Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017
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51 Behold, I shew 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 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. 55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.1 Corinthians 15:51-58
WSC 38. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection?
A. At the resurrection, believers being raised up in glory,1 shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment,2 and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God3 to all eternity.41 1 Cor 15:43; 2 Mt 25:23; 10:32; 3 1 Jn 3:2; 1 Cor 13:12; 4 1 Th 4:17.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism has two main sections. The first section, from questions 4-38, teaches us what we are to believe concerning God. The second section, from questions 39-107, covers what duties God requires of us.
We have come, in our series based on the Catechism, to the final question of the first half.
In our last few studies, we considered the benefits that Christ purchased for His people at the Cross and how they are applied to us by the Holy Spirit. We considered the benefits of justification, adoption and sanctification as well as the several benefits which flow from or accompany these benefits, such as assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace and perseverance therein unto the end.
Then, we noted how the souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness and pass immediately into glory, while their bodies, being still until to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.
We must now consider what will happen at the resurrection. Our Catechism, Question 38 asks, “What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection?”
At the resurrection, believers being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God3 to all eternity.
We will take our scripture text from 1 Corinthians 15:51-58.
1 Corinthians 15, as you may know, is the famous chapter where the apostle deals with the subject of resurrection.
There were some in Corinth who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Paul begins the chapter by showing that the resurrection of Christ is a historical fact testified by many witnesses. Then, he proceeds to show that if the dead rise not, then Christ did not rise, and if Christ did not rise, then believers are of all men most miserable, for Christianity would be proven to be a hoax.
The resurrection is part of the redemptive plan of God that centres on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is an inviolable fact that believers who die will rise again one day.
But now, as Paul concludes the chapter in the text for our meditation, he seeks to explain (1) when the resurrection will occur; (2) what will happen on that day; and (3) what is the significance of that day?
1. When Will the Resurrection Occur?
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.v. 52
When would the resurrection occur? It will occur “at the last trump [or trumpet].” What is the last trump? Well, there are many speculations.
One commentator suggests that Paul must be alluding to the rabbinic tradition that trumpets will be sounded to signal each stage of the resurrection. For example, Rabbi Akiba writes about the seven trumpets. At the first blast, he says, the earth shall be shaken; at the third, the bones shall be gathered together; at the sixth, the souls shall be joined to their bodies; and at the seventh, all will be revived and stand clothed.
This is an interesting interpretation. However, nowhere in the scripture can we find the idea alluded to. And besides, Rabbi Akiba was born in AD 50. He would have been barely five years old when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians! I think it is much more likely that Akiba speculated on Paul’s writing rather than Paul alluding to his writing.
Another interpretation suggests that the last trump refers to the seventh trumpet to be sounded in the vision of the trumpet judgement (Rev 11:15-19). But it is unlikely that Revelation was already written in AD 55 when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. So, while Paul’s last trump may correspond to the seventh trumpet in John’s vision, it is unlikely that this was what Paul had in mind.
Other commentators suggest that Paul has in mind the trumpets sounded at the Rosh Hashana, or the silver trumpets of Numbers 10 that are sounded to summon the people to war. But again, the connections are very weak.
What, then, is Paul referring to? Well, I would suggest that knowing what Paul has in mind is not extremely important. What is more important is that it is the LAST trumpet. The word translated “last” is the Greek ἔσχατος (eschatos) from which we get eschatology, the study of last things or the study of final events. Thus, the last trumpet would signal the end of redemptive history before we enter into the eternal state of glory.
In the language of scripture, the Last Days refer to the days between the incarnation of Christ and His second coming, but the Last Day refers to the day of His coming again victorious as Judge and King.
So the last trump is the trumpet of the last day. But it is also, as it were, the trumpet that will awake the bodies in the grave. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:16:
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.
Thus, the last trump will signal the day of the resurrection of the dead. It will also signal the beginning of glorious eternity for the people of God, for it is the day Christ shall return as the Triumphant King.
In the vision of John in Revelation 11, when the seventh angel sounded, the multitude cried: “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15).
Christ, in other words, will be revealed that day as the King of kings and Lord of lords, and every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.
This day will not mark the beginning of a thousand years of peace on earth as taught by premillennialists. The language of scripture suggests, instead, that sin and rebellion will be wholly eradicated on that day, and Christ will reign forever and ever.
There will not be a revolt after a thousand years. There will be no embarrassment to Christ that His subjects were unhappy with His reign and could be persuaded to try to overthrow His kingdom by the wicked one.
No, no; Christ is the perfect king. Today, He is already on the throne, but He is not yet revealed to the world. There will be no unwilling or grudging obedience when He is revealed as king to the world. There will only be love, reverence and gratitude. Sin, suffering and death will be eradicated. All His subjects in that day will have been resurrected or translated so that they will serve Him perfectly.
This day of the Last Trump will be the last day of the fallen world as we know it today. It will mark the beginning of glorious eternity.
When will this day be? We do not know. The scripture nowhere reveals when this day will be. The Lord Himself says: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Mt 24:36).
All we are told is that this day is coming, and we must be prepared for it. When the scripture tells us that He will come as a thief in the night, it is not to say that he will come secretly, but that he will come at an unexpected time. His return will not be announced ahead of time.
Like the five wise virgins, we must be prepared at any time to meet our Lord. We must not be like the foolish virgins, looking forward to seeing the groom but unprepared to receive him.
We must be prepared for that last trump and the day of the resurrection by faithfully living for Christ today.
But what will happen on that day?
2. What Will Happen on Resurrection Day?
Look at verse 51 again:
Behold, I shew 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
What will happen on that day? Paul highlights three things in our text.
First, the trumpet shall sound. Those who believe in the secret rapture will say that this trumpet is not literal or will only be heard by believers.
Well, I do not know whether the trumpet will be literal, but Paul seems to suggest that it will be a signal that is heard by all. Notice how he does not only refer to the last trump, but says specifically that the trumpet shall sound.
It will be such a great noise that everyone alive will know distinctly that this is the day of resurrection and judgement.
As the trumpets sounded at the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, so now the trumpet would sound as men, women and children are summoned to be judged against God’s Law.
But more than that, the trumpet will be, as it were, a signal for the elect of Christ to gather unto Him:
The Lord says in Matthew 24:31:
And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
It is not a secret signal, but a great sound. For “for the trumpet shall sound,” says the apostle Paul. Whether or not a literal trumpet will sound, it appears to be an event known to all.
But secondly, upon the sounding of the trumpet, the dead in Christ shall be raised. They will be raised with incorruptible bodies (v. 52-53). In verse 43, he tells us that the body is sown in dishonour, but raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, but raised in power.
Elsewhere in the scripture, we are taught that unbelievers will also be raised, but they will be raised with a corruptible body fitted for eternal punishment. Paul does not mention the resurrection of unbelievers in this passage because his emphasis is on the death and resurrection of those who are in Christ.
But now, the third thing that happens on that day is that the living will also be transformed.
Earlier, Paul spoke about how the dead must be raised with a glorious body, for the corruptible cannot inherit the incorruptible. But now the question we would naturally ask is: What about those who are alive on the day of the resurrection?
Paul answers in verse 51: “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.”
While God’s appointed course for most believers throughout the ages is to die and then be raised incorruptible on the Last Day, He has appointed that those who are alive when Christ comes will not need to die. In an instant, in the twinkling of the eye, their natural body will be transformed into a resurrection body. Corruption will be replaced by incorruption; mortality will be replaced by immortality.
Here are the three things Paul highlights in our text: The trump will sound; the dead in Christ will be resurrected; and those who are alive in Christ will be transformed.
Where, then, does the idea of secret rapture come from? Well, we can’t say much about ‘secret’, but the idea of rapture comes from 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17:
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.
In these two verses, Paul tells us more about what will happen in that great day. Here again, we see that the trumpet will sound together with a great shout as the Lord descends. Then, he tells us that the dead in Christ will rise, followed by believers who are alive, to meet the Lord in the air.
Notice how Paul does not speak about the resurrection here, whereas he speaks about it in our text. But notice how he does not speak of the ascension in our text, whereas he speaks of the resurrection.
Combining and comparing the two passages, we see that in the twinkling of an eye, the dead in Christ are resurrected and caught up to be with the Lord, while at the same time, believers who are alive are translated and also caught up.
They are caught up that they might meet the Lord and then accompany Him as a welcome party as He descends as King and conqueror over the whole world. The word translated “meet” as in “meet the Lord in the air” (v. 17) is the word (ἀπάντησις, apantēsis) which is used only on two other occasions in the New Testament. The first is in Matthew 25 (v. 6), in the Parable of the Ten Virgins, where it describes the virgins’ meeting with the bridegroom to escort him to the banqueting hall. The second is in Acts 28:15, where we are told that the Roman Christians met Paul at Appii forum and the three taverns to accompany him in the rest of his journey to Rome.
In classic Greek literature, it is used to describe the citizens of a country going out to meet a victorious king after he returns from a battle.
This, then, is what we will be doing when we are caught up to meet the Lord when the trumpet sounds. We are caught up, so we might come down with Him as His saints (Jude 1:14).
This will then be followed by the general judgement presided by Christ on the throne. The Lord Himself alludes to His judgement when He comes in His Parable of the Sheep and Goat in Matthew 25. He tells us that when the Son of Man comes in His glory, He shall sit upon the throne of His glory, and all the kingdoms of the world will be gathered before Him to be judged. Then, the righteous shall inherit life eternal while the wicked will go away into everlasting punishment (v. 46).
Likewise, the apostle John tells us in Revelation 20 that when the resurrection has occurred, the books will be open, and the dead will be judged before being assigned their eternal destiny (cf. Rev 20:12-13).
Our Catechism teaches us that believers “shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgement.” This is taught in several places in the scriptures. For example, in the Lord’s parable of the Talent, the Lord is depicted as saying to his faithful servants: “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Mt 25:23).
What a great and glorious day that will be! All the promises of God will find their complete fulfilment on this day.
But for Paul, the most significant thing on this day is the resurrection.
3. What Is the Significance of Resurrection Day?
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.v. 54
This day of resurrection, in other words, would be the day of the death of death.
On this day, the prophecy of Isaiah that death will be swallowed up in victory will be fulfilled. This day, “the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth,” says Isaiah (Isa 25:8).
Likewise, on this day, the prophecy of Hosea will be fulfilled, and death will lose its sting completely:
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.v. 55-57
Death is painful because of sin; sin is destructive because it is a breaking of the law. But thank God, Christ died to pay for our sins, and He gives us victory over indwelling sin by the Spirit working in us.
Well, by the appointment of God, we do not have complete victory over sin in this life. And death serves to remind us that we are sinners.
But the day is coming when death will be defeated for believers. This is the day of the resurrection. This is the day when the trumpet shall sound.
From that day onwards, sin shall no more trouble the children of God, whether it is their own sin or the sin of others. Sin shall no longer separate us from God and hinder our communion with God.
From that day onwards, death shall no more trouble the children of God, whether it is their own death or the death of loved ones. Death shall no longer separate us and our loved ones and hinder our communion with one another.
Sin and death will be completely eradicated! We shall have complete victory over sin and death. In the words of Psalm 16:11, we shall have fullness of joy!
Psalm 16:11 declares:
Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.Ps 16:11
It is interesting to see how the apostle Peter quotes this verse as referring to the resurrection of Christ in Acts 2. This suggests to us that fullness of joy is tied to the resurrection.
Thus, we may infer that though our souls will experience complete joy in the Holy Ghost upon our death, we will not enjoy the fullness of joy until the resurrection. For until then, we will, in a sense, be incomplete.
But at the resurrection, our bodies will be reunited with our souls. And both are perfected. Therefore, our joy will be as complete as can be for us.
Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.v. 57
We have been considering the doctrine of the resurrection. More precisely, we have been studying what will happen at the resurrection. We have considered many things, but the most important points are summarised in our Catechism:
WSC 38. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection?
A. At the resurrection, believers being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.
But what shall we say to these things? Well, the apostle Paul gives us an inspired application in verse 58:
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
In other words:
Firstly, let us be steadfast and unmovable. Let us be firm, strong and confident in the faith in view of the hope of the resurrection. Many things will shake our confidence, and the devil will ensure we feel their full brunt. Consider, for example, how severe illnesses and pain drag us down, and tempt us to give up hope, or at least grumble. Think also of how hardship, persecution, unjust criticisms, unfulfilled desires and separation of loved ones tend to discourage us and make us joyless.
Therefore, let us be vigilant and fix our eyes on Christ, our Saviour and plant our hope firmly not only in heaven, but in our resurrection and vindication at the last day. Be steadfast and unmoveable in the Lord!
Secondly, let us be always abounding in the work of the Lord. Do not cease to do the will of God to promote His glory and to further the Kingdom of Christ. The Lord Jesus has promised to reward His saints. We will be rewarded privately at our death, but we will again be rewarded publicly at our resurrection.
And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.Rev 22:12
Our salvation is from grace unto grace, and faith unto faith. We are saved by grace through faith in our justification, adoption and sanctification. But good works, good attitudes, and good behaviour are our reasonable, grateful response to what Christ has done for us. That should be sufficient reason for us not to be weary in well-doing. But the Lord has given us even more reasons to labour on, for He has promised to reward us despite our unworthiness.
The world may be motivated to do great deeds out of hope of wealth, honour and perhaps pleasure. But let us rather be excited to labour on for Christ by the hope of glory in Christ and His assurance that our labours will not be in vain.
This is the basis of John Calvin’s motto: “My heart I offer to you Lord, promptly and sincerely.” Oh, may the Lord grant us that we may have the same attitude and spontaneity of devotion to the Lord, not because we are Calvinistic, but because of what Christ, our Lord and Saviour, has done for us, is doing for us and will do for us. Amen.