The word of the day is “immortality.” In today’s reading, we hear St. Paul proclaim the Gospel that Christ has “brought life and immortality” to light. Our reading of 2 Timothy 1:1-2, 8-18 is a glorious beginning of Paul’s second letter to the young Bishop Timothy of Ephesus. The Orthodox Study Bible notes that according to tradition, this was probably Paul’s last letter before His martyrdom in Rome about 67 AD. Paul himself says that his “departure” from this world is “at hand” (vs. 4:6).
Paul begins his letter by recalling that God has both saved us and given us a holy calling (vs. 9). Once again, he sounds his constant theme that salvation has come to the faithful by the “purpose and grace” of God in Christ (vs. 10).
The First Appearing
In Titus, the Apostle s speaks of the “blessed hope of the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2: 13). Indeed, Paul speaks of the “last days” before Christ’s return (vs. 3:1). But in our reading, Paul applies the thought of the “appearing” of our Savior to His incarnation and earthly ministry (vs. 10).
From the Greek word for “appearing,” we get the word epiphany, meaning “to show forth. “In the Greco-Roman society, this term referred to the manifestation of the gods. (Strong’s #2015, 101). Certainly, the Lord appeared on Mt. Tabor in the glorious light of His divinity. But from His incarnation to His resurrection and Ascension, his life on earth was a “shining forth” of the revelation of God Himself.
Light and Immortality to Light
By His divine-human work, Paul says that the Son of God “brought life and immortality to light.” These words summarize the glorious manifestation that the epiphany of Christ revealed. The original Greek word for “life” is a generic term for organic things that have animate existence (Strong’s #2222, 110). But to understand its use in our reading, we must read it in context. In the preceding verse, Paul says that Christ has “abolished death.” The original Greek term comes from the sense of “being idle.” Thus, the word means that death has lost its effect (Strong’s #2673, 133). Death is now powerless, useless, and futile. Thus, Paul is here speaking about a “deathless” life.
But Paul also says that Christ has brought “immortality” into the light. In the original Greek, the word refers to incorruption from the word that means “not wasted away” or “not spoiled.” Thus, in our passage, Paul is speaking of a “deathless life” that is incorrupt. This thought of incorruption has undertones that the term “immortality” does not capture. The idea cannot help but remind us of a key argument of St. Peter’s sermon on Pentecost. Peter proclaimed, “Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption (Acts 2:27 quoting Psalm 16:10). Echoing this testimony to the Gospel of the resurrection, the Orthodox also often speak of the bodies of saints as “incorrupt.”
Both Immortality and Resurrection
A certain logic follows. The idea of corruption involves something that is subject to corruption. What was it that was “subject to corruption from Adam and Eve onward”? It was the body. Therefore, we can say that the “deathless” life of incorruption that Paul speaks about in our reading is the life of the bodily resurrection. It was not a bodiless immortal soul that appeared to the disciples. It was the resurrected body of Christ. Thus, to have a complete understanding, we must put both immortality and resurrection together to grasp our destiny in Christ. We must speak of the resurrected life as immortal, that is, “deathless” because it will never die again. But we must also understand that life beyond death is in a body that is raised from the dead and no longer subject to corruption.
Justin Martyr’s Defense
Justin Martyr wrote a fictional debate between a believer and a Platonist who affirmed the immortality of the soul but denied the resurrection of the body. In his defense of the faith, Justin Martyr wrote that “it is not impossible for the flesh (body) to be regenerated” (Justin Martyr, “On the Life of the Resurrection, Chapter 10). Justin pointed out that the pagan Greek philosophers had already posited the immortality of the soul. He argued, “If then the Savior… proclaimed salvation to the soul alone, what new thing, beyond what we heard from Pythagoras and Plato and all their band, did He bring us?” (Justin Martyr, Chapter 10). But Justin said that Christ came “proclaiming the glad tidings of a new and strange hope to men” (Justin Martyr, Chapter 10). It was the surprising promise of the resurrection of the body that the Lord not only taught but demonstrated.
In this Nativity Fast, we keep both appearances of the Lord Jesus Christ in mind. We look backward in time to his first Advent when He came in humility. And we look forward in time to His second Advent when He will come in glory. But one thing unites our vision of these two epiphanies of Christ. Both appearances climax in the truth of the resurrection of the body. The first was by the resurrection of Christ to incorruption. And the second will be by the resurrection of the believer to everlasting life. May we live faithfully and joyfully in the light of faith and hope that the truth of these two epiphanies shines into the darkness of this world.