The Last Change!
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
1 Corinthians 15:50-58.
"Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I show 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 shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed! For this corruptible must put on incorruption — and this mortal must put on immortality. 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!' O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord — knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
Our bodies are poor weak things — subject to aches and pains, to sickness and death. Even the strongest become weak in time, and those who have enjoyed almost continual good health — feel at length, the coming on of old age. Up to a certain point in life we generally get stronger and stronger; but after we have passed that point — we begin to go downhill, as they say. The change may be slow, and we may still have but little illness or weakness to complain of — yet a change there is — year after year we are growing older and weaker.
In fact, our bodies wear out. They are not made, in their present state, to last forever. They are made to die — and they do die.. Doubtless our aches and pains, our declining strength and activity, and our increasing infirmities as we grow older — are meant to remind us that we shall not live always, and that we are to die. If men always continued in full health and strength until their last moment — how few would think of death!
True, some are cut off in their prime, with no sickness or decay — but that is not the common course. "Flesh and blood," therefore — that is, our present bodies, "cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither does corruption inherit incorruption."
The kingdom of God is forever — but we could not live forever as we are now in these corruptible bodies. There is no corruption or decay there — but we are subject to both at present.
Yet we are to live forever. Every true believer is to inherit the kingdom of God and to be where his Savior is. Not only our souls are to be with Christ, but our bodies also. At the great day of resurrection — soul and body, which were parted by death, will be joined together again and will live forever in Heaven.
How can this be? We are to be changed. Whether we die or not — we are to be changed. But are not all to die? No, for some will be alive when Christ comes — and they will never die. "We shall not all sleep." But they will be living with bodies like ours, subject to sickness, death, and decay — and so they must be changed. "We shall not all sleep — but we shall all be changed."
All will be changed, those who shall have died and those who shall be alive at His second coming — the living and the dead alike. This change will not be a gradual change like other changes in the body; but, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet." The mighty power of God will work it, without the use of means, in a moment of time! He once said, "Let there be light — and there was light" (Genesis 1:3). Then He shall but will that we shall be changed — and we shall be changed.
"The dead shall be raised incorruptible." They will be raised first. Though all will take place in a moment — yet we read elsewhere that "the dead in Christ shall rise first" (1 Thessalonians 4:16). All the dead in Christ, all who shall ever have died in the Lord — all will rise then. Those who shall have passed away ages and ages ago and whose very names shall have perished from the earth; and those who shall have breathed their last but just before the coming of the Lord and whose bodies shall yet perhaps be unburied; those who died on a peaceful death-bed surrounded by weeping friends; the Christian soldier who fell in battle; the believing sailor who found a grave in the great deep and whose sorrowing friends at home never knew where or when he died; and the martyr who died the noblest death of all, freely giving up his life for the sake of Him who died upon the cross — in one moment they, and all the rest of the dead in Christ, will rise from the dead!
But not as they died. They will rise incorruptible. They did not die so. The body perhaps, was sore wasted by disease. Long sickness and grievous pain had worn it down. Every morning they said, "He cannot last through the day" — and every evening they thought, "He cannot see another sunrise." They looked on the poor wasted form — they saw the signs of suffering in the face — they heard the labored breathing, and they said it would be happy when God would release him from his poor suffering body.
And God did release him. He died and was buried. The grave closed over him, and the body went to corruption. And now he rises again — Oh, how different now from then! The wasted frame is young again. All trace of suffering is gone. He will never more suffer. Sickness and death have passed away. He has now an incorruptible body. He is to live forever — without pain or sickness. He will never grow old — his strength will never decline. He is to be with Jesus where He is — in the Father's house, with full power to enjoy His presence, to serve Him without weariness, to live and praise and rejoice forever!
The living will be changed in like manner — those who shall be alive when Christ comes. In a moment, the change will pass over them — and they too will have incorruptible bodies! No longer will they subject to weakness, sickness, or death! They are made fit to be forever in Heaven. Thus it will but make little difference whether we die before the coming of Christ — or whether He comes in our lifetime — if only we are in Him by faith.
For all such will be brought together when He comes, and all will live together in that happy and holy place which He has gone to prepare for them — and all alike will have renewed incorruptible bodies. Some will have passed through death and some not — but all will be happy and holy with Christ forever! When once He comes — there will be no more sorrow, nor suffering, nor death.
Well may we say, "Thanks be to God!" — for all of this is His free gift.
"Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ." We never could have won it for ourselves. Jesus Christ won it for us. He died for us and rose again. He triumphed over death and the grave. We owe all to Him. We have no more need we fear death — if only we are His.
"The sting of death is sin — and the strength of sin is the law." But He has made atonement for our sins, and has fulfilled the law for us, and so the sting of death is gone. We call it death — but death without a sting is not death — but rather a sleep, a falling asleep in Jesus, to awake to a joyful resurrection!
"We shall not all sleep," he says. But we must cleave to Christ — we must be "steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord". We are not to be idle, because it is all a free gift. We are not to be slothful, because the great work of salvation has been done for us. We are to be watching, praying, striving and serving. All our safety and all our happiness, is to keep close to our Savior in heart and life, with an unshaken trust in Him, and with a loving and earnest desire to do His will.
We may not be able to do Him much active service. We may be humble in station, poor in circumstances, weak in health. We may even be shut up within the walls of a sick-room or laid on a bed of suffering — yet even there, we may love and serve our Lord. And nothing that we do for Him, in sickness or in health — no striving, watching, or praying; no giving up of our own will to His; no work of faith and labor of love will be in vain. He will bless us in it. He will be with us. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will keep us to the end.
"In due time we shall reap — if we faint not!" Galatians 6:9