20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For he "has put everything under his feet." Now when it says that "everything" has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
I had a Geography teacher when I was in high school who, if nothing else, ran a rather tight ship. Things were very well organized and the classroom discipline was tight. Then one Monday we came into class and found out that our regular teacher would be gone for what turned out to be two weeks. Things quickly got chaotic while he was gone. The students didn’t listen to the substitute and had quite a bit of fun making her life difficult. What’s worse, the classroom that had been so orderly and truly beautiful, quickly fell apart. Then, as quickly as it began, it was over. Our teacher came back on Monday and he quickly set things to rights. By the time we arrived on Monday morning, the classroom had already been restored and it didn’t take him long to put the classes and the students back in line either.
Paul believed that the entire world has been completely out of whack since the Fall of Adam and Eve described in Genesis 3. Not just mankind, but also our environment has gone horribly wrong. Genesis 3 makes it clear that a human being got us into this situation and now, a human being would get us out. For Paul, the resurrection was the demonstration that the King had returned and had set about the job of setting things right in the universe. Yet, this could be a source of great confusion due to the Jewish expectations of resurrection. They believed that the resurrection would indeed be the thing that set things right in the universe, but that it would include all of the righteous at the end of the present age, not one person in the middle of the age. The Jews were waiting for the Kingdom of God to come at the resurrection. Now Paul was telling them the fact of Jesus’ resurrection was the clear signal that His Kingdom was available now.
Christ’s resurrection, in fact, was a guarantee that those who entered into His life would be rewarded with everything that Christ had secured including the resurrection. This is his point in using the very Old Testament picture of the firsfruits. Jewish farmers would take the very first of their crops, the firstfruits, and by faith would offer them to God. It was a seen as honoring God and was a promise from God and a demonstration of faith that the rest of the harvest would be coming. Thus, the entire crop was consecrated to God. His point is that the resurrection of Christ, who is our firstfruits, was a promise from God of the general resurrection for all those in Christ. If Christ was raised from the dead then so would those in him because what is true of the king is true of his people.
Paul continues in his Old Testament imagery, explaining that all men and women were descendants of Adam. Adam, because of his sin, had brought death to the whole human race and put us in subjugation to sin. Every human being is born into Adam and so, we are born to die. The key to understanding what Paul is saying here lies in the little phrase ‘in Christ’. For those who have entered into Christ, a concept that was almost always on Paul’s mind, all will be made alive. Those in Christ are able to escape the death that is our fate in Adam. Yet, everything in its time. Christ was the firstfruits, the marker that death had been overcome. In the meantime, the righteous will wait until he returns. Then we will all experience the resurrection that his resurrection points to and promises to us.
When Paul speaks of the concept of being in Christ, he is referring to the process of laying down our lives (Gal. 2:20) and being baptized into the death and life of Christ (Rom. 6:1-14). It is this faith that allowed Paul to describe believers as being hidden in Christ (Col. 3:3) and clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27), beginning the ongoing process of putting off our old lives and putting on the new life of Christ (Eph. 4:21-24). For Paul, being in Christ meant many things, not the least of those was having a share in the resurrection and the age to come. But that was not just a future hope. Those who laid down their lives could enter into God’s future reality now in the present age. We can begin to live by the values and in the reality of that future age right now and spread the rule of that life, the kingdom of God, to a world around us that is still in Adam.
This future age, that we live and anticipate in the present, is the time when all things in the universe will be set to rights; they will be put back as God intended His universe to be. All order will be restored to all things. Paul certainly believes that Christ is reigning in His kingdom in the present age. Yet, he has not yet accomplished the final purpose of His reign, to set all things straight. That will come in due time. On that day, often known as the Second Coming, the task will be accomplished once-and-for-all. How will we know that the day has come? It will be the day when all the righteous experience the resurrection; it will be impossible to miss. At that time, the authority and dominion that had been given to man, lost to Satan, and taken by Christ, will be returned to the Father. Christ must, as Psalm 110 (the most quoted Psalm in the entire New Testament) says, reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. On that final day, all enemies, including death, the ultimate enemy, will be defeated and finally destroyed.
In verse 27, Paul quotes from Psalm 8, saying that God “has put everything under his feet.” Psalm 8, though, is referring to man in his original state. This is how God intended man to be; we were made to have dominion over God’s creation. Sin, however, makes us less than human. Christ was free of sin and thus, the genuine human being. Because of this status as being a genuine human being, he has secured the ability for all of us who would enter into Him to become genuine human beings as well.
In describing this process of all things being put under the feet of Christ, Paul wants to ensure that there are no misunderstandings. In his discussion of all things being put under Christ’s feet, he wants to be clear that this does not include God, by whom he meant the Father. Paul here never uses the word Trinity, but clearly he is thinking in trinitarian terms. Paul is not saying that the Father is superior the Son in essence or type. He is talking about order. Jesus is eternally the Son who remains in humble subordination to the Father. They share unique glory and essence (Philippians 2:9-11). As the early Church Fathers described it, the Father eternally begets the Son (which means that the relationship between the Father and Son is that the Son has no beginning but proceeds from the Father eternally in relationship). If everything comes from the Father, the Son is the one through whom it comes (1 Corinthians 8:6). Once all things have been made subject to the Father once again, Christ will also be. As theologian N.T Wright says “Paul envisages the entire cosmos sorted out at last, put into the shape the creator intended; and part of that shaping is the status of Jesus himself, revealed as the Father’s true and only Son.”
The resurrection of believers hasn’t happened yet. Things haven’t been totally to rights yet. But the resurrection of Christ is the guarantee for those who are in Him. Is this your true hope? Is this the thing that drives you through life and compels you? If not, what does?