Looking back to our conversion, likely the most dominating thought at that time was how to escape the righteous judgement of God for our sins. Furthermore, it was with deeply thankful hearts that we found salvation through faith in Christ. We have since then come to a growing appreciation that we have not only been saved from the awful and deserved consequences of our sin, but brought into eternal blessings through and in Christ. One of the sweetest of these is that when this life on earth is over, we will go to be with Him in heaven.
There is a twofold problem though; firstly, because even though our sins are forgiven and we are sure of being in heaven, we cannot go there in our bodies as they are presently constituted. Secondly, for those who have died, while their soul is already in heaven, their body has gone to corruption in a grave. Thus, a change is needed to ensure that spirit, soul and body are fitted for the new realm of service and song in heaven with Christ. In this article we will consider how both of these problems have been addressed.
The Problem Outlined
Those Who Are Living
When born, we were given bodies suitable to the world we live in, bodies that, due to sin, are time dependent and mortal or fragile (i.e., subject to death). Hence, we read, “For we must needs die” (2Sa 14:14).1
In these natural bodies we bear the image of Adam, who was made of the dust of the ground with an earthly body suited for life on earth but, due to the fall, unable to exist in the perfect and holy atmosphere of heaven. As nothing of defilement can enter there, our mortal bodies of earth are thus excluded.
Those Who Have Died
As to those who have died, the earthly body goes quickly to corruption, as Paul reminds us: “It [the dead body] is sown [buried] in corruption” (1Co 15:42). He goes on to further describe the burial of the “natural body” as “in dishonour” and “weakness” (vv43-44), and declares “that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (v50).
The Problem Overcome
So, we have Christians living in mortal bodies, and departed Christians who have left behind their now dead, corrupted bodies. What a moment the coming of the Lord to the air for His saints will be, as the great change, or transformation, necessary for our full enjoyment of heaven takes place. This is what occupies the mind of the apostle as he unfolds the mystery of that change in the remaining verses of 1 Corinthians 15 (vv51-58).
It Is an All-Embracive Change
The apostle first states that while all will not die (or as he calls it, sleep), all will experience this change. There is not one believer, from the commencement of the Church at Pentecost right through to the moment of our Lord’s return, who is excluded from this great dynamic and dramatic moment. Paul says, “We shall all be changed” (v51).
It Is an Instantaneous Change
Paul further explains the timing of this change as happening “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (v52). A moment is an indivisible unit of time, something that cannot be subdivided into something smaller; it is where we get our word “atom” from. The twinkling of an eye is the almost indiscernible movement of an eyelash. Thus, this change will take place so suddenly and quickly that we will not be aware of its happening, just that it has happened. In relation to the sequencing of this change, Paul provides further details in his first letter to the Thessalonians: “The dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (4:16-17).
It Is an Irreversible Change
The apostle then says this about the change for those whose bodies have gone to corruption: they will “be raised incorruptible” (v52) and “put on incorruption” (v53). The body that was “sown” in corruption will now have a new constitution – that which is imperishable and eternal. It will be reunited with the soul that departed at death, never to be separated again. It was Job who grasped something of this change when he said, “And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:26).
Concerning those of us who are living, who “remain unto the coming of the Lord” (1Th 4:15), Paul tells the Corinthians that “this mortal shall put on immortality.” This means that those who were in time-constrained bodies, subject to death, will then be changed into everlasting, undying bodies.
With these two vital changes having taken place, both living saints and sleeping saints now raised are fitted to meet the Lord in the air, to be transported to glory, and “so shall we ever be with the Lord” (v17).
It Is an Incomprehensible Change
It is difficult to grasp the magnitude and magnificence of this change. Paul had been encouraging the Philippian Christians to be more like Christ when he said, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus …” (Php 2:5). In the next chapter he reminds them that their citizenship is in heaven, “from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body” (3:20-21). No wonder Paul raises the triumphant doxology in his letter to the Corinthians and concludes it with thanksgiving: “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Co 15:57).
It Is an Incentivizing Change
If Paul’s heart has been touched as he conveys to the Corinthians the wonder of the change that lies ahead when the Lord comes, he shows at the end of this chapter (v58) that there should be an impact from such a realization. There are three injunctions in relation to the work of the Lord, that if they (and we) fulfil them, it will not be laboring in vain.
Given the imminence of the Lord’s return and the impact it will have, they were to be steadfast (or settled firm), unmovable (or firmly stayed), and to be always or at all times abounding or increasing in laboring in the work of the Lord.
He is coming, coming for us;
Soon we’ll hear his voice on high;
Dead and living, rising, changing,
In the twinkling of an eye,
Shall be caught up all together
For the meeting in the air;
With a shout, the Lord, descending,
Shall himself await us there.2
1 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV.