Man was made for life, but death swallows up the race. Is death always to be the abject, heartbreaking end of life, or will death some day be vanquished and its victims freed? The right answer to this question reveals a triumphant Savior, strengthens faith in God, gives true comfort, and inspires worship, thanksgiving and joy. The right answer is God's answer. It is direct and clear. Note it carefully.
This is an unexplored portion of God's Word to many. Its challenging statements should strengthen our determination to understand and believe the truth God has revealed in it. Let us consider some of its outstanding points:
AS IN ADAM ALL DIE. Death is the heritage of all who are related to Adam, none escape it. Even those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior, succumb to the sleep of death and are referred to as "the dead in Christ" (1 Thess. 4:13-18); and as "the dead" that "shall be raised incorruptible" (1 Cor. 15:51-52). The fact that "those who are Christ's" need to be "made alive at His coming" shows that they too are included in the ALL who die in Adam.
Satan's success in binding men to the nature and extent of death is the cause of much error. That this would be a master stroke of deception is evidenced by the fact that Satan's first lie was "You shall not surely die" (Gen. 3:4). This deception is still believed by many in spite of the fact that all die. Truth is sometimes rejected because it is unpleasant. The apparent finality of death appalls man. His aversion to death causes him to welcome any philosophy that explains it away. To reject the truth concerning death is to lose the comfort contained in God's way of dealing with it. Death is indeed a grim and relentless enemy but there is One Who is "THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE" (John 11:25). He has "the keys of death and of Hades" (Rev. 1:17-18). He it is who will conquer death and set its victims free. Hear the thrilling words:
SO ALSO IN CHRIST SHALL ALL BE MADE ALIVE. Think of it -- ALL who die in Adam will be MADE ALIVE IN CHRIST! Made alive beyond the reach of death. Made alive unto immortality as was Christ "the Firstfruit" when He was raised from the dead (1 Tim 6:16). Made alive as "those who are Christ's" will be made alive at His coming -- the dead raised "incorruptible" and the living "changed" from mortal to immortal (1 Cor 15:51-55). Marvel of marvels, "INCORRUPTIBLE " and "IMMORTAL" -- incapable of being corrupted and incapable of dying. This is the "victory" that will "swallow up" all death in due time. What rejoicing there will be then! What glory to God and to His Son!
BUT EACH IN HIS OWN ORDER. Not a "but" of exception, rather a "but" of order. ALL are to be made alive but at different times. "Each in his own order." THREE ORDERS are enumerated and located in relation to other events:
It is the third or "end" order that many overlook. A thoughtful reading of this passage will enable most believers to see clearly that the words "then cometh the end" refer to this end order to be made alive. The subject the apostle is elucidating is: The order in which all who die in Adam will be made alive in Christ (vs. 22-24). Christ the firstfruit (order one) and those who are Christ's at His coming (order two) comprise only a small part of the ALL who die in Adam. A third order is necessary to make ALL alive. To refer the "end" to anything else is to ignore the context and to introduce something foreign to the subject. It cannot possibly refer to an end of the kingdom, for though the kingdom will be "delivered up" to the Father (1 Cor. 15:24) , it will never end (Luke 1:33).
Four statements in this passage indicate that the words "then cometh the end" refer to the making alive of an end order.
But the question arises, May not the making alive of this end order refer to "the resurrection unto judgment" at the time of the "Great White Throne" (John 5:29; Rev. 20:11-15)? This cannot be the case for three reasons:
The Son does not deliver up the kingdom to God the Father until he has abolished ALL rule, authority, power, and death. Since death is the last enemy to be abolished, as long as rule, authority, and power remain, the end order has not been made alive. With these facts in mind let us glace at the outstanding events of the future which bear on this subject.
Will rule, authority, and power still be present on the New Earth? If so, death has not yet been abolished. Let us see: "The Throne of God and of the Lamb shall be therein" (Rev. 22:3). "And his servants shall serve him" and "they shall REIGN for the ages of the ages" (Rev. 22:3-5). "The KINGS of the earth bring their glory into the New Jerusalem" (Rev. 21:23-24). Yes, rule, authority, and power are still present on the New Earth. The Lord Jesus is still reigning, the saints are still reigning, and there are still kings on the earth. The end order has not yet been made alive. Since there will be no death on the New Earth (Rev. 21:1-4), the only dead ones to be made alive in the end order are those who have suffered the second death. When these have been made alive, then in deed and in truth, death will have been abolished.
The question arises, When will these who are made alive in the end order come to believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior? Another question answers this one. How can unbelievers EXPERIENCE the resurrecting power of Jesus Christ in saving them out of the first death, be brought into His presence at the Great White Throne, and not believe? The Judge is none other than the Savior (Rom. 2:16). "All judgment has been given unto the Son that all may HONOR the Son even as they honor the Father" (John 5:22-23) .
But the objection arises, if they come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior then, why should they suffer the second death? Again we would answer by asking another question. Why do those who believe during this life suffer the first death? We should not forget that the first death is the condemnation of God against SIN (Rom. 5:12-19). Deliverance out of it for anyone is on the basis of the saving work of Jesus Christ (John 1:29). Unbelievers will be saved OUT OF the first death in the "resurrection unto judgment" (John 5:28-29). They will then be judged and dealt with according to their DEEDS (Rom. 2:5-6; Rev. 20:11-15) after which they will suffer the second death. The second death is because of the SINS of the individual, and deliverance OUT OF it will be on the basis of the saving work of Jesus Christ (1 John 2:2; Rom. 5:18-19; 1 Cor 15:20-26).
The teaching of endless punishment slanders the character of God and dishonors His Son. Failure to distinguish between the elective salvation of the ages (2 Tim. 2:10), and the general salvation beyond (1 Tim. 4:9-11; 2:3-6), has caused many to malign the God they seek to glorify. This distinction is clearly revealed in the types of the Old Testament. There was redemption for SOME prior to Jubilee, and a deliverance for ALL at Jubilee (Lev. 25:1-55). There is to be a grand Jubilee of Salvation. All are to receive "justification of life" and "be made righteous" (Rom. 5:18-19). Jesus Christ is indeed a triumphant Savior! "The pleasure of the Lord SHALL PROSPER in His hand, He shall see the travail of His soul and SHALL BE SATISFIED" (Isa. 53:10-11).
-- Joseph E. Kirk