“That God May Be All In All”: 1 Corinthians 15:20–28 – Part 9

So far, we have seen Paul declare that the Corinthians will indeed be resurrected and made alive in Christ (1 Cor 15:20–22). Paul then described the first two orders of the resurrection as Christ the firstfruits and and believers who will be resurrected at His coming (1 Cor 15:23). Finally, there will be those who are resurrected at “the end,” those who do not belong to Christ (1 Cor 15:24a). This resurrection of unbelievers takes place alongside two other events that end the ages (15:24b–28a).

First, unbelievers are resurrected from the dead “when” Christ “delivers the kingdom to God the Father” (1 Cor 15:24). If this passage allows us to say anything of the timing of the kingdom of Christ, it certainly speaks to its end. What is not mentioned is its beginning.

Nonetheless, we do know that this kingdom is the mediatorial kingdom, a kingdom in which the Father rules through a mediator (Christ). This is not the universal kingdom over which the Father always has been, is, and will be King. Being yet future, this kingdom’s beginning is at the descent of Christ when He takes His throne and expels His enemies (Matt 25:31; Rev 3:21). Though there is this initial ridding of His enemies, as the kingdom progresses, enemies arise again in the end. Those who have survived the Tribulation enter the kingdom in their nonglorified bodies. Children are born to these believers (cf. Isa 65:20), multiplication continues, and many of those born during the kingdom never believe and follow Satan after his release from the abyss (Rev 20:7–8). Then, finally, Christ will rid the earth of His enemies once and for all (Rev 20:9–10). Then comes the resurrection of unbelievers at “the end” (1 Cor 15:24a; cf. Rev 20:11–15) and the end of “the kingdom” of Christ (1 Cor 15:24b).

Having said this, we have begun to explain the next of our two events, the destruction of God’s enemies. The delivery of the kingdom comes only “after” Christ’s “destroying every rule and every authority and power” (15:24). If “death” is the last of these “enemies” to be destroyed, then a “rule, authority, and power” seems to include the impersonal and yet anything else that somehow stands as an enemy of God and Christ (15:24–25).

This destruction will take place because Ps 110:1 promises that it will—“He must reign until he [Christ] has put all enemies under His feet” (15:25). “The last enemy to be destroyed is death,” and death must indeed be one of the enemies destroyed because, as Ps 8:6 promises, “God” at this time “has put all things,” death included, “in subjection under His feet” (15:26). The Father is obviously “excepted” from this subjection (15:27). Finally, even “the Son Himself will also be subjected to” the Father “who put all things in subjection under” His Son (15:28).

“That God May Be All In All”: 1 Corinthians 15:20–28 – Part 8

Last week, we explored that God will raise all believers from the dead at the coming of Christ, whether at that coming’s beginning or end. This week, we will consider the resurrection of unbelievers.

In contrast to “those who belong to Christ” who are resurrected “at his coming,” there are those who do not belong to Christ, being those resurrected at “the end.” Just as the first two orders obviously involve people (“Christ the firstfruits” and “at his coming those who belong to Christ”), so also this third order includes people as well, though it is stated more succinctly (“the end”). Multiple points can be made to explain what Paul himself says in brief, that the resurrection includes three orders of people, the second order taking place after the first, and the third order taking place after the second.

First, as just mentioned, just as the first and second orders of the resurrection involve people, so also it is natural to conclude that the otherwise ambiguous third order called “the end” involves people as well.

Second, Paul’s use of “then…then” (epeita…eita) to introduce the second and third orders (1 Cor 15:23, 24) indicates that they each chronologically follow a similar and previously mentioned order. In fact, Paul has already used these transitional adverbs to show a chronological progression within this very chapter. In speaking to a progression of post-resurrection appearances by Christ, Paul noted that He “appeared to Cephas, then [eita] to the twelve. Then [epeita] he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then [epeita] he appeared to James, then [eita] to all the apostles” (1 Cor 15:5–7). The order of these terms is reversed in 1 Cor 15:5–6 (eita…epeita), and the order is the same in 1 Cor 15:7 as it is in 1 Cor 15:23–24a (epeita…eita). The terms are interchangeable and basically synonymous, which is why both can be translated “then.” If Paul meant to conflate the events of 1 Cor 15:24b–28 with “the end” of 1 Cor 15:24a, this use of adverbs makes it difficult to detect. Instead, he intentionally separates these events from one another in a chronological series, indicating that, just as there is a gap of time between the first and second orders, so also it is between the second and third.

Third, with this exegesis in hand, we can see that this interpretation of 1 Cor 15:23–24a is complemented by John’s eschatology in Revelation 20. For both authors, there is a resurrection of believers (1 Cor 15:23b with Rev 20:4–6), a kingdom ruled by Christ (1 Cor 15:24b with Rev 20:4, 6), and a subsequent resurrection of unbelievers (1 Cor 15:24a with Rev 20:5, 13). Death itself is destroyed (1 Cor 15:26 with Rev 20:14), and then the Father and Christ are enthroned over the kingdom in the eternal state (1 Cor 15:24b, 28 with Rev 21–22; cf. 22:1, 3).

The Coming Tribulation: The Math of the Matter

I have read some crazy claims that people have made, supposedly based upon numbers in the Bible and specifically from the numbers in prophetic passages. The primary error of these errors is to find some secret word from God within the actual Word of God, as strange as that may seem. It’s one of the many ways that people twist Scripture for their own sinful desires, even if the sinful desire is simply being seen as “the” teacher who found out some secret truth that no one had previously discovered (cf. 2 Pet 3:16).

Having said that, the math that follows below is nothing of that sort. It’s simply a comparison of several passages of Scripture to arrive at a simple conclusion – there is a coming time of judgment upon the world and national Israel that lasts seven years.

Of course, there are a lot of assumptions being already made in this post.

  • The church has not replaced national Israel, and there is a prominent, prophesied future for national Israel.
  • In bringing Israel to that prominence, God pour out His Spirit upon the nation during this period of seven years.
  • This salvation is God’s grace in the midst of Israel’s judgment – God allows the nation to find itself duped by the Antichrist, only to be rescued from him after he breaks his peace with the nation.

As to the point of this article, however, within the prophecies about God’s dealings with Israel, the prophets include lengths of time that speak about these seven years. So, let’s look at how Scripture describes these numbers.

First, Daniel 9:24–27 specifies that there is a coming period of seven years that ends in God’s judgment upon the Antichrist. In leading up to this passage, Daniel had been praying for Israel. In reading the prophecy of Jeremiah, Daniel discovered that Israel was going to be punished by exile in Babylon for 70 years for not having given the land a year of rest each seventh year, a command given by Moses (Dan 9:1–2; Jer 25:11–12; 2 Chron 36:20–21; cf. Lev 25:1–7). In other words, over the course of 490 years, Israel neglected to let the land rest every seventh year, a total of 70 years altogether. In a sense, God was giving the land its rest that Israel failed to give it and punishing Israel along the way. Having realized Israel’s plight, Daniel prayed that God would bless Israel once again (Dan 9:3–19).

In kindness to Daniel, God sent the angel Gabriel to let Daniel know when his prayer would be answered (Dan 9:20–23). Just as Israel had sinned for seventy sets of seven years, so also Gabriel prophesied that seventy sets of seven years would have to take place in order for God to shine His face upon Israel once again (Dan 9:24–27). (Standard lexicons note that the Hebrew word for “weeks” is a heptad that could refer to days or years. In this case, especially when looking at the context of Dan 9, it is clear that Gabriel is speaking to Daniel of seventy heptads of years, i.e., seventy sevens, totaling 490 years.)

But these seventy sets of years would be broken into three divisions. First, after a decree to rebuilding Jerusalem, seven sets of seven years would take place (49 years; Dan 9:25a). Next, sixty-two sets of seven years (434 years) would end when the Messiah (“an anointed one”) was cut off (Dan 9:25b). These two sets of years total 483 years. Finally, a final set of seven years would begin with the Antichrist (“the prince who is to come…he…one who makes desolate…the desolator) making a covenant with national Israel, something to be broken halfway into this set of seven years (Dan 9:26–27).

However we want to historically identify the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, it is clear that the 49 years and 434 years are over—the Messiah was cut off when He died on the cross. The final seven years, however, are yet to take place.This matter brings us to an interesting principle that we have to understand when interpreting prophecy—sometimes the events of a given prophecy do not happen immediately after one another. In other words, there can be a gap of time between the first 483 years and the final 7 years of Dan 9:24–27. Another example of this principle is found in Isa 61:1–2. Jesus quoted this passage to announce that His first coming involved the proclamation of the day of the Lord’s favor, but he stopped short of proclaiming the day of God’s vengeance (Luke 4:18–21). In other words, He quoted Isa 61:1–2a but not Isa 61:2b. From one line to the next in Isa 61:2, though consecutive, the events therein would be separated by a gap of time.

Having said all of the above, Dan 9:24–27 shows us that the final set of seven years is still to come. We have seen antichrists, but not the Antichrist that other biblical authors anticipated as well (1 John 2:18; 2 Thess 2:3–4, 8). This final seven years is future.

A couple of other passages from Daniel and Revelation cement this time as seven years as well. As to Revelation, in his prophecy of the end of the age (cf. Rev 1:3; 22:7), the apostle John told of…

  • the things that that he had seen (cf. Rev 1:19a, “the things that you have seen”)—his vision of Jesus Christ (Rev 1:9–20)
  • the things that presently were in his day (cf. Rev 1:19b, “those that are”)—matters involving seven churches during his time (Rev 2–3)
  • and the things that would be “cf. Rev 1:19c, “those that are to take place after this”)—matters involving God’s judgment and blessing to come (Rev 4–22; cf. 4:2 “I will show you what must take place after this”).

His prophecy of the things to take place in Rev 4–22 are still yet to take place, including the seven years prophesied in Dan 9:24–27. The way that John describes it, however, is more segmented. Within these seven years, two witnesses prophesy for 1,260 days (Rev 11:3), and this time is followed by 42 months in which Jerusalem (“the holy city”) is trampled (Rev 11:2; cf. 12:6–see below). Just as 42 months is 3.5 years, so also is 1,260 days, 42 months of 30 days each. So, 1,260 days followed by 42 months is seven years.

John then describes again the second half of the seven years. Understanding the symbolism of Rev 12:1–6 to refer to national Israel, this second set of 3.5 years is described as another 1,260 days in which Israel is protected by the Lord from the wrath of Satan (Rev 12:6).

Comparing Rev 11 and 12 with Dan 9:24–27, we can describe their prophecies together. Israel makes a covenant with the Antichrist at the beginning of this final set of seven years. It lasts for 3.5 years until it is broken by the Antichrist. Empowered by Satan and angered at the reception of the gospel message of the two witnesses, the Antichrist seeks to destroy Jerusalem and Israel over the next 3.5 years. God protects His nation during this time.

We find yet another description of this final 3.5 years in Rev 12:14. “The woman” (i.e., Israel) will be protected “for a time, and times, and half a time.” Comparing these “times” to the passages above, each “time” is clearly equivalent to one year. One year (“a time”) plus two years (“times”) plus half a year (“half a time”) is 3.5 years, already mentioned earlier as 1,260 days (Rev 12:6).

This language of “times” is not new to John. In another prophecy in Daniel, Daniel saw the Antichrist as a great king who would arise from among many other kings (Dan 7:23–24). He would be blasphemous and pursue “the saints of the Most High,” i.e., Israelites who faithfully followed their God (Dan 7:25). This would take place “for a time, times, and half a time” (Dan 7:25), which John makes clear is 1,260 days (Rev 12:6, 15), 3.5 years, and the second half of Daniel’s seventieth set of seven years. Daniel describes the persecution of the saints, John describes the woman being hunted, and both speak of this period of chaos as a time, times, and half a time.

As in Dan 7:26, so also it is in Dan 9:27—the Antichrist will be punished. This punishment is the final event to take place at the end of these seven years. Christ will descend from heaven to destroy him once and for all (2 Thess 2:8, and Rev 19:20). 

A Summary with Some Hermeneutical Notes

While it takes a little bit of study and explanation, a comparison of several passages to one another can be understood to mark out this coming period as seven years (cf. Dan 7:24–27; 9:24–27; Rev 11:2; 12:6, 14). As mentioned above, there are some theological underpinnings that, if rejected, will lead one away from these conclusions altogether. Most significantly, if one sees the church as a spiritual Israel, then a number of details in these prophecies must somehow be “spiritually” interpreted. But Scripture itself pushes us away from some kind of “spiritual” interpretation of the prophecies above.  Consider the following from the passages above:

  • Even in Daniel, his years in Dan 9:24–27 had a literal correspondence to years in Jer 25:11–12 and 2 Chron 36:20–21 and did not signify something other than years. Dan 9:24–27 spoke of 490 years, a number that matched how many years Israel had forsaken the year of Jubilee. The final seven years are yet to come.
  • Just as the Antichrist is a literal person coming in the future, so also it makes sense to understand in a literal fashion the times, years, months, and days describing his activity on earth.
  • While both Daniel and Revelation admittedly enjoy a great deal of symbolism, it is typically clear when symbolism is taking place in their prophecies and that the symbolism has some point of contact with the literal details of a coming future reality (e.g., Dan 7:23–27 explains 7:1–12 in terms of kings; Rev 12:1, 3 lets us know that what is described is “a great sign” and “another sign”). Perhaps the most obvious example of this point is found in the Antichrist. Whereas Daniel and John describe him as a beast, horn, head, etc., he is also simply identified as a lawless man and the Antichrist in the epistles of Paul and John (e.g,. 2 Thess 2: 3–4, 8; 1 John 2:18).
  • This is the view of Jesus. Matt 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 record His words of coming “tribulation” (Matt 24:9) and then “great tribulation (Matt 24:21) that lead to His final descent to conquer His enemies and establish His kingdom. His eschatological outline may not have as much detail as Daniel’s or John’s, but, as to these seven years, it does speak of “tribulation” and that the time becomes even worse, i.e., “great” Comparing Scripture to Scripture, a destroying king rises to power as Israel’s friend for 3.5 years, wreaking havoc in the world, only to become enraged, turn his back on the nation, and persecute anyone who follows Christ for the next 3.5 years, all by the power of Satan (Dan 9:24–27; 2 Thess 2:8–9; Rev 11–12). Even Jesus teaches that there is a coming time that goes from bad to worse and from tribulation to great tribulation.
  • At the end of the day, it is not so important that one believes in a literal seven years as it is for one to approach the Scripture with an intent to understand what was meant by the original authors and how it would have been understood by their original readers, prophecy included. But, I believe that if one does the latter, so also will one do the former.

“That God May Be All in All”: 1 Corinthians 15:20–28 – Part 6

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Paul has emphatically defended the reality of the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor 15:20) and that His people will be made alive in Him (1 Cor 15:21–22). We now explore how Paul then elaborated on how the resurrection would take place in 1 Cor 15:23–24a. The resurrection involves three groups who are resurrected at three different times—the resurrection of Christ, the resurrection of believers when Christ comes again, and the resurrection of unbelievers at the end of the age just before Christ hands the kingdom over to the Father. 

As we saw previously, the unstated verb in 1 Cor 15:23a is “made alive” (cf. 1 Cor 15:22). “But each in his own order” (1 Cor 15:23) could be understood as “But each shall be made alive in his own order.”

An “order” was first understood as “a clearly defined group… of an orderly arrangement of personnel” and was a technical term for groups of men within a military. It came to be used “without any special military application” as well, and Paul uses “order” with this understanding in 1 Cor 15:23 (BDAG). Though both “his own” (idios) and “order” (tagma) are neuter in gender, the gender of these terms does not leave room to define the last of the three orders as an event and not a person (or persons). “Each” is masculine in gender as a pronoun, and along with the prepositional phrase “in his own order,” it introduces how the resurrection of the whole of mankind may be divided into three orders. Though the third order, “the end” (1 Cor 15:24a), is debated as to whether it refers to people or an event, that the first two orders involve people suggests that the otherwise ambiguous designation “the end” involves people as well. They are the ones to be resurrected at “the end,” and if “Christ” and “those who belong to Christ” are already mentioned, those who are resurrected at the end do not belong to Christ and are therefore unbelievers.

The terminology of an “event,” however, is not altogether wrong. In designating each “order,” Paul also specifies the timing for when each of these orders are resurrected. Christ is “the firstfruits,” of the resurrection, believers are resurrected “at his coming,” and unbelievers are resurrected at “the end.”

We have already considered the meaning of “Christ the firstfruits.” He is the first to be resurrected, and believers will be “harvested” in the resurrection in time to come (1 Cor 15:21–22). Paul then uses compact and succinct language to describe the resurrection of the next two orders, and how to understand Paul’s descriptions has been variously debated. It is therefore necessary to examine the descriptions of these two orders in detail in the weeks ahead.

“That God May Be All in All”: 1 Corinthians 15:20–28 – Part 5

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

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).

“That God May Be All in All”: 1 Corinthians 15:20–28 – Part 4

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

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).

“That God May Be All in All”: 1 Corinthians 15:20–28 – Part 3

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

In considering 1 Cor 15:22 last week, we asked, does the “all” who are “made alive” in this verse refer to believers alone or all mankind in general? Let’s explore the options.

Only Believers

The evidence for limiting the second “all” in 1 Cor 15:22 to only believers is impressive. In Rom 5:12–21, Paul likewise points out the universality of sin and death for all men (Rom 5:12, 18–19). But, when the text speaks of “justification for all men” (Rom 5:18), those who are justified must mean only those who exercise faith, not all men universally (cf. Rom 3:28; 2 Thess 2:2). So, if Paul parallels a universal “all” (i.e., all sinners) with a limited “all” (i.e., all who are justified) in one passage, he could do the same here in 1 Cor 15:21–22. “All” who are “in Christ… made alive” are all believers.

Additionally, the descriptions of the second “all” in 1 Cor 15:22 exclude unbelievers. The “all” are “made alive” through the instrumentality of being “in Christ,” a phrase used by Paul approximately 150 times to almost exclusively describe something related to the benefits of salvation. Second, they are “made alive” (zōopoieō), a verb that, when referring to the resurrection elsewhere, refers to what takes place for believers alone (Rom 8:11). Moreover, this verb is used two more times in 1 Cor 15 for a believer’s body that will “come to life” again, thanks to our “life-giving” Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:36, 45).

 All Mankind

Some worthy points of consideration are offered for 1 Cor 15:22 to refer to “all” as all mankind as well. First, some point out that the context of 1 Cor 15:21–22 is different from Rom 5:12–21 (resurrection and not justification), allowing for a broader use of zōopoieō.

Second, the third of the three orders of resurrection in 1 Cor 15:23–24a demands that “all” include all mankind within its scope, i.e., both believers and unbelievers. “The end” in 1 Cor 15:24a refers to the resurrection of unbelievers., 1 Cor 15:23–24a teaches that Christ is the first to be resurrected, then believers (“those who belong to Christ”), and finally, unbelievers (those at “the end”). The second “all” in 1 Cor 15:22 is therefore exhaustive, and “all” who fall within its scope are all who are listed in 1 Cor 15:23–24a, which includes believers and unbelievers.

Third, since the term resurrection (anastasis) is used to describe what will take place for both the righteous and unrighteous dead (John 5:28–29; Acts 24:15), “the resurrection of the dead” in 1 Cor 15:21 could also refer to the resurrection of all mankind. 1 Cor 15:22 thus speaks to the resurrection of all mankind by highlighting the agency of their resurrection. “All” are “made alive” in a purely physical sense “in Christ” (1 Cor 15:22).

So, which option is best? Keep reading when we find out next week!

“That God May Be All in All”: 1 Corinthians 15:20–28 – Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Last week, we were introduced to 1 Cor 15:20–28. This week, we will study the first few verses of this passage and explore the solidary of believers with Christ in his resurrection. Looking, then, at the beginning of our passage, we see first of all that Paul teaches that Christ was raised from the dead, and, therefore, believers will be, too (1 Cor 15:20–22).

We remember that Paul began 1 Corinthians 15 by reminding his readers of an essential gospel truth that Christ was raised from the dead (1 Cor 15:4; cf. 15:1–11). Paul then argued that if there was no resurrection from the dead, as some claimed, then Christ Himself could not have been raised from the dead either (1 Cor 15:10–19). Coming to our passage, Paul then emphatically declared that “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (15:20) and then uses this truth further to argue for the resurrection of the believing dead in 1 Cor 15:20–22.

Paul first connect Christ’s resurrection to the resurrection of believers by describing Christ’s resurrection as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20). The firstfruits in Lev 23:9–24 referred to the first produce of the harvest, the first of more to come. By calling Jesus the firstfruits, Paul implied that more people would yet be “raised from the dead,” namely, those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor 15:20), an obvious contrast to the claim that “there is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor 15:12).

Paul then explains (note the For, gar) Christ as the life-giving agent whereby the resurrection of the dead is possible—“as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor 15:21). Just as death came to all men through a man (i.e., by sinning and thus bringing about death as the penalty for sin; cf. Gen 2:17; 3:1–7; Rom 5:12–21), so also has the resurrection of the dead come about through a Man as well. The solidarity of man with Christ includes sharing in His resurrection.

But who exactly shares in this solidarity is a matter of debate, and the debate is between amillennialists and premillennialists, and even among premillennialists as well. It is clear that “all” men universally “die” by being “in Adam,” for sin is the universal reality of all men (1 Cor 15:22a; cf. Rom 3:23). But when it is said that “in Christ shall all be made alive,” does Paul refer to “all” who have been savingly placed “in Christ” and thus refer to the resurrection of believers alone? Or does he refer to “all” mankind in general, and thus “in Christ” believers and unbelievers are alike are brought to physical life?

We will explore the answer to these questions next week. Stay tuned!

“That God May Be All in All”: 1 Corinthians 15:20–28 – Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Why does God do what He does at any time and in any situation? While we might wish we had access to His unsearchable judgments and inscrutable ways in order to answer this question, we are at least privy to know from Scripture that God seeks in all things to bring glory to Himself. We ascribe “to him…to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord…glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever” (Jude 24–25).

And not only does God seek that there would be glory to Himself at any time, but the ages also lead to a climax in which He receives the greatest expression of glory that there has ever been. We find something of this progression in 1 Corinthians 15:20–28. In addressing the topic of the resurrection, Paul concludes that it is necessary, if for no other reason, “that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).

Getting at the passage itself, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul addresses a number of misunderstandings concerning the resurrection. At the outset of his remarks, Paul reminded the Corinthians of the gospel he preached them, which included the essential reality that Christ “was raised on the third day” (1 Cor 15:4; cf. 15:1–11).

Paul then moved from Christ’s resurrection to the resurrection of man and asked, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor 15:12). Paul went on to explain that to deny the resurrection of man would mean to deny the resurrection of Christ as well, which makes for a hopeless gospel (cf. 1 Cor 15:12–19).

Paul then gave a comprehensive teaching on the resurrection of dead in 1 Cor 15:20–28 in order to fully refute the claim by some that there was no resurrection at all (cf. 1 Cor 15:12). In this passage, Paul’s teaching on the resurrection in this passage could be summarized in three statement. First, resurrection comes to all believers because of the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor 15:20–22). Second, the resurrection for all mankind comes in stages (1 Cor 15:23–24a). Third, the resurrection is necessary in order for God the Father to be fully glorified (15:24b–28).

The goal of this study is to explain the teaching of 1 Cor 15:20–28 in detail, handle dispensational-theological questions that arise along the way, and show that, just as it is with the eschatological resurrections and events that Paul mentions in this passage, so it is with every age—that God has planned for all of these things to work together in such a way that He may eventually be glorified in every way—or as Paul puts it, “that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).

A Christmas Promise: Light and Life to All He Brings

From “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” the first two verses of the third stanza read as follows:

Hail, the heav’nborn Prince of Peace! Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings.

“The heav’nborn Prince of Peace” is obviously the Messiah (see Isaiah 9:6), but our understanding of the rest of these verses is not so immediate. Malachi 4:2 states, “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” (ESV). How is it that Christ is Malachi’s “Sun of Righteousness” who is “Ris’n with healing in His wings”?

Roughly 400 years before Christ, Malachi called Israel to faithfulness in light of her sins after returning to her land from exile. Malachi 3:13–4:3 gives an instance of these sins, recording Israel’s “hard words” against God claiming service to Him was profitless because the arrogant and evildoers lived in prosperity (Malachi 3:13–15). God responded that the unrighteous would indeed be judged and that the righteous would be protected (Malachi 3:16–4:3). The righteous would also experience the blessings of global righteousness and healing (Malachi 4:2).

Scripture often uses light as a metaphor for righteousness, and a king’s rule could shine righteousness over his land. As David once said, “When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning” (2 Samuel 23:3–4). Likewise, Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah’s rule, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2; cf. 9:6–7). The fullest light of Christ’s rule comes at the end of the ages. John saw of the New Jerusalem that “the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23; cf. 22:5).

Malachi then pictures the sun’s rays as wings taking healing to all. Wherever this sun shines righteousness, it also gives healing through its rays. David once spoke of the sun’s dawning rays as the “wings of the morning” that reach to “the uttermost parts of the sea” (Psalm 139:9). Wherever God’s righteous rule would be, so also would be His healing. The suffering of the Great Physician on the cross conquers not only sin but also its effects (Isaiah 53:4; cf. 35:5–6).

While Malachi did not speak directly of the Messiah as the sun with healing in His wings, this righteousness and healing obviously do not come apart from Him. As He will one day be the Lamp of the New Jerusalem, we can gladly permit the hymnist the poetic license to call Christ the Sun of Righteousness whose rising day brings Healing as far as His rays will fly.

Merry Christmas to all, and may we be the all to whom light and life He brings.