Text: 1 Corinthians 2:6-10
However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
But as it is written:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.
This morning I want to talk to you about the End Times. In fact, I want to talk about a divine apocalypse. That might sound a little spooky. It might bring to mind images of war, helicopters, and bombs. You might think of plagues and destruction. You might even remember that one Antichrist character with the Russian accent from the Kirk Cameron movie you watched back in Youth Group.
Unfortunately, what we call the “End Times” or “Last Days” is pretty far removed from Biblical eschatology. While the Bible does contain some predictions about the future, the overwhelming majority of what it has to say about end-times fulfillment occurs in the 1st century, particularly in the coming of Christ, His death on the cross, and His being raised from the dead. Even all that “future” stuff is connected to this as well, as it isn’t really about politics or trying to find prophecy in the newspaper. It’s about applying and completing that same of work of Christ across the whole earth. It’s about giving the final stamp of accomplishment to God’s work of worldwide salvation. It’s about Jesus coming back to set all things right. Knowing that this is a sure thing gives the Christian confidence today. And that’s what Paul brings up in this section of 1 Corinthians.
A Different Wisdom
While Christians do not rely upon the wisdom of the world, Paul does say that they possess a special kind of wisdom. “However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing” (1 Cor. 2:6). This Christian wisdom is “for the mature,” which is to say for those who have experienced the enlightening power of the gospel, and this wisdom is not like that of the world. The wisdom of the world is “coming to nothing,” whereas the wisdom of Christ lives into eternity.
In this context, it is important to know that “maturity” is also connected to the concept of “growing up” or “coming of age.” We see this in Galatians 4, where Paul writes:
Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:1-5)
In that passage he makes a direct connection between a child growing up into maturity and the unfolding of God’s redemptive history, coming to its climax in the sending of Jesus to become incarnate and redeem His people. Those 1st century believers were the ones crossing over from childhood into maturity, and all believers after them experience the same sort of “growing up” when they come to Christ. All of this is why Paul can say, later on in 1 Corinthians, that “these were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11). “The ends of the ages” began with the first coming of Jesus Christ into the world. And so the wisdom that the Christians now have is wisdom for the mature.
Mature Wisdom is End-Times Wisdom
Mature wisdom is end-times wisdom. This is also why Paul calls the gospel “a mystery revealed.” From the fall of man into sin, there had been a promise of redemption. Yet no one knew exactly what it would look like, nor all that it would entail. They certainly didn’t predict that salvation would come through a messiah who voluntarily died on the cross for other people’s sins! That’s why this wisdom turns everything upside down. It subverts the wisdom of the world and brings it to nothing.
The “rulers of this age” certainly did not know it. In their wisdom, they thought that they would be able to defeat the work of Christ by tarring His reputation and putting Him to death. And indeed, he did look like a loser, at least in terms of earthly wisdom. But they didn’t know what they were getting into did they? “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:7-8). Compare this to what we read in the Book of Acts:
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.
…Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:22-24, 36)
The rulers of this age followed the wisdom of this age, and in so doing they sealed their own fate. They crucified the Lord of Glory, and now the hidden wisdom of God has been revealed. “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” In putting Him to death, they gave Him even more power, and He’s coming back to judge the earth.
This Wisdom is Apocalyptic
At the beginning of this sermon I said that our assumptions about the “End Times” are often very confused and unbiblical. Some of this is due to silly paperback novels and folk tales which have cropped up over the years, and some of it is simply because we don’t take the time to talk about eschatology carefully. We either say silly things or nothing at all. But this is too bad, because eschatology is a very important part of the gospel. For instance, how many of you know what the word “apocalypse” actually means? There’s a good chance that you think it means something about a battle or catastrophic event. It does not actually mean that, though those things do often accompany an apocalypse in the Bible. Before any of that comes up, the term “apocalypse” first and foremost means “revealing.” Specifically, a Biblical apocalypse is when God reveals Himself and shows up to fulfill a prophecy or render a judgment. The various accounts of divine intervention could be considered “apocalypses,” and nearly every scene where God reveals salvation is an apocalypse. I bring this up because Paul does mention prophetic judgment in this context, but he ties it to the revelation of the gospel, the making plain the mystery of the ages through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Notice verses 7 and 9 of 1 Corinthians 2. In verse 7 Paul says, “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory.” Then in verse 9, he says, “But God has revealed this to us through His Spirit.” God has revealed the hidden wisdom. He has answered the mystery. And He has done so through His Son, Jesus.
Right in between those two verses, Paul quotes from an Old Testament prophesy, “But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him’” (1 Cor. 2:8). This is a quote from Isaiah, particularly Isaiah 64, and when you read the passage in its original context, you will see that it isn’t merely an inspirational message but is in fact a prophecy about future judgment. Here’s what it says in Isaiah 64:
Oh, that You would rend the heavens!
That You would come down!
That the mountains might shake at Your presence—
As fire burns brushwood,
As fire causes water to boil—
To make Your name known to Your adversaries,
That the nations may tremble at Your presence!
When You did awesome things for which we did not look,
You came down,
The mountains shook at Your presence.
For since the beginning of the world
Men have not heard nor perceived by the ear,
Nor has the eye seen any God besides You,
Who acts for the one who waits for Him.
You meet him who rejoices and does righteousness,
Who remembers You in Your ways.
You are indeed angry, for we have sinned—
In these ways we continue;
And we need to be saved. (Isaiah 64:1-5)
Oh God, come down and rip open the sky. Shake the mountains and burn the earth. Come down here and judge us because we have sinned and we need to be saved! Paul takes this prophetic passage about divine judgment and applies it to the Corinthians’ current situation.
The Corinthians, and by extension Christians today, do not have earthly wisdom. They are not rich and powerful. But they do have the secret wisdom that God is coming to judge the earth. They also know that He has already begun this apocalyptic action through the coming of Jesus Christ. We know what the rulers of the age did not know. The crucifixion of Christ was the ultimate judgment day.
Indeed, the rulers of this world would never have put Jesus to death had they known what it would lead to. What looked like victory for the world actually guaranteed their defeat, even if they couldn’t see it at the time, and even if we don’t always see it now. But it’s true. Christ is already victorious:
And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. (Col. 2:13-15)
And if you don’t believe this now, just wait. When God rips open the heavens, and when Jesus comes back to judge the earth, then it will all be plain and clear.
This is what we know. This is our wisdom. This wisdom we have is not worldly wisdom. It will not necessarily “answer” all of the various problems we encounter in our day-to-day life. It won’t make us better business men, politicians, scientists, or mechanics. But it is deep wisdom, and it will answer the deepest problems of the world, the problems of sin, sorrow, and death. We know the answer to these problems, and we know that God is taking cosmic action. Indeed, we know that He has already taken cosmic action through His Son, through the work of the Cross. We know that He has defeated Satan, that He has wiped away the accusations against us, and that He has disarmed principalities and powers. We know that “It is finished.” And we know that He’s coming again.
Now, to bring this all to bear on ourselves today, we need to keep a few things in mind and then hear a few words of encouragement. The fact that Christians do have this spiritual wisdom and special knowledge about God’s plan does not undo or contradict Paul’s earlier instruction for us to adopt a posture of weakness and humility. It would be quite illogical, not to mention sinful, to use the gospel as a way to believe yourself to be smarter than everyone else. We may never be haughty. We also cannot be cynical, as is often the trap for enlightened people. We must be humble and faithful.
But having said that, our knowledge of God’s greater plan does reframe the context of wisdom, and it puts things into perspective. We may not think of ourselves as superior, but we do actually have the answer to the greatest question in life. We know how this world’s going to end, and we know the only way to be saved. Therefore we should be humble, knowing who we are and that “the answer” is not from us but from God, but at the same time, we shouldn’t be discouraged or depressed. We can have hope and so we should have hope. Indeed, we must have hope because we know that God is acting.
“Apocalypse” does mean judgment, but first it means revelation. It means the revealing of God and His plan. When God reveals Himself, things change. When God shows up, He brings judgment, but when God brings judgment He brings salvation. Apocalypse is gospel for those who trust in Christ.
As Paul puts it, “What eye had not seen and ear had not heard, God has revealed to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:10). God gives us His deep things by giving us the One who can search those deep things. This should give us comfort. This should make us humble. This should make us wonder. This should make us worship.
And we should take comfort in God’s coming judgment, what we call the Last Days. We should take comfort in them because they will be His revelation of Himself to the world, once and for all. The Final Judgment is good news, because it is just judgment. Listen to the words we sing from Psalm 98, word you probably now know by heart, and this will become clear:
The great salvation wrought by him
Jehovah has made known
His justice in the nations’ sight
He openly has shown
Because he comes, he surely comes
The judge of earth to be
With justice he will judge the world
All men with equity
Let us pray.