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21 January 2019

The Last Enemy, Death

The Resurrection
The Apostle Paul stressed the necessity of the resurrection hope in response to members of the church at Corinth who were denying the future bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-58).
He appealed to the past resurrection of Jesus as the precedent for the future resurrection of believers, a key event that will coincide with his return or parousia.
In advancing his arguments, Paul lays out a sequence of events that precede and culminate in the coming or parousia of Jesus at the end of the age, including the final subjugation of all his enemies and the consummation of God’s kingdom.
A paragraph 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 designed to support this proposition.
Paul begins by building a case on Christ’s past resurrection. If there is no future resurrection, then “not even Christ has been raised!” And if that is the case, the gospel message is void. Thus, the resurrection of believers is based on the resurrection of Jesus.
Paul next argues that “all will be made alive, but each in his own rank” or “order.”
Jesus was the “first-fruit” of the final bodily resurrection; he rose 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 leading up to the resurrection of believers. The raising of the dead began with Jesus and comes to its completion at his “coming” (15:23).
Paul elsewhere uses parousia for the “coming” or “arrival” of Jesus at the end of the age (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 2:19; 3:13; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1; 2:8). In his first letter to the Thessalonians, he also 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”]).
Of great importance is the chronological key Paul provides for when the resurrection of believers will occur - at the “coming” or parousia of Jesus.
The arrival of Christ also means nothing less than “the end” of the present age and the cessation of death (15:24). Death is, in fact, the “last enemy” to be destroyed (15:25-26). At that time Jesus 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.”
The complete subjugation of God’s enemies by the parousia implies Jesus already reigns over the kingdom, which is confirmed by messianic promises cited by New Testament authors as fulfilled in 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).
Paul’s purpose is not to present all the details on events and chronologies surrounding Christ’s coming. The subjects he introduces support his main argument for the bodily resurrection.
Christ was raised a “first-fruit” of them who “sleep.” Logically, they who “sleep” now will participate then in the same kind of resurrection as Christ did, only at the proper time (when he “comes”).
Paul returns to the cessation of death in 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 by that point is that the end of death coincides with Christ’s coming 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 fight or subjugate.
In 1 Corinthians 15:35-50, Paul argues that bodily resurrection is not the resuscitation of corpses but their transformation from one kind of body to another. Bodily resurrection results in bodies geared for life in the Spirit; bodies no longer subject to decay and death. The proof of this transformation is Christ’s own glorified body.
All this assumes that life in the coming age will be an embodied not a disembodied existence. This means resurrection is nothing less than a new creation.
Paul concludes by demonstrating the necessity for the transformation of the body (verse 53); both living and dead saints must be transformed when Christ returns (verses 51-52). The living will be changed, the dead will be resurrected. All of this means that death must also cease (verses 54-55).
The “mystery” Paul revealed is that Christians who remain alive Christ’s “coming” will be physically transformed. An implication from this is that Christians will still be alive on the earth at the time.
Christian hope is the bodily resurrection and life in a transformed Creation, not escape from the physical world. Everlasting life means transformation not removal; new creation rather than escape.
The final subjugation of all hostile powers at the parousia and the cessation of death means that new creation and everlasting life will be the state of affairs after Christ’s arrival. Interpreters should consider whether Paul’s scenario leaves room for an interim stage between the “death of death” at the parousia and the eternal state.
Paul wrote this section to respond to church members who denied the bodily resurrection. In the process of doing so, he informed the Corinthians of key events to occur at Christ’s coming: resurrection, the consummation of the kingdom, end of all hostile powers, and the termination of the “last enemy,” death.
If resurrection occurs at Christ's return and death no longer occurs, then his parousia means nothing less than a new creation. This leaves no room for another interim period between his coming and the New Creation.

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