A STUDY OF 1COR. 15:20-28

Oct. 10, 2023  By Ted McDivitt


Beginning in 1Cor. 15:12 the Apostle Paul battles doctrinal error by presenting the dire consequences if there is no resurrection. In verse 13 he writes,

“Now if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been roused.”

Now if Christ has not been roused from among the dead, then Paul’s preaching and the Corinthian’s faith (as well as ours today) have been in vain and we are still in our sins (v.17). Consequently, all believers who died have perished (v.18).

In verses 29-34 the Apostle will continue showing consequences if there were no resurrection, but the very thought of no resurrection is so distressing that in verses 20-28, he breaks forth into one of the most glorious passages in the Bible. Beginning in verse 20 he writes:

“Yet now Christ has been roused from among the dead, the Firstfruit of those who are reposing.”

I can visualize Paul saying to himself at this point—“Enough of these negative consequences if there were no resurrection, FOR Christ has been roused from the dead, the Firstfruit of those who are reposing.”

In his developing argument, Paul establishes the fact that “Christ’s resurrection is inseparably joined with the resurrection of all humanity. He is referred to as the Firstfruit of those who are reposing (v.20) and in Col. 1:18 He is the Firstborn from among the dead. Christ being the Firstfruit stands for the whole harvest. “None of humanity can be raised apart from Christ, and in His resurrection is the divine promise that all humanity will be raised” (Phil Scranton, “Journey to and through the Second Death,” p.22).

Paul continues his flow of thought in verses 21-22.

“For since, in fact, through a man comes death, through a Man, also, comes the resurrection of the dead. For even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified.”

In verses 20-21, “the dead” (or the “reposing”) include all of humanity that have died, not just believers who have died. This is made clear for us in verse 22—“For even as in Adam, all are dying…” (“KJV” has “all die”). Everyone acknowledges that the “all dying” includes the entire human race regardless of whether or not they are believing the evangel. Adam’s sin and disobedience in the garden resulted in all humanity being constituted sinners (Rom. 5:19) and dying. “Dying” is more accurate than “die” because those believers that are living when the snatching away (the rapture) occurs, technically don’t die, but are changed, for at that time the corruptible will put on incorruption, and the mortal will put on immortality (1Cor. 15:51-53; 1Thess. 4:15, 17). However, though no one limits the “all” who are dying in the first part of

verse 22, many will attempt to limit the “all” who shall be made alive due to the one obedient act of Christ on the cross in the latter part of the verse.

Verse 22 is grammatically a perfect parallel in which the ramification of Adam’s one act upon all mankind is compared with the ramification of Christ’s one act upon all mankind. Adam’s one act of disobedience is the basis of why all mankind are dying, whereas Christ’s one act of obedience leading to the cross is the basis of why all mankind will be vivified (made alive beyond the reach of death). The scope of the word “all” is the same in both clauses—“all mankind.”

The following format of verse 22 more clearly shows this perfect parallel:

“For even as,

In Adam, all are dying,

thus also,

In Christ, shall all be vivified.”

This is a radical statement that the Apostle Paul makes, and it is truly “a faithful saying and worthy of all welcome” (1Tim. 4:9). Yet many don’t believe what is clearly stated in this verse. In their attempt to explain it to align with the teaching of mainstream Christianity, they will actually change the Greek order and will quote the verse as follows”

“In Adam, all are dying, thus also, all in Christ shall be vivified.”

Do you see how the order is changed from “in Christ, all…” to “all in Christ…”? Changing the Greek order and misquoting the verse in this manner is the only way anyone can use this verse to support the erroneous and dreadful doctrine of eternal torment for much of the human race. Yet, I am not aware of a single Bible that reads this way.

Then, in verses 23-28 the Apostle explains the order or sequence in which, in Christ, all mankind shall be vivified.

Beginning in verse 23 Paul writes,

“Yet each in his own class: the Firstfruit, Christ.”

Upon His death and resurrection, the Lord Jesus became the first to be vivified. In fact, so far, He is the only One Who is having immortality (1Tim. 6:16). All others who have died are still reposing, needing to be resurrected unto life and immortality. Yet, as stated earlier, because Christ is the “Firstfruit of those who are reposing” (v.21), in His resurrection is the promise that all humanity will be raised unto life.

In 1Cor. 15:23b, Paul states the second class to be vivified.

“thereupon those who are Christ’s in His presence;”

So, the next group to be vivified after Christ are those who will be in His presence. This includes the church, the Body of Christ (1Thess. 4:15-17; 2Thess. 2:1) and subsequently, those resurrected in the former resurrection in Rev. 20:6. The snatching away described in 1Thess. 4 is the event in which we (as believers) will be changed and will put on incorruption and immortality (1Cor. 15:51-53)—in short—we will be vivified. We will be made alive in the same sense as Christ was made alive after His resurrection.

Then, beginning in verse 24, Paul explains the final group to be vivified. Notice the wording in the “CLNT.” After Christ, the Firstfruit is vivified, we have the word, “thereupon” (pertaining to the second group), and then in verse 24 we have the word, “thereafter.” Many people stop this sequence of vivifications prematurely with the second group in verse 23, but the Apostle Paul does not stop there.

We see similar language showing a progression in 1Cor. 15:5-7. After Christ was resurrected “He was seen by Cephas, thereupon by the twelve. Thereupon He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once…Thereupon He was seen by James, thereafter by all the apostles.” Notice the sequence—first it was Cephas, thereupon these others, and then thereafter by all the apostles. In our passage of 1Cor. 15:23-24 we have the same sequence—“thereupon,” followed by “thereafter.”

So then, let us look at this final group to be vivified described in verses 24-28.

“…thereafter the consummation, whenever He may be giving up the kingdom to His God and Father, whenever He should be nullifying all sovereignty and all authority and power. For He must be reigning until He should be placing all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy is being abolished: death. For He subjects all under His feet. Now whenever He may be saying that all is subject, it is evident that it is outside of Him Who subjects all to Him. Now, whenever all may be subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also shall be subjected to Him Who subjects all to Him, that God may be All in all.”

Consequently then, the vivification of this final group will be completed when the last enemy is abolished—death. Only then will Christ’s reign be fulfilled, for His reign will continue in the oncoming eons until death is abolished.

Now looking forward in time, the last death mentioned in the Scriptures is the lake of fire which is the second death (Rev. 20:14-15). The resurrection of the dead at the great white throne judgment will include all of humanity who have not previously been raised unto immortality. That resurrection will include the great and the small (Rev. 20:12). At that judgment many will be resurrected unto life but some will be cast into the lake of fire which is referred to as the second death. Their lot will be outside the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:8, 15). They will have kings ruling over them (Rev. 21:24). Just as the Israelites of old while under Egyptian rule were said to be in an iron furnace (Deut. 4:20;1Kings 18:51; Jer. 11:4) and a furnace of affliction (Isa. 48:10),

so will those in the future that are cast into the lake of fire—the second death, be under the rule of re-born, glorified Israel and her king—the Lord Christ Jesus. Nor is the lake of fire any more of a literal lake and fire than the iron furnace in Egypt was a literal iron furnace. Both terms speak of confinement and being ruled over.

All who are resurrected at the great white throne will be under the reign of Christ and will eventually be subjected under His feet, and this subjection is the same subjection as that of the Son when He is subjected to His Father (1Cor. 15:27-28). Being subjected under Christ’s feet is a great place to be, and notice all are not subject under His feet until the last enemy—death—is abolished (vv.25-27). Only then will all enmity be removed from those who are cast into the lake of fire (including not just humanity, but the angelic realm as well—Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10).

Then will be fulfilled Phil. 2:9-11—“that in the name of Jesus every knee should be bowing, celestial and terrestrial and subterranean, and every tongue should be acclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord, for the glory of God, the Father.” Then will be fulfilled Eph. 1:9-11; 1:23; and Col. 1:20 in which all will be headed up in the Christ and reconciled to Him—whether those on the earth or those in the heavens. Said another way—when all are subjected under Christ’s feet, and all are acclaiming Jesus Christ is Lord, and all are reconciled to Him—then God becomes All in all. He cannot become All in all if the sequence of vivifications stop at 1Cor. 15:23 with the word in the “CLNT,” “thereupon.” If that were the case, then God would only become All in some. Only after everyone in the final group (designated in the “CLNT” by the word “thereafter” in verse 24) is reconciled to God, can He truly be said to be All in all (v.28). This is His purpose of the eons (Eph. 3:11) and it is only accomplished because Christ Jesus humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:8).