(from The First Epistle of Paul To The Corinthians: An Exposition)
“Christ is declared to be “the firstfruits of them that are asleep” (1 Cor. 15: 20). The first ripened grain, or the first sheaf presented to God at the passover, was a pledge and a sample of the coming harvest. So the risen Christ is but the first of the great multitude who are to rise from the dead. His resurrection is a divine promise and example of theirs. They are described as those “that are asleep,” the reference being to the sleep of the body in death. The soul does not sleep, but is in conscious fellowship with Christ. It is with the resurrection of the body that Paul is here concerned.
“He declares this resurrection will be due to the power of Christ and in virtue of the relation of believers to Him. Just as all who by nature are related to Adam are subject to death, so all who by faith are united with Christ are certain to be delivered from its power. Death is here described not as a necessity of finite being, but as a calamity which man has brought upon himself, from which he is to be delivered by virtue of the resurrection victory of Christ.
“There is a divinely arranged order: First, the resurrection of Christ, the type and pledge of resurrection: then the resurrection of of His followers at His advent; then the end when He will present His perfected kingdom to His Father.
“When Paul says, ‘Each in his own order’ (1 Cor. 15: 23), he employs a striking military term. Each comes in his own division, as though the great Captain came first, then the glorious company of His followers, and then the rest of the dead.
” ‘Then cometh the end’ (1 Cor. 15: 24), not at the same time as the advent, but next in order. “Later on, comes the end.” This epoch is described as the time ‘when He shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power.’ The interval between the advent and the end will be used to bring to its perfection the Kingdom of Christ; we must, therefore, regard the reign of Christ as the whole state of things which follows the advent and which will last till the epoch called ‘the end.’ Also, there is to be a sequence in the resurrection of the dead: (1) Christ Himself, the firstfruits; (2) the faithful in Christ at His coming; (3) all the rest of mankind at the end, when the final judgment takes place.”