In what is surely a passage begging for a dissertation, John Calvin makes some astounding observations about 1 Corinthians 15:24 and its implications for the rulers of the temporal world:
When he shall have abolished all rule. Some understand this as referring to the powers that are opposed to Christ himself; for they have an eye to what immediately follows, until he shall have put all his enemies, etc. This clause, however, corresponds with what goes before, when he said, that Christ would not sooner deliver up the kingdom. Hence there is no reason why we should restrict in such a manner the statement before us. I explain it, accordingly, in a general way, and understand by it — all powers that are lawful and ordained by God. (Romans 13:1.) In the first place, what we find in the Prophets (Isaiah 13:10; Ezekiel 32:7) as to the darkening of the sun and moon, that God alone may shine forth, while it has begun to be fulfilled under the reign of Christ, will, nevertheless, not be fully accomplished until the last day; but then every height shall be brought low, (Luke 3:5,) that the glory of God may alone shine forth. Farther, we know that all earthly principalities and honors are connected exclusively with the keeping up of the present life, and, consequently, are a part of the world. Hence it follows that they are temporary.
If we only read to this point, we would have a strong case for a sort of clerical “two kingdoms” doctrine, understanding the civil magistrate and other worldly offices to be “temporary” and even already in some sort of exit mode, since Calvin says “it has begun to be fulfilled under the reign of Christ…” And yet, as we read the next paragraph we find out that the same truth is applicable to all distinctions in rank, including ecclesiastical office as well:
Hence as the world will have an end, so also will government, and magistracy, and laws, and distinctions of ranks, and different orders of dignities, and everything of that nature. There will be no more any distinction between servant and master, between king and peasant, between magistrate and private citizen. Nay more, there will be then an end put to angelic principalities in heaven, and to ministries and superiorities in the Church, that God may exercise his power and dominion by himself alone, and not by the hands of men or angels. The angels, it is true, will continue to exist, and they will also retain their distinction. The righteous, too, will shine forth, every one according to the measure of his grace; but the angels will have to resign the dominion, which they now exercise in the name and by the commandment of God. Bishops, teachers, and Prophets will cease to hold these distinctions, and will resign the office which they now discharge. Rule, and authority, and power have much the same meaning in this passage; but these three terms are conjoined to bring out the meaning more fully.
And thus we see that “the temporal kingdom” which is coming to an end includes church officers, family hierarchies, and social and economic rank, all along with the civil magistrate.
Steven Wedgeworth is the pastor of Christ Church in Lakeland, Florida. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Trust. A graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, MS), Steven lives in Lakeland, FL with his wife, son, daughter, and two terriers.
The Calvinist International is a forum for research, resourcement, and renewal of Christian wisdom.