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Why does Jesus give the kingdom back in the end and become subject again to God?

Bob Macdonald is feeling a little grumpy but he asks a good question about Paul’s belief i) that at the end Jesus will deliver the kingdom to God the Father, and ii) that “the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:24-28). Bob wonders:

…how can one who is Lord, and who is given the Name that is above every name, refuse his own identity at the end? What roots in the OT resonate with this?  It almost seems like groundless theological speculation.

True, there is nothing in the Old Testament that would directly account for this eschatological twist—at least, nothing that I can think of. But I wouldn’t dismiss it as “groundless theological speculation”.1

I think that it was an inevitable corollary of the fact that Jesus was given the authority of God to rule in the midst of his enemies, on the basis of Psalm 110:

The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! (Ps. 110:1–2)

The Psalm, of course, was of crucial importance for the early church as it sought to make sense of the resurrection. Paul alludes to it in this passage:

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. (1 Cor. 15:25)

Jesus was given the authority as “Lord” to rule because there were enemies and as long as there were enemies—for the sake of the church. This is made explicit in Ephesians 1:22-23:

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

The argument is found also in Romans 8:31-39: Christ died, was raised, is at the right hand of God, interceding for the suffering churches; therefore, the churches are assured that nothing, not even death, can separate them from the love of God.

Jesus is given the name of “Lord”, he is given the kingdom as the Son of Man, because he was obedient even to death, because he overcame death. Similarly, in Revelation it is the Lamb who was slain, but is alive, who has been given the right to open the scroll of judgment (Rev. 5).

This is a core argument of the New Testament, all the way through from Jesus’ promise that the “gates of Hades” will not overcome his church (eg. Matt. 16:18) to the “first resurrection” of the martyrs, the victims of Roman persecution, who will reign with Christ (20:4). The church does not need to fear any force, whether in the heavens or on earth, because Jesus has been given authority to rule in the midst of his enemies.

But the logic of this argument inevitably leads to the conclusion that once the final enemy, death, has been defeated, the Son who overcame death no longer needs the kingdom, no longer needs to be kyrios, no longer needs the authority to judge and rule on behalf of his vulnerable, persecuted saints. So the kingdom is handed back to God the Father, the Son no longer rules at the right hand of God, and the Creator is again “all in all”, which is to be understood as a fundamental reaffirmation of Old Testament creational monotheism.

Image of The Coming of the Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church

On Amazon (US):

Andrew Perriman
Wipf & Stock Pub (2012), Paperback, 282 pages, $31.00

Comments

Thank you for this response. It fits well with this week’s lectionary, the exaltation of the human Jesus to the position of judge (Acts and 1 Peter). Jesus becomes the means whereby God effects the promise of the psalms to judge the world with equity. Jesus also is the means whereby all peoples are called to worship the God of Israel (Psalm 66). This places a responsibility in both roles for those who are no longer left as orphans and who receive ‘an other Comforter’.

These comments are leap-frogging each other, but I did say in one of my posts over on “Is Jesus included in the divie identity?” today:

I think a great deal is read into 1 Corinthians 15:28 (assuming that’s what you are referring to) to make the reign of Jesus a temporary state of affairs. It suggests that Jesus was not subject to God in the interim, whilst becoming subject afterwards. There needs to be a better reading.

The 1 Corinthians passage does not say, firstly, that the kingdom ceases when Jesus hands it over to God the Father (v.24). It is, on the other hand, a metaphorical way of saying that Jesus’s ultimate victory over “dominion, authority and power”, “all his enemies”, and “his last enemy, death” will be given in tribute to God the Father, on whose behalf he set out to achieve these victories. It’s a way of saying that Jesus’s rule will be the restoration of God’s rule over the entire creation, as it was intended to be. It’s not a way of saying that Jesus ceases to rule, or the kingdom ceases to exist. This is metaphorical language, so we are not to think of “kingdom” as some sort of crude political entity. The “rule” is much wider than that, taking in death itself. God’s kingdom and the kingdom won by Jesus become at that point coterminous, and indistinguishable.

Second, the reference to Psalm 110 in “he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” v. 25 contains an ambiguity. It can mean “he must reign until”, following which he will no longer reign. Or it can mean “he will reign until” and then will continue to reign, but under different conditions, his enemies no longer opposing him. The latter is the case, in my opinion. Jesus will still be king in the new creation, but uniquely subject to God the Father. Hierarchy is no longer relevant. The unique relationship of Father and Son is, in my opinion, one of mutual deference. Jesus will still be the centre of heaven’s adoration. Jesus will still only do what he see the Father doing. Jesus’s resurrection demonstrated his unique participation in the new creation, over which he is and cannot cease to be “the firstborn”.

Interpreting 1 Corinthians 15:28 needs to bear in mind that all the language of kings, reigning, kingdom, handing over is highly metaphorical, and a way of helping us to grasp something within the meaning of very limited historically-bound words. We are in the future here, not the 1st century. For this future, Paul’s language is already outdated and archaic. Clearly Paul is not intending a grossly literal meaning, or the words “When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him” would also mean that until Jesus “hands over the kingdom”, there was a time when Jesus himself was not entirely subject to God.

A better reading would be that finally, the presence of God will be the uninterrupted experience of the entire creation, and Christ will be uniquely part of that. There will no longer be a situation in which Christ is taking authority against his and God’s enemies within creation. It’s a picture of worldwide harmony under God, rather than a hierarchical reordering of Christ’s relationship with God the Father, which violates the sense of Christ’s own role in relationship to God prior to this reordering. We need to think in the language of apocalyptic metaphor here, rather than wooden literalism. And apocalyptic as applied to future, non-1st century conditions.

So I don’t see that this means that the one who was given all authority refuses his own identity at the end. I am still expecting to participate in the kingdom (for want of a better word) after the events of 1 Corinthians 15:28 have taken place, but it will not be a kingdom where there is any dissonance between those who live within it and those outside it. In that sense there will be a reordering of relationship between the Son and the Father, which can best be described, as Paul does, “that God may be all in all”, but this is not “that God may be all instead of Christ”, and still less “that God may be all instead of all”.

It’s a way of saying that Jesus’s rule will be the restoration of God’s rule over the entire creation, as it was intended to be. It’s not a way of saying that Jesus ceases to rule, or the kingdom ceases to exist.

But this just flies in the face of what Paul actually says. Psalm 110 is an assurance to the king that God will sustain him as he reigns in the midst of his enemies. Paul says that Jesus must reign until (ἄχρι) he has put all his enemies under his feet. Eventually even death will be destroyed. At that point (εἶτα) the kingdom—the reign in the midst of enemies—is handed over (παραδιδῷ) to God the Father, for obvious reasons: there are no more enemies. This whole line of thought becomes nonsensical if we suppose that “hand over” does not mean “hand over” or “until” does not mean “until”.

Obviously, it’s convenient for the modern interpreter to make out that this is a metaphor for something else—that Paul doesn’t actually mean what he says. My argument is that modern evangelicals have to learn to read what’s there, not what they would like to be there.

Jesus will still be king in the new creation, but uniquely subject to God the Father. Hierarchy is no longer relevant.

How is that not a contradiction? Jesus is “subject to God” but there is no hierarchy? 

The unique relationship of Father and Son is, in my opinion, one of mutual deference.

Paul states categorically that “the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him”. Where in the New Testament do we find a corresponding statement to the effect that the Father is subjected to the Son? Or even that the Father defers to the Son?

We are in the future here, not the 1st century. For this future, Paul’s language is already outdated and archaic.

It is a huge presumption to suppose that Paul in the first century intended this language in the sort of metaphorical sense you suppose. It seems to me that there is eery reason to think that when he used the language of “kingdom”, etc., he did so in first-century Jewish terms: he was talking about the rule of God over his people and over the nations in place of other kings and emperors.

Clearly Paul is not intending a grossly literal meaning, or the words “When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him” would also mean that until Jesus “hands over the kingdom”, there was a time when Jesus himself was not entirely subject to God.

No, it means that as long as there are enemies, Jesus reigns at the right hand of God. He has been raised to a position of equality with God, given the name and authority of “Lord”, for the sake of the church, as long as there are enemies which threaten God’s people.

We need to think in the language of apocalyptic metaphor here…

It seems to me that that is precisely what you are not doing. Jewish apocalyptic language is political language.

…it will not be a kingdom where there is any dissonance between those who live within it and those outside it.

The only kingdom that we have in the New Testament—indeed, in the whole of scripture—is established and sustained in the context of external opposition. This is why Paul says that Jesus has been seated at the right hand of God above all other authorities and powers “not only in this age but also in the age to come” (Eph. 1:20-21).

What you are talking about is not kingdom but new creation. When the last enemy, death, has been destroyed, the reign of Christ comes to an end—that’s what Paul says. Then we have a new creation in which there is no death—that’s what John says. There is no king or kingdom in John’s account of the new heaven and the new earth for the simple reason that there are no more enemies. Christ reigns with the martyrs for a “thousand years” and then we have new creation. It all hangs together perfectly.

Andrew - I love your posts (why else would I be doing this on a wet Bank Holiday Monday?), but nothing that you have said invalidates my comment. It is absurd to say that within history, any king ceases to reign once his enemies have been defeated. No king regards his reign as finished and abdicates once he has defeated his enemies; that is when his reign can truly flourish. In Psalm 110, echoed in 1 Corinthians 15:28, “until” can mean “until” and then a conclusion, or “until” and then continuing, but not under the same conditions. Using your perspective, a historical understanding of how this would work out would mean the latter, not the former.

Nowhere in 1 Corinthians 15 does Paul say the kingdom ceases at some future point in history. This can be shown from illustrations elsewhere in scripture. Luke 1:33 - “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end”; Revelation 5:13 - “To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power for ever and ever”; Revelation 11:15 - “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he will reign forever and ever.” The messianic prophecy to David, on which Jesus’s kingly credentials rest, speaks of a king whose house, throne and kingdom would last forever - 2 Samuel 7:13, 16. It’s quite clear that Jesus continues to rule and reign alongside God the Father forever.

Despite what you say, the kingdom and the new creation are closely connected and will continue to be. Jesus was raised as “lord” and was in himself the beginning of the new creation. He is “the firstborn over all creation (old and new)” - Colossians 1:15, which is another way of describing his kingly role in the new creation. He will never cease to have this preeminent significance within the new creation.

Also, despite what you say, 1 Corinthians 15:28 and preceding verses are using terminology which was true of Paul’s time, but is hardly true of ours, and will still less be so at some future point when the verses are realised. “Kingdom” language is archaic in an age when monarchs, if they exist at all, have limited powers. The passage cannot be understood totally in the historical terminology of Israel’s history or Paul’s day. It is therefore already becoming metaphorical, and Paul’s use of the language must be understood as metaphorical.

Even in Paul’s time, the enemies of God were no longer simply gentile nations at war with Israel, but Gentiles and Jews, who were hostile enemies of God as well as of each other - Romans 5:10; Romans 11:28; Colossians 1:21; Ephesians 2:14,16. Paul redraws the battle lines between God and his enemies, by exposing the enmity to God of the carnal mind - Romans 8:7, which was true of Jew and Gentile, “alienated from God … enemies in your mind as shown by your evil behaviour” - 1 Colossians 1:21. This was you and me, Andrew. “Friendship with the world is enmity to God” - James 4:4. In this sense, Psalm 110 also has to be reinterpreted when it is used in the NT to describe God’s enemies.

It is for these reasons that 1 Corinthians 15:28 has to be interpreted in a different way from a literal reading, which in any case would not make sense of Christ’s role before being “made subject” to God. How was he not subject to God the Father before giving the God the kingdom? I think my reading does justice to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 and does not fly in the face of the rest of scripture or common sense.

It is absurd to say that within history, any king ceases to reign once his enemies have been defeated.

Within history, yes, but the argument is that Jesus gives the kingdom back to God the Father at the end of history, once every enemy has been destroyed. If there is no more sin, there is no need for a king to judge his people; if there are no enemies, there is no need for a king to protect his people. Obviously, God’s king reigns over the house of Jacob “forever”, etc., in the sense that he reigns until the end of history. Revelation 11:15 refers to the inauguration of Jesus’ reign at the moment of God’s judgment on Jerusalem; it will last throughout history.

In Psalm 110, echoed in 1 Corinthians 15:28, “until” can mean “until” and then a conclusion, or “until” and then continuing, but not under the same conditions.

This works for Psalm 110:1 because the psalm has nothing to say about what happens once the king’s enemies have been defeated. That is not the case in 1 Corinthians 15:24-25. Paul states explicitly what happens after the “until” period: Christ hands over the kingdom to the Father and is subjected to him.

I am only really interested in what the language meant in Paul’s time. The narrative does the rest.

The question was, How was he not subject to God the Father before giving the God the kingdom? Heb 1 talks about God giving all of these things to Jesus. Heb 1:8 kjv But unto the Son he saith, thy throne, O God, is forever and ever… I take this to mean that God makes Jesus a God because he let him act in his place even having the Angels worship him. So he’s at the right hand being a co-equal with God. He’s not above God, just being allowed to act like God having that higher authority. 1 Corinthians 15:27 kjv for he hath put all things under his feet, But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all. Then in verse 28 kjv And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all. He gives the honor and authority back to God. Jesus will still rule forever. Maybe it has something to do with the new heavens and the new earth.

Does your comment imply that Jesus was not God incarnate on Earth and only man born holy made a little lower than the angels for a little while?

I feel the scripture above will not be confusing if we understand that there are positions higher than kings. Kings are subject to emperors. We are kings and Christ is king over us, so also is he subject to the father who Christ declared has all in his hands even his second coming. we all will reign with him but the father still remains supreme and above all.

Great comment!!!!! Very well put in order.

I think you somehow make it up as you go along calling it metaphysical and then adding your own thoughts instead which has made the verse meaningless to me.

You stated, “there was a time when Jesus himself was not entirely subject to God” at what time was this?