Death - The Last Enemy

SYNOPSIS - The resurrection, the end of death, and the New Creation all occur at the “arrival” of Jesus at the end of the age - 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Death - Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash
The Apostle Paul stressed the necessity for the resurrection in his response to church members who denied a future bodily resurrection for Christians. In doing so, he appealed to the past resurrection of Jesus as the precedent for the future collective resurrection of believers, a key event that will coincide with his return in glory, his parousia - (1 Corinthians 15:12-58). - [Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash]

Additionally, Paul revealed that believers who are still alive when Jesus returns at the “end of the age” will be transformed and receive immortal bodies. The bodily resurrection of the righteous at his “arrival” means nothing less than the end of death and the promised New Creation.

In advancing his arguments, the Apostle lays out a sequence of events that will precede the arrival of Jesus, including the final subjugation of all his enemies and the consummation of God’s kingdom. The main argument begins 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?” – (1 Corinthians 15:12).
The subject under discussion is the reality of the bodily resurrection and all of his arguments are employed to support this proposition. Paul begins by building a case on the past resurrection of Jesus. If there is no future resurrection, then “not even Christ has been raised!” And if that is the case, the gospel message is null and void. Thus, the future resurrection of believers is based on the bodily resurrection of Jesus and pivotal to the faith of the church.

Next, the Apostle argues next that “all will be made alive, but each in his own rank” or “order.” Jesus was the “first-fruit” of the resurrection - He rose bodily 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 presents the general order of events that precede the resurrection of believers. The raising of the dead began with Jesus - He is the "firstborn of the dead." At his “coming,” the process will be completed - (1 Corinthians 15:23).

Elsewhere, Paul uses the Greek noun parousia for the “coming” or “arrival” of Jesus in glory. For example, in his first letter to the Thessalonians he 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” - (Compare - 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 3:13, 4:12-15, 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2:8).
The chronological key for when the resurrection will occur is the “coming” or parousia of Jesus. His “arrival” will mean nothing less than “the end” of the present age and the cessation of death. – “Death” is the “last enemy” to be destroyed. Then, Christ will deliver up the "kingdom to God.” After that, “God will be in all” - (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

The complete subjugation of the enemies of God before his parousia indicates that the reign of Jesus is underway even now. This is confirmed by messianic promises cited in the New Testament and applied to Jesus:
  • (Psalm 2:6-9) – “Yet I have set my king Upon my holy hill of Zion. I will tell of the decree: Jehovah said unto me, Thou art my son; This day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, And the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potters vessel.” – (Psalm 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).
The purpose of Paul’s argument is not to present all the details, events, and chronologies related to the return of Jesus, but he introduces specific subjects to support his argument for the future resurrection of believers. Christ was raised a “first-fruit” of them who “sleep.” Logically, dead believers who “sleep” will participate in the same kind of resurrection that Christ did, but at the proper time.

Paul returns to the cessation of death in the conclusion of his long argument:
  • (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.”
Clearly, the termination of death coincides with the "arrival" of Jesus at the “end of the age” and the resurrection of the dead. The “end” marks the final overthrow of the enemies of God and the consummation of His rule. After this, there will be no more enemies left to conquer – Death, therefore, will be no more.
The future 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 that no longer are subject to decay and death - (1 Corinthians 15:35-50).
The unequivocal evidence for this bodily transformation is the glorified body of Jesus. All this means that life in the coming age will be an embodied existence, not a disembodied state - Resurrection is nothing less than an act of new creation.

Meadow Flowers - Photo by corina ardeleanu on Unsplash
Photo by corina ardeleanu on Unsplash

Paul concludes by demonstrating the necessity for the transformation of the body. Both living and dead saints must be transformed when Jesus arrives. The living will be changed and the dead resurrected. This means that 
death must also cease.

The “mystery” Paul revealed to the Corinthians is that Christians who remain alive when Jesus arrives will be physically transformed. The Christian hope rests on the belief in the future resurrection and life in a transformed Creation - Everlasting life means transformation and new creation.

If the resurrection occurs and Death ceases to exist at his return, then the parousia of Jesus at the “end of the age” will mean nothing less than the promised New Creation.


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