Jesus Christ Our Firstfruits


Part One


To understand how the eighteenth of Nisan began, we must return to the close of the seventeenth. Some important verses regarding this time are found in Matthew 28.

Matthew 28: 1 -- In the end of [the Greek is better translated "Now late on"] the sabbath [late on the weekly Sabbath], as it began to dawn ["as it was getting dusk"] toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see [theoreo, to gaze on] the sepulchre.

The word "dawn" is the Greek word epiphosko, used Biblically of "dusk." The Sabbath would end at sunset, around dusk, on Saturday. So these two women came to the tomb as the weekly Sabbath was drawing to a close near sunset. At that sunset on Saturday, the first day of the week began. The women's purpose in coming was to see, to gaze on, the sepulchre. They were not intending to see the body or to anoint the body, only to view the sepulchre. Since the guards were there and the sepulchre was sealed with the Roman seal, the women would not have been permitted into the sepulchre.

Matthew 28: 2 -- And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back [rolled off] the stone from the door [the Aramaic can be translated "from the entrance"], and sat upon it.

[The expression "And, behold" indicates in Biblical usage that a new topic is being introduced.]

Since these events occurred late on the Sabbath, shortly before sunset, it further documents that Jesus Christ arose late that Saturday afternoon, the third day after his death. Verse 2 describes events that happened shortly after the two women had seen the sepulchre and left. The angel of the Lord descended from heaven, there was a great earthquake, and the stone over the burial place was rolled off the opening. When the angel sat on the stone, it made it literally impossible for anyone to put the stone back on the opening of the sepulchre. The next two verses give further details about the angel.

Matthew 28: 3 and 4 -- His [the angel's] countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:

And for fear of him the keepers [those keeping guard] did shake [trembled], and became as dead men.

The angel's appearance was brilliant. The entire situation absolutely stunned and overwhelmed the guards. They shook and became as dead, frozen.

Chronologically, the next recorded occurrence takes place very early the following morning, Sunday.

John 20: 1 -- The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.

Mary Magdalene came by herself to the sepulchre. Arriving well before sunrise she, with the aid of a nearly full moon,** saw the stone rolled off. Mary Magdalene assumed that the body had been taken away. She ran to find Peter and the other disciple and inform them of what she had seen.

** [Passover was always at the full moon, since the first month always began with a new moon. By the eighteenth of Nisan the moon would be between full and three-quarters full.]

John 20: 2 -- Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we ["I" in Aramaic] know not where they have laid him.

Mary Magdalene ran to Peter, extremely distressed, believing Jesus' body to have been taken away.

John 20: 3 to 5 -- Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.

So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.

And he [the other disciple] stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes [othonion, bandages, wrappings, grave clothes] lying; yet went he not in.

He saw the othonion. These were the grave wrappings used by Nicodemus in burying Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea had used a sindon, a linen cloth or sheet. How accurate the Word is. Nicodemus had been the last one to handle Jesus' body in burying him.

John 20: 6 to 8 -- Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes [othonion] lie,

And the napkin [soudarion, a cloth, kerchief], that was about [upon] his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together [folded] in a place by itself.

Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.

The linen wrappings, the othonion, remained as they had been when swathed around the body. The record in John 20 is making the point that these grave wrappings were undisturbed. They were still in the position as when containing a body. When Jesus Christ was raised, he had been given a new body. In his new, spiritual body, Jesus Christ had passed through the grave wrappings. If his body had been taken by others, as Mary claimed, these grave clothes would either have been taken along with the body or they would have been unwound and tossed to the side. The cloth that had covered his face was neatly folded and placed off to the side. When the other disciple, the disciple whom Jesus loved, saw the empty tomb and the undisturbed grave wrappings, he believed. He realized Jesus Christ had been raised from the dead.

John 20: 9 -- For as yet [oudepo, never before, until then] they [Peter and the disciple] knew not [did not understand] the scripture, that he must rise again from [from among] the dead.

The words "as yet" in verse 9 have been misunderstood by most readers to indicate that Peter and the other disciple did not believe Jesus had been resurrected. The Greek word for "as yet" is oudepo and can be translated here as "never before" or "until then." Up to the time of this visit to the tomb, neither Peter nor the other disciple had considered that Jesus would be resurrected because they had not considered the scriptural truth that Jesus would rise again from the dead. Now having seen the empty tomb and grave wrappings, the disciple whom Jesus loved believed. He suddenly realized that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Peter's response is not recorded here.

John 20: 10 and 11 -- Then the disciples went away again unto their own home [Aramaic says "their place"].

But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre.

Mary Magdalene had followed the two disciples back to the sepulchre, where she stood crying. Verse 11 is the first record of Mary's looking into the sepulchre. Upon looking in, she saw two angels and mistook them for men.

John 20: 12 and 13 -- And [Mary Magdalene] seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.

This is the first time two angels are mentioned. The previous evening there had only been one angel sitting on the stone. Mary Magdalene, weeping, told the two angels of the missing body of her master. And this time the angels are inside the sepulchre.

John 20: 14 -- And when she had thus said, she turned herself back [she turned around], and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

This is Jesus Christ's first post-resurrection appearance after witnessing in his resurrected body to the imprisoned spirits.

I Peter 3: 18 to 20 -- For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:

By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;

Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

II Peter 2: 4 -- For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.

Jude 6: -- And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.

He appeared to Mary Magdalene, yet she did not recognize him. She thought he was dead and that his body had been taken. This first appearance to Mary Magdalene is approximately twelve hours after his resurrection.

John 20: 15 to 17 -- Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

Mary, mistaking her lord to be the gardener, only recognized her master's voice when Jesus lovingly spoke her name. What a thrill surely filled her soul. In a moment of indescribable emotion, she turned and cried out, "Master!" For the first time in history, a person beheld the resurrected Christ. He did not appear to a king, a priest, or a ruler. He appeared to a simple, loving disciple who had faithfully cared for him.

Jesus did not allow Mary to touch him, because he was the first fruits from the dead. The wave-offering of the firstfruits, in which the first fruits of the spring barley harvest were presented as an offering to God in the Temple, was to occur that same day. Jesus Christ would now replace that offering as the true firstfruits from the dead.

I Corinthians 15: 20 -- But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.

I Corinthians 15: 23 -- But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.

Normally, the priest presenting the offering would go up to the Temple to present it before the Lord. That is the meaning of the expression, "I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God and your God." Christ would go up and, as the high priest, present himself before God as the firstfruits from the dead. It does not refer to his ascension to heaven which was yet forty days away.

In preparing to present himself as the firstfruits, Christ would, in accordance with Old Testament law, keep himself separated until it was accomplished. The wave-offering of the firstfruits was a public offering, meaning it was performed by the priests on behalf of the nation. Therefore, a priest would maintain a state of ceremonial purity before bringing the offering before the Lord at the Temple. Besides being himself the firstfruits offering, Jesus Christ was the priest making the offering. He was showing himself as the true high priest to Israel.

Hebrews 5: 5 and 6 -- So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; and he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.

As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

Hebrews 8: 1 -- Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.

It was the first day of the week, our Sunday, the day after the weekly Sabbath. According to Old Testament law, the firstfruits wave-offering was always done on the day after the weekly Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Leviticus 23: 10 and 11 -- Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf [omer, handful] of the first fruits [reshith] of your harvest unto the priest:

And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath [in context, this is the weekly Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread] the priest shall wave it.

In this resurrection year, the first fruits offering was to be offered on the eighteenth of Nisan, our Sunday, the day after the weekly Sabbath during the Feast. This is how wonderfully Jesus Christ fulfilled the law in minute detail. On the day of the first fruits offering, he presented himself as the firstfruits from the dead. This is what John 20: 17 refers to when Jesus Christ told Mary that he had to ascend "unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."

According to Leviticus 23: 10 to 21, the day of this firstfruits offering was also the first day of counting toward Pentecost. From this day, they were to number seven Sabbaths (literal weekly Sabbaths). The final Sabbath would be the forty-ninth day. The next day, the fiftieth day, was Pentecost. Isn't it astounding how God in His foreknowledge arranged the law and the calendar to so perfectly correspond to what Jesus Christ would ultimately accomplish! There are no words to adequately express the perfection of God and His Word. The timing of the resurrection and Christ's presentation of himself as the firstfruits from the dead unmistakably demonstrate his resurrection. As Romans 1: 4 teaches us, it was in the resurrection that Jesus Christ was marked out as the Son of God. The resurrection proved who he was beyond a shadow of a doubt. That Jesus Christ was alive and would present himself to God as the firstfruits from the dead was the instruction Jesus Christ gave Mary Magdalene to tell his disciples, his brethren. Surely, if Jesus Christ were God, he would be even more so after the resurrection. Yet, even after the resurrection, he offered himself to God as the firstfruits from the dead, thus demonstrating that Jesus Christ was not and is not God.

Mary carried out those instructions. A summary of Christ's appearance to Mary and her subsequent action is found in the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 16: 9 -- Now when Jesus was risen [having risen] early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.

The comma in this verse has been misplaced by translators. The first part of this verse should literally read, "Now having risen, early the first day of the week he appeared first to Mary Magdalene. . . ." This verse does not say that Jesus was raised on the first day of the week. It says he appeared to Mary early on the first day of the week, after he had already been raised. It also clearly states, as we have already read in John 20, that Mary Magdalene was the first person to see the resurrected Christ on what is now called Easter Sunday morning.

Mark 16: 10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.

Those who had been with Jesus included the women. They had come with him from Galilee and ministered to him. The women had been at the crucifixion as their teacher endured his last hours of suffering, and they had been on hand as Joseph of Arimathea took his body from the cross and buried it. They had purchased spices and oils to properly embalm him for his burial at their first opportunity. Apparently, most of the men were fearful and in hiding. However, by this time, both the men and the women were gathered together early in the morning to grieve over the death of their master.

John 20: 18 -- Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

Mark 16: 11 -- And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.

This response is so characteristically human. The first human reaction to God's great miracles is so often outright disbelief. People today still refuse to believe that God raised His Son from the dead. Jesus' disciples, were still grieving over his death four days after it occurred.

Note that Mark 16: 9 to 11 is a parenthetic statement explaining Mark 16: 1 to 8, which relates how Mary and the other women went to the sepulchre later that morning. Verses 9 through 11 explain this by recounting what happened beforehand.

So Mary Magdalene, after seeing Jesus, went and told the disciples in an excited manner. She related that she had seen Jesus Christ and told them the message he had spoken to her (John 20: 17). No one believed her. Therefore, the women went as they had planned to the sepulchre to anoint the body and Mary Magdalene accompanied them. Details of this visit to the sepulchre are found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Luke 24: 1 -- Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning [at early dawn], they [the women] came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.

Mark 16: 2 and 3 -- And very early in the morning in the first day of the week, they [the women, including Mary Magdalene according to Mark 16: 1] came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun [the sun having risen].

And they said among themselves, Who shall roll ["shall roll" is "did roll" in Aramaic] us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?

By the time of this visit it was no longer dark as it had been when Mary went alone in John 20. Now it was just after sunrise. According to the Greek texts, the women, including Mary Magdalene, wondered who would roll the stone away for them to get into the tomb.

Something is amiss here because John 20 makes it clear that Mary had learned on an earlier visit that the stone was already rolled away. She certainly would not come to the tomb after this wondering how to move the stone. The problem is one of translation. According to the Aramaic, Mark 16: 3 should read, "Who did roll the stone from the entrance of the tomb for us?"

When Mark 16: 3 is accurately understood, it is vitally informative and dynamic. From the women's point of view, the stone had been rolled away for their benefit - so that they could get into the sepulchre to anoint the body. They desired to properly prepare Jesus' body, something they felt Joseph of Arimathea had not done. They were unaware that Nicodemus had already anointed the body. Nor did they realize the real reason the tomb was open.

Although the women believed the stone was rolled away, God's Word makes it clear they did not believe the rest of Mary's story. Having learned the stone was rolled away, they decided to take advantage of the opportunity to enter the tomb and anoint the body. Previously they could not have done so because of the stone, the seal on the stone, and the guards. Now all three obstacles had been removed. As expected, they found the tomb's entrance unobstructed.

Mark 16: 4 -- And when they looked, they saw that the stone was [had been] rolled away: for it was very great.

Luke 24: 2 -- And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.

That stone was "very great." The word "away" implies that it was rolled a long distance away from the opening of the sepulchre. This astounded the women. The record of their entry into the sepulchre is found in three Gospels.

Luke 24: 3 -- And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.

Mark 16: 5 to 7 -- And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.

And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.

But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.

Matthew 28: 5 to 7 -- And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.

The record in Matthew 28 has caused problems to many who have not studied it in light of the other Gospels. Matthew 28 briefly summarizes events which occurred over a period of time. In Matthew's account, God does not render in detail what happened between the first visit to the tomb the previous evening and the visit that morning. He does not make great distinction between the two visits because Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were involved in both. He summarizes and focuses on the actions of these two women when they are together at the tomb. We should also recognize that the first use of the word "and" in Matthew 28: 5 is the Greek word de meaning "but." "But the angel answered. . . ." The word de is not a temporal connective. It says nothing regarding the time between events. God's purpose in this section of scripture is not to denote the length of time involved, but to focus on the two Mary's and their experiences at the tomb. It is from the other Gospels we can learn more details regarding the time and the other women who became involved.

According to Mark 16: 5, an angel was sitting to the right side in the sepulchre. This angel, a spiritual being, was a messenger from God who had come into concretion in the form of a man. That is why Mark refers to him as a "young man." His countenance was brilliant. His long garment was as white as snow.

The reaction of the women to this sight was one of great fear. The angel's first statement was a command: "Fear not!" Then he instructed the women to tell the disciples that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead and that they should meet him in Galilee. With that the women turned to leave the sepulchre perplexed and amazed at what they had seen and heard. But before they left, another phenomenal event occurred.

Luke 24: 4 to 8 -- And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:

And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?

He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,

Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.

And they remembered his words.

The women had just seen the empty tomb and a "young man," the angel, sitting; they heard the angel declare Jesus Christ's resurrection and reiterate his instructions to go to Galilee. This was far different from the corpse they had expected to find that morning. It is easy to understand why the women were perplexed and in great wonder as they turned to leave the site of the tomb. Then, in Luke 24: 4, they saw these two other angels standing by them. The phrase in Luke 24: 4, "and it came to pass," indicates that a period of time had elapsed since verse 3. Once again, Luke 24 is summarizing the events, not giving every detail. That is how the Gospels complement, add to, and illuminate each other.

End Of Part One