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Let’s open the Word of God to the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians. So let me read verse 50 through 58, 1 Corinthians 15. “Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed,” – that’s the most famous verse posted in nurseries – verse 52 says – “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. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 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?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” If I were to title this I would just title it “Victory Over Death.” The word “victory” appears in verse 55, and it clearly is victory over death.
Let me begin by borrowing from another preacher. “There is a preacher of the old school, but he speaks as boldly as ever. He is not popular, though the world is his perish; and he travels every part of the globe and speaks in every language. He visits the poor, he calls on the rich, he preaches to people of every religion and people of no religion, and the subject of his sermon is always exactly the same. He is an eloquent preacher, often stirring feelings which no other preacher could, and bringing tears to eyes that never weep. His arguments none are able to 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 this preacher, everyone fears him, his name is death. Every tombstone is his pulpit, every newspaper prints his text, and one day every one of us will be his message.”
Thomas Gray said, “The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, and all that beauty and all that wealth e’er gave await alike the inevitable hour. The paths of glory lead but to the grave.” That’s how it is for all of humanity, but for the Christian, we look forward to death.
I remember many years ago, growing up and being taken to Philadelphia very often, and finding Benjamin Franklin’s tombstone in Christ Church, Philadelphia. I was stunned when I read it, because this is what it said: “The body of Franklin, printer, like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out and stripped of its lettering and gilding, lies here food for worms. But the work shall not be lost, for it will appear once more in a new and more elegant edition, revised and corrected by the Author.”
Over the magnificent mausoleum that holds the remains of Queen Victoria and those of her royal husband are inscribed these words: “Here at last I will rest with thee, and with thee in Christ I shall also rise again.”
Skeptics, both ancient and modern, have argued against the truth of resurrection, scoffing at the idea that the body, which disintegrates in the grave, or which is virtually destroyed in a fire, or the bottom of the sea or some other way, could ever rise from the dead. Dualistic philosophy – which is still very, very popular – has the idea and always has that what is physical is bad, weak, evil, and what is spiritual – or mind, not body – is noble, and that the ultimate end of man would be to be pure mind without the infirmity of the body. Philosophical dualists would deny any resurrection, because that would be perpetuating what is bad in this life, and they would like to think that the life to come is better.
The apostle Paul faced that kind of philosophical dualism, because it was in the ancient world. It is an ancient philosophy. There were people who had come into the Corinthian church who had been influenced by dualism, who thought the idea of resurrection was really an unspeakable thought. They denied resurrection. Back in verse 12 of this chapter Paul says, “How do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” That was a popular philosophy of the time as it was even before New Testament times.
There were those – and there still are – who deny bodily resurrection. Verse 35 of chapter 15, “Someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come,’” as if to mock the very notion of it. So it’s important for the apostle Paul to help the Corinthians, because they have this influence on them that a resurrection would be a terrible thing, because it would perpetuate the very thing they would like to be rid of, their physical limitations and infirmities. Paul needs to instruct the Corinthians accurately about the truth that there will be a resurrection.
And, in fact, as I pointed out to you before we got to 1 Corinthians 15, every person who has ever lived will be raised from the dead with a body suited to the place where they will spend eternity, either in eternal hell – a body fit for everlasting, unrelieved punishment; or eternal heaven – a body fit for everlasting joy, peace, satisfaction, and blessing. We will all rise from the dead. Jesus will raise us all, all humanity as He says in the 5th chapter of John. So Paul writes this chapter, this massively important chapter, 58 verses, to help us understand the resurrection.
We’ve looked at the evidence of the resurrection. We’ve looked at the importance of the resurrection. We’ve looked at the sequence of the resurrection. We’ve looked at the incentives of the resurrection. We’ve looked at the implications of the resurrection. And then in our last look, we looked at the very body of resurrection, and we did that, you remember, starting in verse 36 or so, 39 or so, and going down to verse 49. So we have looked at the resurrection in all theses ways.
Now when we come to verses 50 to 58 we come to the conclusion of Paul’s treatment of the resurrection. He sweeps us up in a conclusion that is really a thrilling passage of praise. It is an anthem of praise for the great reality of resurrection. He’s not arguing anymore. This is pure praise. This is his response. In fact, I’ve often thought that when we get to heaven we’re going to find that a celestial symphony actually is commanded to play while we recite this wonderful conclusion of verses 50 to 58. It is a triumphant victory song of believers over death in the hope of resurrection. By the way, it has been put to music. Handel put it to music in the “Messiah,” and Brahms put it to music in his great “Requiem,” and there are others as well. The triumphant victory of believers over death in resurrection, that is the theme of this wonderful section of Scripture.
Now there are four lines to follow here. There is first the great transformation, then the great triumph, then the great thanksgiving, and then the great therefore. That’s just a way that we can break it down so that we can access with some level of understanding its wonderful truths. So let’s begin with the great transformation that takes place in resurrection, verse 50: “Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” This is a transitional statement from the prior section.
Paul has been discussing the fact that God will design special bodies for us. There are resurrection bodies. He says that back in verse 42: “The resurrection of the dead is like this; it is sown a perishable body,” – that is when it goes into the grave – “it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, raised in glory; sown in weakness, raised in power; sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body.”
So we have already been introduced to this different body, verse 48, “As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.”
So he’s been talking about the fact that we will have a body fit for eternal life in heaven. It won’t be like the earthly body we inherited from Adam. Adam gave us one kind of body – he says that back in verse 45. In the resurrection, Christ gives us a different body. We now have a body like Adam, we will have a body like Christ’s resurrection body, and that is exactly what is promised us at the end of verse 49; we will bear the image of the heavenly One who is the Lord Himself. We need a special body for heaven, that’s the point.
Go to verse 50 now and understand it in that context, that flesh blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. You can’t take the perishable inside the imperishable realm of eternity. Flesh and blood refers to our bodies as now designed for life on this earth. And we know very well what that means. We know what it is to live in flesh and blood.
Hebrews 2:14 says, “The children share in flesh and blood.” That’s just a way to describe our physicality. Now physicality, as we have it in this world, cannot inherit the kingdom of God. It can’t be taken into God’s realm. Flesh is often used in the Scripture in a moral way, such as in Romans, chapter 7, and other places. But here it’s not used in a moral sense. Whenever it’s combined with blood, it simply means physical, physical. Flesh and blood is simply a reference to our physicality. We cannot enter the heavenly kingdom the way we are.
You say, “Wait a minute; in the Old Testament Enoch did, and Elijah did.” This is true, you have those two. But I will promise you one thing; based on this verse alone, something happened between the time they left here and got there, because flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. We must be changed.
What is the kingdom of God? Here it refers to more than just living in God’s spiritual kingdom, it has reference to the future heavenly kingdom. If you go back to verse 24 in chapter 15, it’s when we come to the end and Christ hands over the kingdom to the God and Father when He has abolished all rule, all authority, all power, and He reigns, and has abolished the last enemy – it is death. He’s taking us all the way into that kingdom which follows this life, the future reign of Christ in the kingdom that is eternal.
This is the concept here; the resurrection becomes necessary, because we are creatures of flesh and blood, and corruptible cannot inherit incorruptible, and perishable cannot live in an imperishable world, and flesh and blood is not suited to the realities of eternal heaven. Consequently, we need a radical transformation. A radical transformation must take place. Death becomes then like the planting of the seed that bursts forth in new life after the resurrection. The apostle Paul used that illustration, as I pointed out earlier in the chapter. The transformation is really described in verses 35 through verse 49; and here he’s just reminding us of it, that it is necessary, it is necessary.
So that poses a question, that poses a question, and apparently the question in the mind of the apostle Paul as he thinks about how the Corinthians and others are going to respond to this is, “What about, what about believers who are living when Christ comes? What about them? What’s going to happen to them if they haven’t died? Do they have to die in order to experience this transformation? Do they have to be put into the ground and decomposed before this can happen?”
Paul responds to that question by launching into this lyrical paon of praise in verses 51 to 57. There is to be a complete transformation of all believers, he says, dead and living, dead and living. Those people who are alive at the time that Christ returns and brings about the resurrection, what happens to them? We find out in verse 51: “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep.”
We’re not all going to die. Not all believers are going to die. Some will be alive when Christ returns and raises His people. “We will not all die, but we will all be changed.” You see, that answers the question. If you’re alive when the Lord comes for His church, even though you haven’t died, your body hasn’t decomposed, on the way up you will have an Enoch/Elijah experience. You will be transformed.
Now why does Paul say, “I tell you a mystery”? What’s mysterious about this? Well, mystery in our culture is very different than mysterion [???] in the Greek, and it’s used in the New Testament. This is not something hard to figure out, this isn’t a riddle. Mystery in the New Testament means something previously unknown now revealed – something, some truth, some reality, previously unknown, now revealed.
“What do you mean previously unknown?” Not clear in the Old Testament. Not clearly revealed in the Old Testament, but clearly revealed in the New Testament. Jesus calls New Testament teaching the mysteries of the kingdom, the things that were hidden in the past and are now revealed. Just to kind of give you a context to think about that; God has some secrets He never reveals to anybody, that’s Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord.”
There are some things that God knows that we will never know in this world, some secrets we will never understand. On the other hand, God has some secrets He reveals to everyone, to everyone. In fact, Romans is very clear that God has made Himself known in the world. He has made that which is true about Him evident to everyone since the creation of the world. His invisible attributes, eternal power, divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so they are without excuse.
There are some things God’s revealed to no one; there are some things God’s revealed to everyone. And then there are some things that He reveals only to His own people. Like Psalm 25:14 puts it this way: “The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him.” Or Proverbs 3:32, “His secret is with the righteous.” And Jesus follows up on this in Matthew by saying, “These things have been hidden from the world and they’re revealed unto you.” God has some secrets hidden from everyone, some secrets revealed to everyone, some secrets revealed only to His people, and some secrets revealed only in the New Testament. They are the mysteries Paul speaks of often and our Lord spoke of in Matthew 13 – it’s just kind of a footnote.
When you read about a mystery in the New Testament you’re reading about something hidden in the past now revealed. There are a number of them identified as mysteries. Christ in you is called a mystery – the Messiah dwelling in a person. The church is a mystery. Jew and Gentile one in the church is a mystery. Iniquity is a mystery in the sense that the unfolding of evil as revealed in the New Testament was not known before. And one of the mysteries is revealed here; here it is: we will not all die, but we will all be changed. We will not all die; we will all be changed. We have to be changed, because we can’t go to heaven like this, this isn’t suited for that. We, we, all Christians – Paul’s speaking collectively – all of us gathered up in that pronoun in a collective sense, we will all be changed; we will not all die.
Well, when does this happen, this change? First Thessalonians, chapter 4, describes this event, verse 13. First Thessalonians 4:13. And here, the question is the opposite question. The question with the Corinthians was, “What if you don’t die? How can you be resurrected and changed?” Here, the question of the Thessalonians was, “What if you die, and Jesus comes and you’re dead?” And he says, “We don’t want you to be uniformed, brethren, about those who are asleep,” – about those who died – “so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.”
The Thessalonians were worried that believers who had died would miss the coming of Christ. He says, “No. If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” They’re going to come first, then the ones that are alive are going to be next. “The Lord will descend from heaven with a shout, the voice of the archangel, the trumpet of God, the dead in Christ will rise first.”
Oh, okay. So what’s going to happen to the people who died? “Their resurrection is going to be first. And then those who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we always be with the Lord.” That is the great resurrection, and it occurs at an event that we call the rapture, the catching up of the saints. And you notice there that it happens when the Lord comes from heaven. There’s a shout, there’s a voice of the archangel, there’s a trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ rise first in their resurrection bodies. Those who are alive are caught up in the air and they’re made eternal. They’re given an eternal body on the way up so that they can meet the Lord in the air and be with Him forever.
Now go back to 1 Corinthians and let me add this. Is this a process? No, it is not a process, it is not a process. Now I’ll show you verse 52 to make it pretty clear: “It happens in a moment.” It’s not a process. The resurrection of the dead is not like the slow growth of a seed.
I remember reading about an ancient king who had lived a wicked life and he wanted to make sure that he would never have to come out of the grave to stand before his Judge, his God. So he made sure that his tomb was made out of concrete, covered with a massive marble slab, so that he would never have to come out to face judgment for his sins. As history went on, the seed somehow got in a crack, and over the years a tree grew and burst the sarcophagus to bits. Just a little seed can do that.
But this is not that. Let me show you: “In a moment.” That is the word atomos, from which we get atom, atom, A-T-O-M. What is an atom? In the Greek language, an atom is that which cannot be divided. I know, I’m not going to get scientific here. I know about neutrons and protons and electrons.
But an atom is a single unit. It is the indivisible unit. It is that which cannot be divided. It indicates then something that can’t be any less than it is. It can’t be any smaller. It can’t be any faster. It can’t be any shorter. It is the indivisible unit. So this transformation, this resurrection of those that are dead and this transformation of those that are alive happens in a moment. That atomos actually means that which cannot be cut, the shortest possible time.
In fact, it is like the twinkling of an eye; that’s not a blink. Blinking is different than the twinkling. You say, “What is the twinkling of an eye?” And, by the way, your eye moves faster than any other external part of your human body. But this is not how fast your eye moves, this is not blink, this is twinkling. And what it means essentially, it comes from a Greek word used of the most rapid movement possible.
Now how can I explain this? Someone said it would be like one-sixth of a nanosecond, because it’s referring to the time for light to enter the iris and hit the retina. What is one-sixth of a nanosecond? Well, a microsecond is one-millionth of a second, a nanosecond is one-thousandth of a microsecond, and the twinkling is one-sixth of a nanosecond. This is really fast. That’s it, folks, that’s how fast you’re going to be changed.
Isn’t it interesting that we are told this? You say, “Well, this is good news.” It is good news. When is it going to happen? Verse 52 says it’ll happen at the last trumpet. Didn’t we read about a trumpet in 1 Thessalonians. It’ll happen at the last trumpet. The trumpet will sound, and in a sixth of a nanosecond we’ll be completely transformed.
Now when it says the last trumpet, it doesn’t mean the absolute last trumpet that will ever sound in all of God’s redemptive history, because even after the trumpet that is the last trumpet before the resurrection, even after that, we know during the time of the tribulation period after we’re already caught up and raised to glory, we know there’s a tribulation period on earth, and we know that God will judge the earth, and those judgments, those judgments will be the outflow of seven seals, and out of the seventh seal will come seven trumpet judgments. So there will be more trumpets. But this last trump is the last trump that the church identifies as the moment of its transformation and resurrection. It is called in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, as we read, the trumpet of God. There will be a shout from the Lord. There will be the voice of the archangel. There will be the blast of that trumpet, and in the sixth of a nanosecond the dead will rise, and we’ll be caught up, and all of us changed on the way to heaven.
In the Old Testament, the New Testament, in the teaching of our Lord, even in contemporary Judaism, trumpets are associated with events, significant events, significant events that gather the people. They’re associated with events that bring about festivity and victory and triumph. This is the trumpet that is the signal for the dead to rise. It calls us all to God.
You will remember I think back in Exodus 19 the people of Israel were summoned to come and meet God by the blowing of a trumpet. Isaiah 27 says that God’s going to gather Israel in the end time by the blowing of a trumpet. So this is the end as we will experience it, the church of Jesus Christ, the end for us. We’ll be taken out; judgment will be unleashed on the world, as the book of Revelation lays it out. During that seven-year period of judgment Israel will be saved. At the end of that time judgment will come again, we’ll return with Christ, and He’ll set up His thousand-year kingdom, followed by the eternal state.
Please notice end of verse 52, “We will be changed, we will be changed.” We have to be changed, because the perishable cannot put on the imperishable, the corruptible cannot put on the incorruptible. It’s the exact same word used in Hebrews 1:12, “And like a mantle You will roll them up; like a garment they will also be changed. But You are the same.”
The heavens will change when God creates a new heaven and a new earth. That will be a dramatic implosion of the universe as we know it in an unbelievable atomic holocaust to be replaced by a new heaven and a new earth, no doubt with the same speed that we will be changed. It has to be this way. Verse 53 reminds us, “For this perishable must put on the imperishable, this mortal must put on immortality.” You have to have a different body to be in heaven, this one’s no good there. I like the idea of put on, put on – the normal word for getting dressed, the normal word in the Greek language for putting on clothes.
With that in mind go over to 2 Corinthians, chapter 5 – a familiar, wonderful chapter – verse 1, 2 Corinthians 5, “We know that if the earthy tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building form God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” So the next body is a house made by God, a building from God not made with hands, not humanly produced, and it’s eternal.
In the present house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven. “We want to put it on,” – verse 3 – “we want to put it on, so we’ll not be found naked. While we’re in this tent,” – verse 4 – “we groan, being burdened. We don’t want to be unclothed. We don’t want to go off into space and be lost in some cosmic nothingness. We want to reappear clothed, so that what is mortal is swallowed up by life.”
That is the promise, the body is now the clothing of the real man. Your body is your clothing, mine; but when we go to glory we have to have different clothing. This is the event called the rapture of the church, when the church is caught away. First Thessalonians 4 says nothing about judgment. First Corinthians 15 says nothing about judgment.
And there’s one other passage that should be considered, and that’s John 14, which is the first time this is really mentioned. Verse 1, our Lord says to the disciples, “Don’t let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you; I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. I’m coming to get you.”
There’s no judgment there. There then is an event described in John 14, described in 1 Corinthians 15, and described in 1 Thessalonians 4; there is an event in which the Lord comes to take His people to heaven and to change them. He comes for those that have died and those who are alive. There’s no judgment event in 14 of John. There’s no judgment event in 1 Corinthians 15. There’s no judgment event in 1 Thessalonians 4. This is an event that does not include a judgment. It is a promise, it is a promise, and its first mention of this promise there is in John 14 where our Lord says, “I’m coming to get you.”
Now we don’t know much more than that until we get to 1 Corinthians and find out that in getting us He has to transform us. And then we find out in the passage in 1 Thessalonians, which explains the rapture, that when He comes to get us, the people who are dead are going to be transformed first, and the rest of us gathered with them and changed on the way up. This unique event, this catching away of the church, this resurrection of the church alive and dead is the event which is the next event on God’s prophetic calendar. There is no sign for this, it is the signless event, and it can happen at any time, at any time.
Prophetically nothing needs to happen before this. This is why we say as believers that we believe in imminency, that there is an imminent return of Christ, a signless event; and when it happens we will all be changed. It’s going to be an amazing event. It involves the Lord who is going to shout and speak. It involves the archangel who is going to speak. It involves this trumpet, then this instantaneous transformation. This is the sacred secret just revealed in the New Testament. A whole generation of believers who will still be alive in their natural bodies at that time, will experience an instantaneous transformation in a nanosecond – or a sixth of a nanosecond if you want to know how long it takes for light to pass from the outside of the eye to the inside of the eye, by which they will receive their glorious bodies, but not before those who are dead receive theirs, and gathered into heaven together. This has to happen, verse 53 says, because we’re going into the imperishable world, and we’re going into the immortal world, and what is perishable and what is mortal cannot come there. That is the great transformation.
Then Paul, in verse 54, speaks of the great triumph. That is a triumphant moment. I don’t have to ask you what your biggest problem is, it’s you, right? All your problems are you. Your sin problems, your mental problems, your emotional problems, your physical problems, they’re all you. I know, you think people bring out the worst in your sometimes, but it’s still you. Your problem is you, you know, we’ve met the enemy and the enemy is us.
And you can’t fix you completely, but one day the Lord will, and it will be triumphant. That’s verse 54: “When this perishable will have put on the imperishable,” – when you change this tent, this garment of your flesh and blood and put on the imperishable new body of resurrection – “when this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’” That is the great triumph, the triumph over death.
Now you do know, don’t you, that death is a process. When you were born into the world you started dying; you did, you started dying. And you’re closer to death now than you’ve ever been before. Tomorrow you’ll be a day closer. We’re all just dying, that’s how it is.
Death is an enemy. We fear it, we hide from it, we evade it, we mask it, we try to avoid it. We go to a funeral and people are in a casket, they look like a horizontal member of a cocktail party. We’re trying to make them look like they’re alive. It’d be my opinion to close the lid.
We have reason to hate death, we have reason to fear death, because it’s unwelcomed, it breaks long loving relationships and unions, it removes those that are greatly needed, it pounces on the most blushing baby cheeks and the most deeply wrinkled faces, it snatches people away from us. There’s little reason for us to question that death is an enemy, it is an enemy. But one day death will be swallowed up in victory. In that day – when is that? “But when this perishable,” – what do you mean when? When? At the resurrection. At the resurrection, death will be conquered, death will be destroyed.
By the way, that statement, “Death is swallowed up in victory,” is a quote from Isaiah 25:8. The Hebrew literally says, “He will swallow up death forever.” Swallow is a dramatic verb, isn’t it? You swallow something and it disappears.
Death is not merely weakened, it is gone. It is destroyed so that it cannot do any further harm. The destruction of death is total. All of it’s short-lived and apparent victories are undone for God’s children. What looks like a victory for death and a defeat for us when our bodies die and decay is utterly reversed, and death dies in the resurrection. Our bodies live again in absolute, triumphant, eternal beauty and victory.
In fact, this causes the writer of Scripture to taunt death, verse 55: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” And that is taken from Hosea 13:14, also from the Old Testament. Death is addressed in the figure of an animal or an insect that has some kind of poisonous sting that kills. Sting is kentron, refers to bees, and also refers to the poisonous bite of snakes.
At the time of resurrection death’s sting is gone. Really, death’s sting was sentenced to death at Calvary. You might say that death put its stinger into Christ and has been staggering ever since in the throes of death. Paul sees death forever conquered, and sings this song of triumph. It is just an amazing and wonderful reality: “O death, where is your victory? You have none. O death, where is your sting?”
Then he interprets verse 55 in verse 56: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” It’s not death itself that kills. Death has no power unless there is unforgiven sin, then death is deadly. Death has no sting for the believer, because there’s no unforgiven sin, it’s all under the blood, it’s all paid for, it’s all forgiven, it’s all removed, it’s all atoned for.
The power of sin is the law. If you break the law of God you have sinned; and if you remain in that condition as an unforgiven law-breaker, death has terminal power. But if all your sins are forgiven in Christ, then death has no power, and you can taunt death. Death really is like a welcome friend. Paul says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is” – what? – “gain.” There’s no sting. Far better to depart and be with Christ. Satan is a toothless lion, and death is a stingless bee.
Now that leads Paul from the great transformation, to the great triumph, to the great thanksgiving in verse 57: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” For this triumphant approach to death for this great promise of resurrection, who do we have to thank? The Lord. It’s the work of Christ that satisfies the law’s claims. It’s the work of Christ that paid the price for our sin. Christ bore the curse for us. The sting of death for the Christian, gone. Christ has taken that sting for us, and death is now a welcome friend. Death is disarmed. Death is defanged. Death just takes us into the presence of Christ. Death for us has been destroyed.
So the great transformation, the great triumph leads to the great thanksgiving: “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words it’s being in Him that allows us to triumph over death.
And then let me just close with a vital concluding point, I’ll call it the great therefore: “Therefore” – isn’t that fascinating; 57 verses of doctrine and one verse of application. You think doctrine’s important? Yeah, 57-to-1. “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.”
What a great statement. “Don’t be moved around by your emotions. Don’t be volatile in your fears and doubts. Don’t be erratic and scatterbrained, easily discouraged. My beloved brethren, you will rise from the dead, that is the promise of God.” This is a full and loving appeal that really asks two things of us: be steadfast and immovable. What that means is stand for truth.
Steadfast is an adjective, it means sitting. It is the idea of being settled, seated, fixed, firm, solid. “Settle down, get ahold of your emotions, be settled, you’re going to rise from the dead.” He exhorts us to firm up our convictions, not wavering on this issue, like the Corinthians were, but being immovable.
That is a really interesting word: immovable. It’s a compound word in the English as it is in the Greek original, but it comes from a verb kineme, which means to set something in motion or to shift. There is an English word that comes from it and that is the word “cinema.” Cinema is the English derivation of kenos, which is the German word for motion picture; and motion pictures are just that, they are movements. When something is in motion it is cinema.
“Stop moving.” Paul says, “Don’t be in motion doctrinally, be settled, be steadfast, be firm, immovable. Do not” – Hebrews 13:9 say – “be carried away by varied and strange teachings.” We have things like that enjoined upon us all through Scripture. “Don’t be like children” – Ephesians 4 – “tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” “Settle down on the rock solid reality of the promise of the resurrection, unwavering.” That’s the doctrinal part of it.
Second, “Go to work, always abounding in the work of the Lord, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because you know your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” You’re going to be raised to glory and rewarded for your work. Don’t just dabble at it. People say to me so often now, “When are you going to retire?” What does that mean? What are you asking me? When I lose my mind, then somebody will haul me off. What do you mean, retire from what, the kingdom of God, abounding in the work of the Lord? People say, “Don’t you get tired?” I don’t know what it is not to be tired. It’s a happy kind of condition that I’ve lived in for a long time.
But it’s a wonderful thing. It’s a wonderful thing to be exhausted by abounding in the work of the Lord. Let me tell you something; the practical result of sound doctrine is commitment to hard work in the kingdom, because that’s where your doctrine takes you. And it isn’t that you do it in a nominal way, but you abound at it and you abound at it always. Perisseuó is the word. Literally means overdoing it, more than expected, more than enough.
Now, look, if there’s no resurrection, forget it, let’s all retire. If we’re just going to get lost in nothingness, forget it. But there is a resurrection, and we’re going to be with our Lord forever, and heaven is going to be filled with the people that other believers were used to reach. There is a resurrection.
So be steadfast, immovable, in the theology of the resurrection; and then always overdo it in the work of the Lord. Work is ergon. That’s exactly what it means: work, work, because such work is not in vain. It’s not for nothing, it’s for the Lord, and we’re going to spend forever with Him. Can’t come back and redo this.
Can’t say, “You know, Lord, I worked for You a little while; I was really, really good; then I just got busy,” or, “Lord, I did it until I was 62, you know, then it’s time to retire. The last 18 years of my life I rested.” Really?
Can’t come back. No, that wouldn’t be the attitude of somebody who understood the great “therefore” here. It certainly wasn’t the attitude of Paul or Epaphroditus. Remember him, Philippians 2? “Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, fellow soldier; he was longing for you all, was distressed because you heard that he was sick. He was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, not on him only, but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow.” He was sick to the point of death ministering relentlessly, sick to the point of death. How do you know that? Verse 30: “He came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.”
An ideal situation; just to wear yourself out in service. And then grab the promise of Revelation 22:12, “Behold, I come quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every man.” That reward based on our work. Stand firm on the resurrection; work hard.
So, look, when we talk about the resurrection, we’re talking about a truth that has powerful implications for our life, and that’s verse 58. You ought to circle verse 58 or do whatever you do in your Bible, underline it. The resurrection promise of God, this incredibly gracious, marvelous, incomprehensible promise that we’re going to be raised like Christ and have a resurrection body like His, as we saw in an earlier study, that the Lord is giving us that forever, and consequently what He’s asking of us is in this little veil of tears that vanishes and disappears like a vapor, in the few years that we have, let’s get settled down, not wavering, not moving round, not vacillating in our convictions, and at all times overdoing it in the work of the Lord, because our labor in His name is not in vain.
Father, we thank You for our time in this chapter. What an amazing experience it’s been to go through it. We thank You for the theology that is the foundation of our behavior. We know that all theology is applied theology, all theology is practical theology. There’s no theological truth that doesn’t have immediate practical implications, immediate practical implications. So we’re so grateful for all that You’ve done for us and we want it to show up in our lives, and that’s our prayer. Amen.