This entry is part 79 of 101 in the series: Tough texts
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 3:16b – ‘Your desire shall be for your husband’
- Genesis 5 – the ages of the antedeluvians
- Genesis 6:1f – ‘The sons of God’
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 12:3 – ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Exodus – Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
- Exodus 12:37 – How many Israelites left Egypt?
- Leviticus 19:18 “Love your neighbour as yourself”
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- 1 Samuel 16:14 – ‘An evil spirit from the Lord’
- 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1 – Who incited David?
- 1 Kings 20:30 – ‘The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them’
- Psalm 105:15 – ‘Touch not my anointed’
- Psalm 137:8f – ‘Happy is he who dashes your infants against the rocks’
- Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”
- Daniel 7:13 – ‘Coming with the clouds of heaven’
- Jonah – history or fiction?
- Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 – the genealogies of Jesus
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Matthew 2:23 – ‘Jesus would be called a Nazarene’
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 7:16,20 – ‘You will recognise them by their fruit’
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:7 – son? servant? male lover?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- Matthew 12:40 – Three days and three nights
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30 – Jesus and the Canaanite woman
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Mt 24:34/Mk 13:30 – ‘This generation will not pass away’
- Matthew 25:40 – ‘These brothers of mine’
- Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34 – Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 1:41 – ‘Compassion’, or ‘anger/indignation’?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’
- Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10 – The unpardonable sin
- Mark 4:31 – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’?
- Mark 6:45 – ‘To Bethsaida’
- Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4 – ‘The widow’s mite’
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2 – Was Joseph from Nazareth, or Bethlehem?
- Luke 2:7 – ‘No room at the inn’
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- Luke 7:2 – ‘Highly valued servant’ or ‘gay lover’?
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- John 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- When did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’
- John 7:40-44 – Did John know about Jesus’ birthplace?
- John 7:53-8:11 – The woman caught in adultery
- John 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me”
- John 14:12 – ‘Greater deeds’
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- John 21:11 – One hundred and fifty three fish
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Acts 5:34-37 – a (minor) historical inaccuracy?
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Romans 1:18 – Wrath: personal or impersonal?
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 5:18 – ‘Life for all?’
- Rom 7:24 – Who is the ‘wretched man’?
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 – ‘Women should be silent in the churches’
- 1 Corinthians 15:28 – ‘The Son himself will be subjected to [God]’
- 1 Corinthians 15:29 – ‘Baptized for the dead’
- 1 Corinthians 15:44 – ‘Raised a spiritual body’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 3:28 – ‘Neither male nor female’
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- Ephesians 1:10 – ‘The fullness of the times’
- Philippians 2:10 – ‘The name that is above every name’
- 1 Cor 11:3/Eph 5:23 – ‘Kephale’: ‘head’? ‘source’? ‘foremost’?
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14f – ‘The Jews, who killed Jesus’
- 1 Timothy 2:4 – ‘God wants all people to be saved’
- 1 Timothy 2:11f – ‘I do not allow woman to teach or exercise authority over a man’
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – ‘The Saviour of all people’
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
- 1 Peter 3:18-20 – Christ and the spirits in prison
- 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘The Lord wishes all to come to repentance’
- Jude 7 – ‘Unnatural desire’
- Revelation 7:4 – The 144,000
- Revelation 14:11 – ‘No rest day or night’
1 Corinthians 15:28 ‘When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all.’
Donald MacLeod refers to the ‘formidable difficulty’ contained in these words.
‘They seem,’ he writes, ‘to teach blatant subordinationism: the Son himself will be subject to the Father. Does this not place him very clearly on the side of creation rather than on the side of the Creator?’
The first thing to be said in response to this is that the kingdom referred to in this passage is one which Christ holds not absolutely as Son of God but as Messiah. As the pre-existent Son he was already equal with God (Phil. 2:6) and shared his glory (Jn. 17:5). But there is another authority which is ‘given’ to him (Mt. 28:18: Jn. 17:2) According to Philippians 2:9 this eminence was conferred on him alter his obedience and because of it. There is similar teaching in Revelation 5:9: the Lamb is worthy to open the scroll precisely because he purchased men by his blood. Indeed, it was that act of redemption which gave him a kingdom to rule. He made us a kingdom for God (Rev. 5:10). Furthermore, this sovereignty is given to him precisely in order to advance the interests of redemption. He is the head over all things ‘for the church’ (Eph. 1:22).
All this gives a fairly clear picture: a kingship which Christ exercises as Redeemer on the basis of the redemption he achieved on earth, and in the interests of that redemption. He reigns because of it and he reigns for it. It is this kingship which will one day achieve its goal; and when it does so it will be surrendered to the Father.
Secondly, this kingship inevitably implies subordination. The very fact of its being ‘given’ indicates this. But it stems from something more fundamental: the Mediator is Servant. He is the Last Adam. L. S. Thornton rightly comments: ‘God is the only true king of the world which he has created. The dominion of Adam, therefore, is a delegated sovereignty. rightly exercised under obedience.’ So long as Christ remains human, and so long as he functions as Servant-Messiah and as head of the church, subordination is unavoidable. It was modified but not eliminated by his resurrection and ascension, and the passages which underline this are among the most moving in the New Testament. In John 17:1. for example, Jesus asks the Father to glorify the Son so tai the Son will glorify him. Even his exaltation is not to be used for his own purposes. His new powers are to be used for the very same objects as the capacities of the earthly ministry, when his food and drink was to do the will of the One who sent him (Jn. 4:34). There is a similar point of view in Philippians 2:11. However splendid the exaltation of the Lord, it is only a point on the road to something greater. Every knee is to bow to the exalted Christ, and every tongue to confess him. But the final glory accrues to God the Father.
Thirdly, despite this element of subordination it would be a grave mistake to underestimate the current reign of Christ. As Paul explicitly states in this very context, the only one not subject to the sovereignty of Messiah is God the Father: ‘when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself’ (1 Cor 15:27). All else is at his command.
The full meaning of this is brought out in the Apocalypse: the Lamb sits in the very centre of the throne (Rev. 5:6), exactly where we would expect to see God the Father. He is the centre-piece, with whom every other form of existence is enthralled; the Lord of history, not only revealing but executing God’s plan. And, equally with the Father, the slaughtered Lamb is the object of the great paeons of praise uttered by the ransomed church, by the angels and by the very universe itself. There is even a suggestion that if, in the economy of redemption, the Son is servant to the Father, so the Spirit is servant to the Son, who sends the seven spirits of God forth into all the earth (Rev. 5:6). This suggestion is abundantly confirmed elsewhere in the New Testament. In Acts 2:33, for example, the risen Jesus is already spoken of as the one who poured out the Spirit at Pentecost.
Yet we should not overlook the complexities of the situation. In the New Testament, service is greatness; and one may even ask (using the terms of later theology) whether the persons of the godhead do not seem to vie with one another for the privilege of serving. The gospels indicate not only a service performed by the Son for the Father but also a ministry (and even an extreme solicitude) on the part of the Father for the Son: ‘I am not alone, for my Father is with me’ (Jn. 16:32).
Fourthly, the New Testament does not always describe the eschaton in terms of the Son surrendering the kingdom to the Father. There are considerable variations on the theme and some of them should serve as warnings against building too confidently on 1 Corinthians 15 alone. For example, in Jude 24f. the Father is represented as presenting us faultless before his own glory. In Ephesians 5:26, the Son presents the church (his bride) to himself. In Revelation 21:2, 9ff., the church is again represented as a bride, ‘the wife of the Lamb’, but in this instance it is clearly implied that it is the Father who presents her to the Son. These passages should give us pause. The idea of the Father handing over the bride to Christ is as definitive as that of the Son handing over the kingdom to the Father. Neither concept implies complete renunciation or abdication by the other party. The bride of Christ remains the city of God. The kingdom of God remains the flock of Christ.
Finally, even in the current phase of the kingdom, when the Son clearly stands in the forefront, we should not minimize the involvement of the Father. In fact this appears very clearly in connection with both the title ‘Son of God’ and the concept of the kingdom in Colossians 1:12ff., where Paul urges the church to give thanks to the Father, who `has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves’. Here is the Father fully engaged in the work of the kingdom even before it is handed over to him. If this is possible (and without any subordination of the Father to the Son), why should there not be kingdom involvement on the part of the Son after the Father becomes the primary focus? This is the kind of problem which made later trinitarian theology necessary. The monarchy of Father and Son is one monarchy, and however necessary it became to stress that the Father was not the Son nor the Son the Father, it became equally necessary to insist that they were not two separate kings. In the last analysis, the resolution of the problems implicit in 1 Corinthians 15:24ff. could be found only along the lines suggested by John 10:30: ‘I and the Father are one.’
What of the clause, `so that God may be all in all’? Calvin answers as follows: ‘Then God will be governing heaven and earth by himself, without any intermediary, and then in that way he will be all.'” It is difficult to square this with other biblical passages which clearly indicate the supremacy of Christ over the world to come. The most important of these is Hebrews 2:5ff., which states categorically that the world (oikoumenen) to come is to be subject to the enthroned Saviour. The writer bases his assertion on the role assigned to the Son of Man in Psalm 8, especially verse 6: ‘You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet.’ The sentiments of the psalmist are themselves rooted in Genesis 1:28, which directs Adam to exercise dominion over the whole creation. This clearly indicates that the dominion of God over the primal creation was not immediate. It was exercised through the First Adam. In the same way, the sovereignty of God over the new creation will be exercised through Jesus, the Last Adam and the Son of Man, already clothed with glory and honour.
The Person of Christ, IVP, 1998, pp86-89. Emphasis added.