? It would be easy to start a religion like that, would it not?'. 'Oh yes', said the Bishop, 'One would only have to rise again from the dead'. Now please let the import of all this sink in: this is the uniqueness of Christ, for Christ is Christianity, and that is what makes our faith unique. That man whose hands worked daily at the carpenter's bench in the little despised village of Nazareth, those hands are in glory tonight. Those blessed feet that trod the hills of Judaea, that went to those who were in need: the hungry, the sick, the blind, the lame, and even went to those who were dead in their tomb and cried to them to rise again. Those feet, nail-pierced feet that they may be, are in glory! That blessed One on the blue lake of Galilee, who spoke those mighty omnipotent words and even the winds and the waves obeyed Him when he said, 'Peace, be still!', and the whole squall lay down - that Man is in glory! The One who wept and prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the One who set His face as a flint to Calvary, the One who was nailed and bled and died there in your place, in your room, and in your stead and with your sin upon Him - He is in glory tonight!
Has it sunk in? This same Jesus is alive for evermore! I wonder do we ever really stop to think about this? Do we ever stand in the middle of the street and look up past the clouds that come over our head, dark that they may be, through the blue canopy of space, and see that there He is! Lord Jesus, You are there and You're alive! You're more alive than I'm alive, for You're living in the power of an endless life! Do you know that? This is not a fairytale, He's more alive than you are! You're dying where you sit tonight - He lives for evermore! He is Jehovah Shammah, the Lord is There.
Now this is what Paul does not want them to miss before he goes on to talk about God's resurrection programme, he wants to assure them that one day they will be there too, because He is there. To do this he uses this figure, this illustration and type of the firstfruits: 'Christ has become', some would say that word 'become' shouldn't be there, 'He is the firstfruits of them that slept'. When He rose from the grave, He became the firstfruits. Now to understand this representatory language that Paul uses here, you've got to know the type of the firstfruits that is found in Leviticus chapter 23. Now we don't have time to read through that chapter, but it would do you good to read it at home, but what you have there is that the Israelites - before they harvested their crops - they were told to bring a sample of those crops and offer them to the Lord. So what they would do would be, the harvester or the farmer would go into the big golden field of corn or wheat, and perhaps probably at the corner of that great field there was maybe a little part of the acre that was getting the sun more than others, and it was riper than the rest of the crop and it came to ripeness first. The farmer would go over and put it under his arm, and take his implement and cut it away, and carry it to the priest. We read in Leviticus that the priest would make an offering to the Lord.
Now mark the sequence of all these events in the Old Testament. First of all the lamb would be slain at Passover, the lamb slain for the sins of the people, representing atonement. Then the Sabbath after the lamb was slain at Passover, the day after that Sabbath - that therefore means the Sunday, because Sabbath is Saturday - that Sunday the priest would take that firstfruits, and wave the sheaf of the firstfruits before the Lord. That was a sign to signify that the entire harvest belonged to the Lord. Now let me tease that type out for you if you haven't already got it. The Lord Jesus, as John the Baptist said, is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, the Passover Lamb delivering His people from bondage in sinful Egypt. Three days later, not on the Sabbath but on the first day of the week, the Lord's Day, that resurrection Easter morning, God raised Him from the grave, declared Him to be the Son of God with power unto our justification, and waved Him before the world - a living Saviour to show that His work was finished, and harvest was coming.
It's wonderful, isn't it? What this type signifies, firstfruits, is just what it signified - that this was the first part of the harvest in Israel, but there was more of the harvest to come. There was more of the same to come - and what Paul is saying here is, even as Christ is the firstfruits in the resurrection, that type, the very fact that Christ rose again, is signifying that there is more of the same to come! Have you got it? Therefore His resurrection requires our resurrection - if I could put it like this: the firstfruits was a sample of the saints who would be resurrected one day. Isn't this wonderful? Isn't it? He was raised bodily - none of this spiritual nonsense - He was raised bodily, and we shall be raised bodily. Do you remember as He stood before the disciples - and sometimes we demean the body as Bible-believing Christians - but He looked to them and He asked them to handle Him, touch Him and see: 'A spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have' - flesh and bones, there was no blood because He shed His blood. The animating power of that resurrection body was no more blood flowing through His veins, but was the spiritual element that was powered by the Spirit of the living God - and as He was such, He is the firstfruits, and one day we will be like that. When our blood disappears at the moment of death, and when Jesus Christ from the excellent glory, and the trumpet is blown, and He comes for His saints, and the dead in Christ rise first, and we that are alive and remain caught up together with the Lord in the air; we shall be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, and this corruptible shall put on incorruption - there we will be, like who? Like the firstfruits, like our Lord Jesus Christ, and we shall see Him as He is, and we shall be like Him, and we shall be forever with the Lord.
We read in this passage not so long ago that according to the Scriptures, verse 3: 'Paul delivered unto them what he received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures'. He died for sin once, once - the papish, popish, pagan mass is a lie! He does not die every time they break bread and drink from the cup, He has died once, He has been buried once, He has risen finally forever! Praise God, because He lives in the power of an endless life we will live just like that one day too. Let me tell you this is different - some people say: 'How can this be the firstfruits of resurrection when there were some resurrected in the Old Testament, some miracles were done' - you remember the miracle of Elisha and so on with the little boy, you come into the New Testament and the Lord Jesus raised the widow of Nain's son, raised Jairus' daughter, raised Lazarus - they were resurrected. It's not the same because Lazarus died again, he visited the grave a second time - so did the widow of Nain's son, so did Jairus' daughter, so did the one who Elisha healed - and all in the Old Testament and New, they all died again, but Jesus lives forever! Lo He sets in blood no more.
Do you see the difference? Then he uses another figure to get this home in verses 21 and 22, let's look at this, he goes right back to the beginning of time. He says in verse 21: 'For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead'. The man, of course, that death came by was Adam, the man who first sinned, disobeyed God, was tempted and gave in to the temptation and sin entered upon all men, and we know that death was the wages of that sin. Then we read on that in a similar sense, by a man came also the resurrection of the dead. Just as a man brought in death, a man, another man, a second man, the last man, the last Adam, has brought in the resurrection of the dead - our Lord Jesus. Then in verse 22: 'For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive'.
Now listen very carefully, because this verse causes a lot of difficulties for folk. You see, they read this verse this way - look at it with me: 'For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive' - do you hear the emphasis I'm making as I read that verse? I'm emphasising that little word 'all', now that is the incorrect reading of that verse - it is the wrong emphasis. There are some who study the word of God and come away with the conclusion of salvation called universalism, that is that every single person born on the face of the earth will be saved, that God could never ever send a person to hell, and often they appeal to this verse. 'Here it is', they say, 'all men died in Adam - all are sinners, we'll admit that to you - but in Christ all have been made alive', and they emphasise this word 'all'. Now that cannot be what this verse is saying - why? Because the whole of the New Testament teaches us that there are those who are raised unto damnation, and there are those who are raised unto eternal life; that there is a heaven, that there is a hell; that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. The Lord Jesus had the rich man in Luke chapter 16 in hell! In fact, if you want to prove it from this epistle, turn back with me to chapter 6, and here you have it in the words of Paul - unless he's contradicting himself - chapter 6 and verse 9: 'Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God'. Then if you were to go to Revelation 21 and verse 8, you will see that what they do inherit is the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone.
So there is a difference here - do not be confused with those who say all will be saved in the end, that is not the teaching of the word of God. 'All' is not the governing word of this verse, but rather the governing word is the word 'in' - please note that. Let's read it again emphasising the word 'in': 'For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive' - is it becoming clearer? Now even though that, I believe, is the emphasis, there are others who say: 'Not everybody is going to be saved, of course, the word of God is very clear on that, but this just means that because all died in Adam all shall rise in Christ - that means all men. Whether they're believers doesn't really matter, because I have said that there is a resurrection unto damnation, and there's a resurrection unto life, so therefore even those who are going to damnation are still being resurrected. So you could say that it's because of Christ that that is happening. So all men who have died in Adam are being raised altogether in Christ, whether it be to go to hell or to reside in heaven'. Of course the Lord Jesus said in John 5 and verse 29 that that is the case, that all will be resurrected, some to life, some to damnation. My question is: if that is what Paul is meaning here, why didn't he just keep using the word 'by' in verse 21 - that's the phrase he uses in verse 21. Look: 'For since by man', the sense is 'through a man', 'came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead'. Look at the change: 'For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive'.
Now these two different words are not just different in the English language, they're different in the original Greek that the New Testament was written in. Verse 21, that word 'by' is the word 'via', and that word denotes 'agency', agency - that is that through the man death came upon men, and through Christ life can come upon men as well. It is the agency whereby this was accomplished. When you go into verse 22 this word 'in' doesn't speak of agency, the Greek word is 'en', but it expresses rather 'association' - association. What you have in verse 22 is what the Bible calls headship, federal headship, and it's further seen in the fact that in the Greek language it reads like this - there is an article before the two names here, 'for as in the Adam all die, even so in the Christ shall all be made alive'. It is federal headship that you have here.
Now you say: 'What are you talking about? I don't even know what that means!'. This is what it means: when you were born the first time a sinner, you were born into Adam - Adam was your federal head. Maybe you're wondering at times: 'Why do I get lumbered with all the sin and the guilt because of something Adam did back there in the Garden of Eden?' - well, here's the reason why: because he is your forefather, and therefore he becomes your federal head. 'In the Adam' - so if you are 'in the Adam', that means you are still dead in your trespasses and in your sin, it relates to the old creation under sin, under judgment. But when you come here to where it says in this verse: 'even so in the Christ shall all be made alive', what you have here is the new creation, those in Christ - all things have passed away and all things have become new. You have federal headship under the Lord Jesus Christ, being in Christ.
Now although it could be argued that the damned are raised because of what Christ has done, this is not what Paul is meaning in this passage. He is saying: 'In Adam you are lost, but if you are in Christ you are saved' - and please, if you don't believe me on this one, take into account the fact that we have said that he is writing here to Christians. The Lord Jesus Christ could not be described as the firstfruits of those who are still in Adam, whether they come back from the grave or not. The unsaved dead could not be described as those who are asleep, which is the description of those who he's talking about in this passage - and further to this, more importantly, every time you find this statement 'in Christ' within the New Testament it only applies to believers. You cannot put unbelievers in it. You are lost because of your federal headship, and because your federal head, Adam, failed - but praise God, if you're in Christ through grace by faith, your federal head has succeeded, and if you're in Christ you will live!
Now, why is he telling them all this, well simply because in verse 23 he wants them to see that because of the success of their federal head, because of the firstfruits of the harvest, the harvest is coming soon - and 'every man', verse 23, 'in his own order will be resurrected: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming'. You can know that you're going to be resurrected again, your loved ones are going to come from the grave, because Christ has risen as the firstfruits there will be of necessity a harvest one day. He says 'every man in his own order' - that's interesting, and it's a very difficult statement. Originally in the Greek language it is a term that is used of military rank, every man in his own rank. What he's describing here, I believe, is that God has an order, He has a sequence in His resurrection programme. Of course, as we believe, the Bible teaches that the coming of our Lord Jesus will be in two parts; we also have to believe, as we study the Scriptures, that the harvest will be in many parts as well. We would have to say, and say categorically, that as far as we understand the study of the word of God there is no such phenomenon as a general resurrection - that means a resurrection where everybody at the same time, whether they're a Christian or whether they're not, is raised from the dead at one specific split moment of time.
Now turn with me for a moment to John 5, this is where the confusion sometimes enters - John 5, we quoted it, verse 28: 'Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation'. You could think: 'Well, there it is, they're all going to come forth together, one to life, one to hell'. The fact of the matter is, as we go through the revelation of the New Testament, we come to such passages like 1 Thessalonians 4, if you would turn with me to that. First Thessalonians chapter 4, and we'll take our reading from verse 13: 'But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep', Christians, 'that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words'. No reference to the resurrection of the damned, it's specific to believers.
Then when we turn further to Revelation 20 - if that was the resurrection unto life, which of course it clearly is - we turn to Revelation 20, and we find that in the chronological calendar of God's prophetic will that the resurrection of the dead who are unsaved comes way later than anything that we have just read in 1 Thessalonians 4, which is clear from verse 11: 'And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire'.
Now, as you read the Scriptures, the New Testament, wherever you're reading of comforting words to the believer concerning the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ there is one thing that is very plain, and it is this: that there is no-one lost, no-one lost! Have you got it? First Thessalonians 4, 1 Corinthians 15, you don't read about anybody being lost. When you come to Revelation chapter 20 they're all lost, they're all lost! It's a different period of time. The Great Tribulation has come upon the whole earth, the millennial reign of Christ is over, it's not talking about the imminent coming of the Lord Jesus that we find in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4. What we find here is that there are at least these two resurrections - the first unto life, and the second unto death - and they are different, and nobody in the first resurrection will be lost, and nobody in the second resurrection will be saved.
We don't have time to look into this, but there are also the resurrection of the Old Testament saints, and I'm not going to get into when that is, but you can read about that in Daniel 12 and Isaiah 26, Ezekiel 37. There is the resurrection of tribulation saints that you read of here in Revelation 20, those who in the seven years of tribulation and judgment that's poured upon the earth will die, and at the end of those years will be resurrected - you read about it in verses 4 to 6 of 20. But all of them, all the saints, whether it's Old Testament saints, whether it's tribulation saints, whether it's saints in the rapture of Jesus Christ, all of them - mark this please - comprise of the first resurrection. Have you got that? All of them comprise, no matter when it happens, the time is not what Paul has in sight here, it is the type of resurrection.
Now look at this verse here in 1 Corinthians, and look at verse 23: 'Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming'. They that are Christ's, that means if you're one of Christ's you will be there with the Lord in the first resurrection. Now mark what I'm saying, go back to Revelation 20 for a moment, Revelation 20 verse 1: 'And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years', that is the millennial reign of Christ, 'And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season. And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus', the tribulation saints, 'and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years' - now mark that. They were resurrected after the tribulation and lived and reigned 1000 years with Christ. So this was their resurrection...'But the rest of the dead', have you got that? 'The rest of the dead', so somebody was left in the grave, the unrighteous dead 'lived not again until the thousand years were finished'. Now how can there be one general resurrection if some of the dead were still left in the grave? John says this resurrection of these tribulation saints he's talking about is the first resurrection: 'Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years'. Is that not clear? There cannot be one general resurrection. Here is the happy thing: they that are Christ's shall follow the firstfruits - are you Christ's tonight? You will follow!
Now here's the third point: the end. Verse 24, here's a programme he's setting out - he has already said a broad outline of prophetic study, not everything is in it, but the first thing he's told us is that the resurrection of Christ is the firstfruits. The second thing he's told us in verse 23 is that the 'parousia', which is just Greek for meaning 'presence', the coming of the Lord, the embracing of the Lord of His saints, is they that are Christ's at His coming. All the saints at some time are comprised in this first resurrection. Then thirdly in his programme is verse 24: 'Then cometh the end'. Now here's another difficult one! I'm not claiming to know everything about all that is before us, but in honesty before you I'll bring what I feel, out of the studies, God is saying in this passage. 'Then cometh the end', well first of all this word 'cometh' should be in italics in your Authorised Version - that means it's not there, it was added by the translators, so you could read it like this: 'Then the end'.
Now some think this means: 'Then the end of the resurrection' - Christ has come, the dead in Christ have been raised, those that are alive have gone to be with the Lord, and the tribulation saints after the tribulation will have risen again, the Old Testament saints - whenever that happens - then; and then at the very end after the dead who are outside of Christ have risen again, then that will be the end - the end of the resurrections. Well, I reject that view, because Paul tells us what the end is here: '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'. Now here's the question: what is this kingdom? This is how we'll know when the end is: what is this kingdom that the Lord Jesus is described as delivering up to the Father? Well, in chapter 15 and verse 50 we read, if you look at it, of a spiritual kingdom: 'Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption'. Nicodemus was told: 'Ye must be born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God unless you're born again' - so there's a spiritual kingdom which is in all of our hearts, the Lord Jesus is saying. It's described in chapter 6 that we read to you, that those fearful and unbelieving, those whoremongers, idolaters, and adulterers, they cannot inherit the kingdom of God in that sense. The angel said to Mary in Luke chapter 1 that the Lord Jesus would be the one who would sit on the throne of David during the millennial kingdom that we read of in Revelation 20, that thousand years when Christ will rule with a rod of iron. Mary was told: 'He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end'.
But what you need to see is, Paul is viewing here the end in this sense: that when Jesus comes to the earth to judge, He will banish sin for 1000 years as we read in Revelation 20, He will establish His kingdom, believers will reign with Him and share His glory and authority, and this kingdom that was prophesied in the Old Testament is called the millennial - 'mille', Latin for 1000, 'annum', Latin for year - and even after that millennium, if we were to read on in chapter 20 of Revelation, if you look at it with me, even after that reign of righteousness on the earth everything is not put under the subjection of our Lord Jesus Christ just yet. Look at Revelation 20 verse 7: 'And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth', verse 9, 'And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire'. So even after the tribulation, when the Lord comes and His feet touch the Mount of Olives, and He comes in judgment, He rules for 1000 years with a rod of iron, peace around all the earth, the lion lays down with the lamb and so on - but after that thousand years there's still trouble because of sin. At that point the Lord Jesus puts down the devil for the final time, He casts him into the lake of fire and all his angels, and all the lost who will follow him, and then the Lord Jesus Christ - after He delivers death and Hades to the lake of fire - delivers the kingdom to God, and Jesus will have put all things under His feet. That, I believe, is the end spoke of here - when the Lord Jesus shall deliver everything in a perfect state to His Father, God, upon the throne; and shall usher in Revelation 21 and 22 - the eternal state.
The word for 'end' here in the Greek is the word 'telos', which not only can refer to that which is final, but completed - that's the idea, consummated, the final scene when things are finally fulfilled - the final culmination of all the ages! The kingdom here is not the millennial kingdom chiefly, because even after this millennial kingdom there is chaotic abuse of the evil one, but what this is is the Lord Jesus who was standing there before He left earth, resurrected in His state, saying: 'All is given unto me in heaven and earth', and He went up to the right hand of God, the Majesty on high, and He sat down and God said: 'Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever. Sit Thou at my right hand till I make Thine enemies Thy footstool' - it hadn't happened! But there He is, one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, working through the age of grace to bring God and man together - and in the end He does it, and what is being offered up to God here as a kingdom is His mediatorial kingdom when everything will be in harmony with the sovereign will of God, then Christ will offer it to Him! Why? That God may be all in all!
Can I illustrate it to you like this: Christ is like the receiver, the receiver of this world. Suppose, say a business in the city of Glasgow is owned by a firm in London and run by three directors; and they send a manager out to Glasgow to take charge of the business, but this manager proves to be dishonest, to be incompetent, and the business faces insurmountable difficulties - we could say fatalities. One of the directors says back in London: 'You allow me to go up there, and I'll act as a receiver. I will straighten everything out, I'll put the business on its feet' - and he goes and he takes charge of everything, he goes over all the books, he finds out where the crookedness has been. It may take him months, perhaps years before he straightens everything out - but after everything is clear, every bill is paid, and there are no longer any liabilities, he goes back to London, presents his account, and hands it all back over to the firm - completed, perfect! That is what you have here: the Lord Jesus Christ is the receiver, He's still got an interest in it, it's still His. He's still a member, if I can say it, of the firm running the universe. He is still in complete charge, but He is no longer exercising sole administration mediatorially - but God and man have been brought together! Adam, in the Garden of Eden, gave the evil one the authority over the world; and the Lord Jesus back in heaven said: 'I will go. I will be the receiver. I will go and bleed and die. I will take the sin of the world upon my shoulders. I will be buried. I will come to life again. I will go to Thy right hand and intercede for those people right throughout their whole existence and pilgrimage on earth'. There's a day coming after the tribulation, after the rapture, after the millennial reign, and just at the very borders of the eternal state when Christ will have put everything underneath His feet and given all back to God in shipshape.
'Man of sorrows, what a name
For the Son of God who came,
Ruined sinners to reclaim:
Hallelujah, what a Saviour!'
The purpose is that God may be all in all. Can I take time to finish this verse 25 and 26? This is why this has to happen: 'For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death'. Over the magnificent mausoleum that holds the mortal remains of Queen Victoria, and those of her Royal husband, are inscribed these words: 'Here at last I will rest with thee, and with thee in Christ I shall also rise'. That is the Christian hope! I'm led to believe that there is a wonderful picture called the game of death, and in this picture is portrayed a young man represented playing the game of chess with the devil. The devil apparently, by the position of his chess pieces, has won the game - he's got the young man in checkmate. But one day a noted chess player was walking by this portrait, and he noted as he studied in great detail the picture that there was a loophole - and he suddenly cried out from the depths of his soul: 'I can save this fellow' - and he explained how the chess pieces could be moved to win the game! That is what the Lord Jesus has done! We were in Adam and damned and judged, but He has moved the devil who had checkmated us, and He has snatched the prey from his mighty jaws, the jaws of the grave!
Isn't it wonderful? He had to reign till that day, till He put under His feet the last enemy that shall be destroyed: death!
'Before the tomb Christ stood one day,
And dried the people's tears away,
As He spoke forth in mighty voice
That made Judea's hills rejoice:
Inside the tomb Christ lay one morn,
Defeated seemed salvation's horn:
But God the Father spoke the word,
And this He said though no man heard:
Inside the tomb of sin I lay,
The price of sin I had to pay,
But Christ the raiser of the dead
Spoke to my poor bound soul and said:
And when the great and final sound
Shall raise our loved ones from the ground,
T'will be the last time we shall hear
That glorious sound upon our ear:
'When He comes our glorious King, all His ransomed home to bring, then anew this song we'll sing: Hallelujah, what a Saviour!'
Lord, we thank Thee that Jesus one day will reign, and we thank Thee that sin will be gone - but even after that final rebellion of the evil one, He will put all things under His feet, and the last enemy will be death, defeated, delivered to the lake of fire, gone forever. Hallelujah, what a Saviour! All we can say tonight is, in the light of His coming, may we be more worthy of Him, and even so come Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the thirty-ninth tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "God's Resurrection Programme" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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