Part 1. “Every man in his own order.” (1 Cor.15:23)
“As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order; Christ the firstfruit, afterwards those of Christ at His coming, then the end, when He delivers up the Kingdom to God the Father.”
On a first reading one is led to suppose that all mankind will be raised, but that there is some order about it. The end of Revelation comes to mind, where we are told that some will be raised in “the first resurrection” (prior to the Millennium), whilst the rest will only be raised after the Millennium. In this first article we shall need to investigate the Greek to see whether such an assertion holds water.
What is meant by “order”? The Greek is TAGMA. The “Greek-English Lexicon” by Arndt & Gingrich will form the basis of information in this and further studies. We read that the word is used in either a military sense, of a company of soldiers, or a civilian sense, of a class, or group, defined by context. “In 1 Cor.15:23 the gift of life is given to various ones in turn.”
The noun TAGMA derives from the verb TASSO, meaning “to appoint someone, or establish someone, in an office, or to assign someone to a certain classification.” One is reminded of Acts 13:48, where we read, “as many as were ordained to eternal life, believed.”
Clearly we are only concerned with a civilian classification. Paul is telling us that we shall be assigned to a specific group, class, or company. And if this is so, we must immediately dismiss the idea that resurrection is a single event, taking place at a specific time. This is reinforced by the use of “afterwards”, and “then.”
In Numbers 2, the Septuagint translation uses TAGMA throughout to show how the twelve tribes were to march from one location to another. The Judah group, (Tagma) which included Issachar and Zebulun, the Eastern group, were to go first, followed by the Southern group of Reuben, with Simeon and Gad. Then the Levites moved, with the tabernacle furniture, followed by the Western group of Ephraim, with Manasseh and Benjamin, and last of all the Northern group of Dan, with Asher and Naphtali. Some were “first”, some were “last”, but together they were all Israel. This is why the Lord calls Himself “the first and the last”, “the beginning and the end.” The marching order may be helpful in understanding Paul’s usage of TAGMA.
One might be led to suppose that the three categories mentioned, namely, Christ, Christians, and “the end”, are the only three categories. But if this is so, then all of us who are Christians belong to the second group, and that is the end of the matter. However, Paul suggests otherwise, when he says, “Every man” and “his own order”. These words have little or no meaning if every Christian is lumped together in one “group” on Resurrection Day. Within the company of those who belong to Christ, there is a “fine tuning”, as we shall see.
In order to pursue this problem, Paul does not leave us without further explanation and expansion. In verse 35 of 1 Cor.15, he introduces a hypothetical question. “How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come?” Paul considered such a question as foolishness, but he goes on to explain by saying that “God gives it a body as it pleases Him.” Then he lists four different types of flesh, that of man, animals, birds and fishes. Furthermore he insists that there are two distinct types of body, those classified as terrestrial, and those classified as celestial. In the latter class he gives a threefold differentiation, as sun, moon and stars, and star differs from star in glory. “So also is the resurrection of the dead.”
Paul then proceeds to explain that when a body is raised, it becomes a spiritual body, after being a natural body. But the words “spiritual” and “natural” are not the same as “celestial” and “terrestrial.” A man can be raised up into a “spiritual body” of a “terrestrial order”, or of a “celestial order.” The former would be somewhat akin to Adam in his pristine state (but without any further possibility of falling), but the latter would be similar to the angelic order. Our Lord told the Sadducees about this when He said that in the resurrection “they cannot die any more because they areequal to angels.” (Luke 20: 35)
In accepting Paul’s seven-fold classification, spelled out in figurative language, we are immediately confronted by the deeper meaning of his words “Each man in his own order, or classification.” Those who “are Christ’s at His coming” may then look forward to a “celestial body”, but even then, we have to ask, to which of the three categories do we belong? The answer is that none of us can tell, because it is based on our “track record”. Only the Lord Himself is entitled to make the classification. This is why the Lord told the parable of those invited to the feast. He said, “When you are invited, sit down at the lowest place,” and wait for the master of ceremonies to invite you up higher. (Luke 14:10) The parable also shows the reason why Paul spoke about the classification.
In the seven letters of Revelation, we are presented with various pitfalls that dog our progress as believers. But to each church the Master gave promises to “those who overcome.” Each of the promises is related to a “celestial” calling. But it is only promised to those who overcome. This is why even Paul himself said to the Philippians, “I do not count myself to have laid hold, . . but I press on towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil.3:13-14)
In Revelation 12, we read about the heavenly woman, representing the church. She is clothed with the sun, has the moon beneath her feet, and wears a crown of 12 stars (or zodiac). John sees further truth of what Paul wrote when he gave the threefold classification of “sun, moon and stars.” The manchild, the woman, and the rest of her seed make a threefold classification, but together they are the church.
Our Lord sent out seventy disciples to minister in the country and towns. When they returned they were excited because demons were subject to them. However, the Lord said, “Nevertheless, rejoice not that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20) Those whose names are written in heaven can be assured that they will partake of a “celestial body”. But a sombre note was recorded by Jeremiah (17:13) when he wrote, “O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You shall be put to shame; those who turn away from You shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water.” All such belong to the terrestrial classifications mentioned by Paul.
This is just a beginning of the series on resurrection, and already a lot has been placed on record. In later studies, further clarification will be given.