Transformation, Celebration, and Exhortation
In 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, Paul gives us one final exhortation based upon everything he's said so far.
I don’t know who said this originally, but it’s relevant to today’s passage…
“There is a preacher of the old school but he speaks as boldly as ever. He is not popular, though the world is his parish, and he travels every part of the globe and speaks every language under the sun. He visits the poor and he calls upon the rich. He preaches to people of every religion and of no religion, and the subject of his sermon is always the same. He is an eloquent preacher, he often stirs feelings which no other preacher could, he brings tears to the eyes that never weep. His argument, none can refute, nor is there any heart that has remained unmoved by the force of his appeals. He shatters life with his message. Most people hate him, but in one way or another, he makes everyone hear him. His name? DEATH. Every tombstone is his pulpit, every newspaper prints his text, and someday every one of you will be his sermon.”
Despite all of our medical advances, the mortality rate stays at 100%. Eventually, everyone dies. But the Christian doesn’t need to fear death. Instead of fear, we have hope in a bodily resurrection. That’s the point Paul has been trying to get across to us.
Some are skeptical of Paul, though, so he’s been responding to their questions. How is it that some of you say there’s no resurrection? How are the dead raised? Paul’s been answering them, even though not all their questions are sincere.
We’ve heard Paul talk about...
The Resurrection Evidence from the Church, the Scriptures, and from all the personal eyewitnesses.
The Order of the Resurrection: Christ the first fruits and then the rest of the harvest.
The Consequences of Denying a Bodily Resurrection.
Resurrection Motivation for Salvation, Sacrificial Service, and living righteous lives.
What our resurrection bodies will be like. They’ll be like Christ’s.
Now, in this final section, Paul is moving from an explanation about what our bodies will be like to a discussion about how our bodies will be transformed. Then he’ll conclude with celebration and an exhortation. So there’s Transformation, Celebration, and Exhortation.
1 Corinthians 15:50 says,
Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
With the word “Brethren” Paul is being personal here to get our attention. Fellow believers, brothers, and sisters in Christ, listen up: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God unless there is a transformation.
When he says “flesh and blood” he’s referring to our present, corruptible bodies. Our bodies get sick. From the moment of birth, they begin wearing out. And no human being in this present condition of continual decay will be in the kingdom.
The phrase “flesh and blood” is a figure of speech, though, and not exactly literal, because Christ still had a body made of flesh and bones even after his resurrection. Luke 24 makes this clear in describing Jesus’ appearance to the disciples after the resurrection. He still had a physical body that could give hugs, could be touched, and eat food. He wasn’t a ghost and he still had skin on his bones.
But Christ’s body had also been transformed. His body had been glorified and wasn’t able to die anymore. He has an imperishable body.
Now, when Paul says the perishable, or corruptible cannot inherit the imperishable, he is not saying we must become nonhuman to enter the kingdom but means we must become transformed humans with bodies that are no longer subject to death.
OK, but what about all the people who are still alive when Jesus returns? Do they have to die before their bodies are transformed? In verse 51, Paul says,
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
What happens to those who are still alive when Christ returns is a mystery not in the sense of an unexplainable event but the sense of a mystery explained. A mystery in the Bible is a secret revealed. It’s like that part at the end of a TV mystery, when the detective tells you who’s done it.
So here’s the mystery: those that are in Christ when he returns aren’t going to die. At the sound of the last trumpet, they’ll be instantaneously transformed from ordinary humans into humans with glorified bodies.
It’ll happen “In the twinkling of an eye, in a moment.” The word “moment” comes from the Greek word for “atom” which is something so small it can’t be divided any smaller. In other words, the transformation is going to happen in the shortest time possible. It won’t be a dramatic, gradual metamorphosis that we can see, but an instantaneous change. One moment we’ll have fleshy bodies able to die, and the next moment we won’t.
At the sound of a trumpet, God’s people will be transformed from wherever they are both the dead and the living. It won’t matter if our ashes are scattered out at sea or if we’ve been buried in the local cemetery, or even if we’re still alive. Our perishable bodies are going to be transformed into imperishable bodies instantaneously.
Imagine the sight of millions of people all over the earth coming out of their graves to meet the Lord in the air. It’s going to be awesome!
Now we know from passages like 1 Thessalonians 4, that the dead will rise first but I hope I’ll be with the second group of people that are still alive when Christ returns. And Paul seems to have this hope, too. He says, “we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed” meaning that he hopes he’s with the second group that doesn’t have to experience death.
That’s my hope, too. But no matter what, God is sovereign.
1 Corinthians 15:53 says,
For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.
This transformation will be like putting on brand new clothes, although God will be doing the dressing. God’s going to put imperishable immortal bodies on us, and it’s going to be a complete transformation.
Have you ever seen one of those TV shows where they take a homeless person off the street and give him a complete makeover? After the transformation, the person looks like a movie star and it’s hard to believe he’s the same person. It’s going to be like that, only it’s going to be more than just a new hairstyle and clothes. It’s going to be a complete, permanent transformation.
We’re still going to be ourselves, but without corruption, without the ability to die or sin. And that transformation is a reason for celebration.
1 Corinthians 15:54–55 says,
But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
These are words of celebration and praise that come from the prophets Isaiah and Hosea. We could sing these words if someone would put them to music. Any volunteers?
Anyway, Paul is speaking as if the resurrection has already occurred, and he can’t help but celebrate even before it happens. He celebrates the fact that death is “swallowed up” which means complete destruction. Death—not necessarily everything that’s made from matter—is destroyed. Death isn’t just held back, it’s completely eradicated. The meaning is its ability to harm is completely taken away.
We could say even its stinger is gone. A bee, after it stings a person, loses its stinger and can never sting again. Death will be like that. Its stinger will be removed and death will never be able to inflict any harm ever again. That’s worth celebrating.
Further, 1 Corinthians 15:56 says,
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
Paul is saying, since Adam, sin has been the cause of death, and our knowledge of sin has come through the law.
This is powerful because to be saved we need to know the ways we’ve sinned against God. The law is powerful because it condemns sinners to death who are unable to do all it requires. But this knowledge leads to trusting alone in Jesus.
So we celebrate knowing Christ bore all our sins on the cross, doing all that’s required for salvation. The sting of death is sin and the death and sin have been defeated.
1 Corinthians 15:57 says,
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The victory is that through Christ’s death, our sins have been paid for and we’re assured eternal life because of His resurrection. Praise the Lord!
So there’s Transformation, Celebration, and now finally, an Exhortation.
1 Corinthians 15:58 says,
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.
An exhortation is an urgent plea for us to do something. And Paul pleads with us, based on everything we’ve looked at for more than a month now, to “be steadfast” which means sit, take your seat, and be settled.
Be “Immovable” which means to be super still. Be like a rock. Don’t flinch. Don’t even move a muscle. Don’t waver.
From what? From our belief in the resurrection, of course, but it’s more than just what we think. Don’t waver from doing the work of the Lord. It’s not a passive, rock-solid stance, but an active one.
He says, “Always abounding in the work of the Lord” which means overdo it. Abounding means spilling over, overflowing.
We’re used to people saying do everything in moderation, but that’s not applicable on doing the work of the Lord. Paul’s exhortation is for us to give everything we’ve got until there’s nothing left. “Take it easy” isn’t Paul’s advice for someone who believes in the resurrection.
“Toil” means labor, but especially physical labor. Raking leaves, shoveling snow, doing work with our bodies, things like that, not just using our minds.
The Lord’s work while he was on earth was focused on healing the sick and ministering to the poor, the outcasts of the world. His mission was to reach the lost and attend to both their spiritual and physical needs. Isn’t it interesting how Paul wraps this section up with one final emphasis on the importance of using our physical bodies to do the work of the Lord?
Now, rest and relaxation are necessary and important for sure, but they shouldn’t be the Christian’s goal. We need to be all in. All in with our time, our talents, our treasure. Investing everything in the kingdom of God.
Why? Because our toil won’t be in vain. There’s a coming resurrection, so nothing we do for the Lord in this life will be in vain. Paul’s exhortation is to give it everything we’ve got and when we run out of energy, we’ll die knowing it’s all worth it.
Someday, we’ll have bodies that never get tired, or grow old or die. That’s a promise that will be completely fulfilled in the future. But for now, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is ’t in vain in the Lord.”