Redemption and the Parousia

At the heart of Christian hope is the future resurrection of the saints at Christ’s return and the arrival of the new heavens and the new earth

Alpine Meadow - Photo by Tim Peterson on Unsplash
Central to the New Testament concept of salvation is 
redemption. God will not abandon what He first created. Instead, He is recovering what was enslaved by sin, decay, and death. But at the end of His redemptive acts, the end state of all redeemed persons and things will be vastly superior to their original state, and this is epitomized in the bodily resurrection - [Photo by Tim Peterson on Unsplash].

When Paul discusses the church’s hope, invariably, he bases it on the death AND resurrection of Jesus. Salvation was not achieved by his sacrificial death alone, but also through his resurrection from the dead. And just as consistently, he links the future resurrection of believers to the past resurrection of Jesus - (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 20-23).

The apostolic tradition teaches redemption, not abandonment. Salvation is actualized at the resurrection of the dead when all believers “meet” Jesus as he descends from heaven. On that day, dead believers will be resurrected and living ones transformed (“For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality”).

And consistently, the Apostle Paul locates the bodily resurrection of the righteous at the “arrival” or ‘parousia’ of Jesus from heaven - (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, he reassured Christians concerning the fate of their fellow believers who had died before the “arrival” of Jesus, and that is why he stressed their bodily resurrection.

Not only so, but any believers who remain alive on that day will be reunited with their resurrected loved ones, and together, all of them will “meet the Lord in the air” as he descends from heaven. Both living and dead Christians will be changed forever when he appears.

When interpreting this passage, the larger context must be kept in view. In the next chapter, Paul warns that the unprepared will be overtaken by the events of that day - just “like a thief in the night.” The “arrival” of Christ is also the “Day of the Lord,” an event associated with God’s judicial punishment of the wicked.

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul declared that when Jesus is “revealed from heaven,” the righteous will be vindicated but the unrighteous will receive “everlasting destruction.” Both events occur on the same day - (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).

In the New Testament, Jesus is always “coming” and never “going” when he “arrives” from heaven. When any physical direction is provided, he is said to be coming from heaven and descending to the earth. And at that time, he will gather his saints to himself - (Matthew 16:27, 24:30, 25:31, 26:64, Acts 1:11, 1 Corinthians 15:23, Revelation 1:7).

The most comprehensive list of final events is found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. He was writing to correct false teachings that denied the future bodily resurrection.

Christ’s “arrival” will result in the cessation of death (the “last enemy”), the resurrection of the dead, the final subjugation of all hostile powers, the consummation of the kingdom, and the transformation of the saints still alive that day from mortality to immortality - (1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 50-57).

Thus, the bodily resurrection will mean nothing less than the termination of death itself, and believers still alive will be transformed and receive immortal bodies. Paul’s point was not the removal of Christians from the earth, but their resurrection and transformation.

The “arrival” of Jesus will result in the separation of the righteous from the unrighteous. It will be a day of joy and rewards for the prepared, but one of disaster and everlasting punishment for the unprepared. And the old “heaven and earth” will be dissolved, and the new heavens and the new earth will be inaugurated - (Matthew 13:30. 25:13, 25:31-46, Luke 12:33-39, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, 2 Peter 3:10-11).

And that day will be characterized by its finality. Death will cease forever, the old creation will disappear, resurrected believers will be with the Lord “forevermore,” and the unrighteous will receive “everlasting” punishment - (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, 2 Thessalonians 2:5-10).

Christian hope is not found in escape from the spacetime continuum or the desertion of God’s original creation, but instead, in the bodily resurrection and the New Creation. The gospel proclaimed by Jesus is about redemption, including the resurrection of the dead. Unfortunately, over the centuries, this central hope of the apostolic faith has dimmed.

And connected directly to the resurrection are the new heavens and the new earth. Even now, the entire universe is “groaning,” not in despair over its eventual annihilation, but in anticipation of the resurrection of the “sons of God” and the “restoration of all things” that will follow - (Romans 8:19-25, 2 Peter 3:10).

In the end, the city of New Jerusalem DESCENDS from heaven to the new earth. The saints do not ascend to it; it comes down to them. And in that glorious city, the men and women redeemed by the “blood of the Lamb” will live forever in his presence free from all sorrow, suffering, and death.



Exaltation of the Lamb

Last Hour