Home Bible Study©
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
Established November 2008 Published weekly on Friday
Greetings and welcome to HBS.
Last week we began studying the third part of 1st Corinthians. In this next section, Paul is writing to these Believers about some vital Church Age topics associated with Jesus Christ’s resurrection. He uses Scripture to explain that “death is not the end.” This is due to the fact that some of these folks did not believe their bodies would be resurrected from the dead (15:12-13). Paul wants these Believers to know those who have perished in Christ Jesus have not died in vain and those who remain have a glorious hope, and he begins his explanation with this statement: But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who are asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20).
The Feast of First Fruits
Following the rule of “First Mention” leads us to Leviticus 23. Here Moses gives us an account of the Seven Feast Days of the LORD. These weren’t just feast days; they were a prophecy and a foreshadowing of future events along God’s timeline. Some of these prophecies have been fulfilled; those that remain are “shadows of things to come,” of which Christ is the substance and the subject (Colossians 2:16-17). These Feast Days were instituted by the LORD God and therefore are holy events, meaning these Feast days had to be kept as God ordained them; the Jews had no choice in the matter.
The Seven Feasts Day of the LORD may be divided into two sections of four and three. The first section of 4 include: “Passover,” “Feast of Unleavened Bread,” “First Fruits,” and “Pentecost.” There was an interval of four months followed by the next group of 3: “The Feast of Trumpets,” “Day of Atonement,” and “Tabernacles.” The Three Great Feast days were: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. They extended from the 14th day of the first month to the 22nd day of seventh month.
The first four Feast days foreshadow Truths connected with this present dispensation (the Grace Age) and those who form the heavenly people of the Lord – the church. The last three Feasts foreshadow the blessings in store for God’s earthly people, the Jews.
The Passover Feast took place on the 14th day of the month, the Feast of Unleavened Bread on the next day, which was the Sabbath, and the following day, which was the “morrow after the Sabbath,” the Feast of First Fruits was kept. The offering was a sheaf reaped from the waving fields of the ripened harvest, and carried to the priest to be waved before the LORD for acceptance, and was to be followed by a Burnt, Meat and Drink-Offering, but no sin offering. The Burnt-Offering was to be a male lamb without blemish, one year old.
The Feast of First Fruits was a type and foreshadowing of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He arose on the “morning after the Jewish Sabbath,” and His resurrection is spoken of by Paul, as the “First Fruits” of the resurrection of the dead. As the “corn of wheat” (John 12:24) Jesus Christ was buried in Joseph’s tomb, and His resurrection was the First Fruits of the Harvest of those who will be Christ’s at His coming (1 Corinthians 15:23).
When the priest on the day of Christ’s resurrection waved the sheaf of first fruits in the Jewish Temple, it was done before a “rent veil” (Matthew 27:51). For the substance (Jesus Christ) had come, as God promised, and so the shadow had passed away… the empty tomb of Joseph of Arimathea strongly proclaimed the Great First Fruits Sheaf had been reaped and waved in the Harvest Temple of God, figuratively speaking.
Please open your Bible at 1 Corinthians 15:20
The Order of Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15
20: But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who are asleep.Bible Study Tools
Based on my own experience, if you mention the word dispensationalism in a Bible study group it will most likely produce one of these responses: some people will find fault with it and they’ll want to argue the point, others will excuse themselves and walk away, and some people won’t have any idea what you’re talking about. So, it goes without saying there are varying opinions on the subject and downright disagreement as to the number of dispensations in Scripture. Some say there are none, some say there are two; others offer five, others hold to seven, while others maintain there are eight; then there are those who say there are 37… and so on.
The subject of dispensations in Scripture initiates controversy, but most Bible scholars will agree on the “three-fold division of God’s Word,” i.e. a divinely prescribed method for understanding this book. Since every Believer is commanded by God to study their Bible, this benefits us all: Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15 - KJV).
Now, two things come to mind immediately:
1: If Paul said we are to rightly divide the word of truth, it goes without saying there is a wrong way to divide it.
2: Believer’s study God’s Word for the purpose of showing themselves approved unto God. The Believer’s goal, therefore, is not to be ashamed accurately handling the word of truth while they’re here on earth relaying God’s complete message of Truth to Believers and to the unsaved; for we are the Lord’s ambassadors in this “strange,” “inhospitable” land. The Bible says we’re just passing through this place; this is not our home (2 Corinthians 5:20; Hebrews 13:14-16; 1 Peter 13:14). Looking at the bigger picture, one day future every Believer will stand before their Creator to be rewarded, or not, for the things they have done in the flesh. This has nothing to do with one’s salvation, but they will give an account of themselves at the Bema Seat and be rewarded based on how faithfully they served the Lord. How well they accurately handled the word of truth will be one of the topics of discussion. You don’t honestly think God gave us His written word only to leave it on a bookshelf or on the coffee table do you? Will the Lord say you were a workman who does not need to be ashamed on that great day? (1 Corinthians 9:4:27; 2 Timothy 2:5)
How do Believer’s reach this objective? The answer is given in this same verse – rightly dividing the word of truth. Not only is this the key to having God’s approval, when Believer’s study the Scriptures it’s the key to understanding His Word.
While the Bible is written for all classes of people, and for our learning, it is not addressed to all peoples in general, but part of it is addressed to the Jews, part of it is addressed to the Gentiles, and a part of it is addressed to God’s Church. These three groups constitute the three classes into which humanity has been divided by God (1 Corinthians 10:32).
Therefore, while the Bible was written for the instruction of the Church, it is not all written about the Church. The Church is not mentioned in the O.T. It was “hid” from the Old Testament prophets and people of God (the Jews) until God chose to reveal this “mystery” (secret is a better word) to Paul and disclosed by him in Ephesians 3:1-10. The Old Testament is mostly taken up with the history of one nation, that would be Israel, looking to the day when their promised Redeemer and King would come and establish His earthly Kingdom overthrowing all human rule and authority (Genesis 12:1-3; Isa 9:6-7). This means Jesus Christ did not come to set up the Christian Church. He came to His own (the Jews) to fulfill the promises made to the fathers (Romans 15:8).
When someone takes the Old Testament promises that belong solely to the nation of Israel and applies them to God’s Church, they are in effect robbing the Jew of that which is exclusively his and vice-versa. It’s like reading someone else’s mail and then attempting to apply the promises and best wishes therein to your self – it just doesn’t work. It’s also like putting the Bible in a blender, pushing the puree button, and then doling it out to the people. It’s no wonder people say, the Bible doesn’t make sense. The Bible makes perfect sense, if you apply the principle of right division.
A Three-Fold Division
God Himself never changes. In His character and nature He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). His dealings with mankind, however, have undergone changes down through history – changes made necessary by changes in man, himself, starting with the man and the woman in the Garden of Eden, after the fall. Identifying these changes is a basic issue in studying the Bible dispensationally, for a dispensation is a particular program that God administers (or dispenses) for humanity’s obedience and welfare. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes: Whereof I am made a minister, according to the (what) dispensation of God which is given to me for you (God’s Church), to fulfill the word of God (Colossians 1:25 – KJV).
Our Apostle Paul provides the best example of this “key” to understanding the Scriptures, i.e. the Three-Fold division of God’s Word. In Ephesians 2 we find these three terms: Time Past, But Now, and the Ages to Come.
Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: (Ephesians 2:11-12- KJV)
But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13)
Ages to Come
That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:7)
The terms Time Past, But Now, and the Ages to Come, help us to understand our Bible from Genesis to Revelation – rightly divided. This isn’t a N.T. revelation, by any means, for the written word of God began with a man named Moses, a man called into service by the LORD God, a man who was inspired by God to write the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch). This means when Moses began to write, there was already a Time Past, a But Now, and an Ages to Come! Put another way, there has never been a time in human history when this Three-Fold division of God’s Word did not exist.
Moses emphasized this Truth to God’s people in the book of Deuteronomy chapter 4, when he wrote: For ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that created man upon the earth… (Deuteronomy 4:32 - KJV)
Skip down to verse 40: Thou shalt keep therefore His statutes and His commandments, which I command thee this day…
You have to back up to verse 30 for this one: When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days…
Here Moses urges the Israelites to carefully consider the days that are “Past,” “This Day,” and “The Latter Days.” Moses’ writings match up rather well with Paul’s in Ephesians 2: Time Past, But Now, and The Days to Come which tells us these expressions are not exclusive to God’s Church.
God’s Word itself provides us with the key to understanding and right division for Moses and the prophets point us to Jesus Christ: And having begun from Moses and from all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:27 – Berean Literal Bible).
Concerning the New Testament
Time Past: In Matthew through John we find the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ to His own, the nation of Israel. In the book of Acts we have the fall of Israel and salvation going to the Gentiles through the ministry of our Apostle Paul.
But Now: Romans through Philemon provide the doctrine for the Church Age; God’s dispensation of Grace.
Ages to Come: Hebrews through Revelation focus on the Ages to Come when God will bring to fruition His purposes for both the nation of Israel and the Body of Christ.
All of this brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 and the reason for this brief talk on rightly dividing the word of truth for Paul begins with the signpost, But now…
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the (what) firstfruits 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 (not the second coming of our Lord, but His coming in the air to gather) those who are Christ’s (unto Himself at the Rapture). (See 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)
The term “But now” (v20) is an expression used often by Paul to mark a dramatic contrast to what had been “before,” but had now been changed by God’s divine will. With this expression he communicated the great Truths vital to one who has believed his gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 2:16). Whenever you encounter the phrase, consider it a “signpost” that notes “before” and “after” reality. The “before” was our state before Christ’s finished work of the cross and God’s revelation of these Truths to our Apostle Paul. The “after” is the new state of things as the result of Christ’s finished work of the cross and His revelation of the mystery to Paul (Ephesians 3:1-12).
For example: Romans 3:21 says, But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested (put in the spotlight), being witnessed by the law and the prophets – the “before” is prior to Paul salvation required a Jew to exercise faith and keep the Law. The reality of Christ’s finished work of the cross and God’s revelation of these Truths to our Apostle Paul, or the “after,” is Paul revealed that salvation is by faith (alone) apart from keeping the Law. (See other examples of But Now at: Romans 3:21, 6:22, 7:6, 11:30, 16:25-26; 1 Corinthians 12:18, 12:20, etc.)
But now Christ has been raised from the dead - we’ve examined the fact that Christ has been raised from the dead. Paul has demonstrated beyond all doubt that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and the importance of believing this Truth. Here, he simply affirms the fact saying, But now Christ has been raised from the dead! However, he’s also saying, “But pay close attention to what God is doing now.”
The first fruits of those who have fallen asleep - I reminded you in my opening statement that some of these Believers did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (15:12). They had believed in Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and that was one thing, but they couldn’t wrap their “thought processes” around the idea that their dead bodies would be resurrected in the future; the idea was preposterous.
Now some Jews believed they would experience a resurrection one day future and others did not. What does this book say? For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all (Acts 23:8). It’s possible a Sadducean influence had infiltrated this church which caused some of these Believers to doubt and question Paul’s teaching on this vital church doctrine.
However, Jesus Christ clearly said there would be “life after death” for those that believed. In her declaration of faith, Martha told Jesus, “I know he (Lazarus) will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus Christ said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. (John 11:25-26)
Getting back to Paul’s statement concerning the first fruits, you have to have some understanding of the Old Testament economy to get a handle on what Paul’s actually saying. I know some people don’t bother to visit that portion of their Bible, but they should, as Paul said, All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). We don’t ignore any part of it.
Leviticus 23 gives us the Seven Feasts Days of the LORD God. These were for the nation of Israel and they had to do with the Law and Temple worship. We find the LORD God’s command concerning the Feast of First Fruits in Leviticus 23:9-10. Essentially, the Israelites were to enter the barley field, while it was still green and growing. As they looked out over that field, scattered here and there, would be heads of yellow grain reaching for the sun. In the farming community of Indiana, where I was raised, we called these eager beavers “volunteers,” as some plants ripens early. The workers would go and gather these ripened heads, along with their stems, enough to have a bundle of them, and they took them to the priest. This was their wave offering before the LORD. What we have here, then, is a picture of the eventual barley harvest which came from the dead ground unto new life. The wavesheaf symbolized the LORD God proving He could defeat death and give (eternal) life for all those that believed (Acts 26:23).
Verse 10 also mentions the harvest. After they had gone in and harvested the main part of the field, the LORD God said they were to obey the following instructions found in Leviticus 19:9-10b: Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very (four) corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest… you shall leave them for the needy (the poor) and for the stranger…
Those are the three “stages” of the Jewish harvest as God ordained them. First the Jews would go into the green field and take a sampling of the early ripening heads of barley with their stems. This would be their wave offering. Later, at the appropriate time they would go in take the main harvest, remembering to leave the four corners of the field and the gleanings for the needy (the poor) and the stranger in the land. Bear this in mind as we consider what Paul wrote: But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who are asleep.
The Lord Jesus Christ said there would be two resurrections: “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to the resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment (John 5:28-29).
Our Apostle Paul confirms His statement in his oral defense before Felix when he stated that he believed the teaching of the prophets: that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15).
Of course, people have adopted the opinion that the two resurrections in these passages will occur at the same time; meaning they will take place simultaneously. Therefore, there is only one resurrection. However, a careful examination of the Scriptures will show that God’s Word has established the fact that the resurrection of the righteous (those right with God) will actually occur in stages. Put another way, the Bible does not teach one resurrection or even two resurrections. It actually teaches that there will be two resurrections in type which will be conducted in stages, resulting in several resurrections – at least four by my count.
The Resurrection of the Just
That the resurrection of the righteous will occur in stages is clearly taught by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:20-24. In fact, the first stage of the resurrection of the righteous has already occurred. Look again at Paul’s statement in verse 20: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.”
Verses 22-23 goes on to explain that all who have died in Christ will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming.
I’ve already given you the imagery of the Harvest that Paul chose to use in illustrating these verses and how it was conducted in three stages. It began with the gathering of the first fruits which were offered as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the LORD God. The harvest came next. But, if you’ll recall, they didn’t go in and strip the field clean. The four corners and the gleanings were left for the needy (the poor) and the strangers in the land (Leviticus 19:9-10)
Using this imagery, the Bible presents the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the First Fruits of the resurrection of the righteous. The gathering of the Church Age saints, those who have died first, and then those who are still alive at the appearing of the Lord in the air (the Rapture). This is the general harvest stage of the resurrection of the righteous (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
But there is a third and final stage to this resurrection of the righteous. It is the four corners and the gleanings of the harvest field, and it occurs at the end of the Tribulation when the Lord’s Second Coming takes place. At that time two final groups of the righteous will be resurrected:
The Tribulation martyrs (Revelation 20:4)
The Old Testament saints (Daniel 12:2)
I know some people have been taught differently, but I ask these folks to consider these two important facts from Scripture:
#1: The Rapture event is a promise from God to His Church and to His Church only.
#2: The book of Daniel makes it clear the O.T. saints will be resurrected at the end of the “time of distress” a clear indication of the Tribulation period or the time of “Jacob’s trouble” (Daniel 12:1-2).
So, the first resurrection, “the resurrection of the righteous,” occurs in three stages, it has already begun with Jesus Christ, continuing with God’s Church at the Rapture, and culminating with the Tribulation martyrs and the Old Testament Believers at the Second Advent of Jesus Christ.
The Resurrection of the Unjust
The second type of resurrection, “the resurrection of the wicked” (Acts 24:15), will take place all at one time at the end of the millennial reign of Jesus Christ. This is at the time of the Great White Throne Judgment, the judgment of those whose names are not found written in the book of life (Revelation 20:11-15).
Every person who died in unbelief will be resurrected at this time, regardless of when he or she may have lived and died, whether before or after the Cross. This resurrection will also include the unjust that died during the Tribulation and the Millennium reign of Jesus Christ. You see, not everyone will accept Jesus as their Savior during the Millennium.
There will be no need for an additional resurrection of the righteous at the end of the Millennium, because all those born during that time period who accept Jesus as their Savior will live to the end of the Lord’s reign (Isaiah 65:19-20). “As the lifetime of a tree, so shall be the days of My people…” (Isaiah 65:22-25). In other words, life spans during the Millennium will mirror what they were at the beginning of time, before the flood – Adam lived 930 years for instance.
Paul’s saying the resurrection of Jesus represents the Believer’s resurrection, because if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection Romans 6:5). The resurrection of Jesus Christ also anticipates our resurrection, because we will be raised with a body like His (Romans 8:22-23; Philippians 3:21).
(To be continued)
© Copyright 2011
GJ Heitzman’s Ministry
All Rights Reserved