Eschatology Hermeneutics

Another Look at 1 Corinthians 15

In last week’s article in this Eschatology series, we linked to an article discussing 1 Corinthians 15 and the Rapture. Today, we look at a rebuttal of the Dispensational Premillennial Rapture.

If it weren’t for 2 Corinthians 15:50, I probably would have never begun to question premillennialism. I find in this verse an explicit denial of one of the essential tenets of all premillennial theories. Premillennialism must have people entering the future kingdom in their natural, unglorified bodies. This is due to the fact that a lot of people are said to rebel against God and Christ at the end of the millennium (Rev 20:7-10).

But where do these folk come from if premillennialism is true? The only explanation is that these rebels are the children of those who originally entered Christ’s millennial kingdom. Since, however, people who experience resurrection cannot procreate (Luke 20:34-35), then there must be saints who somehow enter the kingdom without having experienced glorification. Everyone agrees that,

If there are no people who enter the premillennium unglorified, then premillennialism is untenable and simply cannot be correct

Well, I find clear and irrefutable evidence that such is the teaching of 1 Corinthians 15:50, “Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” All commentators are agreed that Paul is speaking here of glorification, the transformation of one’s physical body into a body like Christ’s. The only real point of contention is, what exactly does Paul mean when he refers to “the kingdom of God”?

The context makes it clear that the “kingdom” in view is the one which is established directly after Christ’s return. Paul amplifies verse 50 by saying: “Behold, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep but we will 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 imperishable, and we will all be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (vs. 51-53).

I find it curious that most people start quoting these verses as if Paul’s logic begins in verse 51

But it is clear that verses 51 through 53 do not form a complete thought in themselves. Instead, they serve to explain why “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 50). As such, the “kingdom” which is in view is the rule and reign of Christ directly after He returns to earth. If so, then premillennialism is ruled out as an option.

The only way out of this is for premillennialists to claim that verse 50 refers to the New Heavens and New Earth. This is a strange maneuver because in verses 42 to 49 Paul discusses the resurrection of the righteous dead. And he does so again in verses 51 to 57. Thus, these verses refer to events that occur in connection with the return of Christ.

Are we really to believe that verse 50 stands alone in its context, so that it looks 1000 years beyond the events of its surrounding discussion?

This strains the principles of interpretation too much. It is much more natural to believe that verse 50 is intimately connected to the verses that precede and follow it. The only reason why we would believe that its claims are out of place is if our system doesn’t let it stand in its context. Here is clear example of where premillennialists are doing what they accuse amills and postmills of:

Letting a system interpret the Scripture instead of the Scripture interpreting the system

Charles Hodge comments on this verse:

“The common millenarian [i.e. premillennial] doctrine is, that there is to be a literal resurrection when Christ shall come to reign in person upon the earth, a thousand years before the end of the world, and that the risen saints are to dwell here and share with Christ in the glories of his reign. But this seems to be inconsistent with what is taught in I Corinthians xv. 50. … It is here expressly asserted that our bodies as now constituted are not adapted to the state of things which shall exist when the kingdom of God is inaugurated. We must all be changed. From this it follows that the spiritual body is not adapted to our present mode of existence; that is, it is not suited or designed for an earthly kingdom” (Systematic Theology, Vol III, 843).