by Mike Ratliff
I have been in discussion with a dear friend today about our puzzlement over the seemingly strange mixture of theology in some people who appear to be very genuine in their faith while holding to obviously heretical doctrines or following false teachers with joy. We must never forget my brethren that just because someone expresses that they have faith and believe does not mean that he or she actually does. One’s genuiness in Christ is not revealed by confession. The Bible teaches of only one way to know if one is truly in Christ. That is perseverance in the faith to the end. Christians are not saved through the good works in their walk or even by the fact that they do persevere, but they prove their Christian authenticity through these things. Faithfulness is a mark of genuineness. When professing Christians wander off the path for whatever reason, this does not mean that God will forsake them, refusing to have mercy on them and bring them back. That was a large part of our discussion today. In John Bunyan’s monumental work, The Pilgrim’s Progress, we see how easy it is for pilgrims to be deceived by all sorts of things, to become distracted; and this blinds them spiritually so that they lose sight of the spiritual and, therefore, see things through eyes of flesh. Then they find themselves off the path in all sorts of deception and trouble. God is good. He will draw His genuine believers back to the narrow path, but those who are not truly His will reside in their spiritual blindness and remain deceived in their fleshly pursuits or false doctrines.
50 I tell you this, brothers: q flesh and blood r cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. s We shall not all sleep, t but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For u the trumpet will sound, and v the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and w this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: x “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 y “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and z the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, a who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 b Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in c the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord d your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:50-58 ESV)
On the other hand, the true children of God are brothers and sisters in Christ. They are part of the kingdom of God. In v50 above, Paul is addressing his brethren, his αδελφοι. This plural form of αδελφος refers to a community of love based on the commonality of believers due to Christ’s work. In other words, all genuine Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ because of what He as done, not for what they have done. If we think through this and reason according to the Spirit of God this shows us that it must be this way because when people become deep followers of men rather than Christ then factions and fractures come to bear in the group. Men are fallible and without the binding together by the Spirit of God according to Christ’s work alone then they quickly leave the path and walk right into the mists of spiritual darkness and confusion.
Who inherits the kingdom of God? No one who is marked according to self-effort or self-promotion is part of those who will inherit God’s kingdom. When Paul refers to flesh and blood he is speaking of the weakness of earthly human existence and is an equivalent to “perishable” (φθορα). Only those with new “imperishable” (αφθαρσιαν) bodies can inherit the kingdom of God. The Greek word φθορα speaks of decay or ruin. This attribute reveals someone or something marked for destruction. On the other hand αφθαρσιαν speaks of genuineness and so has and unending existence, that is, immortality. Paul’s αδελφοι are in that group who are αφθαρσιαν because of the work of Christ. Are you in this group? If you believe you are because of what you have done and are basing that on you made this or that decision and are religious then you should prayerfully examine yourself. Those who are truly saved are so because of what Christ has done and they are now walking on the path to God and eternity with Him because He called them, regenerated them, and justified them as they believed and repented by the His grace through the gift of faith. These are the only ones who inherit the αφθαρσιαν.
In v51 Paul declares for us the doctrine of the resurrection. He calls it a mystery, which is the Greek word μυστηριον. In this context, this word refers to that which was hidden or unknown until revealed, thus Paul speaks as one who had understanding of whatever it is that is being revealed. What was unknown and is now being revealed is that not every Christian will die, but some will be “changed” (αλλαγησομεθα). The best synonym for this word in this context is “transformed,” that is, those believers still alive when Christ returns will not sleep (die), but will be transformed from a temporal state to an eternal state. How quick will this happen? In v52, Paul says, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” these believers will be transformed. When will this happen? It will happen, “at the last trumpet.” What does this mean? This is entirely in God’s purview. I do not know when this will be, but He does. I rest in that because the rest of this passage is a joyous proclamation of what God will do at this last trumpet and also what we are to be doing in the meantime.
However, what we can glean from this passage is very clear. When this last trumpet does sound, all truly in Christ including those who have died in Him will be raised as the αφθαρτοι (imperishable) and they will be αλλαγησομεθα (transformed). My brethren, let us rejoice in this. This is a wonderful promise. If we are still alive when our Lord returns, at the last trumpet, then we will not die, but will be raised as the αφθαρτοι and through this process, we will be αλλαγησομεθα. God did not reveal to us exactly what that means, but He does reveal enough of the mystery here that it should edify us, give us the joy of the Lord, and encourage us to continue to run the race God has set before us, to remain on the narrow path regardless of the pressures to take detours and conform to the majority.
In vv53-56, we have a very eloquent and powerful statement that paraphrases passages from Isaiah and Hosea. This transformation from the temporal to the eternal for all those in Christ is permanent. Death will be destroyed on that day. This day will also mark the destruction of “sin” and “the law.” From the book of Romans we learn in detail how sin is the venom bringing death to all (Romans 5:12), and how the law, though itself holy, becomes and instrument through which sin can deceive (Romans 7:7-12). We should rejoice that on “that day” we will be free from these bodies of death and all those things that attack us, attempting to keep us in bondage, will be done away with forever.
In vv57-58, we have what the believer’s response to these wonderful truths should be. “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” All in Christ already have this victory. We have been set free from the condemnation of death that is against all outside of the children of God. Those in Christ have these wonderful promises and in the meantime, we have already been changed. We are new creations who can never be at peace with sin nor being dominated by our flesh. Therefore, my brethren, let us be steadfast and immovable. This means that we never stop drawing near unto God in Christ and no matter what pressure is put on us to fall away, we remain firm and immovable. Those who do this will always abound in the work of the Lord for they are walking near unto Him. Even when they are being accused by the enemy and attacked by the apostate, they remain firm and continue to walk the narrow path to the Celestial City wherein is their Lord and their inheritance.
Soli Deo Gloria!