Please explain I Corinthians 15:20–24 and Revelation 20:12-14.
These two passages are related in the sense that what the apostle John is given to see and describe in Revelation 20:11–14 is a fuller account of a particular event that Paul has reason to make mention of within the doctrine of I Corinthians 15:20–28. In view of this, we’ll deal with the doctrinal thrust and purpose of the I Corinthians passage first, and then at the appropriate point bring in the issue of Revelation 20:11–14.
What Paul sets forth in I Corinthians 15:20–28 (actually what begins in verse 20 continues on through verse 28, not just verse 24) is further confirming testimony regarding the reality of, the naturalness of, and the absolute necessity of “the resurrection of the dead.” As Paul has been dealing with since verse 1 of this chapter, (and as he pointedly states in verse 12), a number of the Corinthian saints had been adversely affected by the “evil communications” from “science falsely so-called” and from the philosophers of their day, which denied any such thing as “the resurrection of the dead.” They were persuaded that these scientists and philosophers were right, and hence they themselves were now saying “that there is no resurrection of the dead.” But as Paul later on declares, the teachings of these scientists and philosophers were “evil communications” and as such these saints had been “deceived” by them, and they were corrupting their “good manners” and the impact of them there in Corinth. Hence Paul sets forth in this chapter a number of issues of corrective doctrine designed to effectually work within them and straighten them out. He sets forth a number of issues of “the knowledge of God” so that the deception can be remedied, the “evil communications” can be seen to be “evil,” and so that these saints can once again have “good manners.”
In verses 1–19 Paul first of all sets forth a number of issues that show the foolishness, inconsistency, and absurdity of what these saints are now saying regarding there being no resurrection of the dead. First of all it is foolish for them to be saying this in view of the “gospel of Christ” that Paul preached to them, which they received and wherein they stand. As Paul points out, that gospel proclaimed Christ’s resurrection; His resurrection was prophesied about in the scriptures; there are numerous eyewitnesses of His resurrection; the apostleship of the 12 to Israel was based upon it; and moreover, Paul’s own apostleship to them and all the Gentiles is based upon the reality of it. In view of this, how can they now be thinking and saying that there is no resurrection of the dead? It makes no sense. It is foolishness. Moreover, what they are now saying is not only foolish in this regards, but if it is true then the gospel of Christ is false, Paul is a false witness, and they have a false hope, which in reality is no hope whatsoever. For as he plainly shows, “we are of all men most miserable” if there be no resurrection and so “in this life only we have hope in Christ.” How utterly inconsistent and absurd, therefore, for them to be thinking and saying that there is no resurrection of the dead! In truth there is nothing to Christ or Christianity if the dead rise not. We are not only “of all men most miserable” if what they are saying is true, but we are also of all men most stupid.
But foolishness of profession, inconsistency and falsity of testimony, and absurd hopelessness and misery of life, are not the only issues that these saints need to realize are the natural consequences to what they are thinking and saying. They also need to see something even more important. They need to recognize that their denial of the resurrection of the dead contravenes a fundamental mandate of the Lord Jesus Christ being, and functioning as, the Son of man that He is. And this is what Paul goes on to set forth in verses 20-28. Therefore, their denial of the resurrection of the dead is actually a flagrant denial that the Lord Jesus Christ can and will fulfill all that He is mandated to do as The Christ. Unfortunately, however, they had such a poor understanding of the doctrine of Christ that they did not even realize this consequence to their thinking. No wonder, later on Paul upbraided them by saying, “for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.” And so, once again, this is what he sets forth in verses 20–28.
Physical death is not a natural consequence of life, nor an integral part of evolution, nor any of the other things scientists, or philosophers, or wise men both past and present call it, as they try to account for it or explain it away. Instead physical death is an enemy that entered the world in connection with sin, just as God says. And as the Son of man, (in accordance with fulfilling the mandates of Genesis 3:15 and of the Davidic Covenant), the Lord Jesus Christ would provide for destroying death completely by securing victory over it Himself. And this is just what He did when He Himself arose from the dead, as Paul asserts in verse 20. The doctrine of The Christ, therefore, has as one of its fundamental mandates not only Christ’s own resurrection from the dead, but because of Him ‘swallowing up death in victory’ it also mandates the resurrection of all men. The truth of there being “the resurrection of the dead” is directly and inextricably tied to the doctrine of Christ. Hence Paul says what he does in verses 20–22. And notice as Paul says, all men will be “made alive” by being physically resurrected from the dead, including all unjustified men, because this is just what the prophesied doctrine of The Christ calls for as He carries out the destruction of physical death. Christ cannot ‘swallow up death in victory,’ have ‘all enemies under his feet,’ plague death and destroy the grave, and destroy him that had the power of death, without it providing for the resurrection of all men from the dead, even unjustified men. However, the resurrection of the unjustified does not save them from the debt and penalty of their sins. Rather they are physically resurrected from the dead as the final aspect of Christ’s victory over all enemies including death. Then at that time both they, being the enemies of God that they are, along with death itself, being the enemy that it is, share the same final and everlasting destruction. And now this is where the passage in the book of The Revelation comes in. In fact, this is just what Revelation 20:11-14 is describing. The book of The Revelation describes the resumption and fulfillment of God’s program with Israel, and hence it describes the Lord completely putting into effect and fulfilling all the remaining mandates of Genesis 3:15 and the Davidic Covenant. Those mandates are progressively put into effect and fulfilled as the final installment in Israel’s program runs its course, just as John is given to see and just as he records. And when he comes to chapter20 he is given to see and describe the Lord fulfilling the final aspects of His mandate when it comes to Him having all enemies put under His feet. Death is one of those enemies, just as the prophets declared and just as Paul says to the Corinthians in I Corinthians 15. And so John sees the Lord stripping it of its power by the resurrection of all the dead, and then destroying it by consigning it and all remaining enemies to the place of everlasting destruction. Hence all the unjustified, along with death and hell themselves, are “cast into the lake of fire,” as John describes in Revelation 20:11–14. And as John says, “This is the second death.” The “second death” is the issue of consigning all God’s enemies to final and everlasting destruction, along with their complete separation from the Lord’s presence and from the glory of His power. It is the final and eternal lot of “death and hell,” the devil and his angels, and all the unjustified who refused to respond to the truth that they might be saved.
Now in view of Christ carrying out the fulfillment of this aspect of His mandate as the Son of man, Paul goes on with the Corinthians in I Corinthians 15:23–28 to delineate the prophesied “order” of the resurrections, which will end with the destruction of death itself. The “order” begins with Christ Himself, and “the end” is that very resurrection described by John in Revelation 20:11–14, which will take place at the conclusion of Christ’s 1000 year reign as David’s Son and Israel’s King on this earth, “when (as Paul states) he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” And with the “last enemy” death being “destroyed,” then as Paul goes on to say, “shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” This the Son will do having successfully fulfilled all the mandates of Genesis 3:15 and of the Davidic Covenant. Consequently “the resurrection of the dead” is an integral and essential part of the doctrine of Christ. The Corinthians need to see that it is impossible for the Lord Jesus Christ to be who He is and for “the resurrection of the dead” not take place.
This is the gist of my understanding of the doctrinal thrust and purpose of I Corinthians 15:1-28. I hope it is of some help and in some way addresses the issues of concern to you.
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