Saturday, January 17, 2015
Eternal or Eonian? Part Seven (Then Comes the End; God All in All)
"Then Comes the End"
The apostle Paul makes it clear that, contrary to popular Christian belief, Christ's reign is not going to be "eternal" or "everlasting" in duration. In 1 Cor. 15:23-28, we read:
"For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For 'God has put all things in subjection under his feet.' But when it says, 'all things are put in subjection,' it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all."
Christ's reign over the earth - when "all peoples, nations and languages" shall serve him - will begin when he comes with the clouds of heaven (Dan. 7:13-14; Rev. 1:7). And according to Paul in the above passage, his reign will continue "UNTIL he has put all his enemies under his feet." The word "until" is key, and indicates that the placing of Christ's enemies under his feet is the goal of his reign. When this goal is reached, there will no longer be any need for Christ to continue reigning. We are then told by Paul that the last enemy to be destroyed is death. Thus, the "end" (or "consummation") referred to in v. 24 comes after death, the last enemy, is finally abolished (through the vivification of every last member of Adam's dead and dying race). After the destruction of death, Christ then "delivers the kingdom to God the Father."
"But," it may be objected, "Daniel 7:14 says that Christ's dominion "shall not pass away!" Yes, but notice the next words, "...and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed." This is likely an example of Hebrew parallelism, where (for the sake of emphasis) the same idea is stated in two different ways. Thus, for the Messiah's dominion to "pass away" would imply the forceful removal of it, and the destruction of his kingdom. Moreover, in the context, the expression "shall not pass away" is clearly meant to be understood as contrastive with what is said concerning the dominion of the "beasts" mentioned just two verses earlier. In Daniel 7:12 we read, "As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time." The Hebrew word translated "taken away" here (‛ădâ',‛ădâh) is the same word translated "pass away" in v. 14. In v. 12 the word clearly denotes a forced and involuntary removal of the beast's dominion. This is made even more evident in v. 26, where we read that the dominion of the Antichrist (the "little horn" of Dan. 7:8 and 11) shall also be "taken away" (‛ădâ', ‛ădâh), which is explained to mean that it would be "consumed and destroyed to the end." Thus, in the context, the meaning of Dan. 7:14 is simply that the dominion of the Messiah would not be forcefully and involuntarily taken away from him (implying the destruction of his kingdom). This does not, however, mean that Christ (after having accomplished what he was sent by the Father to do) will not one day voluntarily deliver his kingdom to the One from whom he received it.
Gabriel vs. Paul?
Some see the words of the celestial messenger Gabriel in Luke 1:32-33 as undermining the idea that the eons of Christ's reign will eventually end. In these verses we read that Gabriel told Mary, "And the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for the eons [eis tous aionas]. And of his kingdom there shall be no end." The words, "and of his kingdom there shall be no end," are understood by most Christians to mean that Christ will never stop reigning. However, were this the correct meaning of Gabriel's words, they would be in direct conflict with the words of the apostle Paul.
Since it is evident from what Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:24-28 that Christ's reign will end when he abolishes death, how do we harmonize this with what Gabriel told Mary? As noted earlier, the word aionas (in the expression eis tous aionas) is simply the plural form of the Greek noun aión. The expression literally means "for the eons." Since we can understand Gabriel to be referring to the final eons prior to the "end" or "consummation" referred to in the above passage, this part is not problematic. But what about the words, "and of his kingdom there shall be no end?" To understand this, we must keep in mind that, according to Paul, Christ is ultimately going to "deliver the kingdom to God, the Father." This will take place after Christ has abolished death and subjected all to himself. Moreover, the kingdom that Christ is going to deliver to the Father is the same kingdom which he is prophesied as receiving from God (the "Ancient of Days") in Daniel 7:13-14. It is this kingdom which will be his [Christ's] for the eons to come, thus making it the "eonian kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 1:11), since it belongs to Christ during the coming eons of his reign. But when the kingdom is returned to God at the end of Christ's reign (and at the consummation of the eons during which Christ reigns), the kingdom is not going to end. It will simply cease to be the "eonian kingdom" of Christ (for the eons of Christ's reign will have ended), becoming the everlasting kingdom of the Father.
Thus, as first revealed in Gabriel's words to Mary, the kingdom that is going to belong to Christ for the final eons of redemptive history shall have no consummation or end. It's simply going to be returned to its Source (God, the Father), and continue for all time.
Eonian Life and Immortality
Some see Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 and 5:1 as undermining the idea that he employed aiónios in reference to temporary periods of time. There, Paul writes,
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eonian (aiónios) weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient (proskairos), but the things that are unseen are eonian (aiónios). For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eonian (aiónios) in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked."
Here Paul is contrasting the present, mortal body of the believer (and the hardships to which it is necessarily subjected) with the future, immortal body with which believers will be "clothed" when that which is mortal is "swallowed up by life" (see 1 Cor. 15:21-28, 50-54). Our "outer nature" (which is "wasting away") refers to our present, mortal bodies. Our "inner nature," on the other hand (which, for the believer, is being "renewed day by day"), likely refers to our mind (cf. Romans 12:2).
Now, in this passage, Paul is using proskairos and aiónios in contrast with each other. But notice that he is not contrasting time (which would be the word "chronos" in Greek) with timelessness. Instead, Paul is contrasting two different measures of temporal duration (i.e., two different measures of time). In Matthew 13:21, Christ employs proskairos to denote a relatively short measure of time. It is used in reference to those who hear the gospel and endure in their faith for only "a short while" in contrast to those who, after hearing the word, keep it and go on to produce fruit. Christ is not contrasting a temporary period of time with an endless measure of time; rather, Christ is contrasting a relatively short measure of time which does not result in the production of "fruit" with a relatively longer period of time that does (similarly, in Hebrews 11:25, proskairos is translated "a short season" or "fleeting" in some translations, and denotes the relatively short-lived enjoyment that sin brings). But the opposite of proskairos isn't endless duration, for proskairos doesn't mean finite duration. Its meaning is clearly relative to whatever is in view. Again, when Christ uses the word in Matt 13:21, he isn't contrasting a person who endures in his faith for a finite period of time with a person who endures in his faith for an infinite period of time; he's contrasting a relatively short period of time with a relatively longer period of time (i.e., relative to a person's mortal lifespan).
In the context of 2 Corinthians 4-5, proskairos conveys a relatively short measure of time (i.e., duration confined to a mortal lifetime, during which time one can see and experience one's mortal self "wasting away"). Aiónios, on the other hand - while not meaning endless duration - denotes a much longer duration of time (i.e., the duration of the eons to come, the full length of which is not explicitly revealed in Scripture). So when Paul says that "the things that are seen" are proskairos (i.e., fleeting, or pertaining to a relatively short measure of time) while "the things that are unseen" are aiónios (i.e., pertaining to, or enduring through, the eons to come) he places our present, mortal bodies in the former category of things, and our future, immortal bodies in the latter category of things.
But why does Paul refer to our immortal bodies as "eonian, in the heavens," since this word does not denote endless duration? It's because he has in view the blessing that will be enjoyed exclusively by believers, prior to the time that Paul calls "the consummation" (i.e., when death is abolished by Christ and all are vivified or "made alive" in him). Paul has in view only those who are members of the body of Christ, and the heavenly allotment they alone will enjoy during these coming eons. This blessing for believers (in which they will enjoy immortality in heaven during the final two eons) is eonian in duration, not "eternal." When the last two eons (the eons of Christ's reign) come to an end, the believer will not lose his immortality. He will continue to live. But his life will, at this time, no longer pertain to (or be enduring through) the eons of Christ's reign. The special, eonian salvation he enjoyed as a result of being in the body of Christ will have come to an end. For at this time, God's "purpose of the eons" will have reached its goal: all people will have been made immortal and saved, and God will be "all in all."