“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).

“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 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 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 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 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.