But Christ Has Been Raised: Implications of His Resurrection – 1 Cor. 15:20-28

24 Apr

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all.

The argument Paul plays out in verses 12-19 is a purely theoretical one. His “If … then …” argument was simply to show the folly of rejecting the resurrection of the dead, a claim which directly contradicts the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Now in verses 20-28, Paul takes up the truth of Christ’s resurrection, a truth he has already set down in verses 1-11. Verses 1-11 point out the historical authentication of the resurrection of Christ. Now, Paul sets down the logical implications of His resurrection. The resurrection of the dead is not only consistent with Christ’s resurrection, it is a certainty which flows out of His resurrection. There are no “ifs” here, but only the much stronger term “since” (verse 21).

Christ has been raised from the dead” (verse 20) is the premise of Paul’s argument in these verses. As the risen Christ, He is the “first fruits of those who are asleep.” In other words, whatever happened to our Lord is sure to happen to those who have fallen asleep, those who have died trusting in Him. In the Old Testament, the “first fruits” are the first offspring or crop to be obtained by the farmer. It was proof that there was more to come. Christ’s resurrection is our proof that more resurrections will follow.

How do we know that Christ’s resurrection guarantees a resurrection for others? The answer to this can be seen when one understands the unique relationship which exists between Adam and our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom Paul later refers as the “first Adam” and the “last Adam” (15:45). By his sin, Adam brought about death for himself and the whole human race. Christ, by His righteous life, substitutionary death, burial, and resurrection, brings about life for mankind.[1] Adam brought death upon all men; Christ will make men alive.

As some falsely taught (2 Timothy 2:18), this resurrection of men from the dead has not already occurred but is yet to come. Christ’s resurrection will actually bring about a sequence of resurrections, with the last and final resurrection abolishing death altogether (verse 26). Everything must occur in its proper order, as ordained by God (verse 23). Christ has already risen from the dead, and His resurrection is but the first fruits of the other resurrections yet to occur. The next resurrection mentioned is that of those who have trusted in our Lord for salvation, which occurs when He returns to this earth to defeat all His enemies and to establish His rule over all the earth (verse 23). Then, finally, the last resurrection will take place, the resurrection of the unbelieving dead.[2]

Paul speaks here of two “reigns”, the “reign” of Christ, during which time all of His enemies are defeated, and the “reign of the Father,” when Christ hands the kingdom over to the Father, in submission to Him. The reign of Christ is, I believe, the millennium, described in Revelation 20. The reign of the Father is the eternal kingdom of God, forever and ever, described in Revelation 21 and 22.

Are there those who deny the resurrection of the dead and thus also (by implication) the resurrection of our Lord? They cannot be those who look for the coming kingdom of God, for the last and final victory of Christ is His victory over death, a victory achieved by the resurrection of the unbelieving dead and the banishing of death to the lake of fire. The kingdom cannot come until all of our Lord’s enemies are defeated, and His last and final enemy is death itself. The final stage of resurrection, the last fruit of our Lord’s resurrection, is the resurrection of the unbelieving dead. When this final enemy is defeated, the kingdom of our Lord is secured, and it is at this time that our Lord subjects the final “thing” to God—Himself—by handing the kingdom over to the Father. The resurrection of the dead is not only a vital part of the gospel, it plays a crucial role in the establishment of the kingdom of God. Who would dare to deny it?

15:20 But the fact is that Christ has been raised from the dead. He has become the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again.NLT However, the above argument is moot because the fact is that Christ has been raised from the dead. The hypothetical “if” statements in the previous verses concede to the certain facts of history. Christians may indeed face difficulty, but the fact of the Resurrection changes everything. Because Christ was raised from the dead, he has become the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again. The “first of a great harvest” (also called the firstfruits) was the first part of the harvest that faithful Jews would bring to the temple as an offering (Leviticus 23:10). Although Christ was not the first to rise from the dead (he raised Lazarus and others), he was the first to be raised to never die again. He is the forerunner for those who believe in him, the proof of their eventual resurrection to eternal life.


This evidence demonstrates Jesus’ uniqueness in history and proves that he is God’s Son. No one else was able to predict his own resurrection and then accomplish it.

Erroneous Explanations for the Empty Tomb


Evidence against These Explanations




Jesus was only unconscious and later revived.


A Roman soldier told Pilate that Jesus was dead.


Mark 15:44-45


The Roman soldiers did not break Jesus’ legs because he had already died, and one of them pierced Jesus’ side with a spear.


John 19:32-34


Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus’ body and placed it in the tomb.


John 19:38-42


The women made a mistake and went to the wrong tomb.


Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw Jesus placed in the tomb.


Matthew 27:59-61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55


  On Sunday morning, Peter and John also went to the same tomb.


John 20:3-9


Unknown thieves stole Jesus’ body.


The tomb was sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers.


Matthew 27:65-66


The disciples stole Jesus’ body.


The disciples were ready to die for their faith. Stealing Jesus’ body would have been admitting that their faith was meaningless.


Acts 12:2


  The tomb was guarded and sealed.


Matthew 27:66


The religious leaders stole Jesus’ body to produce it later. If the religious leaders had taken Jesus’ body, they would have produced it to stop the rumors of his resurrection.




15:21-22 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, Adam, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man, Christ. Everyone dies because all of us are related to Adam, the first man. But all who are related to Christ, the other man, will be given new life.NLT Death came into the world as a consequence of the sin of one man, Adam (Genesis 3:17-19). Adam sinned against God and brought alienation from God and death to all humanity. Sin resulted in death. All human beings are related to Adam and have two characteristics in common: They are sinners; and they will die. By capitulating to sin, Adam allowed the whole human race to succumb to death. Death is inescapable; it comes to every living thing. And the reign of death over creation began because of Adam’s sin. Paul contrasted the roles of two single agents: Adam and Christ. Adam’s sin brought condemnation and death to all; Christ’s sinless sacrifice and resurrection brought resurrection from the dead to all who are related to Christ through accepting his sacrifice on their behalf. Those who believe in him will be given new life. This same idea is explained in Romans 5:12-21.

Adam’s sin allowed death to claim every human’s life; Christ’s death challenged that claim and nullified it in the Resurrection. Adam “gave” us all death; Christ offers life to all. In other words, real life can only be found in Christ. At conception, we receive as part of our human inheritance the gift of death; at conversion, we receive Christ’s gift of eternal life. The choice is between death and life. How tragic that so many make the wrong choice. What will you choose—life or death?

15:23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised first; then when Christ comes back, all his people will be raised.NLT Paul wanted to clarify, however, that there is an order to this resurrection. It had not already happened, as perhaps some of the false teachers were claiming. Rather, Christ was raised first, three days after his crucifixion, and he is the “first of a great harvest” (15:20 nlt). That “harvest” will be taken in when Christ comes back at his second coming. At that time, his people, those who believed in him as Savior, will be raised from death to eternal life.

15:24-25 Then the end will come, when he 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.NIV The words “then the end will come” did not mean that the end would come (or had come) immediately after Christ’s resurrection. This is an unspecified time of an event still to occur. At the time of Christ’s second coming, “the end will come,” and the resurrected Christ will conquer all evil, including death. (See Revelation 20:14 for words about the final destruction of death.) Christ will destroy all dominion, authority and power that oppose God and then hand over the kingdom to God the Father. At Christ’s resurrection, Christ began the destruction of Satan and all his dominion. At the resurrection of the dead, all Satan’s power will be broken. Christ must reign because God has ordained it so; what God has said cannot be changed. The word “must” has the sense of “will definitely without a doubt”; Christ will reign as the ultimate ruler, having put all his enemies under his feet. This phrase is used in the Old Testament to refer to total conquest (see Psalm 110:1).

Because the resurrection of Christ is an accomplished fact and because the promise of the resurrection is a future fact, the promise of Christ’s ultimate and final reign can be trusted as fact and anticipated by every believer.

Although God the Father and God the Son are equal (Philippians 2:6), each has a special work to do and an area of sovereign control (15:28). Christ is not inferior to the Father, but his work is to defeat all evil on earth. First, he defeated sin and death on the cross, and in the last days, he will defeat Satan and all evil. World events may seem out of control, and justice may seem scarce. But God is in control, allowing evil to remain for a time until he sends Jesus to earth again. Then Christ will present to God a perfect new world.
We, too, have special roles to play in God’s plan. Much of Christ’s work is done in us, and requires our cooperation and obedience. To also participate in Christ’s work, we must allow his words and presence to direct our relationships and decisions.

15:26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.NRSV While the enemies in 15:25 were not named, one last enemy was here named—death. Death is every living being’s enemy, the common fate of all humanity. Death is the last enemy that always wins. But Christ will destroy death! At the Cross and through the Resurrection, Christ has already defeated death. Yet people still die. For those who believe in Christ, however, death is merely a doorway into eternal life. Finally one day, there will be no more death. John proclaimed this in the book of Revelation: “And death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire” (20:14).

15:27 For 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.NIV As noted in 15:24-25, the one ultimately in charge is God the Father. This verse sounds very much like Psalm 8:6: “You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet” (niv). The first “he” refers to God, who “has put everything under [Christ’s] feet.” Because God did this, it is clear (or should have been to Paul’s readers) that the word “everything” does not include God himself. God gave the Son supreme authority over everything, except God himself.

15:28 When 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.NIV When he has done this, when the Son has toppled all evil powers and when God has placed everything under the Son’s feet, then the Son himself will be made subject to God. “God” here refers to “God the Father.” No one can take God’s place, not even the Son. This must happen so that God may be all in all. Some have used this verse to attempt to prove the inferiority of Christ (that he was not equal with God). But this verse is not about the person, nature, or being of God (his essence) as it relates to Christ. Instead, this verse is speaking of the work or mission of Christ, whereby he willingly obeyed the Father by subjecting the government of the world first to himself, then symbolically and willingly placing it under God’s control. In these words, Paul was not attempting to take the three persons of the Trinity and decide their relative importance. Their essential nature is always one and the same; however, the authority rests through the work each has accomplished. God sent the Son; the Son will finish the work and then will turn redeemed humanity back over to God.

This again is a very difficult passage because it deals with ideas which are strange to us.

It speaks of Christ as “the first-fruits of them that sleep.” Paul is thinking in terms of a picture which every Jew would recognize. The Feast of the Passover had more than one significance. It commemorated the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt. But it was also a great harvest festival. It fell just at the time when the barley harvest was due to be ingathered. The law laid it down, “You shall bring the sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest to the priest; and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, that you may find acceptance; on the morrow after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.” (Leviticus 23:10, 11). Some sheaves of barley must be reaped from a common field. They must not be taken from a garden or an orchard or from specially prepared soil. They must come from a typical field. When the barley was cut, it was brought to the Temple. There it was threshed with soft canes. so as not to bruise it. It was then parched over the fire in a perforated pan so that every grain was touched by the fire. It was then exposed to the wind so that the chaff was blown away. It was then ground in a barley mill and its flour was offered to God. That was the first-fruits.

It is significant to note that not until after that was done could the new barley be bought and sold in the shops and bread be made from the new flour. The first-fruits were a sign of the harvest to come; and the Resurrection of Jesus was a sign of the resurrection of all believers which was to come. Just as the new barley could not be used until the first-fruits had been duly offered, so the new harvest of life could not come until Jesus had been raised from the dead.

Paul goes on to use another Jewish idea. According to the old story in Genesis 3:1–19 it was through Adam’s sin that death came into the world as its direct consequence and penalty. The Jews believed that all men literally sinned in Adam; we see that his sin might transmit to his descendants the tendency to sin. As Aeschylus said, “The impious deed leaves after it a larger progeny, all in the likeness of the parent stock.” As George Eliot wrote, “Our deeds are like children that are born to us, they live and act apart from our will; nay, children may be strangled, but deeds never. They have an indestructible life both in and out of our consciousness.”

Nobody would be likely to deny that a child can inherit a tendency to sin and that the father’s sins are literally visited upon the children. No one would deny that a child can inherit the consequences of a father’s sin, for we know all too well how physical conditions which are the consequence of an immoral life can be transmitted to the child. But the Jew meant more than that. He had a tremendous sense of solidarity. He was sure that no man could ever do anything that could affect only himself. And he held that all men sinned in Adam. The whole world of men was, as it were, in him; and when he sinned all sinned.

That may seem a strange idea to us and unfair. But that was the Jewish belief. All had sinned in Adam, therefore all were under the penalty of death. With the coming of Christ that chain was broken. Christ was sinless and conquered death. Just as all men sinned in Adam, so all men escape from sin in Christ; and just as all men died in Adam, so all men conquered death in Christ. Our unity with Christ is just as real as our unity with Adam and this destroys the evil effect of the old.

So we get two contrasting sets of facts. First, there is Adam-sin-death. Second, there is Christ-goodness-life. And just as we were all involved in the sin of him who was first created, we are all involved in the victory of him who re-created mankind. However we may estimate that way of thinking today, it was convincing to those who heard it for the first time; and, whatever else is doubtful, it remains true that with Jesus Christ a new power came into the world to liberate men from sin and death.

Verses 24–28 read very strangely to us. We are used to thinking of the Father and the Son on terms of equality. But here Paul clearly and deliberately subordinates the Son to the Father. What he is thinking of is this. We can use only human terms and analogies. God gave to Jesus a task to do, to defeat sin and death and to liberate man. The day will come when that task will be fully and finally accomplished, and then, to put it in pictorial terms, the Son will return to the Father like a victor coming home and the triumph of God will be complete. It is not a case of the Son being subject to the Father as a slave or even a servant is to a master. It is a case of one who, having accomplished the work that was given him to do, returns with the glory of complete obedience as his crown. As God sent forth his Son to redeem the world, so in the end he will receive back a world redeemed; and then there will be nothing in heaven or in earth outside his love and power.[3]

[1] Here, the focus may be on the “life” which our Lord gives to believers, but it seems to me that we must see Christ’s resurrection as the ground for the resurrection of all men, whether believers or unbelievers.

[2] There is, I know, considerable discussion as to what Paul means by “the end” in verse 24.  Regardless of whether Paul here refers to the resurrection of the unbelieving dead, it is clearly taught in Revelation 20 and elsewhere.  I think Paul’s point here is that the “the end” is the destruction of death, the last enemy, by the final resurrection of unbelievers.  It is at this point in time when death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14).

[3] William Barclay, ed., The Letters to the Corinthians, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 149–152.

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Posted by on April 24, 2023 in Resurrection


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