Another Look at “Delivering Up the Kingdom”

“Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For ‘He has put all things under His feet.’ But when He says ‘all things are put under Him,’ it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all” (I Corinthians 15:24-28, NKJV).


After all opposition to Christ’s rule has ended, He will deliver the kingdom to God the Father. The subjection of everything to Christ excludes God the Father, for the Son Himself will be subject to God in order that God may be “all in all.” Several questions arise from I Corinthians 15:24-28: Since a time will come when Christ delivers the kingdom to God the Father, does this mean Christ will no longer reign? If God the Father has put all things under the feet of Christ with the exception of Himself, what is the relationship of Christ and God the Father? Does this refer to ontological or functional subordination? Does the statement “then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him” mean that the Son is not now subject to Him? What is different about this future subjection of the Son from His present subjection? Is God not “all in all” prior to this event?

Christ’s reign is eternal.

Christ must reign “until” He subdues all enemies, but this does not mean His reign will end. It means His reign will extend up to the point when His enemies are subdued, without addressing what will occur afterwards. If I Corinthians 15:24-28 indicates changes in Christ’s reign or in the relationship between God the Father and Christ, it suggests that Christ’s reign is temporary. This cannot be the case, as seen in Revelation 11:15: “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (NKJV). The eternal throne is the throne “of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:3, NKJV). Whatever it means for Christ to deliver the kingdom to God the Father and for Christ to reign until He has subjugated all enemies, it cannot mean there comes a time when the reign of Christ is terminated.

The context of I Corinthians 15:24-28 is the resurrection of the dead. In spite of the claims of some of the Corinthians, there is a resurrection, of which Christ’s resurrection is proof. Furthermore, if Jesus rose bodily, He still exists and will continue to exist throughout eternity as the God-man. The bodily resurrection of Christ, therefore, guarantees the permanence of the Incarnation; and because the Incarnation is permanent, the relationship between the Son and God the Father is constant.

Is Christ’s subordination ontological or functional?

In order to maintain the position that God is three co-equal persons, Trinitarian theology describes Christ’s subjection to the Father as functional subjection. [1] In other words, since Christ—viewed as the second person in the Godhead—is co-equal with God the Father—viewed as the first person in the Godhead—His subjection to the Father is not based on His being (ontological), for He is co-equal with the Father. Rather, it is a functional subjection for a specified purpose.

However, the subjection of Christ to God the Father is both functional and ontological. The Incarnation is certainly functional. God was manifest in the flesh for the express purpose of redemption. We also know that Jesus Christ—God incarnate—will judge the world.

However, there is more to the subjection of Christ than the functions of redemption and judgment. I Corinthians 15:24-28 addresses the role of Christ after His works of redemption and judgment are completed. Since Christ is fully man and fully God, the humanity of Christ is also ontologically subject to God the Father. Once the purpose for the Incarnation is completed, the subjection is no longer functional, for the function has been accomplished. At the point when Christ delivers the kingdom to God the Father, His subjection will be purely ontological.

The Son is and will always be subject to God the Father.

Human nature is, by definition, ontologically subordinate to God. Christ is one integrated person who is both divine and human. In order for His humanity to be meaningful, it was necessary for Christ to voluntarily limit Himself within the parameters of that which is essentially human. All references to the subjection of Christ to God, whether past, present, or future, depend upon Christ’s solidarity with the human race.

The use of “Christ” emphasizes the Incarnation. In verse 28 Christ is referred to as the “Son.” The identification of the Son as “Lord” calls attention to His deity as Yahweh. To identify the Son as Christ emphasizes His humanity and the fact that He is the anointed One. Paul’s primary Christological focus in I Corinthians is on the Son as Messiah. Except for four references (I Corinthians 5:5; 6:11; 11:23; 12:3), Paul identifies the Son as Christ. In I Corinthians the Son is identified as “Christ” forty-four times, as “Lord Jesus Christ” ten times, as “Jesus Christ” four times, as “Christ Jesus” four times, as “Jesus Christ our Lord” three times, and as “Christ Jesus our Lord” once.

The God-man will terminate all opposition and deliver the kingdom to God the Father. “God the Father” refers to God transcendent—God above and beyond the Incarnation. [2] God will conquer sin’s consequences not by means of His transcendence or immanence, but by means of His manifestation in the flesh. Redemption is rooted in the Incarnation.

The subjection of all things to Christ fulfills Psalm 8:6: “You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.” This subjection includes only the created realm; God the Father is not subjected to the Messiah. The use of Psalm 8 in I Corinthians 15:25-27 and Hebrews 2:5-9 indicates that although the created realm is ontologically subordinate to the Messiah, it is not presently subjected because of the sin problem. The Fall was not just the fall of humans, but of the entire created realm. Creation, now subjected to futility because of sin, “will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (See Romans 8:19-24.) Because the final defeat of death is yet future, and because death is the consequence of the Fall, we could say that the created order is at this time ontologically subordinate to the Messiah, but not behaviorally subordinate. Sin is now in its death throes, something like a snake whose head has been cut off, but who continues to flail about. On the other hand, Christ is presently subordinated to God the Father, because no sin problem is involved.

When all things are made subject to Christ, “then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all” (verse 28). This statement must be understood so as to avoid suggesting that the Son is not now subject to the Father.

No essential change in Christ’s nature is indicated in this passage. He will always be as He has always been. The relationship between Christ and God the Father as described in this passage is the same as elsewhere. The Son is always submitted to God transcendent. This is due to the human existence in which God humbled Himself.

The word translated “then” (tote, as opposed to eita in verse 24) need not mean “thereupon” or “thereafter.” It can mean “at that time,” with no idea of a point of origin. [3] It may mean that the state of things at this time will be as described. What is presently true continues to be true into eternity.

Even though hypotagesetai (“will be subjected”) is a future passive indicative, this may still indicate only that this is how things will be in the future. If hypotagesetai is read as a future passive indicative, it means in the future Christ’s subjection will be accomplished by someone outside of Himself. But this future passive indicative may function as a middle instead of a passive, with the subject represented as doing something for, to or by himself. [4] This is the same status that the Son of God assumed during His days on earth.

Jesus is not just an historical figure. He will continue to exist throughout eternity in His human existence as well as in His deity. This means that all human beings will continue to exist, for Christ’s essential humanness is no different than our humanness. Because He stands in solidarity with us, we stand in solidarity with Him. If He had discarded His humanity at death, not only would He not have experienced bodily resurrection, but neither would we have any certainty about our future.

1 See Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 760.
2 This is from the perspective that “God the Father” is a reference to God transcendent, the Son of God is a reference to God incarnate, and Holy Spirit is a reference to God immanent. In the final analysis, however, God is One. The same God who is transcendent is incarnate and immanent. The KJV has, “God, even the Father.”
3 F. Wilbur Gingrich, Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1965), 219.
4 See A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1934), 809.