19 November 2022

Redemption, Not Abandonment


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

New Age Dawning - Photo by Mario Dobelmann on Unsplash
Central to the church’s understanding of salvation is 
redemption. God is not abandoning what He created, but recovering and restoring what is enslaved by sin, decay, and death. In His redemptive plans, the end state of the redeemed is vastly superior to the original, and this is epitomized in the promise of bodily resurrection - [Photo by Mario Dobelmann on Unsplash].

When the Apostle Paul discusses the hope of the church, 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, when Paul discusses the future resurrection, he also links it to the past resurrection of Jesus.

  • For I delivered to you first of all that which also I received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures and that he was buried and was raised on the third dayBut now has Christ been raised from the dead, the first fruits of them that are asleep. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first-fruits, then they that are Christ's at his coming” - (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 20-23).

RESURRECTION


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.

At that time, dead believers will be resurrected and living ones transformed and receive immortal bodies (“For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality”).

And just as consistently, Paul locates the bodily resurrection of the righteous dead at the “arrival” or ‘parousia’ of Jesus:

  • (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) – “But we do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them who are falling asleep, lest you be sorrowing, even as the rest also who are without hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also will God bring forth with him them who have fallen asleep through Jesus; For this to you do we say by a word of the Lord, that we, the living who are left unto the arrival of the Lord will in no way precede them who have fallen asleep, because the Lord himself, with a word of command, with an archangel’s voice, and with a trumpet of God, shall descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ shall rise first

In First Thessalonians, Paul reassures Christians concerning the fate of their fellow believers who die before the “arrival” of Jesus, and this is why he stresses their bodily resurrection on that day.

Not only so, but any believer remaining alive will be reunited with his resurrected loved ones, then together, all will “meet the Lord in the air” as he descends from heaven. Both living and dead Christians will be changed forever when he appears, and after that moment, the ENTIRE CHURCH will be with him “forevermore.”

The passage does NOT state that Jesus then takes his saints back to “heaven” after he “meets them in the air.” It only ends with the statement, “and so will we be with the Lord forevermore.” Paul does not state exactly where this happy state will be after the saints “meet” the Lord “in the air.”

JUDGMENT AND VINDICATION


When interpreting the final verse of the 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 - “like a thief in the night.” Christ’s “arrival” also coincides with the “day of the Lord,” an event associated in Scripture with God’s judicial punishment of the wicked.

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul declares 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” at the time of his return. When any physical direction is provided, he is said to be coming “from heaven” and descending to the earth. At that time, he gathers 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 the events that will occur on that day is found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians when he was correcting false teachings that denied the future bodily resurrection - (1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 50-57).

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.

The bodily resurrection will mean nothing less than the termination of death, and believers still alive at the time will be transformed, the very same scenario presented to the Thessalonians.

Paul’s point is not the removal of the Thessalonian church from the earth, but the resurrection and transformation of its members, both the dead and the living.

NEW CREATION


And the “arrival” of Jesus will result in the separation of the righteous from the unrighteous. It will be a day of joy for the spiritually 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 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).


New Creation - Photo by Ravi Pinisetti on Unsplash
[Photo by Ravi Pinisetti on Unsplash]


And one thing that characterizes that day is its finality. Death will cease, the old creation will disappear, resurrected believers will be with the Lord “forevermore,” and the unrighteous will receive “everlasting” destruction - (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 even been pushed aside.

And connected directly to resurrection is the new heavens and 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.



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