1 Corinthians 15:23-24
But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.…
I. WHEN AND HOW WILL THE DEAD BE RAISED?
1. Generally Paul's answer amounts to this. The resurrection is not a single act. All men are to be raised, "but every one in his own order," i.e., "in his own troop." The apostle sees an universal conflict between life and death. Christ the Lord of life has already achieved a personal victory; but all others are still in the thick of the conflict. What is to be the issue? Through the power of Christ's life, troop after troop they will achieve their conquest, and defile before their victorious Captain with joyful acclamation. Christ's resurrection, "the first-fruits," is the first triumph in a series of triumphs over death; the second that of those "who are Christ's at His coming." It is impossible that they, with His life in them, should be holden of death, though death may keep them in ward for a while.
2. Do the dead in Christ rise before the other dead?
(1) Let us ask St. Paul to be his own interpreter. His fullest utterance is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. The Thessalonians apprehended that only those who were alive when Christ came would reign with Him. Hence they mourned, as those without hope, over their brethren who departed this life, and thus lost their thrones. To comfort them, the apostle affirmed that those who are alive and remain will have no advantage over the Christian dead. The dead in Christ will rise first; and then those who are alive wilt be caught up to meet Him. Here, then, though he does not speak of a general resurrection, St. Paul does speak of one in which only those who sleep in Christ will take part.
(2) As his meaning is still obscure, let us call in another interpreter. In Revelation 20 St. John describes at length the time and scene which were in St Paul's mind. "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection." How much of this vision is symbol, we cannot tell. But it is impossible to read it without admitting that, at least in St. John's thought, there were to be in the future two successive triumphs of life over death; the first, at the resurrection of those who are in Christ; the second, at the general resurrection of all the dead.
(3) This view of the future illustrates many other Scriptures, and is confirmed and expanded by them (Jude 1:14, 15; 1 Corinthians 6:2). But how should the saints come with the Lord to judge the world, unless they had had part in the first resurrection?
(4) The great Scripture, however, is Matthew 25.
(a) The discourse commences with the parable of the ten virgins. When the Bride-groom comes the lamps of five are "going out" — at the point to expire. And so, when the Lord comes, they are not ready for Him. Yet they may be saved. For all we are told is that they are too late for that time; not that when they went to buy oil, the shops were shut. They were buying oil when they should have been burning it, and therefore were too late for the marriage supper. It is not the final judgment which is here set before us. Those who miss the first may be in time for the second resurrection.
(b) The same thought expressed in the parable of the talents. All who received talents from "the lord" are of his household. Two are faithful to their trust. One servant fails. The foolish virgins thought their task too easy: the slothful servant thinks his too hard. When his master comes, he has nothing but excesses to offer, and bases his excuses on a wilful misconception of the master's character. He is cast into the outer darkness. This is a parabolic delineation of the first resurrection, of the judgment of the Church rather than of the world. For there are many in the Church who misconceive the character of God. Among the awful possibilities of life there is also this: that "those who have once been enlightened," etc. (Hebrews 6:4-6), may fall away beyond the reach of penitence, and therefore beyond the reach of redemption.
(c) But at this point we pass from the first to the second resurrection, from the judgment of the Church — which may extend through the millennium — to the judgment of the world. For now "all the nations" are gathered before the Son of Man. Those who stand on the right are the "sheep who were not of this fold," the men of every nation who, taught by His Spirit though not through His gospel, have wrought righteousness. To them the King will say, "Come ye blessed of My Father," etc. Mark their response. They cannot say, "Lord, Thou didst not entrust us with talents." They do not know Him, nor His gifts. Mark also the Lord's reply: "Inasmuch as ye did it to one of the least of these My brethren" — and here we must suppose Him pointing to the saints who have come with Him to the judgment — "ye did it unto Me." In short, all the details of this solemn scene indicate that "the saints" are distinct from "the righteous"; that they are already with Christ in glory, not before Him for judgment.
II. "THEN THE END," etc. (ver. 24). These words are expanded in the verses which follow. All this means that all the authority of man over man, all the power of death over the race, and even all the grace of Christ in the Church, are Divine expedients for delivering men from their bondage to the lusts which destroy them, and for quickening them into a new better life: that the authority of man and the power of death only reach their true and benignant ends as they are penetrated by the Spirit of Christ: that Christ, therefore, must reign till these various forms of rule are suffused by His Spirit; and that then, when all these have achieved their purpose, "the end" will come; the Divine expedients, having served their turn, will vanish away, and higher forms of life take their place; we shall know God, not only through the Son, but as He is in Himself, and the God whom as yet we know only through Christ, even the Father, will become all in all of us.
1. It is not difficult to see how all forms of human rule and authority are, at least, intended to check the evil dispositions of men, to save us from anarchy, from the tyranny of brute force and unbridled selfishness. Bad as the world is it would be far worse but for the restraints of domestic and political authority. Nor is it difficult to see that even the death we often fear is a wholesome check upon us. The mere fear of it holds back the tyrant from many crimes, the criminal from many offences.
2. Nevertheless human rule is apt to be austere and unlovely. Till it is penetrated by the Spirit of Christ, if it does some good, it also does much harm; and, in so far as it does harm to men, it is the enemy of Christ. Death, again, is a horror, till the light of life and immortality shine through it; and, in so far as it inspires the fear that hath torment, death is the enemy of Christ. Therefore God has ordained that Christ shall reign till He has put all enemies beneath His feet, till His Spirit has penetrated all forms of domestic and civil control, and suffused death itself with the splendours of life. But when He shall thus have drawn all things under Him, the reign of Christ will have achieved its purpose; the world will be full of living men who dwell together in charity, and to whom death means more life and fuller. Having achieved its purpose, the reign of Christ may well come to an end. It will be merged in the universal kingdom of the Father. The Mediator will be lost in the God to whom He has reconciled all men, from whom they can never more be alienated. God, even the Father, will be all in all. Unlike the princes of this world, the Divine King will reign, not when, but only until, He has put all enemies under His feet.
3. This, then, is the glorious prospect which lies before us. To our mortal weakness, indeed, we may find no beauty in it that we should desire it. For we do not care to rise above our need of Christ: the thought of losing Him is intolerable to us. Let us therefore remember that we do not lose a child when we find and love his father. We then really find the child, understand him better, love him more. And, in like manner, we shall not, in finding God, lose Christ. We shall then first truly find Him, know Him as we never knew Him before, love Him with a more perfect love.
4. Whatever else and more may be meant by Christ delivering the kingdom to His Father, and God becoming all in all, at least this must be meant: that the future is to be a grand progress, a golden ladder which we shall climb, round after round, till we stand amid the awful and transfiguring splendours of the eternal throne; a constant advance towards the central light, a constant increase in life, power, wisdom, charity: a beatific vision, which grows and spreads as we gaze upon it, and pours an enlarging volume of energy and peace into our souls.
(S. Cox, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.