PMT 2013-040 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

EarthThis is my third and final article given in response to a reader’s question as to whether the NT envisions Christ’s kingdom as gradually advancing in history. This is an important question for the postmillennialist, hence my lengthy response.

Paul and the kingdom’s glory

When we look into the 1 Corinthians passage we do not discover Paul making a passing, on-the-side statement about the kingdom’s growth. Rather he gives a good deal of attention to the matter. I will not fully develop the passage, but I will present Paul’s sizeable statement in full and make a few comments on the significance of its various elements.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:20–28:

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, ‘All things are put in subjection,’ it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.”

Just briefly, let us note the following.

Paul declares Christ to be the first fruits of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:20), which brings the Now / Not Yet principle into his argument. That is, he points to Christ as evidence of the resurrection, which is now present but which speaks of a larger fulfillment at the end.

Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (ed. by Darrell Bock)
Presents three views on the millennium: progressive dispensationalist, amillennialist, and reconstructionist postmillennialist viewpoints. Includes separate responses to each view.

Presents three views on the millennium: progressive dispensationalist, amillennialist, and reconstructionist postmillennialist viewpoints. Includes separate responses to each view

He notes that “the end” comes (1 Cor 15:24), but notice what precedes the end. Verse 24 says: “the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father.” Earth history ends “whenever” Christ “hands over” the kingdom to the Father. In the syntactical construction before us, his “handing over” (NIV) or “delivering up” (KJV) the kingdom must occur simultaneously with “the end.” Here the timing is contingent: “whenever” he delivers up the kingdom, then the end will come. In addition, he will deliver up his kingdom to the Father only “after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.”

We see then that the end is contingent: it will come whenever he delivers up the kingdom to his Father. But this will not occur until “after He has destroyed all dominion, authority and power” (see also: ESV). Consequently, the end will not occur, and Christ will not turn the kingdom over to the Father, until after he has abolished all opposition.

Notice further that 1 Cor 15:25 demands that “He must [dei] reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.” Here the present infinitive basileuein (“reign”) indicates his ongoing reign. Christ is presently reigning, and has been so since his ascension.Thus, here Paul states that Christ must continue reigning as he puts his enemies under his feet.

But to what point in time does his reign continue? The answer is identical to our previous conclusion: his reign from heaven extends to the end of history. We must understand his rule as definitive, progressive, and consummative (a form of the Now / Not Yet principle). During his earthly ministry he awaits his resurrection in order to secure the definitive (legal) abolition of all rival rule, authority and power (Mt 28:18; Eph 1:19–22; Php 2:9–11; 1Pe 3:21–22). Now that he rules from heaven until he returns, his return delays until he progressively (actively) puts “all His enemies under His feet.” Paul’s repeating the fact of his sure conquest before the end is significant. Then consummatively (finally), the last enemy he will subdue is death, which he conquers by means of the final resurrection at his coming.

Thus, church history begins with his legal victory at the cross-resurrection-ascension, continues progressively as he subdues all of his other enemies. It finally ends at the eschatological resurrection and the conquering of the final enemy, death.

In 1 Cor 15:27 Christ clearly has the legal title to rule, for the Father “has put everything under His feet.” This Pauline expression (borrowed from Psa 8:6) corresponds with Christ’s declaring that “all authority has been given Me” (Matt 28:18). He has both the right to victory as well as the promise of victory. Psalm 110, especially as expounded by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, shows that he will secure historical victory over all earthly opposition before his second advent.

But now, what about:

Our eager expectation

A number of verses call upon us to what my inquirer rightly calls a “mood of eager expectation.” In this regard, I would remind you of what I stated earlier in this brief series: even as Christ’s kingdom slowly progresses to victory, its final and ultimate victory is in eternity. It will never gain perfection while here on earth. And as a consequence, we always labor in a state of sin while we remain in this mortal body.

As a consequence of this, the Christian who truly loves God and righteousness is eagerly awaiting his leaving his sinful condition behind in order to be fully perfected in the presence of God. This would be especially true in earlier church history, such as in the apostolic era, when they were being persecuted and dying for the faith. Their eagerness would be accentuated by their current experience, even though they held out the long-term hope that in future generations Christ’s name will be exalted among the nations.

But even our own current eager longing for our final, righteous estate does not undermine our calling to labor in the present until we reach that goal. If it did, eagerness would undercut any righteous labor for it would always be looking past the current state-of-affairs to the consummate one.

Thus, postmillennialists are eager to lay aside this sinful flesh and enjoy the consummate order. But until then we eagerly labor for the Master.

Faith of Our Fathers (DVDs by Ken Gentry)
Explains the point of creeds for those not familiar with their rationale.
Also defends their biblical warrant and practical usefulness.

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