What Are We Waiting For?

It seems to me that Christians have lost their hope. By that I mean, that we have forgotten what we are anxiously longing for that will change our current condition into a much better one. But, it is clear that we, as Christians, have an expectation that no one else has-the hope of the return of Jesus Christ for His people. Accompanying Israel’s hope in the return of YHWH for Israel and their longing for that promised day of rest, we too are hoping for the return of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 there is a wonderful reality that Paul was teaching the Corinthian church concerning what it is that the church is looking forward to. There were some in Corinth teaching an error that there is no future resurrection (v.12). That strand of error had infiltrated the church and Pastor Paul has to deal with it. Like the errors associated with the return of Christ for His church affected the present ministry of the Thessalonians, so also the error concerning issues related to bodily resurrection affected Corinth.

What Paul has to say here is magnificent. It is comprehensive and profound. It is our hope and the future of the entire world. It will consummate God’s plan for the ages and will transition all things into His purposes for eternity as well.

20     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 will 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 hands over 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     When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was told in the Old Testament (OT). Psalm 16:10 states that David understood that God’s Holy One would not be held by death. How could He promise One from David to sit on the throne over Israel forever and be defeated by death? So, it would be impossible for death to keep David from resurrection, but even more so, it would be impossible to keep the Christ from resurrection, life from the dead. He had to be raised so that He would reign on this earth. Peter also refers to this in Acts 2:22-36. So the fact of His resurrection from the dead is clear. If a Christian is no longer in Adam but in Christ and Christ is no longer dead but alive, then clearly the Christian will also be made alive though he die. That is what Paul means in vv. 20-22. Those still in Adam when they die will remain dead, although resurrected from the grave they will remain dead for eternity while suffering in Hell. However, those in Christ will be raised from the dead unto life for eternity to enjoy the communion promised him by the Father.

But Paul states something very interesting in the remainder of the passage. I only want to give some observations so that we can think about what this means.

He states in v.23, that the resurrection from the dead will each happen in a particular order. Christ, as if first fruits of a harvest, has been raised first. It is done and accomplished. His soul and body are united and He, in bodily form, is at the right hand of the Father for now (Psalm 110). Secondarily, those who belong to Christ will be raised after Christ. At this point, I have not seen any resurrection on this planet. I am not resurrected and I believe in Christ. Thus, this resurrection is still future. When? Paul writes, “at His coming.” What coming? When? Well, there are 2 comings to choose from: first, there is the coming described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and the coming referred to in Matthew 25 whose description is much different than 1 Thessalonians. Matthew 25 indicates a coming that has Jesus, in glory and with His angels, coming to earth and sitting on His glorious throne (v.31). Afterward there is judgment and rewards. Paul taught of a coming of Christ which is described as Him being visible in the air with the trumpet of God and then the dead in Christ will be raised from the dead and will go up into the air to meet Him and will be with Him forever from that point (vv.16-17). The passage in Matthew does not indicate a resurrection, but rather a judgment of the nations existing on the earth at that time (vv. 32-46). It is not until another time that the dead will be raised from the dead in order to be judged forever in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-15). The prior resurrection spoken of by John in Revelation 20:4 occurs at a time when Jesus is already upon the earth (Revelation 19:11-19). So, Paul is speaking of a resurrection that occurs at the coming of Christ and this coming must be different than the coming described of by John in Revelation 19. So, those who are Christ’s will be resurrected “at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:23). As a side-note, those saints who are raised in Revelation 20:4 are those who have been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus (Revelation 6:9) and because of the Word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image (Revelation 13:12-15), and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand (Revelation 13:16). These are not the descriptions of the saints of this age. These are all referring to the saints who die during the Tribulation. So, this resurrection that Paul is speaking of is distinct and different.

After the coming of Christ in 1 Corinthians 15:23, Paul writes that the end will come. What end? The end when Christ hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, further described by the clause “when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.” (v.24). So, the end will come when Christ has abolished all rule, authority and power. After having abolished all competing forces in the world, He, Jesus Christ, will hand the kingdom over to the Father. This time period is further described in v.25 as that time when He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. After He has put all His enemies under His feet, i.e. He has taken away their power and subdued them under His power or lordship, then He will hand over to the Father the kingdom. This limits the time period to only one time spoken of in Scripture. Some observations here need to be made in order to summarize what Paul is teaching.

The prophets spoke of a time when God’s Messiah will reign upon this physical earth. Daniel wrote that a kingdom will be given “One like a Son of Man” (Daniel 7:13), that is He is a Man. It is further explained as that kingdom that will come as a result of abolishing the kingdom of the little horn (Daniel 7:15-26). After that kingdom He will come with the saints and the Son of Man and will subdue the entire earth as evidenced by v.27, “Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One.” (emphasis mine). So, this is not a ‘spiritual’ kingdom in that it takes place in heaven. This is a kingdom which occurs on this earth and is worldwide. Further, it is a monarchical form of government and the single authority will be the Son of Man (cf. v.14; Is. 9:6). Haggai speaks of this time (Haggai 2:20-23) as well as Micah (Micah 5), Zechariah (Zechariah 12:6-10), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:1-8) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 20:39-44), just to name a few. So, there is a kingdom coming in which the Savior will establish Himself as rightful Ruler of this earth and all the nations will bow to Him and confess Him as Lord (Philippians 2:9-11). Then, when all the rebels are judged and sin is subdued and all that causes death is destroyed and even death itself is judged (1 Corinthians 15:26), then He will take that earthly kingdom that He established and submit it to the Father. Then, the Son Himself will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him (Christ). In this way, God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) will be all in all.

So, when Paul writes that we will be raised from the dead at His coming, he is referring to a different coming than that is spoken of at His Second Coming as evidenced by the fact that His saints will be with Him when He comes at His Second Coming-He does not come alone as in 1 Thessalonians 4. The coming that we look forward to is the Rapture of the church into His presence. After the church is raptured, then comes the end. But this is only a statement of sequence and not timing. That is, the abolishing of the authorities of this world occurs after the coming of Christ, but it does not here indicate how long after. From the book of Revelation we know that after the church is taken to be with Christ, the whole earth will undergo the time of Jacob’s distress, a time when Israel in particular is punished for the years of breaking the covenant (Mosaic Covenant). After that intense time described as a day “that…is great, [and] there is none like it” (Jeremiah 30:7), Jacob, i.e. national, ethnic Israel, will be completely delivered from their physical oppressors as well as their spiritual oppressor, sin. That is, Israel will finally enter into their land for eternal rest from their enemies, and the necessary repentance that God demanded from them will be granted to them and thus they will see the permanent fulfillment of Abraham’s covenant inaugurated (see Jeremiah 30; cf. Leviticus 26:40-45). And so, all Israel will be saved in that day (Romans 11:25-27). This will necessarily impact the entire world (Isaiah 2:1-4; 11:1-10; Zechariah 14:9-21). Thus, when Paul writes that Jesus is the Christ about whom the prophets wrote, and whom he preaches, this is what he is referring to. The first things above all of this, of course, are His death and resurrection (Romans 1:1-5; 16:25-27; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

So, as Christians, we are hoping for an actual resurrection that will occur prior to that day of purging of Israel and the judgment of the nations. When Jesus comes back after that time period of wrath, we will come with Him, and enter the Temple that will exist in Jerusalem (i.e. Ezekiel 40-48), and we will reign with Him as He rules over all the earth, subduing all kings and nations (even angels as well since they are part of the authorities that need to be subdued-1 Corinthians 6:2-3; cf. Ephesians 1:18-23). After that time, once all authority is subdued, including final judgment (John 5:22; Acts 17:30-31; Revelation 19:11-15), the entire earth will be created anew and God’s children will dwell with Him and His Son forever, serving Him day and night (Revelation 22:3-4) in a kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17; cf. Romans 8:18-25). This is what we wait for with anticipation and eagerness all the while being faithful while it is still called night as the day is coming (cf. Romans 13:11-14).