What Is the Mystery? :: by Dan Payne

What was the mystery the apostle Paul was referring to in his first letter to the church at Corinth? Could it be that the previously unknown truth he decided to reveal to the Corinthians was the wonderful truth of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the church?

The answer to that question is a resounding, “Yes.” (As this brief essay will attempt to establish).

The Resurrection of the Dead

In the fifteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul spent a good amount of time making the doctrine of the physical resurrection from the dead certain: First of Christ, then of those who sleep in Him.

“Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!

Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-18, 20).

A Resurrection of the Living

Now after Paul had hammered home the truth of the already revealed resurrection of Christ and the future resurrection of believers from the dead, he then chose to reveal a previously unknown truth:

“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” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).

The mystery was not that there would be a resurrection of the dead in Christ, the mystery was that there would be a resurrection of the living in Christ!

A Truth Already Revealed

The truth of physical resurrection from the dead had already been taught to the Jews for generations by the time Paul wrote to the Corinthians. It was previously revealed in what is possibly the oldest book in the Bible:

“Oh, that You would hide me in the grave, that You would conceal me until Your wrath is past, that You would appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait, till my change comes. For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 14:13-14, 19:25-26).

Job believed in the change that would come at his resurrection from the grave when his already dead body will be swallowed up in victory. However, he did not yet know of a future resurrection of the living.

An interesting side note: Notice how Job wished to be hidden from God’s wrath until it was finished. He may have been looking forward to the Day of The Lord during which time Israel along with the rest of the world will be judged and made ready for the Millennial Reign of Christ. It is not until after this time of trouble has passed that Job looked to be resurrected from the grave.

The Ascension of Jesus

On the day that Jesus ascended to heaven, His disciples did not yet grasp the magnitude of God’s future program for the Gentiles. They did not yet realize that God would pause His program for Israel in order to provide salvation to the Gentiles.

“Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ And He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority’” (Acts 1:6-7).

“But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!” (Romans 11:11b-12).

The disciples were looking for Jesus to remain in great glory and physically rule the earth with a rod of iron (Genesis 49:9-12;  Revelation 2:27). They were not looking for a resurrection of the living.

The details of the “times or seasons” had not yet been revealed to them. They were not to be concerned with the date of Christ’s return. As Jesus ascended up to heaven He told His disciples to wait until His Holy Spirit came upon them in order to guide them as witnesses of Christ to the ends of the earth.

More details of how God’s future prophetic events relate to Israel and the church would be revealed to the disciples by the Holy Spirit in the days and years to come, through servants like the apostle Paul.

The End of This Age

The watchmen on the wall of the current generation are very aware that we are now near the end of the Age of Grace. The age in which God will turn the focus of His judgment primarily toward Israel and lift the scales off of her eyes in order to make her ready to receive her King is very near:

“For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people’” (Acts 3:22-23).

Those “who will not hear” Jesus will be utterly destroyed and removed from the earth during and at the end of the Tribulation. Those who refuse to bow to Christ will be taken away to make room for those who are willing to worship the returning King.

“And that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:20).

No Rapture Mentioned at the End of Revelation

Now, referring back to the resurrection, near the close of the book of Revelation, no resurrection of the living is ever mentioned. If the Rapture (the resurrection of the living) was to take place after the Tribulation (Post-Trib), then one would expect it to be mentioned near the close of the book of Revelation when the end of the Tribulation is being described.

Instead, in Revelation chapter 19 the church comes to the earth from heaven:

“And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses” (Revelation 19:14). [italics and emphasis mine]

The only resurrection mentioned in chapter 20 is of the Tribulation martyrs and this is also likely the time when the Old Testament saints will be resurrected:

“And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:4-5).

Revelation 20 verse 4 says nothing about those who remain faithful and survive the Tribulation being resurrected or putting on incorruption. If those “alive” in Christ at the end of the Tribulation were to be “resurrected” at this time, there is no mention of it here near the end of the book of Revelation, where you would expect it to be.

The First Resurrection Concludes

Revelation 20, verse 5 signifies the conclusion of the first resurrection with the emphatic statement, “This is the first resurrection.” Again, no mention is made of the faithful in Christ who survived the Tribulation putting on immortality. Instead, they will enter the millennial kingdom as the subjects of the kingdom after the tribulation.

“And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:33-34).

These sheep will not rule over the kingdom as the saints will. The saints of the Church Age and the Tribulation martyrs who refuse to take the mark of the beast will rule over the kingdom of God.

Also, verse 5 distinguishes “the first resurrection” from the second resurrection. The second resurrection is that in which the rest of the dead are brought to judgment before the Great White Throne after the thousand years are finished.

“Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6).

Comfort in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture

So in closing, we can again take great comfort in the TRUTH of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the true Church Age believers. The previously unknown secret that Paul chose to reveal to the Corinthians was not of a resurrection of the dead, but a resurrection of the living, otherwise known as the Rapture of the church.

“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” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).