Order of Final Events

SYNOPSIS:  In presenting his arguments for the resurrection, Paul lays out several events that occur prior to or at the arrival of Jesus at the end of the age.

Courtesy Unsplash.com
Courtesy Unsplash.com
In his first letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul outlined a sequence of events that will occur at or just prior to the “coming” or parousia of Jesus. Parousia or “arrival” is one of several Greek terms applied by him to the “coming” of Jesus, and always in the singular number. Regardless of which term was used, Paul always spoke of one “coming,” “revelation,” or “appearance” of Jesus, not two or more.

In the New Testament, the resurrection of the righteous, the final judgment, and the New Creation are all linked to the future “coming” of Christ, along with other related events (Romans 8:18-231 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 2 Peter 3:3-12).

(1 Corinthians 15:20-28) – “But now hath Christ been raised from among the dead — a firstfruit of them who have fallen asleep; For since, indeed, through a man came death, through a man, also, cometh the raising of the dead; For, just as, in the Adam all die, so, also, in the Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own rank:— A firstfruit, Christ, after that they who are the Christ’s in his presence, Afterwards, the end — whensoever he delivereth up the kingdom unto his God and Father, whensoever he shall bring to nought all rule and all authority and power; For he must needs reign until he shall put all his enemies under his feet: As a last enemy, death is to be destroyed; For — He put all things in subjection under his feet. But whensoever it shall be said — all things are in subjection! — it is evident that it means — Except him who did put into subjection unto him the all things — But whensoever have been put into subjection unto him the all things, then the Son himself also shall be put in subjection unto him who put in subjection unto him the all things — that God may be all things in all.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

In the letter to the Corinthians, Paul did not set out to provide a detailed roadmap of future events but, instead, to present arguments to prove the necessity of bodily resurrection. Apparently, some members of the church denied the reality of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12).
These doubters were members of the same group that overvalued their “spirituality.” Some also rejected belief in the bodily resurrection, probably from the influence of one concept or another of disembodied existence after death common to that Greco-Roman culture.
Paul bases the future resurrection of believers on the past resurrection of Jesus.  If there is no future resurrection, then, “Not even Christ has been raised, and if Christ has not been raised…to no purpose is our faith, we are yet in our sins.” The resurrection of believers is linked, inextricably, with the raising of Jesus from the grave.

In the process of presenting his arguments, Paul listed key events that would coincide with the “arrival” of Jesus from heaven, including the collective resurrection of dead believers, the arrival of “the end,” the consummation of God’s kingdom, the final overthrow of all hostile powers, and the cessation of death.

Lazarus raised from the dead
The Apostle explained what kind of body saints would inherit when the resurrection occurred (“How are the dead raised and with what manner of body do they come?”); it would be raised “in incorruption, glory and power” and be dominated by the Spirit. The future body is to be immortal and no longer subject to death and decay, for “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.”

Paul brought his arguments to a conclusion by demonstrating the necessity for the transformation of the human body in order to inherit everlasting life. Both living and dead saints must be transformed into bodies that are dominated by the “spirit,” incorruptible and immortal:

(1 Corinthians 15:49-57) – “And even as we have borne the image of the man of earth, let us also bear the image of the man of heaven. And this I say, brethren — that flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom. Neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Lo! a sacred secret unto you do I declare: — we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, during the last trumpet; for it shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must needs clothe itself with incorruptibility, and this mortal clothe itself with immortality. But whensoever this mortal shall clothe itself with immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written — Death hath been swallowed up victoriously; Where, O death, is thy victory? Where, O death, is thy sting? Now, the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; —But unto God be thanks, who is giving unto us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

Though not explicitly stated, the change from mortal to immortal bodies implies an act of new creation. Paul reiterates that the resurrection occurs at the parousia or “arrival” of Jesus, an event that also terminates the jurisdiction of Death. This scenario leads to several conclusions: 
  1. Bodily resurrection coincides with the “coming” Jesus.
  2. Christ’s “coming” is at “the end” of this age.
  3. Jesus subdues all hostile powers before his arrival, which means he reigns during the present age.
  4. The parousia results in the cessation of death and the receipt of immortality, which means nothing less than the new creation (Romans 8:19-23).
  5. Christians will be alive on the earth when Jesus arrives.
  6. Resurrection life is an embodied existence, though experienced in a body of a different nature than the present one.
  7. The resurrection is a collective event; all believers are resurrected at the “coming” of Jesus.
The events that Paul connected to the “coming” of Jesus are problematic to some interpretive schools.  For example, the final victory over death, the consummation of Christ’s reign, and the new creation all leave no room for another interim period after his return, one in which sin and death may still occur.

Likewise, the overthrow of all hostile powers prior to his return does not allow for any rebellion by Satan after the parousia. In short, this passage is difficult to reconcile with interpretations that predict an interim period of a thousand years after the arrival of Jesus but before the New Creation.

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