In the last blog we noticed several texts regarding God’s Timing as it pertains to the Restoration of All Things. This answered the question concerning why, if it God is going to save everyone, do we not see everyone saved yet? The answer was God is going to do it in multiple stages. In this blog we will look more specifically at those stages in order to give us a clearer picture of how and why God is working it out in this way.
We will start with a statement Paul made just after his declaration that at “the fullness of times” God would “gather together in one all things in Christ,” which we looked at in the previous blog. Paul, having mentioned an administration where all things are finally brought together in Christ (vs. 9,10), proceeds here in Ephesians saying,
“In [Christ] we also have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the council of His will, to the end that we who are the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:11,12)
First to Hope in Christ
Aside from the painfully obvious, and shameless, declaration of God’s Sovereignty over all (an issue that concerns free will), a very controversial topic which I will avoid for now, Paul makes a point concerning “we who are the first to hope in Christ.” After what we saw in the previous blog, it becomes clear here what Paul is referencing. He is mentioning that those of us who are chosen to be part of that “first squadron” will be part of bringing praise and glory to God.
Paul is NOT saying that for some odd reason the first century believers will bring more glory to God than the rest of us believers who lived later on in history. Nor is Paul saying that the first century believers will somehow stand out among the rest of us.
Obviously the Apostles will have a much greater honor than most Christians, for they are part of the foundation stones (Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone) of the spiritual temple that God is building (see Ephesians 2:19-22). But the rest of the believers are all equal living stones which together make up this temple, each one of us being a crucial part of God’s house (see 1 Peter 2:4-8).
The temptation is to read this as referring to first century believers. But Paul is really referencing those of us who become part of God’s temple in this life. This is confirmed by the context shortly following this when Paul declares that God saved us and raised us up in order that,
“…in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7)
Who is He going to show? Certainly not us, we will already be aware of it, for we will be the ones who were beneficiaries of and partakers of His grace and kindness. Those whom we will demonstrate the glory of His grace and kindness to will be all those who did not believe in this life.
Those of us this side of death who make up “Abraham’s seed” will eventually become a “blessing to all peoples.” So when Paul says, “we who were the first to hope in Christ,” he is referring to those of us who are part of that first harvest of souls who make up the forefront “squadron” that are “made alive in Christ” (as we saw in the previous blog where we looked at 1 Corinthians 15). Paul is saying that in God’s plan to ultimately “gather together all things in one in Christ” (vs. 10), we who are part of that “first” (vs. 12) ingathering (a term for harvest) will bring Him a special glory. All Christians in this life are part of that group who are “first to hope in Christ.”
This confirms that there will be more groups to hope in Christ! A first implies more to come. Even as Scripture mentions that Christ is the “first born out of death.” (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5) It implies and promises that more will be raised from the dead as Christ was. Christ was also the “firstborn of all creation,” (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:6) as well as the “firstborn among many brethren.” (Romans 8:29).
Christ is the firstborn among many brethren b/c being the firstborn implies that there will be more to come. He is the firstborn of those of us who are part of His body, His brethren. But He is not the only firstborn…we also happen to be considered a firstborn!
“We have come…to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven,” (Hebrews 12:23)
Christ is the firstborn of the Church and those of us who make up the Church are the firstborn of all the rest of humanity.
Not only is Christ referred to as the “first born” but He is similarly referred to as the “first fruits.” These two terms (first fruits and first born) are almost synonymous. Though they are different pictures, they are giving us multiple viewpoints of the same scene and thus provide us with extra details to paint a clearer over all picture. Just as the term “firstborn” was used to describe Christ in relation to the dead and being raised from the dead, so also is the term “first fruits” used as such a description.
“Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20)
The term first fruits is a very large theme in Scripture (see Nehemiah 10:35; Exodus 23:16, 34:22; Leviticus 2:12, 23:10; Deuteronomy 18:4; Ezekiel 44:30, etc…). It concerns the 3 harvests that we mentioned earlier. Each Feast of Israel corresponded to a specific food harvest that was gathered at different seasons. Barley was gathered at Passover, Wheat at Pentecost and Grapes at Tabernacles. At each of these harvests the first ripe fruit was offered to the Lord as a gift (Exodus 34:26; Numbers 13:20, 18:12); in turn the Lord would bless the rest of the harvest. The first fruits sanctified the corresponding harvest.
When Scripture refers to Christ as a first fruits, it is teaching us that He was offered to God to sanctify the coming ingathering or harvest.
If the first fruits is holy, the lump (harvest) is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. (Romans 11:16)
Those of us who believe in this life are the ingathering of which Christ is the first fruits.
“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming,” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
(That verse is not exactly saying what it looks like on the surface, we will be looking at it in greater detail in the next blog).
Christ is the first fruits of those of us who believe in this life. But it doesn’t stop there. Just as with the firstborn, not only is Christ the first fruits of us, but we are the first fruits of the rest!
“But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you as first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
“In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” (James 1:18)
“These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 14:4)
The first fruits always imply a future ingathering, a coming harvest that far exceeds the first fruits. For instance, Scripture uses this term in reference to God giving us His Spirit,
“…we ourselves, have the first fruits of the Spirit,” (Romans 8:23)
But Scripture also uses another term to describe this very thing,
“…you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance,” (Ephesians 1:13,14)
“He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.” (2 Corinthians 1:21,22, see also 5:5)
Sometimes this “pledge” is translated as “an earnest” or “a downpayment” depending upon your translation. The Greek word for “pledge” is Arrabon and the Strong’s Greek Dictionary defines it as,
“A pledge, i.e. part of the purchase-money or property given in advance as security for the rest: — earnest.”
The Louw and Nida Lexicon defines it as,
“The first or initial payment of money or assets, as a guarantee for the completion of a transaction.”
The term “pledge” and “first fruits” are synonymous. And they only ever refer to a portion, not the fullness. We are only given a “portion” of the Holy Spirit in this life, a down payment, a small pledge of the fullness of the Spirit that is to come. One day we will have the fullness of the Spirit as Jesus had (John 3:34), but for now we only have a small portion. But if we have a small portion now, it is to assure us (as in a promise) that we will have a much larger portion, i.e. the rest, the fullness, later.
The first fruits, therefore, are a pledge of a much larger harvest to come.
The first fruits were usually a tithe, a tenth of the harvest (2 Chronicles 31:5; Nehemiah 10:37, 12:44). The law of tithing in the Old Testament always concerned food (Leviticus 27:30). God asked for the first tenth of any harvest or animal herd to be devoted to Him (Deuteronomy 14:22). In this way the rest of the harvest was sanctified and blessed. The tenth was a token that God owned it all but that He wants to share it with us, to bless us, b/c His heart is to generously provide for us. So the tithe gave God the respect and gratitude that He deserves for providing such a bountiful harvest.
This tithe was the first fruits. We are the first fruits of all creation! We are the tithe! The first 10% to be harvested, we are the portion that is devoted to God to sanctify the rest! It is no small coincidence to notice that Christianity makes up right around 10% of earth’s population. This is what Paul was picturing when he mentioned that we are the “first to hope in Christ.”
The vernacular used by Paul as well as many various picture metaphors used in the New Testament teach that those who are “being saved” in this life are but one group of many. Those of us who are conformed unto Christ in this age are the first to be harvested with the promise that there will be a much larger harvest and/or more harvests to come. We are a tenth, a downpayment, the first fruits and the firstborn of those to come. We are that “seed of Abraham that will be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth.”
In the next blog we will look more closely at the 3 harvests that Scripture details in order to give us a better picture of how God is working this salvation of all men out in history.