Paul’s premillennialist eschatology, in light of reconciliationism

After publishing my previous post regarding the reconciliationist understanding of hell, I got to thinking about 1 Cor 15:28, in terms of my premillennialist eschatology. From George Ladd (The Last Things), I have appropriated the idea that 1 Cor 15 is where Paul lays out his own premillennialist eschatology. Here Paul provides an explanation of God’s purpose for the earthly reign of Christ after his return (which is best known from John’s writing in Rev 20), namely, that Christ “must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”

As Paul lays out the eschatological timeline relative to resurrection, it begins with Christ’s resurrection as the firstfruits of a new order. Next, those who “belong to Christ” are raised at Christ’s return (15:23). “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father,” but this does not happen immediately upon Christ’s return. He only delivers the kingdom to the Father “after destroying every rule and every authority and power” (15:24), and the last of the enemies which Christ puts under his feet is “death” (15:26).

Now, according to Rev 20:5, death is not defeated until “the rest of the dead,” that is, those who did not participate in the “first resurrection,” are raised, at the end of the “thousand years.” Following Ladd’s correlation of 1 Cor 15 and Rev 20, Christ does not deliver up the kingdom to the Father until he has subdued all his enemies, and that is the reason for the interim earthly reign. When Christ has subdued all his enemies, including the physical death that became a universal human experience because of Adam’s sin, he delivers up the kingdom to the Father, and God is “all in all.”

For years, following this reading, I have understood the moment of the Father’s becoming all in all as his victory at the close of the millennium. If reconciliationism is true, however, and I am attracted to the concept, then Christ’s victory is not complete until all creaturely rebels have been brought to their knees and have acknowledged that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:10). The conjunction of universal confession of Christ’s Lordship and the glorification of the Father (Phil 2), with the Father’s becoming “all in all” when Christ delivers up the kingdom to him (1 Cor 15), is truly beautiful. But in the reconciliationist framework, that moment, the “end” of 1 Cor 15:24, happens some time (perhaps a very long time) after the climactic defeat of Satan at the end of the millennium (Rev 20:7-10).

This does not, initially, appear to me to create any difficulty for Ladd’s reading of 1 Cor 15. The proposal of reconciliationism is that a significant purpose and effect of the “torment” of hell is the final subjugation of all God’s enemies, reducing them at last to acknowledgment that Jesus is Lord and God is king.

Traditionalist and annihilationist readings

I can see how this portrait could be appropriated by both traditionalists and annihilationists, but the picture of the end would obviously take a somewhat different shape. In traditionalist reconciliationism, I presume that the nature of the torment of the residents of hell, who exist personally forever, changes in character, moving from defiance and rebellion against God to the experience of having been “put to shame,” as per Isa 45:24, which Peter O’Brien takes to be in Paul’s mind when he penned Phil 2:9-11 (Philippians, 243). For annihilationists, however, this extended subjugation by Christ of those in rebellion, including the last enemy “death,” might be understood as ending when the “second death,” construed as personal extinction, is complete.


By Terrance Tiessen

I am Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, Canada.

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