POST OVERVIEW. The third of a three-part study of 1 Corinthians 15, the great chapter on the Resurrection of the righteous that will occur on the last day. (See Post #648, 5/8/2023 and #649, 5/11/2023, for the first two parts of this study.) The objective of this series of posts is to give the Bible student a firm grasp of the doctrine of the Resurrection.
The previous post in this series (#649, 5/11/2023) finished with the “problem” presented by Paul at the end of 15:50; namely, that no believer in Christ who has a natural, earthly body, whether alive or dead, can inherit the kingdom of God. How, then, does a believer inherit the kingdom of God?
15:51. The solution to the problem is that, in the Resurrection, all believers will receive a glorified body that can inherit the kingdom of heaven.
PAUL’S “MYSTERY” OF THE RESURRECTION
KEY CONCEPT. In this verse, Paul “tells us a mystery.” In the New Testament, a “mystery” is an event or a detail that is currently unknown but that is certain to be revealed in the future. So here, the mystery that is yet to be revealed will explain what happens to those who are still alive when the Resurrection occurs.
THE DEAD ARE RAISED
Here is what I mean. Up to this point in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul has only been talking about believers who are dead in Christ when the Resurrection occurs (e.g., 15:42). We also note that the Bible’s supreme example of resurrection, the raising of Jesus Christ from the dead, was obviously a raising from the dead. Thus, by the undeniable fact of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as “first fruits” (15:23), we can understand how the dead in Christ would likewise be raised from the dead at the final Resurrection. As Jesus was raised from the dead with a glorified body, so the dead in Christ will also be raised from the dead with glorified bodies. We can readily grasp this analogy.
It is also interesting that other prominent biblical pictures of the Resurrection are pictures of saints who are raised from the dead. In Isaiah 26:19, we see a picture of the Resurrection as “Your dead will live, their corpses will rise.” Isaiah gives us a picture of the dead being raised. In Ezekiel 37, the prophet is “in the middle of a valley and it was full of bones. Behold, there were very many bones on the surface of the ground, and very dry” (37:2). But then the Lord GOD says, “Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves” (37:12). This is obviously a vision of God raising His people from the dead. When Jesus speaks of the Resurrection in the gospel of John (5:28-29), He says, “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice (the Son of Man), and (all) will come forth.” Jesus is speaking about the dead being raised in the Resurrection. All these are pictures of those who are dead in Christ being raised from the dead on the last day.
But what about those who are still alive when the Resurrection occurs? We have no solid example from Scripture or analogy from nature that pictures this. How can those “who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:15) be raised from the dead in the Resurrection? It doesn’t seem to make sense. And so this is the “mystery” that Paul is going to discuss. To repeat the question from above, “What happens to those who are still alive when the Resurrection occurs?”
To answer this question, two things are required. First, we must remember the biblical definition of Resurrection. As we have already seen, it is common for believers to mistakenly think of resurrection only in terms of “being raised from the dead” because Jesus was raised from the dead in His resurrection (see above), but the biblical definition of Resurrection is “the receiving of our glorified bodies.” Being glorified is the primary event of the Resurrection, and both those who are dead in Christ and those who are alive are guaranteed to receive their “spiritual body” (15:44). So first, remember what you have already learned.
But second, we must read our Bible carefully and thoughtfully to understand what Paul is teaching. Paul has told us he is going to be teaching us about a mystery. Therefore, our attitude in reading these verses is to understand exactly what the apostle is telling us about the resurrection of those in Christ who are alive on the last day. Except for what is revealed to us in the Scriptures, we are wholly ignorant of this subject. We are “strangers on the earth” (Psalm 119:19), therefore we come to the Scriptures humbly to gain knowledge and understanding. What, then, does Paul teach us here about those who are alive at the Resurrection?
Paul announces the mystery: “we will not all sleep,” which simply means that not all believers will physically die before they are resurrected. Some believers will sleep, but some will be physically alive at the Resurrection. (see 1 Thess. 4:15-17). But all believers, whether asleep or alive, will receive a glorified body because “we will all be changed.”
15:52. Paul gives a number of details of the Resurrection in this verse.
The Resurrection (“the change”) will be instantaneous, for it will happen “in the twinkling of an eye.”
The Resurrection will occur when the last trumpet sounds (see “trumpet” in Isa. 27:13, “in that day;” Matt. 24:31; 1 Thess. 4:16).
“The dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” The dead in Christ (the “perishable”) are raised with glorified (“imperishable”) bodies, and those who are alive (“flesh and blood,” 15:50) are instantly glorified (“changed”). (This latter occurrence is the mystery.)
Note that this description of the Resurrection is in perfect agreement with what Paul writes in 1 Thess. 4:16-17. The dead in Christ are raised and glorified and those who are alive in Christ are changed and glorified. (See also Isaiah 26:19; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2.)
It is also important to note that, although Paul does not mention Christ’s coming (παρουσία) in this passage, the Scriptures make plain that the Resurrection occurs simultaneously with Jesus’ coming. From the lips of Jesus Himself, we also know that these events of the Resurrection occur on the last day (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54).
15:53. We know that “this perishable” refers to those who are dead in Christ (15:42, 52). What must occur for them? “This perishable must put on the imperishable.” The “imperishable” refers to the glorified body (15:42). The dead in Christ must put on their glorified bodies.
The Greek word for “must” is δεῖ, which can be translated “is (absolutely) necessary,” “is inevitable,” or “must.” What is being communicated here is that the only way that “the perishable” (those who are dead in Christ) can inherit the kingdom of God (see 15:50) is for them to “put on the imperishable.” For them to be fit for eternity in heaven, the dead in Christ must receive their glorified body. There is no other way.
Likewise, “this mortal must put on immortality.” “Mortal” here refers to those who are still subject to death, which is those who are still alive. The only way that “the mortal” can inherit the kingdom of God (see 15:50) is for them to “put on immortality.” For them to be fit for eternity in heaven, they must receive their glorified body. There is no other way.
15:54. When all the dead in Christ are raised in their imperishable glorified bodies, and when all those who are alive in Christ have been quickly changed into their immortal glorified bodies, then death will have been swallowed up in victory. All “those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Cor 15:23) will have donned their eternal glorified bodies and death will have been forever defeated.
We should take a moment after this study to summarize what we have learned, for we have received strong teaching about the doctrine of the Resurrection from 1 Corinthians 15.
- The Resurrection of all the righteous will occur on the last day (15:23-24).
- The Resurrection occurs at the same time that the Lord Jesus descends from heaven. So it includes all “those who are Christ’s at His coming” (15:23).
- The Resurrection speaks primarily about the event when those who are in Christ receive their glorified bodies.
- All those who are in Christ are guaranteed to receive a glorified body at the Resurrection (15:44, 49).
- The Resurrection will include the glorification of all the “dead in Christ” and all those who are “alive and remain.”
- The Resurrection will be instantaneous (15:52).
- The Resurrection will occur at the sounding of the last trumpet (15:52).
Finally, it is important to remember that, although we have discovered these doctrinal truths by carefully studying 1 Corinthians 15, the truths we have discovered are universal truths. That is, the doctrinal truths about the Resurrection discovered in 1 Corinthians 15 are true for the Resurrection wherever it is mentioned in the Bible. So there is not the doctrine of the Resurrection according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 and a different set of doctrines in Isaiah or in the gospel of John or in 1 Thessalonians. The events of the Resurrection as described in 1 Corinthians 15 must agree with the events surrounding the Resurrection in the other passages in Scripture because the Holy Spirit is the author of all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16) and He does not contradict Himself. Other Scriptural passages about the Resurrection may add new details or may present the truths with other word pictures, but other Scripture cannot present a different Resurrection. An interpretation of the Resurrection that conflicts with the one taught in 1 Corinthians 15 should be replaced with the one taught in the Scriptures.
Soli Deo gloria rmb 5/15/2023 #650