We're coming to the "home stretch" in the book of 1Corinthians. Paul is beginning the last major point of his letter here at the beginning of chapter 15 that some in the Corinthian church were saying that there is no resurrection of the dead.
The gospel. Paul preached it, they received it, we stand in it, and you are saved by it, if you hold fast the word.
What is it? "Gospel" in Greek is "yoo-ang-GHEL-ee-on," which means "good news." (This is where we get the words "evangelist" and "evangelism.") Paul is reminding them of the good news that he had preached to them while he was in Corinth. The good news that they received. The good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.
You stand in that good news. It makes you able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil while you're on this earth. And it makes you able to stand after this life as well. Jude wrote,
Jude 24-25 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
The gospel enables us to stand blameless before a righteous and holy God. This is a very powerful good news, is it not?
You are also saved by that good news, Paul says, assuming you meet one condition:
1Cor. 15:2 ...if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
Many people "receive" the good news. But a certain percentage of them don't hold it fast. They believe in vain. In the parable of the soils, Jesus taught about three groups of people that receive the good news, and the end result of each.
The first heart that received the word was compared to rocky land.
Matt. 13:20-21 ."..This is the man who hears the word, and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away."
The second heart that received the word was compared to thorny land.
Matt. 13:22 ."..This is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful."
And the third heart that received the word was compared to good land.
Matt. 13:23 ."..This is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit, and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty."
The first category, those that fell away because they had no root, is what Paul is talking about here. You see, the gospel can't save you if you refuse to be saved. The gospel won't save you against your will. When you hear the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ, and you "receive" it for a while "Yeah, this sounds good, I'll try this out" but then when it gets difficult, or possibly it didn't meet your expectations, and you just drop it, you are not saved.
That is the problem with the old adage, "Once saved always saved." Because what it communicates is that as long as you've prayed the sinner's prayer, you can forsake God, but the gospel still saves you. Not true. 2Timothy says very clearly,
2Tim. 2:11-13 It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself.
How can I tell if you're not saved? Have you forsaken God, walked away from Him? Denied the fact that Jesus died to save you? If so, that is not holding fast to the gospel. That is a condition of being fallen away. That is the state in which the apostle Paul says that you originally believed in vain.
Now there has always been a big debate over whether a person who has fallen away had salvation and lost it, or never had it in the first place at all. There are strong Scriptural arguments on both sides. And of course I've got my own ideas, but frankly, I'm not interested in the debate. I believe it is a waste of time. The reason I say that is because, the only people that it affects are people that are not now saved and they don't care anyway! If they cared, they wouldn't have fallen away and forsaken the salvation that they "received" in the first place. So in my thinking, it is a moot point.
I need to be concerned with my own salvation, working it out with fear and trembling. I don't have time for debates that will never find the answer to the former condition of people who have fallen away. You are saved if you hold fast. The same idea is reiterated in Hebrews 3 where it says that we are Christ's house...
Hebr. 3:6-14 ...if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end. Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME, AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS, WHERE YOUR FATHERS TRIED Me BY TESTING Me , AND SAW MY WORKS FOR FORTY YEARS. THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION, AND SAID, 'THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART; AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS'; AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.'" Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end;
Listen: sin will harden your heart into unbelief. Being sold out to sin, following your flesh's desires, will cause you to choke out God's voice in your heart. This will get you to the point where you forsake your belief in Jesus Christ just to stop the inner turmoil of the flesh versus the spirit. And you will have fallen away. No wonder the Bible says to...
Phil. 2:12 ...work out your salvation with fear and trembling;
Paul begins these verses by saying "I delivered to you what I received." When did Paul receive the gospel?
Back before Paul or Saul of Tarsus as he had been known was a Christian, he was a Jew. A religious, dogmatic, and determined Jew. He despised those Jews that were claiming Messiah had come and had been killed. "Blasphemy!" he thought. This sect of Jews that followed the teachings of this Messiah called Jesus of Nazareth made his blood boil. He witnessed the first stoning of one of these Jesus followers, Stephen. He gave hearty approval to Stephen's death. At that point,
Acts 8:3 ...Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house; and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.
Saul carried out his new-found "ministry" with a vengeance, all the while believing that he was doing the work of God. Until one day.
Acts 9:1-6 Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. And it came about that as he journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, "Who art Thou, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do."
Paul became a Christian (wouldn't you?).
Acts 9:20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God."
Paul had met Jesus Christ personally. My question to you today is, "have you?" Paul wrote to the church in Galatia,
Gal. 1:11-12 For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
The gospel, the good news, is more than education. It's something you can be taught about, but you can't receive it through teaching. The gospel is about knowing Jesus Christ personally and having your life transformed by Him. It's about a completely new life, being born all over again:
John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
It's about being in Christ:
2Cor. 5:17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
Education is not the same as transformation. I could teach you everything there is to know about Elvis. Pictures, quotes, recordings, videos. You could memorize his life story and everything he ever said. But you wouldn't know him.
The same applies to Jesus Christ. You can have all the knowledge in your head, but still be lost. You can memorize the Bible and have theological debates and still be on the road to hell. You see, it's not enough to know it intellectually. The Bible tells us that,
James 2:19 ...The demons also believe, and shudder.
So you can know intellectually, and be well-versed theologically, but still be damned eternally. Paul hadn't just learned the gospel, he had received it. He met Jesus Christ. He was born again. His life was transformed from wickedness to righteousness. Can you say the same thing?
So Paul received the gospel, then he preached the gospel. Notice that he delivered to them as of first importance this gospel. He didn't show up in Corinth preaching, "Thou shalt not dance. Thou shalt not play cards. Thou shalt not this and thou shalt not that." He simply preached the gospel, the good news.
What was it that he preached? Jesus Christ died for our sins. Jesus Christ was buried. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Jesus Christ appeared to hundreds of witnesses. This is the gospel what Jesus Christ did for us. The gospel is not "cut your hair, burn those rock-n-roll albums, straighten up, live right, give money to the church, and then you'll have a chance at heaven." Sorry, but that's not a gospel to me. That's not good news to my ears. But the fact that God loved me enough to take my death penalty on Himself so that I could go to heaven, now that's good news!
Notice that an interesting phrase is peppered throughout these verses. Paul keeps saying, "according to the Scriptures." The New Testament hadn't been written yet, so what He's talking about is the Old Testament.
But when was Jesus death talked about in the Old Testament? When was a resurrection on the third day discussed in the Old Testament?
In Genesis 22, we read of Abraham acting out prophecy. When his only son was dead to him for three days. When the wood of his own sacrifice was placed on his back and he climbed up the mount of Calvary, so that God could provide Himself the lamb.
In Psalm 22, we read a first-hand account of crucifixion, even though it would not be invented until several hundred years later. We read of the hands and feet being pierced, of the crowds taunting Him, of them gambling for His clothes at the foot of the cross. Of his physical suffering in detail.
In Isaiah 50, we read of His back being beaten, of His beard being plucked out. Of His humiliation and being spit upon.
In Isaiah 53, we read of Him taking the punishment for our sins upon Himself. We read of Him being pierced through. We read that He would not speak in His own defense.
In Zechariah 13 we read of the wounds that he received between His arms in the house of His friends.
Over and over and over the Old Testament prophesied of Jesus' birth, life, death, and resurrection. These things were written hundreds and sometimes thousands of years before they happened. You can barely find a book of the Bible which doesn't allude to it.
Jesus rebuked the Jews,
John 5:39 "You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me;
The Scriptures bear witness of Jesus. After He rose from the dead, He walked up to two disciples that were traveling to the town of Emmaus. They didn't recognize Him, but were actually very sad that Jesus had died three days earlier. They were really expecting Him to be this conquering king. When they told Him how disappointed they were, Jesus said,
Luke 24:25-27 And He said to them, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?" And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
All that Moses wrote, all that the prophets prophesied, points to Jesus Christ. To His birth, life, death, and resurrection.
After Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared to not only the apostles, and the two guys on the road, but also to more than 500 people at one time. When Paul was writing this, most of them were still alive. The fact was easily validated.
There were more witnesses to the resurrection of Christ than there were to most historical events that we accept as fact. Yet mankind in its wickedness has continually denied this one historical fact. They say, "prove it scientifically." Well, you can't. But you can't prove that George Washington crossed the Delaware scientifically either. The way it is accepted as fact is the historical evidence: witnesses.
Murderers are put to death on the testimony of just a few witnesses, yet even with over 500 witnesses, Jesus Christ coming to life is still disputed. If the case were taken to court, it would have to be accepted as a lawful and historical fact. Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day.
So here we have it. The gospel is not a list of do's and don'ts, of rules and regulations. It is the historical fact that was prophesied hundreds and thousands of years before it happened that Jesus died for your sins. He was buried, He was resurrected. Paul says,
1Cor. 15:10 ...By the grace of God I am what I am
Yes, it is only God's grace that can make an old wicked man into a new creature. It is only God's grace that can transform someone, that can make them born again.
Eph. 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.
Have you been thinking that you can make it to heaven by being good? No one ever has. Your only chance at salvation is to receive the good news, the gospel, just like Paul did.
Remember that the gospel's fulcrum was the resurrection of Christ. Paul asks, if the resurrection of Christ is the basis of the gospel, then how can you say that the dead are not raised? If the dead aren't raised, what are you doing in the church? Why do you call yourselves Christians if you don't believe in the resurrection of the dead? If the dead aren't raised, then Christ isn't either, and your faith is pointless and stupid.
Continuing his thoughts, Paul points out that if there is no resurrection, then Christ is not raised, thus the apostles are false witnesses of God. You see, Christianity teaches an exclusive salvation. Jesus said plainly,
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.
Peter preached in Acts 4,
Acts 4:12 ."..There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved."
Jesus said in John 3,
John 3:36 "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
And Paul wrote to Timothy,
1Tim. 2:5 ...There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
1John 2:23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father
John 8:24 ."..Unless you believe that I am, you shall die in your sins."
Christianity allows for no other relationship with God or religion. While many teach that "all roads lead to God," Christianity claims that Christ is the only way. So if all roads lead to God, then Christianity does not, for it teaches and witnesses falsely of God. But if Christianity offers the exclusive and only salvation that it claims to, then all other roads lead to hell.
Plus, Paul says, continuing his rationale, if there be no resurrection, then every Christian who dies just ceases to exist. What a horrible prospect!
Many of us are guilty of presenting an unbiblical argument when trying to share our faith. When someone asks, "What if there is no God, and when we die, there's just nothing," many of us respond by saying, "Well, I'll at least have lived a better life." But what a pitiful argument! What a weak debate! That is not presenting Christianity in truth because living true Christianity includes self-discipline and self-denial. Forsaking sinful ways.
The writer of the book of Hebrews talked about the faith of Moses. Sure, he could have claimed the throne of Egypt because it was thought he was Pharaoh's daughter's son. But it says that,
Hebr. 11:25-26 choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.
If this was the only life that Moses had to live, with no hope of a resurrection future, how terrible! Moses gave up great riches, power, authority, and pleasure to live in the desert for eighty years.
How many believers have given up the pleasures of immorality, of forbidden pleasures, of satisfying sin? If there is no resurrection, then they truly are of all men most to be pitied.
But the good news is that Christ has been raised from the dead there is a resurrection. Paul says that Jesus is the first fruits of those who are asleep. What a strange expression what does it mean?
Part of the Old Testament Law given to the Jews included the giving of the "first fruits." The people were directed to give the very first of their crops as an offering to God. And it wasn't just the crops it was everything: grain, new wine, oil, and the first shearing of their sheep.
By presenting these offerings of first fruits, they were saying that these blessings came from the Lord, and they were expecting more to come. They gave the Lord the first fruits of the soil, knowing that more would grow. They gave the Lord the first fruits of the shearing of the sheep, because they knew that there would be more.
So Jesus is the first fruits from among the dead. His resurrection tells us that there will be more. And certainly there have been plenty more since Him.
In Revelation, we read about a group of people called "the first resurrection."
Rev. 20:6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
These are the folks that have died, or "fallen asleep" in Christ. From the very beginning until the last martyr dies in the Great Tribulation. Christ was the first-fruits, the people in the first resurrection are the entire crop.
So Christ's resurrection was first, then came all these people. At the end of the Great Tribulation, the first resurrection will be finished. Everyone who has trusted in Christ for their salvation and died will be in heaven with the Lord. Then it will be time to go back to earth to bring judgment upon all the nations that rejected and blasphemed.
The book of Jude tells us of Enoch's prophetic vision of this time:
Jude 14-15 ..."Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds..."
Zechariah also prophesied,
Zech. 14:5 ...You will flee just as you fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him!
We know that all of these holy ones coming with Christ include angels, for we read,
Matt. 25:31 "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.
2Ths. 1:7 ...the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire
But all the people of the first resurrection will be part of the army too.
Col. 3:4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
1Ths. 3:13 so that He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.
So everyone who is Christ's at His coming are those who are the "crop," the first resurrection that were resurrected, are are being resurrected, after Christ's resurrection.
That is not to say that it is only those who have died since Christ's death have resurrected. Remember that the faithful saints of the Old Testament who were counted righteous by faith ascended with Christ after He first descended into the lower parts of the earth. They died before Christ, but were resurrected after His resurrection.
Then Paul reminds us of the glorious truth of the resurrection that because all things will be put in subjection to Christ, that includes death itself.
In the book of Revelation, we read of the second death, a final judgment where even
Rev. 20:14 ...Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire...
And then there is a new heaven and a new earth created, and something wonderful:
Rev. 21:4 and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."
When the new heaven and new earth are created, there will never again be any death. Death itself will be in subjection to Christ.
Then Paul points out the ultimate in hypocrisy among these people who taught and believed falsehoods in the Corinthian church. "Okay guys, you say you don't believe that the dead are raised, so why are you being baptized for them?"
Yes, there were actually people in the Corinthian church that would be baptized for the dead. Crazy as that sounds, there is a group that continues to do this today the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints those we call Mormons.
Mormons research their genealogies, their family trees, to trace their family history and get baptized for their long-dead relatives.
"Gospel Principles," the official Mormon instruction manual, declares that Mormons are baptized for their dead, non-Mormon ancestors in the belief that they will have the opportunity to accept the gospel in the spirit world, but also need this rite performed on their behalf to seal their salvation.
That is what they believe that they are enabling their long-dead ancestors to receive the gospel in the afterlife and be saved. Believing in baptism for the dead is to believe that if a person dies without having received Jesus Christ, it's not too late. This of course flies in the face of the Bible's teaching that
Hebr. 9:27 ...it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment
The Bible teaches very clearly that once you die, you have chosen your fate. There is nothing that anyone on earth can do to change that. No one can pray or plead you out of hell, no one can buy or baptize you into heaven.
The amazing thing is that the Mormons contradict themselves in this teaching just like the Corinthians did. The book of Mormon itself contradicts this by saying, "For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his...the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked."
So it is obvious that Paul is not validating this practice, but just using it as an illustration for their inconsistency in doctrine and belief. This group of Corinthians didn't believe in the resurrection of the dead, yet some were being baptized for the dead!
Giving another example, Paul says, "If there is no resurrection, why am I living my life like this? We know that Paul's life was no piece of cake. He once described it as:
2Cor. 11:23-27 ...In far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
Hey, if there's no resurrection, if I've got no hope of anything but ceasing to exist as my body rots in the ground, then pass the bottle over here let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.
You will notice that verse 33 is in quotes. Paul didn't quote that from one of the proverbs, or even from a Psalm. He is actually quoting a famous Greek comedy. He is using something that would be very familiar to them. It is as if I were trying to make the point that a group was teaching wimpy doctrine with no substance. I might use the expression, "Where's the Beef?" Or if I was communicating what Jesus was telling the disciples that after He was killed, He would be raised on the third day. I might use the expression, "I'll be back."
So Paul is using this familiar expression from their entertainment to make a point: stay away from these twisted teachers they're corrupting you. They're undermining the firm foundation that has been established in you.
Remember that back in chapter 5, Paul made the point,
1Cor. 5:9-11 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters; for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler not even to eat with such a one.
That is why we can be around carnal people at work, yet we shouldn't be watching these corrupt televangelists. That's why we can relate to unbelievers, but should avoid people who argue false doctrines. That's why we can expose ourselves to people of many beliefs, but shouldn't be hanging out with members of cults that claim to be Christian, like Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.
Paul's basically saying, "Clear your heads and knock this off!" There are people in the church that don't know God it is obvious by the heresy that they are teaching. They're leading you astray, can't you see that?
You know, even Job, the subject of the oldest book in the Bible, knew and believed in the resurrection of the dead. He said,
Job 19:26 "Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God;"
But some people are just too intellectual to have any sense.
And like so many people, when you get down to the facts that they don't want to hear, they come up with a foolish argument to avoid the subject. Paul second-guesses these false teachers' rebuttals of the resurrection.
1Cor. 15:35 But someone will say, "How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?"
Like so many topics having to do with eternity, misconceptions about what kind of bodies we will have for eternity abound. The Sunday I was teaching this chapter, the morning paper featured in the Teens section an article entitled, "You gotta have Faith." The article described students at Cheyenne's East High school gathering together at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting. There were lots of opinions given, both Biblical and unbiblical, by the students. But one 17-year-old senior said something while discussing her beliefs that really jumped out at me. She said that in heaven, "You wouldn't have a physical body."
Is that true? When we go to heaven, will we just be transparent spirits, with wings and a harp, drifting and relaxing on a cloud forever? In these next few verses, Paul is going to tell us about our heavenly bodies.
A seed won't grow into a plant unless it's buried in the ground. Remember that Jesus said,
John 12:24 "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."
He was saying that He must die and be buried in order to be glorified. The same is true for us. Like seeds, we must be buried to grow into something greater.
Paul now compares the different types of flesh. The flesh of men, the flesh of fish, the flesh of birds, the flesh of beasts. When we read in Genesis 1 about God creating these creatures, the Bible says in each case, "each after their own kind." That is why a fish cannot mate with a mammal, and why a bird cannot mate with a human. God created different flesh a different DNA code on each of these days of creation.
So, just as there are different kinds of flesh on earth, so there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. Different properties, different functions. From space, the earth appears to be glowing blue and white, but in reality, it has no illuminative qualities in and of itself. It is merely reflecting the light of the sun. The difference between the earthly body and the heavenly body is the difference between a hunk of rock and a fireball, the difference between night and day.
Paul compares our earthly bodies with our heavenly bodies:
Perishable vs. Imperishable.
Dishonorable vs. Glorious
Weak vs. Powerful
Natural vs. Spiritual
There is almost no comparison between these bodies we have now and the bodies which we will receive. In 2Corinthians, Paul equates them to dwelling places.
2Cor. 5:1-2 For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven;
We live in tents. Shabby little pup tents that blow over in the wind, that tear easily, that are made of sticks and canvas. But when we die, we will move out of these tents and into buildings. And because God made these buildings, there won't be any code violations. The roofs won't leak, the mortar won't crumble.
When a Christian dies, the Bible says that he falls asleep. And that's truly what it is. You spend a few decades living in a tent, you go to sleep one night, and you wake up in a luxurious penthouse like you've never seen before. That's something we should look forward to. Not that we should hasten it by suicide, but it should be something wonderful to anticipate. Peter wrote,
2Pet. 1:13-14 And I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.
Peter knew he would die soon. But he also knew that he had to make the most of the time he had on earth.
Paul had the same attitude. He told the Philippians,
Phil. 1:20-24 ...Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
So it is something we look forward to, but should never try to speed it up. There's plenty we need to accomplish right here on earth.
We are going to bear the image of the heavenly. John wrote,
1John 3:2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.
One day, in the presence of God, we shall be like Him. Philippians 3 says,
Phil. 3:20-21 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
Our heavenly bodies will be conformed to His glory. Glorified bodies like the Lord Jesus Christ possesses now.
Remember that after Jesus' resurrection, we saw many things that His body enabled Him to do.
First of all, it was no longer subject to death. When we are raised up in our glorified bodies, we have put on the imperishable. Death no longer has any hold on us.
Second, it is a physical body. Jesus was able to touch people, and people could touch Him. He ate with them, broke bread with them. He showed that He had flesh and bones.
But it is also a supernatural body. Jesus appeared and disappeared at will. Supernatural transportation!
That is the body that we can look forward to, if we've been born again as His children into the kingdom of God.
So Paul having just told us about glorified, resurrected, changed bodies, reveals a mystery: even though every one of us that are saved will be changed we will inherit a glorified, eternal body not all of us are going to have to die to get it.
1Cor. 15:51 ...We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed
What is Paul talking about? How can we possibly get to heaven and have eternal, glorified bodies without first dying? Paul is revealing a mystery to us: the mystery that we call the rapture of the church.
The Rapture. There are many questions that surround it. Let's take it step by step, examining what the Bible has to say, using five simple questions: What is the rapture? Where will the rapture happen? Who will be raptured? When is the rapture? And, why will the rapture happen?
First of all, what is the rapture? If you look in a concordance, you're certainly not going to find the word "rapture" used in the Bible. That immediately leads some into confusion. But in 1Thessalonians 4, Paul also speaks of this event we call "the Rapture."
1Ths. 4:17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air,
In verse 17, when Paul says "caught up," that word in Greek is "har-PAD-zo." It means "to seize, carry off by force, to snatch out or away." When the Bible was translated from Greek into Latin, the Greek word "har-PAD-zo" was translated into the Latin word "raptus." So we get the English word "rapture" from the Latin word "raptus." We could just as easily have called this event "the catching up," "the great snatch," or "the harpadzo."
So, the answer to the question, "What is the rapture," very simply, is that it is a catching up, a snatching up. As Paul told the Thessalonians,
1Ths. 4:17-18 ...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.
So the Rapture is a comfort, an encouragement, to believers.
The Bible tells us that this will be instantaneous. As Paul says in 1Corinthians 15,
1Cor. 15:52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye...
This will happen all over the world at the same moment. When Jesus was speaking of the Rapture, He said,
Luke 17:34-37 "I tell you, on that night there will be two men in one bed; one will be taken, and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken, and the other will be left. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left." And answering they said to Him, "Where, Lord?" And He said to them, "Where the body is, there also will the vultures be gathered."
He was talking about a simultaneous, instantaneous event. And yet, while mankind thought at this time that the earth was flat, Jesus revealed that He knew it was round.
Two people in bed, that's nighttime. Two people grinding, that's late afternoon. Two people in the field, that's morning. How can it be night, late afternoon, and morning all at the same time? In our day and age we all know, but back then, Christ was the only one who did. Where will the rapture happen? All over the earth simultaneously and instantaneously.
That verse leads us to the question of who exactly will be raptured. When they asked him, "Where, Lord?" Jesus responded,
Luke 17:37 ..."Where the body is, there also will the vultures be gathered."
What body? The body of Christ. Wherever the body of Christ, the church, is, that's where it's going to happen.
So what are the vultures? This is a mistranslation, for the word is "eagles." Somehow, supernaturally, we will be snatched up as if by eagles. Remember what Isaiah wrote,
Isa. 40:31 Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.
If we are in the body of Christ, we will be snatched up as if with eagles wings. We will receive our glorified bodies that can run or walk and never become weary, for they will be imperishable and strong.
Some people have a hard time with every Christian being raptured. "What about the carnal Christian? What about the backslider? What about the doctrinally incorrect?" Remember what we've learned so far about the Corinthian church. They were the most carnal bunch of Christians we've ever heard of. They were doctrinally unstable, spiritually wacko, and personally divisive. And yet Paul tells them,
1Cor. 15:51 ...We shall not ALL sleep, but we shall ALL be changed,
Paul said ALL of us to the Corinthians. That means that the Rapture is based on the same merits as salvation is not by our worthiness, but by God's grace. Not by our righteousness, but by His mercy. That should be good news to you today that if you've been born again, you're not going to miss out on the Rapture of the church.
At this point, we begin to think, "Great, when will the rapture happen?" Jesus said,
Matt. 24:36-44 ."..Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will."
The world is going to be going on in its big party like nothing's going to happen. Just like they did in the days of Noah. But then God delivered Noah He shut the door Himself. And the rest of the world fell into horrible judgment.
The Lord has told us to live in expectancy of this event. Although the world thinks it's a bunch of nonsense and keeps on partying in their immorality, we are told to be ready.
Ever since the church began, Christians have been waiting expectantly. They were waiting so expectantly that the Thessalonians thought that they might have missed it all together. Someone had written them a letter saying that he was Paul and that they had missed both the Rapture and the final judgment, the day of the Lord. So Paul writes to them,
2Ths. 2:1-8 Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, AND our gathering together to Him, that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he may be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then that lawless one will be revealed...
So Paul tells them, "Look, you haven't missed anything, no matter what this fake letter told you."
First, the apostasy has to come:
1Tim. 4:1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons
2Tim. 4:3-4 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.
Then the Restrainer must be taken out of the way. What is the Restrainer? It is a "he," so it is a person. And He has restrained evil from going full force on the earth from back in Paul's day until now, so the only answer possible that the Restrainer is the Holy Spirit as He works through the church.
Jesus told us,
Matt. 5:13, 14 "You are the salt of the earth... You are the light of the world"
In order for evil to have full reign on earth, the preservative of salt must be nonexistent, the light that keeps out the darkness must be out the church must be entirely gone.
It is only after the apostasy and the rapture of the church that the antichrist can be revealed.
So when will the rapture happen? Sometime between the time many in the church forsake the true teaching of the Word of God (which has obviously already happened), and the antichrist being revealed, which has not yet happened.
So why is the rapture going to happen at all? We must remember that the church age is a parenthesis. God's history with mankind has been a dealing with the Jews. If the Jews had received Christ when He came to Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago, there would have been no church age at all.
In Daniel 9, the angel Gabriel gave Daniel a prophecy:
Dan. 9:24-27 "Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place. So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate."
He said that there are 490 years left for God to deal with the Jews. But after 483 years, the Messiah will be killed, and at that point this prophetic stopwatch will be stopped. This is the parenthesis that we call the church age. But after the time of the church, God will start that stopwatch again to finish the last seven years of His dealings with Israel. This is the seven year period that we read about in the book of Revelation. That seven years has nothing to do with the church it has to do with Israel. This is why the Great Tribulation is called, "the time of Jacob's trouble." Remember that Jacob is Israel. The seven year period is the time of Israel's trouble, not the church's time of trouble.
Of the Rapture, God has said,
Isa. 26:19-21 Your dead will live; Their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, For your dew is as the dew of the dawn, And the earth will give birth to the departed spirits. Come, my people, enter into your rooms, And close your doors behind you; Hide for a little while, Until indignation runs its course. For behold, the LORD is about to come out from His place To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; And the earth will reveal her bloodshed, And will no longer cover her slain.
We are God's people, and in His house are many rooms. In a nutshell, He will tell us, "Come up here. Hide yourselves in your rooms until the Tribulation runs its course."
We read in Jude, Revelation, and other places, that after those seven years that the Tribulation goes on Christ comes back with an army of thousands and thousands to rule the earth. We are told that this army consists of angels and the entire church Jesus is bringing the entire church back with Him.
1Cor. 6:2 ...Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?
1Ths. 4:14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
1Ths. 3:13 ...Establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.
All the saints are coming back with Christ at the end of the Tribulation.
The teachers who have tried to tell us that the church will go through the Great Tribulation have a basic misunderstanding of our righteousness and God's grace. Abraham understood though. He was so bold so as to confront the Lord before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He said,
Gen. 18:25 "Far be it from Thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from Thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?"
Abraham knew that the Lord wouldn't judge the city if there were still righteous people in it.
In chapter 19, before the judgment of Sodom's sin comes upon them, righteous Lot is taken out. The angel even goes so far as to say:
Gen. 19:22 "Hurry, escape (to Zoar), for I cannot do anything until you arrive there."
They wouldn't they couldn't do anything until the righteous were taken out.
The same was true with Noah. God wouldn't destroy the world until the righteous were brought to safety. And the same principle will apply for the Tribulation period the righteous must first be removed.
Who will those righteous be? The Bible tells us that Christ's righteousness has been given to the church.
Rom. 3:21-22 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;
There is no distinction between Christ's righteousness and our righteousness. We've been washed completely by His blood! Before the Great Tribulation begins, God will deliver the righteous in Christ by snatching them up to be with Him in the clouds. We will be given our glorified, imperishable bodies, and we will be together with the Lord from that day forward. Comfort one another with these words.
So Paul, after revealing the rapture to the church, finishes up the chapter with an encouragement. When these mortal bodies are cast aside, and we gain immortal bodies, then what is written will be true. That death has no sting any longer. Death has no victory. The victory is given to us through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Be steadfast, abound in the work of the Lord. Don't grow sleepy thinking that the Lord's not coming to get us at any moment. William Barclay once wrote an interesting story:
"Three apprentice devils were preparing to come to the earth to finish their apprenticeship. They first spent time talking to satan about their plans to tempt and ruin men.
The first devil declared, 'I will tell men that there is no God.' satan said to him, 'That will not delude many, for they know there is a God.'
The second devil boasted, 'I will tell men that there is no hell!' satan answered the second, "You will deceive no one that way. Men know even now that there is a hell for sin."
The third devil thought for a moment, then said, 'I will tell men that there is no hurry...' satan excitedly told the third, 'Go! and you will ruin men by the thousands!'"
The most dangerous of all delusions is that there is plenty of time.
Jesus is coming back to snatch the church from the world. Soon. Be found ready. Abound in the work of the Lord.