1 Cor 15:20-28 – The Hope of the Resurrection - Why, When, How

Translation and Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 29 Nov 2009

Introduction: The Example of Job

The book of James tells us to consider the suffering and patience of the prophets, including Job (James 5:10-11), so let us begin with Job:

o       In one day, armies of Arabs and Persians destroyed thousands of livestock on his ranch,

o       Then a tornado caused his oldest son’s house to collapse, killing all seven sons and three daughters.

o       A few days later, Job came down with a painful skin disease that covered his entire body.

o       As he sat in misery and poverty, his friends criticized him, and his wife told him she wished he was dead.

This would have been a pretty hopeless situation, don’t you think?


Do you ever feel hopeless?

o       Do you ever wonder if all the wrongs in the world can ever really be righted?

o       Do you ever wonder if life will ever get any better? If life is worth living?

o       Do you ever wonder if Christianity is really true? If it matters whether you do what is right or whether you indulge yourself?

Consider what Job said in these circumstances: Job 19:14-29 “My family has been cut off, and my dear friends have forgotten me. 15 Those who live in my house and my maids call me a stranger; I am an alien in their sight... 17 My spirit is strange to my wife... 18 Even young children despise me... 19 All my dear friends abhor me, and those whom I love are turned against me. 20 My skin sticks to my bone… 25 But as for me I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last He will stand up upon the earth: 26 And after my skin, even this body, is destroyed, then from my flesh I will see God; 27 whom I, even I, shall see, on my side, and mine eyes will behold, and not as a stranger. It makes my heart stop within my chest. 28 If you say, “How will we persecute him!” And that the root of the matter is found in me; 29 be afraid… for wrath brings the punishments of the sword, that you may know there is a judgment.


Job revived his faith by calling to mind the resurrection (“after my body has been destroyed, in my flesh I will see God”), and it revived his hope so that he could live in obedience to God. Note also his assertion that a resurrection also means that God will hold us accountable to how we live: “there is a judgment.”


I want to encourage you to strengthen your hope by meditating on the resurrection, as Paul teaches us from I Cor. 15. Let’s begin our study of the middle portion of 1 Cor 15 by addressing:

1.      WHY we can have Hope that we will be Resurrected (vs. 21-22)

2.      WHEN we can look forward to the Resurrection (vs. 23-25)

3.      HOW the Resurrection will Come About (vs. 26-28)

WHY Hope for Resurrection? Corporate Extension (vs. 21-22)

20. But now, Christ has been raised out of the dead – the firstfruit of the ones who have been sleeping.

Paul starts in v.20 with an emphatic declaration that Jesus Christ has, in fact, been raised from the dead. The historical fact was inarguable in his day. The thing he wanted to address, however, was whether the resurrection of Christ has anything to do with us.


Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians from Ephesus around the time of the Passover holiday, as was mentioned back in chapter 5 (v.7). The Passover lamb was killed as a substitute for the people in the houses in the Old Testament, so Jesus was killed as a substitute for all those who believe in Him, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”


What is lesser-known, is that in the Old Testament, the first day of the week after the Passover celebration was the ceremony of first-fruits. So the first-fruits ceremony was on a Sunday. This was when the first-born animals, the first sheaves of grain, early fruits, and even the year’s first batch of home-made bread was presented to God as an offering (Lev 23, Num 15:18ff, Rom 11:16).

o       The Greek word for “firstfruits” is compounded from two words literally meaning “away from + beginning” it was an offering taken “away from” the “beginning” of the produce of the farm or the first profits of your business.

o       Here in 1 Cor 15:20, Paul calls Christ the “firstfruit.” What did Jesus present on the day after Passover Saturday? He presented His resurrected body in Jerusalem on Resurrection Sunday!

o       This is marvelous news, because the harvest that came after the first fruit was the same kind of produce or profit as the first fruit was, only lots more of it! So if Christ was the firstfruit, that means lots more resurrected bodies like Jesus’ – including our own!

o       In the firstfruits, the entire produce of the year was consecrated, so the power of Christ’s resurrection is extended to all of us! (Calvin)

o       Col 1:18a And He [Jesus] is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead…”

o       Acts 26:23 chronicles how Paul, later in life, showed from the O.T. scriptures “how that the Christ must suffer, and how that He first by the resurrection of the dead should proclaim light both to the people [the Jews] and to the nations [the Gentiles].

o       The resurrection is good news of “light” and hope for the world!


Next, in vs. 21&22, Paul reaches even further back in history to the very first man, Adam, and teaches us a little more about the connectedness of the human race - not only to Christ but also - to Adam:

            21. For since, on account of a man, there is death,

            also, on account of a man, there is resurrection of dead [men].

            22. For, just as in Adam, all are dying,

            thus also in the Christ, all will be made alive,


That means that death is not natural. It didn’t exist at the beginning of the world. It only came into the world after the first man and woman disobeyed God. “By man came death.” Death is the punishment God decreed for sin. “You shall surely die!” was the sentence God pronounced upon disobedience to His authoritative command in Genesis 2. “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) Thus also, death will remain in the world until there are no more rebels for God to punish.


Perhaps you can see why Adam had to die because he disobeyed God, but why should we also be dying if it wasn’t us but Adam? The reason is that in God’s eyes, we are all connected. Just as you inherited certain physical features and certain mannerisms, as well as your family name from your father, so, in God’s creation, we inherited from our greatest grandfather Adam the guilt of his sin as well as the inability to obey God perfectly. Paul goes into further theological detail on this in Romans:


Therefore, through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death passed unto all men… 15) But the free gift is not  like the trespass. For if by the trespass of the one man the many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound unto the many… 18) So then as through one trespass the judgment came unto all men to condemnation; even so through one act of righteousness the free gift came unto all men to justification of life. (Romans 5:12)


The good news is that just as Adam’s rebellion was not private but rather affected all mankind, so also Jesus’ death and resurrection was not private - it affects the entire human race as well. Just as we are corporately connected to Adam, we are also corporately connected to Christ, who is called “the last Adam” later on in v. 45.


Even when we were dead on account of our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and made us to sit with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:5-6)


“On account of the man” Christ Jesus, we have resurrection from death! But does “all will be made alive” mean that nobody will go to hell? Or does it just mean that all will experience a bodily afterlife?

Theologians are divided over whether the “all” who are “made alive” in 1 Cor 15:22 refers to “all those elect to salvation” or to “all mankind.” But other scriptures are clear that everyone’s body will be resurrected; some will spend eternity in heaven while others spend eternity in hell (the lake of fire):

Because Jesus died for all of us, and presented Himself as the firstfruit of the resurrection life, His resurrection guarantees our resurrection. This is WHY we have hope.

So if there is going to be a resurrection, WHEN will it be?

WHEN Should We Hope for Resurrection?: God’s Timing (vs. 23-25)

23. yet each in his own rank:

Christ is the firstfruit,

then those who are Christ’s – during His visitation,

24. then there is the end,

            whenever He delivers the kingdom to His God and Father,

            whenever He has put out of commission all rule and all authority and power.

                        25. For it is necessary for Him to reign

                        until whenever He has put all His enemies beneath His feet.


As we can see, the timing of the Resurrection is oriented around a ranking system which sets out in an “order”-ly way as to who gets the first “turn” and who gets the next. The timing of the resurrection is also organized around a work in progress that Jesus is accomplishing.


As far as the “order/rank/turn” goes, it is a military term used in the O.T. to indicate an orderly division of troops (e.g. Num 10:14-25). God’s order, according to 1 Cor 15 is:

  1. Christ first
  2. Then there is (v.25) a time when Christ reigns and progressively subdues His enemies.
  3. Then those who belong to Christ at His coming are resurrected
  4. Then the end
  1. We’ve established that Christ’s resurrection happened in history around 30 AD.
  2. When He ascended to the right hand of the father, He began the phase of His reign described in v.25. Some theologians call this the “mediatorial kingdom,” where Christ serves as mediator between man and God the Father.

o       And in the days of those kings [Roman emperors – the days in which Jesus was born] shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people; but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. (Dan 2:44)

o       Some theologians worry that v.28 might make Jesus out to be an inferior part of the Trinity of God and might contradict other passages of scripture that describe Jesus’ kingdom as everlasting (Dan 7:14, & 27, Lk 1:33, 2Pet 1:11, Isa 9:7). The best explanation I have found for this was propounded by Augustine and developed by Calvin: The subjection has to do with Christ’s human nature, and the handoff of the kingdom has to do, not with a resignation of His eternal kingdom, but a transfer from His humanity to His glorious divinity at the time when His humanity no longer needs to be interposed between us and God.

  1. Then those who belong to Christ will be resurrected “at His Coming.” When is that?

o       It is obviously a future event from Paul’s perspective.

o       The Greek word for “coming” is parousia, and indicates an official visit.

§         It was often used to describe the arrival of a king to a city.

§         Christians have used this term consistently to describe the second coming of Christ.

o       Who are those who “belong to Christ”? Gal 5:24 They that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof.

o       This bit of information is intended to call the Corinthians and Christians of all ages to patiently wait for the resurrection to come in God’s timing when Jesus returns.

o       We who are alive, who are left until the coming/Parousia of the Lord, shall certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16) For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; 17) then we who are alive, who are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so we will be with the Lord forever. (1Thes. 4:15)

o       Are you willing to trust God’s timing for making everything right?

  1. Finally the end comes after Jesus has “ended/destroyed/abolished/put out of commission/put under His feet” all “enemies” and all forms of “rule, authority and power.”

o       Although some theologians limit this shutting down of powers to the bad guys, the phrase “all rule, authority, and power” sounds pretty comprehensive to me, so I think this could indicate a fundamental change in the way things are run in the new heavens and the new earth – no more need for governors or church elders or archangels because we will be directly governed by God Himself. (And no more need for intermediaries like the sun to bring us light because God Himself will be our light!) – cf. Col 1:20

o       καταργεω throughout the N.T. – what is “destroyed/abolished”?

§         The enmity of the law: Eph 2:15 having abolished in the flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances…

§         1Cor 2:6 The “wisdom” of the gospel is growing and “putting out of commission” the “rulers of this age.” (cf.1:28)

§         1Cor 13:8-11 prophecies, tongues, knowledge

§         Our sinful nature: Rom 6:6 our old man was crucified with Him [Christ], that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin; (cf. 2Ti 1:10, 1Co 6:13)

§         Satan: Heb 2:14 Since then the children are sharers in flesh and blood, He also himself in like manner partook of the same; that through death He might put out of commission him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; (cf. 2Th 2:8)

o       Does this support the Amil or Pre-mil or Post-mil position of eschatology?
“Some think the end refers to the end of the world immediately after the return of Christ. Up until then, Christ reigns in this world but then turns the spiritual kingdom over to God, putting down the last enemy, death, before doing so. These theologians are called a-millennial­ists [or Post-millennialists] because they believe in no earthly millennial kingdom to be set up in this world after the return of Christ.
     Other scholars, called pre-millennialists, think the end refers to the total end of God’s program which includes a rule of Jesus Christ over this earth for 1,000 years after the Second Advent.” (Arnold)
     Pre-millennialists point to the distinction between v. 23 and v.24 – first a resurrection of those belonging to Christ, then a perfected kingdom turned over to the Father, and they assume that since there are thousands of years between the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of those belonging to Christ, there must be a thousand years between the resurrection of those belonging to Christ and the handover of the perfected kingdom.
    However, even the premilennial commentators I read agreed that this text doesn’t necessarily say anything about the millennium and that the rule of Christ whereby He is gradually subduing all His enemies under His feet is already happening now, which is the A-millennial position.


Note that the exact timing of the resurrection is unknown (“No man knows the day or the hour…”), but the scriptures are unified in the chorus that it is coming. Be patient. Jesus isn’t quite done with His current work. The resurrection is coming, though, because we are inbetween His resurrection and the perfection of all things.


Note also that Jesus is the one reigning, not the devil or any man. Certainly some authority gets delegated to those parties, but Jesus remains in ultimate control. Take comfort that the evil in this world is not like a runaway horse that can’t be stopped; the reigns are in the hands of the one who loved us enough to lay down His life for us!


God “…raised [Christ] out of the dead and seated Him in His right hand in the heavens above every ruler and authority and power and lordship and every name being named - not only in this age but also in the one which is about to be, and everything He subordinated under His feet, and to Him He gave headship over everything in the church, which is His body, the fullness of the One who is filling all in all. Eph 1:20-23


We’ve seen WHY we can hope in the Resurrection, and now have some sense of WHEN that resurrection will be, and in delving into these things, the question of HOW the resurrection comes about is already well on its way to being answered:

HOW Does Resurrection Come About?: Through Christ Subduing Enemies (v 24-28)

26. Death, the last enemy, is being put out of commission,

            27. for “He has subjected all things beneath His feet.”

                        (Now, wherever it said that, “all things had been subjected,” obviously

                        it was [with] the exception of the One who subjected all the things to Him.

                        28. And whenever all the things have been subjected to Him,

                        then also the Son Himself will be subject to the One

                        who subjected all the things to Him, in order that God might be the all in all.


1.      God gave Jesus a mission with authority

a.       After His resurrection Jesus proclaimed, “All authority has been given unto me” (Mat. 28:18)

b.      Psalm 110:1-2 Jehovah says unto my Lord, “Sit thou at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool. Jehovah will send forth the rod of your strength out of Zion: Rule in the midst of your enemies.” (cf. Mat 22:44, Luke 19:27)

c.       For it wasn’t unto angels that He subjected the world to come... 6) But someone has somewhere testified [Psalm 8], saying, “What is man, that You are mindful of him? Or the son of man, that You visit him? 7) You made him a little lower than the angels; You crowned him with glory and honor, and set him over the works of Your hands: 8) You put all things in subjection under his feet.” For inasmuch as He subjected all things unto Him, He left nothing that is not subject to Him. Now, we don’t yet see all things subjected to Him. 9) But we behold Him who has been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He should taste of death for every man. (Heb 2:5-9)

d.      David originally wrote Psalm 8 in regard to humankind and nature. But when applied to Christ, as it is here in the N.T., it typifies Christ’s universal dominion. Furthermore, man lost his dominion in part due to his sin, but through Christ we recover what was taken from us (Calvin). If Christ is the perfect man, then whatever belonged to man belongs to Christ in superior measure (Clark).

2.      Jesus is subjecting everything under Himself

a.       In accepting the Father’s assignment, Christ is being submissive to the Father, but it is not a submission like other creatures; His is “voluntary” and “co-equal” (JFB)

b.      In this age, Christ’s kingdom is the focus of the whole Trinity. Not only does the Father put all things under Christ’s feet, Christ puts all things under His own feet, and this work is generally done “by the Spirit.” It is difficult to make hard and fast distinctions among the persons of the Godhead in this work.

c.       The regeneration of the hearts of people from every nation is the primary way the kingdom is growing now. “All power is given unto me, therefore, going into all the world, make disciples of every nation.” (Matthew 28:18) This is the commission that brings all under the lordship of Christ so that all bow at His feet. This also puts evil out of commission, for as people change into new creations in Christ, the systems of sin that they used to support begin to crumble.

d.      The Greek word for “nation” in the Great Commission of Matthew 28 is εθνη, from which we get the word “ethnic.” The Greek meaning behind this word had more to do with different languages and cultures than with the political nations that we think of when we hear the word “nations” today. While there are some 200+ political nations in the world today, anthropoligists have identified that there are about 16,000 ethnic groups in the world today.

e.       Since the goal is to bring salvation to all the nations – the ethnic nations, one way of measuring the progress of Christ’s kingdom is by noting how many of the world’s 16,000 ethnic groups have a significant number of Christians among them. By this measure, Jesus has made tremendous progress in forming disciples within 10,000 different ethnic groups!

f.       While Christ is the mediator between us and the Father, let us bring people to Christ and also “wait patiently until Christ vanquishes all His enemies and brings us, along with Himself, under the dominion of God, that the kingdom of God may in every respect be accomplished in us!” (Calvin)

3.      Death will be the last enemy destroyed

a.       Death was the last enemy to enter the world, so it will be the last to leave (Chrysostom).

b.      Since death is the divine punishment for sin, it can’t be lifted until sin is entirely gone.

c.       “God shall then come into direct connection with the earth instead of mediatorially, when Christ shall have fully and finally removed everything that severs asunder the holy God and a sinful earth.” (JFB)

d.      Phil 3:21 He shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation [the resurrection!], that it may be conformed to the body of His glory, according to the working whereby He is able even to subject all things unto Himself.

e.       Rev 21:4 and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away.

f.       Note that the verb in v.26 is Present tense (notwithstanding that the KJV and NASB render it in the future tense and the ESV and NIV make it into an infinitive) – death is “being destroyed/ abolished/put out of commission” even in the present time – at the same time that all are dying as a result of Adam’s sin in v.22. It is a work in progress, but it will eventually be complete.

4.      God will be all in all

a.      Zech. 14:9 Jehovah shall be King over all the earth. In that day shall Jehovah be one, and His name one.

b.      Col 3:9b …you have put off the old man with his doings, 10) and have put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of Him who created him: 11) where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all.

c.       Rom 11:36 For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever.

d.      Is God everything to you?



o       Because Jesus died for all of us, and presented Himself as the firstfruit of the resurrection life, His resurrection guarantees our resurrection. This is WHY we have hope.

o       Although we don’t know exactly WHEN, we believe the resurrection is coming, because we are inbetween His resurrection and the perfection of all things.

o       Meanwhile we can take comfort that Jesus is in control of this world and is putting an end to sin and death.

o       Let us join Him in His mission of bringing eternal life into the hearts of people from every nation and wait patiently for the day when He makes everything right and abolishes death altogether!