The Final Word on Death

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 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. 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 (1 Corinthians 15:20-28, ESV).

Below are selected moments from Tom Wright’s commentary on this passage.

“The resurrection of Jesus was the moment when the one true God appointed the man through whom the whole cosmos would be brought back into its proper order. A human being had got it into this mess; a human being would get it out again. The story of Genesis 1-3—the strange, haunting tale of a wonderful world spoiled by the rebellion of God’s image-bearing creatures—is in Paul’s mind throughout this long chapter” (Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians, p. 212). After rehearsing a kind of mini redemptive-historical narrative, St. Paul begins to discuss the coming of God’s kingdom. Many Jews of St. Paul’s longed for the coming of God’s kingdom—for the day when “God would become king over the whole world, restoring Israel to glory, defeating the nations that had oppressed God’s people for so long, and raising all the righteous dead to share in the new world” (p. 212). For St. Paul, with the resurrection of Christ, this day had in a very real sense been inaugurated, yet, in a way that took him totally by surprise. “Instead of all God’s people being raised at the end of history, one person had been raised in the middle of history. That was the shocking, totally unexpected thing. But this meant that the coming of God’s kingdom was happening in two phases” (p. 213). When St. Paul speaks of each occurring “in his own order,” he has in mind both the order of events and God’s final ordering (p. 213). The former, viz., the order of events, speaks of Jesus’ present reign as the risen Lord and King. Yet, the “purpose of this reign—to defeat all the enemies that have defaced, oppressed and spoiled God’s magnificent world, and his human creatures in particular—has not yet been accomplished. One day this task will be complete: the final enemy, death itself, will be defeated (verse 26), and God will be ‘all in all’ (verse 28)” (p. 213).

Then we move to the final ordering where we have a picture of a world “put back to rights.” Here St. Paul appeals to two psalms, and weaves together a Messianic mosaic manifesting to us what we as imago Dei were created to be and do. “Psalm 110, quoted in verse 25, is about the king whom God will place at his right hand until all his enemies are brought into subjection. This, Paul declares, is now being fulfilled in Jesus. Psalm 8, quoted in verse 27, belongs closely with this, speaking of God ‘putting all things into order under his feet’ [Wright’s translation]. But instead of talking about the Messiah, as Psalm 110 does, Psalm 8 talks about the human being. This role, of being under God and over the world, is not just the task of the Messiah; it’s what God had in mind from the very start when he created human beings in his own image. This is how Paul ties the passage tightly together: the achievement of the Messiah, and his present reign in which he is bringing the world back to order, is the fulfillment of what God intended humans to do (see verse 21). The story told in Genesis is completed by the story told in the Psalms” (p. 214). Our enemy, death, of course plays a crucial role in this story; however, death does not have the final word. Rather, the Final Word has the final word and death is silenced. He is Risen!

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