1 Corinthians 15:20-26

Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

1 Corinthians 15:20-26

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Paul describes two things here, but they seem to be linked. He describes the Resurrection, first of Christ, the first fruits, and then of others who have died. He also describes a conquering Kingdom, which Christ delivers to God the Father. Christ is the ruler of the Kingdom of the Resurrection. Death, then, seems to be the ruler of a Kingdom of Death. Both kingdoms came about through man, the Kingdom of Death through Adam, and the Kingdom of the Resurrection through Christ. Let’s dive into what these verses mean, more deeply. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(20) But now . . .—From the hopeless and ghastly conclusion in which the hypothetical propositions of the previous verse would logically land us, the Apostle turns, with the consciousness of truth, to the hopeful faith to which a belief in the resurrection leads. It cannot be so. Now is Christ risen from the dead. And that is no isolated fact. As the firstfruits were typical of the whole harvest (Leviticus 23:10-11), so is Christ. He rose, not to the exclusion but to the inclusion of all Humanity. If St. Paul wrote this Epistle about the time of Passover (see Introduction, and 1 Corinthians 5:61 Corinthians 16:8), the fact that the Paschal Sabbath was immediately followed by the day of offering of firstfruits may have suggested this thought.

The note reminds us that in the previous verse, covered in the previous post, Paul tells us that if the Resurrection did not happen, Christians are to be pitied. He does believe it occurred though, both as a first hand eye witness, and as someone aware of hundreds of other first hand eyewitnesses. Paul also interacts with the Holy Spirit of God, as well, which affirms his belief in the Resurrection.

This verse (v. 20) touches on the debate within the Church in Corinth. There seems to have been a camp of people who argued for Christ’s resurrection, but they denied the teaching that others would eventually do the same. In the previous verses, Paul argued that this was illogical. Here, he puts the teaching into the relatable context of a harvest. The next verse is important as well. Continuing in Ellicott:

(21) For since by man . . .—The image of the firstfruits is followed up by an explanation of the unity of Christ and Humanity. The firstfruit must be a sample of the same kind as that which it represents. That condition is fulfilled in the case of the firstfruits of the resurrection.

If Adam was the introduction of sin and death for mankind, then Christ is the new Adam. He is the introduction of new life. This idea is one Paul touches on for the rest of the Chapter. Continuing to verse 22 in the Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 15:22

As in Adam all die. All of us partake of Adam’s nature, and are therefore liable to the death which that nature incurred as the law and condition of its humanity. In Christ shall all be made alive. It is St. Paul’s invariable habit to isolate his immediate subject; to think and to treat of one topic at a time. He is not here thinking directly and immediately of the resurrection in general. In this verse, writing to Christians who are “in Christ,” he is only thinking and speaking of the resurrection of those who are “in Christ.” That any can be nominally “in Christ,” yet not really so, is a fact which is not at present under his cognizance; still less is he thinking of the world in general. In other words, he is here dealing with “the resurrection of life” alone, and not also with the “resurrection of judgment” (John 5:26-29). Still, as far as his words alone are concerned, it is so impossible to understand the phrase, “shall all be made alive,” of a resurrection to endless torments, that his language at least suggests the conclusion that “the principle which has come to actuality in Christ is of sufficient energy to quicken all men for the resurrection to the blessed life” (Baur, ‘Life of St. Paul,’ 2:219).

The note here tackles the question of whether “all be made alive” refers literally to everyone, or whether Paul is limiting this “all” in scope to those who are “in Christ.” My reading of the verse is that Paul is limiting the second “all” to those who are in Christ. Ellicott views verse 22 as follows:

(22) As in Adam . . .—Better, as in the Adam all die, so in the Christ shall all be made alive. The first Adam and the second Adam here stand as the heads of Humanity. All that is fleshly in our nature is inherited from the Adam; in every true son of God it is dying daily, and will ultimately die altogether. All that is spiritual in our nature we inherit from the Christ; it is immortal, is rising daily, will ultimately be raised with a spiritual and immortal body. We must remember that the relationship of Christ to Humanity is not to be dated only from the Incarnation. Christ stood in the same federal relation to all who went before as He does to all who have come since. (See the same thought in 1 Corinthians 10:4, and in Christ’s own words, “Before Abraham was, I am.”) The results of Christ’s death are co-extensive with the results of Adam’s fall—they extend to all men; but the individual responsibility rests with each man as to which he will cherish—that which he derives from Christ or that which he derives from Adam—the “offence” of Adam or the “grace” of Christ. The best comment on this passage is, perhaps, the prayer in the Baptismal Office: “O merciful God, grant that the old Adam in this child may be so buried, that the new man may be raised up in him.” There seems to be this moral significance in these words of St. Paul, as well as the obvious argument that, as all men die physically, so all shall be raised from the dead; as we have the evidence of death in the death of a man and of all men, so we have the evidence (and not the mere theoretical promise) of a resurrection in the resurrection of the Man Christ Jesus.

This reading of Paul is in alignment with free will. Humanity is now free to choose whether or not it wishes to die, just as it is free to choose what to say, what to think, and what to do. Returning to the Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 15:23

In his own order. The word in classic Greek means “a cohort.” Here it must either mean “rank” or be used as in St. Clement (‘Ad. Corinthians,’ 1:37), in the sense of “order of succession.” They that are Christ’s. “The dead in Christ” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). At his coming. The word here used for the second Advent is Parousia, which means literally, presence. It is implied (apparently) both here and in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17Revelation 20:5, that there shall be an interval—how long or how short we do not know—between this resurrection of the just and the final resurrection. But all the details are left dim and vague.

1 Corinthians 15:24

The end. That “end of all things,” beyond which the vision of Christian eschatology does not look. When he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God. The “kingdom” delivered up is not that of the coequal Godhead, but the mediatorial kingdom. The Divine kingdom “shall have no end” (Luke 1:33, etc.), and “shall not pass away” (Daniel 7:13). But the mediatorial kingdom shall end in completion when the redemptive act has achieved its final end. When he shall have put down; rather, shall have annulled or abolished. All rule. Because then “the kingdoms of the world” shall all “have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ” (Revelation 11:15).

Paul provides a sort of eschatological (end times) list of the Resurrection.

  1. Christ’s Resurrection (first fruits)
  2. (At His coming) Those who belong to Christ.
  3. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.
  4. (v. 26) Death itself is destroyed

Many books have been written on this topic, with authors striving to fill in as many details as possible I think it is fair to assume that in the space between point 1 and point 2 is the Church Age. Point two is the one that today is often viewed as “the Rapture of the Church.” Sometime between point 2 and point 3, Christ’s Kingdom defeats the forces of opposition (Satan, the antichrist, rebellion generally, etc.) Ultimately then, death is itself defeated.

Eschatology is an alluring and difficult thing. You can spend so much time thinking about it, that you neglect to obey and worship properly in the moment. Paul here is joining the Jewish concept of “The Day of the Lord” with Christianity From wiki:

The Day of the LORD” is a biblical term and theme used in both the Hebrew Bible (יֹום יְהוָה Yom Yahweh) and the New Testament (ἡμέρα κυρίου, hēmera Kyriou), as in “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come” (Joel 2:31, cited in Acts 2:20).

In the Hebrew Bible, the meaning of the phrases refers to temporal events such as the invasion of a foreign army, the capture of a city and the suffering that befalls the inhabitants. This appears much in the second chapter of Isaiah which is read on the Sabbath of Vision, immediately before the 10th of Av.

The prophet Malachi foretells the return of Elijah immediately preceding the “great and terrible day of the LORD”. This prophecy is read in synagogues on the Great Sabbath immediately preceding Passover.

In the New Testament, the “day of the Lord” may also refer to the writer’s own times, or it may refer to predicted events in a later age of earth’s history including the final judgment and the World to Come. The expression may also have an extended meaning in referring to both the first and second comings of Jesus Christ.

Even apart from the Book of Revelation, there was a belief in the earliest days of the Church that Christ would return, that the dead in Christ would rise, and those living in Him would join him. This teaching is mentioned also in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.

Luke 17:22-24 22 Jesus said to His followers, “The time will come when you will wish you could see the Son of Man for one day. But you will not be able to. 23 They will say to you, ‘He is here,’ or, ‘He is there,’ but do not follow them. 24 When the Son of Man comes, He will be as lightning that shines from one part of the sky to the other.

Matthew 24 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. 29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

This is merely speculation on my part, but I believe Paul and Luke likely learned their End Times teaching directly from the original Apostles. Luke is widely believed to have been an early gentile convert, and he was a well-known friend of Paul – who travelled with Paul extensively (documented in the Book of Acts.) Matthew was present with Christ during his ministry and he recorded it in his Gospel. Further, church tradition holds that the John who authored Revelation is one and the same as John the Apostle.

This End Times teaching may also have been told to Paul separately through the Holy Spirit. Either way, there is ample evidence that this eschatology did not originate solely with Paul. Continuing ot verse 25 and Ellicott:

(25) He must reign.—It is a moral consequence. God must triumph, and so the Son must reign and conquer till that triumph be complete. Some suggest that the force of these words is that He must reign, &c., because it has been prophesied (Ps. ex.); but the more obvious truth is that it was prophesied because it is morally necessary.

You see a couple of things occurring in this teaching. The Kingdom of Christ must conquer the globe. This part appears to happen after the event often referred to as the Rapture. We also see in Matthew 24 that the Gospel must reach all nations.

Matthew 24: 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

These seem to be two different things, though they are obviously linked. The Gospel reaching the globe is not necessarily the actual conquest of the globe. The Gospel does need to reach the globe before its conquest can occur. In the space between the Gospel reaching the globe, and the actual victory, the text indicates that Christ must first defeat “the lawless one.”

2 Thessalonians 2:8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.

Matthew 24: 15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

Some might be interested to know that the entire Bible will be translated into *every* language on earth, sometime inside the next decade.

Ten Ministry Organizations Working Together

Ten Bible translation agencies have at last fully acknowledged that the global task remains too enormous for any one organization to succeed alone. They have banded together for illumiNations, an alliance of translation partners whose mission is “to make God’s Word accessible to all people by 2033.”

If you’re the sort of person who thinks a lot about the “end times” the list of things that need to be checked off as a necessary elements of the end times continue to be checked off.

The last verse in this section has been made wildly popular in the 21st century by the author J.K. Rowling, in her Harry Potter series. In her story, the verse is the epitaph on the tombstone of Harry Potter’s parents and it represents part of the hero’s journey Harry must undertake. (The series is actually replete with Christian messaging, though she certainly faced a lot of criticism from Christians in particular, as well.)

In the even more famous Holy Bible, verse 26 is kind of the end horizon of the story of humanity. We know that things continue on from there, but life beyond the end of death is not described in much detail. Let’s look at verse 26 from The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 15:26

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. This rendering might imply that other enemies should still exist, though Death should be the last who would be destroyed. The original is more forcible, and implies, “Last of enemies doomed to annulment is Death;” or, as in Tyndale’s version, “Lastly, Death the enemy shall be destroyed;” or, as in the Rhemish Version, “And at the last, Death the enemy scal be distried.” The present, “is being annulled,” is the praesens futurascens, or the present of which the accomplishment is regarded as already begun and continuing by an inevitable law. Death and Hades and the devil, “who hath the power of death,” are all doomed to abolition (2 Timothy 1:10Hebrews 2:14Revelation 20:14).

With the death of death, we see something like a new Eden taking its place. The work of restoration – of Resurrection – is completed.

Paul continues on discussing this topic in the following verses, including the interesting subject of “baptism for the dead.” I’ll cover that in the next post.

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