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The Mystery and the Victory of the Resurrection (I Corinthians 15:50-58)

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.

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Introduction: A Glorious Day that All Believers Are Looking For

American pastor, author and educator Voddie Baucham once wrote these encouraging words about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He said:

The last time I checked, the death rate was one per person. I didn’t check today, but I’m sure it didn’t change. It is appointed to man to die once, then face the judgment (Heb. 9:27). So, everyone everywhere is asking or will ask the same question: How can I avoid being defeated by that last enemy? You can’t beat him. You can’t buy him off. You can’t appease him.

You can’t outrun him. You can’t exercise enough or eat well enough. There is nothing you can do to avoid being overtaken by this enemy. But the resurrection says you can overcome this enemy: “O death, where is your sting?” You see, when you stand over a believer, it’s not the same as standing over an unbeliever, because when you stand over a believer, you know that because of his union with Christ, his federal head, he will rise just as Christ rose from the dead. There is a resurrection coming. So, this sting is gone; death’s victory is gone.

In I Corinthians 15:50-58 we have Paul's final thoughts in this chapter on the resurrection of the dead. He has taken the time in this section of his epistle to address those who are being told the lie that there is no resurrection from the grave and he has taught them plainly that there is indeed a resurrection and that Jesus' resurrection was the first fruits of a future day when all who have put their faith in Him will rise from the dead and share eternity with the Lord in a glorious resurrection body of their own which is modeled after His glorious body that conquered death after His crucifixion on the cross.

In this conclusion Paul is talking about a mystery that was revealed to him. That mystery includes the fact that not all who are living will have to experience death at all. When Jesus returns for His people, there will be those who are still alive. This will be the generation of believers who will not taste death. Rather, their bodies will be changed automatically to be like Jesus' glorious spiritual body that will never die. Every believer who has ever lived, since it was taught by Paul, has looked forward to this day hoping that we might be that generation of believers that are blessed not to have to experience that horrible enemy that has plagued mankind ever since the first sin of Adam, our earthly father through whom death was introduced into the world by his disobedience.

For all who are living in this present dispensation of grace, that time will occur with an event that has become known as the rapture of the Church, the Body of Christ. It is a time when both the living and the dead will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air when He returns to take us away to be with Him.

A parallel passage to I Corinthians 15:50-58, in which Paul also talks about this event is found in the book of I Thessalonians. Before we get into what Paul has revealed to the Corinthians, let us begin by quickly reviewing what this great apostle had to say to the Thessalonian church. Then we will compare it with the epistle to the Corinthians.

I. Paul's Teaching on the Resurrection to the Thessalonians

Besides encouraging the church, which was enduring persecution at the time, Paul wrote this letter to the Thessalonians in order to correct some doctrinal errors regarding the resurrection. Because they lacked foundational teachings, the Thessalonian believers were confused about what would happen to those loved ones who died prior to the return of Christ. So, Paul assured them that everyone who believes in Jesus Christ will be united with him in death and live with him forever. Not only that but the dead in Christ will rise first to meet the Lord in the air when He returns. Here is what Paul tells these Christians in I Thessalonians 4:13-18. He says:

"But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

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."

In II Corinthians 5:8, Paul talked about the dead in Christ being absent from the body and present with the Lord. So, if one dies today, the body of the believer goes into the grave and the soul goes to be with Christ. Paul said something similar in Philippians 1:21-25 when he told the believers:

"For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless, to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith"

The additional information from I Thessalonians 4 tells us that those believers who are now present with the Lord because of death, at His coming, will not only be a part of the rapture or catching up of the Church, but they will also rise first. Jesus will bring them back with Him and they will be reunited with their bodies. Only then they will have the spiritual eternal body that is like that of the Lord.

After that, those who are living get to join them. And we can be comforted in the fact that we will never be separated from one another or the Lord in death ever again.

Now, let us delve into I Corinthians 15:50-58 and see if we can put together all the facts from Paul's teaching concerning our resurrection. The first thing that we can see from this text is that there is a necessity for us to have a resurrection body in order to enter God's kingdom.

II. The Necessity of the Resurrection Body (50)

We find in verse 50 that the reason that we must receive a resurrection body that is spiritual and not earthly, like our present body, is that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. That which is corruptible cannot go into a world where there is no more corruption and death. It cannot be where there is no more mourning or crying or pain.

Our present bodies are corrupted by sin, and it is through the fleshly body that our old sinful nature leads us into temptation and rebellion against a holy God. We have a sinful nature by being born into this world. However, if we are saved, we also have a new nature which is controlled by the Spirit of God who now lives in us.

Paul talks about the struggle that a Christian has between the flesh and the Spirit in Galatians 5:16-18. He says that:

"I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law."

We also see the personal struggles that Paul himself went through in Romans 7 in dealing with the flesh.

All these struggles will one day be completely over when we receive our new, spiritual bodies that are no longer able to be tempted or affected in any way by sin, and Satan. This is one of many advantages of the new spiritual body that we will one day receive when Jesus returns to take us home to glory.

III. The Mystery of the Resurrection Body (51-53)

It is in verses 51-53 that Paul reveals the mystery of the resurrection. We talked about that earlier but let us say a few more things here about it. The word mystery is an important Bible term. When Scripture refers to mystery it is talking about that which was hidden until it gets revealed. A mystery in Scripture is a revelation of new information about God’s plan that has not yet been disclosed, but later gets disclosed in the Scriptures. Especially through the writings of the Apostle Paul.

The church is a “mystery”, as we are told in Ephesians 3:3–6. It was not revealed in the Old Testament. The prophets spoke about the Kingdom, but they did not speak about the church, the Body of Christ. They also did not speak of the rapture or catching up of the church to meet the Lord. The Rapture is something that pertains to the church alone, not to Israel. And it was not revealed in the Old Testament.

We are living in a time that was not prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures. It began when Israel, God's chosen people, rebelled against the Lord and were set aside temporarily (Romans 9-11). One day, after the rapture of the church, God will once again deal with Israel as a nation and fulfill all of His promises to them. Then prophecy will begin to be fulfilled again as well.

Paul, in this Corinthian passage, is specifically talking about the time when the church, both living and dead, will be taken out of this world to meet the Lord in the air and be escorted to heaven to be with Him forever. In order for that to happen, there is a necessity for us all to receive a body capable of living with the Lord in the New Heaven and the New Earth which Jesus will one day make for all those who will live with Him for eternity. Thus, the perishable body will be transformed into the imperishable.

According to Paul, this process will happen "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet." The twinkling of an eye was Paul's way of showing how brief the moment will be. The Greek word for "twinkling" refers to any rapid movement. Since the eye can move more rapidly than any other part of our visible bodies, it seems to illustrate the sudden transformation of raptured believers.

The last trumpet that Paul is talking about has nothing to do with the trumpets of judgment in Revelation 8-11 but is rather best illustrated by the trumpet of Exodus 19:16-19. This called the people out of the camp to meet God. It will be a trumpet of deliverance. When this trumpet sounds, the bodies of the dead will be raised or delivered from the grave as imperishable bodies. And, if we are living then, our bodies will be changed as well.

Paul goes on to say:

"For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immorality." (53)

IV. The Victory and Permanence of the Resurrection Body (54-57)

We see in verses 54-57 that when all of God's people receive their resurrection bodies, death will be defeated, and the true victory of the resurrection will be seen by all. Death will be no more. Paul, here is enhancing his words by quoting Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14. The Hosea passage taunts death as if it were a bee whose sting was removed. The sting that death had was the sin that was exposed by the law of God. And it was conquered by Christ in His death on the cross. And God has given us that same victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. The resurrection body, once we get it, can never again be defeated by sin and death. Our victory is permanent. It is eternal. And for that victory we can give thanks to the God of resurrection.

V. The Result of the Hope of the Coming Resurrection Body (58)

And just what is a major result of the hope that we have in our coming resurrection? Paul tells us in verse 58. He says:

"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. Forasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."

These words remind me of C.T. Studd who wrote:

"Only one life; twill soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last."

The result of the resurrection is that everything that we do for the Lord Jesus Christ won't be forgotten by Him. He is alive and has promised to reward all things done in His name and for His glory. Anything that we do on this earth that isn't done for Him will be meaningless in eternity. So, as Paul tells us, we need to center all that we do around Him and around doing the things that He would have us do.

Conclusion

This message on the mystery and the victory of the resurrection reminds me of a story I read by an unknown author. It was entitled: 'Victory by Death.' This Christian writer says to us:

"I had a bed of asters last summer that reached clear across my garden in the country. Oh, how gaily they bloomed! They were planted late. On the sides were yet fresh blossoming flowers, while the tops had gone to seed. Early frost came, and I found one day that the long line of radiant beauty was seared, and I said, "Ah! the season is too much for them; they have perished." I disliked going to look at the bed, it looked so like a graveyard of flowers.

But, four or five weeks ago one of my men called my attention to the fact that along the whole line of that bed there were asters coming up in the greatest abundance; and I looked, and behold, for every plant that I thought the winter had destroyed, there were fifty plants that it had planted.

What did those frosts and surly winds do? They caught my flowers, they slew them, they cast them to the ground, they trod with snowy feet upon them, and they said, leaving their work, "This is the end of you!" And the next spring there were for every root, fifty witnesses to rise up and say, "By death we live." And as it is in the floral tribe, so it is in God's kingdom. By death came everlasting life."

My prayer today is that we spend the rest of our lives bringing glory to the one who has given us the victory over the worst enemy mankind has ever had. The enemy called death! Because of Christ, we have nothing to fear anymore. His defeat of death means that we who have faith in Him will one day rise from the tomb as He did.

Let us tell everyone we know that Christ is risen just as He said! And by faith in His name, our resurrection is sure! Further, because we know and acknowledge these facts, we can, for the first time in our lives, really begin to live! Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift of the resurrection of the dead.

© 2022 Jeff Shirley

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