The return of Jesus constitutes the “Day of the Lord” when the dead are raised, judgment occurs and death ceases.
The coming of Jesus is not a major topic in Paul’s letters to the church in the city of Corinth, but in the process of addressing several problems, he touches on key aspects of his return. This includes its identity with the “day of the Lord,” the consummation of God’s kingdom, the resurrection and examination of believers, and the cessation of death.
DAY OF JESUS CHRIST. Paul begins by thanking God for His grace to the Corinthians, having enriched them in discourse, knowledge, and spiritual gifts. He puts the proper perspective on the gifts by referring to the expectation of Christ’s return in glory.
- (1 Corinthians 1:4-9) – “I give thanks unto my God at all times concerning you… That you come short in no gift of grace, ardently awaiting the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who will also confirm you unto the end, unimpeachable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is God through whom you have been called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Rather than overvalue spiritual gifts, believers must remember that they still await the much fuller and final glories to be dispensed at the “revelation” of Jesus. “Revelation” translates the Greek noun apokalupsis, meaning, “revelation, disclosure, unveiling” – (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10, Luke 17:30, 1 Peter 1:13, 1 Peter 4:13).
“Unimpeachable” translates a legal term that refers to someone against whom legal charges can no longer be leveled (anegklétos, Strong’s – #G410). On that day, no one will bring charges against Christians in God’s court because He has “confirmed” them.
In Paul’s writings, the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ” is synonymous with the “day of the Lord” from the Hebrew Bible, the day when Yahweh delivers his children, judges His enemies, and brings the existing age to its conclusion. By adding “Jesus Christ” to the phrase, Paul centers that ancient hope on him – (Amos 5:18-20, Joel 2:31, Philippians 1:6, 2:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 2 Peter 3:10).
UNTIL THE LORD COMES. In his letter, Paul dealt with inappropriate attitudes in the Corinthian church. Some members began to reject his teachings and apostolic authority. He responded by employing the image of household servants or stewards. As a faithful “steward,” he was entrusted with the “mysteries” of God.
- (1 Corinthians 4:3-5) – “With me, however, it counts for the very smallest thing that by you I should be examined, or by a human day. Nay! I am not even examining myself, for of nothing to myself am I conscious. Nevertheless, not hereby am I declared righteous, but he that does examine me is the Lord. So then, not before the fitting time be judging anything until the Lord shall come, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then the praise shall come to each one from God.”
Paul was a servant of Christ and, therefore, belonged to the Corinthians. But he was accountable only to the Master of the household, therefore, their evaluation was of little consequence. Only that of Jesus mattered, which would become evident when he arrived. Christians ought not to judge anyone before the proper time “when the Lord comes.”
A few verses earlier, Paul spoke of the coming day of evaluation when each Christian’s work would be examined to see whether it was built on the proper foundation. Again, that would occur when Jesus came on the “day of the Lord” – (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).
DAY OF THE LORD. Paul dealt with a shameful incident that brought the church into disrepute with the larger pagan community. A member of the church was having sexual relations with his stepmother. While fornication was common enough in that society, to have sexual relations with one’s stepmother was beyond the pale even for pagans. Rather than boast of their spirituality, he exhorted the Corinthians to “mourn” that such an egregious sinner was in their midst.
- (1 Corinthians 5:4-5) – “In the name of our Lord Jesus, you being gathered together, and my spirit with the power of our Lord Jesus, to deliver such a one as this to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”
He exhorted the church to expel this man so that his “spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” The “destruction of the flesh” would become part of his remedial process. By this, he meant the destruction of what is carnal in the man as he was buffeted by the satanic forces operating outside the believing community. The result hoped for would be his repentance and, therefore, his salvation on the “day of the Lord.” Once again, Paul associated the “day of the Lord” with judgment, including that of believers. Final salvation will only be realized on the “day of the Lord,” an idea found elsewhere in the New Testament.
“UNTIL HE COMES.” Paul next mentioned the “coming” of Jesus in his discussion on proper behavior during the Lord’s Supper, especially in consideration of his impending arrival in glory.
- (1 Corinthians 11:24-26) – “And giving thanks broke it and said: This is my body, which is for you. This do in remembrance of me. In the same manner, the cup also, after they had taken supper, saying: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, this do as often as you may be drinking it in remembrance of me. For as often as you may be eating this loaf, and the cup may be drinking, the death of the Lord do you announce until he comes.”
In his explanation, Paul combined the commemoration of Christ’s death with the promise of his return. By eating the bread and drinking the wine, the church proclaimed his death “until he comes,” linking the two events, both of which were essential to the Apostle’s gospel.
AT HIS COMING. In the letter, Paul responds to those who deny there is a future resurrection, arguing for the future resurrection from the past resurrection of Jesus. If there was no future resurrection, then “not even Christ has been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, void is our proclamation, void also our faith.”
- (1 Corinthians 15:22-28) “For just as in the Adam all die, so also, in the Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own rank. Christ, a first-fruit, after that they who are Christ’s at his arrival. Afterward, the end, whensoever he delivers up the kingdom to his God and Father, whensoever he brings to nothing all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign until he puts all his enemies under his feet. And the last enemy, death, is to be destroyed, for he put all things in subjection under his feet. But whensoever it shall be said, all things are in subjection, it is evident that it means except him who did put into subjection to him things. But whensoever have been put into subjection to him all things, then the Son himself also shall be put in subjection to him who put in subjection to him all things, that God may be all things in all.”
Thus, Paul lays out the general order of events on the day Jesus “arrives” from heaven. He was the “first-fruit of those who have fallen asleep” – Christ was the first participant in the larger resurrection process. His past resurrection is inextricably linked to the future resurrection of believers.
Since death came into existence through a man, Adam, so “through a man,” Christ will come the raising of the dead. Just as “in Adam all die,” so in Christ all will be made alive. His followers are waiting to be raised at his arrival on the “day of Christ” – (1 Thessalonians 1: 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2:8).
Paul provides the clear key for when the resurrection will occur. First, he correlates it with the “arrival” or parousia of Jesus; and second, by specifying that day will mean nothing less than “the end” and the cessation of death. All this occurs after Jesus “delivers up the kingdom to his God and Father, whenever he brings to nothing all rule and all authority and power,” including the “last enemy” – Death. His purpose is not to describe the coming of Jesus in all details, but instead, to substantiate his argument for the future resurrection.
BOASTING ON THAT DAY. Paul referred to the “day of our Lord Jesus” in his first letter to the Corinthians, the day on which all believers will appear before the judgment seat of Christ – (1 Corinthians 5:4-5).
- (2 Corinthians 1:13-14) – “For no other things are we writing to you than what you are reading or even acknowledging. I hope, moreover, that throughout you will acknowledge, according as you have also acknowledged us in part, that your theme of boasting are we, even as you also will be ours in the day of our Lord Jesus.”
On that day, Paul expects the faith of the Corinthians will become his “boast,” and vice versa, the mutual evidence of the faithfulness of both Paul and the Corinthians, and the grounds for their vindication before Christ’s tribunal. Paul expressed a similar sentiment to the church at Thessalonica – (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20).
In his Corinthian correspondence, Paul referred frequently to the “day of the Lord Jesus” where the Old Testament spoke of the “day of Yahweh,” the time of deliverance for the people of God, and the day of condemnation for His enemies – (1 Corinthians 1:8, 5:5, Philippians 1:6, 1:10, 2:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:1).
Summary. While the coming of Jesus was not a major topic in either letter to the Corinthians, Paul affirmed key aspects of that day. First, he expected only one future coming of Jesus. Second, his “arrival” would occur on the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the “day of the Lord.” Third, that day would include the examination and judgment of the righteous. Fourth, he would “arrive” after he subjugated all God’s enemies. And fifth, his coming will include the bodily resurrection of the dead and the cessation of death itself.