(1Co_15:50-53) The need for the resurrection.
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God: Paul is not saying, “material things can not inherit the kingdom of God,” because Jesus’ resurrection body was a material body. Flesh and blood, in this context, means “our present bodies.” Jesus’ resurrection body was not some “pure spirit” body, but a material body described as flesh and bones (Luk_24:39) instead of flesh and blood. This may seem like a small distinction to us, but it must be an important distinction to God.
Nor does corruption inherit incorruption: The word corruption does not mean moral or ethical corruption, but physical, material corruption. These bodies which are subject to sickness, disease, injury, and one-day decay, are unsuited to heaven. Corruption cannot inherit incorruption.
I tell you a mystery: A mystery is simply a thing to be understood by spiritual, rather than by merely human perception. Paul will tell the Corinthian Christians something they could not have known by reason or research. They could not have known this unless God revealed it to them.
We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed: Since sleep is a softer way of describing the death of a believer, Paul is telling us that not all Christians will die, but there will be a “final generation” who will be transformed into resurrection bodies at the return of Jesus before they ever face death.
Does we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed mean that Paul predicted Jesus would come in his lifetime? Barclay says yes, and simply points out that Paul was dead wrong here. But Hodge recognizes that Paul isn’t necessarily referring to only believers of his day with all; it is a word that properly embraces all believers, over all time. Secondly, it was right and proper for Paul to live as if the coming of Jesus was imminent, though he did not in fact know when Jesus would return. When writing Scripture, Paul was infallible, but not omniscient.
“The plain fact is that Paul did not know when these events would take place, and nowhere does he claim to know. So when he says we he means ‘we believers.’“ (Morris)
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet . . . the dead will be raised incorruptable, and we shall be changed: In a single moment, Jesus will gather His people (both dead and on the earth) to Himself, for resurrection.
Paul expresses the same idea again: For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1Th_4:15-18) This remarkable, instant, gathering of Christians unto Jesus in the clouds has been called the rapture, after the Latin word for caught up.
There will come a day, when in God’s eternal plan, He gives those dead in the Lord their resurrection bodies, and then in an instant He gathers all His people to meet Jesus in the air. All the redeemed on the earth at that time will rise up to meet the Lord in the clouds, and will receive their resurrection bodies.
What of the dead in Christ before that day? Are they lying in the grave, in some kind of soul sleep or suspended animation? No. Paul made it clear that to be absent from the body means to be present with the Lord. (2Co_5:8) Either the present dead in Christ are with the Lord in a spiritual body, awaiting their final resurrection body; or, because of the nature of timeless eternity, they have received their resurrection bodies already because they live in the eternal “now.”
At the last trumpet: What is the last trumpet? Those who believe Jesus gathers His people after He has poured out His wrath on a Jesus-rejecting world sometimes argue that it is the last trumpet of judgment, cited in Rev_11:15-19. But this is not necessarily the case at all.
The last trumpet may not refer to the last trumpet of the seven trumpets of Revelation at all, but simply refer to the last trumpet believers hear on this earth.
This last trumpet may be connected with the trumpet of God in 1Th_4:16, but not with the trumpets of angels in Revelation 11. A distinction may be made between the trumpet of an angel and the trump of God.
Ironside says that the last trumpet was a figure of speech that came from the Roman military, when they would break camp. The first trumpet meant, “strike the tents and prepare to leave.” The second trumpet meant, “fall into line.” The third and last trumpet meant “march away.” The last trumpet Paul speaks of describes the Christian’s “marching orders” at the rapture.
Chuck Smith points to a grammatical construction that would be different if this trumpet were the trumpet of Revelation 11.
“This, as well as all the rest of the peculiar phraseology of this chapter, is merely Jewish, and we must go to the Jewish writers to know what is intended. On this subject, the rabbins use the very same expression. Thus Rabbi Akiba: ‘How shall the holy blessed God raise the dead? We are taught that God has a trumpet a thousand ells long, according to the ell of God: this trumpet he shall blow, so that the sound of it shall extend from one extremity of the earth to the other. At the first blast the earth shall be shaken; at the second, the dust shall be separated; at the third, the bones shall be gathered together; at the fourth, the members shall wax warm; at the fifth, the heads shall be covered with skin; at the sixth, the souls shall be rejoined to their bodies; at the seventh, all shall revive and stand clothed.’“ (Clarke)
So this corruptible must put on incorruption: Resurrection is a must for the Christian’s destiny. In light of all this, how could the Corinthian Christians let go of such an important truth?
(1Co_15:54-57) Resurrection is the final defeat of death.
So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Death is swallowed up in victory: A resurrected body is not a resuscitated corpse. It is a new order of life that will never die again. Death is defeated by resurrection.
Freud was wrong when he said: “And finally there is the painful riddle of death, for which no remedy at all has yet been found, nor probably ever will be.” Compare that with Paul’s triumphant declaration, Death is swallowed up in victory!
O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Paul, knowing death is a defeated enemy because of Jesus’ work, can almost taunt death, and mock it. Death has no power over the person in Jesus Christ!
“This is the sharpest and the shrillest note, the boldest and the bravest challenge, that ever man rang in the ears of death . . . Death is here out-braved, called craven to his face, and bidden to do his worst.” (Trapp)
“I will not fear thee, death, why should I? Thou lookest like a dragon, but thy sting is gone. Thy teeth are broken, oh old lion, wherefore should I fear thee? I know thou art no more able to destroy me, but thou art sent as a messenger to conduct me to the golden gate wherein I shall enter and see my Saviour’s unveiled face for ever. Expiring saints have often said that their last beds have been the best they have ever slept upon.” (Spurgeon)
For those who are not in Jesus Christ, death still has its sting. “The sting of death lay in this, that we had sinned and were summoned to appear before the God whom we had offended. This is the sting of death to you, unconverted ones, not that you are dying, but that after death is the judgment, and that you must stand before the Judge of the quick and dead to receive a sentence for the sins which you have committed in your body against him.” (Spurgeon)
“Brethren, the wicked must rise again from the dead. The lip with which you have drunk the intoxicating drink till you have reeled again, that lip shall be used in drinking down the fiery wrath of God. Remember, too, ungodly woman, the eyes that are full of lust will one day be full of horror; the ear with which you listen to lascivious conversation must listen to the sullen moans, the hollow groans, and shrieks of tortured ghosts. Be not deceived; you sinned in your body, you will be damned in your body . . . It must lie in the fire and burn, and crack, and writhe throughout eternity.” (Spurgeon)
The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law: The principle of resurrection also proves that we are not under the law any longer. We are no longer subject to the penalty of the law (death), and we are set free from sin. Sin is the ultimate cause of death (Rom_6:23, Gen_2:17), and the result cannot be defeated unless the cause is defeated also.
Paul brilliantly links together the ideas of sin, death, and our identification with Jesus’ death and resurrection in Rom_6:1-14.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ: This defeat of death is only possible for those who live through our Lord Jesus Christ. For others, there is resurrection and eternal life, but unto damnation. If you are an unbeliever, death is not a friend, it is an enemy.
(1Co_15:58) Final application: how our destiny of resurrection means we should stand fast for the Lord right now.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Therefore . . . be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord: Because we know death is defeated and we have an eternal, resurrected destiny with Jesus Christ, we should stand firm and unshakable all the more for Him right now. We should work hard in everything now, working for the Lord, because right now counts forever!
Knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord: Even if your labor is vain to everyone else, and everyone else discounts or doesn’t appreciate what you do for the Lord, your labor is not in vain in the Lord. It doesn’t matter if you get the praise or the encouragement. Sometimes you will and sometimes you won’t. But resurrection means that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
“You must not only work, but you must labour - put forth all your strength; and you must work and labour in the Lord - under his direction, and by his influence; for without him you can do nothing.” (Clarke)
This should make us steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord! We don’t need to waver, we don’t need to change direction, we don’t need to fall, and we don’t need to quit. For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. (Heb_6:10) He will show His remembrance of our work and labor of love at the resurrection!
Next Week,Lord willing, we will look at chapter 16.