First Corinthians 15.20-22 and the Meaning of Christ’s Resurrection
The resurrection of Jesus ended all the claims of God’s justice against those who trust in him as the Son of God. As Tim Keller puts it, the resurrection was God’s way of stamping PAID IN FULL right across history so that nobody could miss it.
Consider the following summary of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 15.20-22. Going in reverse order through these three verses, look first at verse 22 – As is Adam all die. The sin that entered the world through our first parents brought with it an undeniable reminder of its presence: death. When Adam sinned a corrosive and insidious element entered into the human race. We may through some convoluted means, deny the existence of our sin, but we cannot deny the reality of death. And, death, the scriptures teach is proof of sin. Like the stinky smell they put into natural gas so that you are alerted to its presence, death is the stink God put into sin to alert us to its presence.
And now, verse 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. Because sin and death came by humanity, it must be dealt with by humanity. Since death came by a man, it must be dealt with by a man. This was the mission of Jesus. He was born of a woman, so truly God and man but conceived by the Holy Spirit, so not a natural descendant of Adam. He was the only member of the human race to be truly free of sin and thus able to satisfy and carry the infinite weight of the demands of God’s justice.
Finally, verse 20: Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. The proof that Jesus accomplished the payment for our sin and satisfied the demands of God’s justice is demonstrated in his resurrection. It is the proof of his success. It confirms that the brutality and anguish of Calvary were significant beyond mere dimensions of human suffering. Death is now destroyed. And as surely as the first fruit is the beginning of an agricultural harvest, so Christ’s resurrection is the first ripe piece of fruit that indicates many others are coming.
For Paul, the resurrection of the dead had, in a real way, already commenced with the raising of Jesus. And after he personally encountered the resurrected Messiah, it was the resurrection that became the foundation of his belief. Without the resurrection there was no hope, but with the resurrection sin was paid for, death defeated, and a new world, a whole other world, was waiting for him, and all of us.