An Incomplete Salvation
The biblical faith is forward-looking and integral to its doctrine of salvation is the future resurrection of the righteous dead, an event that will also mark the commencement of the New Creation. In the New Testament, this hope is linked to two events. First, the past resurrection of Jesus, and second, his future arrival at the end of the age. Moreover, the church’s salvation will remain incomplete until Jesus raises the dead, transforms all those still alive, and then “gathers” all his saints to himself.
Unfortunately, over the centuries, this fundamental hope has dimmed and even been pushed to the side to accommodate ideas alien to the Bible. While this is due to many factors, it is especially because of the assimilation of pagan ideas into the apostolic traditions.
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All too often, popular ideas about the afterlife have more in common with Neoplatonism and Gnosticism than with the teachings of Jesus and his Apostles.
Writing to the churches of Rome, Paul declares that if the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us, then He that “raised Christ Jesus from among the dead will quicken even our death-doomed bodies.”
In this passage, the future “quickening” of our bodies is connected to the past resurrection of Jesus - His resurrection is the basis of our own - (Romans 8:9-11).
At present, we possess “death-doomed bodies,” not because they are physical, but because we have been condemned to bondage, decay, and death because of sin. Even though we are indwelt by the Spirit, because of Adam’s transgression, we remain subject to death. We are, in the truest sense, MORTAL.
If God is to redeem us and recover all that was lost, salvation must include the human body. Likewise, the creation itself was also condemned by Adam’s sin to corruption, therefore, it must also be redeemed.
The biblical doctrine of salvation centers around the concept of redemption. The Creator of all things will not abandon what he originally declared “very good.”
The Spirit of God attests that we are “coheirs” with His Son. We, therefore, will be “glorified together with him.” Even the creation itself is “ardently awaiting” that day since, like humanity, it has been subjected to “vanity” and death, and so it also longs for deliverance.
On that coming day, the “creation itself will be freed from the bondage of decay into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God.” The possession of the Spirit is the “first fruits” of the future resurrection life, therefore, we also “ardently await the adoption, the redemption of our body.” Paul is talking about the coming bodily resurrection of believers and the arrival of the new creation – (Romans 8:15-23).
RESURRECTION IS MANDATORY
In Corinth, some believers were denying the future resurrection. Paul responded by reminding the Corinthians of the Gospel that he first delivered to them - “How that Christ died for our sins, and was buried, and that he has been raised on the third day.”
However, if there is no future resurrection, then “even Christ has not been raised,” and if not, then the Gospel is void, and the Apostles all lied, and we are all “yet in our sins,” without hope and “most to be pitied.”
Once again, Paul links the future resurrection of believers with the past resurrection of Jesus. Just as God raised His Son from the dead, so he will raise us also at His Son’s “arrival” - (1 Corinthians 15:1-20).
The resurrection of Jesus is the “first fruits of them who have fallen asleep.” Just as death came through Adam, so the “raising of the dead comes through one man, and in Christ, all will be made alive.” This will occur at the “arrival” or ‘Parousia’ of Jesus when he consummates the kingdom and subjugates all his enemies, especially, the “last enemy, Death.” With his arrival, death itself will cease to occur – (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).
Resurrection does not mean the resuscitation of “death-doomed bodies” or the resuscitation of corpses, and it certainly does not point to life in a disembodied state. Our present body is “sown in corruption but will be raised in incorruption.” It will be a body fitted for life in the Spirit. Though the future life will be dominated by the Spirit, it will nonetheless be an embodied existence.
Paul did not see the physical body as incompatible with the Spirit. The difference is the kind of body one has, whether a “body of the soul” or a “body of the spirit.” And just as we now bear the “image of the man of the earth,” Adam, so we will “bear the image of the man of heaven,” Jesus.
When he does “arrive,” believers who remain alive will be transformed, and those who have died will be raised from the dead, and both will receive “immortality…for whenever this mortal will clothe itself with immortality, then will be brought to pass the saying, ‘Death has been swallowed up victoriously’,” for death will cease forevermore – (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).
THE DEAD IN CHRIST
When the Thessalonians expressed grief over the deaths of fellow believers, Paul reminded them that they were not without hope. If we “believe that Jesus died and rose again, so God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.”
At his “arrival,” Jesus will descend from heaven and the “dead in Christ will rise first.” After that, both the living and now resurrected saints together will “meet” him as he descends from heaven, and so, “evermore we will be with the Lord.”
As in Corinth, so in Thessalonica, Paul connects the future resurrection to the past raising of Jesus from the dead, and to his “arrival” at the end of the age. And again, he portrays it as a collective event; meaning, all believers will be raised and transformed at the same time when he “arrives” from heaven.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul demonstrates just how foundational to his faith the resurrection hope is. Having counted all things as loss for the sake of Christ, his life became centered on pursuing him - “If by any means I may attain to the resurrection from among the dead.” If the Apostle does not participate in the future resurrection, his salvation will remain incomplete – (Philippians 3:10-11).
Thus, the consummation of the biblical hope of salvation lies in the future. While upon repentance our sins are forgiven and we become “heirs with Christ,” the final realization of that promise remains incomplete until the return of Jesus at the end of the age.
On that day, dead believers will be resurrected, and those remaining alive on the earth will be transformed, and together all saints will receive immortality and thus be with Jesus “forevermore.” And with the resurrection of the dead, the New Creation will dawn.