In 2 Timothy, Paul discusses the future resurrection of believers as he responds to denials of this “sound teaching” by deceivers who were disrupting the Assembly, denials he treats as little more than idle chatter. In doing so, he demonstrates that his later theology remains well within the Apostolic Tradition and the teachings of his earliest letters. From the beginning, belief in the resurrection was central to the doctrine of salvation taught by Jesus, his Apostles, and the early Church.
He begins his response by declaring, “God did not give us a spirit of fear but of a sound mind.” The theme of “sound teaching” is prominent in the Letter, and the future resurrection is a basic component of the Church’s hope. After all, Jesus “nullified death” when God raised him from the dead.
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In his earlier letter to the Corinthians, Paul described the center of the Gospel – “That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day.” The death AND the bodily resurrection of Jesus were both essential to its message – (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
The Gospel is “sound” teaching and represents the “power of God who saved and called us…according to His own purpose and grace given to us in Christ Jesus before the times of the ages.”
Paul strikes a strong eschatological chord. This salvation has only been manifested in recent times, though it was created by God eons ago. As promised in the Hebrew Scriptures, the arrival of the Messiah inaugurated the time of fulfillment, including the resurrection, beginning when God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.
- “God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to the peculiar purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages but has now been manifested through the appearance of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has nullified death and thrown light upon life and incorruptibility, through means of the gospel.” - (2 Timothy 1:9-10).
By “nullify death,” Paul does not mean death no longer occurs. The Greek verb translated as “nullify” does not mean to “destroy” or annihilate something, but to “nullify” it, to make it ineffective, to “discharge or IDLE” it, to invalidate its legal claim (katargeô, Strong’s - #G2673).
The complete cessation of Death, its reality and its hold on humanity will not occur until the “arrival” or ‘Parousia’ of Jesus at the end of the age. As the author of Hebrews writes, through his death, Jesus “destroyed him that had the dominion of death, that is, the Devil, and delivered them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” - (Hebrews 2:14-18).
Death still occurs to all men, including believers, but it is no longer capable of holding faithful disciples in its iron grip. The followers of Jesus need no longer fear it since he has overcome death already. When he returns, he will abolish it with absolute finality by raising his saints from the dead and giving them immortal bodies. “Death! Where is thy sting!” - (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
Jesus brought life and “immortality” to light (aphtharsia) through his own resurrection. The Greek noun rendered “immortality” does not mean “eternal.” It does NOT denote any sense of timelessness or of being without beginning or end. Immortality is the opposite of death, it is deathlessness, which is what the Greek noun means, “DEATH-LESS, without death.” Those who receive their immortal bodies will never die again – (Strong’s - #G861). Only God is eternal.
Immortality, deathlessness, is not a condition that humans possess by nature. It was lost when Adam sinned, and death has reigned over all living things ever since. However, believers will be raised and transformed when Jesus returns. This will not be the case for all men, only those who have been redeemed by his death will be raised to “everlasting life” - (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).
Paul exhorts Timothy to “remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel.” His past resurrection is the rock-solid foundation and guarantee of the resurrection of the saints at his return - (2 Timothy 2:8-18).
The Apostle suffered persecution on account of this Gospel, and central to it was the proclamation that God raised His son from the dead, an idea contrary to the beliefs and philosophies of the time:
- “And certain men also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, ‘What would this babbler say?’ Others, ‘He seems to be a setter forth of strange gods!’ Because he preached Jesus and the resurrection… Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked” – (Acts 17:16-21, 17:32).
Paul may have suffered, but he did so that the “elect may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with everlasting glory… If we die with him, WE SHALL ALSO LIVE WITH HIM… If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.”
While death still occurs, it does not have the final word. “Salvation,” resurrection, and “everlasting glory” will be obtained when Jesus returns.
Paul reminds Timothy of Christ’s past resurrection since false teachers denied the future resurrection. He labels their denials “profane and empty babblings” that lead to ungodliness - (1 Corinthians 15:10-20, 1 Timothy 6:20, 1 Timothy 2:16).
Precisely what these men taught is not clear other than the denial of the resurrection. The clause more accurately reads, “declaring that the resurrection already came to pass.” However, doing so means abandoning the fundamental hope of the Gospel and repudiating the origin and basis of the salvation promised in the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles. It is the opposite of “sound teaching.”
Based on beliefs common in that society, the false teachers probably rejected the idea of bodily resurrection in favor of one version or another of escape from the physical creation to a disembodied state.
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In his Corinthian correspondence, Paul expressed horror at the thought of existence without a body, and he also repudiated denials of the resurrection with eloquence and logic - (Acts 17:32, 1 Corinthians 15:12, 2 Corinthians 5:1-5):
- “For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised. Moreover, if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins. Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable. But now has Christ been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who sleep” – (1 Corinthians 15:16-20).
That Paul brings up the resurrection so easily when it is tangential to the larger discourse of his Letter shows just how basic and non-negotiable this “sound teaching” was to the Apostolic Tradition. If the righteous dead are not raised, our salvation will remain incomplete. Giving up belief in it is foolishness in the extreme, and tantamount to suicide.
- Meeting Jesus - (Paul responded to concerns about the dead in Christ by pointing to the resurrection that will occur when Jesus arrives from Heaven – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
- Arrival of the Spirit - (The Gift of the Spirit is part of the New Covenant, and the first fruits of the resurrection and the New Creation)
- Redemption, not Abandonment - (Salvation includes the bodily resurrection and the New Creation that will take place at the arrival of Jesus)