Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Future and Christ's Return

In 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, the apostle Paul gives a concise overview of the future.

First, Paul says that because Christ rose from the dead, those who belong to him will also rise from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20-22). This is the primary point of the chapter. The resurrection of Christ is fundamental to the gospel, and it necessarily implies our resurrection, so that to deny our future resurrection is to a deny Christ's resurrection and therefore the gospel. His resurrection showed that he had gained power over death by atoning for our sins by his death. Just as Christ rose from the dead, so all who belong to him will also rise from the dead. Not only do the souls of believers go to be with Christ when we die, but their bodies will be raised, glorified, and reunited with their souls at the resurrection.

Second, Paul says that death is the last enemy Christ destroys (1 Cor. 15:23, 26). Our resurrection comes in the culmination of his conquest when he returns. This is contrary to the idea of a rapture which takes place before tribulation, a millennial kingdom, and a final struggle with Satan. The resurrection described here (and in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) is when the last enemy to be destroyed - death - is destroyed. After that time, there will be no more enemies to be destroyed. And as John 5:28-29 says, Christ resurrects his people unto life at the same time as he resurrects the rest to condemnation. When Christ comes, he will raise the dead, judge all men, and welcome his people to eternal glory with him in the new heavens and new earth.

Third, Paul says that between Christ's resurrection and our resurrection he sits in heaven and reigns, putting his enemies under his feet (1 Cor. 15:24-25). He alludes here to Psalm 110 which describes the reign of the ascended Messiah at the Father's right hand as a time of conquest. By his word and Spirit, Jesus subdues our hearts so that we willingly offer ourselves to his service, having been redeemed by him from bondage. By his word and Spirit he equips us to wage war with him against the spiritual forces of evil. By his sovereign authority he protects his church and overthrows his enemies. Though his people will suffering persecution, yet the gates of hell will not prevail against them. Rather, Christ will preserve and extend his church and destroy those who persecute the apple of his eye (or mercifully convert them, as he converted Paul). While this age is one of perpetual struggle, it is not one of perpetual defeat.

Fourth, Paul says this whole process aims at establishing God's dominion over all things (1 Cor. 15:24, 27-28). Originally God was to rule the world through Adam. But in Adam the world rebelled, aligned itself with the evil one, and became subject to death. So Christ was sent as the last Adam to restore God's dominion over the earth and to fill it with his people. By his death for our sins and his resurrection from the grave, he secured the power to accomplish this task. He is now exercising this power and it shall culminate at his return with the redemption of our bodies and the release of this creation from its bondage to corruption (Rom. 8:18-23).

Therefore we should fix our minds on things above, on the reality of the reigning Christ. He is even now pouring out the benefits of his death and resurrection by his word and Spirit and accomplishing the conquest of this rebellious world. Though we and all creation groan under our present sufferings and the present reality of death, these groans are birth pains which shall be followed by resurrection life and victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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