The Certain Hope of Tomorrow
1 Corinthians 15:50-58
Why to people hate Christians? Jesus said it this way in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” And Matthew 10:22, “You will be hated by all because of My name.” Some of you are saying, “I don’t hate Christians . . . and maybe that’s because you don’t know any real ones. Genuine Christians live, believe and own truths people find hateful.
Some think it’s because they believe in Creation not evolution, or only two sexes, or certain coming judgment, or a literal physical Hell, or that people are sinful not good. But the core of the struggle and why some hate believers is this–Christ is in charge, Christ rules, Christ is the only way anyone can ever be made right with God. Christ alone is the one who is running this planet, and if you don’t submit to Christ, you are in trouble now and doomed forever. He is the judge who will evaluate your behavior and if you don’t live His way, you will struggle now and suffer forever later.
Christ teaches you can’t live any way you want, do your own thing, live for yourself without suffering massive consequences. This is why true Christians are hated. The sad truth is that by submitting to Christ, surrendering your life to Him by faith, turning from your sin and following Hm, He offers you peace, love, abundant life, grace, real forgiveness, living without guilt, having the resources to love and give to others and deliverance from eternal suffering in Hell for your sins.
You say, “Chris, I don’t hate Christians. So I won’t have to deal with any of that.” The truth is, you are going to die–then you’ll face judgment, regardless of what you think. The Bible says in Hebrews 9:27, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgement.” The statistics are alarming–one out of every one person dies. The bad news is, death is certain. But the good news is, you don’t have to fear it.
This morning, you can be certain to pass through the door of death and know for a fact you have an incredible eternity to look forward to. Really? God gave you a written contract, found in 1 Corinthians 15:50-58—open there and take out your outline. For many Easters now, I’ve been expositing my way through 1 Corinthians 15 verse by verse. In this long resurrection chapter, God has given us the evidences for Christ’s resurrection in verses 1 to 11–the consequences of denying a bodily resurrection in verses 12 to 19, the plan and incentives of the resurrection in verses 20 to 34, and a description of our resurrection bodies in verses 35 to 49.
And now finally finishing the chapter in verses 50 to 58, God through the Apostle Paul guarantees an incredible certain future–that your resurrection will bring you, if you’re a genuine born again Christ-following Christian. This passage is so powerful, it has been put to music in such masterpieces as Handel’s Messiah and Brahms’ Requiem. It’s a celebration of the certainty only Christians enjoy. God literally writes an unbreakable contract here to His own children.
#1 The Certainty of CHANGE
Take a look at the fine print in verse 50, “Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” God reminds us even though flesh and blood is great for earthly bodies, it’s not at all suited for Heaven. Even Christ’s own flesh and blood body had to be transformed before He could return to the Father. But why can’t our human bodies go to Heaven?
Our human bodies are perishable, meaning they decay. It’s true and you know it. We scent our bodies because they smell. We patch our bodies because they break. We work out our bodies because they bulge. And we paint our bodies because they discolor. All of it signs of decay. Even though every cell in the body is renewed every seven years, that doesn’t prevent aging, deterioration, or death–all of which are the result of sin.
So our current bodies are not suited for eternity–they can’t live in Heaven. Paul says in verse 50 our perishable body cannot inherit the imperishable/eternal. Our bodies must be made different in order to inherit Heaven. What is Paul implying? Christians certainly will and must be changed. There’s another point you can’t miss. Flesh and blood are not accepted by Heaven–there’s no way to be accepted in God’s eyes by utilizing your natural human resources.
In other words, nothing that wins the approval of men, has any value in the sight of God. That includes athletic trophies, academic degrees, Nobel prizes, building a business. It includes being nice to people, attending church or claiming you are a Christian–none of those impress God. That’s frightening. Flesh and blood can’t do anything of value under God’s rule. In His Kingdom, you cannot inherit the kingdom.
This is what shocked the great Nicodemus of John 3, when he came to Jesus. He is the most respected spiritual leader in Israel, but Jesus told him you must start all over again—“You must be born again.” This is also what Paul is saying here. By nature, naturally (flesh and blood) you can’t inherit the kingdom of God. There must be a change from the perishable to the imperishable. You must be made new right now, internally–then after death, externally. As a Christian, you will be changed after you die. But what happens if you are alive when Christ returns? Will you miss out? No. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul guarantees . . .
#2 The Certainty of the RAPTURE
Read God’s contract carefully in verse 51, “Behold, I tell you a mystery.” A mystery is a secret–I love secrets, the inside scoop. Here is a secret God didn’t tell His people until after the Church was born in Acts 2. What is it? It’s not the resurrection–that was promised in Job 19 and Daniel 12. What wasn’t known? Read on in verse 51. “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” Paul describes the Rapture–what is the Rapture?
(Let me help.) Jesus Christ promised He would return. He will return in all His glory. Meaning, when Christ came the first time, He veiled His deity under the cloak of His humanity. In the gospels, except for once, Christ only appeared as a man, though He was always fully God and fully man. But when Christ comes again to Earth, He will come in all His glory, as God. He will triumphantly return after He judges this world for seven years. That 7-year period is the promised Tribulation.
Seven years of increasingly intense, universal judgments will fall upon this entire world. Then at the end of the 7-year tribulation, Gods judgment will culminate in a horrific war called Armageddon. This ongoing war has its final battles in Israel in the giant valley of Megiddo. Now friends, if these events are shaping up to occur in the next 10 to 20 years, then what you’d have to see on the world stage right now would be an aggressive Russia and China against a coalition of nations opposed to their movements–hmmmm.
Ezekiel 38 and 39 tell us the Battle of Armageddon is basically Russia and China warring against a coalition of nations led by the Antichrist. In the midst of the final battle, Christ will return–the nations will turn their weapons against their creator, but Christ will wipe them all out with just a word. Then Christ will establish His literal thousand-year rule on Earth. But what begins God’s judgment of the tribulation? What starts the worldwide panic? It’s the Rapture. Christ snatches His followers away. Christ removes all of His children before He begins the most intense time of judgment the world has ever experienced.
The word Rapture comes from the Greek word meaning caught up or to seize. So when Paul says in verse 51, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed”–that is Christ snatching away all genuine Christians in the Rapture before the Tribulation. Christians who have died will be resurrected, then those who are alive like us today will be caught up or snatched up to meet the Lord in the air to be with Him forever.
Not every Christian will die. Verse 51, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” The secret God kept for thousands of years is now revealed. Some believers will be translated up to Heaven without dying in the Rapture. All believers will be changed–all believers will be transformed into a glorified body, but not all believers will die. How will it happen? Look at verse 52, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead [in Christ will be first] will be raised imperishable, and we [the living] will be changed.”
The Rapture will be fast–in the twinkling of an eye. Faster than the blink of an eye, twinkle is the time it takes light to travel from the surface of your eye to the retina. That’s fast. Ready? On the count of three, let’s all blink together. Ready? 1, 2, 3–blink. The Rapture just occurred! I wonder who will still be here?
When Christ physically returns to the planet at the end of the Tribulation, the Bible tells us every eye will see Him. But with the Rapture, He snatches his children in a blink. Verse 52 says “the trumpet will sound“–that’s God summoning His people to Himself. It is the last trumpet for Christians who are alive at this time. What happens to genuine believers at the Rapture? Read verse 53, “For this perishable [decaying body] must put on the imperishable [non-decaying, perfect body], and this mortal must put on immortality.” It will be a body which cannot die or age or wear out.
Verse 51 declares, “We will all be changed.” What are we going to be changed into? What kind of bodies are we going to get? Last Easter taught us this, in verses 35 to 49. Philippians 3:20 to 21 and 1 John 3:2 teach our bodies will be like Christ’s. What was Christ’s glorified body like? After His resurrection from the dead—1) Christ could appear and disappear, as well as go through walls, 2) Christ could eat honeycomb and show the disciples the scars on His hands and feet, 3) He stood on a mountain and just took off into space (that will help with shopping), 4) He could transport Himself by a thought (think Hawaii and you’re there–come Lord Jesus), 5) He will come in the same body He left in almost 2,000 years ago (I’ll last forever)–in other words, at their resurrection and at the Rapture, Christians will have a spiritual, perfect, physical, powerful, glorified and incorruptible body.
The New Testament teaches there will be a Rapture. John 14:3, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” First Thessalonians 4:16 to 18, “For 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. 17Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
Why do Christians celebrate Easter? One of the many reasons is, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead guarantees our future resurrection. Just as Christ received a new glorified body, so we will receive a new glorified body. Death for the born again believer means they’re immediately at home with Christ. Second Corinthians 5:8, “To be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”
But their body will sleep until the Rapture. When the Rapture occurs, all those who’ve died in Christ will be reunited with a new, glorified body first. Then those in Christ who are alive will receive a new, glorified body as they’re snatched away. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:18 to “comfort each other with these words.” Hey, you’re getting old, hurting, damaged, dying–that is not forever! In Christ, you are promised you will be freed by a new, glorified, eternal body.
We don’t know when the Rapture will be. We know it’s before the Tribulation. But how soon will it be? Are we getting close? Yes, we are. There are more indicators we are close than ever before. In Matthew 24 and 25, the Lord gives us the signs of His return, like Israel is back in the land, deception saturating our world on every front, international dissension, escalating wars and rumors of wars, plus an increase of famine, pestilence and earthquakes.
Famine–more people today are facing the scarcity and uncertainty of food than ever before
Pestilence–are we facing worldwide disease outbreaks today?
Earthquakes–between 1900 and 1969, there were six major quakes every ten years. But today, there is one major earthquake every month worldwide. Jesus also teaches . . .
Persecution will increase–Christianity is under attack in the USA, Pastors are being jailed in Canada, and more than 340 million Christians live under high levels of persecution. Last year 4,761 believers were martyred, 4,488 churches were attacked, 4,277 Christians were detained without trial. We are getting close. But Paul says, do not be discouraged. Go back to 1 Corinthians 15–not only will we be changed, and if alive, raptured. But we will also most certainly be victorious.
#3 The Certainty of TRIUMPH
Continue with God’s contract in verse 54, “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’” The resurrection of Jesus broke the power of death, but death is still the enemy of man. Even for Christians, death violates our ruling creation as God’s stewards. Death breaks love relationships, like separating me from my sweetheart, my wife, Jean. Death disrupts families–taking us from our kids, grandkids and relatives. And death causes grief with the absence of loved ones.
Our Christian brothers and sisters, we no longer need to fear death. But death still torments us while we are mortal. But one day, when Christ returns, verse 54 says “the perishable will put on [like clothes] the imperishable, and the mortal will put on [like clothes] immortality.” Then just as the prophet Isaiah predicted, there will come a great triumph when death is swallowed up in victory–meaning someday there’ll be no more death, no more dying, no more sorrow, and no more separation.
Then quoting the prophet Hosea in 13:14, the apostle Paul taunts death in verse 55, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Death has a sting–what is it? It’s the fear of having to give an answer for our lives. What makes us afraid of death is an unavoidable settling up for our sins. You and I must answer for what we have done and how we have lived.
Have you ever been stung by a bee? After a sting, a honey bee leaves its stinger in you. And just like a bee leaves its stinger in its victim, death left its sting in Christ. Christ bore the entire sting of death, the total answering for sin so we don’t have live in the fear that someone will discover our sin. We don’t have to live in guilt over sin. If you admit you are a sinner, put all your trust in Christ dying for sin, believe He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven and is the only way to be made right with God, following Him as your Savior and as your Master—then your sin can be forgiven. You can be made new and ready for Heaven.
And in order for you not to miss the point, read verse 56, “The sting of death is sin.” The harm in death is caused by sin–in fact, death itself is caused by sin. Do you know what Romans 5:12 says? “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Only where there is sin can death deal a fatal, eternal blow. But when sin is removed, death can only interrupt this earthly life in order to usher us into eternal life. When sin is gone, death doesn’t lead to punishment but to paradise. When sin is paid for, death doesn’t lead to judgment, but to Jesus. When Christ takes your punishment, death doesn’t lead to Hell, but to Heaven.
You can’t do it because you are not perfect–but Christ is the perfect substitute. Your sin is judged on the cross, His righteousness covers you–that’s what Jesus did for His children. Our sins can be forgiven if we are in Christ. Death is not gone–but its sting, sin, is gone. Jesus took our sins. He took our sting. Therefore, all true Christians are forgiven, guilt free, and ready for Heaven. It’s not that Christians no longer sin, but that the sins we commit are already covered by Christ’s atoning death—paid in full, so that sin’s effect is not permanently fatal.
Yet if you don’t surrender to Christ, obey Him, then follow Him by faith, death’s sting tragically remains in you forever. But what does God mean when He says in verse 56, “the power of sin is the law”? Listen–how many of you have ever lied? Stolen? Lusted? Been angry? Hurt someone? We all know we’re guilty of sin and must answer for those sins. God’s law reveals God’s standards, God’s morality, God’s character–so when God’s standards are broken by you, they expose your sin.
Then when you know you’re a sinner, you know you are accountable for sin and are guilty because of your sin. Therefore, God’s children are moved to turn to God over their sin before they die. The Law shows us we are sinners. God’s Law shows us how far we’ve rebelled against God’s plan. The Law of God shows us the sin in our lives that must be judged by God. That’s the bad news–what’s the good news?
Read verse 57, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” That which we could never do for ourselves, God has done for us through our Lord Jesus Christ. We can’t live sinlessly and thereby fulfill the law. Nor can we remove sin once we have committed it, or remove its consequence, which is death. But on our behalf, for us, Jesus Christ lived a sinless life, fulfilling the Law. Jesus removed our sin, paying the penalty of death on the cross. Jesus satisfied God with a perfect sacrifice. And Christ conquered death by being raised from the dead.
How can we do anything but thank God for what He has done for us? God has promised a powerful and spiritual body for one that is weak, decaying and natural. God has promised Heaven in exchange for Earth, immortality in exchange for mortality. We know these promises are true, because He’s already given us victory over sin now. Notice verse 57, “Who gave us the victory.” It is in the present tense, not the past. It is “thanks be to God who keeps on giving us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Every day as a Christian, you and I are renewed by the grace of Jesus. Christ is alive and I meet with Him every day. And when I find myself faltering and sinning, I come to receive from Him the cleansing He won for me on Calvary. My sins are washed away afresh. I find a new power to say “no” to evil, and to stand firm in the struggles of life, because He keeps on giving us the victory. “Thanks be to God!” He can give you victory over the penalty of sin–eternal death. And He can give you victory over the power of sin–your current sin battles you face every day. And because He did all this for you, it leads you to the final point of chapter 15 . . .
#4 The Certainty of SERVICE
Your part of the contract, the conclusion, the only right response, is verse 58—”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.” If you really believe and are truly thankful that your resurrection or Rapture is certain, that you will be changed from the perishable, dishonorable, weak, mortal and earthy to the imperishable, glorious, powerful, spiritual, immortal, and heavenly. Paul says prove your confidence and thankfulness by never giving up and overflowing in service to Christ.
STEADFAST literally means being seated–it’s to be settled and firmly situated. I’m in this chair and I’m not moving. I’m firmly planted in my faith and won’t allow anything to discourage me from service. Are you steadfast? How much can you take before you bail out? What does it take to discourage you? Immature Christians bail out quick–mature Christians are steadfast.
IMMOVABLE means totally motionless. You can’t be pushed over. You’re a fixture. There is no discussion and no question as to whether you will live for Christ or not. You’re not debating God’s Word, you’re merely obeying it and living by it. Is that you? Are you immovably committed to God’s Word? Are you living each day as if it were your last? When you are certain you will live in glory with Christ forever in Heaven, resurrected or raptured, you don’t sweat the small stuff. In fact, Paul adds you’re . . .
ABOUNDING, which means to exceed the requirements, to overdo. What a statement to the countless Christians who serve, give, pray, attend or suffer as little as possible. How can we take it easy when so many around us are dead spiritually and so many saints are in need of edification, encouragement, and help of every sort? Hey, rest is important–but if you err, make it on the side of service to Christ and not on the side of the two great modern idols of today, leisure and relaxation.
If Christ saved you, promises you resurrection or Rapture and eternity, don’t be reaching for the bench. Don’t relax yourself out of the work of God, but abound—overdo. Be careful with that cabin at the lake, that boat, that travel–even your family can become an idol. The Rapture is any moment. Exceed the requirements and abound for Christ. There are souls to reach and ministries of every kind to be accomplished. Live every single day as if it were your last.
Will it be easy? Verse 58 says, ”Knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” Service, ministry, efforts for Christ can be toil–literally labor to the point of exhaustion. Yet whenever you do what God has called you to do, God provides incredible strength. God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack for God’s power. But will it count for eternity?
God says, know “that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” Every good work we do in this life, in the power of the Spirit, for the glory of God, has eternal benefits the Lord will not forget. God promises your tiring labor is not in vain. It will matter for eternity, and God will reward. Are you ready for the Rapture? Are you certain you will be raised? Let’s pray.
There are people here today who claim Christ, but are not saved–wheat and tares. How can they know who they are? They say they belong to Christ, but do not obey Him by obeying the Bible. They call themselves Christians, but are not wanting to please Christ over themselves. They occasionally attend church, but have no desire to serve Christ, give to Christ, fellowship with His people, make disciples, share the Gospel, pray, sacrifice for others, and most of all worship Christ with their entire being.
They think they are doing okay, but see little or no victory over sin in their lives. They are religious Christians, but not those in an intimate relationship with Christ. They like the idea of Heaven and a Rapture, but are not anxious to get there. They like Jesus, but are not willing to do what He wants–certainly not die to self. If you think that might be you, then admit you are a sinner, put all your trust into Christ dying for sin, believe He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven, and determine to follow Christ as your Savior and as your Master right now. Then your sin can be forgiven, you can be made new and ready for Heaven.
For those today who are His children this Easter, look for Him every day and thank Him for the incredible, certain future He has guaranteed with the salvation which comes only in Christ.