Calvary Road Baptist Church

“RESURRECTION’S MYSTERY”

First Corinthians 15.51

 

In February, we began our consideration of those truths labeled in God’s Word to be mysteries. Keeping in mind that a mystery, the Greek word musterion, does not refer to anything that is beyond our capacity to understand or too complicated to grasp, a mystery refers to that which is “too profound for merely human discovery.”[1]

If you are prone to that sinking feeling when you think something terribly complicated is being thrown in your direction, let me urge you to relax. Mysteries in the Bible are not complicated truths. They are not intricate doctrines. Mysteries are nothing more than matters you would never be able to figure out on your own, but can be understood by reading and studying God’s Word.

Allow me to review. When we began our consideration of mysteries, in First Corinthians 4.1, I brought a message addressing the gospel minister as a person who has been called by God to be a steward of the mysteries of God. Thus, part of a preacher’s ministry involves studying the Bible and passing on to his audience the meanings of the various mysteries that are explained in scripture, since a mystery is a truth that used to be concealed from view but which is revealed for our understanding in the New Testament. The preacher’s role in explaining mysteries established, we then turned to Matthew 13.11, where the Lord Jesus Christ pointed out that there are mysteries associated with His kingdom, that those mysteries will not be revealed to everyone, and that those mysteries are intimately connected to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Thus, the real keys to understanding the mysteries of the kingdom are conversion to Jesus Christ and studying God’s Word while keeping the Lord Jesus Christ primary in importance in your study. From there we turned to the Church Age in which we presently live, considering the mystery of Israel’s present blindness, the mystery that all Bible truth points to Jesus Christ, and that the Lord Jesus Christ is God’s hidden wisdom.

What pattern to we see rising up from the scriptural truth we have considered over the last few months? The pattern that is being revealed shows that the mysteries revealed to us in the New Testament are somehow connected to the Lord Jesus Christ. Point in fact, these mysteries are not difficult to understand, but they are impossible to grasp so long as Christ is refused, so long as Christ is rejected, and so long as Christ is not seen as central to God’s plan of the ages.

This morning we will see confirmation of what I have just stated as we examine another of the mysteries unveiled to us by the Apostle Paul. Please turn to First Corinthians 15.51 and stand for the reading of God’s Word:

 

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

52     In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

53     For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

54     So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

55     O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

56     The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

57     But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58     Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

 

The entire fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians is taken up with a thorough explanation of the doctrine of the resurrection, which is the raising up of the dead. It is a doctrine which appears from time to time throughout the Bible, and culminated in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead after His crucifixion. The mystery, however, is not that the dead would someday rise. That is a doctrine as old as Job. The mystery is found in verse 51: “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” Verses 52 through 58 explain the speed at which the change occurs, that necessity of the change, the relationship to death as a result of the change, and our behavior in light of this anticipated change. Keep in mind, however, that the mystery is confined to verse 51: “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.”

As is true with the other mysteries we have looked at to date, this mystery is not complicated. It is relatively easy to understand, so long as you keep in mind that the “you” Paul refers to in verse 51, and the “we” Paul refers to twice in verse 51, concern only those of us who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, who are born again, whose sins are washed in the blood of the Lamb. With that in mind, allow me to explain this mystery to you. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how straightforward and simple a concept it is, even though it is something none of us would be able to figure it out on our own.

 

First, THE PROMISE OF RESURRECTION

 

Though surprising to some, the development of the doctrine of the resurrection occurs slowly in the Bible, with only intimations of what would become a full-fledged doctrine in the New Testament. Consider what we find in connection with three prominent figures in the Hebrew scriptures:

First, the patriarch Joseph. We know from the book of Genesis that when Jacob the father of Joseph died he promised to bury his father in the land of Canaan that God had promised to him, to his father Isaac, and to his grandfather Abraham.[2] This is easy to understand, since Jacob spent the vast portion of his long life living in the land of Canaan. However, what are we to make of Joseph’s desire that his body be taken to Canaan after he died? Genesis 50.24-26 records Joseph’s instructions to his brethren:

 

24     And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

25     And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.

26     So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

 

Four centuries later, when God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, Joseph’s wish was fulfilled. I read from Exodus 13.19: “And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.” Though it would be impossible to see from these meager details enough information to formulate a doctrine concerning the resurrection, from our perspective we can see an intimation of the resurrection in this account of the removal of Joseph’s remains from Egypt to the land of Canaan centuries after his death. It seems as though Joseph, being a prophet of God, had some inkling of a future resurrection of his people.

We are given somewhat more insight with respect to Job. When the book of Job was written and who wrote the book of Job is not revealed in the Bible. That it is an old book that has been accepted into the canon of scripture from ancient times cannot be disputed. As well, that the contents of this book speaks to a future resurrection is beyond question. Job was already an old man, and in the midst of tragic loss and grievous suffering when he uttered the words at the end of Job 19.26, yet he looked to the future with the eyes of faith and clung to the hope of the resurrection. Listen to his words: “. . . yet in my flesh shall I see God.” That he was going to die someday he did not question. His present condition of terrible affliction certainly caused him to think his death would be sooner than was actually the case. However, he had a hope born of faith that he would not just see God in the future, but that he would see God in his flesh. That hope required a resurrection.

Thirdly, we come to David, the sweet psalmist of Israel. Turn to the 17th Psalm, a psalm of David. Look to the last portion of verse 14 in this psalm, which is a prayer of David, and you will see his comment about the end of the wicked: “. . . they are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes.” They have children and leave their substance to their babes. That is all the wicked can do. Notice how he contrasts himself with the wicked in the next verse, verse 15: “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.” That, certainly, is an allusion to his future resurrection. Now turn to Psalm 16.10, a verse in one of David’s psalms that doubtless points to a future resurrection, though not to David’s resurrection: “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” For one’s soul to not be left in hell requires a resurrection. To not suffer the corruption of one’s body also requires a resurrection. As well, if any doubt remained that this verse applied to the resurrection of Israel’s messiah, Simon Peter’s Pentecostal sermon laid that doubt to rest when he proclaimed to the multitudes who gathered to hear him who David was writing about: “He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.”[3] Therefore, beloved, we have a glorious doctrine in the Bible concerning the resurrection from the dead. Job believed it, I think we can safely assert that Joseph believed it, and we know of a certainty that David embraced it. It is no surprise, then, that Paul would spend an entire chapter in First Corinthians elaborating the details of this vital gospel truth. So important is this matter of the resurrection that Paul wrote these words in First Corinthians 15.13-14:

 

13     But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:

14     And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.

 

Let me go even farther that that. So important is the doctrine of the resurrection that if our own Lord Jesus Christ did not actually rise from the dead, which is to say that if He did not rise bodily on the third day, then we have no gospel, we have no good news, we have no Christian faith, First Corinthians 15.4. We have a promise of a future resurrection, and the Lord Jesus Christ’s own resurrection from the dead is the first fruits of that promised future resurrection.

 

Next, THE PREDICTION OF OUR RAPTURE

 

Remembering that the Christians in Thessalonica were new believers, unfamiliar with doctrines that we have been exposed to for years, we can therefore appreciate their great concern for their brothers and sisters in Christ who had been martyred for their faith Christ. Their great concern was that by dying for Christ’s sake those believers would somehow miss out on some great blessing that awaited Christians who were still alive at the coming of the Lord.

Is there a benefit to being alive when Jesus comes, to somehow avoiding martyrdom to stay alive? This question is precisely what the Apostle Paul spoke to when writing First Thessalonians 4.13-18:

 

13     But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.

14     For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

15     For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.

16     For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

17     Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

18     Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

 

When persecution is severe, Christians are called upon to stand up for Jesus at the risk of their lives. The concern of those in Thessalonica was for those who had already given up their lives for Christ’s sake. Would they thereby be deprived of anything for having died sooner than later? Paul says no.

Within a moment of each other, both the dead in Christ and those who are alive when Christ comes will be caught up together “to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” Thus, we have both the promise of a resurrection, as well as the prediction of a Rapture.

 

Next, THE CERTAINTY OF DEATH

 

If you think about things like this, as our Thessalonian brethren did, then you may have pondered a couple of things: First, if there is a promise of resurrection, how do you reconcile that promise with the prediction by the Apostle Paul that some be caught up into heaven without being raised from the dead? As well, is not death a certainty for everyone? Follow me on this.

According to the Apostle Paul, in Romans 5.12, the death passed upon all men because sin has passed upon all men as a result of Adam’s sin: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Recognizing that Paul is referring to spiritual death in this verse, it is still a universal truth is it not that everyone will experience physical death because of sin?

Looking back to that verse in Job that we glanced at before, where Job said “yet in my flesh shall I see God,” let us now consider the entire verse. Job 19.26 reads, “And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” Although the last portion of the verse demands a future resurrection, the first portion of the verse assumes the certainty of death.

This surprises no one, though the topic of death is the one certainty that almost everyone expends great effort to avoid talking about and even more effort to avoiding encountering. Hebrews 9.27 declares, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Thus, though it is the experience of everyone we know who is no longer with us, and seems to be the determination of God that every person will die and be judged, there are two exceptions to be found in the Bible.

Enoch and Elijah, are two Old Testament figures, one living before the Flood and the other a prophet living after the time of Moses and David, who have not yet died. Genesis 5.24 tells us, “And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” Then, in Second Kings 2.11, we are told that “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” So far as we can tell in the Bible, neither of those men died.

What, then, are we to make of the evidence that we find in the Bible? Does everyone die or does everyone not die? How do we reconcile the promise of the resurrection, the prediction of the Rapture, and the seeming certainty of death? Second Peter 1.20 reads, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” Basically, we are told that no portion of the Bible is to be interpreted in isolation from the rest of the Bible. This that the whole Bible is to be considered when seeking the truth concerning anything taught anywhere in the Bible.

Therefore, we safely conclude that the Bible does promise a resurrection. As well, for a resurrection to occur, the person to be raised has to be raised from the dead. Thus, the doctrine of death and resurrection are compatible, and are in fact necessary, since without death there can be no resurrection. However, not everyone dies, as Enoch and Elijah will testify. And not just Enoch and Elijah, but also those who are alive as Christ’s coming.

Thus, the great majority of the human race throughout history have died and will die, but there will be some who will not experience physical death, as Enoch and Elijah have not experienced physical death. Those who are Christ’s at His coming, which is to say Christians who are still alive at the time of the Rapture, will not enter eternity through the portal of physical death.

My friends, this poses a dilemma. When a Christian dies and is then raised from the dead, he will be raised in a glorified body suited for existence in eternity. However, if a Christian is still alive at the time of Christ’s coming he will be caught up to meet Christ in the air. Thus, while one portion of that great company will be raised from the dead in glorified bodies, the other portion will not have died and will not experience the resurrection from the dead. How is this apparent contradiction reconciled?

 

THIS IS THE MYSTERY THAT IS REVEALED

 

Our text reads, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” What is really a rather simple concept to grasp, but which no one would ever guess apart from Paul’s revelation of truth in this verse, is that while most people sleep (which is to say that most people die), not all people will die. However, whether or not a Christian dies or is alive at Christ’s coming, “we shall all be changed.”

We normally think of resurrection as the raising up of someone who was dead. When resurrection is after the pattern of our Lord Jesus Christ the resurrection is with a new, glorified body. However, when someone is still alive at the coming of Christ and is taken up in the air to meet the Lord, he, too, is changed, transformed if you will. Verse 52 speaks to the experience of those in Christ, both the dead and those who will then still be alive: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

Oh, it will happen so rapidly that no one can measure its speed. The phrase “in a moment” translates the Greek phrase en atomw, which is literally in an atom, meaning the smallest unit of existence, and in this context the smallest unit of existence in time. With such suddenness the dead are raised incorruptible, meaning in a glorified body from the decay of a long dead corpse, while the living shall be changed, altered to the same form as the dead.

 

I have been a pastor for thirty years without ever having a Christian ask me any questions along this line. Not a single believer I have known wonders about what happens with the dead Christian versus what happens with the Christian who is still alive when Christ comes. Why not? Why no curiosity about such things? Not that there are no Christians curious about such things in the world today, just that there are no Christians with such curiosity in our part of the world. However, things change rapidly when you search out Christians who are persecuted unto death, in such countries as East Timor, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

When you consider the possibility that you may be called on to die for Christ a real possibility you are going to want to know how your death affects your eternity, what you may or may not miss out on by dying for Christ before Christ’s return. What this mystery is all about is this: You miss out on nothing by dying for Christ, because whether you are alive at Christ’s coming or raised from the dead in a glorified body for Christ’s coming, the outcome is just the same.

Is that not amazing? The Christian life begins the same for each believer, and each Christian’s entrance into eternity actually begins the same way, whether he is alive or dead at Christ’s coming, by being taken up and immediately transformed in whatever manner is appropriate to prepare for the eternal state.

The question that should be addressed by you this morning is whether or not you have begun your Christian life the way, the only way I might add, every Christian’s life must begin. At the beginning of the chapter where our text is found, Paul reminded his readers of the gospel, “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”

“Unless ye have believed in vain,” a right response to that glorious message that Jesus saves will result in you being saved from your sins, now awaiting your resurrection or, if Jesus comes before you die, your sudden transformation. However, what if you are one of those Paul alluded to in First Corinthians 15.2, who believed in vain? That would be a sinner who embraces all the facts of the gospel without actually embracing the Savior, believing that Jesus did those saving deeds without actually believing in Jesus Himself.

My friend, the mystery Paul writes about in our text for today shows the glorious provision God has made for His children, so that alive or dead, we have nothing to worry about when it comes to being suited for eternity. Everything is taken care of by our precious Lord Jesus. However, what if you have believed in vain? What if you have not truly trusted Christ as your Savior? What if you are not really a Christian? Then, of course, all is lost. Please do not rest until this matter is resolved. Seek the Lord while He may be found. I am available should you desire to speak to me about this matter.



[1] Anthony C. Thiselton, First Corinthians: A Shorter Exegetical And Pastoral Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006), page 288.

[2] Genesis 50.5

[3] Acts 2.31



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org