I have read over 1Timoty 1:16 all my life, but I have been thinking that I may have failed to grasp the truth behind Paul’s statement to Timothy. It seems to me that Paul was differentiating between himself and those who believed in Jesus as the Messiah as a result of the Apostles’ Gospel. However, most of us understand that Paul was converted by Jesus Christ, through a very sudden and life changing vision of Jesus’ glory. It is in this context that I now read what Paul says to Timothy. Notice it is a few different translations:
1 Timothy 1:16 WNT But mercy was shown me in order that in me as the foremost of sinners Christ Jesus might display the fulness of His long-suffering patience as an example to encourage those who would afterwards be resting their faith on Him with a view to the Life of the Ages.
1 Timothy 1:16 TCNT Yet mercy was shown me for the express purpose that Christ Jesus might exhibit in my case, beyond all others, his exhaustless patience, as an example for those who were afterwards to believe on him and attain Immortal Life.
1 Timothy 1:16 WTNT Notwithstanding unto me was mercy given, that Iesus Christ should first shew on me all long patience, unto the ensample of them which shall in time to come believe on him unto eternal life.
Although Paul was an Apostle to the gentiles, his conversion is an example not for those to whom he preached, while he was alive. Rather, his conversion experience was for those who would later believe, after the very sudden, unexpected life changing appearance of Jesus in the heavens. This occurred at Jesus’ Second Coming, cir. 70 AD. Zechariah speaks of such a life changing experience for the Jews in the 12th and 14th chapters of his prophecy. In a single day it would occur. Paul’s conversion was an example of this very thing, both for the Jew and the gentile who would believe after the return of Jesus, when he comes in his glory. Paul saw the glory of the Lord and was blinded by that glory. This did not occur for the 12 Apostles and other witnesses of Jesus’ resurrected appearances.
Indeed, Paul told believers in the first century AD that they were the first who trusted in Jesus (Ephesians 1:12), implying that there would be others after them who would also believe. In other words, Jesus’ coming wouldn’t be the end of time or an ‘end of history’ event. Instead, Paul was showing believers in his day were a kind of firstfruits among those who trusted in Christ. It should be very clear to anyone who considers this, that the firstfruits do no encompass the entire harvest. They are merely representative of what the harvest would be like.
Notice what the Scriptures say:
James 1:18 KJV Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
Revelation 14:4 KJV These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.
Therefore, if the firstfruits were brought to God as his portion in ancient Israel, and the rest of the harvest belonged to Israel to consume, sell or use as they saw fit, the firstfruits could not be considered the whole harvest. If, then, the first century believers who trusted Christ are considered the firstfruits of the Gospel, it is to be expected that the greater harvest was after them. They were the representatives of the whole work of God, which remains to be completed throughout future.