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In 1 Corinthians 15:24ff Paul suggests that Jesus is at the beginning of the process of ruling:

[1Co 15:22-28 CSB] 22 For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at his coming, those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he abolishes all rule and all authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he puts all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be abolished is death. 27 For God has put everything under his feet. Now when it says "everything" is put under him, it is obvious that he who puts everything under him is the exception. 28 When everything is subject to Christ, then the Son himself will also be subject to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all.

But in Ephesians 1 it appears a fait accompli:

[Eph 1:19-23 KJV] 19 And what [is] the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20 Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set [him] at his own right hand in the heavenly [places], 21 Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: 22 And hath put all [things] under his feet, and gave him [to be] the head over all [things] to the church, 23 Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

What changed?

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  • 1
    The first passage refers to the eschaton when Christ returns, and so uses the future tense. The second passage refers to Christ's power as he is already seated on the throne and gives us his power. Thus Christ is on the throne (now) but will also return in the future ("at his coming").
    – Robert
    yesterday
  • Sounds like the beginning of an answer.
    – Ruminator
    yesterday
  • I wrote it, now you have to read it, lol
    – Robert
    yesterday

3 Answers 3

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It's true that Paul's letters show variation in the timing of the work of Christ. I think the best explanation of this is simply that Paul understands the work of Christ as a process begun but not yet finished. Therefore the variations are a reflection of Paul's varying focus throughout his letters.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 15.22-28 Paul is responding to a specific question from a local church. In verse 12 we read this:

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

The question is about the general resurrection of the dead, which obviously for both Paul and his readers is a future event. And (possibly because of the passage of time) some church members are starting to doubt or deny that the resurrection of the dead will happen. Paul's response is to argue that the resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee of the resurrection of the dead. That's the point of verse 20:

Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

The firstfruits metaphor comes from the OT ceremonial system, where the firstfruits was a thanksgiving offering from the initial portion of the harvest. The people would bring their offerings as a sign of trust in the God who will ensure the full harvest. In the same way, if Jesus truly has been raised from the dead then this becomes a sign that all who trust in him will at the right time be raised too.

So when does Jesus' rule take place? Paul's approach here is that it will not be a complete rule until the final resurrection, because although Jesus himself is already risen, the work of Christ is to restore the whole of creation, and that won't happen until the final resurrection when all things will be subject to him.

When we turn to the second text, Ephesians 1.19-23, we find a different focus. Here the resurrection of Christ is a past event, as in 1 Corinthians; but in contrast to 1 Corinthians the ascension and rule at the right hand of God is also described as a past event. How do we respond to this contrast?

The context here is Paul's prayer for the Ephesian church. He prays that they may know the limitless power of God, and as the key illustration of that power he points to God's act in raising Jesus from the dead. But this is not just from death to life, but from death to glory, from the lowest point to the highest point. By this illustration he is assuring the Ephesian readers that nothing is impossible for God.

If we take these two texts in isolation it is certainly possible to see a tension or even a contradiction between them. But the overall context of Ephesians leads us to a different conclusion. Although Ephesians 1.19-23 by itself may read as if the work of Jesus is a fait accompli, the letter as a whole shows the same process of restoration as in 1 Corinthians. Consider these examples:

  1. In Ephesians 1.13-14 the Ephesian believers experience the same past and future tension as in 1 Corinthians. On the one hand they are already "in Christ" and in possession of God's Holy Spirit (verse 13). On the other they are still awaiting the final receipt of their promised inheritance (verse 14).

  2. In Ephesians 2 Paul can describe the believers as already raised to life in Christ. Not only that they are alive, they are raised to heaven and seated with Christ at the right hand of God (verses 4-6). All this is set in the past tense. It is fait accompli. And yet when we get to chapter 4 we see the other side of the coin. The church which is already reigning in heaven needs to work to make that real on earth. Paul needs to urge them to live out their Spirit created unity (verse 1-3). They must use their Christ given gifts to build the church (verse 7-12). The building metaphor points to a process, as does the goal of being like Christ (verse 13-16). That goal is still in the future as Paul writes.

  3. The final appeal in Ephesians 6 is to put on the full armour of God and to keep praying (verse 10-20). Why? Because we are still in a spiritual struggle (verse 12).

So in summary it's simplistic to say that in Ephesians Paul writes of Jesus' work as a fait accompli. A careful reading of the whole letter shows the same kind of tension and balance between Christ's completed work and the application of that work in the church and the world that we see in 1 Corinthians 15. It is finished. It is not yet completed. Both are true.

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  • Logically, though, they can't both be true...
    – Ruminator
    yesterday
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Paul is describing different things.

(All verses KJV)

Exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15:17-28

In 1 Cor 15, Paul starts talking about the resurrection -- the 'hope'.

15.17-20 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins...If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.

When you see "firstfruit", you always think of the resurrection. The first fruit was the first of the barley harvest, lifted up to God on the day after the Sabbath (Sunday).

v21-23 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.

We are still talking about the resurrection. Christ was the first to be harvested and we will be resurrected with him.

Who will be resurrected? "They that are Christ's".

When? "At his coming". Thus we are talking about the Eschaton

v 24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.

"Put down" = καταργέω. It has the sense of inactivate. Or abolish. Or set aside. It is used in

  • 1 Cor 6.13: Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy [καταργέω] both it and them.

  • 1 Cor 13:10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away [καταργέω]

  • 1 Corinthians 2:6 Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:[καταργέω]

So at the Eschaton, when the bride is complete and the harvest is finished, all rule and authority shall be abolished.

v25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.

This is now. He is reigning now. It is a quote from a Psalm 110:1

  The LORD said unto my Lord,
  Sit thou at my right hand,
  Until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

So until his enemies are put under his feet, Christ is reigning, sitting at the right hand of God. What event is referred to by this instance of "put the enemies under his feet"?

Here "put" = τίθημι and it means to place or set, and it is not the same language used in verse 28. Right now, there is opposition. There is suffering, testing, trials. Christ suffered as the head, but the body (his bride) must also suffer:

Col 1.24: Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church:

Right now, the faith is being tested and proven:

1 Peter 1.7: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

This suffering is caused by opposition. Satan has been cast into the earth and he opposes the saints. However this is all to serve God's purpose. God sets the amount and the times of our testing, so that the Bride will be brought forth, fully tested, just as Christ was fully tested in his earthly life.

Thus the opposer is still subject to Christ Just as Pharaoh (in his mind) was the enemy of Israel, but in God's mind was just an instrument of opposition.

However there will come a time when Satan will be "deactivated" by being thrown at Christ's feet (e.g. placed at his feet). Think of a bound prisoner being carried into the throne room and laid at the foot of the king. That marks the end of the opposition, which will happen at the Eschaton.

This picture of the prisoner being placed at the feet of the king is what is meant by "For he must reign, till he hath put [placed] all enemies under his feet."

Continuing..

v26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

When there is no more need for testing and suffering, there will be no more need for death. The Eschaton would have arrived. So this will happen in the future.

Now we shift back to the present:

v27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith, all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.

Here, "put" = "subjugate" = ὑποτάσσω. BDAG: to cause to be in a submissive relationship, to subject, to subordinate

So right now the opposer is submissive to Christ, because Christ is in charge by being elevated above him. It is important to understand that Christ is the one who is ultimately responsible for our suffering, just as the Father was ultimately responsible for the suffering of the son. This is a key point in Job. God is the behind the scenes, causing everything to happen. Satan is merely Christ's instrument. God threw the devil into the earth, in order to be the opposition, so that the body of Christ can be filled up with the suffering that it lacks.

Acts 9.16: For I [Jesus] will shew him [Paul] how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.

Exodus 9.16: And in very deed for this cause have I [God] raised thee up, for to shew in thee [Pharaoh] my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.

Job 1.8a: ...Hast thou considered my servant Job?

If you think suffering is strange and not in God's plan -- if you have a theology of glory instead of a theology of the cross, then you will think that Christ isn't reigning and some things are not subject to him, and you will start inventing theologies to explain how things aren't what they should be. This is why people always think God will reign in the future, but cannot imagine him reigning now, just as they imagine going to heaven in the future but not being in heaven now (even though Paul says we are already dead and our lives are hid with Christ in God). Because now there is suffering and people think the suffering somehow opposes God's will, when really the suffering is to create the trial of our faith that is more precious than gold.

But in Paul's theology, everything is exactly how it should be right now and it is all subject to Christ right now. It's just that the category of "should be" includes stuff like Christ dying on the cross and ourselves suffering.

However once the Eschaton hits and the bride is complete, adorned with all the gold that is required, that opposer will be abolished. He will be taken out of the earth and placed at Christ's feet. It is very sad that Paul had to use the "under the feet" phrase to describe both of these events, but a careful reader can see distinctions that don't involve "changes in timing".

Continuing..

v 28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.

"him" refers to the Father, not Christ. Another distinction is being made here.

Right now, the Son reigns, and everything is subject to the Son. But the opposer, who is subject to the Son, is running around the earth doing the Son's will, but not immobilized at the Son's feet.

When the opposer's work is complete, he will then be taken out of the earth and placed at Christ's feet, then the opposer and death will be abolished. Then the Son will hand over all subjection to the Father, and will himself become subject to the Father. Thus this is again the Eschaton and refers to the future.

Exegesis of Ephesians 1:19-23

Once we understand that suffering is not strange but is necessary, and that God is in control of everything including our suffering, then everything becomes obvious, so I will go through this quickly.

v 19–21 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:

So Christ is already reigning (which we saw) and everything is already subject to him (which we also saw). Here Paul adds the wrinkle that this is not only now, but "in the world to come". I would like to avoid doctrinal discussions about the world to come, so I'll move on.

v 22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

Again with the feet. Fortunately "put" is again "ὑποτάσσω" so this refers to everything being subject to Christ. Satan is still running around testing the faith of the saints and causing suffering so he is not immobilized at the feet, but he is subject to the feet. The reference to the Church as "his body" is perhaps a subtle hint that as Christ had to be crucified to demonstrate his obedience to the Father, the church will also suffer as it is his body.

We are done. Paul is not hard to read once you accept a few key ideas, like Col 1.27 "Christ in you, the hope of Glory", as well as the theology of the cross. But the theology of the cross underpins all.

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A more careful reading of the two passages reveals what my blind spot was in asking this question. The short answer is that while he was immediately endowed with all authority, there remained "enemies" who refused to let him reign over them:

[Luke 19:27 KJV] (27) But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

[Matt 21:40-45 ESV] (40) When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" (41) They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons." (42) Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: "'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'? (43) Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. (44) And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him." (45) When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.

So what Corinthians is concerned with are the still remaining "enemies". Christ had seized the keys of Death and Hell but had not yet unlocked the gates of Hell and emptied hADES.

[1Co 15:27-28 CSB] 25 For he must reign until he puts all his enemies under his feet.

With the destruction of death (IE: "sleep" in Hades), the last enemy had been destroyed:

[1Co 15:51-57 NKJV] 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed-- 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal [must] put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." 55 "O Death, where [is] your sting? O Hades, where [is] your victory?" 56 The sting of death [is] sin, and the strength of sin [is] the law. 57 But thanks [be] to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

This would not occur until the rapture of the 144,000 to meet the LORD in the air c. 70 AD/CE. Christ, accompanied by these ten thousands of his saints, his heavenly army, would fulfil Matthew 21:40-45 and destroy the Judean Sinai covenant Temple based theocracy and expel them from his Land:

[Jde 1:7-16 NASB20] 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these [angels] indulged in sexual perversion and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. 8 Yet in the same way these people also, dreaming, defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak abusively of [angelic] majesties. 9 But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him an abusive judgment, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!" 10 But these people disparage all the things that they do not understand; and all the things that they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. 11 Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have given themselves up to the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. 12 These are the ones who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, [like shepherds] caring [only] for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, churning up their own shameful deeds like [dirty] foam; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of darkness has been reserved forever. 14 [It was] also about these people [that] Enoch, [in the] seventh [generation] from Adam, prophesied, saying, "Behold, the Lord has come with many thousands of His holy ones, 15 to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him." 16 These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their [own] lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of [gaining an] advantage.

[Luk 21:20-22 NKJV] 20 "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. 21 "Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. 22 "For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.

[Dan 12:7 NKJV] 7 Then I heard the man clothed in linen, who [was] above the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand to heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever, that [it shall be] for a time, times, and half [a time]; and when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered, all these [things] shall be finished.

The Ephesians passage speaks of his position at God's right hand, not his recognition by his enemies:

[Eph 1:20-23 ESV] (20) that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, (21) far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (22) And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, (23) which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

[Psa 110:1-2 KJV] (1) [A Psalm of David.] The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand [IE: I grant you authority], until I make thine enemies thy footstool. (2) The LORD shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.

However, his People (the Israel of God) are willing to serve him:

[Psa 110:3 KJV] Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.

[Psa 59:16 KJV] (16) But I will sing of thy power; yea, I will sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning: for thou hast been my defence and refuge in the day of my trouble.

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  • Don’t know about ‘stolen the keys’... he won them in a fair fight, a head-lock indeed!
    – steveowen
    Nov 21, 2020 at 1:11

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