1 CORINTHIANS 15:20-28
Paul has just communicated the emptiness that results if the resurrection is fiction. However, that is not the case. Paul now affirms the reality of the resurrection. “But now Christ has been raised from the dead…” The “But now” forms a conjunction of contrast. It marks a transition between the darkness of hopelessness if the resurrection is fiction, to the brightness and reality of our hope and triumph. It changes the preposterous idea of no resurrection to the triumphant vindication of the resurrection. Paul declares:
CHRIST AS THE GUARANTEE OF RESURRECTION (15:20-22).
Christ is risen! This guarantees the resurrection of the dead. This is evidenced by two things:
- The words, “first fruits” (aparche), which is singular in the Greek text—first fruit. The word’s background is from the Old Testament (Lev. 23). The first fruit was the first sheaf of harvest that was offered in thanksgiving to the Lord. It occurred before the main harvest. Josephus tells us that until this ceremony had been performed, no harvest work could take place (Ant., iii, 10,5). It marked the assurance that the rest of the harvest would occur. Christ is the “first fruit” of the resurrection—the guarantee of the resurrection.
- The assurance of the resurrection is also seen in the work of the two Adams (15:21-22). By the first Adam death entered the word because of his sin (Rom. 5:12). He is the agent of physical death. The last Adam—Christ—is the agent of physical resurrection. The emphasis is on man in verse 21. It has been noted that “Paul does no more than to fix this exact parallel: man the death medium—man also the resurrection medium (Lenski, 1 Corinthians, 663).
Christ as the resurrection medium is the guarantee that “in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). Robert Gromacki makes a keen observation when he writes:
“This prediction allows for two possible interpretations. The prepositional phrase (in Christ) may restrict this promise to believers only. However, Paul may be pointing out the fact that one effect of Christ’s death and resurrection which extends to all men, is that all will be delivered from physical death through the reception of a new resurrection body. But the destiny of that resurrection body [Heaven or the Lake of Fire] is determined by one’s conscious rejection or acceptance of God’s revealed truth, including the gospel message (Rom. 1:28-3:31). It is predicted elsewhere that all will be raised from the dead (Dan. 12:2; John 5:29; Acts 17:31)” (Called to be Saints, 188).
THE STAGES OF RESURRECTION (15:23-28).
After declaring Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee our resurrection, Paul now declares that those raised will not all be raised at the same time. The resurrection has an order, and each will be “in his own order” (15:23). The word translated order is tagmati, a military term, used of the ranking or separation of soldiers in detachments for marching or battle. It refers to the general time sequences of the resurrection. This is reinforced by the time words of after and then. “The Greek words aparche, epeita, eita, is this kind of sequence, certainly are equivalent to counting ‘one…two…three’ ” notes Buswell (SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, 3:337). Lowery points out that every detail or order of resurrection is not given here, only “interested here in fixing their place in the scheme of things” (BIBLE KNOWLEDGE COMMENTARY, NEW TESTAMENT, 543). Therefore, only two resurrections are described here. No resurrection of the unsaved is mentioned—who will also be resurrected (cf. John 5:29; Rev. 20:5, 11-15). Nor does Paul here discern between the rapture and the resurrection at His coming to earth. Both are compressed in into the second order.
The sequence given by Paul is threefold: First was the historical resurrection of Christ. Then the believer’s resurrection at His Coming. And then the kingdom will be delivered to the Father. Again it is vital we understand that Paul is not giving a detailed description of the events, for the resurrection of believers does not bring the end. The word then in verse 24 is not tote, meaning then immediately, but eita, indicating sequences in the, “then” after an interval. The interval is the 1,000 year reign of Christ, commonly referred to as the Millennium. Vine notes that the word end “is used of the last event in a succession or series” (Vine, 211).
The end is marked out in this passage by a threefold elimination (15:24-28): First, it is described “when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power” (15:24). It is clear from Daniel 7:14 this is not referring to His own authority and dominion. It is referring to all competing, corrupted, and perverted dominions and authorities that have shown themselves against God. This will happen at the end of the 1,000 year reign of Christ and the resurrection of unbelievers (cf. Revelation 20).
Second, Christ will reign “until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (15:25). I believe this refers to Christ’s reign on earth, which at the end all His enemies will be put under His feet. The word reign is a present infinitive and should be translated “to continue to reign” (David Garland, 1 CORINTHIANS, 711). It is a mistake to think that all the enemies are put under His feet at His Second Coming and the resurrection of believers. There are still enemies of Christ present and working during the Millennium. This is evident because of the presence of sin, death, and a great rebellion at the end of the 1000 years (cf. Rev. 20:2, 3).
Third, “the last enemy that will be abolished is death” (15:26). This happens at the Great White Throne judgment recorded in Revelation 20:11-15. It is there that death and Hades are thrown into the Lake of First (Rev. 10:14). Then death is abolished! Again, Paul does not mention this resurrection in Corinthians, but he is concerned with the resurrection of believers, which is before these events.
After these events, Christ hands over the Kingdom unto the Father. All things are put under the subjection of the Father. For “then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).