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The First-fruits of the Resurrection

The Apostle’s Creed has been confessed by Christians from as far back as the middle of the third century, making it one of the oldest confessional documents in the history of the Christian Church. Among those central biblical truths that believers have confessed for nearly two thousand years is this statement: “I believe in the resurrection of the dead.” In this confession, Christians profess their belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and those who are savingly united to the one who said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). The mystery of the resurrection is grounded in the Bible’s teaching about Christ, “the first fruits” of the dead (1Corinthians 15:20–23).

The resurrection of believers on the last day was prefigured in the Old Testament. First, there is the account of Elijah raising the son of the widow of Zarephath (1Kings 17:8–24). Then, there is the record of Elisha raising the son of the distraught Shunammite (2Kings 4:18–37). Finally, there is the strange account of the man who was buried alongside the prophet Elisha; when his deceased body touched the bones of Elisha, he was raised back to life again (2Kings 13:20–21). All of these were just a foreshadowing of the New Testament’s witness to the resurrection.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus raised three individuals from the dead: Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:36–42), the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11–15), and His own friend Lazarus (John 11:1–44). Reflecting on these three miraculous resurrections, Abraham Kuyper wrote,

"There is, in the miracles of Christ, in raising the dead, a perceptible increase of power: first, the raising up of one just dead (the daughter of Jairus), then, of one about to be buried (the son of the widow of Nain), and lastly, of one already decomposing (Lazarus)."1

Jesus’s resurrection power is also seen in what happened when He died on the cross. At the moment of His death, one of the most unusual miracles occurred. Matthew tells us that “the earth quaked, and the rocks were split. The tombs were also opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And they came out of the tombs after his resurrection, entered the holy city, and appeared to many” (Matthew 27:50–53). 

This foretaste of the final resurrection occurred as the one who came to save us from death died. Jesus’s resurrection power was at work, even in His own death, a prelude to the resurrection on the last day—the very thing for which the Son of God came into the world to accomplish (John 6:39–40,44).

Of course, the resurrection on the last day is built on the resurrection of Jesus Himself. Just as all mankind is originally in Adam, so believers have been brought into union with the last Adam, Jesus Christ (1Corinthians 15:21–22,45–49). When we confess, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead,” we are confessing our faith in Christ, the firstfruits of the dead in Him. He came into the world to secure the resurrection of His people by His own resurrection from the dead.

1. Abraham Kuyper The Work of the Holy Spirit (New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls, 1900) p. 134