“Then the end will come, when [Christ] hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. . . .”
Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 elevate Easter far above secular society’s celebration of spring. To misquote the classic Oldsmobile commercial, this is not your granddaughter’s Easter—no furry bunnies, fancy bonnets, or festive brunches. This is Easter as Apocalypse Now, Easter as the beginning of the end, Easter as the first page of the grand conclusion to the story of everything.
Paul’s words about everything being put under Christ’s feet remind me of the current scientific search for the “Theory of Everything.” You may recognize that term as the title of a 2015 movie about Stephen Hawking. There’s a huge problem at the center of all scientific endeavor: the two major explanations of the universe don’t fit together. The general theory of relativity explains the macro-universe of space and time, while the theory of quantum physics explains the micro-universe of atomic particles. Both seem to be true because they explain so many things. But scientists can’t explain how the two theories can be reconciled. So they are eagerly searching for the Theory of Everything.
A Theology of Everything
By the inspiration of the Spirit, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 how the physical resurrection of Jesus is the key to the Bible’s theology of everything. After proving in this chapter that Christ’s resurrection is both historically factual and central for our personal salvation, Paul shows the history-changing consequences of that event. He claims that the resurrection of Jesus set in motion a chain of events that will impact the future of the universe and even the future of God. He introduces those consequences with the Old Testament concept of firstfruits. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” By using that familiar imagery, Paul was saying that the resurrection of Jesus was not just an impressive stand-alone miracle. It was the beginning of a series of miracles that will change everything: the resurrection of everyone who has died in Christ, the defeat of all God’s enemies, the triumph of the kingdom of God, and even the “reunion” of God.
Most Banner readers are familiar with the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, having recited the Apostles’ Creed many times. While we can’t imagine what it will be like to see all the graves opened, skeletons rattling up out of the ground, flesh and blood being joined to the bones, until every dead person is once again physically alive, we know that’s what the Bible teaches. That would be miracle enough.
But Paul goes beyond that when he says in verse 23, “But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” That word turn in the Greek conveys the sense of order. Picture a great army moving into battle, with each division marching in its proper order. That’s the idea here: history is marching to its conclusion with two great armies fighting for control of the world.
But notice that, as the battle rages here on earth, the risen Christ is already ruling all things. “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (v. 24). Christ is waging war against all his enemies, not for the throne but from the throne. He must rule on earth until the end comes.
Thy Kingdom Come
Then, says Paul, in language that stretches our comprehension to the breaking point, three long-awaited events will occur.
First, Christ will “destroy all dominion, authority, and power.” We’ve heard those words throughout the New Testament, but what do they mean here? Is Paul talking about demons, fallen angels of all sorts? Probably. Is he talking about organizations that oppose the cause of God, like the Beasts of Revelation 13, which symbolize anti-Christian government and religion? Probably. Is he talking about individual human beings who have blatantly battled God to the death? Probably, though sadly. Is he talking about death, the great enemy of human life? Undoubtedly, since Paul explicitly says it here.
In the end, absolutely everything will be put under Jesus’ feet. The rebellion that has devastated human history and ruined planet Earth will be put down at last. The ancient promise of Genesis 3:15 will finally come to pass. The heel that was bruised by the serpent will be upon the neck of all the serpent’s seed.
When everything is under Christ’s feet, he will hand “over the kingdom to God the Father.” That’s the second great event that will occur as a result of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus’ ministry began with the announcement, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” After he arose from apparent defeat, he left the world, announcing, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” He commissioned us to promote that kingdom by making disciples who would obey Christ in all of life, thus demonstrating that every square inch of this world really does belong to the risen Christ.
We Reformed folks spend our lives praying, “Thy kingdom come” and working to spread the justice and peace of that kingdom. “With deeds of love and mercy, the heavenly kingdom comes,” we sing. Sometimes we see signs that the kingdom is here already; other times we despair because “the wrong seems oft so strong.” But we live in hope that the resurrection of Christ will bear the fruit Paul promises here.
When it’s all said and done, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. Justice and peace will embrace at last, and Christ will hand his finished work over to his Father.
But Paul isn’t done yet. There’s a third apocalyptic miracle that flows from Jesus’ resurrection. Not content with wrapping up cosmic history, Paul ventures into—dare I say it—God’s history. “When Christ has done all this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” That takes us deep into the mystery of the Trinity. How can the Son of God be both equal and subject to God the Father? Theologians struggle to explain by saying that the Father and the Son are equal in essence, but differ in function, like a King and a Crown Prince.
Or perhaps Paul is thinking of the way the triune God “extended” himself for the work of salvation. The Father sent the Son. The Father and the Son sent the Spirit. But at the end, the Father, Son, and Spirit are back together again.
Let’s not claim to understand this divine reunion. Let’s simply rejoice in the promise that one day the grand mission of God will be over. All the divisions and diversions caused by human sin will cease. And God will be all in all.
All of this hinges on one historical fact: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits. . . .” Like I said, this is not your granddaughter’s Easter. The resurrection of Christ is Apocalypse Now, the beginning of the end of everything we think we know.
About the Author
Rev. Stan Mast is minister of preaching at LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Mich.