Then Comes the End

We’re working through one of Paul’s most profound chapters in all the bible. He is discussing here the doctrine of the Resurrection, and so far, we’ve seen how the doctrine of the resurrection is essential to Christianity. Paul speaks of the death and resurrection of Christ as being of “First importance,” in verse 3. Highest priority.

To deny the resurrection isn’t to slightly miss the mark, or to get a bit off track. It’s not something that you can leave out, while having the rest of your theology intact. To deny the resurrection is to gut the faith of its essence. Resurrection is a non-negotiable.

Further, Paul builds all of this on top of the hundreds of eye witness accounts. He mentions how the apostles witnessed the resurrected Christ, along with 500 others at a single time, verse 6. A single person might hallucinate, or perhaps even a couple people might be mistaken about something, but fore 500 people to have a unanimous testimony that a once-dead carpenter from Nazareth named Jesus is now alive, that’s an historical Veracity. You can’t deny that.

Tonight we will move on from the fact of the resurrection, and it’s necessity and logic, onto general questions of timing and importance.

But let’s begin by reading what Paul says, I will begin with verse 17, but we’ll be focusing on 23-28:

17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

Let’s begin by noting first: the general sequence of the resurrection. The general sequence of the resurrection.

Paul’s explanation of the order is both at the same time easy to understand, and yet can be confusing to try and reconcile with other texts of scripture.

So, for example, Verse 23 begins by calling Christ the first fruits. He is the beginning of the harvest, the first one brought out of the grave, and the foretaste of many more who will be resurrected. We talked about that a little bit last week.

And there is an order here, Paul is pointing out. “Each in his own order,” he says. Christ first, then everybody else. That general order everybody can agree on.

However, there exists no small disagreement about exactly what happens after verse 23. Here we will get into a bit of eschatology, which is the theological word for the study of the eschaton, or the last things. The End times.

Some people believe that Christ will return, as verse 23 says, and there will be a resurrection of believers from the grave at that point, and those believers will rule with Christ in an earthly kingdom here for a period of 1,000 years. That 1,000 years might be symbolic for a long time, or might be a literal 1,000 years, but there will be some period of time wherein Christ will reign with resurrected believers here on earth.

All of that happens between the period of verse 23 and the beginning of verse 24. This is the view that is called the pre-millennial position. That Christ returns pre, prior to a literal 1,000 millennial reign on earth. There are different nuances, different flavors of premillennial positions, but the one thing that they all agree on is that there will be some period of time, called the millennial reign of Christ on earth prior to the Final state, wherein God has some kind of a future for ethnic Jews.

I might have lost some of you, but all that that I just described takes place between verse 23 and 24 of our passage.

However, I have not yet been convinced of this pre-millenial position, and this passage in 1 Corinthians is one of the reasons why. It’s not the only reason, but this passage is one of the passages that gives me pause before embracing the pre-mill view.

To me, and to many other theologians, the plain reading of this text seems to indicate that there will be 1 return of Christ, and at that point there will be the resurrection and the end, the final judgment and the New Heavens and the New Earth. There is no hint of a huge span of time between Christ’s return and the end. Is such a gap possible? Maybe.

But this text doesn’t mention it, and I’d argue that the New Testament seems to tie together the return of Christ, the resurrection, and the final judgment. They seem to me to be spoken of and be pictured as happening as a part of one, undivided act, tied to Christ’s coming. Not a series of events that are separated by many, perhaps even 1,000 years.

My goal is not to convince you all of a particular scheme of end-times interpretation, but rather to show that each of these positions on the end times has its own textual difficulties. If it were simple, there would be no controversy. But it isn’t simple, the study of the particulars about the end times involves the synthesis of many different texts.

Well, Pastor, if it is so complicated, why did you even bring it up? Why even mention this interpretive disagreement that theologians have about the exact timing of end times events?

My goal in bringing this up is a pastoral one. There are faithful, godly men and women, theologians, bible scholars on both sides of this debate about the millennium, and so I want to remind us that disagreement regarding the particulars of eschatology are no reason to end Christian fellowship. We need not divide over such things.

In fact, so far from these things being a point of division, Pastor Shawn and I disagree over these things, and we can even serve on the same staff together. We both benefit from each other’s preaching every week.

I’m not saying don’t study these things, and don’t seek to understand them for yourselves. I’m not saying eschatology doesn’t matter. What I am saying, is that we ought to have humility surrounding the more complicated matters of the bible, and recognize that faithful, godly, spirit-filled believers can come to a different position on matters that aren’t as clear.

Some things are of first importance, like “is there a resurrection at all, and did Christ raise from the grave?” Those are worth fighting over. But exactly what is the sequence of the end times, and precisely when will the resurrection take place, those we can charitably disagree on.

It’s easy for some of us who might have settled our minds on these issues to act as though, “if they would just think a little harder, and if they just knew their bible a little better, then they would come to my position.” Be careful about that. Knowledge puffs up.

There are men whom I deeply respect that I disagree with on this issue, and that ought to give me pause, not pride.

We need to remember the main things are the plain things, and what is plain in this text is that Jesus was dead, but he’s now alive. He died for sins, and he was raised for life. And he will win in the end.

One day in glory, we’ll all be grateful that Christ was raised, and Christ was but the first fruits of a glorious harvest, wherein all the elect from every age were raised unto newness of life.

So let’s rejoice in what is clear, charitably dialogue about what is less clear, and keep Christ’s ultimate victory as the center.

And that victory is what we see next. In verse 24 we see the glorious end. The glorious end.

24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.

This is the summary statement that explains what happens to the kingdom at the end. The glorious end, the telos. The rest of this paragraph, which gets a little complicated in the details, flows from verse 24. I say the paragraph gets complicated in the details because the sentences can be complex, and it can be unclear to whom each of the pronouns are referring. Does He refer to Christ, or to God?

However, we must remember that the main point of the paragraph is clear enough. Whether you see the kingdom reign of Christ as happening now, or as a future 1,000 years, we both agree that there will be certain events that take place.

Christ will destroy every rule and authority and power, death will be defeated, and God will be all in all. We’ll try to keep that good news in mind as we go along.

Now, what does it mean for Christ to have destroyed every rule and every authority and power in verse 24?

Those terms, rule/authority/power, are used in other places in Paul’s writing. In Ephesians 1 Paul says that Christ has been raised and seated at God’s right hand, “Far above every rule and authority and power and dominion.” That’s already happened as tied to Christ’s ascension. Past tense. That’s interesting.

Further complicating things, is Colossians 2:15, which tells us that on the Cross Christ “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them.” Again, Colossians 2:15 speaks like Ephesians 1, seeming to indicate that Christ has already defeated and triumphed over the rulers and authorities of this age.

So which is it? Will the defeat of all the powers be at the end, or has it already happened?

I’ll let the eschatology experts in the room debate about it, while I instead emphasize that the New Testament often speaks in two tenses. It will speak of something already happening, and yet it is not yet completed.

Like in Christ you have been made holy, and you are being made holy. You’ve been liberated from sin’s power, but not liberated from sin’s presence. And Christ’s cross was the moment where the rulers and authorities were defeated, and yet that defeat has not be consummated. And that consummation will happen at the end, tied to the resurrection. Why? Verse 25:

25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.

Any rebellion must be squashed. For God to be all in all, there can be no rebel pocket, no overlooked corner of the universe. No rouge group can exist. ALL enemies will be defeated.

Paul here is citing Psalm 110, which says,

“The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.””

Christ is seated at the right hand of the lord right now. He’s ascended, and is reigning from heaven, and he must reign until all the enemies are made his footstool. His reign began with the resurrection and ascension, and will continue until all enemies are subdued.

26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

I’ll skip verse 26 just for a moment, and continue to the rest of the paragraph. When he has put all things under his feet, his work isn’t finished yet. Paul quotes another Psalm in verse 27, Psalm 8:6, which specifically links Christ as the second Adam.

If you will remember Adam was placed in the garden and was given dominion over all things, especially the animals. All things were in subjection under Adam’s feet, the Psalmist says.

Well Paul in verse 27 quotes that same Psalm, but applies it to Jesus and the resurrection, which is basically reminding us that Christ is the last Adam. Go back to verse 21 and 22:

2For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

The curse and the chaos of the fall will be made right again. Creation will go back to its proper design and ordering. Things will be back in their proper place, or, perhaps it would be better to say, the New Adam, first fruits and firstborn of a new Creation, will have through his death and resurrection, subdued and had dominion over his new Creation.

Now, to clarify, Paul’s use of the phrase “all things” doesn’t mean that God himself will subjected to the Son. That’s all he’s saying at the end of verse 27,

 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.  

God will have all things subjected to the Son. God has chosen to govern his creation through a mediator, through the Son. The Son will serve as the priestly mediator of the elect, and the Son will serve as the kingly judge of the damned.

Everything will be as it should be once again. Death will be defeated, rebel powers will be destroyed, and the kingdom will be at rest once again.

But then Christ has one last task. The Son will at last surrender up the kingdom to the Father:

28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

His work of mediator and judge will change. The Son will submit himself to the Father. The Climax of Christ’s work as messiah is that he will purify the kingdom completely, and then bow the knee to his heavenly father, that God may be all in all.

This picture is amazing, and it hard to wrap our minds around. But it is consistent with Christ’s posture toward the Father that we see throughout his earthly ministry. The Son delights in honoring and submitting to the Father. And the Father delights in the Son.

Mutual blessedness and honoring. It’s quite an astounding picture.

Now, as you probably noticed, I skipped verse 26. I want to go back there and spend the rest of our time thinking about what Paul says concerning death. The fate of death, will be our final point. The fate of death.

Verse 26 says, “26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Paul in this chapter speaks of death a few times, and speaks of death in a personified way. Death is said to be destroyed, as to no longer having victory, as loosing its sting.

So I’d like to pick up where Paul goes, and continue down that road of analysis.

Notice how Paul describes death: an enemy.[1] An enemy. Death is out to get you, each and every one of you. And he’s out to do you harm. He’s your opponent, your adversary, and enemies doesn’t have your best interests at heart, rather, they want to see you ended. Death is an enemy.

Death is also a cruel enemy. Death is a tyrant. A dictator. Death doesn’t care if you are young or old, if you are sick or well, if you are rich or poor. When your time has come, death takes you. Death doesn’t care if you have children at home that need your care. Death isn’t concerned with who will care for your spouse. Death is malevolent, not merely unconcerned about your good, but cruelly purposing for your end. Death is cruel.

Death also is a liar. Have you ever thought about that? Death would have you believe that when you die, then comes peace. Rest in Peace, tombstones say. But that’s not the truth. Not the case at all. Death alone can only provide the opposite. He lies about what he can offer. The grave can offer nothing but eternal restlessness. There is no peace when death comes. He lies about what he can provide.

Indeed, such a liar is death, that he can come to us in our moments of weakness, and tempt even believers with this promise of rest. Believers are not immune to the temptations of death, who promises relief from trial and suffering if we would just listen to him. Lies. Lies from the beginning.

Next, Death no only lies, but he also divides. Death divides. Death splits up families and relationships. It takes away our loved ones, and sends them to a place that we cannot see them. It tears children from the arms of their parents. Death cuts us off from the ones we love, and divides us from our lineage. He interrupts communion.

But he doesn’t just divide, Death also makes us helpless. It renders us helpless, unable to effect any change. Once we’ve gone to the grave, we no longer can do any good to those left behind. Whatever influence, whatever power we had, whatever leverage we attained in this life, death robs us of it all. We’re like the rich man in the parable, unable to do anything to influence those left behind, unable to warn them. Death makes us impotent, robs us of influence, and removes from us any ability to convince or persuade others. It makes us helpless.

Lastly, death is a thief. He robs us of hope. Death promises relief from pain and trial, but in the end he has nothing to offer in return but hopelessness. The grave has nothing to offer but oblivion, nothingness. Despair. No justice. No mercy. No compassion. No future. Only regret. Only decay. Only anguish.

Death takes and takes and takes. He robs people of their youth, steals from them their innocence. It snatches away people’s beauty, and he gives nothing in return. Death tears away, it robs, it steals, and leaves us hopeless.

Death is our enemy, a cruel enemy, a lying enemy, a dividing enemy, an enemy that renders us helpless, and an enemy that leaves us hopeless.

But I’d like to close tonight by contrasting our enemy, death, with Jesus Christ.

You see death is our enemy, but Christ is described in scripture as a friend. Enemies seek only after your demise. Enemies hate you, and have malevolent intentions. But a friend loves. A true friend will never seek his own good over your own. A friend seeks out your good. A friend defends you, protects you, instructs you, rebukes you, is faithful to you. And that’s exactly what we have in Jesus Christ.

We said also that death was a Cruel enemy. He is cruel. He has no regard for your feelings, for your situation, for your needs, for your wants. But Christ is the opposite. Christ is compassionate. He weeps with those who are weeping. He considers us in our state. He stooped down from heaven, motivated by compassion and love, and took on the weakness of human flesh in order to redeem his bride.

He’s never cruel, he’s never driving you from behind with a whip. He’s good, always good, eternally good, and can never be anything other than good.

Similarly, we said before that death was a liar. Death promises what it can never deliver, and it hides the nefarious truth about what he brings. But Christ is the opposite. Christ is the truth. He’s never anything less than pure truth. You don’t have to worry about his motives.

You don’t have to question his veracity, or his truthfulness. His intentions are clear and always noble. He’s not waiting for you to fail so he can get rid of you. He is light, and in him is no darkness at all. His word is eternally true and trustworthy. Death my lie, but Christ never will.

Also, we said that Death Divides. It tears apart and separates. Husband from wife, parents from children. It destroys families. Death isolates. But Christ does the opposite; Christ unites. When you come to Christ, you’re given a new family. Faith in Christ makes you a part of the household of God. You’re adopted by the heavenly father.

You’re no longer afraid of division and isolation, because nothing can take away this new sonship. You don’t even have to fear losing your new brothers and sisters, because even if they enter the grave ahead of you, you will see them again. And when you get to heaven, you’ll see the legions of believers who died ahead of you, and you’ll be family with them all. Death divides, but Christ unites.

Next, we said that death is a thief. Death only takes and takes, and it leaves us helpless, unable to do anything or affect any change. But unlike death, Christ only gives. He gives life, and gives it abundantly. He gives His Spirit. He gives fruit. He gives help. He even gives influence.

Have you ever thought about that? Death makes you impotent, unable to do anything. But in Christ, you have the influence of prayer. You can move mountains, scripture says. All things are possible with God. Prayer is the way you can change someone’s heart and influence them for the better.

Death robs, and takes, and leaves people helpless, but Christ gives and gives and provides a way for you to help and for you to have influence to help others.

Lastly, we said death leaves you hopeless. It stands as the hard stop at the end of every life, it is the only non-negotiable that every person must face, perhaps along with taxes I suppose.

Death takes away everything, and yet delivers nothing. It steals joy and offers only despair. But Christ is the opposite. If you come to Christ, you can experience hope. True hope. Hope in the face of any trial. Hope in the face of any loss.

You can have a resiliency of spirit that makes no sense to a world that is ruled by death. You can know a peace that exceeds any worldly understanding. You can walk through any trial, any valley, and face it with courage when you have Christ as your friend.

Because when Christ is your friend, death is no longer a victorious enemy. Death is a defeated foe. Death may grieve us now, but his grief is a light and momentary affliction which serves our eternal glory that awaits us. Death serves to either push our trust harder onto Christ or death serves to usher us into eternal glory ourselves. Either way, we win.

Doesn’t Christ sound like a wonderful friend to have? Why wouldn’t you want to have him as your friend, and give up death as your enemy? If you would trust in Christ, he will be your friend today, and death will no longer be an enemy reigning over you. Believe in this Christ, and avoid death. Come to Christ, the fountain of all life, and you can avoid eternal death.

[1] This section contrasting Death and Christ is inspired by a sermon I once heard by Peter Masters. All of this is inspired by him or directly from my recollection of that sermon: Accessed 6/30/2023.


You might also like...