†he Burros of Berea

Identifying Christ’s Enemies in 1 Corinthians 15:24-26

(Berean Bible Conference, April 2019) 

Copyright © Robert E. Cruickshank, Jr (April 26, 2019)

Revised Version (September 5, 2022), Karen Rogers (Editor)

Main Text, Question & Challenge 

“Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.  For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.  The last enemy that will be abolished is death” (1 Corinthians 15:24-26 NASB).

The question I’d like to address today, regarding this passage, is: “Who are Christ’s “enemies” in these verses, and why does it matter?

As to the second part of this question, it matters because, if we believe that Jesus came back in AD 70 (in the first century generation, like He said He would) then we consequently believe “the end” has come, He has abolished all “rule, power and authority,” and His “enemies” have been put “under His feet.” 

Are we really making this claim? Is it really possible to believe such things? Are we delusional? 

Well, if we define His “enemies” as earthly – physical – human “rulers, authorities and powers,” we’d be delusional indeed. As it turns out, many in fact do define Christ’s “enemies” in this passage in such a manner and do in fact level such a charge against us. 


A good example is found on a website called, “FalseDoctrinesofMen.com,” where there is posted “40 True or False Questions that Trouble Full Preterists.” The first six of these questions are drawn directly from our passage here in 1 Corinthians 15:

1.      Jesus Christ was seated on the Father’s throne prior to A.D. 70. True or False? 

2.      Adolf Hitler was an enemy of Jesus Christ. True or False? 

3.      Atheists are enemies of Jesus Christ. True or False? 

4.      Children of God who become friends with the world today also thereby become enemies of God. True or False? 

5.      There are no enemies of God on earth today. True or False? 

6.      All enemies of God on earth have been destroyed. True or False? 

For our purposes here, I’d like to focus on question 5 & 6 because they really summarize the argument well. #5:There are no enemies of God on earth today. True or False?” And, #6: “All enemies of God on earth have been destroyed? True or False.”  

If we answer “true,” we are (as I’ve said) “delusional.” If we answer “false,” then how can we claim the Parousia has occurred? This is the crux of the argument, and those who disagree with Full Preterism do not hesitate to capitalize on this.  

And it’s not just in the world of the internet that we find this argument; serious scholars… level this same charge against Full Preterism.

For example, Greg Strawbridge, at the 51st annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, used this logic: “It is evident,” he says, “that the overcoming of enemies and abolition of powers results in an observable change in the world (15:25-26)… Unorthodox preterism” (that’s us, by the way) “requires the orthodox to believe that the actual subjugation of all, in the observable sense of  1 Corinthians 15:24-28, became a reality in 70 A.D. But would the Roman Christians of 71 A.D. see ‘all things subjected to Him’?”

In other words: was the world any different in AD 71 than it was in AD 70? Were the “rulers, powers and authorities” of this world made a footstool under Christ’s feet? Were Christ’s enemies abolished? 

In terms of human or earthy “rulers, powers and authorities,” we would have to say, “no.”  And, nearly 2,000 years later, things aren’t much different.  This dilemma, according to Strawbridge, leads us to a full rejection of full preterism.”

So, the question…and the challenge before us…is this: Does this passage really lead to a “full rejection of full preterism? as Strawbridge alleges? 

If not, how can we maintain the idea that Christ’s enemies have been made a “footstool under His feet” and He has “abolished” all “rule, power and authority?”  How can we claim “The End” has come?

“The End” in 1 Corinthians Chapter One 

Let’s begin with “the end,” a term Paul uses here and elsewhere, and a term that Our Lord Himself used in the Olivet Discourse. Popular thinking leads us to believe that this refers to “the end” of the world, “the end of time, “the end” of earth’s history. One writer puts it this way:Earth history ends ‘whenever’ Christ ‘hands over’ the kingdom to the Father.”  

But, does this comport with the Bible’s usage of the term? When Paul says, “then comes the end,” does he mean “the end” of “earth history?” 

First of all, let’s back up in 1 Corinthians itself, and see how Paul himself, uses the phrase in chapter one. 1 Corinthians 1:6-8 reads: “Even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The main “take away” when we read Paul addressing the Corinthians in the second person plural here is audience relevance. Does it sound like the “revelation” and “the day” of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and term “the end,” are events that Paul perceived as taking place in the far-distant future—thousands of years removed from the time of he and his first-century readers? 

No. They were “eagerly awaiting” it; Christ would confirm them to “the end.” In chapter one, “the end” certainly seems like an event that was to take place in the Corinthians’ own lifetime.

As Don Preston has pointed out, “When we come to ‘the end’ in 1 Corinthians 15, there is no contextual reason whatsoever to delineate between the anticipated end there, and that mentioned earlier in the epistle.” 

It seems inconceivable then that Paul would speak of one coming of Christ and one “end” in chapter one, and completely switch gears in chapter 15 without any indication whatsoever that he was now speaking of a different coming of Christ, and a different “end.”

Non-Preterists, in fact, recognize this. In his influential work, Christ and Time, Oscar Cullman argued that, while the battle between Christ and the rulers, powers and authorities appeared imminent in 1 Corinthians 15, he “maintained that Christ’s first coming marks the ‘D-Day’ of Christian victory that has only to be completed at the ‘V-Day’ of the Parousia” (Q; Wasserman, p 729). 

This still goes on today. While Cullman’s World War II language may not always be used, this is the idea behind the popular expression: “Already, but Not Yet.”   Any time they can’t explain imminency, non-Preterists resort to “already, but not yet.” 

Let me just say, “already, but not yet” works in certain contexts…in light of the 40-year transition period. For example, the New Covenant was inaugurated “already,” but the Old covenant wasn’t abolished “yet.” So, it works in certain passages in its proper context.  

But when you stretch it out over 2,000 years…it’s like a good song that gets over-played on the radio. It gets old after a while! 

Paul clearly anticipates that “the end” was an event looming on the horizon in the first-century. He makes no distinction between a “D-Day,” and a “V-Day” thousands of years in the future. “Already, but not yet” simply doesn’t work in this context.

“The End” in Matthew 24:14 

Now, it’s only natural that Paul would have expected “the end” to occur in the first century because this is exactly what Our Lord Himself predicted. In Matthew 24:14, Jesus says: “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” This is among the events that Jesus said would take place in that first-century generation (Matthew 24:34).

As the Book of Colossians bears out, “the Gospel” had indeed come into “all the world” (Col. 1:5-6), and had been “proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Col. 1:23), well before the first century AD had come to a close. According to Our Lord Himself, “the end” was soon to follow. 

Notice also that, for Paul, “the end” follows the abolition of all “rule, power and authority” and, for Jesus, “the end” follows the Gospel being preached to all nations. As we shall see, these concepts aren’t at all unrelated. In fact, they’re closely linked together. 

Based upon Our Lord’s prediction that “the end” would occur in that “generation,” Paul tells the Corinthian believers that the “ends of the ages” had come upon them (1 Cor. 10:11), and Peter tells his readers that “the end of all things” was “at hand” in the first century (1 Peter 4:7). If they were thinking in terms of the end of the world, or the end of history, they were clearly mistaken. 

But it wasn’t the end of the world, nor the end of history, that Jesus was talking about in the Olivet Discourse. Notice the disciples’ original question: As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’” (Matthew 24:3). 

There are two main, over-arching ages in Scripture: The Old Covenant Age, and the New Covenant Age.

It is “the end” of the Old Covenant Age that is in view here—not the end of the world or earth history.

The gods of the Other Nations 

With this in mind: One of the distinctive features of that Old Covenant Age was that all of the nations, outside of the nation of Israel, were under the dominion of other gods. 

Notice the Lord’s words in his indictment against Israel for forsaking His Covenant with them in Deuteronomy 29:26: “They went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they have not known and whom He had not allotted to them.” 

Let’s back up in Deuteronomy to chapter 4, verse 19: “And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.” 

The same thing is echoed in Deuteronomy 17:2-3. God speaks of those who transgress “His covenant” by serving “other gods” and “worshipping them” … “the sun,” “the moon,” or “any of the heavenly host.” In 2 Kings 15:21, the Israelites had done just that by building “altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the House of the Lord.” 

1 Kings 11:33 specifically names some of these other gods:because they have forsaken Me, and have worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the sons of Ammon; and they have not walked in My ways, doing what is right in My sight and observing My statutes and My ordinances, as  David did.” 

The picture we get is this: “Other gods,” visually represented by “the sun,” “the moon” and “the stars,” were “allotted to” the other nations of the earth. Yahweh’s allotted portion, the people He reserved for Himself, was the nation of Israel. The clearest, most explicit statement regarding this is found in Deuteronomy 32:7-9:

Deuteronomy 32:7-9 English Standard Version (ESV)

Remember the days of old;
consider the years of many generations;
ask your father, and he will show you,
your elders, and they will tell you.
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.
But the Lord’s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage.

Of all the nations of the earth, “Jacob” was Yahweh’s “allotted heritage.” They were Yahweh’s “portion,” “His People.” The other nations had their own inheritance. Other gods were allotted to them. 

Psalm 2 and 22 

But, it was not to remain this way. Psalm 2, among other places, speaks of a time when Yahweh would reclaim the nations or the peoples of the world for Himself: 

 “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession” (Psalm 2:6-8).

And, in Psalm 22:27-28:

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations will worship before You.
28 For the kingdom is the Lord’s
And He rules over the nations.

Notice in Psalm 2:7 that the nations are given to Christ, the very ends of the earth as His possession, after the Father declares: “You are My Son, today I have begotten you.” When was this declaration made? According to Paul, in Acts 13:33, it was when God raised Jesus from the dead.

The next thing that happens after Jesus’ resurrection, according to Psalm 2, is the reclaiming of the nations. This is why, after the resurrection, Jesus sends the eleven out to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). 

The process of reclaiming the disinherited nations (or peoples) had begun. And the gods of those nations, represented by celestial objects such as the sun, moon and stars, were about to be displaced. 

Joel 2/Acts 2 

This is how Peter can claim that the events on the Day of Pentecost fulfilled Joel’s prophecy of the sun being darkened and the moon turning to blood. Again, the sun and the moon were among the celestial objects that represented the gods of the other nations.

Luke tells us that, on the Day of Pentecost, “devout men from every nation under heaven,” the very nations these gods had been allotted to, had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast (Acts 2:5). When the Apostles spoke in tongues, these people all heard the message “in their own language, to which they were born” (Acts 2:6-7). Where did all these people go when they left Jerusalem?

Obviously, back home… to “every nation under heaven,” the lands of the other gods – taking the Gospel message with them! 

Both Egypt and Mesopotamia are specifically mentioned among the nations listed in Acts 2:9-11. The Egyptians worshiped “the sun,” and the Mesopotamians worshiped “the moon.” (See: Listings for MOON, HELIOS, SHEMESH in DDD).  

The sun is darkened, the moon is turned to blood. In modern-day terms, it’s “lights out” for these false gods.

With this in mind, it’s sort of amazing to read scholars, such as Christopher Hays, in his book When the Son of Man Didn’t Come, claim that the events of Acts Chapter 2 were only a “partial fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy because the Day of Pentecost was not, according to Hays,  accompanied by any quote “cosmic disturbances” or “celestial irregularities” (p. 74). 

Contrary to Hays’ assertion, Peter doesn’t say, “this is part of what was spoken through the Prophet Joel,” Peter says: “This is what was spoken of through the Prophet Joel.” The events on the Day of Pentecost were fulfilling Joel’s Prophecy of the sun being darkened and the moon turning to blood. 

I think it’s kind of ironic that people accuse us …of NOT taking the Bible literally. On the contrary, when Peter says, “This is what was spoken of through the Prophet Joel,” we take his words quite literally… and don’t have to change them to make Peter’s statement fit our theology. 

The “cosmic disturbances” and “celestial irregularities,” to use Hays’ terminology, are the prophets’ way of saying that the gods, allotted to the other nations, were about to suffer a huge defeat. As a Preterist, I believe this literally happened in the unseen realm in the first century. 

Blood, Fire and smoke 

In addition to the “WONDERS IN THE SKY ABOVE” (the sun being darkened and the moon turning to blood),” Joel’s prophecy, which according to Peter was being fulfilled, also speaks of SIGNS ON THE EARTH BENEATH: “blood,” “fire,” and “smoke.”

 Again, these people were going to take the Gospel back to their own nations. Those who are far off, in the lands of these other gods, are going to get saved. What does “blood, fire and smoke” have to do with this? What are Peter and Joel trying to convey here? 

Blood: In 1 peter 1:2&3, Peter equates being “born again” with being “sprinkled” with “the blood” of Christ. Accordingly, Isaiah prophesied that God’s Servant would “sprinkle many nations” (Isa. 52:15). 

Fire: In Psalm 104:4, Yahweh’s ministers are likened unto “flames of fire” and, in Psalm 97:3, “Fire goes before Him” as He “burns His adversaries round about.”

Smoke: Psalm 18 portrays Yahweh as the Divine Warrior with smoke issuing forth from His nostrils and fire coming from His mouth (vs. 8). 

This is the picture that Joel and Peter paint: As the Gospel penetrated and permeated those nations, the territorial deities, who formerly had dominion over them, were being displaced. The messengers of the Divine Warrior were invading their territory, and the language of Joel’s prophecy was poetically describing the fact that they were being disarmed, delegitimized and destroyed. 

Reclaiming the Nations 

If you look at a map of the nations that were disinherited by Yahweh in Genesis 10 and 11, and compare it to the list of nations in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost, it’s really quite amazing. 

It starts from the farthest points east, where there were heavy Jewish populations, and progresses westward. This gives us a vivid picture of God beginning to reclaim those nations – starting right there in Acts Chapter 2. 

And, earlier in the Gospels, Jesus actually previewed this when He sent the seventy out in Luke 10. The number seventy was NOT unintentional.  There were 70 nations in the table of disinherited nations in Genesis 10. Our Lord was putting the powers of darkness on notice when He sent the seventy out: Yahweh was about to reclaim those disinherited nations, and their reign over them was coming to an end. 

So, it’s not at all coincidental that, in the Olivet Discourse, “the end” of the Old Covenant Age follows the preaching of the Gospel to all nations and, in 1 Corinthians 15, “the end” follows the abolishment of all “rule, power and authority.” As the Gospel penetrated the nations that these other gods “ruled’ over, their “power” and “authority” was being diminished. Their reign over the nations, or peoples of the world, was coming to an “end.” 

This, in fact, is exactly what Paul is driving at by his very choice of vocabulary in 1 Corinthians 15.

Rule, Authority and Power

When you look up the definitions for the terms “rule, power and authority,” as they are being used here by Paul, in any standard lexicon, the meanings given for these terms is consistent and uniform. I’ve chosen to use Thayer’s…since its …easily accessible online:

“Rule” (Arche)  

“Angels and demons holding dominions entrusted to them in the order of things.”

“Authority” (Exousia) 

“The leading and more powerful among created beings superior to man, spiritual potentates, used in the plural of a certain class of angels.”

“Power” (Dunamis) 

“The power of the devil and evil spirits.”

According to scholar Matthew Black, Paul is referring to “cosmic or celestial potentates whose empires are among the host of heaven… and most probably the astral deities of Hellenistic religions accommodated within Jewish-Hellenistic angelology,” spiritual evil powers” and “tyrants.” 

This is consistent with the Pauline usage of these terms elsewhere. While many examples could be cited, the following are the most self-evident: 

Ephesians 3:10 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

10 so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. 

Ephesians 6:12 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Colossians 1:16 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.

Colossians 2:14-15 is particularly interesting. Paul says that, by Jesus’ death on the cross, he “disarmed the rulers and authorities,” and “made a public display of them, having triumphed over them…” 

It would make little sense for Paul to have earthly or human “rulers and authorities” in mind here. In what sense were human rulers and authorities “disarmed” by Jesus’ death on the cross? 

The Bottom Line: Paul simply does not have physical-earthy-human “rulers, powers and authorities” in view in these passages, or in 1 Corinthians 15. They are spiritual enemies. As Michael Heiser says, “These terms are part of Paul’s stock vocabulary for the powers of darkness in the spiritual realm” (The Bible Unfiltered, p. 205). 

And, Paul’s Gentile audience would have grasped this just as surely as any Jew living in the ancient world. 

According to Clinton E. Arnold: “A very thin line separated Jewish and gentile religious belief in many quarters during the first century. Paul’s vocabulary for the principalities and powers drew on the vast reservoir of terms in first-century Jewish angelology and demonology. But Paul’s gentile audience would have clearly understood him, since (the) different religions shared the same concepts and terminology.

The Last Enemy: Death (MOT) [PPT Slide 14]

The fact that Paul had spiritual, and not physical enemies in view, is evident by the one enemy he chooses to specifically name several times in the passage. He says in verse 26: “The last enemy that will be abolished is death.” 

He names the enemy again in verse 54: “…then will come about the saying, DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY.” 

It is imperative to understand that Paul is quoting Isaiah 25:8 in this verse. The Ugaritic cognate of the Hebrew word for “death” … in Isaiah 25:8…is MOT. 

MOT was an underworld deity in the ancient world.

Almost any scholarly treatment of Isaiah 25:8 will make note of the fact that this verse is a polemic against the Canaanite god of death, MOT, who was known…in the ancient world… as “the Swallower.”  Since this is something we MIGHT NOT be so familiar with, I’m going to quote a few sources here:  

First, the entry in DDD (The Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible) for “Mot:”

“The main characteristic of Mot is that he is a voracious consumer of gods and men. He has an enormous mouth and appetite to match. His gullet and appetite are frequently mentioned” He is the swallower. “Isa 25:8 on the other hand has Yahweh swallowing up Death” (pp. 599, 601). 

Mot: The Swallower

According to William D. Barker, in his book Isaiah’s Kingship Polemic: “The overwhelming number of references to Mot’s appetite is evidence that Mot was understood as a voracious and relentless underworld deity. Mot is portrayed as a warrior, but his primary weapon is his mouth (and his hunger). He can be characterized with an open, gaping mouth that represents a ravenous appetite, which desires the total consumption of deities and humans” (p. 66).    “The unique use of this concept,” continues Barker, “that is, appetite as the chief weapon of death…leads us directly to the conclusion that the Ugaritic material…is the sole probable background for Isaiah 25:6-8” (p. 67). 

Debra Scroggins Ballentine concurs:

“It is particularly interesting that Isa 25:8 describes this act as “swallow up” because in Ugaritic tradition Death (Mot) is characterized as swallowing his enemies, in particular, Baal. Isaiah 25:8 reverses the motif of Death swallowing those he has defeated in order to assert Yahweh’s superiority over Death. The notion of Yahweh swallowing Death validates Yahweh’s divine royal authority…” 

In short: MOT swallows Baal, Yahweh swallows MOT; thus, demonstrating His superiority over both.   

Dan G. Johnson writes: “According to the Canaanite myth, even though Baal had defeated Prince Yam, the chaos monster, his victory was not yet complete. There remained one more power with which he must contend: Mot, the ruler of the underworld. But in this battle, Baal is no match for Mot, who defeats him almost without struggle.”

He quotes an Ugaritic text, which reads: 

‘One lip to earth, one lip to heaven, He stretched out his tongue to the stars. Baal entered his mouth, and Descended into his belly’ [KTU 1.5 ii 2-5]. 

Johnson continues: “This…depiction of Mot swallowing Baal very likely provides the backdrop for the statement in Isaiah 25.8” 

Finally, I’d like to quote Richard Long: 

“That the Lord consumes the shroud and death by swallowing naturally suggests a connection to the Canaanite god Mot, well known from Ugaritic texts as the god of death, drought, disease, and wickedness, the god who swallows up all life…Isa 25:8 should be understood as an allusion to Mot…Mot is destroyed in the way he has destroyed all others, he is swallowed up forever.” 

The Veil Covering the Nations 

By the way, Long’s reference to “the shroud” is harkening back to verse 7 of Isaiah 25. Not only does Yahweh swallow “death” in this passage, but also the “shroud,” “veil,” or “covering” which is “stretched” or “woven” over all the nations. Here, the pantheon of other gods is viewed as a “covering which is over all the peoples” and a “veil which is stretched out over all the nations.”

This type of imagery makes sense in light of what the New Testament tells us about the Powers and Principalities. Remember, they are forces of darkness “in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Satan was the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). 

As Bruce Malina points out, according to the ancient worldview, there were “myriads of entities that populated the region above the earth and below the fixed stars,” “astral deities” who “inhabited the air.”

All of these other gods, these “astral deities,”—the “shroud” or “veil” stretched out over all the nations—are “swallowed up” by Yahweh during a “lavish banquet for all the peoples” in Isaiah 25:6…one of the few Old Testament allusions to the marriage supper of the lamb. 

This text, here in Isaiah, is a key Old Testament passage that is informing Paul’s thinking in 1 Corinthians 15. You have the same two-fold theme going on in both places: 1) Yahweh’s enemies in the broad sense – the covering or veil stretched out over all the nations or peoples (Isaiah): the demonic rulers, powers and principalities (1 Corinthians) and, 2) the last enemy, Death, is singled out in both passages (Isa 25:8; 1 Corinthians 15:54). 

That this two-fold theme is clearly focusing on spiritual, rather than physical enemies, is blatantly obvious.

Futurists, and even Partial Preterists…pretty much everyone except us…are going to look at these two passages and interpret “death” in terms of physical death – the cessation of biological existence. 

And, they’re going to say, “Surely, death wasn’t swallowed up in AD 70!” And, they’re going to couple this with Revelation 21:4 which talks about there being “no more death” in the New Heavens and New Earth.  

New Heavens and Earth 

The quagmire they’re going to fall into here is the fact that Isaiah 65 is also describing the New Heavens and New Earth. 

But, in Isaiah’s New Heavens and New Earth, physical death is still present. So, is sin…by the way. The futurist actually has two problems here: There are still sinners in the New Heavens and the New Earth and there is still physical death. Logically, there are only three ways to approach this:

  1. The Bible contradicts Itself,
  2. Isaiah and John are describing two different “New Heavens and New Earth,” or
  3. “Death” does not mean the same thing in both places.

Option #1 is obviously out of the question for evangelical Christians. If Scripture can err, why are we even here at a Bible Conference trying to figure out the meaning of an errant book? We might as well pack our bags and go home. Let us eat, drink and be merry…for tomorrow we die! What’s the point of all this?

Option #2, two different “New Heavens and New Earth,” will be argued by some. Isaiah’s “New Heavens and New Earth” were “spiritual” while John’s were “physical.” Or, John’s “New Heavens and New Earth” are the physical manifestation of Isaiah’s spiritual “New Heavens and New Earth,” something to that effect.  Or, How about this one: Isaiah’s New Heavens & New Earth” are already, but John’s are not yet!

All of these explanations, for two different New Heavens and New Earth, are the result of people trying to make the Bible fit their theology rather than making their theology fit the Bible. 

Scripture simply gives no indication that Isaiah and John are describing two different “New Heavens & New Earth.”  The Bible simply doesn’t speak in these terms.  

What the Bible does do, on the other hand, is personify “death” and treat it as real enemy in the spiritual realm. A classic example is Psalm 49:14, where “death” is the “shepherd” of the souls that are being held captive in Sheol.

In contrast to this, Peter tells us that Christ has now become the “Shepherd of our souls” (1 Peter 2:25).  He was coming to replace MOT as the Shepherd of the Souls of the People He purchased with His own blood, and free them from their captivity in the underworld. 

The Gates of Hades

Again, in the world of the Ancient Near East, Mot was the “god of death” and was “referred to as king of the dead.”  He kept the “deceased enslaved in the underworld.” In the Ugaritic literature, the “underworld,” which the Hebrews called “Sheol” and the Greeks called “Hades,” was actually referred to as “the city of Mot” – according to the Lexham Bible Dictionary.

A city has gates, as defensive structures to keep intruders out. And, in the case of Sheol/Hades, to keep the inmates in (so to speak).  According to The Dictionary of Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, there were anywhere from seven to fourteen of these gates in the underworld (p. 144)… and these gates were guarded… by lesser deities… known as “gatekeepers” (p. 86). 

Caesarea Philippi/Mt Hermon

This sheds a lot of light on Jesus’ famous statement to Peter: “Upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). 

In other words, He’s the intruder that’s going to storm the gates of the “City of Mot,” or “Death,” and take back what is rightfully His. 

Interestingly, the Bible tells us that Jesus and Peter are at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus makes this statement (Matt. 16:13).  Caesarea Philippi was situated at the foot of Mount Hermon (Heiser, Reversing Hermon, p. 95). Mount Hermon was the very place where, according to Enoch, “the sons of God of Genesis 6:1-4, chose to launch their rebellion against Yahweh” (Heiser, TUR, p.285). 

The imagery, then, is absolutely striking: Jesus is at Ground Zero, in terms of Cosmic Geography, launching His assault against the Powers of Darkness. He is going to storm the Gates of Hades (the “City of Mot”) and get His People out of there. He Himself will be the Shepherd of their souls. In the Book of Revelation, you have “Death” (Mot) and “Hades” (the City of Mot) being thrown into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:14). This comports with Paul and Isaiah’s idea of death being “swallowed in victory.” 

Thus, we can harmonize Isaiah’s “New Heaven’s and New Earth” with John’s “New Heavens and New Earth.” While there is still physical death in the New Heavens and New Earth, death personified (Mot) and his domain (Hades) are no longer a threat to God’s People… We go to Heaven now.

Psalm 110 

What about Psalm 110? There is no doubt that Paul is definitely tracking on this Psalm when he says, “For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His Feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25).  Psalm 110:1 says: 

The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at My right hand
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”

Does this Psalm support the idea that these “enemies” are spiritual “rulers, authorities and powers?” Well, verse five states: “The Lord is at Your right hand; He  will shatter kings in the day of His wrath.” 

The fact that the Psalmist mentions “kings” surely excludes the idea of spiritual enemies…Right? Not necessarily. 

If we’re reading the Bible through our 21st century lenses or filters, this is all we see when we read the word “kings.”  But, keep in mind: we’re far removed from the ancient worldview. For an ancient reader, there is a lot more loaded into this term. The earthly kings were merely pawns for the Elohim over the nations. 

A Solution for Many MLKM (Lowell Handy) 

According to scholar Lowell Handy, there is a whole hierarchal structure loaded into the term translated “king” and it does not carry the idea of “the sole ruler” or authority. In the Ugaritic narratives, for example, “Baal, Yam, Mot and Athar each rule as an MLK, or king, under El simultaneously over their respective realms within the cosmos.” “This presents a hierarchy,” continues Handy, “extending from the divine realm into the human world.” 

And, it’s not just in the Ugaritic literature. In ancient Egypt for example, the Pharaoh was thought to be the incarnation of Horus, the son of Ra. According to Carley L. Couch: “The Egyptian witness to this type of terminology for the pharaoh and his relationship to the gods is abundant, with references including statements that the pharaoh is the son of a deity as well as made in that deity’s image” (Sources: Naked Bible Podcast 264, Carley L. Couch, “Made in the Image of God: The Commissioning  of the King and the Chaoskampf of YHWH,” pp. 8-9).  

This is precisely why God repeatedly says in Exodus that He will deal with Pharaoh with a “strong hand” and an “outstretched arm.” This is part of the Divine Warrior Motif in the ancient world. In the Pyramid texts of the Egyptian religion, Horus defeated Seth and was known as “Horus the Fighter.” As Horus incarnate, the Pharaoh becomes associated with the images of a “strong hand” and an “outstretched arm.” 

This is precisely why the Biblical Writers chose to use these very expressions to describe God’s dealings with Pharaoh. 

As Michael Heiser puts it: “This language would have been a direct confrontation to Pharaoh’s status as a deity incarnate who is the greatest military power” (NBPC 266 Transcript, p. 13). 

James Hoffmeier is a trained Egyptologist. He wrote a piece called, “The Arm of God Versus the Arm of Pharaoh.” Hoffmeier says: “Yahweh demonstrated his legitimacy as the greatest God by his arm defeating that of Pharaoh…This triumph is reflected in Jethro’s words in Exodus 18:10-11, ‘Blessed be Yahweh who rescued you from the hand of Egypt and from the hand of Pharaoh. Now I know that Yahweh is greater than all other gods’” (“The Arm of God Versus the Arm of Pharaoh in the Exodus Narratives,” Biblica, volume 67.3 [1986], p. 387).

Because Yahweh defeated Pharaoh, Jethro concludes that Yahweh is the greatest of all gods. This clearly shows the connection an ancient person would make between the earthly ruler and the divine authorities. 

So, in the divine realm, you have more than one king, more than one ruler. There is a hierarchal structure. The earthly kings and rulers are under the authority of divine beings—and extensions of that authority. References to “rulers” or “kings” (Malkim) can, and often do, have this hierarchal structure in view.  

Isaiah 14 & Ezekiel 28

I think we all realize this, but we may not “realize” that we “realize” it. Think about Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28, the “Lucifer” passages. To whom are these passages addressed? In Isaiah, it is the “king of Babylon” (Isa. 14:4). In Ezekiel, it is the “prince of Tyre” (Ezek. 28:2), and then the “king of Tyre” (Ezek. 28:12). 

In both of these passages, the imagery seems to oscillate back and forth between a human figure and a divine being. This has sparked much debate on which it really is: Human or Divine? 

In Ezekiel 28, for example, we see statements like: “You are a man, and not God” (vs. 2), “You will die death of the uncircumcised” (vs. 10) – sounds like a human being. 

Yet, in verses 14 and 16, he is called, “the anointed cherub” and the “covering cherub” – sounds like a divine being. He walks in the midst of “the stones of fire” (vs. 16). As Michael Heiser says, “stones of fire” are “stock descriptions of divine beings in the ancient world” (NBP 143, Transcript, p. 8). 

Interestingly, Ezekiel 28:13 says, of the “prince” or “king” of Tyre: “You were in Eden, the garden of God; Every precious stone was your covering: The ruby, the topaz and the diamond; The beryl, the onyx and the jasper; The lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald; And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, was in you. On the day that you were created They were prepared.”

The precious stones represent stars which in turn represent divinity. According to DDD, the clothing of the national god of Tyre, MELQART, was in fact “brightly decorated with the stars” (p. 564). Again, the target of the imagery seems to be a divine being.   

But, twice in the passage, it speaks of the “prince” or “king” of Tyre increasing his riches through trade (vv. 5 & 18). This would certainly seem to point to the physical, earthly, human realm.

And, in fact, history informs us that The Phoenician city of Tyre experienced tremendous commercial success due to its trading practices. There was a certain shell fish on the sea coast of Tyre from which a crimson dye could be made. You could only get it there, and this dye was in high demand in the ancient world (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 5, p. 834). 

Also interesting:  Tyre had a trade history with Israel.  Back in Solomon’s time, Tyre had provided Israel with all the timber and gold necessary to build the Lord’s House (1 Kings 5:8; 9:11). In exchange, Solomon provided the King of Tyre, Hiram, with wheat and oil for 20 years and gave up 20 cities in the land of Galilee to him (1 Kings 5:11; 9:10-11).

In short, the city of Tyre was known for its shrewd business dealings and accumulation of wealth through trade. 

So, we can definitely see how the imagery of Ezekiel 28 shifts back and forth between the human realm and the divine realm.  And, Isaiah 14 is much the same. 

So, which is it? Do these passages address human beings or divine beings? The answer is, both. The only reason we don’t see this is because we’re modern people, and not ancient people.  As Handy’s research bears out, an ancient person would have had no problem seeing the hierarchal structure, from divine to human, packed into the term used for “king” in these passages. The back and forth shift, from divine being to human being, would not have been an issue for an ancient person of any culture.  

To Quote Heiser again: “That whole way of thinking is not contrived. It’s something that someone an ancient Israelite, or an ancient Canaanite, would have been quite familiar with. It would have been just part of their worldview. But we miss that because we’re modern. We don’t have that stuff in the can, so to speak. We don’t have it floating around in our heads” (NBP 176, Transcript, p.21). 

So, to be clear, I’m not arguing that Psalm 110:5 cannot be referring to earthly, human kings. It can, and most likely is. But, that’s not all it’s referring to. There is a human element, and a supernatural element, packed into these ancient terms for rulership, and Paul is definitely tracking on the supernatural side of the equation in 1 Corinthians 15. 

Yes, there are going to be human participants because that’s how these things play out in time and on earth, but the human participants are merely secondary. They are coincidental to the true enemy and/or enemies of Yahweh. 

Revelation 16:13-16

Perhaps the clearest expression of this is Revelation 16:13-16, describing God’s enemies preparing for the Battle of Armageddon: “ And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs;  for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty… And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.” 

In Revelation 16, you can clearly see that there were human or earthly “kings” involved, but they were merely the pawns, the chess pieces, being used and moved by the dragon, the beast and the false prophet—and the demonic forces sent forth from them. The real enemies, the true enemies, were spiritual. They were rebellious Elohim (residents of the spiritual realm) and demonic forces. They were “false gods.” Not “false” in the sense that they didn’t exist, but “false” in the sense that they wanted to usurp the authority of the supreme god. 

Jewish monotheism didn’t mean they denied the existence of other gods, it meant that they worshiped only their God, Yahweh. As Micah 4:5 puts it, “Though all the peoples walk each in the name of his god, as for us, we walk in the name of Yahweh Our God…” 

Paul’s Monotheism 

Paula Frederickson, from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, reminds us:   

“Modern scholars habitually describe Paul as a ‘monotheist’, and they are right to. But Paul is an ancient monotheist. This means that, while Paul’s allegiance is firmly fastened on the god of Israel as the highest and most powerful god, Paul is perfectly aware of other gods as well. Unlike Philo, Paul is not courteous toward or about these gods: in fact, he insults them and he wants pagans to have nothing to do with them. These gods represent Paul’s cosmic opposition, and he looks forward to the day of their defeat” (Judaizing the Nations: The Ritual Demands of Paul’s Gospel, p. 240). 

That’s what 1 Corinthians 15:24-26 is about: Jesus abolishing the rule, power and authority that these false gods had over the other nations and opening the way for all people, Jew and Gentile alike, to serve the true and living God. Jesus came when He said He would, during the lifetime of the first century generation. He stormed the Gates of Hades and opened the way to heaven. And, He has freed all people from their enslavement to false gods, making Heaven a reality for Jew and Gentile alike forever more. 

All Enemies Defeated (Closing)

Returning to the challenge from Greg Strawbridge that I opened with, I would argue that Jesus’ defeat of these rulers, authorities and powers has resulted in “visible change in the world.”  When’s the last time you met a Baal-worshiper? Think about Paul in Acts 17 walking through the city of Athens and observing all the idols to the false gods that were everywhere. When’s the last time you visited a city like that? 

These gods are ancient history – both literally and figuratively. Their reign has come to an “end.” He has abolished their rule, their power and their authority. His enemies have been made a footstool under His feet. 

Thank You!