Redemption, not Abandonment

Central to the doctrine of salvation is the promise of REDEMPTION. God will not abandon what He created. And “Redemption” means the recovery of His creation that was enslaved by sin and condemned to decay and death. And in His redemptive plans, the end state of redeemed things and persons will be vastly superior even to their original state when first created. And this principle is epitomized in the promise of bodily resurrection.

Until the day Jesus arrives at the end of the age, his church must focus on harvesting the Earth as it proclaims the Gospel to all nations. That is the task he assigned his disciples until the day of his return.

And the “end” will not come until the church completes this task, and THAT is the factor that determines the timing of the final day. Removing the “Body of Christ” from the Earth several years before the completion of this mission via a so-called ‘Rapture’ is not an option and deviates from the biblical picture.

When the Apostle Paul discusses the future hope of the church, he bases it on the past death AND resurrection of Jesus. Salvation was not achieved by his sacrificial death alone, but also THROUGH HIS RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD.

And where Paul discusses the future resurrection of believers, he links it to the past resurrection of Jesus “from among the dead” - (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 20-23).

RESURRECTION


Thus, the apostolic tradition teaches REDEMPTION, NOT ABANDONMENT. Salvation is actualized in all its fullness at the resurrection of the dead when all believers “meet” Jesus as he descends from heaven.

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

And consistently, Paul locates the bodily resurrection of the righteous at the “arrival” or ‘parousia’ of Jesus - (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

In First Thessalonians, he reassures Christians concerning the fate of fellow believers who die before his “arrival,” which is why he lays stress in the passage on their bodily resurrection at the ‘parousia.’

Not only so, but any believer remaining alive will be reunited with his or her resurrected loved ones. And then, all the gathered saints 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, the ENTIRE CHURCH will be with him “forevermore.” The passage does NOT state that Jesus will take his saints back to “heaven” after meeting them “in the air.” It only ends with the statement, “and so will we be with the Lord forevermore.”

The Apostle does not state explicitly where this happy state will be experienced after the church “meets” the Lord “in the air,” only that it will last “forevermore.” Logically, he may continue his descent to the Earth accompanied by his saints or return to heaven with them in tow. This question is not answered in the immediate passage, and a solution must be found elsewhere.

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.”

The “arrival” of Jesus from heaven will also coincide 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 at that time, and both groups receive their just desserts - (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).

In the New Testament, Jesus is always “coming” and never “going.” When any physical direction is provided, he is coming “from heaven” and descending to the Earth where 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 where he corrects false teachings that deny the bodily resurrection - (1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 50-57).

His “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.

And the resurrection will mean nothing less than the termination of death, and believers still alive will be transformed, the very same scenario presented to the Thessalonians. The point is NOT THE REMOVAL of the church from the Earth, but the resurrection and transformation of its members, whether dead or still alive.

NEW CREATION


That day 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 everlasting punishment for the unprepared.

The old “heaven and earth” will be dissolved, and the New Heavens and the New Earth will appear in all their fullness - (Matthew 13:30. 25:13, 25:31-46, Luke 12:33-39, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, 2 Peter 3:10-11).

One thing that characterizes that day will be its FINALITY. Death will cease, the old death-doomed 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 in the BODILY RESURRECTION and NEW CREATION. The Gospel proclaimed by Jesus is about REDEMPTION, including the resurrection of the dead.

Connected 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 will DESCEND FROM HEAVEN TO THE NEW EARTH. The saints will not ascend to it. Instead, it will come down to them. And in that glorious city, everyone who has been redeemed by the “blood of the Lamb” will live forevermore in his presence free from all sorrow, suffering, and death.


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