"Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed." Does this mean that the dead will be asleep in the grave many years until the return of Christ? Or is there an instant Resurrection unto eternal life?
1 Corinthians 15:51 - 52
ESV - 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. 52 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 shall be changed.
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There are some (such as those who maintain that the soul "sleeps" after death prior to the resurrection) who will say, in order to reconcile this conflict, that the word "today" in the passage concerning the thief on the cross referred to when Jesus was speaking these words ("Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me..."), rather than to when the thief on the cross would be with Him in Paradise. However, there have been grammatical and contextual problems pointed out with this interpretation (which I believe have been discussed in response to other questions on this site), and it is thus not generally accepted. Therefore, since Jesus was apparently referring to an immediate post-death existence, some would say that he was speaking of a conscious afterlife of the disembodied soul in a temporary abode (either Paradise for the redeemed or hell for the unredeemed), prior to the resurrection of the bodies of believers in connection with events at the close of the age, when the soul and body will be reunited, and sent either to eternal life in Heaven (for the redeemed) or eternal punishment in hell (for the unredeemed). Another interpretation that I have seen is that the concept of time ceases or no longer exists at death, and that both believers and unbelievers therefore find themselves immediately after death to be present at the close of the age (that is, at the end of time) in their resurrected bodies, along with all the rest of humanity from eternity past to eternity future, who all "arrive" concurrently. (The person's body appears lifeless to those left behind, but that is because those individuals are still "trapped in time".) The redeemed then enter eternal life, while the unredeemed enter eternal punishment. In either case, however, I would say that the resurrection of the bodies of the dead does not occur before the close of the present age (what Paul referred to in verse 51 of the passage cited in the question as "the last trumpet"). (Paul also discusses this in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.)
To better understand the resurrection, first we should briefly address the state of the dead. The Bible say that the dead will sleep in the grave until the day of the Lord at the end of the world (Daniel 12:2; Rev 14:13). In death, humans are totally unconscious with no activity or knowledge of any kind (2 Peter 3:10; Ps 146:4; 6:5; 115:17; Job 14:12; Eccl 9:5-6). In Eden, God told Adam and Eve that they would die if they disobey (Gen 2:17). It was the serpent who lied saying "You will not die" (Gen 3:4). We are not immortal - death entered the world as a consequence of sin (Rom 6:23). When we die, the spirit, or breath of life, returns to God (Eccl 12:7). God takes back the life (ruach, spirit, breath) that He granted on condition of obedience. When we die we cease to live. God said that humans would die if disobedient (Gen 2:17) - He meant that we would cease to be and go back to dust. Humans lie in the sleep of death until the resurrection at the end of time. Then, and only then, will we awake and be raised out of what David called the "sleep of death" (Psalm 13:3). Both the OT and NT are very clear on the issue of resurrection. Life will be restored to the dead in the resurrection on the last day (1 Cor 15:51-55; Job 14:10-15; 19:25-26; Ps 17:15; Daniel 12:13). There will be two separate resurrections; the first one for the righteous and second for the wicked: (John 5:28-29; 1 Thess 4:16; Rev 20:4-6). At the last day, the dead in Christ will be raised from the dead and they shall eternity be with God. The wicked dead will remain in their graves and will be raised after the millennium in the resurrection of those who rejected Christ (Rev 20:7-9).
OK let's take it phrase by phrase and see if we can understand what Paul is saying here. "Listen, I tell you a mystery:" A mystery is something that no one knows except through revelation and Paul is revealing this truth to you now. "We will not all sleep," Not all Christians will die. Most Christians live normal lives and die at the end of it, but some Christians will be alive at the time the Lord returns and they will not die, because the return of the Lord will be the end of the world. "but we will all be changed" Even though some Christians will die and some will not, they will all have this in common that they will all be changed. " - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye," It will happen instantaneously for both the living and the dead at the same time "at the last trumpet." It will happen at the end of all things, at the end of the world, when Jesus returns "For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed." Three things will happen then; 1 the trumpet will usher in the end of the present world, 2 the dead will be raised and given imperishable bodies, 3 the living will be changed and also given imperishable bodies. So to answer the question; yes this means that many Christians will have been dead or asleep in the grave many years until the return of Christ and will be raised to life. AND there an instant change for the living at the same time. Regards Phil
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