“Behold, I show 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:51-57).
One day every believer will receive a new body, a glorified one, fit to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This will happen the moment we come into the presence of our Saviour and Lord. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2) … “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).
What about the dead?
The Rapture includes the fact Christ, when He returns, will reunite the spirits of believers with their bodies, no matter how long they have been in the grave. While we can grasp how the Lord can catch away living saints, it is harder for some to accept that the bodies of departed Christians will be reclothed with flesh. Some suggest that this part is figurative, but at what point does the text move from fact to fiction? Maybe there is a misunderstanding of what death is in some minds.
Death is the separation of man from God because of sin. This death began in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sinned. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). The pair was forced out of Eden as a sign that all their descendants would be alienated from God because of sin. “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). We call this ‘spiritual death’. Unless the Lord returns beforehand, we will die physically and our bodies buried under the soil, but we do not cease to exist, instead those who are saved on earth will be taken directly to Heaven. “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
What is soul sleep and is it Scriptural?
The Bible often describes physical death as ‘sleep’. Some have abused this in an attempt to prove the theory of ‘soul sleep’, that is, when a believer dies, his spirit goes into some sort of suspended animation or stasis until the final resurrection. This defies the plain teaching of Christ Himself, for He said to the thief on the cross, “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Not tomorrow, next month or ten thousand years, but today. The apostle Paul states in Philippians 1:23, “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.” How could it be “far better” to die if his spirit slept for thousands of years? No, he knew that once a believer dies, he goes directly to Christ, without going to jail! “Sleep” is a common euphemism in Scripture for death (see Matthew 27:52, John 11:11, Acts 7:60). Therefore the word “sleep” in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 speaks of the sleep of the body rather than of the soul: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.”
The Greek word used to describe ‘sleep’ or ‘fall asleep’ is ‘koimao’ and referred primarily to natural sleep. The writers of the New Testament used this word for the death of a believer. Just as we awake from sleep each morning, so our physical bodies will be awakened at the Rapture. It is interesting that another Greek word related to ‘koimao’ is ‘koimeteria’ and it refers to both a bedroom and a graveyard. The following epitaph on a grave in London expresses the truth about where a believer goes after death:
Here lies the body of Solomon Peas
Under the grass and under the trees
But Peas is not here, only the pod
Peas shelled out and went to God.
The Bible is clear on the issue of what happens to believers when they die physically, and it is just as precise regarding what will take place at the Rapture. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). If the bodies of the dead believers are not raised, then the following Scripture is meaningless: “So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). When the dead are raised, living believers will meet them in the air in the presence of Christ. All will immediately be transformed and will receive a brand new body. This transformation will take place in a nanosecond, quicker than we can blink an eye. “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52). For a body to lie in the ground would mean that Christ was not victorious over every aspect of death; thankfully the Bible declares it to be otherwise. “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26) … “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
In our next study we will look at who will participate in the Rapture.