If in this Life Only
By Jonathan C. Brentner
No one would ever accuse the Apostle Paul of neglecting the Great Commission; I cannot think of anyone else who worked harder to take the Gospel to a lost world. Would he agree with those today who say that the preaching of the cross excludes teaching about prophecy and the signs of the last days?
Would Paul go along with the modern sentiment in the church that excludes any mention of future things from the Great Commission? Would he emphasize the benefits of the Gospel for this life while ignoring eternity and world events that point to the fast approaching tribulation?
I believe the answer is no. If the apostle were alive today, I believe he would not be able to contain his excitement as he saw the nearness of the coming of the Lord in the world events of our day.
We this enthusiasm bubbling through the epistles he penned.
1. Paul believed our future resurrection was a key aspect of our future hope: Notice what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” In other words, if our hope as believers does not extend beyond the grave then our faith is worthless.
Does this sound like someone who ignored the topics of Jesus’ return and heaven in his proclamation of the Gospel? It sounds like someone who accented these things in all his preaching.
In Romans 8:23-24 we see this identical emphasis from the apostle, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” Notice the last statement; Paul says “we were saved” with a forward look to the time the Lord would redeem our bodies, which happens at the time Jesus appears to take us home (see 1 Cor. 15:50-55).
Paul believed that our anticipation of a bodily resurrection was the ultimate assurance of the Gospel.
2. Paul taught his new converts to watch for Jesus’ appearing: Notice the wording of 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, “For they themselves [believers in the surrounding area] report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
When the Thessalonian believers responded in faith to the preaching of Paul they did two things: First, they put aside their idols and worshiped the true and living God and second, they began watching for Jesus return from heaven. How would have known to immediately start waiting for Jesus if this had not been a part of Paul’s initial proclamation of the Gospel? They heard about Jesus’ return for his church from the very beginning of the apostle’s time in their city.
3. Paul gave his new converts in-depth training in prophecy: We know from the book of Acts that the Jews in Thessalonica ended Paul’s stay in the city much earlier than he would have liked (Acts 17:1-10). While it’s quite likely his stay last more than the three weeks mentioned in Acts, the Jews forcibly cut short his time in city.
However, despite his early departure the books he wrote to the Thessalonians reveal that he gave them much instruction in future things. After writing about the rapture of the church Paul said this, “Now concerning the times and seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you” (1 Thess. 5:1). In others words, the apostle had already instructed them in these things and did not need to go into more detail about the season of the Lord’s return.
The Thessalonians also knew all about the Old Testament prophetic concept of the day of the Lord, “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2). The phrase “fully aware” depicts some detailed teaching on the matter, does it not?
Furthermore, the Thessalonian saints knew enough about end time events to become panic-stricken when false teachers told them that the “day of the Lord” had already started (2 Thess. 2:1-2). Remember that this is forty years before John wrote the book of Revelation so what they knew about the tribulation came from Paul’s teaching on this matter from books such as Isaiah, Zephaniah, and Joel. How else would they have known so much about it so as to be struck by fear at the thought that the day of the Lord, or the tribulation, had already started?
By the time of Paul’s forced departure from Thessalonica, his new converts there knew more about eschatology than most believers today.
4. Paul assumed his converts were waiting for Jesus’ appearing: In Philippians 3:20-21 Paul wrote this, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject all things to himself.” The word the apostle used for “await” in the verse denotes an “intense anticipation” or an “excited expectation” of a future event.[i] The term implies a heart-felt longing for what is expected
What we see from this passage as well in other places, is that the apostle assumed his readers were waiting and watching for Jesus’ appearing or what we refer to today as the rapture (Titus 2:11-13; 1 Cor. 1:7; 1 Thess. 1:8-10). He did not command them to do so, but assumed his converts were waiting for Jesus’ appearing.
I believe that for Paul, obedience to the Great Commission meant proclaiming all aspects of the Gospel, including our glorious hope of a new physical body, the Lord’s return, our eternal life on the New Earth and New Jerusalem.
Please understand that I take Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18-20 quite seriously. My point is not to discredit anyone who takes part in this effort as I have done for much of my life. As we see the time of Jesus’ return rapidly approaching, I am increasingly burdened for those who do not yet know Him as their Savior.
However, in the process of making new disciples I believe we must include our hope of Jesus’ imminent return and teach them to obey Jesus’ command to watch for His return (Matt. 24:44; 25:13). A sound biblical assurance of salvation should look beyond this uncertain world to what Jesus promises us in the life to come. This is the exciting future tense of the Gospel that Paul proclaimed.
Is this not our hope as we get out of bed in the morning to confront the challenges of our day? I can’t imagine doing this apart from the certainty of Jesus’ return and a joyous eternity that I know will far exceed my expectations.
Why limit our hope to this life when we have the wonders of a new earth restored to the way God originally intended it and a glorious city, the New Jerusalem, in our future?