As you read and reflect on today’s Holy Week devotional, please listen to these tracks from “Messiah”.
“Behold, I tell 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 trumpet. 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 shall put on immortality. The trumpet shall sound….”
I Corinthians 15:51-53
“Behold”. Everyone look! Pay attention! Here is something momentous, stupendous, of supreme significance. Paul, the Apostle of Messiah Jesus, is about to tell a “mystery”.
In the New Testament a mystery is not something you can’t understand, but something you will understand for the first time. Here is something God had not yet revealed (mysterion, Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:3-5). The saints of the Old Testament knew about and believed in the resurrection of the body (John 19:26; Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2; Luke 20:37-38). What had not been revealed is that we shall not all sleep, or physically die, but that “we shall all be changed”. Not every believer will experience death before he receives a new and glorified body! With apologies to Benjamin Franklin, taxes and death are not the “two certainties” of life. There will be a generation of believers who at Messiah’s return will receive glorified bodies without ever dying. Together with all who have died, they shall be “changed” at the “last trumpet”.
Trumpets were used in the Old Testament for assembling people, as well as for alerting them when it was time to break camp and move on (Numbers 10:1-10). Trumpets also summoned people for battle, prepared them for worship, and proclaimed victory (Exodus 19:16, 19; 20:18; Leviticus 25:9; Numbers 10:2, 8-10).
The imagery here of the “last trumpet” likely refers to Jerusalem’s royal court, where a herald blew a trumpet signaling that the king was about to take his seat on the throne. At the “last trumpet” God will summon both the dead and the living to rise and appear before the throne of King Jesus. Jesus said that at His return He would send “angels with a great sound of a trumpet” to assemble people from “one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:31). As the Apostles Creed affirms, Jesus comes “to judge the living and the dead”.
The mystery reveals that while not all will “sleep”, all will be “changed”. That is because change or transformation of these present bodies is necessary for us to enter eternal glory: “this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal shall put on immortality”. We note that this is not an “exchange” of bodies, one for another, but a “change” in our bodies. It is these present bodies that will be changed. But what a change! We will have bodies like our Lord’s glorious resurrected body.
The mystery reveals that this change will take place “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye”. The Greek word translated “moment” is atomos (“indivisble”), from which we derive our word “atom”. The Greeks believed that the atomos was the smallest particle, so small that it could not be divided. In an atomic second we will put on glory.
Paul tells Christians at Thessalonica more about the Lord’s return and this transforming moment:
For the Lord himself shall descend with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:16-17).
We shall not all die, but we shall all be changed!
Handel had much experience providing English choral and orchestral music for England’s military victories, coronations, and royal appearances. This is just the style of music that Handel writes into this most celebrative of all occasions, the returning of Messiah. In this piece Handel also draws on his opera experience by writing this in the operatic form of a recitative, or declaration, followed by a three part aria. He begins with the short recitative: “Behold, I tell 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 trumpet”.
There follows a recitative (“Behold, I tell you a mystery”), then the three- part form of an 18th century opera aria: A-B-A. This means that first section (A) presents a theme, the second section (B) is a complementary theme, and the third section (A) repeats the first with musical elaboration:
A- “The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed.”
B- “For this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality.”
A- “The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised…”
The first section opens with a stirring trumpet fanfare and bass solo that any audience would have associated with triumph and courtly splendor. Handel writes this first part in the key of D major which in the Baroque period was called “the key of glory”. The glorious sound is designated to be pomposo ma no allegro (“dignified but not fast”).
Handel must be taken with the thought that we shall all be changed as he uses long “melismas” (one syllable stretched over a group of notes) in order to emphasize the word “changed”. Perhaps suffering from the effects of strokes, rheumatism, and insomnia, Handel is moved by the thought that one day his body would be “changed” into a glorified body like Messiah’s. When the soloist sings that “we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” the music quickens to suggest that rapid transformation.
That which is “changed” is taken up in the second part: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality”. The music also changes, transitioning into a minor key, becoming more contemplative of the amazing Scripture text. The orchestra is mostly silent so as not to take away from the mystery the words reveal. The third part is a repetition and elaboration of the first part’s theme heralding Messiah’s coming.
- What do you sense that God might be saying to you in today’s Scripture text and music from Messiah?
- What do you want to say to God?
- Now take a few moments to be still in God’s presence.