“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.

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Comments

In Victor Ko’s FAQ article on “doubts” (Feb 3, 016) he tells his readers that doubts about God does not reflect an absence of faith but rather confirms the presence of faith (as also confirmed apparently by Neal Plantinga).  Does that make me a strong believer, because I sure have my doubts when it comes to this article?

Apocalypse now?  You (Stan Mast) are suggesting that the resurrection is the beginning of the end.  In fact you seem to be saying the reality of the resurrection assures the reality of the apocalypse.  But I’m guessing that there is no time frame for the end.  The “when” of the end is anybody’s guess.  The apostle Paul thought it might be in his lifetime, as have hundreds of Christian leaders throughout history right up to Harold Camping’s recent predictions in 2011. The end is close at hand! This article could have been published almost two thousand separate times, once for each year since the time of the recorded resurrection.  And I imagine it will be printed for thousands of years to come in one form or another.  And yet you want your readers to wait in confidence for something that never seems to come, something that Christians assume is about to happen anytime soon because the signs of the time for Christ’s arrival are clear.  But obviously not too clear.  But if this apocalypse is not soon, as was expected by Paul and countless others, is it even sure?  So I, like so many other Christians, sit and wait and wait and wait.  To me, it seems that you are painting a picture of wishful thinking and not reality.

As Christians we must realize there are numerous eschatological schemes for the end of time.  Not only do Christians have a scheme (or several) for what will happen in the end times, but Muslims do too, as do Jews, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Taoists, as well as a host of other religions.  And they are all very different from each other, except in the fact that, like Christianity, they are all bizarre and fanciful.  But of course Christians claim that the Christian scheme is based on the God inspired and infallible Scriptures, therefor is the only true and accurate scheme.  That’s what is described by Stan Mast in this article (at least according to his interpretation of the Bible).  And because our Bible is inspired by God himself, it is beyond doubt, at least for Christians.

But every other religion makes the same claim for their religion and their Scriptures.  Muslims believe the Koran (God’s word) was given directly by the angel Gabriel (God’s spokesman) to Mohammed and therefore is not only infallible, but inerrant.  To the Muslims, they have the very word of God in the Koran and therefore their end time scheme is the true God revealed scheme of what will happen at the end of history.  The Mormons believe that the angel Moroni gave the book of Mormon (the twelve golden plates) to Joseph Smith and therefor is the very word of God as witnessed by twelve elders who stand as a sure testimony and witness of the Joseph Smith accounting.  Without doubt, the book of Mormon is the true word of God, to the adherents of Mormonism.  We could go on in regard to the accuracy of the inspired Scriptures of every other religion. None can be doubted as the true word of God.  What makes us so sure that only our Bible presents the only true scheme for the end of time, or if any of them do?

But, as Christians, we claim all other so called religions and Scriptures are false, when it comes to predicting what will happen at the end of time.  But of course, the adherents of other religions do the same when commenting on the Christian Bible.  But of course, we say that our Bible account is grounded in reality.  I hear that in Stan’s article.  We say the accounts, predictions, and miracles of other religions are fanciful and obviously untrue, but ours are obviously and objectively true.  But then, simply reread the Christian eschatological predictions in this article and you can see why the religious experts of other religions say the same about Christianity as what we say about their religions, a fanciful prediction of the future.

Also realize that there is religious knowledge or faith knowledge that accompanies every religion.  Much of what Stan describes in this article, including the resurrection of Jesus, does not make it into history books.  History books do not record our understanding that Jesus is very God who came down to earth from heaven in Zero, A.D. and took on human form, or that he rose miraculously from the dead 33 years later.  That’s part of our faith knowledge that is not recorded in history books, just as the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mohamed is not recorded in history books, nor the exodus of the lost tribe of Israel to the Americas in pre-Christian history according to the book of Mormon.  What we assume as objective history (according to the Bible) is not assumed as objective or real, except by those who claim the Christian faith. Again, the teaching of Christianity is a religious or faith knowledge, but not objective truth to those outside of Christian circles.  And to those outside of Christians circles, Christianity does not carry any more weight than any other religion.  They all describe a fictional reality that is fanciful and beyond objectivity.  We, as Christians, assume that everyone looks at the Bible, as a true accounting of reality.  But that simply is no longer true.  Just as those outside of Christian circles look at the Bible’s creation account as a fanciful but untrue account of origins, so also do they look at the rest of the Bible as a fanciful and embellished recording of history.  That seems especially true when one considers the eschatological (end time) teachings presented in the Bible and in this article.  They sound like they could have come right out of a Marvel comic book.

Also realize that the Bible and Christianity can be interpreted in a variety of ways, from literal to figurative, from historic to mythical, while still claiming to be Christian.  This article seems to fall within a strict literal interpretation that carries little credibility in our culture, and even by many Christians.  Whether you understand the Bible as being written from within an archaic and primitive cultural perspective (considered as true by the original readers) or in contrast, in a more figurative way, is all a matter of faith.  I guess I can continue to wait for the return of Christ as have Christians throughout history up until now, but I’m not taking any bets on Stan’s interpretation.  If history repeats itself with the repeated promise of a soon return of Christ, then we may be waiting for a long, long, long time, as will the many generations to come.  Is all this skepticism an affirmation of my faith, as Victor Ko might suggest?  It certainly is a matter of being realistic, rather than being given to the whims of the apostle Paul’s imagination.  And it does give my faith in God reasonable legs to stand upon.  Thanks Stan, for giving us the opportunity to think and to question.