In a recent devotional posted on my devotions blog, I shared thoughts based on 1 Corinthians 15:23-25. Here is the content of that post:
1 Corinthians 15:23-25
1Co 15:23 But each crop will be harvested in its own order: Christ, the first harvest, then the ones to be harvested by Christ when he makes his appearance.
1Co 15:24 Next the end of the harvest will happen, when he gives back the kingdom to God and Father, when he has eliminated every rule and every authority and power.
1Co 15:25 Because it will be necessary for him to reign until he has put all the hostile ones under his feet.
The return and resurrection
Paul had shown the necessity of the resurrection as it relates to the gospel, and to the person of Christ. Now he shows how the resurrection fits into God’s plan for the return of Christ.
Since Christ is the first harvest, his resurrection took place first. When Christ appears again, all those who sleep in him will be raised by him to experience a resurrection like his — unto eternal life. When Christ appears again, he will begin a reign on earth which will eventually eliminate every sort of opposition to the kingdom of God. At the end of this reign, Christ will give back the cleansed kingdom to God and Father. So, Christ begins his return with a rescue of all the saints who are asleep. He concludes his reign by returning the universe to the Father, after it has been set from from sin.
LORD, come and restore us to the life you wanted for us.
Commenting on that post, Nicole asked “Could you please give the verses in reference for the plan you present today about the Resurrection and the Kingdom of God?”
OK Nicole, here goes:
The Bible is explicit on the issue of just when believers will gain the gift of immortality. It did not happen at our birth, and it will not happen at our death. Believers will be made alive at the return of Christ. In this passage, Paul says “But each crop will be harvested (that is, each person who is to be resurrected) in its own order: Christ, the first harvest (the first to be resurrected), then the ones to be harvested by Christ when he makes his appearance. This is a second resurrection, and the chronology is explicit. It will take place when Jesus reappears on the earth. It does not take place at the believer’s death.
The analogy Paul uses to describe the resurrection is a crop harvest. Each resurrection is a stage in the harvest. Since Christ is the first-fruits, he was resurrected first. This took place three days after his death. The second stage of the harvest includes “those who belong to Christ” when he comes. This is the believers’ resurrection. Paul does not speak of Christ reuniting surviving souls with their risen bodies. Instead he speaks of the whole person being “made alive.” This is when the promise of eternal life will be fulfilled for us.
The doctrine of innate immortality has subverted this plain teaching of scripture. According to that view, no human being ever dies, so none will ever need to be made alive. With that view, the concept of the resurrection takes a back seat to the more immediate idea of conscious survival of death. The doctrine makes the return of Christ less crucial, and even rather anticlimactic. But for Christians, the return of Christ is our hope. We should therefore not substitute that with another hope — that of survival at death.
The next event chronologically is the end of the harvest, when Christ gives back the kingdom to God and Father, after he has eliminated every rule and every authority and power (I Corinthians 15:24). This is the third and final resurrection. I believe this “harvest” will take place after the millennium described in Revelation 20. It makes sense that after Christ has restored God’s order to all creation, and “put all the hostile ones under his feet” that he would resurrect those who came to Christ during the millennium. Revelation calls this the second resurrection because it is focusing on the resurrection of believers. It is the second resurrection of believers, and the third resurrection if you count Christ’s. That explains why Paul could speak of the resurrection as taking place in three stages, and John (in Revelation) speaks of only two.
At the end of the age, according to Revelation 20, there will be a judgement. The result of that judgement will be either eternal life, or the second death. Those are the same results that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15. That is why Paul does not describe the Christian faith as preparation for a disembodied state in heaven. The goal of faith is eternal life. The lack of faith guarantees the second death — which is also eternal, that is permanent.
Now, let’s look at some of the other places where Paul talks about the believer’s hope of eternal life at the resurrection, as compared to the unbeliever’s destiny of the second death.
Romans 6:23 “Because the salary of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Resurrection life is a gift from God and we will take possession of that promised gift when Christ returns.
1 Corinthians 1:18 “Because the word of the cross to those who are perishing is stupidity, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
The gospel makes sense to those of us who are destined to be raised to eternal life. But for those who have no hope of resurrection life, the gospel is just stupid religious words which have no application, thus no meaning.
2 Corinthians 2:15 “Because we are the fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are being destroyed.”
We believers are the refreshing fragrance of Christ, reminding other believers of the hope of a resurrection and eternal fellowship. But we remind unbelievers that they have no such destiny. We remind unbelievers that they will be destroyed.
Galatians 6:8 “because the one who plants seeds for his flesh will reap destruction of the flesh, but the one who plants seeds for the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit.”
Every act of faith is a seed planted by the Holy Spirit in our innermost beings, and the harvest day will see those seeds resulting in a resurrection unto permanent life. But those who merely plant their own seeds for their own flesh will harvest destruction on that day.
Philippians 1:27-28 “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or stay absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and both coming from God.”
The way believers live their lives signifies the destiny they will experience. Our actions today either prove our coming salvation or our coming destruction. The actions are signs of our present commitment and our future destiny.
Other New Testament authors (besides Paul) also affirm that the Christian hope is a resurrection.
John 3:16 “Because God loved the world in this way: he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him might not be destroyed but have permanent life.”
God’s love does not mean that everyone will be saved, because God did not love the world by simply forgiving all sin. He could not do that and remain just. Instead, God demonstrated his love by sending his Son Jesus Christ, and offering forgiveness to all who put their faith in him. Those who put their faith in Christ will be granted permanent life on resurrection day, but those who have not put their faith in Christ will be destroyed on judgement day.
Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter by the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are numerous. But the gate is narrow and the road is difficult that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
Jesus offered a choice. But he was quite aware that not everyone was going to be willing to accept his offer. He offered resurrection life for those who were willing to take the road less travelled. But he also warned those who refused his offer that destruction is the default. The wide gate and the easy road does not lead to eternal life — not even eternal life in hell. The fate of those who refuse the narrow gate (himself) is destruction.
Hebrews 10:39 “But we are not made up of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who keep their faith and preserve their souls.”
Among those who appear to accept the gospel, there will be some who eventually shrink back to their old ways and ultimately reject the gospel. The preservation of the soul is only the result of persevering in that faith, and the proof will be the eternal life we receive from Christ when he returns.
So, you see, the gospel is a promise of a future event: the resurrection unto eternal life that awaits those who trust in the death of Christ for their eternal forgiveness. All of life is a series of harvests. Christ’s resurrection was the first of these harvests. The Christian life today is all about trusting that because of what Christ did for us, we can now expect him to revive and restore us to eternal life when he comes.