1 Corinthians 15:20–28 comment (0)
April 17, 2014
By Catherine Lawrence
Related Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:20–28
Bible Studies for Life
Department of Religion, Samford University
But Now ... Victory
1 Corinthians 15:20–28
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul addressed a question about the resurrection of the dead. He knew that at least some of the Corinthian believers doubted the dead could (or would) experience bodily resurrection (v. 12). Paul gave no indication that the Corinthians doubted Christ’s resurrection; indeed, it seemed that the Corinthians fully accepted and believed the core elements of the gospel, including the fact that “Christ was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (v. 4). The Corinthians’ doubts seemed instead to relate to the resurrection of Christians. Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that one day all believers will be raised from the dead, and in so doing, the “last enemy” — death — will be destroyed (v. 26). The resurrection of the dead will signal God’s final and ultimate victory over death.
In these verses Paul argued for the reality of a bodily resurrection of all believers by appealing to the fact that Christ had been raised from the dead. In fact, Christ’s own resurrection signaled that others also would be raised. Paul called Christ the “first fruits of those who have died” (v. 20; see also v. 23). The term “first fruits” recalls the Old Testament practice whereby the Israelites offered to God a portion of the first yield of their harvest (see Ex. 23:16 and Lev. 23:10–11). The first fruits represented the whole harvest that would be gathered. Likewise when Paul called Christ the “first fruits of those who have died,” he meant that Christ’s resurrection was representative of a larger harvest of resurrection still to come. That is, in the same way the first fruits of a crop pointed to and anticipated the harvesting of the entire crop, so Christ’s resurrection points to and anticipates the resurrection of all believers.
Paul further explained the essential connection between Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection of all believers in verses 21–22, where he drew an analogy between Adam and Christ. In Adam, all died. That is, Adam’s sin had a lethal effect on all of humanity. But all who belong to Christ will be made alive in Christ (v. 22). Because of Christ’s resurrection, all who belong to Him also will be raised from the dead.
In verse 23, Paul noted the sequence in which the resurrection would occur. That sequence unfolds according to rank (“but each in his own order”): Christ the first fruits (who already is resurrected) and then all believers (at Christ’s Second Coming) (v. 23).
At “the end” (i.e., the end of time), Christ will stand victorious over every ruler, authority and power (v. 24), including death (v. 26). The resurrection of the dead will neutralize the “last enemy”; death will be destroyed. In fact, for death to be defeated the dead must be raised. Christ, the “first fruits of those who have died,” triumphed over death at His resurrection. Death’s final defeat will come at the resurrection of the full harvest of those who have died.
When at “the end” all powers (including death) have become subject to Christ, He will “hand over the kingdom to God the Father” (v. 24) and will Himself become subject to the Father, so that “God may be all in all” (v. 28). The phrase “all in all” suggests something about the comprehensive nature of God’s sovereignty. He will reign unchallenged by any competing powers, all of which will have been defeated by Christ (v. 25).
This Easter, as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, may we be reminded that His victory over death ensures victory over death for all believers. When Christ comes again, those who have died in Him will be raised to life. And when the dead are raised, death will be defeated fully and finally. Because of Christ’s triumphant resurrection and the future resurrection toward which His points, we can say with Paul, “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (v. 54). “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 57).