Perhaps the best place to discover what will happen at the time of the resurrection lies in Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. In the entire 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about the importance of Christ’s resurrection and how it alone makes possible the future resurrection of all believers. Paul even goes so far as to say that if it were not for God having raised Jesus from the dead, the Christian faith itself would be utter foolishness! That’s how crucial the resurrection is in terms of what the Bible is really all about. Without the hope of our being raised from the dead at the return of Christ, the entire Bible would be meaningless! Paul even predicts that the actual event of the resurrection will occur in the twinkling of an eye.
Obviously, with such a great promise of life after death, the people Paul wrote to were curious as to just what the resurrection would be like. When would it occur? How would it happen? What would the new bodies be like? Paul sought to answer these questions in the latter half of the 15th chapter. The new resurrected bodies, he said, would be far different than anything they had ever imagined. He explained that just as there is a great difference between an earthly existence and the heavenly angelic type of life, so shall there be a significant difference between our present mortal bodies and the future immortal ones. This is how he put it:
“And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth 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 trump; 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.”
1 Cor. 15:49-53
Most people outside the Christian faith really don’t understand the resurrection. The American view and perhaps even the world’s view of the Bible relates solely to the concept of going to some kind of a heaven or hell when a person dies. They think that if an individual lives a good life and tries to do what is right they will go to heaven, whereas an evil person will end up in a fiery hell. And that’s it—that’s the totality of most people’s impression of the Bible. In their minds there is nothing else which comes after that point; no real ending to this present world or to the Bible. Even many of the movies and books written about the Bible have perpetuated this false view of mankind’s future.
However, the real story of the ultimate destiny of man is quite different than the popular belief perpetuated by Hollywood. According to Paul’s prophecy, our current physical existence is completely incompatible with the coming kingdom of God; however, a bodiless spiritual life is not our fate, either. The Bible says in no uncertain terms that only with new, incorruptible, and immortal bodies can the promises of salvation and eternal life possibly come true.
Paul also indicates that the actual process of being raised from the dead will happen almost instantly. The words translated “in the twinkling of an eye” in our Bibles appear in the original language as “in an atomos of time”. The word atomos is a Greek word which has reference to the smallest entity imaginable and is the root or source for the word atom. When the atom was first named, it was thought to be the smallest particle of matter that in itself is indivisible. In the case of the resurrection, atomos means that it will happen in the shortest possible segment of time. Paul is trying to say that it will occur so fast that for all intents and purposes it will appear to be instantaneous. In other words, Paul predicts that when the Lord returns, He will instantly change the rotted corpses and bones of all dead believers into shining new bodies which will never be able to die again.
Paul also reveals one important fact which prior to this prophecy remained a mystery: namely, what will happen to the followers of Christ if they should still be alive when he returns. This was always a mystery because living people obviously don’t need to be raised from the dead. Even Old Testament believers had a basic knowledge that there would be a resurrection of the dead at the end of the age. Job had hinted that there would be a future resurrection, as did both Isaiah and Daniel. In addition, long before Paul taught of these things, Martha told Jesus that she knew her brother Lazarus would be raised at the resurrection of the last day (John 11:24). However, no one really understood what would happen to living believers when the resurrection occurred.
The Apostle explains this mystery by revealing that not all Christians will experience death (“sleep”, in the words of the prophecy). He says that when Jesus returns, the dead believers will be resurrected and the living ones will be instantly changed into immortal bodies at the very same time. This means that there will be a group of people at the end of the age who will never have to die, but will be immediately delivered from their mortal bodies and given new immortal ones to live forever in the kingdom of God.
Notice, however, the prophecy does not say that the entire process of the rapture will take place instantaneously. It only indicates that the resurrection and the transformation of living believers will occur in an atomos of time (from Latin atomus, from Greek atomos). Remember, the rapture not only includes the raising of believers from the dead and the changing of living ones, but also consists of the gathering together of those same Christians by angels. The latter part of the process will take much longer than the former. This is because the angels will literally have to go and gather each person to the Lord. Also, Jesus previously indicated that the entire world would have plenty of time to see his coming and the angels being sent forth (Matt. 24). This certainly implies that the subsequent process of gathering his people will take much longer than the incredibly quick resurrection and transformation.
A misunderstanding of this single prophecy has perpetuated the incorrect notion that the entire rapture process, including the assembling of the believers together with Christ, is going to take place instantly. This is precisely how the misleading concept of the rapture as being a “disappearance” of Christians got started. Probably the most common view along this line involves the sudden return of Christ into the air and the instantaneous resurrection and transportation of each believer to his side. Some actually say that this transportation will involve the instantaneous travel outside the dimensions of our universe, which would indicate a distance of at least 40 billion light years to God’s realm. Thus, to someone who may be left behind, each Christian would simply seem to disappear with no indication of where everyone went.
However, as is quite evident from these prophecies, the Biblical description of this event is considerably different from the view often popularized by some churches and preachers. Rather than being a disappearance or a “beam me up Scottie” type of phenomenon, the rapture will be an instantaneous physical transformation into new bodies followed by an angelic gathering of believers which will be seen by every person alive. No one will be able to deny the truth of the Bible after this event occurs!
Final aspects of this prophecy that are extremely important to understand, is the mention again that a trumpet will be associated with the Return of Christ was well as the overall process of the resurrection and rapture. Paul not only correlates his description with the other passages when he speaks of a trumpet sounding, but he also gives us another indication of precisely when the rapture will occur. He plainly says that the rapture will happen at the same time as the last trumpet sounds. Though a number of the other scriptures we considered also mentioned the fact of a trumpet being involved, none of them included this one important detail.
From Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians, we can now add these additional characteristics to the description of the rapture:
9) The resurrection of believers will result in immortal and incorruptible bodies which will be angelic and glorious in their appearance.
10) The process of the resurrection will occur “in the twinkling of an eye” or virtually instantaneously.
Next: The Trumpet Sounds