1 Corinthians 15:20-23 presents Jesus as the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. What is the significance of 'firstfruits?' Is this related to instructions in the Hebrew Bible about firstfruits (e.g. Exodus 23:14-18, Exodus 34:22-26, Leviticus 2:12-14, Leviticus 23:9-21, Numbers 28:26, Deuteronomy 26:1-11)?
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Have you ever noticed how when folks are in a certain season, that season, and the prominent themes of that season tend to infiltrate their thoughts and speech? The book of I Corinthians is peppered with thoughts of the Spring festivals of YHWH and those in order as well! Paul wrote to the Corinthians in the context of these spring feasts and I believe, in part, his thoughts reflect this context; in part, he is teaching the Gentiles how to apply the principles of the law given to the Jews regarding the spring feasts, to their gentile life; and finally, in this particular passage, he is demonstrating how the feasts speak of Jesus fulfills them.
Passover/Feast of Unleavened bread:
Firstfruits/The day after the Sabbath of Passover:
Cross reference Hebrew Testament:
This is the historical literal background that provides meaning to what Paul is saying when he uses "Firstfruits." Though Paul appears to apply the principles of the Spring feasts, (ie setting aside (counting the omer) to send money to the saints in Jerusalem). Paul's usage of "firstfruits" extended beyond grains and herds/flocks:
The first fruits are an acknowledgment to YHWH for His blessing which He has given you. It is the first; thus, more is to follow. The first belongs to God. The first is the beginning of the harvest.
Answer: In this particular passsage, Jesus is presented as the "firstruits" of those who have fallen asleep. He thus would be the first of many who have died and will rise from the dead. He ascended to the Father on the day after the Sabbath of Passover just as the first fruit is waved by the priest before YHWH.
cf. John 20:17 contrasted with John 20:27:
So we see, Paul's writing is definitely related to the instructions of YHWH in the Scripture portions you listed. Paul, a Jewish Pharisee, teaches from Scripture which is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction, for training in what is right. His letters are very definitely better understood having a knowledge of the Hebrew testament. These are, after all, those that speak of Yeshuah/Jesus (John 5:39)!
First, as touching the passages from the Hebrew Bible such as those from Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; we must first address two significant facts.
One key to understanding is found in the words, "...each in his own order..."
Messiah was (and remains) the best of humanity, and he was offered to God by, and on behalf of sinful humanity. Messiah being the one who did the "work" of salvation is naturally the first to partake in the resurrection of the righteous dead. After that, and each in his own order, the resurrection will occur for others, both righteous and unrighteous.
The apostle Paul had a marvelous insight into this when he stated:
Paul's emphasis on “together” in these verse 22 does not include believers in Messiah, who are specifically mentioned in verse 23, but rather points to the various parts of the natural Creation.
Paul began this section in verse 18 by referring to the believers’ “present sufferings," a subject to which he now returned to in verse 23.
Believers are described as the ones having the firstfruits of the Spirit. This is a declaration that the Holy Spirit is “the firstfruits” (aparchēn) of God’s work of salvation and re-creation in believers. Believers "spirits" have been resurrected from the dead and we are now spiritually alive in the Messiah. Believers are therefore awaiting the ultimate fulfillment of their sanctification, i.e., the redemption of their mortal (death doomed) physical bodies.
Yeshua Messiah has already received his glorified body and, as such, is the firstfruits of those who believe on him. And now believers groan together with all of creation in hope of receiving our immortal bodies and becoming fully conformed to the image of Messiah (Romans 8:29).