"We Believe in OUr Resurrection & Life Everlasting" 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 Pastor Allan Wooters, D.Min.
We have reached the final message in our series on the Apostles’ Creed. I chose this series considering my retirement because I wanted to leave a reminder of those truths no church can forget. I wanted to remind us of the great biblical truths that are indispensable to the church as a whole and each of us as followers of Jesus.
At the beginning of this series I quoted theologian Albert Mohler who said that all Christians believe what is said in this creed. They may believe more, and they should, but they cannot believe less. So, with that we turn to the final statement of the Apostles’ Creed. It reads: I believe… in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen. Now saying “Amen” is not like saying “The End.” It is not expressive of an attitude which says, “Thank God that’s over!” The word is an affirmation. Literally it means, “So be it!” By saying “Amen,” we are confessing not only that the statement is true but that we will believe the statement and obey any matters which flow from the statement. With that let’s look to 1 Corinthians 15:50 – 58 for what is one of the most amazing texts which speaks to this matter of resurrection and everlasting life. Paul makes several faith-building statements in this passage, but the first affirmation isn’t surprising at all. It is really an obvious fact.
An Obvious Fact, v.15
Paul says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God….” The “kingdom is God” includes both the idea of God’s rule but also the realm over which He rules. Now in Scripture this kingdom theme includes the realities of heaven, salvation, and eternal life. For example, in Luke 18, we read of Jesus’ encounter with a wealthy young aristocrat. This man asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Perhaps you know the story. The man turns away from Jesus, dejected by our Lord’s response. Then Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” But the young man didn’t ask about the kingdom of God but rather how to have eternal life. Do you see? Jesus is equating eternal life with entering the kingdom of God. And not only that, when Jesus makes His statement about the rich having a hard time getting into the kingdom, the disciples ask, “Then who can be saved?” Note that! “The kingdom of God,” “eternal life,” and “saved” are all the same thing. To be a follower of Jesus is to be saved, it is to have eternal life, and it is to be living in God’s kingdom now. Not someday. Not when you die, but this moment. Yes, God’s kingdom is eternal, but it is not just eternal up there or just in the future. It is both present and future.
In our text, Paul uses the phrase, “kingdom of God” highlighting its future reality. And he makes the obvious point, in our present state, we cannot live in the eternal realm. Our present bodies are made for this world not the next. With this obvious fact the great apostle moves to make a further point what is in truth an incredible revelation. Note vs.51 - 52
An Incredible Revelation.
The revelation is that we will live forever in the heavenly kingdom as beings with real bodies not simply as glorified souls. Scripture teaches that when we die our soul passes on to be with Christ while our body remains in this world. But God will resurrect our bodies, transform them, and make them fit to live in the eternal kingdom of God.
Notice, Paul calls this teaching a “mystery.” This simply means that this teaching isn’t something any human could discern by mere reason or research. It is a fact no one could know unless God revealed it. And not only has God revealed it but He has graciously given us some details about this event.
First, our resurrection will take place “at the last trumpet” (v.52). This is a reference to the second coming of Jesus. First Thessalonians 4:16 tells us that “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air….” (emphasis added). By the way, this passage gave rise to the old saying that as believers we are not awaiting the undertaker but the Upper-Taker!
But more, the resurrection of our bodies will take place in an instant. Paul says at v.52, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” we will be raised. I love the grammar here. The word for “moment” is atomos, from which we get our word “atom.” For the Greeks in Paul’s day, atomos stood for the smallest possible particle which could not be divided. When referencing time, it denoted the smallest unit of time. God isn’t going to wait around! When the time of the resurrection comes it will happen quicker than well… you could blink an eye! Now of course, if we are alive when Jesus returns then we are transformed as well according to v.52. Now, this is all fascinating but what are the implications now for us? In a word, all of this is aimed at building our faith.
A Faith-Building Reality
The entire passage is not just line upon line of pretty words. They are not mythology. They are not opiate for the masses. These words are life! The aim of this passage is not aimed at merely satisfying our curiosity about what happens when we die, though they do help with that. This is written to help us now! “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” (v.58). This teaching is aimed at affecting our life now, how we think, feel, and act. Two factors of this faith-building teaching are evident.
One, know that death is not final. In vs. 54 – 57 we see this truth in an amazing way. Death “is swallowed up in victory” because the “sting of death is sin.” But for believers, our sin has been forgiven, covered by Jesus’ death on the cross. It is sin that is to be feared, not death! As hard as it may be to get our heads around this, for us, death is no big deal. It is simply to step out of living this side of God’s kingdom and move to the other side; the side we usually call heaven.
Poet Thomas Grey, looking at death, wrote: “The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r/And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave/Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour./The paths of glory lead but to the grave.” Thomas Gray says, “It all ends in the grave.” That is decidedly not the revelation of God! That’s not what we read here or anywhere else in Scripture. For those who obey Christ, death is victory! Death will be our birthday into the fullness of God’s kingdom. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, going off to the gallows in a German concentration camp, briefly took a friend aside and said, “This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.”
A second truth is: eternal life is yours now! In v.58 we are commanded to be “steadfast” and serving our Lord because we know our toil is not in vain. The reason we can do this is not just due to the future God has instore for us – as great as it is. It is because we are living now, this instant, in God’s realm of power and authority. We are now in God’s kingdom. Recall how I noted at the start of this message how the “kingdom of God,” “eternal life,” and “saved” all referred to the same reality? If you are saved you are in the kingdom of God now.
To see this is to clarify how we think about being saved. What if we recognized that being saved isn’t just about getting us into heaven but about getting heaven into us? This means being changed over time to live life according to the example, values, and directives of Jesus Himself. It is a life marked by the fruit of the Spirit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal.5:22). That is heaven in us. This reality then works at transforming our thinking, our attitudes, our values, and our goals which give us life and it in abundance.
But there’s more. What if being saved is about discovering how to have a life that is truly related to God; what some call “the with-God life?” This “with-God life” is what the entire Biblical story is about really. I wish I had time to expand on this but from Genesis to Revelation we find the thread that ties all the various matters of the Bible together is that God is seeking to build a people who live life relating to Him in and through it all.
But lastly, what if becoming a Christian is about becoming the kind of person who would enjoy heaven? You see, heaven isn’t just the “good place.” Heaven is life with God! It’s the place where Jesus is, and we will be with Him according to John 14. It is the place, according to Revelation 21:3, where “God will be among men, and God Himself will dwell with them.” It’s not like one can hide from God in heaven. If someone doesn’t like to be with God now, how would they stand heaven which is filled with the presence of God? That is why John Henry Newman said, “Heaven isn’t for everyone: it is an acquired taste.”
Jesus said in John 17:3 that eternal life is to know “the only true God, and Jesus Christ” who God had sent. Do you know God? Do you follow Christ? This is far different than merely having said some sinner’s prayer or going through some ritual that supposedly gets us saved. To be saved is to have eternal life now. To have eternal life now is to be living in the kingdom of God now. To be living life in the present kingdom of God prepares us for continued life in the kingdom of God which we experience after we die and most fully when Jesus returns. This is what God wants for you! He wants to do life with you and by doing this all is secure for you. Not even death can stop it.
So, we do indeed believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. I love the epitaph that Benjamin Franklin wrote for himself while still a young man. It wonderfully catches the spirit of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15. It says:
The body of B. 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.
It’s all part of life with God.
For Further Reading
Eternity is Now in Session, John Ortberg