THE MYSTERY OF THE RAPTURE
1 Corinthians 15:51-58
A New Testament mystery is a revealed secret. We have seen that we live in the dispensation of the Mystery. Another mystery that was revealed to the Apostle Paul is the mystery of the rapture. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul gives us the revelation of the rapture. However, in 1 Corinthians 15:51-58, he reveals the mystery of the rapture. In this passage we see:
THE FACT OF THE MYSTERY
Paul opens this section in 1 Corinthians 15:51 with the word, “Behold, I show you a mystery.” The word behold introduces not only a new section upon the general subject a resurrection, but also a new fact. The Old Testament saints knew of and longed for the coming resurrection. Two of their own were taken without seeing death; Enoch and Elijah (Hebrews 11:5, 2 Kings 2:11). They knew that when the Messiah came to set up their kingdom that He would resurrect them (Job 19:25-27). Now Paul is about to reveal a fact they did not know. It was a mystery and an important one. This is brought out by the original word order which reads “Behold, a mystery to you I tell.” The emphasis is on the word mystery.
THE NATURE OF THIS MYSTERY
1 Corinthians 15:51 tells us that the mystery that Paul is revealing is twofold:
- First, that death is not inevitable. He plainly declares: “We shall not all sleep.” The word “sleep” in the context means death. We shall not all see death says Paul. That grim reaper will not cut down all, for when Christ comes there will be believers that are alive. They will not experience death.
- Second, Paul reveals that those who are alive will be changed. The Greek word here is very interesting, for it is the word allasso meaning to make other than it is, to transform. The heart of this mystery is that not only are the resurrected ones going to have new bodies, but so are those who are alive at His coming. We, who are alive and caught up (raptured) will be transformed.
THE TIME OF THIS TRANSFORMATION
This transformation will be instantaneous. It will occur “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52). The Greek word for moment is atomos, a compound word which is made up of two words meaning it cannot be cut and lateral means an indivisible moment. The Greek word for twinkling is rhipe indicating a rapid movement such as the rush of the wind. Our transformation will be in an instant, a fraction of a second we will be changed.
It will occur at the last trumpet of this dispensation. This is the signal for which the church is listening. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16, we read at the rapture we will hear the trump of God. When that signal comes we will be “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air, which will be the time of our transformation.
The debate is when is this last trump spoken of here? Many identify it as the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15. This sounds good, however, there are serious problems with this.
- First, the seventh trumpet is not the last trumpet in Scripture. This is clear from Matthew 24:31 which refers to the time of Revelation 19. The seventh trumpet is last only in the sense of the six which preceded it, but is not the absolutely last trumpet.
- Second, there is no indication that the seventh trumpet signals a resurrection of any type in Revelation 11. In fact, many events follow this seventh trumpet.
No, the trumpet of 1 Corinthians is not the seventh trumpet of Revelation, but is the last trumpet of this dispensation of grace. It will come even before the first of the seven trumpets of Revelation is blown. It will come to signal our catching up to be with the Lord before the Day of the Lord occurs. In this connection, note that the Greek word used is salpinx and is a military allusion. The great expositor, Harry Ironside explains the allusion this way:
When a Roman camp was about to be broken up, whether in the middle of the night or in the day, a trumpet was sounded. The first blast meant, “Strike tents and prepare to depart.” The second meant, “Fall into line,” and when what was called “the last trump” sounded it meant, “March away.”
THE TYPES OF CHANGE
“Both those who are resurrected and those who are alive will go through the same type of change. We will be made incorruptible and immortal. The word incorruption is apohthartos, meaning not liable to corruption or decay, and many translated it imperishable. The word is used of God Himself in Romans 1:23, as well as the Word of God (1 Peter 1:23), and our inheritance (1 Peter 1:4). For the resurrected they will be raised from corruption to incorruption, for us who are alive our bodies will be changed into incorruptible bodies.
The word immortal is athanasia which is only found twice in the Greek New Testament (here and 1 Timothy 6:16). It refers to God, who alone has immortality in and of Himself (1 Timothy 6:16). It also refers to those who will take part in the rapture and will become immortal. It is then that death will be “swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4).
These two types of changes are absolutely necessary. This is emphasized by the word “must” (1 Corinthians 15:53). It is then our humble estate will be in “conformity with the body of His glory” (Philippians 3:21). We will instantaneously be incorruptible and immortal.
THE RESULTS OF THIS DOCTRINE
In 1 Corinthians 15:54-58 gives us the results of our transformation. They can be divided into two sections:
- We see the future results. This is seen in the words “when…then” (15:54). When the fulfillment of the mystery of the rapture happens, then we will have a transformed body which will result in a victorious body. We will be victorious over death (15-54-55) and sin (15:56). The source of this victory is Jesus Christ (15:57).
- It has present results (15:58). The word “therefore” reaches back to this mystery. Because of knowing the mystery it produces certain results in the present. The doctrine of the rapture is not just for the head, but also the heart. This doctrine determines duty. The word “be” is in the imperative, and denotes duty in light of this mystery. It leads to certain results in the here and now. This duty is brought out by the words: “steadfast, unmovable, and always abounding” (15:58). The first is faithfulness which is described by the two adjectives—steadfast and unmovable. The word steadfast is hedraios, meaning set, fixed, settled, firm, never to be uprooted or unsettled. It implies a fixed purpose of the heart. Second, the word “unmovable” is ametakinetos, denoting resistance against forces which move us away from our allegiance (cf. Hebrews 13:9). Faithfulness involves both being firmly in place and resistance to forces that try to move us away from the truth. In addition, the truth of the rapture produces activity, which is brought out by the words “always abounding.” The Greek word is perisseuo, which in this context means to abound in performance. It is a present active participle indicating continuous action. We can abound in his work because His grace abounds in us (2 Corinthians 9:8; Ephesians 1:7-8). We are to be open channels of His abounding grace. Lastly, we have assurance. We are to know that our “toil is not in vain in the Lord.” This knowledge gives us assurance. The knowledge of the Rapture gives us an assuring hope. The present results speak of our sanctification.
My friend, does the knowledge of this mystery have a sanctifying influence in your life? Do you abound in the work of the Lord, knowing that at any moment the trumpet could sound and you could find yourself in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ? May the knowledge of this blessed hope produce in us such a desire.