1 Corinthians 15:23-26 “But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 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.”
When Jesus rose from the dead, he did not retire to some tropical resort to sit under the palm trees and sip piña coladas. As we confess in the creed, he sits at the right hand of the Father. Paul indicates that Jesus is up and running God’s kingdom, gathering and defending his own, dealing with the remaining pockets of opposition, getting it ready to present to his Father perfect and peaceful, when both Father and Son can sit on their thrones and enjoy the fruits of their labors.
Sometimes it seems as though the clean-up operation isn’t going well. The spiritual enemies of the Church– the dominions, authorities, and powers Paul mentions– appear to be holding their own, even winning. False religions grow faster than Christianity. Christians are executed for their faith– tens of thousands per year. Basic Biblical teachings and morals are denied and contradicted inside some churches, endangering the faith of millions. Circumstances in our own lives– disease, financial strain, broken relationships, unrelenting temptations– can lead us to the edge of losing our faith. If Jesus is ruling, why doesn’t he just make it all stop? Why doesn’t he take control and end all the foolishness by force?
Then we remember that the operative word in Jesus’ rule has never been “force” or “power” but “love.” Jesus does not win followers at gun point. It is love, the love that carried our sins for us and died for them, that changes hearts and wins them to his side. In his love he has chosen to make dear souls in every generation his own. His love never fails to capture them. In order to build the kingdom he wants, then, love leads him to let this world go on until the full number of his people have been gathered.
Under his loving direction, even the dirty work of his enemies turns against them. When his people suffer, this becomes the opportunity for powerful testimonies of faith and intense expressions of Christian love. In this way he lovingly strengthens the faithful and draws them closer to himself. He even attracts defectors from the enemy side, like the man Paul who wrote these words in 1 Corinthians.
When Jesus’ love has snatched from Satan every soul he knows as his own, then his kingdom will be complete. Then the end will come. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” This promises more than the last body succumbing to death. What we know as death will no longer exist, and we will see what Jesus already promises us now: our victory is secure.
The world in which we live has been given a renewed awareness of the immanence and seriousness of death. An invisible virus has exposed how much we fear it. Jesus’ resurrection takes the sting out of that fear. Jesus reigns, and death itself will soon meet its end.