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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.

  • 1. See further my discussion in [amazon:978-1620324592:inline], 176-79, 239.