For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. – Romans 5:17 (ESV)
Paul writes that because of one man’s trespass, death reigned. This death is very much present. It’s presence is felt and seen and experienced on a daily basis. It is inescapable. It is real. It is here. We do not speak of it in lofty, supra-existential terms. As Paul says, death does indeed reign. Paul however, continues on with the words of hope, saying that those who receive an abundance of grace in the “free gift” that “brought justification” (5:16), who were “saved by His life” (5:10), who “have now received reconciliation” (5:11) because “while we were still weak…Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6), have been “saved by Him from the wrath of God” (5:9).
This escape from the wrath of God appears to be wrapped up with an escape from death. That seems to be a reasonable conclusion, as Paul writes that the free gift of God’s righteousness, that is, the free gift that stems from the execution of God’s covenant faithfulness as dramatically evidenced by and through the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, is life. Not only is it life, but Paul informs us that the reigning in life, the reigning of life, the reigning that takes place because of the Resurrection, is to be understood akin to the way in which death reigned. How does death reign? As has already been said, death’s reign is present, felt, seen, experienced, inescapable, and very much real. Yes, through one man’s trespass death reigned. This was not the Creator God’s intention for this world that He is said to have brought into existence and ordered as recorded in Genesis, and over which He set a being created in His own image to have dominion and to represent Him. Therefore, this skewed situation was set right by one man’s “act of righteousness (covenant faithfulness)” (5:18).
If it has been set right, then the reign of life, eternal life, which is concomitant with the resurrected life of Jesus, must also be spoken of as being very much present and felt and seen and experienced on a daily basis. It must also be understood to be inescapable and real and here. Paul does not present this reigning of life as being something solely on the other side of the termination of mortal existence. No, he sets it alongside the reign of death, which occurs in this present world, saying that the reign of life replaces it when one confesses Jesus as Lord, and so shares in the life of the age to come, bringing the kingdom of heaven to bear in the world. Paul is not pointing to an other-worldly existence in which to enjoy the reigning of life that is associated with God’s faithfulness to His covenant, which is evidenced through Jesus, but says that that life is to be understood as having dominion in this world, in the exact same way in which we speak of death.
If there must be a wait until an earthly existence has ceased in order to enjoy eternal life in and with Christ, then a true deliverance from death is something of which we cannot rightly speak. If we do not speak of the reign of death in spiritual, other-worldly terms, but employ understandable and sensible earthly terms when speaking of death as Paul does here, then why must we constantly couch our speaking of the gift of eternal life in covenant participation in such ethereal terms, rather than in the present, earthly terms in which Paul is clearly presenting them? Why must we constantly engage in pushing our hope away from us? Is God’s arm shortened? Is His power to save only limited to the after-life? Is the power that raised up Christ from the dead actually insufficient to quicken our mortal bodies?