Paul and the other 12 apostles before him preached the reality of the resurrection of Jesus. Paul preached what that meant to us Gentiles. The 12 apostles had preached the necessity of their Messiah being raised from among the dead in order to sit on the throne of David in the promised kingdom. And even though they were distinctly different messages, with different purposes, the preaching of both messages contained the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The message from the 12 apostles was about their king being alive. The promises made to their fathers can now become a reality. As long as Jesus lay in the tomb, he was just another tragic religious figure who suffered a martyr’s death. In fact, Paul tells us that the resurrection of Jesus is the greatest display of God’s power ever to be demonstrated, nor can it ever be surpassed.
Our degree of judicial perfection in the eyes of God comes not through Jesus’ death for our sins, but through our identity with Jesus’ resurrection life. Paul’s statement that Jesus’ resurrection was “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep,” the expression “first fruits” has little meaning for today’s urban dwellers. In Bible times, it had a rich meaning because it referred to the first produce of the harvest, which was offered in sacrifice to God to express gratitude for granting a new harvest. Thus, the first fruits, which were brought to the Temple, were seen not as mere hope of a new harvest, but as its actual beginning. Jesus’ resurrection, then, is “the first fruits” in the sense that it has made the resurrection of believers not a mere possibility, but a certainty.
Paul was not only first in line, when it came to dispensing the grace of God, Paul was also foremost in crime when it came to murdering the saints of Israel’s earthly kingdom program. If Paul was at Pentecost, would Paul himself, if he took part in stoning Stephen for believing the message given at Pentecost, would he have been a blasphemer at Pentecost? In Paul’s pre-grace zealousness, he would have been a foremost rejecter of any notion whatsoever that Jesus was Israel’s messiah or that Jesus had been risen from among the dead. First in line, first in crime are apt descriptions for the Apostle of Grace. Paul was the chosen spokesman for God to relay the information for this entire dispensation of grace. God is not dealing with Israel nationally today, he is dealing with all alike in the Age of Grace.
The apostle Paul dispensed a message that the 12 apostles had not dispensed, and that message was different, and that message was geared to the Gentiles. Paul is the chief pattern of God’s grace to all, he is the foremost example. We need to understand that even though Paul was saved, Paul still considered himself to be a sinner. Paul understood the word: Sin. And Paul understood that word meant to come short of the righteousness belonging to God himself. Paul is the foremost example of the impossibility, the total impossibility of gaining righteousness before God through the performance of the flesh. Paul could never preach and never preached the Gospel of the Kingdom, because the kingdom was no longer at hand. God cease dealing with “the outer man” in connection with God’s program with Israel and prophecy concerning their promised earthly kingdom, and then began dealing with “the inner man” in connection with his program concerning the saints of his heavenly calling.
Grace within a dispensation was one thing, a dispensation characterized solely by grace is something else altogether. Grace is the foundation on which Paul’s entire ministry was built, and grace covers all the bases for the believer’s life. There is a glory that belongs to God’s grace, and it is to be praised on the bases on what God’s grace has accomplished. Paul had been given special divine authority with the understanding that he is our apostle, and that authority carried with it the details of what God expects people to believe today, concerning the salvation Jesus purchased for them with his sacrifice.
Therefore, God in his infinite wisdom devised a plan whereby he could take the very faith belonging to his son, along with its resultant faithfulness, and credit that faith and faithfulness to the account of those who believe. It is Jesus’ faith that is freely credited to the account of the one who believes the good news message given to the apostle Paul to proclaim to us in this age of grace. Paul wants us to know how a person is saved. He wants us to understand the basis by which God provides eternal security, not only has provided the gift of salvation; but provides eternal security to all those who place their faith in what the sacrifice of his son accomplished. It is our faith in the accomplishment of Jesus’ faithful sacrifice that is the means whereby God acknowledges that we have accepted the gift his son purchased.