“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.”
Having made clear the central fact of our salvation, namely, that Christ is raised from the dead, the apostle reveals in the closing verses of this chapter the truth concerning the resurrection-gospel, the mystery of the last moment.
That the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died on the cross of Calvary for our sins, is the central fact of salvation, the assurance of our justification, and the surety of our hope of final glory, there can be no doubt. Because He is risen, our faith is not vain, we are no more in our sins, and we are not of all men the most miserable. Christ arose as the firstfruits; there must be therefore a harvest that follows, that must be gathered in.
In a moment, the central moment of all history, Christ was raised from the dead. Not as a mere individual, but as the Lord and Head of His people, was the Lord raised up. Having conquered death, He left death dead behind Him; and He arose the firstborn out of the dead, and the firstfruits of them that slept. The resurrection, therefore, is begun, and it does not rest until all that are asleep in Him are also risen. The resurrection reaches out unto the last moment, the final moment of all history, when the dead in Christ shall rise again, and those believing and living upon the earth shall be changed.
The mystery of the last moment!
“A mystery is a truth that is related to the kingdom of God, that cannot be ascertained from the things that are seen, that is not discovered from anything in this present world, that transcends all our present experience, that can only be known by revelation through the Spirit of Christ, and apprehended by faith through the same Spirit.” Such is the mystery as defined by another before me, and we shall not attempt to improve on this beautiful and comprehensive definition. We wish only to stress and call attention to the specific elements in it.
The mystery, first of all, concerns the truth that is related to the kingdom of God. In this context, the apostle has in mind specifically the bodily resurrection and the final transition from the earthly to the heavenly, from the temporal to the eternal. Secondly this truth cannot be ascertained from the things that are seen, or discovered from anything in this present world. Philosophy can never conceive of it, and Evolution cannot attain unto it. The natural mind cannot grasp it, for it transcends all that is of our present experience. Thirdly, this truth can be known only by revelation. And revelation is possible only through the Spirit of Christ, Who not only reveals unto us the truth and leads us into it, but Who also gives unto us the faith whereby the truth is apprehended and appropriated.
The mystery of the last moment!
Time, as we know it, is the succession of moments. Time is a creature, which has a beginning and an end, an alpha and an omega. Time is divisible in seconds, in minutes, in hours, in days, in months, in years, in centuries, in millenniums.
Time and history are simultaneous, and, in a sense, synonymous. All history is bound up in time. With the beginning of time all history begins, and with the end of time all history will have come to its conclusion. Within the brackets of time and history God is realizing the things of His counsel concerning His kingdom. Considered in this light, all history is church history. Everything that transpires in time and history is related somehow to the realization of His church and covenant. In a succession of moments that kingdom, that church and covenant has an earthly, historical development, and there are first and last moments. When the last moment is reached, then the trumpet may sound that will bring an end to time as we know it, and call all that belongs to the heavenly kingdom into its eternal, and glorious reality.
That transition, that transformation from the earthly to the heavenly, from the temporal into the eternal, from the corruptible to the incorruptible, from the natural to the spiritual,—that is all bound up in the mystery of the last moment.
The mystery of a complete change!
That transformation of the last moment will assume a two fold form: that of the resurrection of the dead, and that of the sudden change of those yet living.
Concerning the former, the apostle speaks at length throughout this chapter dealing with the resurrection gospel. Concerning the latter, he speaks specifically in the text. However, in such a way are these two conceived of that they take place simultaneously, in the last moment.
To understand the necessity of this complete change, we must keep in mind the nature and the wonder of the kingdom which God is realizing and which He has promised to us.
That kingdom, that city, that eternal commonwealth, is heavenly, incorruptible, spiritual, eternal,—which we could never enter as we are. As the apostle states it in the verse preceding our text, “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” Were we to enter that kingdom as we are (which, of course, is utterly impossible), we would see and hear nothing. We could see nothing of its glory with our bodily eyes; and we could hear nothing with our bodily ears of the heavenly paeans of praise sung by the chorus of holy angels, and disembodied spirits of just men made perfect. With our present bodies, standing in the midst of the heavenly kingdom, we would be totally oblivious of our glorious surroundings. The reason being, that as we are now we are adapted only to the earth out of which we were created, and our physical senses are not at all adapted to the heavenly. That is why it is also true, as the apostle Paul expresses it, “that it hath never entered into the heart of man,” nor could it, the things which God hath laid away for those that love Him. We must undergo, therefore, a complete change.
We shall not all sleep!
But we shall all be changed!
O, undoubtedly, the majority of the saints shall undergo the experience of sleep. This is Scripture’s way of beautifully describing the death of God’s children. Evidently the saint is considered here in terms of that which is earthly. Just as at night he lays himself down to rest and sleep, with the hope of rising in the morning into a new day; so it is when he dies the physical death, he does so in the hope of the resurrection.
Be not deceived! Not here or anywhere else in Scripture does the Word of God teach a certain doctrine of soul-sleep, as some aver. It is safe to say that the soul never sleeps, not even when our bodies go to rest at night. And surely this cannot be the case when our bodies enter into physical death. Even then our souls have a tabernacle of God in which they dwell, and in which they appear consciously in the very presence of Christ.
In the entire context here the apostle is speaking of death and resurrection. But for the Christian, death is described in the earthly term of sleep; only because death for him is not permanent. He enters into death with the assurance that he shall rise again. And, as we said, for the majority of the children of God the order will be death and resurrection, through which they shall experience a complete change.
But not all shall sleep!
There shall be those who are physically alive before the last moment. And they also must be changed. For flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of God.
The trumpet shall sound, and we all shall be changed!
The dead, through the wonder of the resurrection!
The living, through the wonder of the last moment!
Here, in the present, all is corruptible; then,—incorruption. Here all is mortal and subject to death; then,—immortality. Here we are natural, psychical; then,—spiritual. Now we bear the image of the earthly; then,—we shall bear the image of the heavenly.
In a moment!
Which is described here as the twinkling of an eye, is the last moment of history, and at the same time, the beginning of everlasting glory.
At the last trumpet!
Undoubtedly a figure of speech, reminding us of the silver trumpet which called the people of God to the service in the sanctuary. Here evidently representing the final call which shall convoke all the saints for the everlasting worship in the heavenly tabernacle of God in the New Jerusalem. Telling us in no uncertain terms that there shall be nothing secret about this final and glorious transformation. For the call of the trumpet shall resound into the nether parts of Hades, calling forth the dead into their resurrection bodies, and penetrating the very being of the living saints and effecting their complete change, and precisely in that order, for the living shall not precede the dead into glow.
At the last trumpet!
No more sounds will be necessary when that trumpet shall sound, for then all of God’s purpose shall have been realized.
We shall appear before Him as He shall appear in the face of Christ Jesus. And we shall be like Him and see Him as He is Wholly adapted to dwell with Him as His redeemed and glorified subjects in His everlasting kingdom. That is the final purpose of God, and the end of all things!
May the glory of the last moment, and the thrill of the sound of the last trumpet become a blessed object of hope, that it governs completely both our lives and our death. Amen!