For a long time, the Church has sifted through an array of eschatological theories, teaching doctrines such as the rapture or an apocalyptic end of the world. You may ask, how does eschatology relate to the resurrection? The answer: everything. The Early Church did not believe that Christians would fly away (be raptured) at the second coming of Christ, or that the earth would be engulfed in flames. Rather, those who had been prepared for Him, would manifest Christ on the earth in a resurrected body; this is the resurrection of Christ IN you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection goes beyond a historical account of the sacrifice our Savior made; it symbolizes the resurrection of His Body, the Church, at His second coming.
Concerning the resurrection of God’s people, the Apostle Paul writes to the Church of Corinth:
20 But now Christ is risen from the dead and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man [Adam] came death, by Man [Jesus] also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:20-26)
Christ became the firstfruit (beginning sacrifice) of those who have fallen asleep. In scripture to have fallen asleep is a metaphor pertaining to a spiritual death (1) and Paul highlights what death man has fallen into- the nature of Adam, this fleshly body and carnal nature. Further on in this letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes:
51Take notice! I tell you a mystery (a secret truth, an event decreed by the hidden purpose or counsel of God). We shall not all fall asleep [in death], but we shall all be changed (transformed). 52In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the [sound of the] last trumpet call. For a trumpet will sound, and the dead [in Christ] will be raised imperishable (free and immune from decay), and we shall be changed (transformed). (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 Amplified bible).
Here lies a mystery that most eschatological theologies do not announce- the resurrection of God’s people, from the physical body Adam was given when he fell (sinned), into an incorruptible body. This is the same glorified body Jesus was resurrected in, appearing to His disciples and over 500 others (ref. 1 Corinthians 15:5-8). If we study the account of creation closely (see Genesis 1-3), Adam fell from the glory (God’s realm) into the flesh- referred to as a tent by Paul and Peter (ref. 2 Corinthians 5:1, 4; 2 Peter 1:13,14), whereas he was originally created in a glorified body. Death, or this fleshly body (that cannot handle the fullness of the glory of God), is the last enemy that will be destroyed, according to Paul and the Earliest Christians. This was no farfetched concept for the Early Church- they had deep revelation of the Scriptures, understanding that this corruption (flesh) must put on incorruption (the glory) (1 Corinthians 15:53).
Some may argue that this glorified body is the one we receive when we get to heaven, however we read above Paul stating the end comes after the resurrection; after the transformation from corruption (mortality) to incorruption (immortality). Furthermore, Paul writes to the Romans,
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:18-23)
Paul articulates that God’s glory is not far off, unobtainable for man, rather it will be revealed in a people- the sons (plural) of God. The prophet Obadiah writes that there will be multiple saviors, those who are raised up to redeem the Lord’s Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). From the prophet: Then saviors shall come to Mount Zion to judge the mountains of Esau, And the kingdom shall be the LORD’s. (Obadiah 1:21). Paul echoes this thought in the New Testament, stating that Jesus, the Son of God, was the firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29). Therefore, after Jesus there will come more sons of God, those who have been raised from [spiritual] death, into His glorious life, bringing redemption to what was lost at the fall of Adam.
Justin Martyr, a second century apologist and significant influencer of the Early Church, wrote the following regarding the resurrection of Christ’s Body- the Church.
If He had no need of the flesh, why did He heal it? And what is most forcible of all, He raised the dead. Why? Was it not to show what the resurrection should be? How then did He raise the dead? Their souls or their bodies? Manifestly both. If the resurrection were only spiritual, it was requisite that He, in raising the dead, should show the body lying apart by itself, and the soul living apart by itself. But now He did not do so, but raised the body, confirming in it the promise of life. Why did He rise in the flesh in which He suffered, unless to show the resurrection of the flesh? And wishing to confirm this, when His disciples did not know whether to believe He had truly risen in the body, and were looking upon Him and doubting, He said to them, “Ye have not yet faith, see that it is I;” (Comp. Luk_24:32, etc.) and He let them handle Him, and showed them the prints of the nails in His hands. And when they were by every kind of proof persuaded that it was Himself, and in the body, they asked Him to eat with them, that they might thus still more accurately ascertain that He had in verity risen bodily; and He did eat honey-comb and fish. And when He had thus shown them that there is truly a resurrection of the flesh, wishing to show them this also, that it is not impossible for flesh to ascend into heaven (as He had said that our dwelling-place is in heaven), “He was taken up into heaven while they beheld,” as He was in the flesh. If, therefore, after all that has been said, any one demand demonstration of the resurrection, he is in no respect different from the Sadducees, since the resurrection of the flesh is the power of God, and, being above all reasoning, is established by faith, and seen in works. (2)
Justin explains that the physical resurrection of Christ’s body proves that the Body of Christ will rise too. Importantly, he articulates that there would be no need for the resurrection of the flesh (physically) if the resurrection were only spiritual. Those who do not believe in the resurrection of the mortal body, are considered the same as the Sadducees- a religious sect/leaders that Jesus rebuked on many occasions in the New Testament. It is only by the power of God (which is beyond man’s wisdom) and our faith (belief and action in His Word) that brings about the resurrection of the body.
Over 100 years after Justin Martyrs death, third century Church Father Methodius carried on the Apostolic teaching pertaining to the resurrection of the body. The following excerpt is from his discourse on the resurrection.
Since flesh was made to border on incorruption and corruption, being itself neither the one nor the other, and was overcome by corruption for the sake of pleasure, though it was the work and property of incorruption; therefore it became corruptible, and was laid in the dust of the earth. When, then, it was overcome by corruption, and delivered over to death through disobedience, God did not leave it to corruption, to be triumphed over as an inheritance; but, after conquering death by the resurrection, delivered it again to incorruption, in order that corruption might not receive the property of incorruption, but, incorruption that of corruption. Therefore the apostle answers thus, “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” (1Co 15:53) Now the corruptible and mortal putting on immortality, what else is it but that which is “sown in corruption and raised in incorruption,” (1Co 15:42) – for the soul is not corruptible or mortal; but this which is mortal and corrupting is of flesh, – in order that, “as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly?” (1Co 15:49) For the image of the earthy which we have borne is this, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Gen 3:19) But the image of the heavenly is the resurrection from the dead, and incorruption, in order that “as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Rom 6:4) (3)
Methodius explains that our fleshly body is the intermediate between corruption and incorruption, thus, it can sway toward either direction. Because the first man (Adam) gave in to the pleasure of corruption, disobeying God, he fell into this earthly realm. Although man fell, God made the way for us to receive our inheritance (the resurrected body). If disobedience caused the loss of incorruption, this must mean obedience to God (His Word) will result in the gain of incorruption. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15), so through our obedience to His Word (the commandments), we can regain incorruption. Furthermore, the Apostle Peter explains that there is a corruptible seed, and an incorruptible seed (1 Peter 1:23); the seed being the Word of God (Luke 8:11). Thus, what we are to clothe ourselves in (put on) is truth, the Word, and the righteousness (right understanding) of it. If the incorruptible seed is the truth of God’s Word, contemplate this: what is the corruptible seed? Something to chew on.
As aforementioned, the Apostle Paul states that all of creation is eagerly awaiting the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19). In another place, the “Great faith hall of fame” (Hebrews 11), Paul lists a multitude of men and women who fought for the faith. The likes of Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and Moses are named, the patriarchs of our faith; and Paul states, and all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. (Hebrews 11:39-40). All the saints who have gone before us, are still waiting for the resurrection of the sons of God, at the end of the age- the time we are in now. Second century Church Father, Irenaeus comments on this in the following excerpt:
Inasmuch, therefore, as the opinions of certain [orthodox persons] are derived from heretical discourses, they are both ignorant of God’s dispensations, and of the mystery of the resurrection of the just, and of the [earthly] kingdom which is the commencement of incorruption, by means of which kingdom those who shall be worthy are accustomed gradually to partake of the divine nature (capere Deum); and it is necessary to tell them respecting those things, that it behoves the righteous first to receive the promise of the inheritance which God promised to the fathers, and to reign in it, when they rise again to behold God in this creation which is renovated, and that the judgment should take place afterwards. For it is just that in that very creation in which they toiled or were afflicted, being proved in every way by suffering, they should receive the reward of their suffering; and that in the creation in which they were slain because of their love to God, in that they should be revived again; and that in the creation in which they endured servitude, in that they should reign. For God is rich in all things, and all things are His. It is fitting, therefore, that the creation itself, being restored to its primeval condition, should without restraint be under the dominion of the righteous; and the apostle has made this plain in the Epistle to the Romans, when he thus speaks: “For the expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature has been subjected to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope; since the creature itself shall also be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.” (Rom_8:19, etc.) (4)
In refuting the heretics of his day, Irenaeus articulates that the resurrection of the just (the sons of God) is a mystery (something to be revealed). He explains that creation will be restored back to its pre-fallen state, and in this Kingdom (on earth) those who have been made ready, will resurrect from the fleshly nature into the divine nature. The sons of God (brethren of Christ- the firstfruits), having overcome the flesh will reign on earth, just as Adam did before the fall.
The Scriptures and the Earliest Church, within the first 300 years after Christ’s first resurrection, do not depart from one another. The second coming is not about people flying away or this earth being burned to destruction; it is the resurrection of Christ, in His people. Now, all of creation awaits for the righteous to resurrect… shortly, we must put off our tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ has shown us (2 Peter 1:14).
1. Thayer’s Greek definitions: Asleep/Slept (G2837)
2. Justin Martyr, Fragments of the Lost Work of Justin on the Resurrection, Chap. IX
3. Methodius, From the Discourse on the Resurrection, Part I, Ch. XIII.
4. Irenaeus, Against heresies, Book V, Chap. XXXII.
All scripture references from The Holy Bible: New King James Version: NKJV. Thomas Nelson, 2010, unless stated otherwise.