It could be argued that a diachronic view of the corpus of Scripture provides a strong case for postmillennialism, from the protoevangelium (Gen 3:15) through the promises of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12, 15, 17) and the Messianic psalms (Ps 2, 22, 110), to the predictions of the Prophets (especially Is 9:6-7; Dan 2:31-35, 44; 7:13-27), as well as Christ’s Kingdom Parables (Matt 13:31-33), the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20, with its allusion to Dan 7:13-14), the role of ethnic Israel (Rom 9-11), and finally the perpetually controversial millennial passage in Revelation 20. Unfortunately, such an extensive undertaking is beyond the current scope of this blog post. (For a more extensive treatment of relevant passages from a postmillennial perspective see Roderick Campbell’s Israel and the New Covenant or Kenneth L. Gentry’s He Shall Have Dominion.)
Instead, this paper will present an exegetical defense of postmillennialism from 1 Corinthians 15:22-26. If the interpretation here is correct it should be sufficient to establish that only postmillennialism properly apprehends both the biblical chronology and character of the eschatological millennial kingdom.
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every 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 (1 Cor 15:22-26).
The context of 1 Corinthians 15 is Paul’s response to the question of the validity of bodily resurrection (15:12). Paul provides an eschatological answer, moving from Christ’s resurrection to the τέλος (“end”). Paul, the archetypal apologist, argues his case evangelistically (15:1-2), scripturally (15:3-4), evidentially (15:5–7), experientially (15:8-11), logically (15:12-19), soteriologically (15:20-22), eschatologically (15:23-27, 51-54), via reductio ad absurdum (29-34), somatologically (15:35-49), and practically (15:58)!
Resurrection is invariably intertwined with Christ’s kingdom reign, since death is an enemy (15:26). The origin of death was sin (“as in Adam all die”) and the deliverance from death is in the Messiah (“in Christ shall all be made alive”). He then gives the eschatological sequence (τάγματι) of this deliverance: “each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” Christ was resurrected, “then” (ἔπειτα) the resurrection “at his coming” of “those who belong to (him),” “then the end” (εἶτα τὸ τέλος). It is clear from the adverb usage (ἔπειτα, εἶτα) that Paul is presenting a chronological sequence of eschatological events (see BDAG, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed, ed. Frederick William Danker, 295, 361.).
Paul expands on the meaning of εἶτα τὸ τέλος by teaching that the “end” (τέλος) is “when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.” (Note that in the ESV the second ὅταν of 15:24 with the subjunctive aorist καταργήσῃ is correctly rendered “after,” in accord with BDAG p. 731 (“with the aorist subjunctive, when the action of the subordinate clause precedes that of the main clause”).)
The “end” is when the kingdom is consummated, not initiated, and Christ reigns from his resurrection “until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” This demonstrates that the kingdom is a reality before it is delivered to God the Father (contradicting the premillennial view of millennial chronology), but it is also delivered after Christ’s reign has brought about the destruction of every rule, authority and power (contradicting the amillennial view of the character of the interadvental period).
When the connection between 15:24 and 15:25 is analyzed in relation to the remainder of the pericope, the postmillennial interpretation is established. The γὰρ (“for”) of 15:25 introduces an explanation, namely, indicating that the kingdom actions of 15:24 are the result of Christ’s current but ongoing rule. The chronological key, then, is that Christ’s established reign persists “until he has put all his enemies under his feet” and “the last enemy… is death,” which is “swallowed up in victory” (15:54) at his “coming” (15:23).
(Paul’s clear allusion to Ps 110 in 15:25 is important, but time limitations prevent a further investigation into the matter. Suffice it to say that, given the pervasive use of Ps 110 by NT authors, a biblical view of the Messianic Kingdom cannot in any instance utterly divorce Ps 110’s usage in the NT from Paul’s eschatological usage here in 1 Corinthians 15. If my interpretation of 1 Cor 15 is correct then the allusion to Ps 110 gives greater support prima facie to the earlier assertion regarding diachronic biblical support for postmillennialism.)
Christ’s reign is interadvental, because the last enemy defeated before “the end” is death; and his reign is characterized by progressively putting all his enemies under his feet, through the fulfillment of the Great Commission, until he has destroyed every rule, authority and power, since this occurs before the kingdom is delivered to God the Father.