There is still a matter which is of extreme importance for the believing church of God in this world which Paul must “make known” to the Corinthians. He is finished with his polemic against the skeptics who asked: with what kind of body do the dead rise and how will this take place.
Paul has shown conclusively that both the manner of the resurrection and the kind of bodies with which we come from the grave is demonstrable from the realm of creation about us. Does not every plant and seed need to die in order to be made alive into a new plant and organism? And is there not such a great variety in the different bodies about us, both in the world of the heavenly bodies as well as the earthly, that we need not doubt that all things proclaim unto us that Christ will come into the flesh, suffer and die and rise again, and that this suffering and death is, indeed, the ground and pattern of our blessed resurrection?
Besides, there is the indisputable truth of the difference between the two Adams, the first and the last; the first is of the earth earthy, and the “last Adam is the Lord out of heaven.”
That determines all for Paul.
And such is more than sufficient for us.
However, Paul will still call attention to a detail, an aspect of the resurrection, which is important for us to know that we be comforted, and that we mourn not as those who have no hope. It is the matter of the manner of the resurrection of the saints in the Parousia, in the moment at the point of history which he calls in verse 24 “the end”!
The particular section here under discussion reads verbatim as follows: “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 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. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 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 …. Therefore my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not vain in the Lord.”
Paul introduces this matter of the revelation of the mystery with the demonstrative particle “behold.” Paul calls attention of his readers to the great act of God, the event which will befall the saints in the Parousia of Christ, when Christ will come to remain ever with his saints to have them behold his glory. All the attention of the readers is thus summoned by the apostle.
Paul calls attention to a “Mystery” of God, a mystery of the Kingdom of Christ in His saints.
The question is: what is the idea of the term and concept Mystery in holy writ? It is the common opinion and conclusion of recognized exegetes and students of Scripture (e.g. Hodge and Lange and others) that the term mystery must not be made to mean that which is contradictory, either really or apparently so. Nor is the term in the Bible to be equated with the idea of Mystery such as we find in the heathen, mystic cults; it is in no wise like these. These cults make the term mystery refer to that which is dark and not at all understandable for the human mind. Nor does the term, Mystery refer to what is commonly called the contradictory between the sovereignty of God and human responsibility.
Mystery in Scripture is that which belongs to the great acts of God in the salvation of the elect, either as a whole or certain facets and aspects of the same, and, therefore, that which is known and can only be known because it is “revealed” to us by God in Christ, through the operation of the Holy Spirit. To quote Meyer: “Mystery signifies that which is undiscerned by men themselves, has been made known to them by divine revelation (apokalupsis) and always refers to relations and developments of the Messianic Kingdom (). Thus it frequently denotes with Paul the divine Counsel of redemption through Christ—as a whole or particular parts thereof—because it was veiled from men before God revealed it.”— ; ; . Or to quote Hodge: “The word musterion, secret, is not generally used, in the New Testament, in the sense of the word mystery. It means simply, what is hidden or unknown; whether because it is an unrevealed purpose of God; or because it is future, or because it is covered up in Parables or symbols. Whatever needs an apokalupsis (revelation) to become the object of knowledge, is a musterion. It is therefore used of doctrines of the gospel which are not the truths of reason, but matters of divine revelation; ; ; ; . . . . Any further event, therefore, which could be known only by divine revelation is a mystery. The fact that all should not die, though all should be changed, was a mystery. .”
The particular event (Mystery) which Paul has in mind here is what will happen in the “end,” when all the dead shall rise, to those who are still living in distinction from those who have died already, fallen asleep in the Lord or through Jesus. Paul has in mind the entire church when he says “we,” including himself. We shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed, writes he! There is some difference of opinion concerning the terms “all” in this sentence. Some hold that the first term all, that is “all sleep” refers to the fact that some will still be living at the time of Christ’s return, as taught in. The difficulty seems to center on the second “all” in the phrase “but all shall be changed.” The question is does this “all” refer to those still living at the return of Christ, not all living then shall fall asleep but all shall be changed, or does this “all” mean that the entire church shall be changed, yet not “all” shall fall asleep. We believe that the “all shall be changed” refers to all who do not fall asleep. These all are those who shall not prevent in the Parousia those who have died in Christ. For the dead shall rise first and then those who are remaining will be changed in the twinkling of an eye at the last trump! These shall be changed after the dead have been raised, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Such is the mystery of which Paul here speaks.
Paul also reveals the manner in which those, who will then be living at Christ’s Parousia, shall be changed. It will be in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. The term in the Greek for moment is atomo, that is, in an indivisible moment. We can divide years into months, and months into days, and days into hours, and hours into minutes, and minutes into seconds, and even seconds into parts of seconds on the clock of time! But the time limit wherein this change shall be effected by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit will be indivisible. To accent this miraculous and super time miracle of grace, this Mystery, Paul adds “in the twinkling of an eye.” It will be so swiftly. Not a long process of time at all!
And the time shall be at the last trump. There have been many trumpet blasts before this. They were all the trumpet blasts announcing the work of God and calling to the great feasts of trumpets, the great and eternal Sabbath of God. By this trump of God the elect will be called from the four corners of the earth, and they shall come forth to the resurrection of life to ever be with the Lord. This chapter speaks of the “last” Adam, and here it is the “last” trumpet. History will then be ended. The Omega shall then be reached. The counsel of God fulfilled, God’s good pleasure in His Son.
And that change at that time is a “must.” This mortal must put on immortality, and this corruptible must put on incorruption. Thus it is planned by Almighty God in His love for the world so that He gave His only begotten Son, that eternal life may be fully received by all the believers, those given to Christ by the Father from before the foundation of the earth. And nothing shall stand in the way of this divine “must”!
For the Scriptures must be fulfilled. The Word of the Lord must come to pass. Wherefore Paul says, “Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (). That was the word of the Lord, who declares from ancient times that things which shall come to pass, by the mouth of the Seer, Isaiah. Then shall Jerusalem be arrayed in wondrous beauty and glory. And then shall the vail of mourning be removed from the nations, and there shall be fat things upon the lees, and the new wine shall be drunk by Christ with His own in His kingdom. And all the redeemed shall then say: This is our God, for Him we have waited!!
And the glad tidings of good things shall then be the portion of all who waited for God. The words shall be fulfilled: O death, where is thy sting, O grave, where is thy victory! The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ!
Victory will then be complete and final.
It shall be manifest that all the suffering of this present time is not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Small wonder that Paul ends this grand expose of all unbelief in the resurrection, that central and mortal attack upon the very heart of the gospel in Christ, with the very good and sound admonition that we be steadfast, unmovable, that we always abound in the work of the Lord, knowing that our labors and sorrows are never vain in the Lord.
Here is no vanity of vanities of the Preacher.
Here we come to the end, the end of God. Here we receive what ear hath not heard and what eye hath not seen and what hath never entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for His people.
The Word of the Lord is that he hath taken the sting out of death. Death doth not kill us. He that liveth and believeth, though he be dead, shall live, and he that liveth and believeth shall never die! Such is the work of the Lord for us in which we are to abound in faith and hope.
Let the grave then yawn and attempt to swallow us up; it shall not succeed! The Lord has made the grave the entrance into glory. Hallelujah! The law cannot condemn us any more to death and hell. Our dying is no payment for sin but a dying unto sin and an entrance into glory!
It was with the sincere desire to comfort with these words that we have written rather at length on this marvelous apology of Paul.
Thus we have preached and thus ye have believed.
God is great in Zion. He is all in all. His life is manifested in our death.
Comfort one another with these words so that the peace of God which passeth understanding may reign in our hearts, and we be more than victors through our Lord, Jesus Christ!