The resurrection faith waits eagerly for confirmation and consummation in the Second Coming, which will openly manifest Christ as Lord for all the world to see

The consummation of the resurrection reality is summed up in the revelation of the lordship of Christ. Its accomplishing is marked by a series of events and takes its course in realities of the “new” aeon, which admittedly cannot be ordered in a logical succession but rather partially overlap and intermingle with each other, but which we are nevertheless compelled to distinguish in thought. The accomplishing of the eschatological consummation therefore cannot be represented in the form of a number of points in a straight line, but has to be described by a series of statements standing side by side and by an exposition of various complexes of ideas; and only when we have taken all these into account and coordinated them with each other can we reflect the fullness of the Bible’s eschatological insight.

The understanding of the parousia stands in closest connection with the knowledge of the resurrection of Jesus. The parousia has its presupposition in the reality of the resurrection, and brings the unveiling of it. The resurrection reality in the telos accordingly means from the viewpoint of the parousia the emerging of the Risen Kyrios from his hiddenness.

Two things are expressed in the parousia: the manifesting of the Risen One as a King in his glory, and the manifesting of the victory over the power of Satan.

In the parousia the lordship of the Kyrios is consummated in so far as it reveals itself to be an unbroken one. So long as the veil of the old aeon keeps hidden the majesty of the Kyrios, his lordship can be disputed and his death on the cross can be misunderstood, whether as a judicial murder, or the sacrificial death of an idealist, or the punishment of a blasphemer. Correspondingly, the Church of the Lord, because of the hidden nature of the lordship of Christ, bears the “form of a servant” until the parousia. The parousia of the Risen One is the decisive event in which all the dissonances arising from the hiddenness are removed and the glory of the Kyrios which was inherent already in the resurrection is made fully manifest. The Risen One discloses himself as the King in his glory, whose triumph the entire new world must serve. The parousia of the Risen One is the only possible proof of God. For it is only when the hidden Lord becomes the manifest King in his glory that all resistance to his claim to rule collapses, that indeed every possibility of rebellion has the ground removed from under it. The “return” of the Kyrios not only sets the crown to the recognition given by faith, for which what was hitherto invisible now appears in visible form, so that in the parousia faith itself is transformed into sight, but now it comes also to the recognition of the Kyrios by unbelief, which sees itself convicted of rebellion against Christ and at the same time, in the light of the unveiling, as broken rebellion. Whether belief or unbelief is in the right, is shown unequivocally only by the parousia. Thus the resurrection faith waits eagerly for its confirmation and consummation in the parousia in which it is made manifest for all the world to see, including also the opposition, that Christ is the Kyrios, and in which the confession of his lordship is consummated in a universal confession. Before the parousia there can be no world confession, for the rise of such a confession is an eschatological event.

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At the same time, the parousia shows itself as the unveiled triumph of the resurrection victory over the power of Satan. It thus becomes God’s decisive assault upon the dominion of Satan in all aeons. When, in accordance with God’s plan for the world, in God’s eternal wisdom Satan’s time has run its course and the satanic world empire has grown to its fullest maturity, God intervenes. He intervenes through the “Son,” who since the resurrection has been the hidden victor and the Kyrios. Christ’s victory in the parousia takes place through the uncontested overthrow and destruction of the anti-Christian empire and its anti-Christian “church.” This is the theological meaning of Revelation 19 with its witness to the “binding of Satan for a thousand years.” This is not an indication of time in the sense of earthly chronology, but the description of a definite period of aeons. In contrast to the ideas of Zoroastrian dualism, it is clear here that the “binding” of Satan does not take place in the “struggle” between two equally matched parties, but is a sovereign act of the superior power of the Kyrios. Thus for the first time since the original creation, the seductive power of Satan is nullified. The rule of Christ is the “new” aeon liberated from Satan’s dominion.

The course of the old world epoch and of history do not manifest the superiority of Christ; on the contrary, they are proof of an empire that is in opposition to God. When, however, in the parousia the hidden rightful King emerges from his concealment to be unrestricted Lord, then at once the whole demonic fruits of world history are thereby judged and the fall of Satan from his presumptuous world empire determined. The parousia is the revelation of the final victory of the Risen One over all demons of the old aeon, and the final subjugation and disarming of Satan. So long as theology does not venture to utter such statements, it is still under the spell of rationalism, which prevents it from a really profound understanding of the triumph of the resurrection message precisely where the conquest of these forces is concerned.

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Inseparably bound up with the parousia of the Risen One is the exaltation of the community of Christian believers to be with their Lord. For in keeping with the parallel with the resurrection of Jesus, we have the resurrection of the community as the revealing consummation of the Church of the Lord. The fate of the “head” of the “body which is the church” is the fate of the community; that is why the resurrection embraces not only the individual but also the collective entity of the Church. An individualistic pursuit of independent eternity, which sees the resurrection only in relation to its own Ego, has no place in Christian eschatology. Rather, the individual is fitted into the whole and has his value only as a “member” of the body. If the Church has a part in the resurrection aeon which has already dawned and in the eschatological tension, while all the time it is engaged as a whole in battle, is despised and endures persecution, then it has also a part in the unveiling of its life in Christ. In analogy to the obedience of Jesus in his life in history, the Church as the community of the “brethren” of Christ is required to practice believing obedience even to the point of martyrdom. To the exaltation of him who was obedient “unto death” there corresponds the resurrection of the now suffering Church. Thus the martyrdom of the Church has the closest relation to eschatology. During the old aeon the Church cannot be justified before the world; that is why all ecclesiastical attempts to make the Church appear as an earthly power must mount to betrayals of the truth of eschatology. Only through the consummation of the resurrection does there come the rehabilitation, not by the Church of itself, but God rehabilitates the Church before the world.

In particular, this statement about the consummation of the Church of Christ involves three affirmations:

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The parousia of Jesus leads first of all to the special encounter of the Risen Lord with his chosen Church which awaits him. In this insight lies the element of truth in the idea of a “catching up” of Christ’s Church to its Lord. This event of the exaltation of the Church, however, is identical with the concept of the “first resurrection.”

Of the “first resurrection” there has oddly enough usually been little mention in the eschatological researches of theology so far, although Scripture contains clear references to it. To leave it to the sects to distort these statements is an error on the part of standard church theology, which has disastrous consequences. These biblical statements are anything but marginal comment, for there can be no doubt that the apostles strive passionately to ensure that the faithful shall have a part in this first resurrection. All eschatological interest is centered on this “being there” when the Lord comes, this “having a part” in his appearance. This first resurrection refers to the Church of Christ, both to the members who have already “fallen asleep” and who now in the “intermediate state” are already “at home with the Lord” but still await their consummation in the resurrection, and also to the “living members.” The exaltation of the Church in the first resurrection, however, means “being changed.” There is no question of the continuation of our present physical mode of being, for to have a part in the kingdom of Christ is impossible for the natural man, for “flesh and blood.” Thus the first resurrection brings about the awakening of the Christian believers for their participation in the aeon of Christ’s lordship.

Secondly, the exaltation of Christ’s Church means the receiving of the glory of the resurrection. In biblical language a variety of images and comparisons are used in order to express this fulfillment of the expectation and longing of the Church. The hour of union between the “bridal Church” and the “bridegroom,” of “the marriage of the lamb,” of the “great supper” has come. The struggling, suffering Church which dies with Christ is crowned, receives the crown of victory, the palm of victory, the prize. The “race,” the battle, the struggle of faith reaches its goal. The images also at the same time describe the appointing of the members of the Church by Christ as “kings and priests,” i.e., their being called to an incomparable task of lordship in communion with Christ. With this exaltation there comes, further, the “manifestation of the sons of God” awaited by the whole cosmos. Unquestionably we have here to do with an exceptional distinction and pre-consummation conferred on the Church of Christ in contrast to the rest of mankind, “before” the universal second resurrection of the dead.

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It is thus made plain, thirdly, that the aeon of the lordship of Christ is also a lordship of the Christian Church together with Christ. This lordship, contrary to Israel’s nationalistic and messianic idea of lordship, is not an earthly or worldly one, not a regnum mundi, but a spiritual one which becomes effective in a new “world epoch.” This insight gives meaning to what is said of the “millennium.” Once again it would be a mistake if theology failed to do justice to the universal significance of the kingly and priestly lordship of the Church. Certainly we must discuss this with restraint, and refrain, as the biblical references do, from all closer definition and embellishment.…

At the judgment of the world, the great day of the world harvest, the parousia of the Risen One is consummated as the Judge of the world. He can be the Judge because he is the Lord to whose function the divine office of Judge belongs. But he can be Judge in particular of the “living and the dead” because he is the living Lord who has passed through the realm of the dead, the life-giving Spirit who has the power of eternal life. His function as world Judge corresponds to the world-wide power of his lordship. Thus the parousia is also the manifesting of the Risen One as the Judge whose claims were certainly announced to men in the hiddenness of the new aeon, but just as certainly also not heard. It is only at the parousia that the judging word of the Kyrios becomes one the world cannot fail to hear. The coming of Christ as Lord of world judgment contains two specific ideas.

The judgment of the Kyrios always begins at once upon the encounter with Christ. Where belief in Christ arises, there also man is judged in his conscience. He who believes is already judged and has the judgment behind him, for indeed he already has part in the life of the resurrection aeon. The believer has already experienced Christ as his Judge. Nevertheless he still has the judgment continually before him, because he stands in the old aeon and until death participates in its sin, and also because the new Christ-life is a hidden one. The believer is thus always at the same time on his way towards the “judgment.” Accordingly, the “last judgment” in the parousia means two things for the believer: firstly, the unveiling of the life which man already possesses in faith, which means the manifesting of the sinner’s acquittal by Christ, about which the believer already knows; and secondly, the renewed awarding and confirmation of the life of the resurrection, because of the sin which clings continually to the believer in the old aeon and which therefore means even for faith a persistent threat to his acquittal, so that before the parousia the believer, being a sinner, is still always faced by the dual possibility of life or death. The parousia judgment is therefore for faith both an unveiling of present grace and a renewed justifying of the sinner. In this context it must not be forgotten that the exalted Church of Christ, the “children and sons of God” who now bear the image of the Son of God, also have an active part in the world judgment. Once the decisive crisis lies behind them, in which by faith in Christ they have passed through death to life, the disciples as Jesus’ faithful followers unto death have been proved and preserved through suffering and the cross and for this very reason are competent to judge others and to exercise with Christ the office of judge. With that the whole picture radically changed: those who were accused and condemned before the world become the judges of the world. The norm for this judgment is provided by the Gospel, i.e., by the attitude of man towards Jesus Christ, by the reconciling work of the “Son,” and so by the outcome and fruit of each individual’s life.

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From this there follows, secondly, the character of the world judgment for the unbelievers. It proves to be not only the unmasking of their life in its remoteness from God, but also the inevitable carrying out of their rejection. In negative analogy to the relation of faith to the judgment this means: unbelief, too, is in fact already judged through its rejection of the Christ-life. It really judges itself, by choosing death in preference to Christ. Its reprobation has therefore already begun before the parousia and in the old aeon. Thus it appears entirely logical to go on with Stange to say that because the godless have no part in Christ, they also have “no part in eternal life.” They pass away with the earthly world. There is “nothing in them which outlasts death.” There is really no annihilation of the godless either, “since there is nothing there which can be annihilated.” And yet we must not follow the argument on these lines to its end. For then the idea of judgment in general, and of the judgeship of the Risen One in the parousia in particular, would be robbed of its gravity. Rather we must say: The public unmasking of unbelief in the last judgment cannot mean that the absence of the godless proves they have “fallen to destruction,” but at the judgment on the “last day” it will be revealed that the existence of the unbelievers was all along a lost one belonging to death, and at the same time Christ, whom they sought to escape, is really their Judge. Then, however, this unmasking leads to the carrying out of their rejection which only now ensues as so to speak a second act of judgment.… The world judgment necessitates the resurrection of all the dead to judgment. This resurrection is the “second resurrection,” as distinct from the exaltation of the Church of Christ. The dualistic outcome of the world judgment has in all its harshness and sharpness a biblical foundation. The result of the last judgment consists in the final division which takes the place of the temporary division in the “intermediate state.” This means, on the one hand, the resurrection of the “blessed,” the “pardoned,” the “saved” to the “eternal life” of unbroken communion with God; and on the other hand, the revelation of the “accursed” who arise “to everlasting damnation.” This damnation is “the second death,” which represents not annihilation but being bound in a state of conscious remoteness from God, and being shut out from the life of God.

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The resolution of the eschatological tension comes with the revelation of Christ’s lordship. This brings the emergence of the resurrection world from its hiddenness, and the unveiling of the hitherto hidden resurrection aeon. Thus the consummation in the aeon of Christ’s lordship does not consist in the world’s development reaching its conclusion but in the unveiling of what is already present in principle in the reality of the resurrection.

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