Today’s section is over I Corinthians 15.50-57. In these seven verses there are two themes; transformation (50-53) and victory (54-57). Paul begins by stating that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” and then the next phrase clarifies the previous. The perishable (flesh and blood) cannot inherit the imperishable (the kingdom of God). What this tells us is that we, in our current bodies and untransformed state cannot behold the nature to something such as the kingdom of God. In fact for us to be able to enter the kingdom, we need to undergo a transformation which happens at the resurrection and is only available “in Christ”. Paul says this in the next verse – that we will not all sleep (a euphemism for death in the Bible) but we will all be changed and then he specifies what change will occur in verse 52-53. He states that when the last trumpet sounds the dead will be raised “imperishable” and be changed. It it this act of being transformed that allows us to be in the presence of God and Jesus in the kingdom of God. Verse 53 restates and says that this mortal must put on immortality. In other words, at the resurrection the believer will receive the gift of immortality and will be granted entrance into the kingdom of God.
There are two things I would like to point out. First, you may be wondering, why would I have to change or go through a transformation to be with God? Well I think the answer is a practical one. For example, say I wanted to explore the sun. I want to get really close to it to explore and study it. The problem is I wouldn’t be able to get very close to it because of the intense heat and radiation. It would kill me if I got too close. However, if I somehow was made of the same elements of the sun I would be able to approach it because I would be like the sun. In a similar fashion, God is holy, bright, and other wordly. There is nothing in our experience to compare him to, he is incomprehensible. For you or I to be in the direct presence of God, we would have to be like him in some way or else we would die from his glory and majesty. The transformation we need in order to be in God’s presence happens and takes place at the resurrection. Philippians 3.21 says that we will be transformed into the image of Jesus’ glorious body. And where has Jesus been? He has been enthroned at God’s right hand.
A second point is notice what Paul says in verse 53 “…this mortal must put on immortality”. To be mortal means the capability to die. Immortality means the incapability of dying. Yet what does popular culture and church tradition tell us? When we die our souls or spirits go to heaven or hell. However this is only possible if there is a part of us that lives on after death, in other words, to go to heaven or hell would require us to be immortal. But Paul says that this “mortal” (this body that doesn’t have immortality), will put on, or be granted immortality. In short, we are not immortal now but those “in Christ” will receive it at the resurrection. Here are three verses to further this point:
I Timothy 6.16 – “who (God) alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.”
II Timothy 1.10 – “…but now has been revealed by the appearing of our savior Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
I Corinthians 15.52-53 – “…and the dead will be raised…and this mortal must put on immortality.”
In short, only God possesses immortality, it is available through Jesus and the gospel, and those “in Christ’ will receive it at the resurrection. Will we let this challenge our thinking about the traditional view of what happens after death? The hope that God has placed before Christians is the hope for the return of Jesus and the resurrection, not going to heaven. Paul finishes that once the resurrection event happens that death will finally be defeated and swallowed up. And the power of sin and death will be no more and God, Jesus, and those “in Christ” will be victorious! God has given us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ