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1 CORINTHIANS 15 AND THE VICTORIOUS HOPE

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  Leave a comment

The General NT Witness

According to the clear testimony of the New Testament, Christ established his kingdom during his earthly ministry over 1900 years ago. As he began his ministry he preached: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Later he preached: “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28).

Peter points to his Resurrection as the point at which Christ assumed Messianic rule: “Therefore, [David] being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, he would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ” (Acts 2:30-31a). He then makes reference to Psalm 110:1 to show the expectation of Christ’s rule:

  • “Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he poured out this which you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: The LORD said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:33-36)

The Specific Pauline Witness

But let us turn to Paul’s presentation of the postmillennial kingdom in 1 Corinthians 15:20-27. This glorious passage resounds with gospel victory as the throbbing essence of the postmillennial hope. Let me give a brief, running exposition of Paul’s thought here.

As we all well-know, Paul is dealing with the idea of the resurrection of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15. He points out that it is in Christ that we shall be made eternally alive by the resurrection: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). But there is an order in the eschatological resurrection: Christ becomes the firstfruits of the resurrection. “But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:23). Just as surely as Christ, the firstfruits, was resurrected in eschatological glory long ago, so shall we, who are found in Him, be resurrected in eschatological glory at some future date.

Contrary to the premillennial expectation, the resurrection is the grand finale of the “last days.” The resurrection punctuates “the end” of history: “But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at his coming. Then comes the end” (1 Cor. 15:23-24). No new era begins: these are the last days that we now live in. No millennial period will follow the resurrection in history because “then comes the end.”

But what may we expect to precede the conclusion of history? Here is where we part company with our amillennial brethren. Verse 24 says, “the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father.” The end of earth history is brought about “whenever” (literally) Christ “delivers up” the kingdom to the Father.

In the construction before us the “delivering up” of the kingdom must occur in conjunction with “the end.” The Greek for “delivers up” here is (paradidoi), which is a verb in the present tense and subjunctive mode. When the word translated “when” or “whenever” (hotan) is followed by the present subjunctive (as here), it indicates a present contingency that occurs in conjunction with the main clause, which is “then comes the end.” Here the contingent factor is in regard to the date of the “end”: “whenever” it may be that he delivers up the kingdom, then the end will come.

Associated with the predestined end here is the prophecy that the kingdom of Christ will be delivered up to the Father. But this occurs only “when he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.” In the Greek text the hotan (“when”) is here followed by the aorist subjunctive, katargese. This construction indicates that the action of this subordinate clause precedes the action of the main clause. The phrase here should be translated: “after he had destroyed all dominion, authority and power.”

Gathering this exegetical data together, we see that the end is contingent: it will come whenever it is that he delivers up the kingdom to the Father. But this will not occur until “after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.” Consequently, “the end” will not occur, Christ will not turn the kingdom over to the Father, until after he has abolished his opposition. Here is the certain hope of postmillennialism!

And notice further that verse 25 demands that “he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” Here the present infinitive translated “reign” indicates the continuance of a reign then in progress. References elsewhere to the Psalm 110 passage specifically mention his sitting at God’s right hand. Sitting at the right hand entails active ruling and reigning, not passive resignation. he is now actively “the ruler over the kings of the earth” who “has made us kings and priests to his God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever” (Rev. 1:5).

Here in 1 Corinthians 15:25 we learn that he must continue to reign, he must continue to put his enemies under his feet—but until when? The answer is identical to that which has already been concluded: it is expected before the end of history. Earlier it was awaiting the abolishing of all rule, authority and power; here it delayed until “he has put all his enemies under his feet.” The repetition of the expectation of his sure conquest before the end is significant. Furthermore, the last enemy that will be subdued is death, which is subdued in conjunction with the Resurrection that occurs at his coming. But the subduing of his other enemies occurs before this, before the Resurrection.

In verse 27 it is clear that he has the title to rule, for the Father “has put everything under his feet.” This is the Pauline expression (borrowed from Psa. 8:6) that is equivalent to Christ’s declaration that “all authority has been given Me.” Christ has the promise of victory and he has the right to victory. Psalm 110, especially as expounded by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, shows he will have the historical, pre-consummation victory as his own before his coming.

This is why he confidently commands us: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). This is why postmillennialism is a “certain hope.”

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Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

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Ken is a Presbyterian pastor and the author or co-author of over thirty books, most on eschatology. He has been married since 1971, and has three children and several grandchildren. He is a graduate of Tennessee Temple University (B.A., 1973), Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1977), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th.M., 1986; Th.D., 1988). He currently pastors Living Hope Presbyterian Church (affiliated with the RPCGA) in Greer, SC. Much of his writing is in the field of eschatology, including his 600 page book, He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology and his 400 page, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (his Th.D. dissertation). He contributed chapters to two Zondervan CounterPoints books on eschatological issues: Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (edited by Darrell L. Bock) and Four Views on the Book of Revelation (edited by C. Marvin Pate). He also debated Thomas D. Ice in Kregel's The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? His books have been published by American Vision, Baker, Zondervan, Kregel, P & R, Greenhaven Press, Nordskog, Wipf & Stock, and several other publishers. He has published scores of articles in such publications as Tabletalk, Westminster Theological Journal, Evangelical Theological Society Journal, Banner of Truth, Christianity Today, Antithesis, Contra Mundum, and others. He has spoken at over 100 conferences in America, the Caribbean, and Australia. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and a Church Council Committee member of Coalition on Revival.

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