Robert Jeffress - Final Conquest
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress. Welcome again to Pathway to Victory. It's a sobering fact that nobody likes to think about, but one day all of us will pass on from this life. Every second brings us closer to our departure from earth. Gratefully, however, the Bible assures us that death isn't the end of our story. Today I'm going to share with you the hope-filled future that awaits every follower of Jesus Christ. My message is titled "Final Conquest," on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Someone has written, "There is one preacher left of the old school and he speaks today as boldly and as clearly as ever. He is not a popular preacher, though the world is his Parish, and he travels every part of the globe and he speaks in every language under the sun. He visits the poor, he calls upon the rich. You may meet him in the inner cities or find him moving in the very highest circles of society. He preaches to people of every religion and those with no religion, and whatever text he may have, the subject of his sermon is always the same. He is an eloquent preacher, he often stirs feelings which no other preacher could reach and brings tears to eyes that never weep. His arguments none are able to refute, nor is there any heart that has remained unmoved by the force of his appeals. He shatters life with his message, most people hate him, everyone fears him. His name, death. Every tombstone is his pulpit, every newspaper prints his text, and someday every one of you will be his sermon".
The father of psychiatry, Sigmund Freud, once said, "And finally, there is the painful riddle of death for which no remedy at all has yet been found, nor probably ever will be". "Not so," says the apostle Paul, "Not so". Yes, death is absolutely certain, but Paul tells us it is not final, there is an existence beyond death, an existence that awaits both unbelievers and believers as well. The fact is everybody is going to live after they die. Do you realize that? All of us are going to be raised from the dead, every muslim, every Jew, every Mormon, every Baptist, every Christian, every non-Christian, we are all going to be raised from the dead and live for eternity, doesn't matter what our faith is. Some of us are going to be raised.
Revelation 20 says, "To everlasting judgment," for an eternity of separation from God, that is the fate that awaits anyone and everyone who dies apart from Jesus Christ, eternal death, but for those who have trusted in Christ as Savior, there's a far different existence, eternal life, an unending enjoyment of the blessings and the rewards of God, and that's what 1 Corinthians 15 is about, it is about what awaits those who die who are in Christ Jesus, and tonight we're going to finish our study of this most important chapter in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 15. Turn there if you will, as we look at the Christian's final conquest. 1 Corinthians 15.
Now look at, tonight, beginning with verse 50, the need for the resurrection. When you were born physically, you were born with a body that was patterned after our first father, Adam, and God has given each one of us, when we were born physically, a body that is perfectly suited and designed for this world but is totally unsuitable for any other world. Do you realize that? I mean, the atmosphere in which we live right now has been designed for the body we have, or say it another way, the body we have has been designed for the atmosphere in which we live. This atmosphere of this planet has the perfect gases and the ratio of those gases that are suitable for our human body. We know that the atmosphere that we breathe is 77% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% carbon dioxide, and we breathe those in just the right ratios to sustain our life.
Do you realize what would happen if that percentage was changed at all? If there was one percentage more of oxygen, if there were 22% oxygen, it would do great damage to the cells of our body, if there was any less oxygen, we'd have respiratory problems, we wouldn't be able to convert our food into energy. Our world is perfectly suited for, our bodies are perfectly suited for this world in which we live, but we can't live on the moon, not without an apparatus to help us. We can't live on pluto, we can't live on any other planet except this planet, and in the same way, we cannot live in the next world in the bodies that we have, and that's why Paul says in verse 50, listen what he says, "I say to you, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, nor does this perishable body inherit that which is perishable".
Think about Jesus Christ, he had a human body like ours except it was a body that was completely without sin, nevertheless, it was a human body, and yet, as wonderful as Jesus was, his body that he had here on earth was totally unsuitable to go back into heaven with. He had to die, he was raised, he was given a brand-new body. Now, it shouldn't surprise us that our bodies have to die before we can receive that new body. As I said, just as a seed as planted into the ground, it dies, it decomposes before it becomes something else, so it is with our bodies. However, what about Christians who are alive when Christ returns at the rapture, who don't die? How do they get their new bodies? They're not put into the ground, their body doesn't decompose, they don't, aren't harvested into something better, what about those Christians who are present when the Lord returns and never experience death? Well, Paul answers that beginning in verse 51, the explanation for the resurrection.
Look at verse 51, "Behold, I tell you a mystery, we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed," that verse is the motto for every church's preschool department, "We shall not all sleep, but we will all be changed". Some of you just got that. But he's not talking about here about the changing of diapers or the sleeping of babies, he's talking about death. He said, "We shall not all sleep," that's a euphemism in the Bible for death, it refers to what happens to a Christian's body when he dies, not his spirit. 2 Corinthians 5:8 says when a Christian dies, to be absent from the body is to be immediately at home with the Lord, but our physical body is said to be asleep, awaiting the great resurrection. But Paul says, "I'm going to share with you a mystery, not all of us who are Christians are going to experience death".
Remember in the Old Testament, Enoch and Elijah both escaped death, they were a type of Christians who were alive at the great resurrection, who will not experience death. Well, how do we get our new bodies if we are the ones who are alive at the rapture? He says we don't have to die, but we all shall be changed, and he terms this a mystery. Now, the word mystery in the New Testament doesn't refer to, you know, a suspense drama, an Alfred Hitchcock mystery. A mystery in the Bible is a truth that was not understood in previous generations that God has revealed now, and there are a number of mysteries in the Bible, for example, there is the mystery of the church.
Ephesians 3:1-6, Romans 11:25, what was the mystery of the church? It's the idea, the truth that God would temporarily set aside his people Israel, and give people who are gentiles, people like you and i, an opportunity to be saved and to be fellow heirs in the Kingdom of God. Now, the Old Testament alluded to that gentile salvation, but there was never a clear picture of it until the apostle Paul came. Ephesians 3, Paul said, "I'm the one who was chosen to deliver this mystery that God has temporarily, not permanently, temporarily quit dealing with Israel, stopped dealing with Israel so that gentiles could be saved". He wrote in Romans 11:25, "For I do not want you to be ignorant, uninformed, brethren, of this mystery so that you will not be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the gentiles has come in".
The age we're living in right now, we call the church age, it is that period of time that began with Pentecost in Acts 2, and extends until the rapture of the church, in which God's program with Israel has been set aside, he is not dealing with them as a nation right now, he is not working to bring them to repentance right now, he is giving gentiles an opportunity to be saved, but the end of the church age is going to be when the rapture of the church takes place, and once God has removed all Christians from this earth, those who have been saved in the church age, God is going to resume his last dealings with Israel. God has seven years, according to Daniel 9, left on his stopwatch for him to deal with Israel, to finish his plan with Israel, and that last seven years, it's the seven years we call the Great Tribulation, it will be a time of God's judgment against the world and especially Israel, not just out of retribution, but out of the desire for redemption to bring them to salvation.
Right now we're living in that church age, but that church age will end with the rapture of the church when we are caught up to meet the Lord in the air. And verse 51 says, "At that time, we will not all sleep," die, "But we all shall be changed". Now, how does all this fit together? Well, hold your place here and turn over to 1 Thessalonians 4 and let's see how all of this plays out, how it is that Christians who have died are going to receive their new bodies, and how those who are alive are going to receive their new bodies as well. At the rapture of the church there are four events that take place, not quite simultaneously but almost simultaneously, it happens very, very quickly.
Look at this, in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, the first event of the rapture will be the descent of the Lord. "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first". The Lord's going to return, not to the earth, he returns in the middle of the air, he comes to the air, this is not the second coming, it is the rapture, the Lord will descend from heaven with a shout. The next thing that is going to happen is the raising of all dead believers since the time of Pentecost. "And the dead in Christ," see it in verse 16, "Will rise first". Every Christian who has died since the beginning of the church in Acts 2 will be raised, his body will be raised.
Now, remember, that Christian's already in heaven, his spirit, to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord. We're talking about the bodies of these Christians, that mother, that father, that child, that mate of yours, that friend of yours, is in heaven right now, but their body is still in the ground, and at that moment the Lord will raise those who are dead in Christ, they will rise first and then, notice, thirdly, the rapture of living believers. Verse 17, "And then we who are alive and remain," those of us who are alive at that time, "Will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air. We will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and thus we shall always be with the Lord".
People will say, "Well, you know, I don't believe in this rapture idea, that's something you and those Dallas seminary people and Tim LaHaye made up, it's not in the Bible anywhere, the word rapture". Yes it is, it's right here, verse 17, the word rapture is the word caught up, harpazo in Greek, it's rapturo in Latin, to be caught up, to be snatched away, "To meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord". Now there's a fourth element in this rapture, and that is the transformation of all believers. Look at verse 51, "Behold, I tell you a mystery, we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed". Verse 52, "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable and we shall be changed".
Now, you get this picture, the Lord is descending from heaven, he's going to meet us halfway, okay? The Lord descends from heaven, those who have died in Christ, they are going to be caught up first, and then we who are alive and remained at that time, we're going to be snatched away too, and Paul is saying in verse 52, both those who have already died as well as those who are alive at the time of the rapture, in a moment, in an instant, we shall all be changed, at that moment we receive our new resurrection bodies. Look at verse 53, "For this perishable must put on the imperishable and this mortal must put on immortality".
Now, what is going to be the result of this great resurrection that awaits the dead in Christ as well as those of us who are alive? Look at verses 54 and 55. You've probably heard these verses recited at most funeral services that you have attended. Verse 54, "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," and then Paul quotes from Isaiah 25:8, "Death is swallowed up in victory," and then he quotes from Isaiah 13:14, "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting"?
I think only those of you who have lost a loved one can fully appreciate what these verses are portraying. If you have stood over the grave of a parent, a child, a mate, you know how defeated you feel at that moment. All the attempts of well-meaning Christians to give you eternal truths about the wonders of heaven, as true as those truths are, they seem hollow at that moment, it seems like death has had the final say, it seems like death has been victorious. Paul is saying, from the perspective of the resurrection the pain of death will seem inconsequential.
Revelation 21:4 says that on that day, the day of the great resurrection, God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and there shall no longer be any death, or mourning, or crying, or pain, "For the first things will have passed away". Does that mean when we get to heaven, God's going to remove from our memories all the sadness of this life? I don't think so. I don't think God performs a memory wipe on us when we get to heaven, it's not that we don't remember the pain of losing our mate, the pain of losing our child, the pain of losing those closest to us, but you know what? When we're all standing together on the other shore, holding hands together, praising the Lord, what seemed to be a terrible tragedy will be viewed as simply a prelude to an unending triumph, that's what he's saying here.
"Death will be swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting"? Why is it that we even have to go through a temporary suffering and sadness of death? Look at verse 56, Paul explains it to us, "For the sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law". The Bible is reminding us here that the reason we all die is because we have inherited sin, the sting of death is sin. Romans 5:12 says, "Therefore, just as through one man," Adam, "Sin entered the world and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned".
The sting of death is sin, sin is like an arrow, it is like a stinger, and once it stings us, it spreads its venom of death. The reason we all die, we've inherited that death virus, is because we have each been stung with the arrow of sin, that was the result of Adam's fall. Now, listen, the fact is every one of us have been stung with death because of sin. Sin is that stinger. The result of sin is death, but the death we experience is only physical death. For a Christian, physical death is no more than a change of location, it's no more than shutting your eyes and waking up in an instant in a completely different location.
As Christians, we have no reason to be fearful of physical death, it's a change of location, but there's another kind of death, the Bible calls it the second death, it is an eternal separation from God in hell, and the Bible says, now, follow me, when Jesus Christ died on the cross, he took the sting of sin for us. He took our sins upon himself and he experienced not physical death alone, he experienced eternal death, and that's why the Bible says in Revelation 20:6, "Blessed is he who is a part of the first resurrection, for over him the second death has no power".
That's why Paul concludes in verse 57, in this section, he says, "But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ," that's the hope that awaits every believer. What should be our response to that truth? That we no longer have to fear death, that we are the heirs of eternal life, look at the incentive of the resurrection, verse 58, "Therefore," Paul says, "My beloved brethren, be steadfast". That word literally means to be settled in your heart, you don't have to be fearful of what's happening around you or even to you.
Be steadfast, be settled, be immovable, that's a word that refers to being courageous in your faith. If we know we're going to live forever, why do we fear what other people are going to do to us? Why do we fear what other people are going to say about us? Why do we fear persecution because of our faith? We are immortal, we are going to live forever because of what Christ has done for us, and that's why we can be immovable in our faith. And then he says, "Always abounding in the work of the Lord".
Remember what that word abounding means? It means to be splashing over, it means to exceed the boundaries, it's a river that goes beyond its boundaries. He says, as Christians, we need to "Always be abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil in the Lord is not in vain," and here again, Paul introduces a common theme of his, the fact that one day we're going to appear before God to give an account of our lives, and that's why he says, "Know, what you do for the Lord in this life, though it may go unrewarded now, it's not in vain, God is going to reward you one day for all eternity".
When is all of this going to happen? When is the rapture going to take place? I don't have a clue, it may be in 2012, it may be in 3012, but you know what? It really doesn't matter, because the fact is, whether or not we're living in the last years as a nation, as a world, doesn't matter, you and I are certainly living in our last years, aren't we? As I often say, either he's coming or I'm going, but very soon we're going to meet the Lord. Daniel Webster said, "The most solemn thought that can occupy a man's mind is his ultimate accountability to God". We're all going to stand before he God, we're all going to give an account for our lives. Are you ready for that last trumpet? Are you ready right now to stand before your God and to give an account of your life?