An Eschatology of Fellowship


At the gate that separates life and death is a sanctity that shames seclusion. The joyful fellowship experienced by Christians now is only a preview of what occurs at Christ’s Second Coming (i.e., the Parousia). There is a certain kind of man who turns in fear away from his Source. The other kind of man searches it out like fibered roots scouring for water, the Living Water of freedom and fraternity that underlies all the holy vigor of immortal desire.

Fraternity is on display in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:11. Paul expresses his longing to see the Thessalonians five separate times. They are a source of joy for Paul in this world, but not just in this world, also in the world to come. (2:17, 18; 3:6, 10, 11). The Apostle Paul writes, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20). On the surface, these verses present a dilemma. Aren’t Christians to boast only in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:31; 2 Cor. 10:17)? How can anything or anyone but Christ be the source of hope, joy, or crown of boasting?

Eschatological Fellowship

This “hope or joy or crown of boasting” in other Christians occurs “before our Lord Jesus at his coming” (vs. 19).[1] The Thessalonians are the source of Paul’s glory and joy in the presence of Christ. At least three things in Paul’s eschatology shed light on what this means. First, upon Christ’s return his people marvel at the brilliance of his glory (2 Thess. 1:10). Second, upon Christ’s return his people become co-heirs of Christ and his glory (Eph. 1:18). Third, upon Christ’s return his people fully and existentially receive the righteousness of Christ (2 Tim. 4:8). Every sort of happiness, glory, and joy that Christians experience at the Parousia is included under the benefit of being a child of God and a co-heir with Christ (Rom. 8:17; Gal. 3:29), including the fact that other Christians are “our glory and joy.”[2] It’s not that the Thessalonians are the source of Paul’s glory and joy apart from Christ. Rather, it is them in Christ’s presence that gives Paul glory and joy.[3] The ultimate object of joy is Christ, but not without the happy throng.[4]

Philippians 2:16 suggests that Paul will have the opportunity to “be proud” in his ministry when Christ returns. There will be an occasion to boast about the exploits of the gospel and its effect on God’s covenant people. Christians will have the privilege to concentrate their pride on the church. This is the heavenly fulfillment of what Plato’s Republic refers to as thumos—that sort of spiritedness and honor that inspires Christians to rebel against the rebellion and sharpen their sword against injustice. The Christian’s thumotic attachment depicts the world as it ought to be now in anticipation of what it will be then, when pride and boasting are consecrated in the throne room of God, with everyone gathered around.

Later Paul calls the Philippians his “joy and crown” (Phil. 4:1). Just like in 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, Paul’s inviolable attachment to the Philippians is found within an eschatological framework, specifically Phil. 3:20, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Furthermore, the language of “crown,” which occurs eighteen times in the New Testament, suggests an eschatological context. Except for the four times it refers to the crown of thorns, “crown is the eschatological gift of God to believers.”[5] It is a forward-looking joy that is intimately connected with the return of Christ. And it’s also connected to other saints, past, present, and future. Eschatological fellowship neither steals glory from Christ nor replaces the Christian’s joy in Christ. Rather, the design of redemption is that one must draw from the collective joy to become part of it.

Paul’s letters encourage and command love (1 Cor. 13), unity (Eph. 2:11-22), kindness (Col. 3:12), and generous giving to meet the needs of the brethren (2 Cor. 8:14). Christ’s Second Coming does not nullify the “one another” element of the church. Christ is coming to “present the church to himself” (Eph. 5:27). It is the covenant community who will share in the inheritance of the triumphant Christ and boast in the salvation of Christ. This requires that Christians have joy in one another and boast in each other upon Christ’s return. This exists in perfect harmony with Paul’s teaching which says, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31). To boast in other Christians at the Parousia is to boast in the power of the gospel transforming sinners. This glory is liturgical in form rather than dogmatic.


God’s purpose is not that Christ redeems one person, but one church. Christ’s Second Coming brings the church into the presence of the glory of Christ. This is not an event of private seclusion. It’s consummated joy where the church boasts of God’s great work of salvation. It’s the community crown worn by all co-heirs of Christ. If it is true, as C.S Lewis asserts, that joy is not complete until it is shared, then the Christian dream can never be as individualistic as the American dream.[6]

The Parousia brings the world as it ought to be, the great gathering of the final assembly, the time when each person sees how they fit into the whole. The members of the body will see how each part is knit into one, “how the melodic lines of each individual life harmonize into a communal symphony.” There, with resurrected bodies and resurrected faces, the church will finally be together and realize who they are together, from the beginning of ages to the end. They are a sinful people who needed help breaking away from Satan’s clutches (Heb. 2:14), who needed an exodus from Egypt (1 Cor. 10:2); they are an ignorant people who needed the wisdom of the Lord (1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:8); they are the children of God (Jn. 1:12) who receive all things freely from the heavenly father (Gal. 4:28-31); they are an expatriated people ingrafted into the Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit (Rom. 11:17-24).[7]

[1] The Greek word for “coming” is (parousia) and in Pauline writings it often accents the idea of “presence.” For example see 1 Cor. 16:17; 2 Cor. 10:10; Phil. 2:12.

[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. McNeill. 2 vols. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1005.

[3] Thomas Schreiner makes mention of the fact that “Paul often uses the word ‘glory’ to capture the future joy of believers.” Thomas Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008), 853.

[4] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Vol. 21 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003), 263.

[5] Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey William Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI : Eerdmans, 1964-c1976), 629.

[6] C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1958), 90-98.

[7] Peter Leithart, Against Christianity (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003), 82f.

Published by Jason Cherry

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call and The Making of Evangelical Spirituality (Wipf and Stock).