That God May Be All in All (1 Corinthians 15:20-28)


Start with the passage’s final words: “that God may be all in all.” God’s all-in-all-ness is the goal toward which the universe and everything and everyone in it are moving. The universe and its inhabitants will not become divine, but rather, it and they will experience the peace that comes from God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

Several years ago, my mother gave me a framed nineteenth-century lithograph, which now hangs in my office. It depicts a scene from the prophet Isaiah, who foretold a coming day when the lion would lie down with the lamb, the predator would no longer stalk its prey, and a little child would play with them all as he would play with his pets. The title of the lithograph: “Peace.”

Peace is the result of God being all in all. It is not merely the absence of conflict, but the presence of harmony; not merely the cessation of warfare, but the joy of friendship. Unfortunately, peace is a scarce commodity in this present age, when predator brutalizes prey and evil men terrorize their victims. Peace is scarce because violence reigns, and with violence, death. Death is the human condition – and mankind’s greatest enemy – in this present age. If God is to be all in all, then death – “the last enemy” – must someday die. Consequently, if God is to be all in all, resurrection is both necessary and inevitable.

But how are we to know that resurrection will actually take place? Do we have any proof – other than a fond hope – that God will raise from the dead those that trust in him? Is resurrection nothing more than a wish?

That brings us to the first verse of today’s Scripture reading, which declares, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” This verse makes two important points.

First, Christ’s resurrection is fact, not fiction. The Corinthians, it seems, argued on theological grounds that Christ’s resurrection was unnecessary. Their high-blown theory foundered on simple empirical grounds. Over 500 individuals had witnessed the resurrected Christ (1 Cor. 15:3-8). Sometimes, critics of Christianity accuse believers of believing fantasies. It’s easy to level such accusations 2,000 years after Christ’s life, but in the first century, it would have been impossible to rebut the firsthand testimony of so many witnesses. Christian belief in the resurrection is not a matter of theology only but of evidence, not of mere faith but of reasonable fact.

Second, Christ’s resurrection was not for him alone. Paul calls the resurrected Christ the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Firstfruits are the first parts of a crop to ripen and become ready for harvesting. That is what Christ is, the first of many resurrections. If he is raised, we will be too, if we put our faith in him.

Christ is alive, in fact and not just in faith. Since he is alive, we too can look forward to the future with hope in our resurrection. For at the end, death and sin will be destroyed, and God will be all in all.

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