For He Must Reign… part 1: Exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15:23-25

          Beginning in verse 23, Paul says that Christ was the first-fruits of those who will be resurrected to life, i.e. “shall be made alive” in verse 22. Paul then says that those who belong to Christ will be resurrected to life at his second coming.

Verse 24, Paul says “Then comes the end,” or literally “Then the end.” Paul is saying that after Christ comes and raises to life those who are His, the end is what comes next. Paul immediately describes what happens at the end, i.e. at His coming, and that is that Christ “delivers the kingdom to God the Father.” But before Christ can deliver the kingdom to God the Father, a prerequisite must first be met, that being that He “destroys every rule and authority and power.” This truth can be concluded with the use of the word “after.” “After” Christ destroys every rule and authority and power, He will then deliver the kingdom to God the Father.

Verse 25, Paul begins by making an argument for what he just previously said. He begins his argument or explanation, by the word, “For.” Paul proceeds to tell the Corinthians why it is that, v.24, the end will come after He destroys every rule authority and power and then hand over the kingdom to God. His reason is found in an allusion to Psalm 110, in which Paul says, “For he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet.” Psalm 110 reads, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” Paul’s explanation for why it is that Christ must reign until all enemies are put under his feet, is because Psalm 110 says that Christ is sitting at the right hand of God until God makes all his enemies his footstool. Paul makes an explicit connection with Christ reigning in v.25, and with sitting at the right hand in Psalm 110. The two phrases are synonymous for Paul. Christ is right now, sitting at the right hand of God, reigning, having all his enemies being put under his feet, i.e. he is presently, actively, destroying every rule and authority and power until the last enemy is finally destroyed, and that is death, v. 26.

Martin Luther’s comments on verse 25 are interesting, and I think clearly represent what Postmillennialist today are saying,

He must reign in order to gather all the children of God, as Scripture declares elsewhere. Therefore He must first complete His kingdom and not annihilate His enemies before He has brought all into His kingdom who belong there. Following that, He will destroy everything at one time and lay about Him. In the meantime He lets His Word be preached, and He governs Christendom spiritually with Word, Sacrament, faith, and Spirit amid his enemies, who oppress us and harass us; and He preserves and protects us against these with the sure consolation that He will put them completely under His feet at that Day; in fact, He has already begun to do this, and He does it daily. For through the Gospel and through Christendom He strikes the factious spiritually, repels the devil, dethrones the tyrants, subdues the raging and raving of the world, deprives sin and death of their strength and might, etc. This is His work which he pursues and in which He engages until the Last Day, only that He now does this piecemeal and by degrees. Then, however, He will knock the bottom out of the barrel and put an end to everything at one time” (128-129).

This allusion to Psalm 110 is the driving force behind this passage and is essential in accurately understanding what Paul is teaching in this passage concerning the nature and timing of the Kingdom of God and of Christ’s reign. There are other passages that support this eschatological structure, and it is also, I submit, the predominate understanding of Jesus Himself concerning His own mission, as well as that of Luke, and how he interprets Peter in Acts 2. I will set out to show from various N.T. texts and their allusion to O.T. texts that they prove the above exegesis is consistent with the rest of the N.T. at a later time.

Helpful Links:

Defense of Postmillennialism by Gregg Strawbridge

He Must Reign by John Piper


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