The change that the living experienced at the time of the resurrection at the last trumpet may also have been spiritual or what I call “covenantal life” signified by the fulfillment of the Law and the establishment of the New Covenant in A.D. 70. This change of the living in v. 52 is concurrent with the resurrection at the last trumpet. I believe this change is mentioned in 2 Corinthians 5:16-19:
So then from now on we acknowledge no one from an outward human point of view. Even though we have known Christ from such a human point of view, now we do not know him in that way any longer. So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come! And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation [emphasis mine].1
In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we see that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. This “new creation” or change is a consequence of the forgiveness of sin according to v. 18-19: “And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation.” Interestingly, though the saints are granted forgiveness at the reception of the Holy Spirit while still alive, forgiveness is not fully enacted until the resurrection of the dead:
“Now when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will happen, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law (1 Corinthians 15:54-56).
In 1 Corinthians 15:54-56 we can see that forgiveness of sins is fully enacted at the resurrection when the “perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality[.]” The resurrection was to occur at the last trumpet. The last trumpet appears to be the seventh trumpet blown in A.D. 70 during the Roman siege of Jerusalem. See the preterist commentary on Revelation 11 and Revelation 16. The seventh trumpet of Revelation came to its fulfillment at the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. The destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 was the ultimate sign of the fulfillment of the Law because with the Temple destroyed it became impossible to fully follow the Law of Moses. Thus the destruction of the Temple was the event that marked the end of the Old Covenant, the Law of Moses, and the firm establishment of the New Covenant, Christianity. It was at this time that the dead were resurrected to heaven where 1 Corinthians 15:54-56 could be said to be fulfilled in a literal sense.
However, with the passing of the Law in A.D. 70 the sting of sin was done away with: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law (1 Corinthians 15:56).” Thus with the passing of the Law and the resulting passing of “the sting of death” and the “power of sin” by way of the forgiveness of sins, the saints who lived beyond A.D. 70 were also changed into “a new creation” in a covenantal sense:
So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come! And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16-19).2
Thus those saints who were alive in A.D. 70 were also changed in a 1 Corinthians 15:52 by being made into a “new creation” through the passing of the Law and the forgiveness of sins in a spiritual or covenantal sense (2 Corinthians 5:16-19). What is spiritual or covenantal life or spiritual or covenantal death?
It is critically important to recognize that during the Old Covenant, the Law brought spiritual, not biological, death. Though we shall prove this idea shortly, this notion is well-illustrated in Romans 7:9: “Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.”3 Notice that Paul did not die physically when he first heard the Law, rather he died spiritually. Spiritual death is separation from God. If Paul died spiritually as a result of being under the Law, then if the Law were to pass away or be fulfilled it would stand to reason that as a saint Paul would then gain spiritual life as a result. This is the implicit message conveyed at the end of 1 Corinthians 15:
For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law (1 Corinthians 15:52-56).
Notice that 1 Corinthians 15:55-56 links sin and death with the Law: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law [emphasis mine].” 1 Corinthians 15:55-56 compliments Paul’s message in Romans 7:9. According to Romans 7:9 and 1 Corinthians 15:55-56 the Law brings sin and sin brings spiritual death. Thus the change in v. 52 that occurred to those still living on earth at the time of the resurrection was a change from spiritual death to spiritual life by the fulfillment and subsequent passing away of the Law at the destruction of the Temple and the concurrent resurrection in A.D. 70.
This idea that spiritual life follows the passing away of the Law is implicit in Romans 8:1-2: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Notice that according to Romans 8:1-2 just as the Law brought spiritual death, faith in Christ frees the believer from this curse of spiritual death. This idea that spiritual death comes with the Law and that spiritual life comes from being freed from the Law by faith in Jesus Christ is echoed in Romans 7:4, Galatians 2:19-20, and Colossians 2:11-13:
“So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God (Romans 7:4).”
“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:19-20).”
“Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ (Colossians 2: 9-13).”
In light of the verses cited above it seems that the change experienced by the living saints upon the passing of the Law in A.D. 70 was a change from spiritual death to spiritual life brought about by the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ as indicated in 2 Corinthians 5:16-19 cited above. Spiritual life and spiritual death might also be aptly labeled covenantal life and death. Covenantal or spiritual life is a promise or covenant between God and the living saints assuring them that after biological death these saints were to be resurrected to experience eternal life in heaven during the new covenant age. Upon accepting Christ in the years preceding the destruction of the Temple, the saints received a covenantal promise of eternal life in the age to come. But if these saints died before A.D. 70, they were confined to Sheol to await the resurrection. This covenantal promise of eternal life reached its culmination or fulfilment at the destruction of the Temple and the concurrent resurrection at the last trumpet. All the saints who died after this event in A.D. 70 presumably all received their heavenly resurrection bodies immediately after biological death without experiencing a lengthy consignment in Sheol first. Thus the saints who died after A.D. 70 were not separated from God in Sheol (spiritual death) after biological death unlike the saints who died before A.D. 70.
Ephesians 2:5-6 perfectly illustrates this notion of spiritual or covenantal life: “[E]ven when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus[.]” Notice that the author of Ephesians 2:5-6 uses the past tense “made us alive” when referring to the future resurrection of the saints to heaven at the last trumpet, an event which had not yet occurred at the time in which these verses were written. Ephesians 2:5-6 associates life and death in the past or present with the fate of the soul in the future. Thus those who are “dead in their transgressions” in Ephesians 2:5-6 are those destined for hell while those who are said to be alive in an eternal sense are those who will ultimately be seated with Christ in the heavenly places at the resurrection. Ephesians 2:5-6 are not the only verses in the Bible in which the future is stated in the present or past tense, Matthew 23:38 and Revelation 14:8 are two other examples:
“Look, your house is left to you desolate (Matthew 23:38).” (The Temple was actually destroyed in A.D. 70 about forty years after Jesus spoke these words.)
“A second angel followed and said, “‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great (Revelation 14:8)[.]’” (Though the fall of Babylon is mentioned in the past tense in this v., the angel issuing this statement is actually issuing a warning.)
One reason why the future is presented in the present or past tense in Matthew 23:38 and Revelation 14:8 may be to convey the idea that the future when spoken under divine inspiration is just as certain as the past or the present. As is the case in Matthew 23:38 and Revelation 14:8, Ephesians 2:5-6 seems to present its future promise in the past or present tense because this promise to the faithful of eternal life in heaven after biological death is 100 percent assured as if it were presently taking place or as though it had already transpired. Furthermore, when the future is written in the present or past tense it also conveys a hyperbolic sense of imminence. Thus the saints are said to already have eternal life in Ephesians 2:5-6 even though the resurrection had not yet occurred because this eternal life is covenantal life, an unbreakable covenant that is 100 percent assured to those presently living on the earth, that is very soon to occur (Romans 8:38-39).
The same message is conveyed in 1 Corinthians 15:52. The living mortals who are “changed,” made alive or given eternal life at the time of the resurrection in v. 52 are said to receive this life in the then present tense (at the time of the resurrection) because their future in heaven at that time is as assured as though they were presently entering heaven at that time or that they had already entered it in the past.
1 Corinthians 15:52 and Ephesians 2:5-6 are not the only verses in the Bible in which eternal life or spiritual death are covenantal and thus imparted upon those still alive on earth. Above we cited Romans 7:9 as another example of spiritual or covenantal death: “Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.” Paul clearly did not die in an earthly, biological sense when he heard the Law. Therefore, the death that Paul experienced in Romans 7:9 was spiritual or covenantal death.
Covenantal death was also experienced by Adam after he ate of the forbidden fruit. In Genesis 2:17, God tells Adam not to eat of the forbidden fruit “for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” Adam certainly did not die in a biological, earthly sense on the day in which he ate of the forbidden fruit (Genesis 5:3-5). It must be noted that this day was a literal 24-hour day as Adam did, in fact, learn right from wrong the day or moment in which he ate of the forbidden fruit as stated in Genesis 3:5: “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The fact that Adam knew good from evil on the 24-hour day in which he ate of the forbidden fruit is indicated in Genesis 2:6-7:
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings [emphasis mine].
The death that Adam experienced in the 24-hour day in which he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was clearly not earthly, biological death since Adam died after having lived 930 years (Genesis 5:3-5). Thus Adam lived for at least 800 to 900 years after having eaten the forbidden fruit.4 The death that Adam experienced the day in which he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was also covenantal death.5
Covenantal life is also exemplified in John 11:25-26: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die.” Notice that in v. 25 Jesus says, “The one who believes in me will live even if he dies.” This, of course, means that the resurrection will transpire after physical death. However, v. 25 also has covenantal or spiritual significance as is explicitly indicated in v. 26: “[A]nd the one who lives and believes in me will never die.” Of course, everyone who has ever believed in Jesus has died physically. The “life” mentioned in John 11:26 like that of Ephesians 2:5 is covenantal life, a promise or covenant made by God to the living saints of eternal life in heaven after biological death as a result of the forgiveness of sins.6
Following the precedence set in Genesis 2:17, John 11:26, Romans 7:9 and Ephesians 2:5-6, the “change” experienced by the living in 1 Corinthians 15:52 at the time of the resurrection appears to be the reception of eternal life while still on earth in a covenantal sense. This eternal covenantal life is a guarantee of eternal life in heaven after biological death. Now it is possible to see what is meant by the covenantal “change” of 1 Corinthians 15:52. This change is the same change in which the saints receive eternal covenantal life while still in their mortal bodies mentioned in Ephesians 2:5-6: “[E]ven when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus[.]” Those who were still physically alive who were changed at the resurrection were those saints who had outlived the resurrection at the last trumpet who were guaranteed eternal life in heaven after death because the sin induced by the Law had been removed at its passing or fulfillment at the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 (Romans 7:4, 9; 8:1-2; Galatians 2:19-20; Colossians 2:11-13). Because the curse of sin and spiritual death induced by the Law had been removed at the Temple’s destruction in A.D. 70, the saints in Sheol were then free to enter heaven at that time which corresponded with the sounding of the seventh and last trumpet. In other words, because the dead saints of old had already received the gift of eternal life in heaven having been resurrected at the last trumpet in A.D. 70, those saints who were still alive at that time or anytime thereafter were and are 100% guaranteed the same fate. Thus all the saints who have outlived the resurrection at the last trumpet have already received eternal life even while in their mortal bodies. The change experienced by the living saints in A.D. 70 was spiritual life which is the covenantal promise of eternal life after biological death during the new covenant age. The saints who had outlived the mass-resurrection at the last trumpet were changed from being dead in their sins to truly being alive in Christ. These saints were changed in a covenantal sense by being made “alive together with Christ” even while still on earth because they were guaranteed to enter heaven after death and experience eternal life without experiencing spiritual death in Sheol first. In other words, at the time of the resurrection the saints had all simultaneously received eternal life in a covenantal sense. This promise of eternal life is and was, of course, actualized when the departed saints receive or received their promise of eternal life when they literally enter or entered heaven. The saints who outlived the resurrection at the last trumpet were changed in the sense that they also received eternal life at that time in a covenantal sense since at the moment of biological death they too were to live eternally in heaven. Thus those saints still alive at the time of the resurrection were “changed” by having been given eternal life in a covenantal sense though they had not yet literally entered heaven mirroring the way in which the saints are said to be alive even before resurrecting to heaven in Ephesians 2:5-6 and John 11:26 or that sinners are considered dead in a covenantal sense even while still physically alive in Genesis 5:3-5, Romans 7:9 and Ephesians 2:5-6. Therefore, the change mentioned in v. 52 is fully consistent with the change the living experienced when they received eternal life or spiritual death in a covenantal sense even while still alive in Ephesians 2:5-6, John 11:26, Genesis 5:3-5, and Romans 7:9.
This change that affects the living at the parousia mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:52 may also point to a spiritual transformation of the saints on earth who are gradually being conformed to likeness of the Son. 2 Corinthians 3:18 reads, “And we all . . . are being transformed into his [Christ’s] image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” This gradual change mentioned in 2 Corinthians 3:18 in which the saints mature spiritually and ethically to become more like Christ begins on earth and is called the process of sanctification. This process of sanctification mentioned in 2 Corinthians 3:18 guarantees ascension into heaven immediately for those who have died after the parousia. This appears to be the message conveyed in Romans 6:2-11:
We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus [emphasis mine].
Notice that according to Romans 6, when the saints are baptized they become part of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thereafter Paul implores the saints to die to sin thus the processes of sanctification appears to be presented in resurrection imagery in Romans 6:2-11. Perhaps the change referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:52 also alludes in part to this process of sanctification?
- NET Bible.
- NET Bible.
- Seemingly echoing Romans 7:9, the Gospel of the Egyptians, an early non-canonical Christian Gospel dating somewhere between 80-150 A.D., refers to sin as the death of the soul: “Now, the Scripture speaks of man in two senses, the one that is seen, and the soul: and again, of him that is in a state of salvation, and him that is not: and sin is called the death of the soul.” [Emphasis mine.] This excerpt is cited in Clem. Alex. Strom. 3.9.64.
- According to Genesis 4:1 Adam ‘s first son, Cain, was conceived after being cast out of Eden. The birth of Seth was after the birth of Cain (Genesis 4:25) and Adam lived 800 years after the birth of Seth (Genesis 5:4).
- Don K. Preston, We Shall Meet Him in The Air: The Wedding of the King of Kings!, (Ardmore, OK: JaDon Management Inc., 2010), 6.
- That said, forgiveness of sins is ultimately enacted or brought into full-effect at the resurrection at the last trumpet according to 1 Corinthians 15:53-57:
For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 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. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice that according to 1 Corinthians 15:53-57 sin is ultimately and finally truly forgiven at the resurrection of the dead. These verses also imply that sin is finally forgiven at the passing of the Law at the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70.