"When the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall arise…" goes the old hymn. It is a classic song conjuring up images, reinforced by eloquent preachers, of physical graves opening as the great trumpet of God awakens the dead. Unfortunately, the song does not accurately depict the scriptural truth of the resurrection.
This article seeks to examine the doctrine of the resurrection by means of a study of the Great Trumpet of God. It is a fact the resurrection of the dead is inextricably related to the sounding of the trumpet of God; and as we shall see, the Bible is emphatic in placing the sounding of the trumpet in a definite chronological time-frame.
The Old Covenant Prediction
It seems to have escaped the notice of many Bible students that the Old Covenant contains the background prophecy of the sounding of the trumpet of God. In Isaiah 27:12-13 Jehovah promised: "And it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord will thresh, from the channel of the River to the Brook of Egypt; and you will be gathered one by one, O you children of Israel. So it shall be in that day that the great trumpet will be blown. They will come, who are about to perish in the land of Assyria, and they who are outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount of Jerusalem."
Please note, Isaiah says the trumpet of God would sound and the outcasts of Israel would be gathered. There are some very important facts to be noted here.
First, Isaiah is simply reiterating his earlier promise of the regathering of the scattered people of God, i. e. the remnant. This is a very prominent concept of the Messianic predictions.
In Isaiah 11 the priestly prophet spoke of the day when the ensign would be raised, Gentiles would be saved and "It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people who are left from Assyria, and Egypt, from Pathros… He will set up a banner for the nations and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth" vs. 12. The dispersed would come for "There will be a highway for the remnant of his people who will be left from Assyria, As it was for Israel in the day that he came up from the land of Egypt" vs. 16.
Second, it is vital to understand that in the imagery of the prophets, those who were scattered abroad were dead ; not physically to be sure, but dead because of separation from God’s presence in the Holy Land. Israel’s sin had separated between her and God, Isaiah 59:1-2. When he drove them into the foreign countries they were dead because "life" for Israel only existed in fellowship with God in their land, city and temple. Death is separation.
This is found in a brief study of the wider context of Isaiah 27. In chapter 24 God views creation as destroyed because Israel had "transgressed the laws…, broken the everlasting covenant" vs. 8. In spite of the punishment, there is promise of deliverance; a great banquet will be prepared for the faithful and he will destroy the veil of destruction; "he will swallow up death forever, And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces; the rebuke of His people he will take away from all the earth" 25:6-8.
Chapter 26 offered peace to the repentant. It is said His enemies are dead and will not arise, yet of God’s "dead" it is said "Your dead shall live; together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust…" vs. 19. These "dead" are those taken into captivity by the invaders. This is confirmed in chapter 27:7 when he asks "Has he struck Israel as he struck those who struck him? Or has he (Israel, DKP) been slain according to the slaughter of those who were slain by him?" Israel, carried into captivity, was seen as dead.
This same motif is depicted in Ezekiel’s famous vision of the valley of dry bones in chapter 37. The vision is set in the context of Israel’s Babylonian captivity. God interprets the vision: "these bones are the whole house of Israel.. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off’" But God promised "Behold, O my people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you to the land of Israel." Once again Israel’s return from captivity is depicted as the resurrection from the dead because they are being returned to God’s fellowship in His land.
This then is the concept of Isaiah 27:13 — the Great Trumpet of God was to sound and gather God’s elect, in the "grave" of captivity because of the sin of the nation, back to life and fellowship with Jehovah. In the New Testament the sounding of the trumpet of God is also for the raising of the dead from captivity to be gathered to life with God.
Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem in classic Jewish apocalyptic language. In vss 30-31 he said "they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." Jesus is speaking of judgment, the trump of God and the gathering of God’s elect from the four corners of the world. Would any Jew even half way conversant with the Old Covenant fail to think of Isaiah’s prediction of the sounding of the great trumpet when he heard Jesus’ words? We think not.
When did Jesus say that great trumpet was to blow and gather the elect? Read verse 34 "Truly I say to your this generation will not pass away until all things take place."
(As a correlative study, consult a concordance on the "shout" of God.)
I Corinthians 15:51-52
Paul spoke of the resurrection "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible…" vs. 52.
Paul says "the trumpet." He was obviously alluding to some known teaching about "the trumpet." Were he introducing a new concept about the sounding of a trumpet would he not have to delineate between the teaching already known and the new teaching he was introducing? Reader, what was the previous teaching about the sounding of "the trumpet" for the gathering of the dead? It is Matthew 24 and Isaiah 27:13! Now if it be admitted the trumpet of Matthew 24 cannot refer to the end of time and creation, and yet it is insisted I Corinthians 15:52 does refer to such, it must be clearly shown why the trumpet of Corinthians is not the same as that in Matthew when Paul simply refers to "the trumpet" and the only sounding of the trumpet mentioned in the New Testament before Corinthians is Matthew 24. One must explain why Matthew is apocalyptic and spiritual yet Corinthians is literal/audible; even though I Corinthians is patently drawing upon earlier teaching about "the trumpet."
The apostle also said it was "the last trumpet." There would be no more trumpets sounded. One is almost forced to think of Revelation and the sounding of the 7 trumpets. More on that momentarily.
Observe that Paul emphatically tells us the resurrection at the sounding of the last trumpet would be the fulfillment of the prediction found in Isaiah 25:8; the very context of the sounding of the great trumpet of God for the gathering of the elect from their "graves" separated from God. Paul says the resurrection of which he speaks was when the strength of sin, i.e. "the law;" the law he called the ministration of death and a covering over the people, [cf Is. 25:7], II Cor. 3; the law that condemned and cursed, Gal. 3:10-13; the law of bondage, Gal. 4:22ff, was destroyed.
When did Paul say the last trumpet was to sound? I
n verse 51 he says "we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed." This is nothing less than a positive assertion that "This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled."
In I Corinthians 15 we find then the idea of Christ’s coming, judgment, the sounding of the trumpet and the gathering of the elect, i.e. the resurrection; and his assertion it would be in that generation.
I Thessalonians 4:15-17
In this text Paul teaches of Christ’s coming, the resurrection and the sounding of the trumpet: "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet; and the dead in Christ shall rise first" vs. 16.
Once again Paul is speaking of "the trumpet." It was well known to the church because it had been taught before. We ask again, where would the Thessalonicans have heard or known of "the trumpet?" From Isaiah 27 and Matthew 24:31.
And when did Paul affirm the trumpet would sound? Hear him "we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord:" vs. 15; "we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with him in the clouds…" vs. 17. Twice Paul avers the sounding of the trumpet at the resurrection and parousia before that generation passed!
Once again we see a pattern of consistency: the subject is the coming of the Lord, judgment, the sounding of the trumpet, the gathering of the elect, and a time statement of imminence.
John saw seven angels having seven trumpets. Beginning with chapter 8 those angels sounded their trumpets. In chapter 10 John was told "in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished as he hath declared to his servants the prophets." The seventh trumpet, the last trumpet, was the time for the final fulfilling of the Old Covenant prophetic word.
What was to happen when the last trumpet sounded? In chapter 11:15ff we are told "And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints…" vs. 18. The sounding of the last trumpet was the time for the resurrection of the dead, for judgment.
When was all this to happen? Repeatedly John was told his vision "must shortly come to pass" 1:1-3; and "the time is at hand," cf. chapter 22:6,10,12,20. In chapter 6 the martyrs who had suffered for their faith were assured they would only have to wait "for a little while" before being vindicated, 6:9ff.
Many insist the passages above simply cannot speak of the same time and event. One argument offered is that in I Corinthians and I Thessalonians 4 the time statements are simply "accommodative language" or Paul was using the "editorial we" when he said "we shall not all sleep." This is an attempt to obviate the chronological significance of these statements. But it will not work.
First, ask yourself: had Paul wanted to indicate some of the Corinthians would live until the resurrection would not the present wording of I Corinthians 15:51 sufficiently indicate it? Indeed.
Second, it is the burden of those who insist the language is editorial and not temporal to prove their point. You cannot glibly wave a hand and dismiss language without strong reason.
Third, consider the traditional interpretation. It says "we shall not all sleep" means "not all Christians will die" before the resurrection; or "there will be Christians still living" when the resurrection occurs. Now, really, does this make sense? Was it Paul’s purpose to assert the endurance of the church? When one compares this language with Jesus’ promise that some living then would not die until they had seen him coming with the angels to judge every man it is apparent I Corinthians 15: 52 is not editorial or accommodative language; it is very personal and temporally significant.
The same may be said of Thessalonians 4:15,17. Paul says "we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord." He did not say "those who are alive" as if to posit the coming in the distant future removed from himself. He did not positively assert the survival of specific individuals to the parousia; but he definitely asserts his generation as doing so! Again, he did not say "those who are alive when Christ comes" he said "we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord." Who is Paul’s "we?"
It is interesting to wonder where the normal argument made by amillennialists about pronouns and words of proximity goes when this passage is considered. In Matthew 24 it is vehemently argued one must observe Jesus’ use of the personal pronouns; when he uses "you" he is referring to the disciples and their generation. When he uses "they" or "them" he is referring to the far distant future. In John 14-16 it is argued by non-charismatics that you absolutely must observe the usage of "you" as applying to the apostles receiving the Holy Spirit; and not just everyone. When in I Corinthians 2 Paul says "we have received… the Spirit which is from God" it is insisted this is speaking of a select group, certainly contemporary. But strangely, when Paul says "We who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord" it is insisted he suddenly abandoned his contemporary usage and went abstract. We are convinced "a priori" convictions about the nature of the resurrection and eschatology as a whole have forced a denial of otherwise plain language.
Paul says "we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord." Question: from what point do we consider the "remaining?" Paul said "we who remain until the coming." The word "remain" must be given its proper consideration from Paul’s perspective.
A word here about the usage of the "royal we," or "editorial we." Those who appeal to this do not properly understand the term. The "royal we" was used by monarchs "to refer to themselves in the plural, at least in public" The "editorial we" is "used indefinitely in general statements in which the speaker or writer includes those whom he addresses, his contemporaries, his fellow — fellow-countrymen, or the like." (All emphasis mine.) The point is, the usage of an "editorial we" does not exclude, rather it INCLUDES the contemporaries of the speaker. To avoid the chronological significance of the passages above by an appeal to Paul’s supposed use of the "editorial we" or "accommodative language" is therefore a futile attempt.
Incredibly, some are now denying an imminence factor in Revelation. Instead, they insist what Jesus meant by his promise "Behold, I come quickly!" was "When he comes he will not come in slow motion." Such arguments are ludicrous.
Was Jesus promising to come in relief of the oppressed, suffering so terribly at the hands of the persecutors, and saying "Now, I may not come to help you for several thousand years. But boy, when I finally come I will not come in slow motion?" Were the saints to be comforted by how soon Jesus was coming in judgment, or how fast he was going to travel? We think the answer is obvious to any thinking person.
What we have seen is the Old Covenant background for the promise of the sounding of the Great Trumpet of God. That trumpet was to be blown for the gathering of God’s elect from the "death" of separation from God’s presence and fellowship. We have seen in the New Testament there are only four passages which speak of the sounding of the Trump of God. Each of th
ese passages speak of the same thing, the gathering of the elect at the resurrection; and each has a very clear time statement with it.
Jesus said the trumpet would blow and the elect would be gathered in his generation, Matthew 24:30-31. It is admitted by almost all amillennialists that this was fulfilled in that generation and the language was apocalyptic and spiritual.
Paul, I Corinthians 15:51-52, said the resurrection would be at the sounding of "The last trumpet;" and not all of them would die before it occurred. In Thessalonians he affirmed the coming of the Lord, and gathering of the saints at the sounding of the trumpet; and he said "we who are alive and remain until the coming." I have posed the question of where the Corinthians and Thessalonicans had heard of "the trumpet" and concluded their knowledge was based on Jesus’ teachings and the Old Covenant. If this is true, and we are convinced it is, since it is admitted Jesus’ prediction in Matthew 24 was fulfilled how can it be denied that I Corinthians and Thessalonians was fulfilled at the same time?
In Revelation John saw the sounding of seven trumpets, the last being when the dead would be raised and receive their reward. In chapter 22:12 Jesus said he was coming quickly to render to every man according to what he has done." Now if it be the case that the sounding of "the last trumpet" was at hand when John wrote how can one postulate it has not yet sounded? Or, how can one admit, as some do, that Revelation is indeed fulfilled, yet there is to be a still future sounding of "the last trumpet," per their view of I Corinthians 15? Were there to be two "last trumpets?"
I have examined the arguments offered to offset the time statements of the resurrection and trumpet and found them to be inadequate.
I find it impossible to escape the conclusion that either the Great Trumpet of the Lord sounded in that first century generation or Jesus’ promise failed and man still has no escape from sin, from separation from God. The Good News is, the Trumpet sounded and those in Hades were taken from their separated position and ushered before the presence of God in heaven. In addition, the final barriers between God and man were removed as God took away the last vestiges of "the law" which held the "power of sin." Man can now be fully justified and live in full assurance that "he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life" John 5:24.
Thank God for the sounding of the Great Trumpet!