Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A Ransom For All: Why Every Human Being Will Be Saved (Part Three)


In part two of this study, I argued that the salvation of all humanity is a truth clearly revealed by what Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:3-6. As Mr. Screws remarked, “No one can read 1 Tim. 2:3-6, and believe every word of it, without believing in the salvation of all humanity.“ Because Christ gave himself a “correspondent ransom for all,” it follows that all mankind will, in fact, be ransomed and therefore saved. But ransomed from what? In part one of this study, I argued that it is from their sins that the “many” for whom Christ gave his soul a ransom will be saved. And I believe that the same can be said for the “all” for whom Christ gave himself a “correspondent ransom.” But what more can be said about the salvation that Christ secured for all mankind when he gave himself a ransom for all?

In his letter to the saints in Corinth, Paul made it clear that Christ’s death was essential to his evangel (or “gospel”), and referred to the message he heralded as “the word of the cross,” and as essentially involving “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:17-18, 21-24; 2:1-2). Later, in chapter fifteen, Paul reminded the believers to whom he wrote of the evangel which he’d brought to them, and – in doing so - provided his readers with the reason why Christ’s death is so essential to his evangel. In 1 Cor. 15:1-5, Paul wrote:

Now I am making known to you, brethren, the evangel which I bring to you, which also you accepted, in which also you stand, through which also you are saved, if you are retaining what I said in bringing the evangel to you, outside and except you believe feignedly. For I give over to you among the first what also I accepted, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was entombed, and that He has been roused the third day according to the scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, thereupon by the twelve.

What does it mean for Christ to have “died for our sins?” In short, it means that Christ died to save us from our sins. But what does this mean? Well, those who haven’t yet been saved from their sins are described by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:17-19 as follows: “Now if Christ has not been roused, vain is your faith – you are still in your sins! Consequently those also, who are put to repose in Christ, perished. If we are having an expectation in Christ in this life only, more forlorn than all men are we.”

For anyone to still be “in [their] sins” means that God is still reckoning their sins/offenses to them (cf. Rom. 4:8; 2 Cor. 5:19), and that they remain under the condemnation of which their sins have made them deserving (cf. John 8:24). That this is the case is evident from the fact that, in v. 18, it’s implied those who have died while still being “in their sins” have “perished.” The word translated “perished” in v. 18 (apollumi) does not simply mean “died,” for the saints to whom Paul was referring were already dead at the time he was writing. In the context, the contrast is between “perishing” and being “vivified” (or “made alive”) “in Christ” (:20-23). Thus, for one to have “perished” means that one remains under the condemnation of death, and will not be given life beyond the dominion of death. And from this it follows that being “still in your sins” means remaining under the condemnation of death as well (i.e., being deserving of death).

That death is the condemnation of which our sins make us deserving is further confirmed from what Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 15:54-57. After referring to the miraculous change that both the dead and the living saints in the body of Christ will undergo at the time of the snatching away or “rapture” (1 Cor. 15:50-53; cf. 1 Thess. 4:15-17), Paul declared, “Now, whenever this corruptible should be putting on incorruption and this mortal should be putting on immortality, then shall come to pass the word which is written, Swallowed up was Death by Victory. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting? Now the sting of Death is sin, yet the power of sin is the law. Now thanks be to God, Who is giving us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In verses 54-55, Paul is quoting from Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14. Given its relevance to this study, it’s worth noting that immediately before the part of Hosea 13:14 quoted by Paul, we find God promising to “ransom” his rebellious people Israel “from the grip of the unseen” (i.e., Hades, the state of death), and to “redeem” them from death. Since this particular promise was made to unfaithful Israel, it’s not surprising that Paul didn’t quote this part of Hosea 13:14 when writing to those in the body of Christ. [1] Nonetheless, we can conclude that, based on this verse (as well as others)[2], Paul would’ve been familiar with the idea of death as being something from which mankind was in need of being “ransomed” by God.

But what did Paul mean by, “Now the sting of death is sin?” The word translated “sting” denotes a pointed instrument used to injure and inflict pain (cf. Acts 26:14; Rev. 9:10). Paul was essentially saying here that sin is what gives death the power to injure us. Apart from sin, death would have no power over us. Sin is the cause, and death is the effect. It is, in fact, the judicial consequence of sin that is common to all people. Thus, for Christ to have “died for our sins” means that he died to save us from the condemnation of which our sins made us deserving. And based on everything we read in 1 Corinthians 15, we can conclude that this condemnation is death.

That death is the God-ordained consequence of sin is further confirmed in the opening chapters of Genesis. In Genesis 2:16-17, God declared the following to Adam: “From every tree of the garden you may eat, yea eat. But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you must not eat from it; for on the day you eat from it, to die, you shall be dying. In accordance with this stated consequence for Adam’s disobedience, we read that, on the very day that Adam sinned, the death sentence was passed upon him (Gen. 3:19). As a result of this sentence, both Adam and his wife – and, by extension, all of their future posterity - were banished from the Garden of Eden and denied access to the tree of life (vv. 22-24). Humanity was, in other word, excluded from the only means by which we could’ve lived indefinitely on the earth without the inevitability of death.[3] 

From this early episode in mankind’s history we learn that all humanity became deserving of death because of Adam’s sin, with every one of his descendants coming into existence under the power and “reign” of death. Paul makes this fact clear in Romans 5:12-14: “Therefore, even as through one man sin entered into the world, and through sin death, and thus death passed through into all mankind, on which all sinned -- for until law sin was in the world, yet sin is not being taken into account when there is no law; nevertheless death reigns from Adam unto Moses, over those also who do not sin in the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him Who is about to be.”

In verse 12, Paul wrote that “death passed through into all mankind…” And then, in v. 18, death is referred to as the “condemnation” that “all mankind” came to be under “through one offense” (i.e., through the one offense of Adam). But it is not only because of Adam’s sin that death “reigns” over mankind. Although Adam’s sin affected the entire human race (which can be understood as demonstrating Adam’s representative relationship to the rest of mankind), what we read concerning Adam’s sin and condemnation reveals the consequence of sin for all of his sinning descendants, as well. This is evident from Romans 1:32, where - after listing a number of sins (among which most human beings could find at least one of which they’re guilty of committing) - Paul declared that “those committing such things are deserving of death.

Similarly, in Romans 6:22 Paul wrote that the “consummation” of the things that people do as “slaves of sin” is “death”; in the next verse, Paul (personifying sin as if it were a human slave master) adds that “the ration of Sin is death” – i.e., it is the “fixed portion” that Adam’s sinning descendants can expect to receive, as the ultimate consequence of their own sins. Thus, when those who are deserving of death because of their sins actually die, their death is not only because of Adam’s sin; it is because of their own sins as well (which are just as “condemning” as was Adam’s sin). 

It is this problem that Christ died to resolve when he “died for our sins.” And, if Paul’s testimony is to be believed (and I think that it is), Christ was 100% successful at resolving it. It is now only a matter of time before all are released from the condemnation of death of which sin makes us deserving. This is confirmed by Paul in Romans 5:15-19:

15 But not as the offense, thus also the grace. For if, by the offense of the one, the many died, much rather the grace of God and the gratuity in grace, which is of the One Man, Jesus Christ, to the many superabounds.
16 And not as through one act of sinning is the gratuity. For, indeed, the judgment is out of one into condemnation, yet the grace is out of many offenses into a just award.
17 For if, by the offense of the one, death reigns through the one, much rather, those obtaining the superabundance of grace and the gratuity of righteousness shall be reigning in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
18 Consequently, then, as it was through one offense for all mankind for condemnation, thus also it is through one just award for all mankind for life's justifying.
19 For even as, through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinners, thus also, through the obedience of the One, the many shall be constituted just.

Some have objected that the words “the many” in v. 19 place a restriction on the words “all mankind” in v. 18. However, that’s not at all the case, for the same people referred to as “the many” in v. 15 were referred to as “all mankind” in v. 12 (into whom we’re told death – the consequence of sin - passed through). And with the exception of Christ, there is no human who wasn’t constituted a sinner and thus condemned to die as a result of Adam’s sin (this fact is confirmed by Rom. 3:23, where we’re told that “all sinned and are wanting of the glory of God”). Rather than placing a restriction on the words “all mankind,” Paul’s use of the expression “the many” (both in v. 15 and v. 19) serves to emphasize the fact that far more individuals were negatively affected by Adam’s sin – and far more positively affected by Christ’s obedience – than either Adam or Christ alone. The expression “the many” in verses 15 and 19 is, in other words, to be understood in contrast with “the one man,” Adam (whose disobedience negatively affected far more humans than himself) and the other “one man,” Jesus Christ (whose obedience positively affects far more humans than himself).[4]

The “obedience of the One” (v. 19) is an undeniable reference to Christ's sacrificial death on the cross, when he gave himself “a correspondent ransom for all.” Thus, the “grace of God” referred to in v. 15 (which we’re told “super-abounds” to all who were “constituted sinners”) involves that which Christ procured by his obedient death on behalf of all. According to Paul, just as all humanity fell under condemnation because of the disobedience of “the one man,” Adam, so all humanity will ultimately become the recipients of the grace secured by the obedience of Christ (who Paul referred to as both “the last Adam” and “the second Man” in 1 Cor. 15:45-47). And this means that all mankind – “the many” affected by the obedience of “the One” - “shall be constituted just.” Since the condemnation from which all will be saved when they’re constituted just is death, it follows that the justification in view necessarily involves a state in which all people will be vivified, or placed beyond the dominion of death: “Yet now Christ has been roused from among the dead, the Firstfruit of those who are reposing. For since, in fact, through a man came death, through a Man, also, comes the resurrection of the dead. For even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified.1 Cor. 15:20-22

For those who have died, to be vivified (or “made alive”) in Christ means more than just being resurrected. It means being resurrected into the same incorruptible, deathless state into which Christ was raised. For Paul later declared that death “is being abolished,” and the only that this could be the case is if all people are ultimately made immortal, and thus unable to die. That being vivified in Christ means to be given the same life that Christ has is further confirmed in 1 Cor. 15:42-44, where Paul describes the body that those resurrected will have as being incorruptible, glorious, powerful and spiritual (cf. :53-54). Thus, it follows that all mankind will ultimately receive the same “power of an indissoluble life” which, in Heb. 7:16, is said to be possessed by Christ.

After revealing that who are dying in Adam will be vivified in Christ, Paul went on to write in 1 Cor. 15:23-28:

Yet each in his own class: the Firstfruit, Christ; thereupon those who are Christ's in His presence; thereafter the consummation, whenever He may be giving up the kingdom to His God and Father, whenever He should be nullifying all sovereignty and all authority and power. For He must be reigning until He should be placing all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy is being abolished: death. For He subjects all under His feet. Now whenever He may be saying that all is subject, it is evident that it is outside of Him Who subjects all to Him. Now, whenever all may be subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also shall be subjected to Him Who subjects all to Him, that God may be All in all.

According to Paul, the “consummation” of which he wrote will occur “whenever [Christ] may be giving up the kingdom to his God and Father, whenever he should be nullifying all sovereignty and all authority and power.” Since the “last enemy” to be abolished is “death,” it follows that Christ will continue to reign until death is abolished, and that the “consummation” involves the abolishment of death. When death is abolished, Christ’s reign ends. Thus, the abolishing of death is the event by which Christ subjects himself to God so that God may be “All in all” (v. 28). Paul’s sequence of events in this passage, therefore, goes as follows: (1) Christ, “the Firstfruit,” is vivified; (2) “those who are Christ’s in His presence” are vivified; (3) the “the last enemy,” death, is “abolished” (which is the consummation), and God becomes “all in all.” And since the abolishing of death means that no death can remain, it follows that every human who has ever lived will be immortal when God becomes “all in all.”

Contrary to the belief of most Christians, there must be another category of human beings who will be vivified/made alive in Christ after the vivification of “those who are Christ’s in his presence.” Otherwise, it would not be true that all who are dying in Adam will be vivified in Christ. And this class of humanity constitutes a third and final “order” in Christ’s conquest of death. Thus, we can conclude that those who do not fall into the second category of those who are to be vivified in Christ will be vivified at a yet future time – i.e., when Christ’s reign ends, and he delivers the kingdom up to God.[5] It is at this future time that every human being not yet vivified will be vivified.[6]

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he wrote: “Christ Jesus…abolishes death, yet illuminates life and incorruption through the evangel of which I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher of the nations” (2 Tim. 1:11). Concerning the tense of the word translated “abolishes” in this verse, A.E. Knoch notes in his commentary, “The abolition of death is put in the indefinite or aorist tense, as He [Christ] has done it in His own case and will do it for all in the future.” Death and “life and incorruption” are, of course, mutually exclusive states of affairs; the latter is the state of affairs that will exist when the former has been abolished. Since the abolishment of death means “life and incorruption” for all mankind, that which is illuminated through Paul’s evangel is the final destiny that awaits all mankind when death, the last enemy, is abolished. When all who are dying in Adam are vivified in Christ, death will be no more. “Life and incorruption” will be universal, characterizing the existence of all mankind. And the fact that life and incorruption is said to be “illuminated” through Paul’s evangel tells us that the truth of the salvation of all mankind from death is inherent in Paul’s evangel, and implied by what we read in 1 Cor. 15:3-5 and 1 Tim. 2:6.

Moreover, when we understand what it means for Christ to have “died for our sins,” we can also understand why Christ’s resurrection is just as essential to Paul’s evangel as his death for our sins. For, had Christ not been roused from among the dead by God, it would mean that Christ had not died in perfect obedience to God, and that he was just as much under the condemnation of death as the sinners for whom he died. And this would mean that Christ’s death did not actually procure mankind’s salvation. This would include those who believe Paul’s evangel: if Christ was not roused, then our faith is “vain” (1 Cor. 15:17) – i.e., our faith would be in something that never actually happened. And if that were the case, then – despite believing that we’ve been justified by the faith of Christ - we’d still be condemned, and deserving of death (or, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:18, we’d be “still in [our] sins”).

But since Christ was roused from among the dead, we know that Christ accomplished exactly what he died to accomplish: the procuring of mankind’s salvation. Everyone who is dying (or has already died) will be saved from the condemnation of which their sins made them deserving. In regard to Paul’s evangel, then, Christ’s resurrection is the confirmation and divine pledge that the salvation of all mankind was procured by Christ’s sacrificial death on our behalf. Christ’s resurrection is the God-given proof that the words triumphantly declared by our Lord just before he gave up his spirit on the cross - “It is accomplished!” - were not uttered in vain. Because Christ died for our sins and was roused by God from among the dead, we can have confidence that sin will ultimately be eliminated from the universe, and death will ultimately be abolished. 

[1] Paul knew that the only part of this prophecy that had any applicability to us is the part he actually quoted (and even then, we shouldn’t understand our being vivified as fulfilling any part of this prophecy; rather, it’s simply the case that what’s being stated will “come to pass” when we’re vivified).

[2] Other examples from the Hebrew Scriptures in which the word translated “ransom” in Hosea 13:14 (padah) refers to the ransoming of a person’s life from dying/death are Leviticus 27:29, 1 Samuel 14:45, Job 5:20, Job 33:28 and Psalm 49:15.

[3] Significantly, we find that those who will get to live on the new earth during the final eon will live without the fear and inevitability of death, and will have free access to the life-sustaining fruit of the “tree of life” to which Adam and Eve were denied access because of Adam’s sin (Rev. 21:1-4; 22:1-2).

[4] Some have objected that Paul would’ve used the word “all” instead of “many” in v. 19 if he’d had in mind “all mankind” here. However, Paul already used the word “all” in the previous verse (and it’s, of course, absurd to think that Paul thought his readers would suddenly forget this fact when they got to the very next verse). Paul simply modified the wording in order to place a greater emphasis on the two categories of people he had in view: the two men, Adam and Christ, and those affected by their respective actions (the rest of humanity). In contrast with two men (Adam and Christ), the rest of humanity can indeed be considered “many,” and thus be appropriately referred to by Paul as “the many.”

[5]  We know that Christ’s reign continues long after the vivification of “those who are Christ’s in his presence,” for Christ’s kingdom and reign over the earth (i.e., when he sits on “the throne of his glory”) does not even begin until after his return to earth (Matt. 19:28; 24:30; 25:31; cf. Luke 1:32-33; 22:30). And Christ’s reign over this present earth will last for more than a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6; cf. 11:15). Christ’s throne and reign – along with the reign of the saints – will also continue during the time of the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 22:1, 5). And as long as Christ is reigning – indeed, as long as any “sovereignty,” “authority” and “power” continues (including that of the saints) – it means that the “consummation” has not yet come, and death (the “last enemy”) remains to be abolished.

It should also be noted that the kingdom which Paul said Christ is going to ultimately deliver to his God and Father is the same kingdom which Daniel had prophesied the Messiah would receive from God (see Dan. 7:13-14). And the implication is that this kingdom will, when given back to God, be full of subjects. But who will be the subjects of the kingdom that Christ is one day going to deliver up to his Father? Well, in this passage, we are told that “all” (ta panta, “the all” or “the universe”) is eventually going to be subjected to Christ. Significantly, God is said to be the only exception to the “all” that is to be subjected to Christ. This can only mean that all created, personal beings (both human and non-human) are included. Thus, the kingdom that Christ is ultimately going to deliver to his God and Father is going to consist of all created, personal beings.

[6] This will include those who were sentenced to the “lake of fire” and underwent the “second death” referred to by John in Revelation 20:11-15. Some may object that John doesn’t reveal that anyone will be saved from the second death. However, John recorded only what was revealed to him in the visions he received from God. What ultimately happens to those human beings who are to be cast into the lake of fire to die a second time was simply not a part of John’s vision, and was not meant to be revealed by him. This in no way means that this is the end of their story. If it was, it would mean that death is not going to be abolished by Christ. But this would contradict Paul, who (thankfully) provides us with further revelation on this subject.

According to Paul, Christ’s reign is going to continue until this “last enemy” is done away with. And we know from what John wrote in the chapters that follow (Rev. 21-22) that Christ - along with his saints - are still reigning during the period of time that immediately follows the judgment in which people are sentenced to the “second death” (i.e., the age of “the new heaven and new earth”). Thus, we can know that death has not yet been abolished during this future period of time (for Christ is still reigning and the second death is still in effect), and that the scene being described by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:24-28 will, during this time, still be a future reality.

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