In our passage for study, Paul draws out the human implication of Christ's resurrection from the dead, namely, if Christ is risen then those who believe in him will also rise. It is in making this point that Paul lets us into a mystery concerning the age to come; he takes us into the secrets of the coming age, of Christ's reign over all things and his ultimate subjection to God the Father.
v20. If Jesus' body still lay in a tomb in Palestine, then those who live the Christian faith would have to be raving idiots. Yet, the fact is that Jesus has risen from the dead, the first to do so out of all who have died. Therefore, Jesus is the firstfruits of all believers who have died and who will rise to new life in the last day.
v21-22. Death came to the human race through one man, and life has come through one man. The disobedience of Adam brought death to all his seed; "in" him, that is, in our community of association with him, we face the consequence he faced. On the other hand, the obedience of Christ brought life to his seed, such that all who are in community with Christ will live.
v23. Paul now details the order of the resurrection of the dead. At the return of Christ, the first to rise are those believers who have already "fallen asleep", immediately followed by those believers who are alive.
v24-27a. "Then", after the resurrection of the dead, the final goal ("end") will be realized. The word "then" does not imply that the "end" follows immediately after the resurrection of the dead and living at Jesus' return. An interval may rightly be understood here where: i] there is the destruction of all that opposes, and ii] the handing over of sovereignty. The "when" this happens is an uncertain time interval, typical of a mysterious prophetic revelation. Christ is given rule by the Father and when he brings this rule to a triumphant conclusion, he will then hand back the sovereign rule to its source. This handing over of authority will follow on "after" (again, without a specific interval of time) Christ has destroyed all evil powers, "everything", including "death" itself.
v27b-28. Christ's authority, of course, is not over the Father. When everything has finally been subjected to the authority of Christ, then shall the Son himself be subject to the Father. The Father himself had originally given the Son authority over everything. The purpose of this final subjection of Christ to the Father is that God might be everything in everything, that is, that everything might be complete in the living and eternal God; "that God may be everything to everyone."
It is extremely difficult to detail the events of the end time. The following is a rough summary:
Prior to Jesus' return, there will occur the incoming of the Gentiles. We Gentiles are already part of this process, a process which has been going on now for two thousand years.
Then comes the conversion of Israel. It will be very difficult to observe this, for in a sense, it is already occurring. There is always a constant stream of Jews becoming believers. Indeed, this is a wonderful demonstration of God's faithfulness toward the historic people of Israel.
Then comes the great tribulation and the revelation of the Antichrist. This will be a terrible time of darkness, with the forces of evil are seemingly on top of human society. Political power, social institutions, the major forms of human association, all representing a conglomerate Antichrist (rather than an individual Antichrist), will reign supreme in human affairs. The church will be subsumed under the weight of this godlessness, but not destroyed. Many believers will be sucked into the glory of the new secular age - "led astray", as it were. It will be an age heralding the return of the Tower of Babel - a glorying in the secular city, the claiming of divinity. All this is very familiar, evident in our world today.
Following the coming of Christ, deceased and living believers will rise and be transformed (the putting on of the new resurrection body) and be gathered with Christ.
Then comes the destruction and judgement of the powers of this age, and the "restoration of all things." We have little information about this confrontation with the powers of this age. Clearly this confrontation will begin here on earth with Christ's victory over sin and death. Yet, it seems that the battle will rage into the eternal realms. Resurrected believers will follow their Lord into battle against spiritual powers and authorities in the heavenly realms, a confrontation with those powers who have usurped the authority of God. It is this battle for which life prepares us. It is a battle of massive proportions which we can only but imagine. Yet, we are destined to reign with Christ until all God's enemies have been put under his feet and he becomes "all in all". It is then that we shall know complete peace. Christ's authority to reign, having reached its climax with the subduing of evil powers, is then handed again to the Father such that "God may be all in all."
1. If Jesus is the first to rise from the dead, what do you make of Matthew 27:51-53?
2. Is it true that every person who has ever lived will rise in the last day? Refer to Daniel.12:2, Isaiah.67:24. Who then are the "all" in v22?
3. When we die we go to heaven, or do we? What does happen when we die? v.23.
4. When did Christ begin his sovereign reign on earth and when will his reign end? How do we share in this reign?
5. Does verse 26 support the theory of the ultimate annihilation of the wicked? Discuss.