Romans 8:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:5 – The Spirit as Firstfruits and Guarantee
... we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit ....Romans 8:23
... and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.2 Corinthians 5:5
The apostle Paul clearly proclaims in his letters that in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the new world of God’s re-creation has broken through in our old world. In his resurrection Christ has brought to light immortality and eternal life. Whoever belongs to Christ may already here on earth taste the powers of the coming age (cf. Heb 6:5). He has eternal life (cf. Jn 3:16) and has been brought into the kingdom of the Son (cf. Col 1:13).
In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul strikingly describes to what extent the new world of God’s re-creation has already penetrated our world: “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” The believer is not just a new creature. Paul uses a stronger term: he is a new creation. The believer shares in God’s new world that became manifest in Christ’s resurrection. It is in the life of the believers that it becomes visible that the old (the world lost in sin) has passed away and the new (the redeemed world) has come.
Paul does not forget that the last day has not arrived yet. He knows that the glory of God’s children has to be revealed yet (cf. Rom 8:18). But that does not prevent him from speaking positively about the great breakthrough for all who are in Christ. They no longer belong to the old world but are citizens of God’s new world. They are already in fact part of that new world.
That the new world has broken through into the life of the believers is evident to Paul in the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of glory (1 Pet 4:14), the Spirit who preserves God’s children for the day of redemption (Eph 4:30). Because the believers have received this Spirit, they can be sure that they are on the way to their ultimate glorification and may live in the hope of the glory of God.
In this context Paul uses two expressions for the Holy Spirit both of which underline the fact that in the gift of the Spirit, the believers have received that great future in principle already. The apostle calls the Spirit the “firstfruits” and the “deposit.” Both descriptions demand our attention.
Regarding the first expression in Romans 8:23 Paul speaks literally of the firstfruits of the Spirit. This can be rendered in two ways. We can translate: the Spirit as firstfruits or the first gift of the Spirit. No doubt we have to choose the first translation. We do not read anywhere in the New Testament that believers only possess a “part” of the Spirit. On the contrary, John 3:34 tells us that Christ gives the Spirit “without limit.”
When Paul points to the Holy Spirit as the firstfruits of the glorious future, he reaches back to the Old Testament. In the law of Moses, the people of Israel were commanded to bring the firstfruits of their fields to the sanctuary (cf. Dt 26:1-11). When offering these firstfruits Israel confessed that they were only stewards. The land and its yield belonged to the Lord. In the firstfruits the whole harvest was brought before the face of the Lord and Israel acknowledged that all things belonged to the Lord and to him alone! The firstfruits represented the entire harvest.
When Paul calls the Spirit the firstfruits, he refers back to this ceremony of offering the firstfruits of the field and vineyard. However, there is marked difference. In the apostle’s usage it is not man who gives God the firstfruits of the harvest, but it is God who on Pentecost gives his Spirit as the firstfruits.
What Paul says in Romans 8:23 about the firstfruits of the Spirit stands unmistakably in the eschatological context. God gives the Spirit as the first gift of all that he has in store for his children: the coming glory, the revelation of sonship, and the redemption of the body. God’s children may live in hope because a new world is coming!
The Spirit is the firstfruits, the first gift of this new world. This gift assures them that the full harvest is coming. We are on the way to our ultimate glorification (cf. Rom 8:30). Because the Spirit as firstfruits represents God’s new world in the children of God, they are eagerly longing for that glorious future. That they possess the Spirit is God’s guarantee to them that this future is sure.
Paul says the same thing when he calls the Holy Spirit the deposit God has given to his children. Commentators agree that this term is derived from the world of trade and commerce. In 2 Corinthians 1:22 and Ephesians 1:14 Paul uses the word deposit and seal in one breath. The word seal definitely speaks of guarantee and surety, so we will have to understand it as a down payment. When someone makes a down payment on a major purchase, he promises thereby that he will pay the total amount owing. The seller can rest assured that the balance will be paid.
That is how God gives the believers the Spirit as a down payment or deposit, the first payment. They can be sure that the Lord will pay in full what he “owes.” he will pay out to them the complete inheritance to which he had obligated him self in Christ.
In 2 Corinthians 5:5 the word “deposit” is also written in eschatological context. God’s children have a heavenly dwelling with which they will be “clothed” one day. Paul clearly refers to the new, glorified existence that will be theirs on the day when Christ appears. God has prepared his children to be clothed with their heavenly dwelling. Everything he does in and for them is subservient and directed to that.
There can be no doubt about this, for God has given us the Spirit as the deposit, the down payment of the full inheritance.
God’s children may really be filled with hope (cf. Rom 15:13). For the gift of the Spirit continually proclaims to them what the end will be: their total glorification, their receiving the full inheritance, the resurrection of the body. It is the Spirit, as the firstfruits and guarantee, Who assures us that the new world of God’s re-creation is on the way. In the Spirit we have this new world already with us!