Last Enemy - Death

SYNOPSIS:  According to Paul, the resurrection and the cessation of death occur at the "coming" of Jesus at the end of the age - 1 Corinthians 15:20-28.

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash
Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash
The Apostle Paul stressed the necessity for the resurrection in response to church members who denied a future bodily resurrection for Christians
. In doing so, he appealed to the past resurrection of Jesus as the precedent for the future collective resurrection of believers, a key event that is to coincide with his return in glory, his parousia (1 Corinthians 15:12-58).

In presenting his arguments, Paul revealed that believers who are still alive when Jesus arrives will be transformed when they receive immortal bodies. The bodily resurrection of the righteous means nothing less than the end of Death and the promised New Creation.

In advancing his arguments, the Apostle lays out a sequence of events that will precede the arrival of Jesus, including the final subjugation of all his enemies and the consummation of God’s kingdom. The main argument begins in Verse 12 with the rhetorical question:
  • If Christ is proclaimed that he has been raised from among the dead, how say some of you there is no resurrection of the dead?”
The subject is the reality of the bodily resurrection and all of Paul's arguments are employed to support this proposition. He begins by building a case on the past resurrection of Jesus. If there is no future resurrection, then “not even Christ has been raised!” And if that is the case, the gospel message is null and void. Thus, the future resurrection of believers is based on the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

His Resurrection
His Resurrection
Paul argues next that “
all will be made alive, but each in his own rank” or “order.” Jesus was the “first-fruit” of the final resurrection; he rose bodily first, the rest will follow - “At his coming” or Parousia, which will mark “the end, when he delivers up the kingdom to God and brings to nothing all rule, authority, and power.” In this way, Paul lays out a general order of events that precede the resurrection of believers. The raising of the dead began with Jesus - He is the "firstborn of the dead." At his “coming,” the process that began in his resurrection will be completed (1 Corinthians 15:23).

Elsewhere, Paul uses the Greek noun parousia for the “coming” or “arrival” of Jesus in glory. For example, in his first letter to the Thessalonians he linked the resurrection to the parousia of Jesus:
  • (1 Thessalonians 4:12-15) – “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” - (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, 2:19, 3:13, 4:12-15, 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:1; 2:8).
Significantly, the chronological key Paul provides for when the resurrection will occur is the “coming” or parousia of Jesus. His arrival will mean nothing less than “the end” of the present age, and the cessation of death. In fact, "Death" is the “last enemy” to be destroyed. At that time, Christ will deliver up the "kingdom to God" as he “brings to nothing all rule and all authority and power.” After that, “God will be in all” (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

The complete subjugation of God’s enemies before the parousia indicates that his reign over the "kingdom of God" is underway even now. This is confirmed by messianic promises cited in the New Testament and applied to Jesus (e.g., Psalm 2:8-9, 110:1, Acts 2:34, Philippians 2:6-11, Ephesians 1:20-22, Colossians 1:16; 2:15, Hebrews 1:3-4, 12:2, 1 Peter 3:22, Revelation 12:5).

Sunrise Photo by Terry Tan De Hao on Unsplash
Terry Tan De Hao on Unsplash
The purpose of the passage is not to present all the details, events, and chronologies of the return of Jesus. Instead, Paul introduces specific subjects to support his argument for the future resurrection of believers. Christ was raised a “
first-fruit” of them who “sleep.” Logically, they who “sleep” now will participate then in the same kind of resurrection that Christ did, but at the proper time (when he “comes”).

Paul returns to the cessation of death in the conclusion of Chapter 15:
  • (1 Corinthians 15:51-58) - We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed…during the last trumpet; for it shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
What is clear is that the termination of death coincides with the "arrival" of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead. The “end” marks the final overthrow of God’s enemies and the consummation of His kingdom. This includes the “last enemy, death.” This means there will be no more enemies left to conquer - Death will be no more.

The Apostle argues that the bodily resurrection is not the resuscitation of corpses but, instead, their transformation from one kind of body to another. Bodily resurrection results in bodies geared for life in the Spirit, bodies that no longer are subject to decay and death (1 Corinthians 15:35-50).
The irrefutable evidence for this bodily transformation is the glorified body of Jesus. All this assumes that life in the coming age will be an embodied existence, not a disembodied state. This means resurrection is nothing less than an act of new creation.
Paul concludes by demonstrating the necessity for the transformation of the body (verses 51-55). Both living and dead saints must be transformed when Jesus arrives. The living will be changed and the dead resurrected. All of this means that death must also cease.

The “mystery” Paul revealed is that Christians who remain alive when Jesus arrives will be physically transformed. One implication is that some Christians will remain alive on that day.

The Christian hope rests on the belief in the future bodily resurrection and life in a transformed Creation, and not on escape from the created order into a timeless, invisible, and nonphysical existence. Paul is not engaged in metaphysical speculation. Everlasting life means transformation, not removal; new creation, not escape.

At the parousia of Jesus, the final subjugation of all hostile powers and the cessation of Death mean the New Creation and everlasting life will be the reality after his "arrival." If resurrection occurs and Death ceases at his return, then his parousia means nothing less than a newly created order. This leaves no room for any interim period between his “coming” and the New Creation. The one necessitates the other.


Popular Posts

Hope for All Nations

Age of Fulfillment