Believers today have been taught very well what our salvation is and what Jesus went through to secure eternal salvation for us. Moreover, even many unbelievers understand what we mean when we speak of our salvation. Nevertheless, in the first century this was something very new to one’s thinking. When the Pharisees spoke of resurrection, they spoke of rising from the dead to live again on earth. Whether they believed in eternal life is hard to say. Certainly the Jews teach eternal life today, but did they back in the first century AD? Personally, I believe this was strictly a Jesus’ teaching, and it caught everyone by surprise. Folks in Palestine who waited for the Messiah simply believed he would “save” the Jewish people from the Romans and make them a supreme power that would defeat all their enemies. The proposition that the Messiah would come and give us eternal life was simply not suggested.
Now look at Peter’s epistle. His readers are “begotten again (born again) unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!” This is an incorruptible inheritance that doesn’t fade away (1Peter 1:3-4), and what does Peter say next? He says it was ready to be revealed in the “last time” (1Peter 1:5)! In other words, no one had eternal life, until sometime in the very near future—as it pertained to Peter’s day. This eternal life—the salvation of our souls—was ready to be revealed at the “appearing of Jesus Christ” (1Peter 1:7-9).
Am I saying that Jesus came and we missed him? No, I am saying no such thing. However, I am saying Jesus’ second coming is in two phases. For the first phase the apostles needed and requested a sign (Matthew 24:3, 30), so they would know when Jesus would take over his Messianic throne (cf. Revelation 11:15-18). Paul spoke about this very thing in his epistle to the Corinthians. He told them that the dead would rise first and greet Jesus in the air (1Corinthians 15:52). Paul also spoke of Jesus’ coming and the resurrection in his first epistle to the Thessalonians. The dead in Christ would rise first—i.e. they who were dead, had no spirit life or immortal soul etc. They were dead, and the dead rise before we who are alive are caught up to meet with Jesus (1Thessalonians 4:13-17).
If we read this Scripture very carefully we would see that Paul does not say all of us who are alive will immediately go to be with the Lord—only that when we do, it will be a sudden occurrence, in the twinkling of an eye. In other words, at the coming of Christ, those who are alive would be able to go to be with the Lord when they die (cf. Philippians 1:21-23), but there would come a time when we who are alive would be changed and then caught up with our brethren and be with the Lord (1Thessalonians 4:17). From the time of his coming, there would be no more soul sleep after death for those who are in Christ Jesus.
The fact is that today to be absent from this life is to be present with the Lord. Nevertheless, Paul didn’t always have this opinion about the then present circumstances. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul claimed that when believers died, we slept (1Corinthians 11:30). In fact, even earlier yet the Scriptures tell us that Stephen fell asleep when he died (Acts 7:60). Eternal life has come into focus only since Jesus died and rose again from the dead—and then it wasn’t immediate, that is, for believers who died! The promise of eternal life was a hope, reserved for us until the coming of Jesus (1Peter 1:5; cf. Revelation 14:13).
The entire book of Revelation concerns the revelation of Jesus (Revelation 1:1), and believers received the salvation of their souls at the revelation of Jesus (1Peter 1:5, 7). The word appearing (G602) in 1Peter 1:7 in the phrase “the appearing of Jesus Christ” is the same word for “revelation of Jesus Christ” in Revelation 1:1. The book of Revelation goes on to describe events leading up to the coming or return of Jesus Christ.
In Revelation 19 he is seen returning upon a great white horse to take his position as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:11-16). It is the time of salvation (Revelation 19:1) and the Marriage Supper of the lamb (Revelation 19:7-9). Yet, it isn’t until the next chapter that Satan is bound (Revelation 20:1-3), the so called “Millennium” begins, after which Satan is released, and he leads armies against the Jews (Revelation 20:7-10).
The point is this: Jesus returns in chapter 19 and binds Satan in chapter 20. After a very long period of time Satan is released from his “prison” (death) and permitted to deceive the nations once more. All this occurs before the Lord returns to the earth with his Bride (us) who have gone to meet him in the air (Revelation 21:1-3). Therefore, the prophecy of Jesus’ second coming to this earth, given by the angel to the apostles on the day Jesus ascended into heaven (Acts 1:11), does not occur until Satan is bound for a very long time while Jesus reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 20:1-3; cf. 19:11-16 and 11:15-18). Yet, our salvation, which is revealed at the coming of the Lord (1Peter 1:5) has been made secure for us for thousands of years! May God help us to consider these things.