Notes on 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

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The apostle, having thus brought to a climax of absurdity the consequences that flow from the assumption that no dead rise, turns next to the facts of revelation, and triumphantly displays their blessedness in Christ, as contrasted with the first head of the race.
“But now hath Christ been raised from [the] dead, firstfruits of those fallen asleep. For since by man1 [is] death, by man also resurrection of dead. For as in the Adam all die, so also in the Christ shall all be made alive; but each in his own rank; [the] firstfruits Christ; then those that are the2 Christ's at his coming; then the end, when he giveth up3 the kingdom to him [who is] God and Father, when he shall have annulled all rule, and all authority, and power. For he must reign until4 he put all the enemies under his feet. Death, last enemy, is annulled. For he subjected all things under his feet. But when he saith that all things have been subjected, [it is] manifest that [it is] except him who subjected all things to him. But when all things shall have been subjected to him, then also the Son himself will be subjected to him that subjected all things to him, that God may be all in all.” (Vers. 20-28)
Thus the fact is that Christ is raised from the dead, not merely first, but “first-fruits of those fallen asleep.” It is uncalled for, therefore, to reason more on the disastrous results of non-resurrection. For not only is a dead man risen, but that dead Christ, the conqueror of Satan, not only for this life in the wilderness, but from the grave for eternity. He is risen, so that death has no more dominion over Him; He is risen, the pledge that those fallen asleep shall consequently rise. It is the proof that all men shall live, unjust no less than just; but here He is viewed, not in His power to raise His enemies for judgment, but as the blessed spring of the resurrection of His own, firstfruits of those fallen asleep. Consequently He is said to be, as He was, raised from out of (ἐκ) dead men, as His saints will be at His coming or presence. In either case it is not only ἀνάστασις νεκρῶν, but ἐκ νεκρῶν (that is, resurrection of, but from among dead men,), because in both cases other dead remain in their graves; whereas the resurrection of the unjust will be only ἀνάστασις νεκρῶν, and not ἐκ νεκρῶν.
Such is the simple statement of the truth as to this, which is sometimes missed through ignorance, if not prejudice. It is in vain to argue that the resurrection of the saints is called a resurrection of the dead. Of course it is, as the resurrection of the unjust might be also. But the decisive point of difference is, that only the resurrection of Christ or of His own, who are raised without disturbing the wicked as yet from their graves, could be designated a resurrection from, or from out of, the dead, because the rest of the dead await His voice to wake them up to stand before the great white throne, and be judged according to their works. There are two distinct ants, or rather characters, of resurrection, according to our Lord, in John 5 (and so in Rev. 20); never, therefore, such a notion as one universal or indiscriminate rising of all, good and bad, at the same moment, as tradition supposes, with an effort at proof from Dan. 12 (which predicts the revival of Israel on earth), and Matt. 25 (which treats of all the Gentiles, or the nations which the Son of man will judge when He sits on the throne of His glory here below), neither scripture speaking of resurrection in the true and literal sense.
But more: we are shown the connection of resurrection, as of death, with man. If the weak and fallen Adam brought in the one, the glorious last Adam will bring in the other, Himself already the firstfruits. “For since by man [is] death, by man also the resurrection of dead. For as in the Adam all die; even so in the Christ shall all be made alive.” (Vers. 21, 22.) There are two families, characterized by their respective heads. The Adam family consists of all mankind, and they all die; the Christ family consists of all that are Christ's, and they shall all be made alive, that is, in resurrection. For the question is exclusively of the body, and not of the soul, important as this last may be in its place. What the apostle here demonstrates is, that the bodies of the dead rise, and this in virtue of Christ for all His people, as death is the portion of all Adam's posterity as such. It is impossible to sever “all” in either case from their representative head: only “all” in Adam's case embraces the entire race, whereas “all” in the case of Christ as necessarily attaches to His family alone. And this, as it is certain to the thoughtful believer, so is it made plain to the simplest in verse 23,” But each in his own rank; [the] firstfruits Christ; then those that are the Christ's at his coming.” Then all that are made alive in virtue of the Christ are shown here distinctly to be those that are His, and none else. Are not the wicked, then, to be raised 7 Unquestionably; but so special, is the resurrection here that they are not even named. It is the resurrection of life, and belongs only to those that have practiced good. They are His. For them He has won the victory. To them even now He has given eternal life; and they, if fallen asleep, shall rise at His coming.
"Then the end, when he giveth up the kingdom to him who is God and Father, when he shall have annulled all rule, and all authority, and power.” (Ver. 24.) Here it will be noted that the apostle introduces, not the rising of the wicked dead, but “the end,” when Christ delivers up the kingdom in which He is to come and appear., (Compare Luke 19:12; 23:412He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. (Luke 19:12)
4Then said Pilate to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this man. (Luke 23:4)
2 Tim. 4:11I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; (2 Timothy 4:1)) “The end,” being the epoch of the delivery of the kingdom in which He is to judge, must be after all judgment is over, and still more after the rest of the dead were raised in order to be judged. It is in this way, then, that the resurrection of the wicked is not expressed but involved; not in the blessed life-giving resurrection which is for His own, but in that exertion of His power which characterizes His kingdom, when all the enemies are to be put under His feet, the last of those to be annulled being death. The unjust are no longer, even seemingly, under that power of death or Satan, for they must be raised, Satan punished, and death annulled. He must reign and judge the enemies; and theirs is expressly a resurrection of judgment, according to the Lord's express declaration. The believers do not come into judgment, but have life in Him, and will reign with Him then. The risen saints are associated with Him when He takes the kingdom; the wicked are judged before He gives it up. “The end” here is absolute. It is the close, not merely of the age, as in Matt. 13; 24, and 28, which inaugurates the Son of man's coming to reign, but of that kingdom. It is strictly “the end,” when eternity, in the fullest sense, begins, the new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
It will have been seen that the grand point is God's exaltation of the risen Man, the Lord Jesus, in contrast with fallen Adam. And we must carefully distinguish between the words of the two psalms applied to Him: in verse 25 of Psa. 110, and in verse 27 of Psa. 8 God, according to the latter, subjected all things to the Son of man, once humbled, now risen; and this so absolutely takes in the universe as put under Christ, that God alone is excepted. But according to the former the glorified Messiah sits on the throne on high till Jehovah makes Messiah's enemies His footstool. He is waiting until that moment. Then is the rod of Messiah's strength to be sent by Jehovah out of Zion, and He will rule in the midst of his enemies.
Thus the subjection of all things to Him risen is already true to faith, according to the use made of Psalm evil, while at His coming from the right hand of God, His enemies will be made His footstool, and He will rule in their midst. To this last answers the necessity of His reigning till He put all the enemies under His feet, death's annulling included at the last. It is what scripture calls the kingdom, during which the Lord is to reduce all rule, and all authority, and power, and then render it up to Him who is God and Father. (Ver. 24.) This will be at the end of the thousand years' reign, which reign is characterized in verse 25, verse 26 adding what will be at its close. Verse 27 states the universality of His present title, as bound up with His resurrection; as verse 28 the eternal condition, when the universe has been subjected in fact, and the Son Himself shall be also to Him who subjected it all to Him, in order that, not the Father exclusively, but God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) should be all in all, instead of the kingdom of man in Christ exalted and reigning. Thus is the lie of Satan met by the truth, grace, righteousness, and glorious counsels of God: man in Christ governing all first, and finally God all in all, where righteousness needs not to rule, but can dwell in endless blessing and peace.