In our last look at 1 Cor 15:21–22, we explored how some conclude that the second “all” of 1 Cor 15:22 can refer to either believers alone or all mankind in general. This week we will examine why it matters (or not) and which option is best.
Both sides of the debate tend to narrow or expand the scope of the second “all” in 1 Cor 15:22 for the sake of narrowing or expanding the scope of who is resurrected in 1 Cor 15:23–24a. If only believers are made alive in 1 Cor 15:22, then only the resurrections of Christ and believers are mentioned in 1 Cor 15:23. The resurrection of unbelievers is assumed but not explicitly stated, and “the end” in 1 Cor 15:24 thus refers to a mere event (and not a resurrection) that is detailed in the verses to follow.
If all mankind is in view in the second “all” of 1 Cor 15:22, then one would have three resurrections in 1 Cor 15:23–24a—Christ, believers, and unbelievers. Incidentally, we have a proof-text besides Rev 20:1–15 to argue for a gap of time between the resurrections of believers and unbelievers.
Though the absence of a verb in 1 Cor 15:23a assumes recalling the most recent verb from 1 Cor 15:22 (“made alive” and thus “But each is made alive in his own order”), the specific Agent of life is not necessarily recalled along with the verb. If it is “in Christ” that “all” are “made alive” in 1 Cor 15:22, then the “all” in this phrase does not include Christ Himself. He is the one to make others alive. But in 1 Cor 15:23, Christ Himself is mentioned as one the orders to be “made alive,” indicating that Paul no longer has agency in view and simply gives the orders for who is made alive, however it is that each comes alive. Scripture typically states that it is the Father who raised Christ from the dead (e.g., Acts 2:24) or that the Father raised Him through the Spirit (cf. Rom 8:11). This being the case, “made alive” can be properly assumed as the verb for 1 Cor 15:23a without also assuming the soteriological implications of being made alive “in Christ.”
It does not follow, then, that one’s decision for how to understand the second “all” in 1 Cor 15:22 inevitably shapes how one understands Paul’s resurrection orders in 1 Cor 15:23–24a. One can agree with both amillennialists and millennialists who feel the weight of the soteriological language of 1 Cor 15:21–22.
The Corinthians would be encouraged to know from 1 Cor 15:22 that, in Christ, all of them would be made alive. Then, immediately afterward in 1 Cor 15:23, the idea of agency is dropped (i.e., who is doing the resurrecting) in order for Paul to detail who has been (Christ) and will be made alive (believers and unbelievers).