Covenant Connections in Paul (9)

Part Eight

The Transformation of Our Bodies

The mention of the transformation of our bodies calls to mind the mystery of 1 Corinthians 15:50-52:

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.  Behold, I tell 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 trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

The language of transformation is linked to the kingdom of God in this text.  Paul says that “flesh and blood” cannot inherit this kingdom – a kingdom that is in the future.  What does he mean by this?  This is to say that our present earthly frame is not prepared for the glories in heaven.  As Schreiner puts it, “The bodily flesh of this age is subject to weakness and death…our corruptible earthly body cannot enter the future kingdom.”[1] 

            The apostle tells us that we shall all be changed, that is, we shall become incorruptible and glorious.  And this transformation will happen in an instant.  It will occur “at the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52).  I wish he had elaborated a little more on the trumpet!  Which “trump” is he referring to?  The book of Revelation refers to seven trumpets which are blown by angels, with the seventh recorded cryptically in Revelation 10:5-7 and finally blown in Revelation 11:15.  There is a sense of finality that comes with this blowing, but is this what Paul had in mind when he wrote about “the last trump” some forty years earlier?  I think this is doubtful.  Trumpets were used to get people’s attention and to summon them (e.g., Exod. 19:13, 16, 19; Lev. 25:9; Neh. 4:20).  Sometimes the trumpet raised the alarm (Joel 2:1; Amos 3:6; Zeph. 3:16).  Jesus Himself taught that a trumpet would be blown when the angels were sent to gather up the saints at his second coming (Matt. 24:30-31), which may be synonymous with the seventh trumpet of Revelation, although to me that appears doubtful.[2] 

            It seems better to think of “the last trumpet” as the final blast in a succession of trumpet calls which precede the transformation of our bodies, although there is no way of nailing it down more than that.  For Paul then the coming of Christ is the time of our appropriation of the glory of the resurrection that Christ has procured for us.  The next question that arises is whether 1 Corinthians 15:50-52 is connected with the “snatching up” (harpazo) described in 1 Thessalonians 4:12-18.  Here is the part of the passage which describes the “rapture:”

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. – 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.

            I am approaching the text as neutrally as I can, which means that I am not as concerned with when it will occur but what will occur and its connection, if any, with the change described by Paul at the end of 1 Corinthians 15. 

            The first thing that I have to point out is the rather obvious fact that this passage nowhere pinpoints the timing of the harpazo.  This is not the reason Paul wrote the words.  Some writers have referred to inscriptions on the tombs of famous men of the past where harpazo is used as a euphemism for death; thus, they were “snatched up” by death.[3]  That cannot be the meaning here because the living are contrasted with those who have “fallen asleep” and both will be caught up together (1 Thess. 4:15-17).  The link between this passage and 1 Corinthians 15:50-52 is the trumpet that is blown (1 Thess. 4:16).  At the blast of this trumpet things happen to the saints; they are transformed and glorified.  And this change is one reason why I believe the snatching up of the saints cannot be post-tribulational, for then who would go into the millennial kingdom, have children and grow old as per Isaiah 11, 65, and Zechariah 8?  Glorified people will not procreate nor age.  It therefore looks like the “rapture” of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and the corresponding transformation of 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 must occur before the second advent.  This brings the rapture back to either pre- or mid-tribulational or “prewrath.”  I will investigate the timing of this event later, but I do want to address one “pretrib” text which is occasionally used.                              


[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology, Downers Grove, IVP, 2001, 142.  “The resurrection will involve somatic existence, although not fleshly existence. ‘Flesh and blood,’ that is, our present fleshly bodies, cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50).” – George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983, 465.

[2] See the exposition of Revelation 11 later in this volume. 

[3] E.g., Constantine R. Campbell, Paul and the Hope of Glory, 112-113.

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