The words in verse 22, "all shall be made alive" are far more important than we might think, as they govern all the verses down to the end of verse 26.
The Lord's resurrection is not a mere individual act, concerning Himself alone, but it affects all who sleep the sleep of death, as alike opening the door for their ultimate resurrection. It is an effective beginning, which bears in itself the certainty of a succession, as verse 20 shews. This succession will be as sure and as comprehensive as the need which calls for it. "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." Language cannot more dearly express the idea that the restoration of life shall not be any less comprehensive than the reign of death. Wherever death now reigns in mankind, there as surely will life once again supervene. There will also be a correspondence in the manner and method of the propagation of life with that of death. As death spreads to all by way of natural generation and birth, so life also is communicated through the channel of a spiritual generation and a spiritual birth.
In verses 23 and 24 three special stages are distinguished by which the great work of vivification will progress. The totality of the dead are made alive in three categories or orders, during three well-marked periods. Everyone of the dead, without a single exception, must have his place in one or other of these three categories: "Each one in his own order."
When the third category is complete, Resurrection has come to an end, because death no longer calls for it. Death is no more. It is universally replaced by Life.
The second rank consists of "those who are Christ's in His presence," as described in 1. Thess. 4.
The third rank consists of those with whom death itself will be exhausted, and converted into its opposite. Sin and death cannot endlessly last, because they did not originate in the spontaneous will of God. Their ultimate complete removal must demonstrate that God is not their Author, and that they never had His loving approbation. In God's world the ultimate issue can only be the end of death, the triumph and everlasting reign of Life. It is in this train of thought that Paul says 'Then the end.' But unfortunately, some versions insert the word "comes" or "cometh," which is both unnecessary and misleading. Even the Revised Standard adds "comes," like the Revised Version of 1885 with its "cometh," like Tyndale and the King James, and Panin, or Dr. Wand with "Then will come the end of the world," which is ridiculous indeed. This addition makes Paul seem to be suddenly turning his mind to the end of time, or the end of this present world. The mistranslation 'then the end cometh' effectually bars the way to the right understanding of the passage. The verb which needs to be supplied after to telos (the end) can only be 'shall be made alive' (zOopoiEthEsetai) in 1. Cor. 15:22, because undeniably this is the verb to be supplied both after "Christ a firstfruit" and after "They that are Christ's in His Presence." Had Paul intended to connect another verb with 'the end' he could not but have expressed it. The fact that he did not do so proves that he intentionally continued the construction in which the last verb of v. 22 has to be supplied. The context makes it clear beyond the possibility of a doubt that 'the end' spoken of is not the end of the world, but the end, the last residue, of those who 'in Christ will be made alive.' The end (telos) in verse 24 is incontrovertibly correlative to the beginning or firstfruits in v. 23. Accordingly, 'the end' can only mean the rank or category of those who last in order attain to Life.
Then comes verse 26: "A final enemy is being abolished—the Death." Here, the definite article before 'Death' would signify ALL DEATH.
After all have been vivified, the Son will be giving up the Kingdom (or Kingship) to Him who is God and Father. After that no more dead ones remain. Death is completely 'swallowed up in victory' (v. 54). Life reigns exclusively and universally. The object of the Christocratic Kingdom is fully obtained. The Christian Economy is fulfilled. Christocracy merges into Theocracy, from which it sprang.
It stands to reason that the third rank will require by far the longest time for their resuscitation and salvation, as numerically, they must be by far the largest group. They are described in Revelation 20:15 and 21:8, all going through their part in the Lake of Fire. But the kind of Fire will be similar to that mentioned in 1. Corinthians 3:13: "Each one's work will be becoming apparent, for the day will be making it evident, for it is being revealed in fire; and each one's work, of what sort it is, the fire itself will test." Yet if anyone's work shall be burned up, nevertheless, he will be forfeiting it, yet he will be saved, but in this way—as through fire. "For even our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29). Moreover, the testing of one's faith is sometimes by fire (1. Peter 1:7). The same kind of fire is more often found in the Old Testament. Thus Deuteronomy 4:24, "For the LORD your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God." Deut. 32:22, "For a fire is kindled by My anger, and it burns to the depths of Sheol." Psalm 18:8, "Smoke went up from His nostrils, and devouring fire from His mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from Him." Psalm 79:5, "How long, O LORD? Wilt Thou be angry for ever? Will Thy jealous wrath burn like fire?" Jeremiah 4:4, "lest My wrath go forth like fire." Jeremiah 17:4, "For a fire have ye kindled in Mine anger: unto times age-abiding shall it burn." Jeremiah 21:21, "Lest Mine indignation come forth like fire, And burn, and there be none to quench it." Ezekiel 21:31, "Then will I pour out upon thee Mine indignation, with the fire of Mine outburst will I blow upon thee." Nahum 1:6, "His wrath hath been poured forth like fire." Zephaniah 1:18, "But in the fire of His jealousy shall the whole earth be consumed."
Or do you imagine that God will force all these beings to acclaim the Lord? Is He the God of Force, or the God of Love?
But God will not use force. That would only harden miserable sinners more than ever. He will use medicine. They will not be left all to themselves in their dark dungeon. The Deity of Light and Life and Love cannot tolerate that HIS own handiwork must end in utter darkness and everlasting death. Even the Lake of Fire and the desolation of the Second Death are not absolutely and endlessly shut out from His Light and Life and Love. Can God's Love for His own special Race ever fail? Sinners will experience a most fiercely burning hunger and thirst after this Light and Life and Love. For by the tie of creation all human beings are and remain indissolubly bound to God. However bad a creature may have become, however deep it may have sunk, it yet cannot cease to be God's creature. Even in the perverted creature the Creator still discerns and honours His own creative design, which, being anterior to the Creation itself, must be eternal and immutable. Even in the most debased and corrupt sinner his God-given nature, his original creation in the image and after the likeness of God, underlies his very existence as its deepest substratum, as a Divine something belonging to him by his Creator's will, whether he like it or not. No creature can annihilate what is the Creator's sole and sovereign production. There is an initial Divine life in us, implying a destiny and capacity for God as enduring as our own existence. A person absolutely without such destiny and capacity would no longer be a human being. No one can be altogether incapable of reclamation by his Creator. An absolutely final impossibility to be saved appears wholly incompatible with the unalterable Creative Design, which can never cease to constitute in man a Divine foundation waiting for a corresponding superstructure. Luke 20:38 says "Now a God He is not of dead ones, but of living ones, for all to Him are living." So it can be said that He sees the saints in the sinner, and that even the sufferers of the Second Death present to His eye creatures of His loving will whom He has destined for ultimate perfect blessedness and glory. It is quite inconceivable that the Saviour, who is able to subdue all unto Himself (Phil. 3:21), should leave so mighty a work undone when He is especially qualified to accomplish it, and when there still remains a natural point of contact between even the most degraded human being and the immutable Creator and Designer, and not only a point of contact, but an undying postulate for a soul's deliverance and consummating help.
Says Paul in Romans 5:8: "but God is commending His own love unto us, in that, we yet being sinners, Christ in our behalf died." Christ the Saviour is the living proof of God's love even to sinners. He said, "I am the Light of the world" (John 9:5). There is Light and Life to meet the requirements of the whole world, and even of the sinful world, and of the enemies and rebels in the outermost darkness and the stagnant depths of the Second Death. For this applies to a state of things subsequent to the Last Judgment, when it is written that He still "sitteth on the Throne," saying, "Behold, I am making all things new" (Rev. 21:5).
The final triumph of Christ and His delegates is not in doubt. The absolute universality of the Christocratic dominion could not be more clearly expressed than is done by Paul at 1. Cor. 15:27, where we find the only exemption from it is the self-evident one of the Sovereign Disposer of all. It has been even suggested that those "over whom the Second Death has no power" (Rev. 20:6), and who will not "be hurt of the Second Death" (Rev. 2:11) could be sent into the Lake of Fire and there discharge their King's commission, with as little harm as the four men whom Nebuchadnezzar saw walking loose and unhurt in the midst of the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:25). So long as the Second Death reigns in the Lake of Fire, it surely cannot be said that death is abolished. Thus, it is the abolition of the Second Death which is the object and shall be the ultimate result of the Government of Christ and of His saints, after Judgment Day.
As the first two ranks of the dead, thus also the third and last can only pass out of death by the door of the resurrection. It is more than likely that the rising of this third rank will not be simultaneous, but gradual and successive. The salvation of human beings, culminating in their resurrection, cannot be the result of a physical, but only of a spiritual process, involving the free decision of each individual, sooner or later.
It is quite unthinkable that God will fail to restore the Arch-enemy Satan in due time. In his prison-house of isolation and desolation, of utter defeat and failure, he must at long last find himself, when all his former subjects and victims have abandoned him for their rightful Master, and when his sham Kingdom, in its utter overthrow and extinction, testifies to the complete triumph of the 'Only Potentate' and to HIS "Everlasting Kingdom." Assuredly this piercing sense of disappointment and destitution must awaken in him a great longing after the pristine happiness from which he wantonly fell, but which he can never, forget, and pave the way to genuine repentance? How would you, dear reader, feel if you had to undergo ages of ages of chastening and torment, both day and night?
What delight could one have in a Deity who found Himself incompetent to restore the vast world of human beings whom He created? Would He rejoice in the restoration of even one per cent of those who were created in His own image and after His likeness? The fact that Satan's doom and death are never prophesied proves that he must at last yield and bow the knee. Those who imagine that the great mass of humanity must be destroyed should examine six texts in the Gospels: Matthew 2:13; 12:14; Mark 3:6; 11:18; Luke 13:33; 19:47. In Luke 13:33 the King James and the Revised Standard read that the Lord was to perish. But in all the other five verses these versions read that He was to be destroyed. Rotherham in all six cases reads destroy. Rotherham in Luke 13:33 quotes the Lord's own statement as follows: "It is not admissible for a prophet to be destroyed outside Jerusalem." Now this clearly proves that "destruction" is not eternal, even for every child of Adam. The Greek verb in all the six verses is apollumi, the root meaning of which is, shewn by Luke ch. 15 to be to lose or to be lost. The Lord of Glory was never permanently "destroyed."
A.T. Last updated 5.3.2006