WHEN DOES CHRIST RETURN? PART ELEVEN
If you have read the previous ten parts of this series, you are ready for this essay on the resurrection. If you have not read the previous ten parts, I highly recommend you do so before reading this section on resurrection. Without having read the material leading up to this section, it would be difficult to make a whole lot of sense of what you are about to read.
If you have read this far, you have seen that many scriptures, in conjunction with secular history, show a first-century return of Christ in judgment and establishment of His everlasting Kingdom. All Christians understand that resurrection from the dead is also associated with the return of Christ. If the return of Christ is a first-century reality, then resurrection is also a first-century reality.
What is resurrection? When most people think of resurrection, they think of dead bodies being raised from graves. When Christ and the writers of scripture speak of resurrection, how do they see resurrection? Jesus was raised to life after having physically died. Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus and Lazarus to physical life after they had physically died. Peter raised Tabitha from the dead as seen in Acts 9. We see several examples of people being brought back to physical life in the Old Testament. The record of events associated with the crucifixion/resurrection of Christ reveals that one of those events involved bodies coming out of tombs and appearing to various people (Matthew 27: 52-53). It is therefore apparent that one scriptural meaning of resurrection is to bring a dead physical body back to physical life. Is this the only way to view resurrection? How should resurrection be viewed relative to receiving salvation and in relation to the return of Christ?
We have already read in Daniel 12 that multitudes would rise at the time the power of the holy people is broken. That time was when the temple was destroyed and the sacrificial system was terminated. Was Daniel referring to individual dead people rising or was he referring to some type of collective or corporate rising? As Christians, we all look forward to being resurrected to eternal life. When does this take place? Many Christians believe that when they die they go straight to heaven to be with Christ. Yet these same Christians believe that they will be resurrected from the dead at a yet future return of Christ. If this is the case, what kind of existence are they experiencing in heaven while awaiting a resurrection to life some time in the future? If they are already with Christ, then why a future resurrection to be with Christ? Some attempt to resolve this problem by asserting that soul and body are the same. Therefore, when we physically die our soul does not go to heaven or anywhere else. The soul simply “sleeps” in the grave awaiting a future resurrection.
In the ancient world, the idea of once dead physical bodies being resurrected back to physical life was considered absurd. There were various beliefs in life beyond the grave but such life was always seen as existing in some disembodied form. The idea of dead physical bodies coming back to life was not considered to be possible. Greek philosophers introduced the concept of the immortality of the soul. This concept saw the soul as the “real person” who had always existed but was temporarily housed in a physical body. Upon physical death this immortal soul continued to live on in another dimension.
The Hebrew concept of life after physical death is not well defined in the Old Testament. The focus is more on living a good physical life by being blessed with children, having good land to live on and having a proper relationship with God. While there is reference to life after physical death in Old Testament writings, the nature of such life is unclear. Where the concept of resurrection is found, it appears to be associated with a return from exile for the people of Israel. A good example of this is the “dry bones” metaphor found in Ezekiel 37. However, we do have, as already discussed in this series, an apparent rising from the dead in Daniel 12.
Some scholars see evidence for belief in physical resurrection from the writings of the Maccabees just prior to the first century A.D. During the time of Christ, it appears the religious sect of the Pharisees believed in physical resurrection while the sect of the Sadducees did not. This mix of belief about the meaning of resurrection has continued to our present day. What people have believed or not believed about resurrection over the centuries cannot be our focus.
Our challenge is to determine what Christ taught about resurrection and what Paul and other New Testament writers understood resurrection to be. The scriptural and historical evidence says Christ returned in the first century. Since resurrection is tied to the return of Christ, then resurrection also occurred (or began to occur) in the first century. Our task is to determine how resurrection took place. How did/does resurrection occur? Do dead physical bodies become live physical bodies? Do dead physical bodies become spiritual bodies and if so, what is a spiritual body? Does resurrection have to do with dead physical bodies at all? How are we to understand resurrection relative to a first-century return of Christ?
There are a number of dynamics involved in coming to understand resurrection in relation to a first-century return of Christ. These dynamics involve the covenantal transition that was taking place and the response to that transition from Jewish Christians, Gentile Christians and Jewish non-Christians. Let’s take a look at these dynamics.
COVENANTS IN TRANSITION:
After the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the close associates of Jesus were given the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and began to preach salvation through Christ Jesus. This message initially went only to the Jews. With the conversion of Paul, and Peter’s experience with Cornelius, the gospel of Christ also went to the Gentiles. A careful reading of the book of Acts will clearly demonstrate there was a great deal of tension between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. Many of the Jewish Christians, while accepting Christ as their savior, still continued to observe the Old Covenant law. While it appears that the leadership of the Jewish Christians understood that adherence to the Old Covenant regulations was not required for salvation, such regulations continued to be an important dynamic in the lives of Jewish converts.
After initially ministering to the Jews, Paul took his ministry to the Gentiles. The Gentiles, having not been under the Old Covenant law, readily accepted the gospel message and all that message implied relative to New Covenant living. This created much tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Many Jewish Christians still felt that the law of Moses had to be followed. This led to the Jerusalem conference recorded in Acts 15 where it was basically determined that Gentile Christians were not obligated to keep the law of Moses. It is interesting that little is recorded about the Jewish Christians setting aside the Old Covenant system. In fact, it appears that the Jewish Christians, including their leadership, continued to observe the Mosaic customs as demonstrated in Acts 21.
Acts 21:17-26: When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: ‘You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.’ The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.
It is apparent from this record that Jewish Christians were still observing the customs and regulations of the Old Covenant system and believed that they should. Only the Gentile Christians were excused from such adherence. It is also apparent that many Jewish Christians continued to feel that the Gentiles should adhere to the Mosaic regulations. The persecutions suffered by Paul were a combination of assaults from both the Jewish Christian community and those non-Christian Jews who were vehemently opposed to the developing Christian religion in general. This is revealed again in the face-to-face altercation between Paul and Peter.
Galatians 2:11-16: When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.’
It’s apparent from this account that Paul had come to understand and act on the New Covenant initiatives in Christ. Peter and the other Jerusalem apostles were still squeamish about separating themselves from Old Covenant regulations. The leadership of the Jewish Christians was especially reluctant to behave contrary to the Old Covenant requirements in full view of their fellow Jewish Christians.
This altercation between Paul and Peter shows the struggle going on within the Jewish Christian community relative to the Old Covenant way of living on the one hand, and the freedom contained in the New Covenant system on the other hand. Paul’s letters to the various Churches reflect the ongoing tension that he constantly had to deal with relative to the two covenantal systems. Jewish Christians were constantly infiltrating the ranks of the Gentile Christians to try and turn them to Mosaic observances. As the Gentile Christian community became more established, it’s apparent that such Jewish infiltration had less and less effect and there is indication that some of the Gentile Christians began to view the Jews as being rejected and ineligible for salvation through Christ.
A careful reading of Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome reveals that a certain smugness had developed among some of the Gentile Christians relative to their being granted salvation in Christ. The reason Paul had taken the gospel to the Gentiles was that the Jews had largely rejected Paul’s message. This rejection of Paul may have been because he simply didn’t pull any punches in teaching salvation through faith in Christ, devoid of the Mosaic system. As shown above, Peter and the other Jerusalem leadership appear to have taken a much gentler and restrained approach to introducing New Covenant concepts.
As persecution from the non-Christian Jewish community and pressure from Jewish Christians continued, Gentile Christians began to feel pretty good about themselves. Some appear to have concluded that God had rejected Israel altogether in favor of Gentile salvation. We see the evidence for this in the way Paul feels it necessary to defend Israel and God’s purpose before the Gentile Romans.
Romans 10:1-4: Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites, is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
Here we find Paul addressing the Gentile Romans and speaking of how Israel is zealous for God but has failed to understand the Christ event. This lack of understanding keeps Israel locked into trying to establish righteousness through observing the law. Because most of Israel continued to resist the gospel message, it was allowed to go to the Gentiles. This did not, however, mean that Israel was rejected, as some apparently believed.
Romans 11:1-5: I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don't you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah-how he appealed to God against Israel: ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me?’ And what was God's answer to him? ‘I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.
Romans 11:6-8: And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, as it is written: ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.’
Paul made it clear that Israel had not been rejected. He supports this by showing that at that time a remnant of Israel was chosen just as in the days of Elijah. That remnant was the Jewish Christians. These Jewish Christians were in the process of moving from the Old Covenant system of death into the New Covenant system of life. The rest of Israel remained opposed to the transition as the New Testament narrative clearly shows. Christ had made it clear that salvation is of the Jews. Because of Israel’s rejection, the Gentiles are brought into the salvation meant for Israel. Paul, however, makes it very clear that there will be a coming acceptance on the part of Israel.
Romans 11:11-15: Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
Paul tells us that Israel’s lack of acceptance of the gospel message has opened the door for the Gentiles and the entire non-Israelite world to be reconciled to God. Paul also shows that their acceptance will mean life from the dead. This status of life from the dead is viewed as a yet future event to those Paul is addressing. Resurrection is life from the dead. Is Paul talking here of returning to physical life from physical death or is he talking about a different kind of life and death? Keep this question in mind as we continue to examine resurrection.
In Romans 11, Paul continues to show the Gentiles that the only reason they are being granted salvation is Israel’s rejection of Christ. Paul tells the Gentiles that they totally owe their opportunity for salvation to the promises made to Israel. Without Israel there would be no salvation.
Romans 11:16-21: If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.’ Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
Paul makes it clear to the Gentiles that they have nothing to boast about. They are being granted salvation only because of their spiritual connection to the root of Israel. Paul shows that there are firstfruits from this root that are considered holy. Those firstfruits were the Jewish Christians. The broken branches were the non-Christian Jews who were persecuting the developing Christian Church. Paul goes on to show why this all was happening and what the outcome would be.
Romans 11:25-32: I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’ As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
It is clear that the hardening of Israel took place so Gentiles could be accepted. Paul then shows that Christ would come and establish a covenant with Israel that would take away their sins. Take note that this establishment of a covenant is future to those Paul was addressing. The New Covenant was not completely established at the cross or at Pentecost when the Spirit was given. The establishment of the New Covenant was a process that went on for the forty-year period between the ascension of Christ and His return during the war with Rome. It was during this forty-year period that the Gentiles were accepted into Israel’s promises along with a remnant group of Israelites, referred to as the firstfruits. It was in judgment against the gospel-rejecting Jews that Christ came in A.D. 70. It was then that the Old Covenant was finally destroyed and fully replaced with the New Covenant.
RESURRECTION AND THE ROMANS:
Paul’s use of resurrection in his letter to the Romans is not speaking of dead biological bodies rising to physical life. This should be clear from the following passage.
Romans 6:3-11: Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Paul explains that through baptism we are buried with Christ into death and raised with Christ to life. Obviously, we don’t physically die nor are we physically resurrected in this process. Paul sees this process as our body of sin being done away. Paul says that Christ, being raised from the dead, cannot again die because the death He died was to sin. Paul is not speaking here of Christ’s physical death and resurrection. Dying to sin involves the removal of sin and its associated death penalty. The death of Christ facilitated the removal of the penalty for sin death. Christ could not die again because he had conquered sin death, which is spiritual separation from God. We find sin death defined in Isaiah.
Isaiah 59:1-2: Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.
In Genesis 2:15-17, God told Adam that he would die in the day that he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Hebrew word translated day in this passage is used hundreds of times in the Old Testament scriptures and its meaning is determined by context and/or the particular grammatical form the word takes. Here in Genesis the word is in a form that means, “in the day in which,” signifying a specific time as opposed to a general time as found in other usage of this word in the Old Testament (See Gesenius Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon - see also Exodus 10:28 and Leviticus 7:35-36 for additional examples of this usage).
Therefore it is apparent that “in the day” (because of the context in which it is used and the grammatical form in which it is found) means that in the specific day that Adam and Eve ate of the tree, in that day they would die. Adam and Eve did not physically die when they ate of the tree. Adam lived to be 930 years old and then he died. While we do not know how long Eve lived, we do know that she had children and therefore lived for some time after the tree incident.
What kind of death did Adam and Eve experience as a result of eating from the forbidden tree? Since the immediate penalty was not physical death but instead removal from the garden and separation from the immediate presence of God, it is apparent that they died a spiritual death, a sin death, which Scripture shows to be a separation from God.
In Romans 6, Paul said the death Christ died was to sin and that is why He could not die again. Lazarus physically died, was physically raised and apparently physically died again. Just to physically die and be physically resurrected did not protect a person from dying again. Christ physically died and was resurrected but could not die again because He destroyed the cause of death. What is the cause of death and what kind of death is being considered? Let Paul answer these questions.
1 Corinthians 15:56: The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
2 Corinthians 3:6-10: He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant-not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory.
Romans 10:4: Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
Galatians 3:13: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’
The law defined sin. Paul said in Romans 5:13 that where there is no law there is no sin. Paul also shows in Romans 5 that sin had been around since Adam. Therefore law had been in place since Adam. Paul explained that the Old Covenant codified law system facilitated by Moses was actually added to increase sin (Romans 5:20). By codifying the law, it made it even more apparent when the law was broken and sin occurred. Scripture defines sin as breaking the law (1 John 3:4). The penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23). Man was never able to avoid breaking the law and therefore was unable to avoid sinning. Since sin causes death, man was unable to avoid death.
Breaking God’s law demanded death. Death involves separation from God. Christ never sinned and therefore never experienced separation from God except for one time. Christ voluntarily took our sins upon Himself in order to pay the death penalty. This one act by Christ paid the death penalty for all of humanity. The penalty for breaking the law has been satisfied for all time. By suffering the penalty for breaking the law, Christ brought the reign of sin and death to an end. The death of Christ provided the way to escape spiritual death. By taking our sins upon Himself, Christ not only experienced the shedding of His blood in physical death, but He also experienced what every one of us experiences, separation from God. Notice what happened at the cross.
Matthew 27:46: About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
The Greek word translated “forsaken” means to “abandon, desert or leave helpless,” (see Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). Since it is sin that separates us from God, Christ experienced a momentary separation from God, as He became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). The death of Christ facilitated reconciliation with God. Christ was resurrected to show he had indeed conquered death. The death Christ conquered is sin death. Sin death is spiritual separation from God. Physically, we all continue to die. Spiritually, we are alive as a result of Christ’s having made reconciliation with God possible. We appear righteous before God because of what Christ did. Reconciliation with God changes our spiritual standing before God. In the past we stood before God as condemned sinners. Now we can stand before God as righteous because the perfect righteousness of Christ is applied to us.
Under the Old Covenant, righteousness was measured in terms of how well one kept the law. Christ came to abolish the Old Covenant and establish the New Covenant where righteousness is obtained through faith in the sacrifice of Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Christ took our sins upon Himself and suffered the death penalty in the process. This death was both physical and spiritual. The resurrection of Christ proved him to be the promised Messiah to Israel. The Messiah was the one prophesied to take away the sins of Israel and, therefore, reconcile Israel back to God. The sacrificial system of the Old Covenant could not take away sin. It took the sacrifice of Christ to do this. Christ’s sacrifice began the process of establishing the New Covenant system and abolishing the old. This process would culminate in the destruction of Herod’s temple.
The Old Covenant required strict obedience to the law that defined that covenant. That law was composed of the Ten Commandments, numerous other behavioral requirements, and a variety of religious holy days and ceremonial statutes. Disobedience to that law was defined as sin and sin required death. That law was holy, just and good as Paul stated in his letter to the Romans. The problem was that the people of Israel were unable to obey it in any consistent manner and therefore the very law that was meant for their good became a ministration of death for them. This death was a sin death, a spiritual separation from God. Christ came to do away with the ministration of death and eliminate this spiritual separation from God.
Christ accomplished this by taking our sin upon himself. This caused Him to experience a momentary spiritual separation from God. The physical death of Christ, while a necessary dynamic, did not do away with the requirement that we physically die. We all physically die. We do not have to die spiritually. In rising from the dead, Christ made eternal life available. He did this by facilitating the abolishment of the Old Covenant system of death and establishing the New Covenant system of life. The new system brings life by bestowing the perfect righteousness of Christ on us so that before God we appear righteous. Therefore, we are no longer separated from God. The Old Covenant system was a body of death. The New covenant system is a body of life. Paul makes an interesting statement in Romans:
Romans 8:10: But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.
Paul is saying our body is dead as a result of sin but our spirit is alive because of righteousness. Paul does not mean that we physically die the moment we sin. Paul is not talking about physical death or physical bodies here at all. If that were the case, no one would be physically alive. Paul is referring to the natural body of sin versus the spiritual body of righteousness. The natural body of sin must be transformed into a spiritual body of righteousness. We know from scripture that it is not our righteousness but the righteousness of Christ applied to us that makes our spirit alive. If this didn’t happen, our spirit would remain dead as well. Whether such spiritual death constitutes a spiritual separation from God in some other dimension or an actual death of the spirit is for another discussion. We will discuss the natural versus the spiritual in more detail in the section on 1 Corinthians 15.
Resurrection was a spiritual event that occurred at the return of Christ in A.D. 70. Those saints who had physically died to that point were given spiritual life. Those living at the time of this event were spiritually changed to have immortality now dwelling within them which made them part of the spiritual Kingdom. Under the New Covenant system, we resurrect from spiritual death unto spiritual life. We therefore already have eternal spiritual life dwelling within us. At the time of our physical death, our spiritual body enters into the full presence of God. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul says this:
Colossians 2:9-14: For in Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in a bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In Him you were circumcised in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross.
Paul shows that we were dead in our sins but made alive through Christ as a result of His resurrection from the dead. The implication is that we are alive now with Christ through resurrection. That is why we go through the ritual of baptism to demonstrate the movement from death unto life. Even though we remain in a physical state until our physical death, we already have spirit life dwelling within us. Christ appeared physically after his death to prove to the world that he truly was alive and had through His death paid the price of our sin. His resurrection was not to show that humans will be resurrected in the same manner, but to show that passing from death unto life was possible. Resurrection is all about our spiritual status before God.
Ephesians 2:4-5: But because of His great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.
This is obviously referring to spiritual death and spiritual life. To be united with Christ in His death and resurrection doesn’t mean that we die like Christ died or are resurrected like Christ was resurrected. In baptism we don’t physically die and become resurrected from such death. Instead baptism is symbolic of passing from spiritual death unto spiritual life through spiritual resurrection. It’s akin to being born again as covered above in the section on the Kingdom.
John 5:24: Christ said: ‘I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes Him that sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.’
John 8:51: I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.
John 10:27-28: My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.
John 11:26: And whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?
Christ says that believers will never die. Obviously all those that Christ addressed, died physically. It’s apparent that when Christ speaks of death in these passages, He is speaking of spiritual death versus spiritual life. Here again Christ is showing that we can, in the here and now, have eternal life dwelling in us. This is tantamount to passing from death unto life. This is what resurrection is all about.
In Hebrews 1:1 it’s recorded that God had spoken through Christ in “these last days.” Hebrews 9:26 shows that Christ appeared at the end of the age to take away sin. What last days and end of the age are we looking at? I addressed the issue of the last days earlier and showed how the last days were those days that the first-century Church was living in. Christ appearing at the end of the age to take away sin is self-explanatory. We all understand that Christ came in the first century to take away sin. So the end of the age occurred in the first century. Since the taking away of sin involves the removal of the ministration of death under the Old Covenant, it should be apparent that the end of the age referred to involves the end of the Old Covenant age.
Since the end of the age is associated with the passing of the Old Covenant age, then that Old Covenant age extended past the death of Christ, into the apostolic period, and would include the preaching of the gospel to the nations. Christ said in Matthew 24 that the end of the age would come after the gospel was preached to all the world. This shows that the end of the Old Covenant age did not come with Christ’s passion or on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given. The end of the age came after the gospel was preached to the world. Yet the fulfillment of this preaching of the gospel to the world was not something to occur thousands of years into the future, but in their generation (Matthew 24:14, 34).
Paul provides further insight as to how death is associated with the Old Covenant system. He then shows how through Christ, death is eliminated.
1 Corinthians 15:55-57: Where, O death, is your victory? Where O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
This teaching, within the resurrection context of 1 Corinthians 15, shows that sin is what leads to death, and that the law gives sin the power to produce death. Paul then shows that the ministration of death resulting from sin generated through the Old Covenant system is done away in Christ. Therefore, through spiritual resurrection we enter the Kingdom and the realm of eternal life. Therefore, passing from death unto life is really the passing from the Old Covenant system to the New Covenant system or the raising up from spiritual death unto spiritual life. In other words, the resurrection.
Paul, in 2 Timothy 1:10, stated that Christ had destroyed death and had brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. It’s obvious that Christ did not destroy physical death since Christians continue to die physically. It is spiritual death that Christ destroyed. When Paul says in Phil. 3:10 that he wants to experience the power of the resurrection and become like Christ in His death so somehow he could attain to the resurrection of the dead, he is really speaking about escaping spiritual death by having the death of Christ applied to his sins. In Philippians 3:12, Paul speaks of this resurrection not being fully accomplished yet. This is true. The Christians prior to A.D. 70 were in the process of having the Old Covenant death system removed and fully replaced by the New Covenant life system. This wasn’t totally accomplished until the temple and Jerusalem were destroyed in A.D. 70. With the spiritual arrival of Christ in A.D. 70, the old “heavens and earth,” were totally removed and the new spiritual heavens and earth were fully established and along with it the spiritual resurrection to life. That spiritual resurrection to life continues to be available to us today and takes place when we repent and express faith in the sacrifice of Christ.
Paul speaks here about somehow attaining to the resurrection of the dead (Philippians 3:10). Yet in verse 16, he says, “Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” Paul has not changed the subject here. He is still talking about the resurrection and he is saying that it already has been attained in part. This clearly shows the spiritual nature of the resurrection and its being the process of passing from death unto life. This process was accomplished and consummated at the return of Christ in A.D. 70. Resurrection continues to be available to this present day. Let’s read what Paul said to the Colossians.
Colossians 3:1-4: Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Here again we see the resurrection in process for the early Christians. They are already experiencing being resurrected to a new life in Christ. This new life would be consummated at the return of Christ in their lifetime. It would be then that Christ brings salvation with Him and consummates the covenantal change that was in process of taking place. The resurrection was a process that began with the death and resurrection of Christ and continued through the forty-year period that culminated in the consummation of A.D. 70. It was in this consummation that salvation was fully established for all future generations. The Old Covenant system of death was finally and fully replaced with the New Covenant system of life.
Christ spoke over and over again about raising up those at the last day who were committed to Him. Most Christians believe this to be an event still future to us. What is the last day that Christ is referring to? Is this some kind of last day at the end of time, or is this a last day at the time of the end? There is a big difference between speaking about the end of time and the time of the end. The scriptures nowhere address the end of time. The scriptures say a lot about the time of the end. What time and what end are being addressed?
John 6:39-40: And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that He has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day.
John 6:54: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
John 12:48: There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.
The same apostle John that recorded the words of Christ relative to the last day speaks of living during the time of the “last hour.” Is the last hour discussed in John’s letter the same as the last day that Christ was speaking about? Remember that this is the same John who wrote the Revelation wherein he shows an imminent return of Christ as covered earlier in this book.
1 John 2:18: Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many Antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.
John taught that the last hour was upon them. Is John’s last hour synonymous with Christ’s last day? In Luke 21:22, within the overall context of Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, Christ says, “For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.” Christ goes on to tell how dreadful things will be and what great distress there will be upon the land and wrath upon the people. In verse 28 Christ says, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” What redemption is He talking about and how does it relate to the resurrection and the last time?
In Galatians 3:13, Paul said, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law.” The curse of the law was death. Redemption is therefore related to passing from death unto life, which is what resurrection is all about. Paul speaks of their redemption as yet future and something they are hoping for when all things reach their fulfillment.
Romans 8:22-25: We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Greek singular, “body”). For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Ephesians 1:3-10: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment-to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
Ephesians 4:30: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Paul instructs that redemption is something viewed as a thing to be put into effect when all things have reached their fulfillment. Christ said the time of fulfillment of all things was when Jerusalem would be destroyed. Paul speaks about the redemption of our body. Paul is speaking about our natural body of sin being redeemed when Christ would bring salvation with Him at His coming. Redemption has been available ever since.