The resurrection: Christ defeating all dominion and its misinterpretation

I am studying the classic text on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. I just found some great quotes from Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner’s commentary (The First Letter to the Corinthians [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010]).

Here is the particular text in 1 Corinthians.

Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he ‘has put everything under his feet’.Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:24–28)

Ciampa and Rosner explain that the destruction of dominion implies the restoration of all of creation and its submission to the Father.

Verses 24–28 reflect the motif of a dominion gone astray and needing to be crushed so that the proper dominion might be restored. The general idea would have been familiar to anyone in the Roman Empire. Just as a Roman emperor would send out his leading general to put down seditious movements and rebellious vassal states and restore the emperor’s authority throughout the empire, God has sent Christ to subdue all rebellion and opposition, to destroy all the enemies of God’s kingdom, and to restore all of creation to its proper submission to the Father for his glory and the good of all creation. As Wright points out, this description of Christ’s role in reigning over all creation reminds us that Christ, “as the final Adam, the start of the renewed human race (compare Colossian 1.18b), is not only the model for the new type of humanity. He possesses the authority to bring it into being.” [N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 342.] (pp. 768–710)

Remarkably the words translated dominion and authority in 1 Corinthians 15:24 are found in the ancient Greek version of Daniel 7:14, “and to him was given the dominion and the honor and the kingship, and all peoples, tribes, languages shall be subject to him. His authority is an everlasting authority, which will not pass away” (NETS translation of Theodotion’s version). (p. 769)

Ciampa and Rosner then say that an anti-imperial ideology is at work.

Clearly, by all dominion, authority and power Paul means all the competing, corrupted and perverted dominions, authorities, and powers that have been unleased through Adam’s idolatrous perversion of the reign given him by God in Genesis 1. An anti-imperial ideology is clearly at work here, as in the texts from Daniel cited above … The dominions which seems to hold sway in the political, religious and spiritual realms would all be destroyed in the face of the glorious appearance of the fullness of God’s kingdom. This would also apply to the tendency in every human heart to assert one’s own ultimate autonomy as a kingdom of one. No rebellious dominion, authority, or power may be allowed to stand if true, peace, liberty, and righteousness are to reign. It is in this environment that God’s oppressed and marginalized people may finally experience the freedom, righteousness and peace for which they have hungered and thirsted. (p. 769)

Later, Ciampa and Rosner tell us how 1 Corinthians 15 can, sadly, be used to support violence and oppression.

Unfortunately, this portrayal of God’s role in the world has too often served to underwrite violent and oppressive rule on the part of those who see themselves as agents of God’s kingdom. While Christians may well have significant concerns about the ideological criticism of Scripture itself, they must always be prepared to engage in the ideological criticism of interpretations and applications of Scripture lest it continue to be used for evil in the guise of righteousness, oppressing the weak and powerless for the sake of the agendas of the powerful. The validity of this theology and expression of political power is wholly dependent upon the infinite wisdom and righteousness of the one who destroys all other opposing powers and imposes his own kingdom on the world. When such a project is carried out (even on a lesser scale) by powerful (but not infinitely wise or righteous) human leaders and governments, whether under the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, or even modern empires, it is done in the name of righteousness and peace and often with a claim to divine (or natural) mandate. But it always ends up reflecting a parody of the perfect kingdom of righteousness and peace that could be established only by the infinitely wise and righteous King known for his self-sacrificial love for all his creatures, especially the weak and powerless. It is a sad irony that texts such as this one which speak of the ultimate condemnation of all empires but God’s have nevertheless sometimes come to empower those who falsely perceive themselves to be following a divine model suited to their own ambitions. (pp. 770-771; emphasis added)

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The scandal of the empty tomb

On the “scandal of the empty tomb”, Michael Pahl says the following in his book,

To put this simply, everyone knows that dead people do not come back from the dead, let alone to some transformed human existence, but that’s precisely the point of the Christian claim that God raised Jesus from the dead – the utterly impossible has in fact occurred. And the impossible has now become the norm, the standard by which all else is measured.

Source: Michael Pahl, From the Resurrection to New Creation (Eugene: Cascade, 2010), 12.

Proclaiming the resurrection is to proclaim a new world

I have been thinking about what the resurrection means. It is much more than my future and how good my life will be. This is what Joel Green says in his commentary on 1 Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), about the resurrection. (I will highlight a few things in green.)

Three interrelated motifs help to structure our understanding: (A) Resurrection signals the restoration of Israel. (B) Resurrection marks God’s vindication of the righteous who have suffered unjustly; having been condemned and made to suffer among humans, the righteous will in the resurrection be vindicated before God. (C) Resurrection marks the decisive establishment of divine justice; injustice and wickedness will not have the final word, but in the resurrection will be decisively repudiated. To proclaim the resurrection, then, is already to proclaim a new world, and to call for a “conversion of the imagination.” (p. 28)

Living for the risen Christ

Three years ago I wrote an article entitled “Re-thinking resurrection” for Sight Magazine. I thought I might reproduce parts of it here (slightly edited) at this Easter season.

Living for the risen Christ

Indeed resurrection signifies the future and ultimate reign of God. But this future hope is also absolutely important for our life in the present. After a long chapter speaking on the resurrection, Paul concludes, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.” (I Corinthians 15: 58) In other words, in view of the hope of the future resurrection, we are exhorted to live for Christ here and now in our daily life.

But living for Christ does mean an alternative orientation of life that lives out his lordship. The Gospel was first preached within the Roman Empire, where Caesar was to be known to be the lord of all. If the early church preached a god who only ruled in heaven and that his followers’ hope was to live in heavenly bliss, then Caesar would have no problems with them. Such a god would pose no threat to Caesar, nor his Empire. But to say that Jesus is a living resurrected Lord (who has been raised after dying on a Roman cross) would pose a threat to Caesar’s claim of lordship. This Son of the Creator God is not dead but is alive. He will return to judge the world with justice. As far as his followers are concerned, Jesus is the true Lord, and Caesar isn’t. The message of Christ’s supreme lordship came to a head later on in Revelation, where we find that the church was severely persecuted by Rome.

If Christianity is about going to heaven and that in the meantime Christians are to live like the rest of the world, make money for pleasure, and build ‘empires’ that consist of excess material possessions, promising careers and earthly glory, then the world has no problems with us. If the resurrection is only for our benefits in the future life and has nothing to do with how we live now, then the world will not notice us.

But if the Christian faith is about submitting to the risen Lord in every decision we make, then people will be interested in the reasons why we believe. If the hope of resurrection means that we want to follow Jesus’ way of life by living simply, caring for the poor, and standing in solidarity with the socially and economically disadvantaged, then our lives radiate the love of Christ (even though this rather radical lifestyle may sound silly for some people). If our way of life is one that defies the power of the ‘empire of consumerism’ and the ‘empire of self-centredness,’ then people will see that we are a community loyal to Christ and not the value system of this world.

No death, no resurrection

Paul says in Romans 8:17, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs; heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Here the apostle is saying that in order to share in the glory of Christ, we must be prepared to share (at least a measure of) his suffering. Jesus was raised to life, but first he had to suffer and die. Here Paul calls us to follow Jesus’ way of life and live sacrificially as we look forward to our resurrection.

(The original version at Sight can be found here.)