13It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken." With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 15All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
One of the big problems that first-century Jews had with the concept of Jesus as Messiah was that they were expecting something else altogether. It wasn’t that they were closed to the whole Messiah idea, they just didn’t like the kind of Messiah that Jesus revealed himself to be. They were waiting for a Messiah that would exalt Israel, restore the Temple, and defeat Israel’s enemies in Rome. They were waiting for a military leader which is not at all what they got. They had such a different sort of Messiah in mind and their worldview was so drastically different than Jesus’ that many of them just could not fit what their lives looked like with what Jesus was calling them to.
In a similar manner today, many in the world in the past hundred and fifty or so years have gotten the wrong impression about Jesus’ second coming and the resurrection. Most American Christians are waiting for the so-called rapture of Christ (a view that did not exist until the 19th century and came at that time from the “vision” of a Scottish mystic and follower of a bizarre Christian sect and is buoyed by an erroneous reading of passages like 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). This rapture view is evident in songs such as “This World is Not My Home,” or “Blessed Assurance,” which sings of waiting expectantly with “visions of rapture.” This worldview also tends to hold to the view that our souls are the important thing, just waiting to be freed from the prisons of our body, the time when Jesus will rescue us out of the evil, physical world through the rapture (for those who don’t die first and get to go to heaven right away). We won’t discuss the blatant contradictions inherent in this view right now, but it does need to be mentioned because if we insist on holding to this view of things, we will misunderstand and completely miss what Paul is going to say in the rest of this chapter and chapter 5. Paul is not speaking of the contrast between the physical and the spiritual, he is speaking of the difference between the present age and God’s age to come, and urging his beloved Corinthians to begin to live in view of the reality of the age to come
Paul has been speaking here and there throughout the letter about feeling like he was being crushed and despairing of even his own life. When he had taken on the identity of Christ so much so that he thought he might literally die, he turned to and relied on the power of God and His ability to raise him from that death to the life of Christ. In a sense, Paul is describing the incredible reality of the Christian life, that we are both dead and alive at the same time. He returns to that concept by quoting Psalm 116: “I believed, therefore I have spoken.” In that one little line, Paul has invoked the whole of the Psalm in which Paul has found a perfect description of his own experiences. Just like Paul, the Psalmist had felt entangled by death (v. 3), and in despair had called on the name of the Lord (v. 4). The Lord had faithfully delivered him. The Psalmist says that despite all that he had gone through, he has faith and so he speaks of the salvation of the Lord (v. 12). Just as the Psalm ends in praising God, Paul is also determined that they do the same. The Psalmist found God faithful to deliver him and worthy of praise.
In the same way, Paul says that Christians know that we will be vindicated and resurrected because the Messiah has already been there and done that, and we have entered into Him so that what is true of Him is true of His people. This grace is being passed to more and more people who have been delivered from death into life and thus are caused to praise God. This is important for Paul, because he believes that the more people are praising God in worship, the more the world is taking the sort of form that it is supposed to have. Paul wants them to realize that they are people of the resurrection, which he will discuss in more detail in chapter 5 and which he has already written about in great detail in 1 Corinthians. As people of the resurrection they need to learn to live in that reality and by the values of the age to come rather than the mere appearances of the present age.
Paul now returns to the place where he began this chapter. In the face of the toughest challenges that life can offer, Paul will not lose heart. The circumstances he has gone through might cause other people to think that he has fallen out of God’s favor and has been stricken by God, but Paul knows better. God has led him into these circumstances and He will lead Paul out and into life, in what will culminate in the resurrection.
This really begins the section that could easily be misunderstood if our worldview causes us to look for something that is not there. Paul is not saying that the physical world is wasting away to its eventual destruction, while we are waiting to float off to the true, spiritual realm where we will finally be free from our bodies. The things that can be seen now are only temporary, they will not last; It is all wasting away, according to that view. What we really are waiting for, according to Paul, though, is for God’s true reality to burst forth. That is the time when Christ will return and restore God’s creation (Matt. 19:28; Acts 3:21). Right now the age to come is just out of view, but when Christ returns, heaven and earth will overlap in perfect unity for eternity, the way things were intended to be. We must go through this present age but it will all be worth it when we are vindicated as God’s people and ushered into His transformed and renewed creation.
Paul will explain the whole process in more detail in the next chapter, but right now he stresses that we must all fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. Again, what Paul is not saying is that we need to focus on spiritual things and ignore the physical. This is what those with a rapture mentality tend to believe that Paul is saying, but that misses his whole point. Paul is saying that we need to focus on God’s age to come rather than be obsessed with our own affairs in the present age. The glory of the age to come will far outweigh any troubles that we face in this age because of our association with the life of Christ. This doesn’t mean that we become completely unconcerned with the present age, just the opposite. When we realize that the age to come is eternal, and that there is a connection and a continuity between the present age that will be transformed into the age to come, we know that what we do in the present age matters immensely. No, we’re not waiting to be rescued from this body, this body is only the beginning. It is the initial covering for a true self that will be fully and gloriously covered one day.
Do you live every moment of your life as though what you do here and now will matter in the age to come? How might your life look differently if you did?