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THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS - Chapter 15 - Verse 51

Verse 51. Behold, I shew you. This commences the third subject of inquiry in the chapter—the question, what will become of those who are alive when the Lord Jesus shall return to raise the dead? This was an obvious inquiry, and the answer was, perhaps, supposed to be difficult. Paul answers it directly, and says that they will undergo an instantaneous change, which will make them like the dead that shall be raised.

A mystery. On the meaning of this word, See Barnes "1 Co 2:7".

The word here does not mean anything which was in its nature unintelligible, but that which to them had been hitherto unknown. "I now communicate to you a truth which has not been brought into the discussion, and in regard to which no communication has been made to you." On this subject there had been no revelation. Though the Pharisees held that the dead would rise, yet they do not seem to have made any statement in regard to the living who should remain when the dead should rise. Nor, perhaps, had the subject occupied the attention of the apostles; nor had there been any direct communication on it from the Lord Jesus himself. Paul then here says, that he was about to communicate a great truth, which till then had been unknown, and to resolve a great inquiry on which there had as yet been no revelation.

We shall not all sleep. We Christians; grouping all together who then lived and should live afterwards, for his discussion has relation to them all. The following remarks may, perhaps, remove some of the difficulty which attends the interpretation of this passage. The objection which is made to it is, that Paul expected to live until the Lord Jesus should return; that he, therefore, expected that the world would soon end, and that in this he was mistaken, and could not be inspired. To this we may reply:

(1.) He is speaking of Christians as such—of the whole church that had been redeemed—of the entire mass that should enter heaven; and he groups them all together, and connects himself with them, and says, "We shall not die; we Christians, including the whole church, shall not all die," etc. That he did not refer only to those whom he was then addressing, is apparent from the whole discussion. The argument relates to Christians—to the church at large; and the affirmation here has reference to that church, considered as one church, that was to be raised up on the last day.

(2.) That Paul did not expect that the Lord Jesus would soon come, and that the world would soon come to an end, is apparent from a similar place in the epistle to the Thessalonians. In 1 Th 4:15, he uses language remarkably similar to that which is here used: "We which are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord," etc. This language was interpreted by the Thessalonians, as teaching that the world would soon come to an end, and the effect had been to produce a state of alarm. Paul was therefore at special pains to show, in his second epistle to them, that he did not mean any such thing. He showed them (2 Th 2) that the end of the world was not near; that very important events were to occur before the world would come to an end; and that his language did not imply any expectation on his part that the world would soon terminate, or that the Lord Jesus would soon come.

(3.) Parallel expressions occur in the other writers of the New Testament, and with a similar signification. Thus, John (1 Jo 2:18) says, "It is the last time." Comp. Heb 1:2. But the meaning of this is not that the world would soon come to an end. The prophets spoke of a period which they called "the last days," (Isa 2:2; Mic 4:1; in Hebrew, "the after days,") as the period in which the Messiah would live and reign. By it they meant the dispensation which should be the last; that under which the world would close; the reign of the Messiah, which would be the last economy of human things. But it did not follow that this was to be a short period; or that it might not be longer than any one of the former, or than all the former put together. This was that which John spoke of as the last time.

(4.) I do not know that the proper doctrine of inspiration suffers, if we admit that the apostles were ignorant of the exact time when the world would close; or even that in regard to the precise period when that would take place, they might be in error. The following considerations may be suggested on this subject, showing that the claim to inspiration did not extend to the knowledge of this fact.

(a.) That they were not omniscient; and there is no more absurdity in supposing that they were ignorant on this subject than in regard to any other.

(b.) Inspiration extended to the order of future events, and not to the times. There is in the Scriptures no statement of the time when the world would close. Future events were made to pass before the minds of the prophets, as in a landscape. The order of the images may be distinctly marked, but the times may not be designated. And even events which may occur in fact at distant periods, may in vision appear to be near each other; as in a landscape, objects which are in fact separated by distant intervals, like the ridges of a mountain, may appear to lie close to each other.

(c.) The Saviour expressly said, that it was not designed that they should know when future events would occur. Thus, after his ascension, in answer to an inquiry whether he then would restore the kingdom to Israel, he said, (Ac 1:7,) "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power." See Barnes "Ac 1:7".

 

(d.) The Saviour said, that even he himself, as man, was ignorant in regard to the exact time in which future events would occur. "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father," Mr 13:32.

(e.) The apostles were in fact ignorant, and mistaken in regard to, at least, the time of the occurrence of one future event, the death of John; Joh 21:23. There is, therefore, no departure from the proper doctrine of inspiration, in supposing that the apostles were not inspired on these subjects, and that they might be ignorant like others. The proper order of events they state truly and exactly; the exact time God did not, for wise reasons, intend to make known.

Shall not all sleep. Shall not all die. See Barnes "1 Co 11:30".

 

But we shall all be changed. There is considerable variety in the reading of this passage. The Vulgate reads it, "We shall all indeed rise, but we shall not all be changed." Some Greek mss. read it, "We shall all sleep, but we shall not all be changed." Others, as the Vulgate, "We shall all rise, but we shall not all be changed." But the present Greek text contains, doubtless, the true reading; and the sense is, that all who are alive at the coming of the Lord Jesus shall undergo such a change as to fit them for their new abode in heaven; or such as shall make them like those who shall be raised from the dead. This change will be instantaneous, (1 Co 15:52,) for it is evident that God can as easily change the living as he can raise the dead; and as the affairs of the world will then have come to an end, there will be no necessity that those who are then alive should be removed by death; nor would it be proper that they should go down to lie any time in the grave. The ordinary laws, therefore, by which men are removed to eternity, will not operate in regard to them, and they will be removed at once to their new abode.

{++} "mystery" "secret" {d} "We shall not all sleep" 1 Th 4:15-17

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