Some among the saints in Corinth declared, “There is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:12). Thus Paul, perhaps in answer to questions concerning this (cf. 7:1), addressed himself to that problem in 1 Corinthians chapter fifteen.
This great narrative contains the following sections:
- proof of the resurrection of Christ (vv. 1-11);
- the Lord’s resurrection as the guarantee of the coming general resurrection (vv. 12-34);
- the nature of the resurrection (vv. 35-49);
- the effects of the resurrection (vv. 50-58).
In connection with the resurrection of Jesus, and the ultimate triumphs resultant therefrom, Paul said:
For, he put all things in subjection under his feet. But when he saith, all things are put in subjection, it is evident that he is excepted who did subject all things unto him. And when all things have been subjected unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him that did subject all things unto him, that God may be all in all (vv. 27, 28).
Of special interest here is the Greek word hupotasso, found in various grammatical forms six times in these two verses. Originally, the word had a military significance, meaning “to place or rank under”; then more generally it came to mean simply “subject to” or “subordinate to” someone. The term is used forty times in the New Testament and is translated by such English words as “subject,” “submitted,” “put under,” and “obey.”
For example, it is used of Jesus’ subjection to his earthly parents (Luke 2:51), the demons’ subjection to the disciples (Luke 10:17), the Christian’s submission to governmental authorities (Romans 13:1), and the subjection of wives to their husbands (Titus 2:5).
In the verses presently under consideration, several points are stressed:
First, it is affirmed that God subjected all things to Christ. The verb is in the aorist tense, referring to a definite point in the past, hence, revealing that this subjection of all things to Jesus was not an arrangement reaching back into eternity; rather, it had a definite beginning in time. It occurred when the Lord ascended to heaven and was seated upon the throne of God.
Elsewhere Paul writes that God raised Christ from the dead, and
made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all (Ephesians 1:20-23).
It is true that while still on earth Jesus said, “All things have been delivered unto me” (cf. Matthew 11:27; 28:18), but as J. W. McGarvey observed: “Jesus here speaks by anticipation. In God’s purpose, all things were already delivered to him, but they were not actually delivered until his glorification” (n.d., 102).
Of course, the apostle makes it clear that the Father was not a part of that which was subjected to Christ. Additionally, when Paul says that all things “are put in subjection” to Christ, he employs the perfect tense, thus emphasizing the abiding nature of that subjection, even at the time of his writing.
The most difficult aspect of these verses, however, is the statement that when all things have been subjected to Christ (a prophecy of the Saviour’s ultimate victory), “then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him [God].”
The intriguing question is: in what sense will the Son be subjected to the Father after the judgment?
The views of the commentators are diverse and extreme. Some have thought that the word “subjected” is simply used as hyperbole for the entire harmony of Christ with the Father (Chrysostom). Augustine suggested it was simply the act by which the Son would guide the elect into contemplation of the Father. Beza felt that it denoted the presentation of the elect to God. According to Theodore, it signifies the means by which the Son makes the Father fully known to the whole world. Ambrose even contended that the “Son” was a reference to the “mystical body of Christ” (cf. Godet 1890, 368).
Calvin argued that it implied a subjection of only the Lord’s human nature, as though it were somehow split from his divine essence. But as Henry Alford declared, “The refutation of these and all other attempts to explain the doctrine here plainly asserted, of the ultimate subordination of the Son, is contained in the three precise and unambiguous words, the Son Himself” (n.d., 1076).
A significant number of scholars contend that the Son’s subjection to the Father will simply be the relinquishment of his reign as mediator, or the deliverance of the kingdom back to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24).
R. C. H. Lenski says that the “Son delivers the kingdom to his Father in the end, lays the work assigned to him, complete and perfect, into the Father’s hands and by this act subjects himself to the Father” (1963, 686). Philip Hughes declares that “the subjection of the Son Himself to the Father, is to be understood of Christ in His office of mediator; for His work of salvation will then have been completed and the sovereign purposes of God established for all eternity” (1973, 276).
As worthy as these gentlemen are, it seems to me that none of the foregoing concepts plumbs the full depth of the richness of this remarkable passage. The fact of the matter is, rather than simply asserting in a negative way that Christ will not continue in certain roles, the apostle positively affirms that the Son himself will be subjected to God.
The Mystery Explored
The subject of the relationship within the Godhead is complex indeed, and certainly beyond our ability to fully understand at present. In his pre-incarnate form, Christ was equal to the first person of the Godhead in every way. In Zechariah 13:7, Christ is called Jehovah’s “fellow.” The Hebrew word amith literally means “to join, connect” and it implies an equal. It can only be used in connection with God of one “who participates in the divine nature, or is essentially divine” (Keil 1978, 397).
In the New Testament, John writes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with [pros] God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). A. T. Robertson remarks that “pros with the accusative presents a plan of equality and intimacy, face to face with each other” (1930, 4).
When the Word became flesh (John 1:14), he emptied himself of his equality with the first person of the Godhead (Philippians 2:6), thus becoming the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Christ did not consider his “equality with God as a prize which must not slip from His grasp, but He divested Himself, taking upon Him the form of a slave” (Lightfoot 1953, 111).
That this emptying of equality occurred at a definite point in the past is evident from the aorist form of the verb, but that it involved no loss of his essential deity is apparent from the present participle “existing,” which demands an “antecedent condition protracted into the present” (Wuest 1946, 86). This, of course, establishes our Lord’s continuous divine nature.
Of what, then, did the Word empty himself? H. C. Thiessen is doubtless correct when he asserts, on the basis of general biblical truth, that Christ “emptied Himself by giving up the independent exercise of His relative attributes” (1949, 296; cf. John 5:20, 36; 8:28, 38; 10:18).
And so, Jesus, as the incarnate Son of God, was submissive to his heavenly Father. Hence, such statements as “the Father is greater than” (John 14:28) and “the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3) are in harmony with this concept.
But in what sense will Christ be subjected to the Father in eternity?
First, scholars are agreed that it will involve no loss of his essential deity. It “implies no inferiority of nature, no extrusion from power, but free submission of love” (Findlay 1956, 929).
W. C. G. Proctor has noted that this subjection “does not conflict in any way with belief in the full deity of Christ, who shares with the Father the ‘substance’ of the Godhead. The ‘subordination’ is of office, not of person” (1954, 988).
Several scholars (e.g., Robertson, Lenski, Findlay) have suggested that the verb which affirms that the Son “shall be subjected” (15:28) carries the force of the middle voice, i.e., the Son shall subject himself (cf. Robertson 1919, 809). This reinforces our contention that as a voluntary submission it would in no way detract from the divine essence of the Lord Jesus.
The Scriptures clearly teach that Christ will share the glory of God’s throne throughout eternity (Revelation 11:15; 22:5), himself being worthy of glory and dominion forever (Revelation 1:6).
When Christ conquers all, “then [tote] shall the Son also himself be subjected.” J. H. Moulton felt that “the tote seems to show that the Parousia [the coming of Christ] is thought of as initiating a new kind of subordination of the Son to the Father, and not the perpetuation of that which had been conspicuous in the whole of the mediatorial aeon” (1906, 149).
Here is one of the most staggering questions one might contemplate: is it possible that the descent of Christ to earth—to dwell as a partaker of flesh and blood—might have entailed an abiding submission to the Father, which, except for man’s sinfulness, otherwise would never have been?
Could it be possible that Jesus, because of his overflowing love for humanity, chose to forever be identified with us in some way? The very thought is breathtaking!
C. F. Kling raised the question: “What are to be the relations of the glorified God-Man unto the people whom He has redeemed? That the Logos [the Word—John 1:1] will cast off the nature that He had, and become as before the incarnation, can hardly be supposed” (1875, 323).
The Scriptures certainly seem to bear this out:
- After his conversion, Saul was proclaiming that the ascended Christ “is [present tense] the Son of God” (Acts 9:20).
- Mediating for us in heaven is the “man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
- And even though our Lord is now “crowned with glory and honor,” still, he “is not ashamed” [present tense form] to call us his brethren (cf. Hebrews 2:9, 11).
- Indeed, Paul’s affirmation that we are “joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), and that he is the “firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29) appears to confirm this concept.
We may, therefore, in these passages have a hint of a much greater depth of the love of Jesus Christ than we have ever appreciated before!
In the final analysis, we are forced to agree with Robertson and Plummer who confessed that these passages contain “mysteries which our present knowledge does not enable us to explain, and which our present faculties, perhaps, do not enable us to understand” (1958, 357).