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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 15:22-24 Then comes the end

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, July 17, 2023

Today’s devotion may seem more technical to some, and in this case I feel it’s important to explain some things as precisely as time allows, but I want very much to make a clear point, or as Paul says, “a clear trumpet call.”

22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ will all be made alive.  23 But each in his own turn: Christ the firstfruits, then when he comes, those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every other ruler and every other authority and power.

Up to now, Paul has not named the one man or the other man through whom death and, in the other case, life, have come. This was because he wanted to emphasize their similarity: both are men. What came through a man is ended by a man. But now we see that of course he means Adam and then Christ.

Here in verse 22, the sin of Adam brought death, and the merits of Christ have brought life for those who believe in him. But isn’t it true that all will be raised on Judgment Day, and not only the believers? Yes, this is true. But the context of Paul’s words here comes from verse 19, where he said, “If we have hoped in Christ only for this life…,” which is only about believers. The resurrection, that is, the return to life of the ungodly for the purpose of being judged and then sent into eternal punishment, is the subject of Hebrews 9:27 and other verses. “Christ raises the godless only by the might of his voice and only as their judge” (Hoenecke IV:255). But he raises the godly both by his power and also by his merit. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25).

Let’s listen again to verse 23: “But each in his own turn: Christ the firstfruits, then when he comes, those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end.” Does this support the views of those Christians who anticipate a millennial reign of Christ on earth? Perhaps most readers won’t be very aware of this belief, which has its roots in some ancient heresies and became popular in the 19th and 20th centuries. Their belief is rooted in a literal reading of Revelation 20:1-7 and the “thousand years” described there. The reason that this is unfamiliar to our readers is that Lutherans accept the Bible at face value. The historical portions are to be read literally since they are written that way. The prophetic portions—including Revelation—are to be taken figuratively, since they are taken from dreams and visions. Therefore a literal rather than figurative interpretation of Revelation violates the basic rules of Bible interpretation.

So let’s look at our verses, which for many Millennialists and Evangelicals are the crux of the millennium belief. This is especially centered in the words, “Each in his own turn,” followed by “then, when he comes” and “then comes the end.” Are these describing to comings of Christ at the end of time? The words for “then” are epeita (ἔπειτα) and eita (εἶτα). The shorter word, eita, shows a succession of items in a list that are often closely connected (as in 1 Corinthians 15:5, “he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve”). The longer word, epeita, shows a sequence of things that lack such a close connection.  Also, it has been pointed out that eita is never used in the New Testament for a long interval (of time) in a sequence, which is what Millennialists claim (a long interval of a literal thousand years between the ‘first’ second coming and the ‘final’ second coming. “Then comes the end” can only refer to the final end, the final coming of Christ, the end of the world.

What we must really do is listen to the words of Jesus on the Mount of Olives: “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then (tote, “at that time”) the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). There is never an interval mentioned in the Scriptures between the second coming of Christ and the judgment itself. To arrive at some sort of time period such as the millennium (thousand years), one must read it into the text rather than draw it easily and clearly out of the text. This is not how Bible interpretation is done. We accept the words of the Scriptures as we have them, and apply them to our lives. When Christ comes, it will be to raise all of the dead, “some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). Therefore the thousand-year reign of Christ in Revelation 20 is not something in the future, but in the present. It is the whole reign of Christ over the New Testament church. What is taught in Scripture radically condemns millennialism as anti-Christian:

  1. According to Scripture, Christ’s kingdom is spiritual, not worldly (John 18:36; 2 Timothy 4:18).  So the kingdom and reign of Christ cannot manifest itself with any features derived from an earthly kingdom.
  2. If there would be any kingdom that could be measured precisely and marked by the visible return of Christ and other external things, someone could use that information to make an exact prediction about the end of the world, or someone could at least determine a point in time before which the end could not come—both of which are contrary to Scripture (Acts 1:7; Matthew 24:36; 1 Corinthians 10:11).
  3. Scripture only speaks of a single return of Christ. He will return for judgment, and he will not come before then to set up a visible thousand year kingdom (2 Timothy 4:1).
  4. Scripture knows nothing of a twofold bodily resurrection, and Scripture knows nothing of a “partial” resurrection to the thousand year kingdom. Scripture knows only of a single, universal resurrection of all people on the Last Day (John 11:24; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; John 6:40).
  5. When the Lord returns, he will not find his kingdom in the flourishing condition that millennialism requires in the thousand year kingdom. According to the words of Jesus, he will find just the opposite. “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). We are to enter the kingdom through much hardship, not through joy or glory. The kingdom of God always remains the kingdom of the cross (Matthew 5:4,10; Acts 14:22).

The dreams of millennialists end with the secret dream of the church ruling over the world. This is easy to hear in the confused rantings of some politicians, but it is also present in a more insidious form in certain contemporary Christian songs, popular on the radio and easy to sing along with, but with a message that rejects the Holy Scriptures by twisting their message and leaving familiar phrases intact. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, plead with him to forgive our sins, and bear our crosses with patience and faith, until the end comes.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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