All Things Subjected to Himself
Note: This article is an excerpt from a book in progress, called The High King of Heaven. It’s great goal is to show that the classic eschatology of the early Church and the Reformation is indeed the biblical one; that Christ will come again once, at the end of the age, to raise the dead, judge the world in righteousness, and bring in the new heavens and the new earth, the eternal home of the redeemed. Our text from Philippians, like so many others in the NT, seems clearly to teach this very thing.
All Things Subjected to Himself
I have touched on this text several times, but want to linger over it here, seeing that in two short (and very inspiring) verses, the apostle marvelously encapsulates, reiterates, and confirms his entire eschatology.
In this brief paragraph, Paul is exhorting the saints to imitate him and their other leaders (17). In order to move them to do so, he brings before their eyes the final destiny of both sinners and saints. As for worldly, gluttonous, and licentious men, who walk as enemies of the Cross of Christ, their (final) end is destruction, by which Paul means, not annihilation, but eternal “tearing down” in Gehenna, rather than eternal “building up” in the World to Come (Mt. 7:13, Rom. 9:22, 1 Cor. 5:5, 2 Cor. 10:8, 1 Thess. 5:3, 2 Thess. 1:9).
In verses 20-21, he turns to the (final) end of the saints. Again, observe how Paul’s whole eschatology is compressed into this one short sentence. The wicked set their minds on earthly things (19). Not so the saints, whose citizenship, even now, because of the new birth, is in heaven (20; Eph. 1:3, 2:6, Col. 3:1-4). In other words, for Paul, the Kingdom has indeed already come, and God has already transferred the Philippians into it (Col. 1:13). Therefore, while owing real honor, deference, and obedience to Caesar, the saints are, above all earthly powers, the happy subjects of the High King of Heaven (Rom. 13:1f).
Note, however, that Paul is no preterist: Yes, the Kingdom has already come; but it has not yet fully come. Why? Because the High King himself has not yet come again! This is the posture of the Church throughout all generations: Even now she is seated in heaven with Christ, yet eagerly awaiting her Lord’s return from heaven, to the earth below (20; 1 Thess. 1:10, 4:16, 2 Thess. 1:7).
And what will he do when he finally returns? Verse 20 tells us in a single word, verse 21 explains. When he comes again, he will be his people’s Savior, to the uttermost (20). He will be the One who not only delivers them from the wrath to come, but also rescues them from every enemy introduced by the fall, and restores them to the glory of God (Rom. 13:11, 1 Thess. 1:10, Heb. 9:28).
This great (and ultimate) salvation commences with the Resurrection: Christ will conform our lowly bodies (lit., the body of our humiliation) to his own glorious body (Rom. 8:29, 1 Cor. 15:20-28). However, at that very time he will also use his resurrection power to subject “all things”—the whole cosmos—to himself. But once he has subjected “all things” to himself, where will his enemies be? The answer—which I would invite my premillennarian brothers to ponder carefully—is clear: They will be altogether gone, for the Kingdom will have altogether come, and the whole creation will altogether be set free into the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Rom. 8:21, 1 Cor. 15:20-28, 50-58).
Yes, here we find, yet again, Paul’s whole eschatology in a nutshell. And as we have seen many times before, it is none other than the eschatology of Christ, the rest of the apostles, and the fathers of our glorious Reformation faith.