Summary: What does it mean to live as though the end is near?
There is a knock at your door. You open it; two strangers inform you they have a message to pass on to you. The event has occurred. Reality as people have known it has changed, and the events that lead to an inevitable destiny have now been set in motion. The question for you is, How now will you live? Will you live as everyone else who do not have the same knowledge, or at least do not believe it? Or will your life be marked different? That is the issue Paul presents to the Corinth saints.
To understand this passage, and to get a better grasp on the whole letter, it is time to consider Paul’s perspective on a subject called eschatology. That is a theological word for “end time.” The popular Left Behind series is about eschatology. The sermon series I preached for Mark 13 was about eschatology, the end time when Christ returns.
Some of you might recoil at the subject. Are we going to go have to listen to another series of theology about the end time? I sympathize. I preached the sermons, and I have trouble sorting through the “isms” presented – premillennialism, postmillennialism, amillennialism, preterism, pretrib- vs. postribulation premillennialism. It can lead to “headache-ism” trying to sort it all out!
You will be glad to know, then, that I will not repeat the series. Our concern is how eschatology influenced Paul and the early church in the way they lived. For what eschatology is really about is how one should perceive the times in which we live right now. The premise of eschatology is not merely that history will come to an end at some time, but that the course of history has changed. Reality itself has been transformed. And how well we understand this change will affect the way we live.
How has history changed? It changed with the entry of God the Son into the world through his incarnation. Up to this time, man’s body was little more than a sign of his fall from favor with God. He had been created in God’s image with the intention of living forever, reflecting God’s glory. Instead, he sinned, marring God’s image and ushering in death. History in one sense has then been the story of how man continues to re-enact Adam’s and Eve’s fall, which ends in death.
But when God the Son took on our flesh, he re-enacted not the fall, but the restoration of the body to reflect God’s glory and entry into everlasting life. He did this, first, by leading a sinless life in complete obedience to God the Father. Then came the crucial act of taking the sins of man upon himself on the cross and making atonement. Next came the resurrection which proved his work on the cross was accepted by God, and that he had won the victory over sin and death. Now, instead of every person born re-enacting the results of man’s fall, now there continues to be a growing number of persons reborn and re-enacting Christ’s restoration of man to the image of God.
Paul writes about this in two places. One is in Romans 5:12-21. Let me read part of what he says:
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ (12, 15-17).
Adam’s sin opened the floodgate for sin and death to come into the world. Christ’s obedience brought justification and righteousness.
In our letter to the Corinthians, Paul will again present the contrast between Adam and Christ, this time emphasizing the effect on our bodies.
[A]s by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ…. “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven (15:21-23; 45-49).