“Behold, I shew 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51–52, KJV)
I heard of a church that posted a portion of a verse over the door to the infant nursery. “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” Yes, they used the verse quite out of context, but it was a humorous thought that accurately describes what goes on in the church’s baby nursery.
However, Paul was not speaking about a church nursery but revealing to the church in Corinth an answer to a question that all believers often ponder. How will the resurrection happen? Prior to the crucifixion, the disciples asked the Lord, “what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matthew 24:3, KJV) Moreover, after the resurrection of Jesus they expected the establishment of the kingdom immediately. They asked the Lord, “wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6, KJV) These types of questions regarding the future are natural for believers to ask.
While believers still ask these questions today, everything we need to know is answered in the Bible. You can imagine how the church in the age of the apostles may have felt and how serious these questions would have been to them. They understood that the Lord would return. They understood the concept of the bodily resurrection. Yet they likely struggled to understand how it would happen.
Previously Paul had explained the truth of the resurrection, and the necessary transformation of the body. Yet, how will this happen? It was a mystery to those at Corinth. When Paul used the word mystery, he is referring to something not previously understood. In explaining this he first stated that not all would sleep, but all would be changed. Sleep here refers to death. The truth is that at some point the Lord will return for His church. Both the living and the dead will be changed from their earthly mortal bodies to spiritual bodies, incorruptible, immortal, and prepared for heaven. Every believer dead or alive will be raised up in a new glorified body.
Second, Paul stated that it will happen “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52, KJV). It will happen in a distinct “moment” in time not over a lengthy time span. Paul indicated it would be in the “twinkling of an eye.” The word “twinkling,” rhipe, refers to a jerk, a wink, a twinkling (Thayer ,164). The resurrection will happen for all believers throughout the whole world, both dead and those who remain alive, in a twitch of the eye. To the church in Thessalonica, Paul detailed this event to include a rapid sequence, “the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17, KJV). Yet, when you consider what is mean by a twinkle, a momentary twitch, both the dead in Christ and those who remain will be caught up so fast that the time span will relatively unnoticeable.
The last thing to grasp is the heavenly magnificence of this event. Paul stated that the “trumpet shall sound.” To the Thessalonians he wrote that there would be “a shout, with the voice of the archangel” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, KJV). Imagine the glory of this moment, when the voice of the archangel shouts out and the trumpet of God sounds and every believer is raised and changed in the twinkling of an eye, to be with the Lord forever. We who have believed will all be part of this glorious event to come.