In part iv of this series, Jason pointed out that the various rapture views are built from drawing inferences from the biblical data. There is nothing wrong with this, unless, of course, the inferences drawn do not correspond to reality, but that’s only a problem for mid- and post-tribulation, and pre-wrath rapture views ;-). In the same post, Jason demonstrated how drawing a few (I think solid) inferences from 1 Thessalonians leads one to a pre-trib view of the rapture. In today’s post, we look at another passage that does not teach a pre-trib rapture per se: 1 Corinthians 15. It is worth pointing out that 1 Corinthians 15 is also urged by some to completely rule out premillennialism. This contention will be touched upon below.
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul is writing to correct some misconceptions about, and false teachings concerning, the bodily resurrection that had crept into the Corinthian church (15:12-19, 29-34). The issue is that some in that church were denying the resurrection. Paul responds that if Christ was not raised from the dead then the Christian faith is worthless, and we may as well just go party while we still can. However, Jesus was raised from the dead; and, after relating that just as all those united to Adam will die, so all those united to Christ will be made alive. Paul then explains that will be a sequence of resurrections.
The sequence of resurrections began with Jesus himself (15:23a). The next resurrection in the sequence is those who are raised at Jesus’ return (15:23b). What happens next is,
Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power (15:24).
This is where things get interesting. Gentry (a partial preterist postmillennialist) maintains, “At his second coming history is over in that the resurrection occurs at ‘the end'; there will be no millennial age on the present earth to follow.” In verse 24, cited above, it is clear that the end comes when Jesus hands the kingdom over to the Father. It is equally clear that Jesus hands over the kingdom to the Father when he has brought an end to all other rule, power, and authority. Gentry views this as happening virtually simultaneously with Jesus’ return. The difficulty for Gentry’s view (and also all other a- and post-millennial views) is the next verse:
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet (15:25).
In other words, Jesus reigns for a time (here unspecified) until he has put all enemies under his feet (i.e., brings an end to all rule, power, and authority). So, for all but premillennial positions, Christ must be presently reigning and putting all his enemies under his feet. Once Jesus has accomplished this, he will return, those that belong to him will be resurrected, and he will turn the kingdom over to the Father. Again, the last three events happen virtually simultaneously. However, if this is a correct understanding of this passage, then Jesus will never actually physically rule over the nations! As soon as he returns, he delivers the kingdom to the Father. There is another approach.
I would argue that it is simply to read one’s theology into the text to make the reigning of Jesus in verse 25 precede his coming in verse 23. A more natural way of reading these three verses would be that, in the sequence of events that Paul is describing, Christ will return and those who belong to him will be resurrected, he will then reign until he has placed all his enemies under his feet, and once this is accomplished he will turn over the kingdom to the Father. What is more, since Paul is actually describing a sequence of resurrections, it would be natural to understand that in the event of Jesus handing the kingdom over to the Father another bodily resurrection is implied.
Interestingly enough, this would appear to be the same sequence of events we find described by John in Revelation 20. Except that in Revelation 20 John reveals the length of Jesus’ reign between his second coming and turning the kingdom over to the Father. John also explicitly states that there is a resurrection after the reign of Christ, whereas it is only implied by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.
Well, ok, premillennialism is great, but what about the rapture? The rapture part comes later in the chapter. If what has been advocated so far is correct, and a pre-trib rapture position is correct, then none of what Paul has discussed so far concerning resurrections directly applies to the Corinthians. They won’t be resurrected at the second coming. They will be returning with Christ to reign with him. They certainly won’t be resurrected at the end, when Christ delivers up the kingdom to the Father (i.e., the end of the millennium). John reveals that it is unbelievers who are resurrected at this time. Incidentally, this may be one reason Paul does not explicitly mention this resurrection when he is discussing the sequence of resurrections in 1 Corinthians 15. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul is discussing the resurrection of those who are united to Christ, not resurrection in general (which would include all believers and unbelievers alike).
Paul’s discussion of the rapture begins in verse 50. After arguing that the Father is excepted from Jesus subduing all other power and authority, and demonstrating the absurdity of certain rituals if the dead are in fact not raised, and exposing the foolishness of incredulity concerning what kind of body people will have in the resurrection; Paul tells the Corinthians that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom. Some have urged this fact against certain premillennial positions because said positions allow that some non-glorified (i.e., flesh and blood) people who survive the tribulation would enter into the millennial kingdom. In response it may be noted that Paul has already discussed the kingdom up through Jesus turning it over to the Father. This would be the eternal state phase of the kingdom then that Paul is speaking of, not the millennial phase of the kingdom, when he says that flesh and blood cannot inherit it. There will be no non-glorified people in the eternal state.
This is exactly the difficulty though. What Paul has said so far concerning resurrections does not cover when the Corinthians, and everyone else who is a believer in this age, will be resurrected. In 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 Paul teaches about a resurrection of the dead believers of this age and a glorification of the surviving Christians at the time. Paul calls it a “mystery” and what he describes is an event that happens at once and out of the blue. The only thing that precedes it is a trumpet blast, but that hardly qualifies as the various elaborate signs that Jesus says would signal his return to establish the kingdom of God on earth (cf., Matt 24). The resurrection/glorification that the Corinthians will participate in had not been revealed in previous revelation. It was only after the resurrection of Christ that this mystery began to be revealed by the NT writers.
The timing element of the rapture here spoken of by Paul is not mentioned. It is in comparing the data found in this passage with others that it appears the rapture discussed by Paul here is a pre-tribulational one. I hold that conclusion lightly, as it is an inference that I make rather than a deduction made from what is explicitly taught in Scripture (e.g., the Trinity). At the same time I want to embrace all that may be understood from this passage because the totality of what the passage contains is motivation for following Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians:
So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor 15:58).
 Gentry, Kenneth L., “Postmillennialism,” in The Views on the Millennium and Beyond, ed. by Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 48.