This is the second in series on the resurrection. You can read the first in the series here.
Now, when Paul uses the word mystery, he is not referring to some unexplainable fact or a Harry Potter kind of mystery. For him mystery is something that was hidden before but is now made clear. For instance when he wrote about salvation being a mystery in Ephesians 3, he is not saying Salvation is something that can never be understood. What he is saying is that it was hidden in time past but, has now been revealed through the revelation of Jesus Christ. When we read back to the first part of v.35, “how are the dead raised?’, it appears the resurrection was shrouded in darkness for the Corinthians, and so Paul gives further insight in vv. 50-53 “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell 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 trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality”
The Corinthian Christians were of the view that once they become Christians and have been filled with the Holy Spirit, they have assumed their spiritual state here on earth. No wonder they laid so much emphasis on speaking in tongues and other spiritual gifts. In their mind, the heavenly reign Jesus spoke about is to be achieved here on earth.Does that sound familiar? There is a brand of Christianity today which teaches that once you become a Christian, you have entered your heavenly inheritance. You should enjoy all the benefits of heaven here on earth. For such people the kingdom is already consummated. As long as you have enough faith, you can live the kingdom life here on earth.
But Paul says here, wait a minute brothers! Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Neither can the perishable inherit that which is imperishable. All the benefits of heaven are suited only for an imperishable body. As long as we are in our earthly bodies, we cannot claim the full rights of the kingdom. The point here is that there is no enjoyment of heavenly blessings without the proper dress.
In 2 Corinthians 5:1-6, Paul who was himself looking forward to the resurrection writes; “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling …For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened…, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee”
Paul is reminding the Corinthians it is impossible to enjoy the benefits of heaven with flesh and blood which is subject to decay. If you look at his earlier analogy in vv. 41 & 42, he emphasises there are different bodies for different existence. Flesh and blood is fitted for this fallen word, while our transformed bodies will be fit for our heavenly dealing.
There is one thing I am sure we can all agree on, no matter how strong a person’s faith they will die at some point, unless the Lord comes first. Imagine someone who claims to be living his heavenly life here on earth growing old and dying. What does that say about the victory which has been achieved? If death comes after we have enjoyed our best lives, it means death has the last word. That’s why we must not place the cart before the horse as the Corinthians were doing: “Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven”(v.45).
Paul is saying here that our best life is in heaven. It is only when we put on our heavenly bodies, when the perishable puts on the imperishable and the mortal puts on immortality we can finally see the face of God and live: “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”(v.54). It is only when death, the last enemy is defeated, that we can truly say that we have arrived. Until then “we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling”
You must not misunderstand me, Jesus Christ defeated death and all who have repented of their sins and put their trust in him share in this victory. However this victory has been inaugurated, it is awaiting its final consummation, death will finally be swallowed up in victory and the perishable will put on the imperishable. How do we know this is true? Paul says that God has “given us the Spirit as a guarantee” The presence of the Spirit in the life of a believer is a down payment of the full inheritance to come.
This is where the Christian hope comes from. Though for a period we experience sickness, grow old and die, death does not have the final say. There is a seed of God in us which will come forth in a glorious way when Jesus comes back. And in case we are still alive when the Lord Jesus returns, we will all be changed into our heavenly and imperishable bodies. And that is what Paul calls the mystery of the resurrection.
The emphasis here is not so much about death as it is about our transformation: “Behold! I tell 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 trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
One day out of this life, death will finally be swallowed up and its sting taken away, because the believer will be in his perfect state, never to struggle with sin and its effects again. As natural as death may seem, it wasn’t the original plan. Death is a great reminder of our sin and disobedience to God: “the sting of death in sin”(v.56). The fearful part is that physical death is not the end of it, anyone who continues in rebellion against God into their death has a fearful expectation of a second death. This is where God, the righteous judge will condemn all rebels to eternal damnation. But you don’t need to subject yourself to this horror my non-Christian friend. Great was our sin, and great was our punishment, death hanged over all of us. We were in slavery to death. But God in compassion sent his Son into our world. He who knew no sin took on the form of a man, came to our world and perfectly obeyed the law and died the death we deserved.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
Have you trusted in this Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and reconciliation to God?