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DAY 25: Anticipating the Return

In the Gospels, Jesus prophesied the coming of “the Son of Man,” who will come on the clouds and whose angels will separate the good from the bad (e.g., Mark 13; Matthew 24). Paul accepted this view, but he believed, probably along with other followers of Jesus, that the enigmatic figure, the Son of Man, was Jesus himself: Jesus, who had been raised to heaven, would return. This view appears in 1 Thessalonians 4, which proclaims that when the Lord (Jesus) returns, the dead in Christ will be raised, and they, with the surviving members of the body of Christ, will greet the Lord in the air.

In the Endtime vision of 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul indicates that he thinks that some people will die before the Lord returns but that many (“we who are alive, who are left”) will not have died. In this passage he does not specify what will be raised, but the implication is corpses. As noted above, this belief was difficult for Paul’s pagan converts to accept, and Paul attempted to overcome their reluctance by emphasizing that the resurrection body would be changed into a “spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42–54). A second problem was the delay: Christ did not immediately return, and the idea that believers would have to remain in the ground until he came was troubling. Paul responded to this by stating that the transformation to a Christ-like spiritual body was already beginning (2 Corinthians 3:18). He also, however, seems sometimes to have accepted the Greek view that the soul would be detached from the body at death and go immediately to be with the Lord; at death believers will be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). He restated this view when imprisonment forced him to think that he himself might die before the Lord returned (Philippians 1:21–24). Eventually Christianity would systemize these passages: the soul escapes at death and joins the Lord; when the Lord returns, bodies will be raised and reunited with souls.

Paul, influenced by Jesus’ teachings, eagerly awaits the return of the Son of Man, whom he identifies as Jesus himself. Despite uncertainties about the timing and nature of this event, Paul encourages believers to anticipate Christ’s return with hope and readiness.

Key Verses:
“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

Questions to ponder:

  • Paul emphasizes the resurrection of the dead and the transformation of believers into spiritual bodies. How does this perspective on the afterlife influence your hope and assurance as a Christian?
  • Reflect on the tension between the immediacy of Christ’s return and the delay experienced by believers. How does Paul’s encouragement to remain vigilant and prepared resonate with you in your own spiritual journey?
  • Consider how Paul’s anticipation of Christ’s return impacts your perspective on life and eternity. How can you live in light of this hope while remaining faithful and obedient to God in the present moment?
Adapted from Britannica: The Biography of St. Paul the Apostle
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