1 Corinthians 15:51, 58
“Behold I show you a mystery.”
A mystery is something which had never been revealed, but is now being made known. The word is never used in the OT. It is used 27 times in the NT, 21 times by Paul.
There are a number of sacred secrets which were kept from the people of God in past dispensations, but are now made known in the glorious dispensation of the Spirit.
One of these mysteries is the mystery of the “first resurrection” and the rapture of the living saints. This was a new revelation given to Paul. He received it “by the Word of the Lord”—1 Thessalonians 4:15.
“Behold I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.”
One has said that, “There is nothing more certain than death and taxes.” That is true as far as it goes, but in the future there will be a generation of believers who will be exempt from death. Like “Enoch” and “Elijah” they will be translated.
“We shall not all sleep”—or die. V. 51. for the believer death is like someone in a deep sleep. They put their tired, weary, worn body to sleep until the Lord comes to waken it again. It is only the body that sleeps. The real man, the spirit and the soul, is “absent from the body but present with the Lord, which is far better.”
“Paul was caught up into the third heaven.” This is the immediate dwelling place of God. The “first heaven” is the atmospheric heaven. The second is the stellar or starry heaven. The third is God’s dwelling place.
Paul on one occasion was caught up into the third heaven. 2 Corinthians 12:1, 4. He saw and heard things which, humanly speaking, were indescribable. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard.” 1 Corinthians 2:9.
In the firs resurrection the body is raised in glory and the spirit comes to dwell in the body again. This is the state of the believer when Christ calls us forth from the tomb.
“We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” Verse 51. There will be those who, in the generation when Christ comes, will not sleep. But whether living or dead we shall all be changed.
What a glorious change that will be. This change is necessary in order for us to take our place in the Kingdom. V. 50—“Flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven.”
v. 52—The change takes place instantly, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Describe a “moment”, and the “twinkling of an eye.”
Believers lying in hospital beds, weak and suffering, enduring days of pain and nights of anguish. Crying, “O Lord how long.” One moment enduring excruciating pain, and the next rising to meet the Lord in the air, in a body that can never suffer again. Dear ones whose brain has given out. Living in a vacuum, in a “moment”, in the “twinkling of an eye” will find themselves in their glorified body, with the intelligence of angels, looking upon the glorious face of the Lord Jesus. Paul calls this, with good reason, “the blessed hope.”
When will all this take place? “At the last trumpet”—v. 52. 1 Thessalonians 4—“the trumpet of God.”
Describe the Roman military camp. The first blowing of the trumpet was “Strike the tents and prepare to move.” The second meant “Fall into marching order.” The third sounding meant “Forward march.” Translating this sequence into the events of 1 Thessalonians 4 it would go like this:
The “Shout” would equate with blast number one, “the dead rise.” The “Voice” would equate with blast number two, “the living changed.” The “Trumpet” would equate with the last trump, when all the redeemed will be translated into the presence of our glorious Lord, there to be with Him forever and forever.”
“Caught up to meet the Lord in the air.”
When will this take place? This event is undated by God, but it could take place today, tonight, it could take place at mid-night, mid-day, or in the morning. It will make no difference to those of us who have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ.
v. 52—“The trumpet shall sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible.” Those believers who are alive at the time of this great event “shall be changed.”
v. 53—“This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” Notice the two groups mentioned here. The “corruptible”, that is the dead, must put on incorruption. The dead, whose bodies have corrupted away, will be raised with incorruptible bodies.
The living described by Paul as “this mortal” refers to those who are alive, and they shall put on immortality.
“When this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting, O grave where is thy victory.’” Verses 54-55.
Believers sorrow when loved ones are taken home, but the real sting of death is gone, the parting is only temporary. There will be a glorious reunion when Jesus comes again. The sting of death is gone, and one day the victorious grave will be vanquished and will be forced to release its captives to our glorious Lord.
Paul concludes this engrossing section by saying, “Thanks be unto God, who giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Death may seem at the moment to triumph. Describe experiences. But in a day to come, much nearer than many of us think, death will be swallowed up in victory at the coming of the Lord to the air.
“Therefore”—because these things are true—“my beloved brethren be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. Forasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” Verse 58.
The thought of the imminent coming of the Lord should spur us on to greater endeavor for Him.