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The Apostle Paul, the Intermediate State, and the Resurrection

June 12, 2014 1 comment

Spurgeon once observed (I cannot recall the specific sermon, though somewhere during his first five years or so) that, given the choice between being among the dead who will be resurrected, or being alive and caught up, at Christ’s Second Advent, he would choose the former. His reasoning was in identification with Christ’s sufferings and the common experience of all men through the thousands of years, as contrasted with those still alive at Christ’s return – that they would not have had that same experience and identification with previous generations of believers who did experience corruption of this body and the disembodied state prior to the resurrection.

Yet a study through 2 Corinthians 5 (S. Lewis Johnson’s series) reveals something more basic, that most of us can surely relate to. Here the apostle Paul describes the intermediate state, and, consistent with his words elsewhere (1 Thessalonians 4, and 1 Corinthians 15), Paul understood the two alternatives available: to die and experience the intermediate state (unclothed), or the instant, in the twinkling of an eye experience of those who are caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Here Paul expresses his own personal desire, that if the Lord wills, he would prefer to meet the Lord at His Coming:

The apostle is a person who is afflicted with what someone has called world strangeness. And so he lives here, but he’s not really happy here ultimately. To him, to live is Christ, but to die is gain. But he wants to die in a certain way. He doesn’t want to be naked, as he says in the following verse, inasmuch as we having put it on shall not be found naked…. He wants to avoid the disembodied state. He doesn’t want to be a spirit or soul without a body. The intermediate state is just such a state. Those who have died as Christians and have gone on from our presence now are with the Lord, but they don’t have their bodies yet.

. . . modern theologians and our contemporary New Testament scholars like to say Paul has changed his views of his life expectancy. That’s possible. He may have become convinced that the experiences are such and he’s growing old…. so far as his theological doctrine, there is no evidence at all that he changed his eschatology. Those two alternatives were always before the apostle. He always set them forth. And all he does here is simply reveal his preference; his preference is the rapture, being caught up in the presence of the Lord, and not his physical death. Paul’s preference is mine as well. And I imagine it’s the preference of every believing person.

1 Corinthians 15 and Premillennialism

August 6, 2013 6 comments

In S. Lewis Johnson’s study through 1 Corinthians, he devotes one message specifically to the question: was Paul a premillennialist?  Is 1 Corinthians 15 consistent with the teaching of an in-between kingdom (the 1000 years before the Eternal State)?

After a quite lengthy introduction and basic material (including definitions of terms such as amillennialism and postmillennialism), Dr. Johnson gets to the issue itself (starting shortly after 30 minutes).   The key scriptures here are the passage itself — 1 Corinthians 15:23-28 – plus its references to two Old Testament texts, plus Hebrews 1:13 through 2:8 (which also references the same two Old Testament texts and in the same sequence).

The first two ‘Then’ statements

Verses 23 and 24 include this section:  (23) “Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ,” followed by verse 24, “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father …”.  We know that the first “then” encompasses a gap of nearly 2000 years.

Would it be out of the possibility of accomplishment that we should say, since the first ‘then’ has comprehended almost two thousand years, that the next ‘then’ might comprehend a thousand years?  If the first ‘then’ comprehends we know so far close to two thousand years, it’s entirely possible for the next ‘then’ (one epeita, one is the preposition epe connected with the adverb eita.  And then eita very closely related epeita, eita). — see you people know Greek already then.  You know those expressions.  So it’s not beyond our comprehension at all.

Then verse 25, “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.” This also indicates a period of time for that reign. Because it is written in a tense, for he must go on reigning until he has put all enemies under his feet.  In other words, the reign of our Lord is a time of war or possible war, put it that way. 

Psalm 110:1 and Psalm 8

These two psalms are cited, in this order, both in 1 Corinthians 15 and in the first two chapters of Hebrews. In the 1 Corinthians passage, verse 25 references Psalm 110:1 — “until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”  Verse 27 further references Psalm 110:1 and Psalm 8:6b, “you have put all things under his feet”:  (1 Cor. 15:27)  “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”

Both places where these two psalms are cited, they speak of a reign of Christ, AND both locate the reign of Christ in the future after the Parousia (the Second Coming).  Hebrews 1:13 cites Pslam 110:1, and Hebrews 2:5, Psalm 8.  Notice Hebrews 2:8 (immediately after the quotation from Psalm 8):  “At present,we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him.”

Now it’s obvious, what he is simply saying is, if you look out at the creation, it’s ultimately to be under man; but at the present time it is not under man.  Now, as we look around it’s not in subjection yet to Him.  ‘But we see Jesus’: why should that give us encouragement?  Well, because He is the covenantal head, and what He has done is a guarantee that these things are going to come to pass.

S. Lewis Johnson considers the amillennialist claim here: that hostile powers have been conquered by the cross through the present reign of our Lord in heaven, that He’s reigning now, the kingdom is then delivered to the Father by the Son at the Second Advent, and the end comes with the destruction of death.  The key question is:  What is the destruction of death, and when does it take place?  The amillennialist answer is that later verses in 1 Corinthians 15, verses 50-58, talk about the coming of our Lord; and these verses discuss the defeat of death, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”  The amillennial idea is that our Lord is reigning now, the kingdom is now, and death comes at the Second Advent: that’s when death experiences death. In other words, if he is reigning now and if death is defeated at his second advent, then how can there be reign for a thousand years after death has been defeated? 

What this overlooks is that 1 Corinthians 15 is written about believers. See for instance verses 21-23: the “even so in Christ all shall be made alive” is talking about all believers; it doesn’t teach universalism.  So, 1 Corinthians 15:50 through 58 is concerned with the defeat of death for believers, but not the final destruction of death.

Hebrews 2:5, the section referencing Psalm 110:1 and Psalm 8, also refers to this as “the world to come.”  The kingdom age, that over which the Son of Man rules, is not this age but yet future.

1 Corinthians 4 also tells us that Paul expected a future kingdom age, in his comments to the Corinthians about their over-realized eschatology.  So while 1 Corinthians 15 by itself does not tell us everything about premillennialism, what Paul says here is consistent with Revelation 20 and the many other scripture texts that tell about the intermediate kingdom, yet future, before the Eternal State.

What Is The Blessed Hope?

November 29, 2012 6 comments

Titus 2 came up in my recent Bible readings, and in a brief online discussion concerning what the Blessed Hope is.  Titus 2:13 is the key verse in reference to the “Blessed Hope”:   waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Often, though, online websites or audio series, particularly those that emphasize the pre-trib rapture, lose the focus: declaring that the blessed hope is the pre-trib rapture event itself, or things particularly associated with the rapture event.  Examples include this audio series (part A of the second series), and this article, which says: “Titus chapter 2 is an amazing chapter because it tells us that the rapture of the church is our ‘blessed hope’, in which we are to do the following while we wait on His return.” That article goes on to focus on what we are to do while waiting for His return, and that “the Blessed Hope is a means by which God uses it to prepare us and purify us as we wait. It is not simply a ‘get out of jail free card’, it is a refining tool of the Lord to make us ready on a daily basis. After all, death is a reality for over 250,000 people a day every day around the world, with lots of them being bible believing Christians.”

Yet such a view, with emphasis on the pre-trib rapture, misses the overall emphasis and what Titus 2:13, the Blessed Hope, is about: Christ Himself, and His appearing.  Teaching about the rapture and its timing is fine enough in its place, including discussion of the various scripture references to the rapture and indirect scriptural evidences for a pre-tribulational rapture.  Far too often, though, careless ideas creep into our doctrine, as with such statements about “the rapture of the church is our ‘blessed hope'” in which the focus is on us rather than on Christ Himself and His return.  Then too, the posts at rapture forums often focus on the great desire to escape from this life, to be raptured away – again a self-focused view.  Certainly our motives in this life will always be mixed at best, and even when we first come to Christ the primary reasons are indeed selfish.  Yet as Spurgeon often said, too often people have selfish motives for desiring Christ’s return in their lifetime: to escape their present circumstances, and/or to avoid the experience of physical death.  Let us instead keep our eyes on our Lord, truly desiring Him above all else, whatever our circumstances: Philippians 1:21, For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Another consideration is that the vast majority of believers meet the Lord at death.  Only a relatively few will actually be living at the time and caught up, to meet up with those who have been resurrected (1 Thess. 4:17).  From that perspective, the blessed hope for those who die before Christ’s return, is to meet Him at death.  The full, final perspective, of course, includes all  the events at the Second Coming, especially the bodily resurrection: those already physically dead as well as those of us still living, all awaiting our glorified bodies.

In closing, some great observations from Spurgeon, in this message:

What is that “blessed hope”? Why, first, that when He comes we shall rise from the dead, if we have fallen asleep, and that if we are alive and remain, we shall be changed at His appearing! Our hope is that we shall be approved of Him and shall hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Also from Spurgeon, sermon #2509:

what is the blessed hope of the children of God—they are looking for the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ from Heaven! As they look back by faith, they see their Lord upon the Cross and then they see Him in the tomb—and then they behold Him risen from the grave. The last glimpse they catch of Him is as a cloud receives Him out of their sight. He has gone into Glory, but Believers have not forgotten those angelic words to the disciples, “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into Heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go into Heaven.” So we expect Him to come. And when He comes, then is to be the time of our highest joy!  Even though we are now called the sons of God, “it does not yet appear what we shall be.” Our glory, our full bliss, is as yet concealed, “but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like He, for we shall see Him as He is.” So, Brothers and Sisters, our hope is that when Christ shall come, we shall be perfected—that then we shall be rid of every sin and shall become holy even as He is holy, pure even as He is pure!

The Misuse of Scripture: Examples from Romans and Ezekiel

July 1, 2010 Comments off

From recent Bible readings comes Romans 10:1, part of Paul’s discussion about Israel and God’s election in chapters 9 through 11.  The ESV translates the verse as, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.”  The NIV translates the “for them” as “Israel,” and though that apparently is not in the original texts, the context is clearly talking about Israelites.  Yet often that verse has been pulled out of its context and listed as a reference in a prayer list, for “the salvation of our loved ones.”

Perhaps such is a valid application.  I certainly cannot think of any other Bible verse to use if one wanted to list a Bible verse reference to go with the topic of praying for salvation for friends and family members.  Over the past few years I have noticed that the local church emphasizes prayers for salvation of loved ones in far greater proportion than the occurrence of such prayers in the Bible.  Often these prayers are especially said in regards to the many unsaved children — “God save our children.”  Some time back I blogged about this more passive parenting attitude in some churches, noting that the scriptures often teach the importance of proper training and discipline instead of that more passive, fatalistic approach to God’s sovereign grace.  I would now add that the Bible says nothing about praying for the salvation of our loved ones (children or others), unless one counts this prayer of Paul in Romans 10:1 — which is really talking about something quite different from general prayers for individuals.  Of course there’s nothing wrong with praying for lost loved ones, and as believers it is something we naturally do quite often — and yet it’s never mentioned in the New Testament, which focuses more on actions and behaviors, such as obedience of children to parents, slaves to masters, etc. as ways in which we “work out our salvation” and show our belief by how we live.

It’s really not uncommon, though, for people to reference a particular scripture and apply it to something completely unrelated to what the text is actually saying.  Given that even preachers do so, the layperson who applies Romans 10:1 to prayers for lost loved ones can be more easily excused.

Interestingly, many of the common misapplications of scripture, like Romans 10:1, involve texts that specifically deal with Israel — passages which Gentiles in the Church Age give other, unintended meanings to.  A great example of this is Ezekiel 37:1-10, a text clearly talking about the restoration of Israel, yet so often taught as being about the resurrection.

Spurgeon had some great words to say concerning this misuse of Ezekiel 37:  (Sermon #582, from 1864):

This vision has been used, from the time of Jerome onwards, as a description of the resurrection and certainly it may be so accommodated with much effect. … But while this interpretation of the vision may be very proper as an accommodation, it must be quite evident to any thinking person that this is not the meaning of the passage. There is no allusion made by Ezekiel to the resurrection and such a topic would have been quite apart from the design of the Prophet’s speech. I believe he was no more thinking of the resurrection of the dead than of the building of St. Peter’s at Rome, or the emigration of the Pilgrim Fathers! That topic is altogether foreign to the subject at hand and could not by any possibility have crept into the Prophet’s mind.

He was talking about the people of Israel and prophesying concerning them. And evidently the vision, according to God’s own interpretation of it, was concerning them and them alone, for, “these bones are the whole house of Israel.” It was not a vision concerning all men, nor, indeed, concerning any men as to the resurrection of the dead—it had a direct and special bearing upon the Jewish people. This passage, again, has been very frequently and I dare say very properly, used to describe the revival of a decayed Church. This vision may be looked upon as descriptive of a state of lukewarmness and spiritual lethargy in a Church when the question may be sorrowfully asked—“Can these bones live?” . . . But while we admit this to be a very fitting accommodation of our text, yet we are quite convinced that it is not to this that the passage refers. It would be altogether alien to the Prophet’s strain of thought to be thinking about the restoration of fallen zeal and the rekindling of expiring love. He was not considering the Reformation either of Luther or of Whitfield, or about the revival of one Church or of another.

No, he was talking of his own people, of his own race and of his own tribe. He surely ought to have known his own mind, and led by the Holy Spirit, he gives us as an explanation of the vision. Not—“Thus says the Lord, My dying Church shall be restored,” but—“I will bring My people out of their graves and bring them into the land of Israel.”