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Apocalyptic Views of Apostle Paul
The major difference between the Apostle Paul and the other apostles is that Paul had not known Jesus while he was on earth as the Son of God. Paul's conversion occurred only after the Ascension. This fact plays a prominent role in his teachings about Jesus and about the apocalypse. Below is a discussion of this aspect of Paul's Christianity together with specific aspects of the apocalypse that Paul deals with in his writings. The three ages of the apocalypse as seen by Paul are discussed in the following order.
First, the end of the world as depicted by Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians (Chapter 15:20-28) is considered. This is a celebration of God, who will come and reign over everything and everyone. Secondly, and closely related to this is Paul's view of the resurrection (1Cor15:20-28), during which the earth and human beings are made new to conform to the spiritual realm. Thirdly Paul's description of the restoration of the world in Romans 8:18-25 is considered. Here the premise is the hope that every Christian lives in that the suffering experienced in the world will end in glory. Finally, the way in which Paul deals with the coming of Christ in his first epistle to the Thessalonians (Chapter 4:13-18) is considered. Here Paul continues the theme of hope in terms of being reunited with those who have passed away.
It is thus clear that the Christ revealed to Paul differs from the Christ revealed to the rest of the apostles (Sheler, 1999). Christ in his physical form was the revelation of the perfect human being. Christ that was revealed on Paul's road to Damascus was already in his glorious spiritual form. It thus makes sense that Paul's focus would be Christ's glory rather than his earthly career. A further element in Paul's depiction of the glorious Christ and the future hope of all Christians is his passionate belief that the Second Coming was very near (Sheler, 1999). His aim was thus to convert as many people as possible in as little time as possible in anticipation of this event. Rather than remembering the past then, Paul's focus is on the future and the hope derived from this (Horsley, 1997, p. 128)
In the following discussion of these matters, quotations from the above Bible passages are followed by an interpretations of each.
The End of the World (1 Cor. 15)
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." (New King James Version, 1983, p. 727)
The end of the world for Paul contains an element of both destruction and new life. All authority as it is known to mankind will be subjected to God, whose reign will continue until death itself is destroyed. This is the fulfillment of Christ's work on the cross. From the destruction of the body is born eternal and incorruptible life. Death, the punishment of sins, is now eradicated in the holy light of the resurrection.
The Resurrection (1Cor 15 continued)
42... The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body...45. And so it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being" The last Adam became a life-giving spirit
54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is writing: "Death is swallowed up in victory." 56. The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (New King James Version, 1983, p. 727)
In the above passage Paul continues his theme of the earthly as opposed to the heavenly. The focus is the future, when everything will be incorruptible and spiritual. Paul also focuses on the Old Testament, where God's plan for humanity begins with the creation of Adam. The perfection of the plan is in the "last Adam," who is responsible for spiritual, rather than physical creation. Furthermore the death that entered the world as a result of Adam's sin, leaves the world through the doorway of Christ's perfection.
This is what LaRondelle (2003) refers to as "the fullness of salvation." It is not only the end of sin, but also the creation and the restoration of the human being in the image of God. This is the hope that Paul refers to, which should encourage believers to keep their faith and work towards salvation. Because the spiritual and perfect world is the ultimate reward of the Christian, the life of a believer should reflect this in the effort to become more spiritual on a continuous basis. Christians should know that their work towards self-restoration is not in vain, since this will make them suitable for the ultimate restoration at the apocalypse. According to LaRondelle (2003) it is faith through love that works in the power of the Holy Spirit in order to perfect corruptible human flesh.
The Restoration of the World (Romans 8)
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 subject 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. (New King James Version, 1983, p. 713)
Paul views life on earth as a period of trial for all creation. Here present suffering is juxtaposed with future relief. For Paul, the apparent futility of the world does not compare at all to the future waiting for the children of God. The coming of Christ means liberty from corruption. This theme is touched upon time and again throughout Paul's writings. The world is corruptible and sinful. Believers strive to be the opposite of corruption, and this is what causes their suffering in the present world.
Paul applies this suffering to the rest of creation as well. According to the Apostle, not only humanity, but the entire physical world will be restored to perfection with the coming of Christ. Believers should put their faith in this, and let the hope guide them in actions that are increasingly pure for the final purification (LaRondelle, 2003).
The Coming of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4)
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord…[continue]
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