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1 Corinthians 15d

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1 Corinthians 15:50-51… Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed...

Commentary

            In v. 49 Paul said that because believers have inherited a body of flesh, born in the likeness of the first man Adam, they will also bear the image of the heavenly once they die. While Adam’s likeness is what all humans inherit at birth, that which awaits believers in heaven is the image of Christ. Now in v. 50 Paul makes it clear once again that the flesh and blood that all humans have while on the earth will in fact not inherit God’s kingdom. The word “inherit” means to acquire some possession that belonged to someone else following their death. The inheritance that Christians look forward to at their own death is the “kingdom of God.” God’s kingdom is twofold: His creation and His reign in the hearts of believers. Verse 50 encompasses both of these options along with the eternal state of heaven which is yet future. In other words, the full measure of God’s kingdom will not allow flesh and blood to live in it. The human body belongs to the perishable world which will one day be wiped out by the wrath of God only to be restored with the new heavens and a new earth (Isa. 65:17; 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13). Our flesh and blood is no more suited for the afterlife in heaven than fish are outside of water.

            “Behold!” means “Listen up now!” For Paul is going to reveal a “mystery.” The “mystery” here refers to a hidden truth of the past now revealed. It was common knowledge to the Corinthians that Christ was going to return to the earth in his second coming to establish his eternal reign and bring eternal life. All of the Gospel writers and the OT prophets attested to this. Zechariah 14 deals at length with the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Matthew 24:4-31 is the most exhaustive of all the Gospel accounts regarding Christ’s second coming. And yet in both passages (and the others) there is no mention of saints being taken away prior to this. The “mystery,” therefore, that Paul speaks of  is the Rapture of the saints prior to Christ’s second coming (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18). The “mystery” revealed is that “not all will sleep [die], but all will be changed.” If Paul were merely speaking of Christ’s second coming, a fact that all looked forward to, he wouldn’t have called it a “mystery.” The mystery is the Rapture of the saints.

 The mystery revealed is twofold. First, “we shall not all sleep [die].” At the Rapture Christ appears in the clouds, and those who have not yet died meet him in the air with the saints gone before (cf. 1 Thes. 4:16-17). Those involved in this phenomenon will include Christians dating back to the time of Acts 2 in the first century A.D. to the present day.

Second, “we shall all be changed.” Of course this point is what he’s been preaching all along in reference to the resurrection, especially in v. 50 where he said that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” So if our present bodily form cannot inherit eternal life, then believers must be changed in order to have suitable forms to go into eternal life with Christ. The word for “changed” simply means to “transform one particular thing into something else.” Believers’ bodies will be undergo a change making them suitable for their heavenly eternity.

Food for Thought

Dr. John Walvoord says, “Though the normal order for all men is to live, die, and then be subject to resurrection, there will be on grand exception at the end of the age. In history, Enoch and Elijah were caught up to heaven without dying. At the Rapture of the church, however, ad whole generation of those who are saved will be caught up to heaven without dying. This will constitute the grand exception to the normal rule of death and resurrection.”

1 Corinthians 15:51-52… We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

Commentary

            Verse 52 speaks of the rapidity of the change that will come upon believers when the “last trumpet sounds.” The ones who believe in Christ’s resurrection from the dead and recognize Him as Lord will be changed in a “moment” (Greek atomos). This word refers to the smallest conceivable quantity of something; something too small to be cut. The phrase “in the twinkling of an eye” also refers to rapid time. The Greeks used this phrase for the flapping of a wing, the buzz of a gnat, the quivering of a harp, and the twinkling of a star. What Paul is saying is that the transformation of the believer’s body will be instantaneous when Christ appears.

            The change will occur “at the last trumpet.” The term “last” in the Bible (Greek eschatos) means “final,” but it doesn’t appear that this trumpet is actually the last trumpet ever sounded among the unfolding events of the end times in the Bible. For instance, one bell in a school-house may be the last bell of the hour, but it may be followed by a first bell for the next hour. “Last” must be understood then to relate to the time order indicated by the context. And in comparing Scripture with Scripture the term here refers more to a trumpet that is part of the final series of trumpets sounded in the end times. It will be the last trumpet call for Christians in the church age similar to the ones in Ex. 19:16 and Isa. 27:13 where they signal a calling together of God’s people. In the OT trumpets were used as a means of calling people together for various reasons. In the NT trumpets have various uses, one of which is judgment during the Tribulation (Rev. 8:13; 9:14). The trumpet in v. 52 is the same one Paul speaks of in 1 Thes. 4:16-17 where it is God’s last call for believers as they gather together with Christ (the Rapture). The last trumpet in Revelation 11:15 is not the same as the one Paul describes here. The trumpet of Revelation 11 is likely the same one described in Matthew 24:31 – a trumpet blown at the end of the Tribulation signaling Christ’s second Advent. But the present passage isn’t about judgment, rather, it’s about God’s mercy to the church as He spares them from His wrath about to be poured out upon the earth and its inhabitants. In this scenario “the last trumpet” sounds, and Jesus gathers all those who have placed their faith in him from the time of Acts 2 (beginning of the church age) until the time he reappears in the clouds. This appearance of Christ is imminent, and it signifies the beginning of the Tribulation. It is “last” in the sense that it will be the final trumpet call for the church-age saints to hear before they enter into Christ’s presence for eternity. The people Paul speaks to are believers (“brethren”), and when he says that “we will not all sleep” he refers to Christians who will still be alive when the “last trumpet” sounds.

Food for Thought

The Bible teaches that the final trumpet for the church will sound, and all the deceased who has placed their faith in Christ will come out of their graves to meet Christ in the air and receive their glorified bodies. Christians still living escape death and also receive their imperishable bodies. With all believers removed from the planet God’s Holy Spirit will no longer restrain Satan’s evil. Thus will begin the 7-year Tribulation detailed in Revelation 6-19. Many of those left behind will repent of their sins and profess Christ Lord, and they will endure great trials and even martyrdom. Christ’s second coming will come 7 years later, and contrary to the Rapture where the saints meet Christ in the air, he will descend to earth on the Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem (Zech. 14:3) with the final trumpet to judge the sheep and the goats (Matt. 25:31ff.).

1 Corinthians 15:53-55… For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"

 

Commentary

The “perishable” and the “mortal” in v. 53 are both speaking of the same thing, namely, the flesh and blood all humans possess. This is a further commentary on v. 51 when it says that “we will all be changed.” When the dead come out of their graves at Christ’s appearing they will obviously need a new body, for those who have been dead many years will have nothing from their former body with which to enter into the eternal state. And those still alive at the coming of Christ will also need an eternal body to replace their perishable one. Paul says that the “perishable” and the “mortal” must “put on the imperishable” – they must “put on the immortal.” The phrase “put on” is used for getting dressed, and Paul is referring to the very same thing only in a spiritual nature. Basically it pictures the redeemed spirits putting on their redeemed clothing that will last them for eternity. The passage might then say, “For this nature of ours that will decay must be changed into a nature that will live for ever.”

            After the perishable and mortal body has passed on and subsequently put on the new nature, then the saying that is written in Isaiah 25:8 will be fully realized as v. 54 attests. Now the Isaiah passage literally reads, “Now He will swallow up death for eternity.” Paul uses the word “victory” (Greek Nike) as an idiom for “eternity” (a common occurrence in the Septuagint), but notice that he sees the phenomenon of death being “swallowed up” (destroyed) in victory as a future occurrence. This had of course already been fulfilled in Jesus Christ who gained the victory over death following his resurrection, but it is yet to be fully realized for all those who place their faith in him. That full realization comes for believers at their own physical death.

            Then Paul quotes from Hosea 13:14 as another yet-to-be-fulfilled passage that seems to taunt the Grim Reaper: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” This will be the taunt following the coming of Christ when he clothes his children with eternal and immortal bodies fit for the heavenly realm. This is what Christians look to in the future following their death, and they have the guarantee that they will gain this final victory over death because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ – “the first fruits from among the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20). Since he overcame the sting of death, so too will all those who place their faith in him. They will have complete victory for eternity. The death sentence they incurred at birth due to Adam’s sin has already been reversed in Jesus Christ through his resurrection, and the full realization of the Hosea and Isaiah prophecies will come to pass at Christ’s coming. So, the entire process is based upon Christ’s resurrection from the dead. If he didn’t rise then there can be no ultimate victory over death – the quintessential enemy of mankind from his mother’s womb.

Food for Thought

            Man’s problem has always been sin. And this is why he dies. It is the enemy of man that causes many to shudder at the thought of this inevitable fate. Death is unavoidable, and ironically all those who think they do end up dying anyway. The secret to dying, however, is to receive the message Jesus Christ. Once a person knows and understands the Savior of the world death becomes exciting and wonderful in some sense. We certainly don’t want to rush the process, but rejoice today if you know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior because ever since he died for you the sting of death is nothing more than the brush of a butterfly ushering in an eternity with God.

1 Corinthians 15:56-57… The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Commentary

Verse 56 is explanatory in that it grants insight into what the “sting” of death is, namely, “sin.” Sin is what brings about death. Death here is personified, and we might compare it to a bee. The stinger is to the bee what sin is to death. It was the command of God to Adam in the Garden of Eden that he not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:17). To do so would mean death. Genesis 3 tells us that Adam did eat of the fruit of the tree, and this is what brought about his own eventual death, not only for him but for all of his offspring (i.e., all humans). So the “sting” of death is sin, and sin represents everything that is contrary to God’s will. The power of sin, however, comes from the “law.” The “law” here is a reference to the Mosaic Law – the Ten Commandments. The commands of God are the very words that Paul says are the “power of sin.” The Law of God is what gives sin its power, not because the Law is sin but because it makes people want to sin (cf. Romans 7). The Law of God stirs the wickedness in man and makes him want to sin. When the Law says, “Do not steal,” it prompts a person to do exactly that, steal. This is how sin gets its power. If stealing the possessions of others was legal then the action would probably be reduced by a factor of 100. Why? Because the main reason people steal is simply because it’s wrong to do so. The feeling of being “bad” prompts people to sin. St. Augustine (4th century theologian) uses this illustration when commenting on his own conversion to Christ. As a child he stole a bag of pears. He said that he didn’t steal them because he was hungry, and he wasn’t intending to sell them to make a profit. He said that he did so because his own depravity demanded it. The fact that he knew stealing was wrong made him want to do so. It was the law not to steal that powered the sin inside of him. The reality of death awaits us all because of our sin. It cannot be avoided because it is so inbred within us. This is exactly why Jesus Christ paid the penalty of physical death for us bring us, for our salvation.

            Now Paul breaks out in thanks toward God who “gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” He was fully aware of his own depravity even in light of the fact that he was a Christian saved by grace. Even with his salvation Paul knew that he could not have victory over sin without God. The victory comes through Jesus Christ and his prevailing over death through his resurrection from the dead. Without that one event in history there is no victory. Without Christ’s resurrection he was just another “good” man who died for a cause. Many have done that, but Jesus came back from the dead after three days. That can be said of no other man. And it proves that Jesus is the Christ – the Son of God. Victory over sin & death is found only in Christ.

Food for Thought

Notice that Christ “gives” victory. We don’t earn it, and we can’t work for it. He gives it. Sin is what separates man from God and brings him death. But believers have victory in Jesus over their sin. There is victory in none other. Trying to gain victory over our sins and temptations without God is impossible. It’s like golf game without golf clubs. The game simply cannot be played without clubs. Praise God that He gained the victory for us by dying on the cross to pay our penalty for sin. While we were trying to play golf without clubs, as it were, Christ showed up and gave us the clubs. (He even played our round for us and shot the winning score for us to enjoy!). In this act of God and through faith in Christ believers have “victory.” This illustrates God’s grace because the victory was given to us while we sat in a state of complete depravity rendering us incapable of accomplishing the victory we need to overcome death.

1 Corinthians 15:58… Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

Commentary

            Now as Paul completes his theological discourse on the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the implications that event has for believers, he presents the application that stems from his teaching. The “therefore” draws a logical conclusion based upon his prior teaching. It is noteworthy once again that Paul doesn’t write a letter to the Corinthians that simply tells them how to behave properly. That admonition comes only after his theological discourse.

            Paul presents three imperative applications to the Corinthians, his “beloved brethren,” so that they can put their theology in motion. His love for them has fueled this entire letter. First, he commands them to be “steadfast.” Used three times by Paul (1 Cor. 7:37; 15:58; Col. 1:23) the term literally means “to remain seated; settled.” Paul is commanding the wishy-washy and carried-away-by-senseless-theology Corinthians to finally understand the truth and to remain unmoved and firm in that knowledge. These were a group of Christians who were obviously swayed by the culture around them, and Paul tells them to firm up. Like a preacher worth his salt Paul corrects their theology then instructs them to remain firm and steadfast in their faith.

            Second, Paul commands the Corinthians to always be “abounding in the work of the Lord.” This phrase describes the main verb (“be steadfast”). To “abound” in the Bible is to have “more than enough; excessive.” Therefore, one who remains firm in his/her Christian beliefs and who is uncompromising in their quest to be true to God is one who continually has more than enough and whose Christian lifestyle is one that is spiritually excessive. It does not speak of money in this context or any other material possession but instead speaks of far greater treasures – the treasure of spiritual abundance. Being steady in one’s faith produces an abundance.

            Finally, Paul lists a third point that also reflects the character of the main verb to be “steadfast”: “know that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” Obviously being “steadfast” doesn’t mean that believers are not going to work and suffer. Being “steadfast” and “abounding in the work of the Lord” involves great “toil” – a term that denotes “hard work” and “great trials.” Being firm in one’s commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ involves persecution, trials, failures, and many discouraging times. It was never meant to be easy, and it certainly isn’t. But Paul sends encouragement to believers of all ages in telling them that they are to “continually know” that whatever difficulties they face none of them are “in vain” if they serve the Lord Jesus Christ. Serving the Lord and remaining steadfast is supposed to encourage believers in the midst of great difficulty and toil that what they do is not foolish, it’s not without result or purpose, and it’s not without reward. Nothing done in service to the Lord is done in vain. That is all the encouragement believers need in order to deal with the many toils believing in Christ brings.

Food for Thought

            Understanding the theology of the resurrection moves true Christians to action. It’s not simply about what God wants us to do, it’s about how God has revealed Himself in His Word THEN what He wants us to do with it. There can be no consistent Christ-centered life and behavior apart from knowing the Bible first and foremost. It is the knowledge of God’s Word and the salvation that it offers to us that is meant to move believers into action. Sermons that simply aim to move Christians to action apart from the theology behind the text of Scripture are shallow at best, and at worst can and will produce a generation unorthodox “believers” who attempt to gain salvation and victory through ethics and their own “good” works.

1 Corinthians 15:50-58…

 

50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

            In v. 49 Paul says that because believers have inherited a body of flesh, born in the likeness of the first man Adam, they will also bear the image of the heavenly once they die. While Adam is what Christians inherit on the earth, that which awaits them in heaven is the image of Christ – the heavenly. Now in v. 50 Paul makes it clear once again that the flesh and blood that all humans have while on the earth will in fact not inherit God’s kingdom. The word “inherit” means to acquire some possession that belonged to someone else following their death. The inheritance that Christians look forward to at their own death (as a result of Christ’s death) is the “kingdom of God.” This phrase is well-used in the Bible, and it can refer to God’s entire creation (the universe) which is God’s footstool or also to God’s reign in the heart’s of those who place their trust in Him and recognize Him as Lord. Both of these qualify as God’s kingdom, but the context in v. 50 encompasses both of these options along with the eternal state of heaven which is yet future. In other words, the full measure of God’s kingdom will not allow flesh and blood to live in it. That which is perishable (the human body) belongs to the perishable world (the earth) which will one day be wiped out by the wrath of God only to be restored with a new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13). The human body in its present form (flesh and blood) is no more suited for the afterlife in heaven than a soldier on the front lines of battle is suited without a weapon and camouflage.

51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed...

            “Behold!” is a strong interjection in v. 51. In today’s vernacular it might say, “Listen up now!” And what Paul intends to speak about is a “mystery.” The “mystery” here refers to a hidden truth of the past now revealed. It was common knowledge to the Corinthians that Christ was going to return to the earth in his second coming to establish his eternal reign and bring eternal life. All of the Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in his Gospel account and in Revelation 19:11-21) spoke of this as well as the OT prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah, and most, if not all, believers understood this clearly from the scriptures. Zechariah 14 deals at length with the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Matthew 24:4-31 is the most exhaustive of all the Gospel accounts regarding Christ’s second coming. And yet in both passages (and all the others too) there is no mention of saints being taken away prior to Christ’s coming as in the case in the doctrine of the Rapture spoken of in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and in the present passage of 1 Corinthians 15:52. So, the mystery Paul speaks of (the truth once hidden but now revealed) is in relation to the Rapture of the church – when “not all will die, but all will be changed.” If Paul were merely speaking of Christ’s second coming (distinct from the Rapture) then he wouldn’t have referenced the “mystery.”

 In dealing with the topic of the resurrection and body of those who will be resurrected to eternal life with Jesus Christ Paul now gives insight into a phenomenon that was once hidden but is now revealed to him as an apostle of Jesus Christ. The mystery revealed is twofold. First, “we shall not all sleep.” Again Paul uses the euphemism “sleep” to refer to death, and what he is saying is that not everyone will die. For when Christ returns there will be people who have not died, and only they will escape death. He says as much in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 when he says, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 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. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.” Both of these references are what pre-Millennial theologians call the “rapture.” It is quite simply a reference to the time when Christ comes in the clouds and takes those who have placed their faith in him, whether the living or the dead. This will encompass folks from the first days of the church (Acts 2) till the present.

Second, “we shall all be changed.” Of course this point is what he’s been preaching all along in reference to the resurrection, especially in v. 50 where he said that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” So if our present bodily form cannot inherit eternal life, then believers must be changed in order to have suitable forms to go into eternal life with Christ. The word for “changed” simply means to “make something other than it is.” The bodies of believers will be made into something else that will suit them for eternity with Christ in heaven.

52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

            Verse 52 speaks of the rapidity of the change that will come upon believers when the “last trumpet sounds.” The ones who believe in Christ’s resurrection from the dead and recognize Him as Lord will be changed “in a moment,” (Greek atomos from whence we get “atom”). This word refers to the smallest conceivable quantity of something; something too small to be cut. The phrase “in the twinkling of an eye” also refers to rapid time. The Greeks used this phrase for the flapping of a wing, the buzz of a gnat, the quivering of a harp, and the twinkling of a star. What Paul is saying is that the transformation of the believer’s body will be instantaneous when Christ appears; it will occur in a “moment” – in the “twinkling of an eye.”

            When will this change occur? Paul says, “At the last trumpet.” The term “last” in the Bible (Greek eschatos) can mean “final in a series,” but in comparing Scripture with Scripture the term here refers more to a trumpet that is part of the final series of trumpets. It will be the last trumpet call for Christians in the church age however for, as in Exodus 19:16 and Isaiah 27:13, it signals a calling together of God’s people. In the OT trumpets were used as a means of calling people together for various reasons. In Exodus 19:16 the trumpet blast signaled all of Israel that they were in God’s presence, and in Isaiah 27:13 the trumpet calls God’s people to worship. In the NT trumpets refer to their OT uses (Heb. 12:19), to the sound of God’s voice (Rev. 1:10; 4:1), to the series of judgments in the Tribulation (Rev. 8:13; 9:14), and to Christ’s calling of those who believe in Him and who are called home to be with him (as in the present passage). Some have attempted to equate this “last trumpet” Paul speaks of with the last trumpet in the Book of Revelation. But the Revelation trumpet is one of great judgment and wrath on the earth. The trumpet Paul speaks of here is one of grace and mercy to those who have died in Christ and to those who are still alive at the time in which it sounds. If Paul is referring to the Rapture in this passage (as in 1 Thes. 4:16-17) then this trumpet sounds just prior to the 7-year Tribulation spoken of by the prophet Daniel (9:27) and in The Revelation beginning in chapter 6. In this scenario “the last trumpet” sounds, and Jesus gathers all those who have placed their faith in him from the time of Acts 2 (beginning of the church age) until the time he reappears in the clouds. This appearance of Christ is imminent, and this trumpet will be the “last” in the sense that it will be the final trumpet call for the church-age saints to hear before they enter into Christ’s presence for eternity. Paul is clearly speaking to Christians as evidenced by “brethren” in v. 50 and his use of “we” throughout the context. Hence, the people he speaks to are believers, and when he says that “we will not all sleep” he refers to Christians who will still be alive when the “last trumpet” sounds.

In the Rapture, the saints meet Christ in the air (1 Thes. 4:17), while at the second coming of Christ the converted believers of the Tribulation meet Christ on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:3). There will be other trumpets that sound following the one that calls Christians, both dead and alive, home to be with Christ. As referenced earlier, the judgment trumpets, seven of them, of Revelation 8:6ff. will also sound as God metes out His wrath on the earth. Once those trumpets are finished there will be yet another trumpet blown that Matthew 24:31 speaks of. That trumpet, like the trumpet of 1 Cor. 15:52, also calls believers home to heaven. The difference between these two trumpets in these passages is that the Matthew passage speaks of the time immediately following God’s wrath on the earth at the end of the seven-year Tribulation while 1 Cor. 15:52 speaks of the time just prior to the seven-year Tribulation. The context of these passages reveals that these trumpets are different. Matthew 24:31 says nothing of God’s children going into heaven, only that they are gathered. And in Matthew 25:31 there is a sheep/goat judgment time period where we can safely surmise that the sheep are the ones gathered from the Matthew 24:31 passage. In 1 Cor. 15:52

Last trumpet… The most damaging fact in the whole argument, however, is that the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11 is, after all, not the last trumpet of Scripture. According to Matthew 24:31, the elect will be gathered at the coming of Christ to establish His earthly kingdom “with a great sound of a trumpet.” While posttribulationists hold that this is identical with the seventh trumpet, midtribulationists cannot do so. In fact, it is not too much to say that this one reference alone spells the doom of midtribulationism.

The use of “last” in reference to the trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15 is easily explained without resorting to the extremities of midtribulationism. H. A. Ironside interprets it as a familiar military expression: “When a Roman camp was about to be broken up, whether in the middle of the night or in the day, a trumpet was sounded. The first blast meant, ‘Strike tents and prepare to depart.’ The second meant, ‘Fall into line,’ and when what was called ‘the last trump’ sounded it meant, ‘March away.’“ (Addresses on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 529). The last trump of God for the church, following the gospel call and call to preparation, will be the call to go to be with the Lord. Whether or not this explanation be accepted, it illustrates that there is no necessity of relating a trump for the church with trumpets of judgment upon the unsaved. Each trumpet must be related to its own order. Any child in school knows that the last bell for one hour may be followed by a first bell for the next hour. “Last” must be understood then to relate to the time order indicated by the context.

The Problem of Contrasting Details of the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ

Posttribulationists tend to ignore or evade the obvious fact that the rapture is presented as an event entirely different from the second coming of Christ to set up His kingdom. Although they can properly point to the fact that much the same terminology is used, since both refer to a “coming” and a “revelation” of Jesus Christ, the details supplied in passages relating to the rapture and the second coming contrast sharply.

First, in all the passages on the rapture, no preceding signs are given, for the rapture is always presented as an imminent event. By contrast, major passages on the second coming of Christ such as Matthew 24:27–31 and Revelation 19:11–21 clearly picture the great tribulation preceding, and on this virtually all interpreters agree. Signs preceding the second coming of Christ include a definite sequence of important, world-shaking events described in the Old Testament and the New Testament, including the emergence of a ten-nation confederation in the Middle East, the rise of a world ruler, and a climactic world war under way at the time of the second advent. None of these items is ever mentioned in connection with the rapture of the church. In addition, Scriptures make clear that there will be great disturbances in the heavens and great catastrophes on earth, including earthquakes, famine, pestilence, and great loss of life, all of which constitute the horrors of the great tribulation. The second coming clearly is preceded by these events, but not a single passage dealing with the rapture ever anticipates such.

Second, details of the rapture vary considerably from the details of the second coming. At the rapture, saints meet Christ in the air, while at the second coming of Christ, the meeting with saints on earth follows His arrival on the Mount of Olives.

Third, as far as any rapture passage is concerned, there are no fundamental changes in the world situation at the rapture, while at the second coming there are devastating changes including the cleavage of the Mount of Olives (Zech 14:4–5).

Fourth, all agree that living saints are translated, and the dead in Christ are raised at the rapture. In no passage is there mention of translation at the second coming, and the saints who are raised are not identified with the church.

Fifth, posttribulationists have not satisfactorily explained John 14 with its promise of taking the saints to the Father’s house. At the rapture, saints will fulfill this promise; at the second coming to the earth, there is no translation and no departure to the Father’s house.

Sixth, when the rapture occurs, there is no indication of world-wide judgment, though it is followed by the judgment seat of Christ for the church. By contrast, at the second coming the whole world is judged, including both Jew and Gentile, saved and unsaved living on the earth.

Seventh, at the rapture there is no indication that a millennial reign of Christ immediately follows. But major passages on the second coming of Christ picture the world, not only as judged, but as established in righteousness in Christ’s kingdom on the earth.

Eighth, indications from 1 Thessalonians 5 point to the conclusion that the church will be delivered before the time of wrath overtakes the world, while at the second coming the deliverance comes for those who have believed in Christ during the tribulation after they have gone through this time of wrath.

Ninth, in keeping with the peculiar character of the church as the body of saints in the present age, the truth relating to the rapture is found only in the New Testament. This contrasts with events related to the second coming that are the subject of much prophecy in both the Old and New Testaments.

Tenth, at the rapture there is no judgment upon the nation Israel, as far as any rapture passage is concerned. But at the second coming of Christ it is clear that Israel is judged, with the rebels purged, and the saved in Israel ushered into the millennial kingdom (Ezek 20:34–38).

Eleventh, at the rapture there is no judgment of the nations, while all agree that the judgment of the nations occurs after the second coming of Christ.

Twelfth, at the rapture there is no mention of any judgment on Satan, or of Satan’s being bound as a consequence of the coming of Christ for His church. But it is clear that at the second coming of Christ, Satan is bound and rendered inoperative for the thousand-year reign (Rev 20).

Thirteenth, the rapture is always presented as an event imminent to this church age. The fact that certain predictions which Christ made have been fulfilled in the present age is not a serious problem, for there is no intervening event necessarily taking place before the rapture of the church today. By contrast, the second coming of Christ to establish His kingdom must be preceded by major events covering an extended period of time.

Fourteenth, no two events could be more dissimilar than the rapture of the church and the second coming of Christ to set up His kingdom. There is as much difference between the rapture and Christ’s future coming to the earth as there is between the first coming and the second coming of Christ. They involve the same person, Jesus Christ, but the details attributed to the two events in Scripture are entirely different.

Although the problems of contrast are not all equally important, their total weight is such that it leaves posttribulationism without an adequate explanation. Posttribulationism has not given a satisfactory answer to these crucial contrasts.

53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.

The “perishable” and the “mortal” in v. 53 are both speaking of the same thing, namely, the flesh and blood all humans possess. This is a further commentary on v. 51 when it says that “we will all be changed.” When the dead come out of their graves at Christ’s appearing they will obviously need a new body, for those who have been dead many years will have nothing from their former body with which to enter into the eternal state. And those still alive at the coming of Christ will also need an eternal body to replace their perishable one. Paul says that the “perishable” and the “mortal” must “put on the imperishable” – they must “put on the immortal.” The phrase “put on” is used for getting dressed, and Paul is referring to the very same thing only in a spiritual nature. Basically it pictures the redeemed spirits putting on their redeemed clothing that will last them for eternity. The passage might then say, “For this nature of ours that will decay must be changed into a nature that will live for ever.”

54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"

            After the perishable and mortal body has passed on and subsequently put on the new nature, then the saying that is written in Isaiah 25:8 will be fully realized. Now the Isaiah passage literally reads, “Now He will swallow up death for eternity.” Paul uses the word “victory” (Greek Nike) as an idiom for “eternity” (a common occurrence in the Septuagint), but notice that he sees the phenomenon of death being “swallowed up” (destroyed) in victory as a future occurrence. This has of course already been fulfilled in Jesus Christ who gained the victory over death, but it is yet to be fully realized for all those who place their faith in him.

            Then Paul quotes from Hosea 13:14 as a yet-to-be-fulfilled passage that seems to taunt the Grim Reaper: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” This will be the taunt following the coming of Christ when he clothes his children with eternal and immortal bodies fit for the heavenly realm. This is what Christians look to in the future, and they have the full assurance that they will gain this ultimate victory over death because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ – the first fruits from among the dead. Since he overcame the sting of death, so too will all those who place their faith in him. They will have complete victory for eternity. The death sentence they incurred at birth due to Adam’s sin has already been reversed in Jesus Christ through his resurrection, and the full realization of the Hosea and Isaiah prophecies will come to pass at Christ’s coming. So, the entire process is based upon Christ’s resurrection from the dead. If he didn’t rise then there can be no ultimate victory over death – the quintessential enemy of mankind from his mother’s womb.

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;

Verse 56 is explanatory in that it grants insight into what the “sting” of death is, namely, “sin.” Sin is what brings about death. Death here is personified, and we might compare it to a bee. The stinger is to the bee what sin is to death. It was the command of God to Adam in the Garden of Eden that he not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:17). If he did so then he would die. Genesis 3 tells us that Adam did eat of the fruit of the tree, and this is what brought about his own eventual death, not only for him but for all of his offspring (i.e., all humans). So the “sting” of death is sin, and sin represents everything that is contrary to God’s will. The power of sin, however, comes from the “law.” The “law” here is a reference to the Mosaic Law – the Ten Commandments. The very words of God, inscribed by the finger of God, on tablets at Mount Sinai and given to Moses to give to Israel, are the very words that Paul says are the “power of sin.” The Law of God is what gives sin its power, not because the Law is sin but because it makes people want to sin. Paul comments much more in-depth in Romans 7 regarding this problem. Sin receives its power through the Law because the Law of God stirs the wickedness in man and makes him want to sin. When the Law says, “Do not steal,” it prompts a person to do exactly what it commands us not to do because we are sinful people from birth. This is how sin gets its power. We might say that if stealing the possessions of others was legal then the action would probably be reduced by a factor of 100 in our world. Why? Because the main reason people steal is simply because it’s wrong to do so. The very feeling of being “bad” prompts people to act evil. St. Augustine (4th century theologian) uses this illustration when commenting on his own conversion to Christ. As a child he stole a bag of pears. He said that he didn’t steal them because he was hungry, and he wasn’t intending to sell them to make a profit. He said that he did so because his own depravity demanded it. The fact that he knew stealing was wrong made him want to do so. It was the law not to steal that powered the sin inside of him. So it is with sin and death. The reality of death lurks behind every corner for mankind. In our depravity we desire the things we ought not desire, and the sting that brings death is sin. It cannot be avoided because it is so inbred within us, and this is exactly why Jesus Christ paid the penalty of physical death for us bring us a life-giving spirit so that we might be saved.

 

57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

            After being frank about the power of sin and an implied inability to attain to the law of God, Paul breaks out in thanks toward God who “gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” He was fully aware of his own total depravity even in light of the fact that he was a Christian saved by grace. Even with his salvation Paul knew that he could not have victory over sin without God. The victory comes through Jesus Christ and his prevailing over death through his resurrection from the dead. Without that one event in history there is no victory. Without Christ’s resurrection he was just another “good” man who died for a cause. Many have done that, but Jesus came back from the dead after three days. That can be said of no other man in the history of mankind, and it proves that Jesus is the Messiah – the Son of God. Only he gives victory, and notice that he “gives” it. The victory itself comes only through Jesus Christ because he is the only way of salvation. His resurrection proves that he is God. Now since sin is what separates mankind from God, and it’s sin that brings death to all, the fact that believers have victory means that only God can provide that for His children. They cannot have any victory apart from Christ. Trying to gain victory over the sin and temptations in our lives without God is like competing in a soccer game where, except for you, your team has failed to show up. It’s you against the other team who has all nine players present. You can’t win. Praise God that He gained the victory for us by showing up on the cross to pay the penalty for sin and by offering forgiveness through the death of Jesus Christ. In this act of God and through faith in Christ believers have “victory.” This illustrates God’s grace because the victory was given to us while we sat in a state of complete depravity rendering us incapable of accomplishing the victory we need to overcome death.

58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

            Now as Paul completes his theological discourse on the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the implications that event has for believers, he presents four applications that stem from his teaching. When he writes “therefore” he is drawing a logical conclusion based upon his prior teaching. It is noteworthy once again that Paul doesn’t write a letter to the Corinthians that simply tells them how to behave properly. That admonition comes after the theological discourse. For it is the understanding of the theology of the resurrection that is meant to move Christians to action. It’s not simply about what God wants us to do, it’s about what God has done THEN what He wants us to do. There can be no consistent Christ-centered life and behavior apart from knowing God’s Word first and foremost. It is the knowledge of God’s Word and the salvation that His Word presents to us that is meant to move believers into action. Sermons that simply aim to move Christians to action apart from the theology behind those sermons are shallow at best, and at worst can and will produce a generation of so-called “Christians” who attempt to gain salvation and victory through ethics and their own “good” works.

            Paul presents three imperative applications to the Corinthians, his “beloved brethren,” so that they can put their theology in motion. If he didn’t love them so deeply he never would have written to them as he did in the first place. First, he commands them to “be steadfast.” The term “steadfast” is used only three times by Paul (1 Cor. 7:37; 15:58; Colossians 1:23), and it literally means “to remain seated; settled.” Paul is commanding the wishy-washy and carried-away-by-senseless-theology Corinthians to finally understand the truth and to remain unmoved and firm in that knowledge. These were a group of Christians who were obviously swayed by the culture around them, and Paul tells them to firm up. He has spent so much time up to this point correcting their theology, and now that they understand he tells them to be firm and immovable. He follows up the verb (“be steadfast”) with an adjective meaning the same thing. The former term commands firm beliefs while the latter term describes the verb.

            Second, Paul commands the Corinthians to always be “abounding in the work of the Lord.” This phrase describes the main verb in Paul’s application (“be steadfast”). The present active participle, “abounding,” describes a person who is “steadfast.” To “abound” in the Bible is to have “more than enough; excessive.” Therefore, one who remains firm in his/her Christian beliefs and who is uncompromising in their quest to be true to God is one who continually has more than enough and whose Christian lifestyle is one that is spiritually excessive. It does not speak of money in this context or any other material possession but instead speaks of far greater treasures – the treasure of spiritual abundance. Paul commands all believers to have this.

            Finally, Paul lists a third point that also reflects the character of the main verb to “be steadfast”: “know that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” Obviously being “steadfast” (remaining seated) does not mean that believers are not going to work and suffer. Being steadfast involves great “toil” – a term that denotes “hard work” and “great difficulties.” Being firm in one’s commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ involves persecution, trials, failures, and many discouraging days. It was never meant to be easy, and it certainly isn’t. But Paul sends encouragement to believers of all ages in telling them that they are to “continually know” that whatever difficulties they face none of them are “in vain” if they serve the Lord Jesus Christ. Serving the Lord and remaining steadfastness is supposed to encourage believers in the midst of great difficulty and toil that what they do is not foolish, it’s not without result or purpose, and it’s not without reward. Nothing done in service to the Lord is done in vain. That is all the encouragement believers need to deal with the many toils believing in Christ brings.

I)            The Human Body Not Fit for Eternity (50)

II)         A Mystery Revealed (51-52)

A)    Not all will die

B)    All will be changed

1)      Last trumpet sounds

2)      Dead rise first

3)      Living Christians Raptured

III)      Sinful flesh must be replaced with glory (53)

IV)      Unfulfilled Prophecy Awaiting Fulfillment (54-56)

A)    Isaiah 25:8… Death finally defeated

B)    Hosea 13:14… Death taunted

V)         Victory Over Sin/Death Granted by God (57)

VI)      Ramifications of Christ’s Resurrection (58)

A)    Steadfast faith

B)    Abundance of works

C)    Peaceful confidence amidst trials

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